427: Lost And Found In Thought

on December 30, 2009 in Book 15

In Which Things Move Forward While Sidetracked

It occurred to me as I was running out of the room that it probably would have been best to explain where I was going or at least say “excuse me” or that I would be back in a minute, because to Belinda and Rocky it probably looked like I was fleeing.

Ian was right, though… Amaranth would be very happy to see what was happening in the lounge. I supposed I was pleased, too… I hadn’t given much thought to Belinda since she hadn’t really been around all that much, though in retrospect I probably should have. For all I’d known about what was going on with her, she could have been just biding her time and waiting for another chance to get at me.

I remembered our confrontation in the empty class room… it had caught me by surprise that she could feel looked down on and excluded by me. It really sounded like she’d had the same kind of revelation, as a delayed result. Put in those terms, it seemed even more like Amaranth would really want to know what was going on. By declining to fight her, by finding another way… even a slightly violence-and-intimidation-based way of dealing with Belinda, I had indirectly contributed to her growth as a person.

Not that I could take credit or anything… it would have taken a lot of thought and reflection for Belinda to come around so completely. But with how much I had changed since coming to MU, who was to say that she couldn’t have done the same?

Of course, there was still a core of me underneath it all that was still the same… I was still stubborn and a little quick to jump to conclusions sometimes. I still had the same interests I’d always had, though maybe with a few new ones on top of them.

And Belinda was doubtlessly still the same person underneath, too… she’d always been concerned with being the best. She was just defining it a little differently… and maybe, having realized that there could always be someone better than her, she was more concerned with bettering herself than besting others.

I could imagine that Belinda had been treated as if she were stupid for most of her life. That was the stereotype of ogres. Their culture was primitive and unrefined in comparison to human society and people equated that with stupidity, but there was no evidence that ogres were any less intelligent than humans, any more than humans had been in earlier ages when they were less interested in complex enchantments and the more complicated way of life it enabled.

I realized I’d exhausted the short distance between the lounge and my own door and had been standing outside my own room like I was selling ranger cookies or something. I almost lifted my hand to knock, then felt silly. The door wasn’t even locked, as it turned out.

Amaranth was sitting with her back against the wall, right under the window. For a moment I couldn’t believe she wasn’t freezing, but then I remembered that she walked around outdoors wearing nothing but her smile. It was really no surprise that she wasn’t cold… her smile was certainly warm enough for me.

“Well, hey there,” Amaranth said, looking up from my mirror. “Oh, baby… what’s wrong?” she asked in her most supportive voice, the one that was both kind and carrying hints of pain that she felt in sympathy.

It caught me off guard and left me feeling a pang of sympathetic pain towards her… that posed an interesting ontological question. If she felt pain in sympathy for me and I felt it for her, then from where had the pain first come from? We were two mirrors reflecting misplaced concern for each other, and misplaced or not the feeling was very real.

“Baby?” Amaranth said, her tone now even more worried. The warm enveloping smile she wore most of the time was sliding off her face, and I realized that I felt colder for it.

“I… sorry,” I said. “I got distracted… sorting through feelings, I guess. Nothing’s wrong… nothing new, I mean. But Ian thought you might like to see what’s going on in the kitchen.”

“Why, what’s going on?” she asked.

I spent a few seconds trying to figure out a brief way to convey Belinda’s apparent epiphany in a way that would really capture what had happened, and then realized that words were inadequate to the task… or I was.

“You kind of have to see it,” I said.

“Okay, baby,” she said.

“What made you think that something was wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I couldn’t really read the look on your face. You looked… not exactly sad, but thoughtful, maybe.”

“Yeah, I was feeling thoughtful,” I said. “I haven’t really had a lot of time to myself lately, I guess… I think a little more time to stop and think about things might be a good thing, for everyone.”

“Oh, I agree,” she said. “But what did you want me to see?”

“You’ll have to…”

“See it, I know,” she said with a laugh.

She glanced down at the mirror in her hands and waved something away out of it and snapped it shut. Seeing her pushing herself up off the floor, I hurried forward to offer her a hand.

“Thank you, baby,” she said. “Just be careful, I’m a little bit bigger… oh!” she said as I pulled her up to her feet. She giggled. “It’s easy for me to forget how strong you are, sometimes. You’re so small and…”

“Weak?” I suggested.

“Uncertain,” she said.

“Except when I’m resolutely uncertain about something I’m completely wrong about.”

She put her other hand over the hand that she still held and gently squeezed.

