426: Verbal Skirmishes

on December 23, 2009 in Book 15

In Which Events Unfold

Two offered to help things along in the oven, but Hazel wouldn’t hear anything of it.

“You’ll tire yourself out if you try to do everything,” Hazel told her. “Anyway, this is complex cookery… I don’t think it’s the time to be experimental. Now, we’ve got canned filling for at least two more pies… we’ll keep one of those in the warmer while the other one’s baking so we can have both of them hot and ready when this one’s cooled.”

“Why do you want the first one cooled?” I asked. “I’m not an expert, but isn’t warm apple pie supposed to be better?”

“Of course it is, and therein lies the problem,” Hazel said. “Nothing tastes like hot apple pie except hot apple pie. Also, the illusion is better when it’s had a chance to set properly, which happens as it cools. Now, three pies for the whole building isn’t much, but I’m betting we won’t get everybody to come around all at once. But they say that nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”

“But if we had a crowd, we wouldn’t need to draw a crowd,” Two said.

“Well, yes, because the crowd will draw it for us,” Hazel said. “And we’ll get that first crowd in with pie.”

“So really, nothing draws a crowd like pie,” Two said.

“Now you’re thinking,” Hazel said.

“I’m always thinking,” Two said.

“And we love you all the more for it sometimes,” Hazel said. “Let’s go over our inventory and figure out what we can get started now.”

“Hey,” Ian said. “If it’s going to be a while before you need anything carried, I want to go see how Amaranth is doing.”

“You mean you want to go see what she’s found out,” I said.

“Well… yeah,” Ian said. “Don’t look at me like that, Mackenzie.”

“I didn’t realize I was,” I said, trying to relax my facial expression a bit. “But you shouldn’t go sneaking around if you don’t want to get dirty looks.”

“I’m ‘sneaking around’ because I know you don’t want to hear anything more about her. That’s why I was excusing myself to go talk to Amaranth about it while you’re here,” he said. “So you don’t have to hear it.”

“I’m not one to stick my nose in between two other people’s businesses,” Hazel said, “but it doesn’t seem like you’re giving the boy a real choice there… he knew you’d have snapped at him if he’d said why he was going, so he didn’t and you snapped at him for that.”

“If he knows how I feel about it, why does he want to do it?” I asked.

“Well, I think he did a fair job explaining it but that was talking about the thing you don’t want to talk about,” Hazel said.

“Oh, fine,” I said, waving Ian off. “Go. Learn.”

“I don’t want to if you’re going to be mad,” he said.

“I am mad,” I said. “But you’re not going to fix that standing here being miserable.”

“Why not just not be mad?” he asked.

“Because I didn’t decide to be mad in the first place,” I said. “Seriously, are you going to stand here picking at me when I just said I don’t care?”

“I’m just… it seems like you do care,” he said.

“My not-caring is a work in progress,” I said. “If you come back in a while, it might be better.”

I felt a sudden sense of absence next to me. I looked down and, after a bit of a double take, I saw Hazel standing very still and looking out the glass at the hall. I was about to ask her what was wrong when I noticed that Ian was also looking in that direction. I turned saw Rocky’s sculpted-granite body striding purposefully down the hall. Her face was cold and blank.

She walked right into the doorway and stopped there, her whole body still as a statue except for her hand, which opened and closed slowly.

“Hello,” Hazel said. “There’ll be pie in about an hour or so, but you’re more than welcome to pitch in or just stick around until then.”

“Having a little… celebration?” Rocky asked, in a voice that unfortunately could only be described as gravelly.

“More like a bit of fellowship,” Hazel said. “It’s kind of a tradition for my people, forming a fellowship against the darkness… well, it’s more of a ladyship right now, but I expect it will be a bit more… co-educational, I guess, by and by.”

“Leda’s dead and you want to throw a party,” Rocky said.

“Not as such,” Hazel said. “There’ll be time for remembrance later. If you’d like to take the lead on that, of course, I’m sure no one’ll object. She was your roommate, wasn’t she?”

“She was,” Rocky said. “And now she’s dead and you’re all… making pies.”

“Tragedy doesn’t mean people don’t need to eat,” Hazel said. “People are grieving. People are in shock.” She shrugged. “Someone’s got to do… well, somebody’s got to do, you know? If no one else can, I will.”

“And what about her?” Rocky said, pointing at me with a conspicuously closed hand. I suppose I couldn’t blame her for keeping her fingers to herself around me. “Haven’t you done enough? Or are you just looking for a bit of dessert after your meal?”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“I heard them saying Leda was chewed up so bad, it looked like she’d been partially eaten,” Rocky said.

