In Which Equilibrium Is Gained
We met Two and Hazel coming from the bathroom as we headed towards the showers, me waddling a little stiff-legged as my ass had so recently been beaten halfway to oblivion.
It didn’t look like they’d showered, as they were both in their pajamas… Hazel’s an all-concealing forest green robe and Two’s a nothing-concealing sky blue gauze. Hazel looked like hell warmed over, then frozen and reheated the next day. Two had her most alarmed look on… the one she only wore when she was bursting to do something she was sure needed to be done but had been told not to.
“Hi, Mack. Hi, Amaranth,” Two said.
“Hi, Two,” we both said.
Amaranth frowned sympathetically down at Hazel.
“Oh, Hazel, are you alright?” she asked.
“She’s been throwing up more. I think she needs to go to the healing center,” Two said. “But she won’t.”
“Two, your friend Hazel is an adult,” Amaranth said. “She’s older than any of us, and she can make up her own mind about when she’s ready to deal with something.”
“I usually start when there’s something to deal with,” Hazel said stiffly. “But thanks so much for your concern.”
“You’re welcome,” Amaranth said. “I’m always available if you ever have anything you want to talk about.”
We headed into the bathroom. Feejee was asleep in one of the bathtubs. Trina was in one of the stalls… it sometimes seemed like she lived in there… prattling away to her unseen friend. Her jeans weren’t even down.
“…golem’s birthday or something,” she was saying. “Big drunken party. That sneaky little shit with the curly hair’s totallyhungover. Honey, I think.”
“Ignore her,” Amaranth mouthed to me.
“Probably up all night eating each other out,” Trina continued. “They use the golem as a sex doll, you know. Should probably be illegal.”
I turned and reached out for the stall door. Amaranth gave me a hard bare-handed swat on the ass, and I yelped. Trina did, too, louder. There was a loud crash as her hand mirror hit the floor.
“Careful where you step, baby,” Amaranth said loudly. “The tile’s a little wet.”
There was stunned silence from Trina’s stall as her hand came down and picked up the remains of the mirror, then she got to her feet and threw open the door. She was red in the face as she started shrieking, and the only part of what she said were the first three words, “What the fuck…?”
“Oh, what’s that? We were just going to the showers,” Amaranth said.
Trina waved the broken mirror in Amaranth’s face.
“What are you going to do about this?” she demanded.
“Kosh, Trina, I’m sorry, but you probably want to have a professional look at that,” she said. “And you should probably be more careful about where you try to use it. It’s all sharp corners and hard surfaces in here.”
So saying, she gave me a firm shove on my tender backside in the direction of the showers, leaving a stunned Trina… in shock, if not outright mourning, over the loss of her favorite appendage… to stand there, probably glaring after us with all three of her eyes.
“Can you keep it down?” Feejee called. “Some people are trying to sleep in.”
Trina exhaled through her nose and then turned and stomped, rubber flip-flops making slapping noises on the tiles as she headed to the door.
“Hand me your paddle, baby, so it’s not just lying around out here” Amaranth said, and I did. She tucked it out of sight before stepping into the shower.
“You know, by the end of the day the story of how I broke her mirror is going to be all over school,” I said.
“You can’t stop Trina from spreading gossip,” Amaranth said. “And if it bothers you that she’s got new fodder, maybe you should remember that it wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t decided to try.”
“So, it is my fault, in other words,” I said.
“It’s not your fault,” Amaranth said. “She got startled and dropped the mirror. That’s her own accident… but the opportunity for it came about as an unforeseeable consequence of your action, which happened to be a bad idea anyway for other reasons.”
“But it was unforeseeable,” I said. “It’s completely random. It’s not like I can’t do everything right and still had somebody break something as an unforeseeable outcome and blame it on me.”
“Baby, if the universe handed out neat little judgments for everything we did, you wouldn’t need me or anybody else to tell you these things,” Amaranth said. “Not every little thing in life has a built-in moral. This is just one thing that does happen to have one… kind of.”