“Baby, you have some amazing convictions that are anything but wrong,” she said. “You can be brave, Mack… you can be fierce. I’ve seen it.”

“I wouldn’t think you’d approve of fierceness,” I said. I started to pull away, but she tightened her grip. That was all it took. I stayed where I was, as I was… my hand wrapped up in hers, my heart wrapped up in hers.

It was a nice place to be.

“I don’t want you to be fierce in your judgments,” she said. “But you can be fiercely loyal, fiercely protective… few things are entirely bad, entirely without their uses, Mack. Unmoderated fierceness, unrestrained fierceness… well, it can be attractive, I suppose. Just like unrestrained passion can be, and probably for the same reason.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s terribly freeing,” she said. She let go of my hand and grabbed me by the hips, her fingers splayed out wide behind me, gently pressing in on the sides of my ass. “You don’t have to think… it feels good.”

“Not… not everything that feels good is bad,” I said.

She laughed.

“Oh, perish that thought!” she said, her hair bouncing gloriously as she shook her head from side to side. “Banish it to the farthest corner of the furthest plane! If anything is truly bad, it’s definitely not feeling good… or making other people feel good. You make me feel so good, Mack.”

“It’s mutual, believe me. I haven’t forgotten how incredible last night was… the club, the stage and everything… I’ve had other things on my mind, Amaranth, but I haven’t forgotten,” I said. “You were like a goddess up there.”

“Up where?” she asked, and at first I thought she was just being silly. Then I remembered that I had been on the stage with her… I hadn’t exactly forgotten that, but the significance of it had paled somewhat in my head compared to Amaranth’s performance.

“Above me,” I said, hoping it would be enough for Amaranth to understand what I meant.

“Oh,” she said, and she blushed a little. She took my hands… both of them this time… and looked down into my eyes. “I hope you know that even when you’re beneath me, Mack, you’re never beneath me… and when I said that you make me feel good I didn’t just mean that you give me pleasure. You make me feel like I am good… like I’m a good person.”

“What, was that ever in doubt?” I asked her. “You’re… you’re probably the closest thing to inherently good of anyone I know.”

“Divine,” she said. “But that doesn’t make me inherently good any more than you’re inherently evil… and don’t you dare argue about that, baby. If ever there is a time for you to go around casting aspersions on your moral character, right now is not it. Anyway, I’ve had my doubts… I mean, I’m kind, and I try to be decent, but good? Before I came here, I didn’t really have as much serious one-on-one interactions with anybody except… Barley… and I’m not sure that I really did right by her. If nothing else, I definitely didn’t do any good for her.”

“You’ve definitely done good for me,” I said. “You’ve been good for Two, and I think Steff, too. Dee would probably tell you that she appreciates your friendship.”

“I wonder what friendship means to Dee,” Amaranth said. “I don’t think she’s ever had, you know, peers before… I think she’s kind of lived in a bubble. I have to wonder what it’s going to be like for her to go back down there… will she be lonely? Will she try to mingle with more people, like she does up here?”

“Oh!” I said, my memory spurred on. “I was going to show you what’s going on in the lounge.”

“Oh, yes,” Amaranth said. She laughed again… I loved her laugh, and I loved how easily she laughed. “Come on, baby, let’s go.”

She took my hand one more time and we headed towards the door. I had a thought that… as thoughts so frequently did… stopped me in my tracks. If Belinda could change and grow and be a bigger person, maybe I should try to do the same thing.

“What is it, baby?”

“Just thinking again,” I said. “Ian’s probably going to want to know what you found out about my grandmother… and you know, I really don’t care if you talk about it.”

“I’m glad you said that, baby,” she said. “I don’t like to think that you’re so afraid of her that you can’t stand to even hear her name.”

“I wasn’t… okay, yeah, I am afraid of her,” I said. “But I also just plain don’t like her much. Maybe those two facts aren’t completely unrelated, but it was more the dislike than the fear that was making me so irritated with it all… and that’s just kind of juvenile.”

“It’s very juvenile,” Amaranth said. “But you’re only eighteen, after all. You’ve been a juvenile for most of your life.”

“Yeah, well, so have you,” I said. “You might have sprung fully-formed from your field, but if you’re any wiser today than you were back then, then you can’t really deny that you had some growing to do.”

“No, I suppose not,” she said. “But what put that into your head?”

“What you said about Barley,” I said. “It’s not your job to be good for her. You loved her…”

“I still do,” Amaranth said.

“Well, yeah,” I said. “But she can make her own decisions.”

“I guess I never realized some of the things she was deciding,” Amaranth said. “Like, that she was only coming here because she wanted to get away from me.”