I almost pointed out that I’d heard that it was something with a big, wide mouth kind of like a goblin’s and pointy teeth kind of like a goblin’s… but I had a feeling she wouldn’t be listening to the key words there and if Rocky was looking for someone to swing her big stone fists at, it was probably better if it was me and not Oru or Shiel.

“I wasn’t even on campus,” I said instead.

“Do you really think she’d be at her liberty if there were any sign she’d done it?” Hazel asked Rocky. “They’d have locked her up in an instant, if they didn’t do worse.”

“Considering that she’s been ‘at her liberty’ all this time, going to classes and living in the dorm alongside all of us, I don’t know what to think,” Rocky said. “It seems like she gets a pass on an awful lot.”

“And she’s not even on the skirmish team,” Ian said. “How is that fair?”

“You stay out of this, pitfighter,” Rocky said.

“Ian… why doesn’t everyone just calm down?” I said. “Rocky, you’ve got less reason to trust me than anyone on the floor, maybe…”

“Except Belinda and Hissy,” she said. “And Leda.”

“I didn’t kill Leda,” I said. “And I didn’t do anything to Belinda… or to Hissy, on purpose.”

“Oh, and what you did to me was an accident?” she asked.

“It was… me being careless,” I said. “It was horrible and stupid and it was avoidable. But, either one of us could have avoided it… you just picked a really bad time to bully me.”

Bully?” she repeated, her face contorting so much with incredulity that it seemed like the stone was going to crack. “I’m not the bully here…”

“What,” Hazel said, “and the world’s most dangerous cream puff here is?” She jerked her mixing spoon in my direction. “This one gets pushed around by the golem.”

“It’s true,” Two said, nodding. “She does.”

“She’s dangerous, we all know it,” she said. “All the humans here know it, even if no one else does. Her mousey little act is just that… an act. It’s classic strategy. She wants to appear less dangerous than she is so she doesn’t get…”

“Lynched?” Hazel said.

“Dealt with,” Rocky said.

“Am I just part of her strategy?” Ian asked.

“You’re an idiot,” Rocky said.

“Look, no matter how pissed off you are, the authorities… who know I didn’t do it… are going to treat you like a criminal if you do anything to me,” I said.

“I know, it’s ridiculous,” she said.

“Yeah, well, that’s what happens when you live in a society of laws,” I said. “Every once in a while, you don’t get to do what you want to someone just because you’re big and powerful and they’re weak and unpopular.”

“Quit acting like you’re the victim here,” Rocky said. “The real victim is Leda.”

“There are two things in life that can be spread around without being diminished,” Hazel said. “Suffering and goodwill. Which one are you bringing?”

“Quit making me the bad guy here!” Rocky said.

“No one can do that but you,” Hazel said.

“I don’t know what the hell is wrong with everybody else,” Rocky said. She looked at me. “I don’t know what you’ve done to everyone… charmed them or put some kind of curse on them…”

“Who’s ‘everyone’?” I said. “Most people hate me. The ones who aren’t afraid of me look at me like I’m something they stepped in and they really, really want to figure out how to scrape off their shoe without touching… actually, I don’t know. Maybe most people do both.”

“Don’t give me that,” Rocky said. “You look almost normal… you’re cute. You get in trouble and everybody gets behind you. You mouth off to the coaches and they kiss your ass and tiptoe around you…”

“What?”

“Callahan does kind of kid-glove you,” Ian said.

What?”

“Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about,” Rocky said.

“Does nobody else notice the kind of dazed look she walks around with most of the time?” Hazel asked Two, who just shrugged.

“She’s a killer,” Rocky said.

“Bullshit,” a voice said from behind her… a voice I could barely place, though I didn’t really have to because Belinda was one of the few people from our floor who could stand behind Rocky and not be completely obstructed from view. “She didn’t kill anyone,” she said as Rocky whirled around to face her. “I don’t think she could. She wouldn’t even fight me.”

“But I thought she…”

“What?” Belinda said. “Beat me? Maybe. I don’t know. But she didn’t even touch me. She put her fist through a wall right in front of me but I don’t think she could take a swing at me without throwing up all over the place.”

“Then… why were you so freaked out?” Rocky asked her.

“Because I didn’t know that then,” Belinda said. “I thought about it a lot, though. I’ve thought about a lot of things.”

Rocky stepped into the room and to the side to let Belinda past her. Belinda was talking as she moved. To Rocky, to us, to herself… maybe she was just thinking out loud.

