220: Shop Talk

on May 20, 2008 in Book 8

In Which Utility Is Valued Over Style

After finishing up at the law firm, we descended back into the murky depths of the mid-town transit center and rode back towards the edge of town, where we met up with Two at the same cafe we’d eaten breakfast at on our first trip into town. She was finishing a big, bright yellow milkshake when we arrived.

“Two, honey,” Amaranth said, after we’d exchanged greetings. “Do you think maybe you’ve eaten enough sweets for today?”

“Yes,” Two said, nodding. “I have. Thank you for asking.”

Amaranth stowed Two’s groceries for her, and then it was off to the Walled Market. Amaranth skirted the edges of the open bazaar on the way. She didn’t say anything, but I think she was trying to avoid any more encounters with slavers, with Two in tow.

Amaranth stopped without warning when we were almost there.

“What?” I asked.

“I was just thinking, maybe we should go look at carpets first,” she said. “If we’re buying cast-offs, the selection will be limited, so it could be easier to coordinate if we get the carpeting first and then look at bedding and stuff.”

I couldn’t help letting out a groan. I’d forgotten about the whole carpet side trip that Amaranth had wanted to make. I was very much in favor of having something warmer to tread on than tile as the winter months rolled in, but I didn’t want to go to a whole separate store for it when the Walled Market sold just about everything.

“Oh, don’t you start,” Amaranth said. “This is your room we’re talking about. Don’t you want it to look nice? Don’t you want me to have some place comfortable and homey to come back to?”

“Can’t we at least look at the rugs the Market has, since we’re almost there?” I asked. “I don’t want to double back to go to another place. I mean, don’t you want to go back to the bookstore and do more than sit and drink?”

“Oh, alright,” she said. “But you need a serious attitude change, missy… don’t think I didn’t see those faces you were making at the law firm.”

“I wasn’t making faces,” I said. At least, if I had been, I wasn’t aware of it.

“You weren’t scowling at Chet during the paperwork?”

“I was… concentrating on getting the details right,” I said.

“You really need to learn how to filter what you’re feeling a little better,” Amaranth said. “Not every thought that crosses your mind has to cross your face, as well. Maybe Dee could give you some lessons there?”

“Oh, that would be fun,” I said sarcastically… then I pictured Dee leading a class on “How Not To Smile”, and smiled.

“It’s just another facet of self-control,” she said. “Which is something you really need to work on, anyway.”

A thought popped into my head, but I bit my lip.

“Oh, just say it,” she said.

I sighed.

“I had plenty of self-control before I came here,” I said. “I mean, it’s fun… sometimes… but I never got into this much trouble back home, even surrounded by people who hated me and were quick to blame anything that happened on me.”

“But, don’t you see… you actually didn’t have much self-control,” Amaranth said. “You just kept such a tight lid on everything, and kept yourself away from any opportunity to be tempted…”

“Well, it worked,” I said.

“For a certain definition of ‘worked’,” Amaranth said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It kept you alive and more-or-less together until now, but it didn’t exactly do a whole lot to prepare you for being on your own, out in the real world,” Amaranth said. “I mean, you could maybe have made it through the year keeping your head down and hoping that everybody ignored you, but would you have enjoyed that? And do you really think you could have coasted along forever without something setting you off, without somebody pushing you over the edge?”

“Well, I think I could probably have made it at least longer than three weeks without burning somebody I care about,” I said.

“But who would you care about?” she asked.

“I do not would like you two to fight,” Two said, while I was figuring out how to answer that. Both Amaranth and I jumped. I think on some level, we’d both forgotten that Two was there, or at least, we hadn’t really thought about that fact.

“Oh, honey, we aren’t!” Amaranth said. “We’re just… talking some things out. But you know, it is rude to do that in front of you, and I’m sorry.”

“Sorry, Two,” I said.

“It’s okay,” Two said. “I forgive you. But I still don’t like it.”

“It’s just, sometimes when you’re in a relationship, you have to talk these things through,” Amaranth said. “You understand, don’t you?”

“She could just say ‘yes, ma’am’ and do what you tell her to,” Two said.

“Well… she really could be more obedient, sometimes,” Amaranth said, her eyes flicking towards me before going back to Two. “But that’s got to come along with the self-control, I think. She likes obeying. It makes her feel good.” She turned and looked at me appraisingly. “Do you suppose that’s why you turn into a brat sometimes?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well,” she said, twisting her lip, “some days, like today, you get kind of…”

“Not that part!” I said. “I mean, what do you mean about why I do it?”