“Oh, I doubt that was the only reason,” I said. “Amaranth, I wanted to get away form my grandmother but that wasn’t my only impetus for coming here. Barley’s got interests that don’t have anything to do with you or me… she could have decided to focus on them instead of dwelling on you. She could have gone out and made friends outside Harlowe. I mean, it seems like she’s doing those things now anyway. She could have done them from the start.”

“Or I could have been more sensitive, like the sister I thought I was,” Amaranth said. “Instead of just following her around, nipping at her heels like an overeager puppy, I could have…”

“What, bowed out?” I said. “Maybe you didn’t have a well-thought out plan like she did, but you can’t tell me that you only came here to follow her, any more than you can say that she only came here to get away from you. Even if you didn’t think about going to school until after she did, the idea had to have appealed to you.”

“Well, yes,” she said, playing with a bit of her hair. “I thought it would be nice to learn new things. I’d read so much about the world but seen so little of it. Barley… well, until she started telling me about her plans, I never really thought that much about the difference.” She giggled. It was nice to see that she could laugh, even while thinking about Barley. Barley had hurt me, but Amaranth felt a pain all her own when it came to the other nymph. “And also I thought that there were bound to be loads more books here, if nothing else… and I was right.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Amaranth?”

“Yes, Mack?”

“I love you so much,” I said, and I rocked forward a bit, standing on my toes to reach up and kiss her. She bent into it.

“Hey, guys is everything… oh,” Ian said, sliding into view in the open doorway. We both jumped. Amaranth bit my lip. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” Ian said. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was just getting worried.”

“That’s quite okay, Ian,” Amaranth said. “We were just about to come join you. Are you okay, baby?”

“Yeah,” I said. I probed my lip. It was tender, but intact. Invulnerability for the win. “It’s not like you broke the skin, obviously.”

“I wonder why not,” Ian said. “Doesn’t divine stuff hurt you?”

“Yeah, but Amaranth’s body is flesh,” I said. “Her spirit’s divine, but I’m not touching it.”

“Okay, but can’t you bite yourself with your own teeth?” Ian said. “I’d think her teeth would be the same as a blessed weapon.”

“Well, I don’t think her teeth are exactly weapons, is one difference,” I said. “And again, they’re really just teeth, not blessed teeth. In fact, even if it would be hard to find a human who looks exactly like her, there are probably few intrinsic differences between her body and a human’s.”

“In fairness, baby, it’d be hard to find a human who looks exactly like Ian,” Amaranth said. “Everybody is unique, after all.”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “But you’re unique in ways that most people aren’t, especially teenage guys.” He gave a little laugh. “You know, it’s weird to call myself a ‘teenager’. When you’re in high school, that’s like a synonym for ‘high schooler’. You think of college kids as being mostly grown-up.”

“Which is a sure sign that few high schoolers live in college dorms,” I said. “I don’t know if it’s weirder to think of myself as a kid or to think of myself as an adult.”

“I’d say it’s weirder to think of you as an adult,” Ian said. “But that’s only because I know you.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said, and I gave him a kiss.

“Whoa,” he said. “What was that for?”

I looked at him.

“What do you mean, what was that for?” I asked.

“You don’t usually just… do that,” he said. “Anything like that. I don’t mind, I don’t hold it against you… I just figured you were self-conscious or something.”

“Oh,” I said, and now that he’d said it, I was self-conscious.I looked down at the floor and stuffed my hands in my pockets.

“You don’t have to be like that,” he said. “I liked it.”

“I wasn’t even thinking about it,” I said. “I’d just been kissing…”

“…Amaranth,” Ian said. “Yeah, I saw.”

“It just seemed like the thing to do,” I said.

“For heaven’s sake, it’s not something you have to explain or excuse,” Amaranth said. “You’re getting more comfortable, with him or with physical affection or both, or something else. Whatever it is, it’s hardly a change for the worse.”

“Though I am going to miss it if you stop blushing like that,” Ian said.

“Like what?” I asked, though I could feel my cheeks flushing with crimson heat at the mention of blushing.

“Like that!” Amaranth and Ian both said at the same time, laughing. Two very different hands reached for mine, and we headed out into the hall together. Hazel, Rocky, Belinda, and Two were all visible in the kitchen. Two was sweeping up… apparently her dislike of mess had overruled her desire to see the one who’d made it clean it up. Rocky and Hazel were at the table. Belinda was at the counter, her back to us.