“See, the thing I realized is… nobody thinks that they’re the asshole,” Belinda said. “It’s always the other one who’s a bitch or a bastard. Mack and those nymphs and all make me so mad because they act like they’re so smart. I always thought the smart girls made high school hell for me. I guess they probably thought I made it hell for them. Maybe the truth is high school’s just hell. Maybe we make it that way.”

“Lindy… what are you babbling about?” Rocky asked. “What the hell happened to you?”

“I told you, I’ve been thinking,” Belinda said. She turned towards us. “Yeah, yeah, go ahead and say it, whatever you’re thinking. ‘Must be a new experience.’ ‘Don’t strain yourself.’ I’ve fucking heard them all. In high school, I couldn’t even pick up a book without someone making fun of me… my squad mates or the nerds.”

“So you were thinking too hard to come to practice?” Rocky asked. “To show up for matches?”

“I had shit that needed taking care of,” Belinda said. “I didn’t have enough language classes in high school to come here so they want me to take six hours of Elvish… but when they gave me a placement test I wasn’t even ready for the 100 class. I had to either get a tutor or go into a remedial class… listen, I’m not doing any more remedial classes, ever.”

“I don’t fucking believe it,” Rocky said. “You’ve been bailing on us so you can make up elvish lessons?”

“And a couple of other subjects,” Belinda said. “And, you know, I’ve also just been hanging out with the elvish tutor. She’s… got problems. Like, socially. Maybe mentally. I started to feel bad for her. Then I heard her tell her theater friend that she feels bad for me.”

“So you’d rather hang out with some charity case elven geek than with us?” Rocky said. I found Hazel’s cracks about my supposed obliviousness all the more unwarranted at the sight of how completely Rocky was able to avoid getting the point of anything Belinda said.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Belinda said. “I heard you saying you’re not a bully or a bad guy, but you’re down on this girl you’ve never even met because she’s not the right kind of freak.”

“I’m not a freak,” Rocky said.

“We’re all freaks,” Belinda said. “You are, she is, Mack is, the golem thing is… everyone here but this guy, whoever he is,” she said, putting a hand on Ian’s shoulder and knocking him over. “Except he probably likes to look at goat porn or something. We’re all charity cases. We’re all losers. We’ve all got someone who’s looking down their nose at us, and they’re probably only doing it because they’ve got someone looking down at them. We’re all scrambling to get to the top of one giant pile of garbage even if it leaves us at the bottom of another, and even if we get there it’s still a load of garbage.”

“So, you quit the team to become a philosopher?” Rocky asked.

“No, I’m not giving up skirmish,” Belinda said. “I’m… fuck it, I’m broadening my fucking horizons, okay? Skirmish can’t be the only thing I’m good for. I can’t get by on being the strongest and the scariest because there’s always going to be somebody stronger and scarier… or faster… or smarter… or that I can’t match up to in some way. But skirmish is one thing I know I’m good at. I’m not giving it up.”

“Yeah, and you think Coach’ll just let you waltz right back in?”

“Well, I think if I ask him if he still wants an ogre on his team he’ll probably say yes,” Belinda said.

“Just like that? Like nothing happened? Like you didn’t blow us off and cost us a hometown match against our rivals?”

“I think you might have been able to pull it out if you’d had Hissy,” Belinda said. “You’re good, Rocky. You think things through… on the field. But yeah, I don’t expect to get away without punishment… I don’t think I’ll be squad captain any more.”

“This is fucking nuts, you know?” Rocky said. She turned and kicked at the corner of the couch. “Leda’s dead and you choose right now to have all these… epiphanies, or whatever.”

“You think this is sudden?” Belinda asked. “This has been building for a long fucking time, man. Just because you aren’t there to see something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And why not air it now? Someone died, the whole place is locked down, everybody’s like this close to going crazy, and the little fuzzyfoot’s right: it’s better to do something nice than try to raise the body count.”

“She has a real gift for paraphrasing, that one,” Hazel said.

“So you’re taking their side,” Rocky said.

“I’m joining the side they’re making,” Belinda said. “You do what you want, Rock… if you wanna be alone, no one’ll bug you, but if you don’t want to be alone then now’s not the time to push people around.”

“I don’t believe this,” Rocky said. She looked like she she didn’t know if she wanted to turn and walk away, or punch Belinda, or someone else.

