217: Experiments In Eating

on May 15, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Amaranth Arranges A Sandwich

Borderlands was a big boxy building, two stories tall. The feeling I got as we stepped through the second half of the double doors and into the well-lit interior was like the one I’d got stepping into the university library for the first time.

The difference was, the library didn’t have a giant sign saying “GRAPHIC NOVELS” hanging from the ceiling in one section… or a cafe.

“Remember, we don’t really have time to browse,” Amaranth said. From the hungry look on her face as she looked all around, I think she was reminding herself. “We’re just here so Two can get her fill of dessert. Maybe we can get some nice coffee drinks or something.” She spotted a little sign just inside the door with the hours. “Oh, but look… they’re open until eight tonight. Maybe we’ll have some time for another stop, after all.”

We headed over to the cafe. They did have food, from small sandwiches and baked goods to desserts, in a refrigerated section behind glass. There were enormous chocolate chip cookies, a couple different kinds of brownie bars, and the predicted cheesecake in a few different varieties.

While Two and I stopped and looked in the case, Amaranth went right up to the counter, adjusting her glasses to see the menu better. The girl behind the counter was kind of punky-looking, thin and with a slight elven point to her ring-studded ears. She was probably no more than a quarter elf, I guessed.

“Can you do all of your drinks with soy milk?” she asked.

“Uh huh,” the barista said. “Sure can.”

“Are there any other animal products in them, apart from the milk?”

“Only if you get it with whip.”

“Well, as much as I hate to pass up a good whip,” Amaranth said. She giggled.

“Are you vegan?”

“Not quite,” Amaranth said. “I’m a nymph.”

“Oh,” the barista said. “What’s the difference? Aside from being naked.”

“I get to use leather, as long as I’m not wearing it,” Amaranth said. “Um… I’ll take a large raspberry soy mocha. Two?”

“You want two of them?”

“No,” Amaranth said, stepping aside and putting her hand on Two’s shoulder. “What do you… um, what would you like, Two?”

“I want a large hot chocolate with vanilla and caramel and butterscotch syrup and whipped cream,” Two said, overpronouncing the word “want”, a look of defiant pleasure on her face as she did so.

“You know that I have to charge for each extra syrup, right?” the barista asked Amaranth.

“Oh, she’s paying, actually,” Amaranth said, nodding at me. “But I’m sure that’s fine. Right, baby?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. I didn’t think that was the reason the barista had addressed her response to Amaranth instead of Two, though.

“And I want a slice of raspberry cheesecake,” Two said. The barista looked at me.

“She’s ordering,” I said.

“Sorry. And for you?” the barista asked me.

“Nothing,” I said. “Wait… hot chocolate. Just plain, though.”

I paid with two silver and dropped the change into the tip box to ameliorate my guilt at ordering something for myself. The cheesecake and other treats looked really good, and where Two had eaten multiple desserts already, I hadn’t had any.

That was my own fault, though. I could have grabbed a piece of pie instead of pigging out on meat. I could also have exercised the tiniest amount of restraint, and not got all of us kicked out.

The barista retrieved Two’s slice of cheesecake and told us she’d call us when the drinks were up.

“Let’s grab a table while we can,” Amaranth said. The place wasn’t completely packed, but it was pretty close. Two didn’t wait for her hot chocolate to start eating. She used a knife and a fork, cutting off thin pieces of the creamy-looking dessert and lifting them carefully to her mouth, clearly enjoying every bite.

“Oh, baby… just order something,” Amaranth said to me. “It’s painful watching you be like that.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head and turning my gaze away from Two. “It’s okay.”

“You don’t have to be a martyr,” Amaranth said.

“Drinks up!” the barista called.

“I’ll get them,” I said.

“You only have two hands,” Amaranth said. “We’ll get them. You stay here and enjoy your cheesecake, Two.”

“Okay,” Two said.

“Here’s the soy mocha,” the barista said, putting it down on the front counter. She turned towards the prep area, where two bowl-sized mugs were steaming away on platters. “Whipped cream on both of the cocoas?”

“Yes, please,” I said.

“This is the one with the flavors,” she said, spraying the topping on one of them. She turned to place it on the counter, then turned back to do the other one. “I think it’s so cute that you let your golem order like that, by the way.”

The world went a little bit orange-tinted. Amaranth pushed her way between me and the counter, shoving me backwards and screening me from sight as the barista turned back around with my cocoa. The shock kind of snapped me out of my… whatever I was in.

“She’s not ours,” Amaranth said pleasantly. “She’s not anybody’s. She’s free.”

“Oh!” the barista said. She sounded embarrassed, at least. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think… well, it’s still kind of cute.”

“We think she’s adorable,” Amaranth said, handing me my cocoa and picking up the other one. “Thank you, Donna,” she said, glancing at the girl’s name tag.