“Oh! Well, it’s just, sometimes it seems like you’re not exactly predisposed to feeling good about yourself,” Amaranth said. “You know? And since being mine… submitting to me… makes you feel good, you can’t really do it when you’re determined to be miserable.”

“I’m not ‘determined’ to be miserable,” I said. “I had a shitty week, which came to an horribly overwrought climax on Friday—which I just got done reliving in gritty detail when I could have been doing something fun like reading or relaxing back at school—and then I got to wake up today with a hangover. To me, that sounds like plenty to be miserable about.”

“Is that why you left out the other part of it?” Amaranth asked quietly.

“What do you mean?” I asked, irritated beyond measure. Did she expect me to recount the events again?

She sighed.

“Never mind,” she said. “I guess we’ll deal with it later, when you’re ready to deal with it.” She took my hand. “Come on. If we do this quickly enough, we can still hang out at the bookstore for a good long while to close out our weekend.”

If she hadn’t added that last part, I might have argued more, tried to drag what she meant out of her… but having had a taste of the giant chain bookstore, I wanted the full meal.

“We’ll take care of the clothes first, since that’s your most pressing need,” Amaranth said, leading us towards women’s clothes when we passed inside the walls. “As good as you look in tighter jeans, I think we’re going to have to go in the other direction.” She tilted her head, looking at my hips and rear. “I’m not sure you’re done filling out.”

“You mean I’m getting fat,” I said.

“I mean you’re filling out,” she said. “It’s what happens when a human body gets proper nourishment.”

“But my body doesn’t need that kind of nourishment,” I said.

“No, but apparently it’s human enough to be affected by it a bit,” Amaranth said. “Don’t think of it as a bad thing, though… you’re just growing into the body you’re meant to have.”

“Wonderful,” I said. “Do I have to wait for the ‘great personality’ to develop, or does that come along at the same time?”

The scarlet anger on her face at my remark caught me by surprise.

“What?” I asked.

“Exactly what body do you imagine you would be happy with?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t like being skinny, but now you’re moaning about putting on some weight,” she said. “You feel like you’re too short, but do you think you’d feel any different if you were taller?”

“Probably,” I said. “I mean, it’s what I want, so I’d be pretty happy to get it.”

“Ooh,” Amaranth said, stomping her foot. “No, I mean, if you’d grown up taller, naturally, do you really think that would change how you felt about yourself? Or would you just be insecure about being tall instead?”

“What would I have to be insecure about?” I asked.

“What do you have to be insecure about now?” Amaranth asked. “You’re not even that short. You just notice the taller girls more… which, believe me, I appreciate… but you’re actually sort of average-ish. Yes, you’re shorter than I am, but I was created from images in the heads of men who apparently preferred tall, leggy women,” Amaranth said. “You think that’s some kind of universal constant? Barley and I look sort of alike because we were made in the same generation, but there are cereal nymphs in the valley going back a century and a half, and they cover just about every type of body you could imagine. Short, tall, plump, thin… you name it, we’ve got it.”

“So, is there a nymph who looks like me?” I asked.

“Well, not exactly like you, obviously, but that’s kind of my point,” Amaranth said. “Everybody’s body is unique.” She sighed. “Let’s not argue. You need bigger jeans. Let’s try going up a size or two. You can wear them with a belt if they don’t fit perfectly at first… you’ll actually probably find that your waist size fluctuates a bit now that you’re eating and drinking. That’s normal.”

“Yours doesn’t,” I said. “Two’s doesn’t.”

“No, but… we’re both kind of created from molds,” Amaranth said. “Our bodies are what they are. This is a part of life you get to experience that we don’t.”

“Yay, me,” I said.

“Well, you can stand around and grouse about it, or you can take the opportunity that’s in front of you,” Amaranth said. “You’re not used to buying your own clothes and having money to spare, right? Have some fun with it… instead of just grabbing a couple of pairs of dark jeans and some plain t-shirts, look around and find something you like.”

“Grabbing a couple pairs of dark jeans would leave more time for Borderlands,” I said.

“That was an order, missy,” Amaranth said, giving me a pat/swat on the butt to get me moving.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“You can help, too, Two,” Amaranth said.


Shopping for clothes made me realize how much I didn’t know about them. My mother had put me in whatever we could afford that was rugged enough to last. My grandmother had seemed to decide early on in her tenure as my guardian that I wasn’t enough of a lady to be bothered with dressing properly. I had no memories of wearing a skirt before the one Steff had loaned me, and I didn’t look at skirts now… but there were whole categories of garments I’d never considered.