“The moral could be for you not to spank me when I’m about to put another hole in Trina’s head,” I said.
Amaranth reached over and turned the hot water off just as I working the shampoo into my hair.
“Oh, fucking fuck!” I yelled, jumping back out of the spray.
“I told you I’m going to be giving you more immediate correction,” she said. “Now finish washing up, with the cold water. We’ll just pray… uh, hope, I mean… that the germs don’t get you.”
“That’s not fair!” I said.
“Isn’t it?” Amaranth said. “Even ignoring the fact that violence is never right, and ignoring the fact that you of all people can’t be heard threatening violence against humanbloods, you just complained about Trina spreading rumors about you before you turned around and gave her something even more damning.”
“It’s not like she could hear it,” I muttered.
“As far as she knew, we couldn’t hear her when she decided to talk about Two,” Amaranth said. “And of course, we shouldn’t ignore the first two things. You had every reason to be smarter than that, baby.”
“I just hate people like Trina so much,” I said.
“Yes, well… I can’t do anything about that,” Amaranth said, frowning and biting her lip. “But it would be irresponsible of me as your owner to let you get in the habit of making casual threats of violence against anybody, much less a… a… person who’s really good at spreading news around.”
“It wasn’t a real threat,” I said. “It’s just… hyperbole.”
“More like hyper-bully,” Amaranth said. “I know you’re a big ol’ pussycat, baby, but to everybody else, you’re the monster under the bed. Whether you want it to or not, all of your strength and all of your heritage are standing behind you when you interact with a human. I know you don’t like to dwell on these things, but you have to be aware of them, because everybody else will be.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just… she makes me so angry.”
“There are better ways to express anger than that,” Amaranth said.
“Um… I’ll have to think about that,” she said.
The air in the shower was almost as cold as the water that continued to pour from my showerhead was. I edged around the stream so I could stand between it and Amaranth’s shower, from which clouds of steam were billowing.
“You go back to your own shower,” Amaranth said. “And finish washing up. You don’t have to stand underneath it. You can just stand next to it and use the water. The faster you finish, the sooner you can get dried off and dressed.”
It was a miserable experience. As great a pleasure as a long, hot shower was, a cold, drawn-out one was hell. I didn’t draw it out on purpose, but Amaranth wasn’t about to let me skimp on cleaning anything.
“Have you given any thought to your Veil costume, baby?” she asked, as I scrubbed my shivering skin.
“How about an icicle?” I said.
“You brought it on yourself, baby,” Amaranth said. “It isn’t as though I like watching anybody else really suffer, especially you. But think about it… what would you have done, if I hadn’t stopped you from confronting Trina? Attacked her?”
“No!” I said.
“No,” I said.
“Had a reasoned discussion with a willing listener?”
“Probably not, right?” she said.
“No… probably not,” I admitted.
“Right now she’s mad at herself and she’s displacing that onto you,” Amaranth said. “So you’ve got the moral high ground at least, and there’s a chance she’ll be too embarrassed by what really happened to make too much of a big deal out of it. But if you’d broken down the door and started yelling at her, you would have given up that high ground and more, and for what?”
“Am I not supposed to protect my friends?” I asked.
“How would that have protected her?” Amaranth asked. “Bursting in on Trina wouldn’t have improved Two’s reputation, or her situation.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I’m sorry. Really. I wasn’t thinking.”
“I know,” Amaranth said quietly. “This is so that next time, you will.”
“Can I please turn the hot water back on?” I asked. “I don’t know how I’m going to rinse my hair out…”
“You can use handfuls of water or you can stick your head under a bit at a time,” Amaranth said. “Or you can suck it up and get underneath it. Mundane cold isn’t going to kill you, baby… I looked it up.”
“You were planning this?” I asked.
“No, I was worried about winter,” she said. “But when I saw you standing there shivering in the bedroom, I thought that cold might be one teacher you wouldn’t be able to ignore.”
“I listen to my teachers,” I said.