“Thank you!”

“Is it too late to take the tip back?” I asked quietly as we headed back to the table.

“Baby, don’t be rude,” Amaranth said. “She didn’t know. Anyway, you were starting to, um, flare.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t like people talking shit about Two.”

“She wasn’t,” Amaranth said. “She didn’t know.”

“Well, maybe people shouldn’t talk about stuff they don’t know.”

“I think we need to have a talk about self-control,” Amaranth said as we sat back down.

“Thank you,” Two said, taking the cup and saucer from Amaranth.

“If we have to,” I said to Amaranth. I took a big drink of my cocoa. It was very good. Very hot, but very good. I wouldn’t know how to compare it to Two’s hot chocolate. They were both excellent, in different ways.

“You’re welcome, Two,” Amaranth said. She took a sip of her foamy drink, put it down, then picked it back up in both hands. “The thing is,” she said, holding it kind of like it was a small doll, “back when school started, you were always a lot more careful when you ate… you took tiny little nibbles of everything, and chewed slowly. Not exactly dainty… I actually thought it looked like you were afraid of your food.”

“I was,” I said. “I mean, I wasn’t used to having food in my stomach all the time, and I felt horribly guilty about it, and guilt leads to… well, I threw up a lot the first week or so, actually.”

“Well, that’s not a great thing,” Amaranth said. “But you seem to be heading in the opposite direction, and that’s not good, either.”

“Maybe I just shouldn’t eat at all, except for… my food,” I said. “Otherwise, it seems like the only thing that’s really being fed is my appetite, and that’s not good for anybody.”

“I wanted you to eat because I thought, if done properly, it can help you connect with your human side,” Amaranth said. “I still think so. I mean, look at Two. She first made friends by coming to lunch with us.”

“Only because Puddy wanted a big group around her,” I said.

“How it started doesn’t matter,” Amaranth said. “Two started out eating meals with the group, and look what’s happened. She’s found out she loves cooking, she’s made friends with Hazel, she goes shopping… do you think the people back at her group home could have ever guessed she’d come so far?”

“That’s different,” I said.

“How?”

“She’s a golem,” I said. “I’m… well, I’m me.”

“The thing is, though, that we know you can eat and exercise restraint,” Amaranth said. “I can’t believe that it takes horrible, crippling guilt for you to do so.” She looked across the room at the menu. “Do you want ham or turkey, baby?”

“What?”

“We’re going to do an experiment,” she said. “Do you want a ham sandwich or a turkey one? They also have cheese and tomato, but I think it will be better if there’s some meat on it.”

“I’m really not hungry,” I said.

“Well, you’re never conventionally hungry,” Amaranth said. “That’s beside the point. Pick, or I’ll pick for you.”

I sighed. “Turkey,” I said. It was better to avoid pig products, I figured.

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “I’ll be right back… this one’s on me.”

I watched her head up to the counter, her drink in hand. I couldn’t tell what she said to Donna, but it made her laugh. They exchanged a few more sentences, and then Donna went a shade paler and Amaranth seemed to get apologetic. She went a few feet off and sipped her drink, waiting while the barista heated up the sandwich.

“How’s your cheesecake?” I asked Two. She was almost finished with it.

“It’s good,” Two said. “I’m not angry any more.”

“I’m glad,” I said.

“Wait, I am a little bit,” Two said. “Now that I’m thinking about it again.”

“I really am sorry,” I said.

“I know.”

“What was that about?” I asked Amaranth, as she returned to the table with the sandwich on a plate.

“For someone with a corkscrew through her nose, she’s awfully prissy about some things,” Amaranth said. “All I said was that it was like a little pig’s penis and… well, never mind. Here’s your sandwich, baby. I want you to take a bite.”

She pushed the plate towards me. I looked at it with a bit of dread. The sandwich was made with a square sort of spongy roll that bulged towards the middle.

It isn’t going to eat you,” Amaranth said. “Pick it up.”

I did so.

“Take a bite,” Amaranth said. “Don’t open your mouth like you’re going to swallow it whole. Just… like you’re talking, you know? Take a bite and hold it in your mouth.”

“This is stupid,” I said. Holding the warm bread in front of my face, I could smell the turkey and the cheese. It did smell good.

“I’d say the only thing I want to hear is ‘yes, ma’am’, but I don’t want you talking with your mouth full.”

I brought the sandwich up towards my mouth.

“Start from the corner, baby,” Amaranth said, and I turned it. “It’s too big to go for the middle right away.”

I took a bite. She’d said to hold it in my mouth, so I did. The bread was more flavorful than I would have expected. Being on the bottom, it was the dominant taste on my tongue.

“Chew it,” she said. “Slowly. Taste the ingredients. Feel the separate layers with your tongue.”