For probably the first time since our lives had intertwined in any way, I was in complete agreement… I’d stood there in stunned silence through most of their exchange, mute and numb. That Belinda of all people wouldn’t join Rocky in siding against us… me, that she would have put academics and self-reflection over the skirmish team… really, it was hard to pick what was the most surreal part of the whole thing.

Rocky rocked on her heels and looked at the door. I thought for sure she was going to leave, then she looked at Belinda said, “I don’t want to be alone.”

“You don’t have to, love” Hazel said. “We’ll take care of you.”

Rocky shook her head.

“I want to do something,” she said. “What can I help with?”

“We’re going to be making soup in a bit,” Hazel said. “Anything you have to contribute…”

“I don’t keep real food in my room,” Rocky said. She gave a short, stuttery laugh. “Actually, all I have in there is some cans of soup. You know, the condensed stuff. I don’t know what good they’ll be if you’re actually making soup…”

“Oh, we’ll take what we can get,” Hazel said. “We won’t have nearly enough otherwise.”

“I’ll… I’ll go get them, then,” Rocky said, and she hurried towards the door.

“Yeah, I’ll help,” Belinda said, and they left the lounge together.

“Go get Amaranth,” Ian said quietly to me.

“You don’t think we’re going to need a healer, do you?” I asked.

“No, but trust me when I say that she will think you’re the best girlfriend in the world if you go and bring her here right now.”


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15 Responses to “426: Verbal Skirmishes”

  1. Daezed says:

    <3 from the quintessential fat bandgeek bookworm who's hands are always covered in paint, to her fellow freaks… All of them; jock, cheerleader, and all, right now.

    Belinda just became one of my favorites. Not because she ” suddenly got smart” but because she just reminded me that we ALL still have something left to learn, if we're open enough to doing so.

    Current score: 13
    • MackSffrs says:

      “I’m joining the side they’re making”
      This! This line gives me appreciation anew for the author and her Belinda.

      Current score: 12
    • Lara says:

      I always loved Belinda as a character after the chapter where she jumped Mackenzie. It was such a good illustration of how we all mentally place others into groups, and often don’t see each other as individuals.

      Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    you are so right Daezed. Even a stubborn old fart like myself is gaining new insights.

    Current score: 4
  3. MackSffrs says:

    “This one gets pushed around by the golem.”

    “It’s true,” Two said, nodding. “She does.”

    You’re argument is suddenly null and void. You concede the point and decide to reform your attitude and make friends.
    Then, in a hypothetical world, where, impossibly, you decide to continue arguing:
    “‘Does nobody else notice the kind of dazed look she walks around with most of the time?’ Hazel asked Two, who just shrugged.”

    Current score: 0
  4. Arkeus says:

    Ah, Ian, you are awesome. And Mack’s still bias’ out of her ass.

    Current score: 0
  5. holodrum says:

    Yes, she is. It’s her biases and everyone else’s, that keep us coming back though.
    A character, or a story, with no bias and no prejudice is a toy. A simple instrument of entertainment that can be pushed aside or forgotten.
    A story with characters of bias, pride, and growth, is the kind that can touch lives, bring us closer to each other, and last in or memories for years on end. I believe that’s the kinds of story being written here.

    Current score: 6
  6. Anthony says:

    Hazel inviting the stone-girl to contribute whatever she can to the communal soup-making effort? I see what you did there, AE…

    Current score: 8
    • bleph says:

      gods, that’s beautiful. Nice catch.

      Current score: 1
  7. ISuigetsu says:

    Effin’ Belinda…. Making me tear up… Goat porn.

    Current score: 4
  8. tijay says:

    Its not goat, its emasculation

    Current score: 1
  9. Mike says:

    I forgot about this chapter, Belinda’s growth and even Rocky calming down a little. I also totally missed the part about Belinda’s weird creepy Elvish tutor. Semele, maybe?

    Current score: 0
    • Kalamorda says:

      Mabey?, the Q and A kinda leaves no question in my opinion.

      Current score: 0
  10. zeel says:

    “See, the thing I realized is… nobody thinks that they’re the asshole,” Belinda said.

    That pretty much sums it up.

    Most, if not all, people – no matter how nice the try to be (ehem, Amaranth) – can not or will not manage to actually be liked by everyone. You will always manage to piss someone off, or rub them the wrong way. Often our worst enemies are created by the circumstances of our meeting, rather than some inherent difference of personality.

    Current score: 2
    • Leishycat says:

      A couple jocks tried to kill me in high school. One of them came up to me later and said he regretted it. He said he wished they’d succeeded.

      I still can’t think of any way in which they felt they were justified in that. :\

      Current score: 1