“Oh? What about Coach Callahan?”
“She’s a coach, not a teacher,” I muttered, but she didn’t hear. Probably a good thing. There was no way I was sticking my head under the faucet, so I cupped my hand and caught freezing handfuls to try to get the suds out.
The curtain rustled as Two came in. One good thing about freezing my ass off to begin with was that the draft which blew in wasn’t noticeably colder.
“Hi, Mack. Hi, Amaranth,” she said.
“She’s showering wrong,” Two said to Amaranth.
“She’s being punished,” Amaranth said.
“Oh, okay,” Two said. “That’s good.”
“Good?” I repeated, spluttering a little.
“Yes,” Two said. “You aren’t a very good toy.”
“Two, honey, expressing negative opinions about other people’s relationships is rude,” Amaranth said.
“Okay,” Two said.
“So, did you guys have fun last night?” Amaranth asked her.
“I have been told to tell you that I did not give my friend Hazel a foot rub,” Two said. “I really think she should go to the healing center. She threw up a lot.”
“Two, what’s wrong with her can’t… well, it isn’t even wrong,” Amaranth said. “She should be talking to healers before too long, though, because it could get difficult for her.”
“Amaranth, I’m not getting the shampoo out,” I said. “I’m just dumping cold water on my head for no reason.”
“No, you’re dumping cold water on your head because you were bad,” she said. “But you may turn on the water now to finish washing your hair and do a quick rinse on your skin.”
The quick rinse turned into another full scrub under the steaming hot water, as Amaranth was unable to repress her fear that I would be eaten by invisible science bugs if I didn’t kill them all with hot water. I didn’t care what her reason was. The hot streams pounding against my skin were heaven after the bone-chilling cold I’d endured.
After I turned off the water, Amaranth reached over and squeezed my hand.
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too,” I said. “I’m sorry. I should have thought before… it’s just that Trina was pissing me off so badly.”
“Me, too, but we can’t do anything about what she does, baby,” Amaranth said.
“She shouldn’t be able to say shit like that,” I said.
“That’s true, too,” Amaranth said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that we can’t do anything.”
She reached out and shushed me.
“Don’t dwell on this,” she said. “You’ll only work yourself up again, for no reason.”
I didn’t think Trina’s antics constituted “no reason”, but I didn’t argue.
My much-abused ass had gone completely numb by the time Amaranth relented, and the hot water had been soothing even as it had reawakened my sense of feeling. I was still smarting when we got back to the room… especially after squeezing my seemingly ever-expanding butt into the tight-ass jeans Amaranth picked out for me… but it was approaching tolerability.
When we left to go to breakfast, Two stopped in the hallway and stared indecisively at Hazel’s door.
“Two… I know you mean well, honey, but Hazel’s the sort of person who’s got to make up her own mind about what she does,” Amaranth said.
“I know,” Two said. “But she should go to the healers.”
“Hazel’s old enough to do what she shouldn’t,” Amaranth said.
Off to our side, Dee’s door opened.
“Good morning,” she said, bowing. “I hate to intrude on a prior conversation, but I would add that Miss Hazel can generally be counted upon to act with more maturity than many students. If she is acting under some amout of shock at the moment, I feel we can trust her to do what is necessary when it becomes necessary.”
“Thank you, Dee,” Amaranth said. “That’s exactly what I think.”
“And I think when somebody throws up that many times they should go to the healer,” Two said.
“Well… you’re entitled to think that,” Amaranth said. “But Hazel’s entitled to do what she wants.”
“But…” Two said, and I watched her working the concepts around. Then something clicked into place. “I can’t make Hazel go to the healer, but I don’t have to stop thinking that she should?”
“Yes, honey, that’s right,” Amaranth said.
“Oh, okay,” Two said, and she relaxed. She still knew she was right, and that there was nothing she could do about it… and rather than the weight of that twin knowledge overwhelming her completely, they canceled each other out, leaving her at peace.
It was a neat trick. I’d have to learn how to do it sometime.