“Rocky and Belinda decided to help out,” I said to Amaranth. “Belinda’s apparently had some time to think and has kind of undergone a change of heart. She talked Rocky around, too.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Amaranth said. “I knew Hazel was right about the community coming together, but that’s really a better start than I could have imagined.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “It’s amazing.”

“I’m proud of you, getting along with the skirmishers,” Amaranth said.

“What do you mean?” I said. “I’m not doing anything. They’re the ones who were aggressive towards me…”

“Well, I’m proud of them, too,” Amaranth said. “But I’m proud of you for being willing to let it go… and anyway, you can’t pretend like you didn’t prejudge them at all.”

I sucked in a breath to exhale an argument, but then I just let it out.

“No, you’re right,” I said.

“Hazel has Belinda chopping up vegetables while she talks to Rocky about seasoning proportions, or something,” Ian said. “Honestly, I think she’s just trying to keep Rocky engaged… not a bad idea, probably.”

“No,” I said.

“So what’s the thing you wanted me to see, anyway?” Amaranth asked.

“You’re joking, right?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“Rocky and Belinda,” I said. I stopped and dropped my voice, so that we wouldn’t walk into the lounge talking about them. “Don’t you think that’s amazing?”

“I think it’s wonderful, Mack, but hardly wondrous, in the strictest terms,” Amaranth said. “It happens… people come together, even if they’re different. Look at Dee and Steff… Steff’s never going to be like Dee, and I’m sure Dee has no aspirations to become like Steff, but they’ve been becoming better friends all the time. In fact, I think Steff is probably the closest thing Dee has to a best friend up here.”

“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” I said. “Sometimes I get the feeling that Dee barely tolerates Steff… like she only puts up with her because of the obligations of the label of friendship.”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Amaranth said. “Dee can be a little stiff… especially when dealing with someone as, well, loose as Steff, to use the term as an antonym for ‘stiff’ in the metaphorical sense, and not as a pejorative based in sexual shaming… but there’s real warmth there. She certainly wasn’t obligated to try something so desperate and stupid as giving Steff that potion.”

“No,” Ian agreed. “That kind of stupid takes love.”

“You think you’re joking, but I absolutely agree,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, I kind of agree with me, too, actually,” Ian said. “I mean, I tolerate Steff, so I know what that looks like.”

“We should go join in,” Amaranth said, and we did… Hazel welcomed Amaranth and Ian back and put them to work on her grand soup plan. I stayed on the edges of the group. Part of it was me trying to keep out of the way and part of it was that I didn’t have a lot to say, even as Amaranth’s presence added to Hazel’s turned the lounge into a veritable maelstrom of pleasant conversation .

The fact was Belinda still made me uncomfortable. She was still big and she still had a look on her face that looked like she suspected someone was taking advantage of her and she couldn’t see who or how and so she might just take a swing at the first target that presented itself… or maybe that was just her face. She seemed genuinely interested in helping Hazel’s drive towards solidarity, and I wasn’t going to be the one who rocked that boat over hurt feelings or my dislike of jocks, no matter how justified… or maybe “understandable” was the better word… it might have been.


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9 Responses to “427: Lost And Found In Thought”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Everybody is still growing up. That’s a lot better then the alternative.

    Current score: 5
    • Jechtael says:

      “I mean,” she said, “that one can’t help growing older.” “One can’t, perhaps,” said Humpty Dumpty; “but two can.”
      I’ve heard that was an assisted suicide/murder joke, but if that is the case, I don’t see how “one can’t”.
      …Heh. Two doesn’t grow older. I wonder if that was a small part of the reason for her name, or just an amusing, obscure coincidence.

      Current score: 2
  2. Elaborate says:

    get away form -> from

    Current score: 0
  3. Arkeus says:

    “What, was that ever in doubt?” I asked her. “You’re… you’re probably the closest thing to inherently good of anyone I know.”

    Urgh.

    Current score: 0
    • Pamela says:

      Okay. Did you, like, stop reading after that sentence. Didn’t Amaranth kind of disagree with Mack? Maybe I just misunderstood.

      Current score: 5
    • Guest says:

      Oh, good, you’re back. I’d missed you; there’s been a lot of Amaranth-centric story lately and you weren’t here to explain how she’s actually the worst thing since sliced babies.

      Current score: 13
  4. Psi-Ko says:

    Nah, you didn’t misunderstand anything. Arkeus is just our resident prickish amaranth hater

    Current score: 6
  5. MadnessMaiden says:

    “Few things are entirely bad, entirely without their uses.”–That’s wise, for sure. :3

    Current score: 1