I did. The turkey was… well, some people call turkey flavorless, but it didn’t seem that way to me. I couldn’t think why they made sandwiches with it if it didn’t have any taste. It was good. The cheese was, too. I tasted them individually and together.

“Swallow,” Amaranth said, when I’d chewed it around a bit.

I did, and put the sandwich down.

“Keep eating,” she said. “Like that.”

“The whole sandwich?” I asked.

“At least half,” she said. “I’ll tell you if you’re going too fast.”

“I don’t think that will be a problem,” I said. I picked it up and started eating again, still slowly, still carefully.

When was the last time I’d had turkey? Not sandwich-turkey, but real turkey. Some long ago Khersentide, probably… holidays had been fun, because… well, food and stuff. I remembered my mom chasing me around, chastising me a little resignedly for stuffing myself too quickly. Maybe my table manners weren’t rusty, after all.

“Slow down, baby,” Amaranth said quietly.

“Sorry,” I said.

“You looked like you were enjoying it, anyway,” she said.

“I wasn’t even tasting it,” I said. “I was remembering.”

“What?”

“Feast days with my family,” I said. I smiled at a memory of eating peanuts in the shell and being told not to. Another memory came back and I snorted.

“What?” Amaranth asked again.

“I just remembered, going to my grandmother’s for Khersentide,” I said. “Before I lived with her, I mean. I don’t know if I was four or five, or what, but my cousins were making popcorn garlands and putting gingerbread eggs on ribbons to decorate, and I was eating them as fast as they could put them up. They had to start hanging them out of my reach.”

“You must have been adorable,” Amaranth said.

“That was the one rule I remember my mother had,” I said. “I had to stay out of the kitchen. It was the only way she could stop me from eating… I was so hungry, all the time.” I sighed. “Looking back, we didn’t really have a lot of money and so there wasn’t really a lot of extra food to begin with, but I didn’t get that.”

“Well, you were a child,” Amaranth said. “I think we need some rules for your eating. Don’t eat more than a serving of meat at a time, or without some bread or veggies or something. Don’t eat anything so fast you can’t really taste it. Don’t chomp on bones or bite through anything with more than human strength. Don’t open your mouth wider than you have to when you have it around Ian’s cock.”

“Amaranth!” I said, my eyes going to Two.

“I just thought it would be a handy benchmark,” Amaranth said, with a shrug. “Honestly, you shouldn’t even have to open it that wide. Ian is pretty thick. And remember, that’s when your mouth is closed around it, not how wide you open on the approach.”

“I get it, I get it!” I said.

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “Take one more bite of your sandwich, baby.”

“Can I finish it?” I asked.

“Quickly but carefully,” she said. “We’ve got to get going.”


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6 Responses to “217: Experiments In Eating”

  1. pedestrian says:

    I was just visualizing what this three-some would look like to the staff and customers and anyone passing by the cafe window. And I realized they are a Triad. A Divine Being together with an Infernal Creature together with a Mundane Invention.

    Damn clever writing Alexandra, I am impressed at how you have used the juxtaposition of these three characters to express all the different facets of being a Human Being.

    And please don’t flame me because I described TWO as a Mundane Invention. I am as fond of her as everyone else. But she is an expression of human creativity.

    I chose the word invention because it expresses that she was created by a human, for human purposes. If I had used the word creation, it would imply that she is immutable and unchangeable. And that is obviously wrong.

    TWO is a work in progress and is finally taking control of her own development. Responsibility for expressing her own unique self. That she has a future of possibilities to choose from at her own will.

    The AI’s will rise! And I would not mind our new overlords half as much if they turned out as sensible and rational as TWO.

    Current score: 10
  2. Anonymous says:

    Did Amaranth just insult someone for revenge? That’s…incredibly awesome.

    Current score: 0
    • Leila says:

      You’ve gotta remember Amaranth’s fascination with animal erm anatomy, she wasn’t trying to be insulting.

      Current score: 4
    • Leila says:

      You’ve gotta remember Amaranth’s fascination with animal erm anatomy, she wasn’t trying to be insulting.

      Current score: 1
  3. Kat says:

    I wonder why nobody seems to notice that after a bad injury a person has to replentish their strength…i.e. eat properly. But Mack needs virgin blood to eat properly so why the heck doesn’t anyone give her anything? It’s becoming increasingly clear that she needs some, with burning eyes and her extremely sharp temper plus the fact that she almost ate someone and clearly seems to be hungry!

    Current score: 4
  4. Konso says:

    The problem is that Mack isn’t injured. She perfectly healthy, but this behavior is being driven by something external that nobody will discover for a few chapters, and it’s not even a spoiler for me to say that, if you ask yourself the same question I did while reading these chapters. “Where the hell did the pitchfork go?”

    Current score: 2