I didn’t think of the Walled Market as a place to get frilly, blousy things like what Steff sometimes wore… I associated those with the wild bazaar and the smaller boutiques which surrounded it… but they were there. I looked at them with more curiosity than actual interest. They suited Steff, but they wouldn’t suit me.

Still, there were more things under the sun than just t-shirts or frilly blouses. Two came up to me with a sort of fitted shirt, black and slightly thicker than a t-shirt and with long sleeves, with a checked pattern going across half of it in a diagonal slash, and a trio of butterflies in gold glitter on the other half.

I think she was looking at it from the standpoint of “Pretty, butterflies!”, but it was actually kind of cool. I had no idea what it was supposed to signify, but it was kind of cool… and it would be warmer than a t-shirt.

Amaranth had disappeared, but she came back with a shopping cart.

“It occurred to me that they might take exception to me putting stuff away before we’ve paid for it,” she said. I held up the shirt for her approval.

“Very nice,” she said.

“I helped,” Two said.

“Are there any other ones like this?” I asked Two. “I mean, this kind of shirt.”

There were, but they were white or brown or beige or had lame designs on them. The only other black one had silver spider webs on it. Again, that was more of a Steff thing. I had no doubt she would absolutely love me in it, but it wasn’t really my… though, on second thought, I did have some money to spare, and not every little thing I bought had to be a winner.

“What do you think of this?” Amaranth asked. She was holding up an ugly, kind of muddy-looking floral print thing that looked like the top of a sleeveless dress. I must have been making faces again, because she scowled and said, “A simple no would suffice,” then put it back on the rack.

“How about this?” Two asked. She had a pink top… I think it might technically have been a t-shirt… with a slightly frilly scoop neck and very short ruffled sleeves. It would have suited her, to the extent that pink suited anybody, but it definitely wasn’t me.

“Do they have other colors?” Amaranth asked.

“Yes,” Two said.

Amaranth took my hand and took me over to where Two had found it. I could have told her it wasn’t necessary, the color was only one of the problems, but I wanted to save her feelings after inadvertently quashing her last suggestion so harshly. When she pulled the black version of the shirt off the rack and held it up, I made a point of actually looking it up and down before telling her no… and realized it wasn’t that bad.

It was a little girly… but then, I was a girl.

“Okay,” I said. “Put it in the cart.”

She pulled a white one out, too, and held it up in front of me.

“I think with all your dark bottoms, this might… um, you know, on second thought, probably not,” she said, putting it back. She pulled out another, similar but not identical black shirt, and then another, with slightly longer sleeves. “We’ll grab a few different styles for you to try on.”

I started to protest, but then stopped… I didn’t just hold the words in my mouth, I stopped the thought. What was I complaining about, exactly? I wasn’t a great beauty like Amaranth, or even pretty like Steff and Two, but I did have an awful lot of people telling me I was cute. I could have some fun dressing up for them, couldn’t I? There was apparently some middle ground between “grungy chick in old dirty t-shirt and jeans” and “immaculately groomed fairy princess in big poofy gown.”

We picked out a bunch of different shirts. By the time we were done going through the section, both Two and Amaranth were actually adding stuff to the pile without waiting for my reaction. I wanted to be annoyed, but it wasn’t like I had to buy or even try on everything that they threw in the cart. It actually made it quicker to narrow down my selections all at once instead of one by one.

For jeans, I let them talk me into a slightly nicer caliber than I’d previously looked at, including some that had some beaded patterns going up and down the legs. I drew the line at sequins on the ass, no matter how much Two pouted. If the faces she made were anything like the ones Amaranth was accusing me of making, I guess I could kind of see her point.

I ended up with three different belts, including one with a butterfly-shaped buckle. That was Two’s influence again. It wasn’t horrible. I had a feeling Steff would like it, anyway.

Amaranth threw some more socks and plain underwear in after I’d made my final decisions in the fitting rooms. I didn’t argue. It would mean doing laundry less often, anyway.

After finding some enjoyment in the clothes shopping, the housewares portion of the trip went a little better. It was Two’s room, too, and Amaranth was investing both emotionally and financially, so I could let them pick out what they liked and simply veto anything I thought was hideous. It still took what seemed like way too long, but after they’d narrowed it down to three schemes I didn’t object to, Amaranth sent me off to look at winter coats and hats and gloves.

I started out by looking at the all-black ones, but that criteria quickly fell by the wayside. Aesthetics weren’t my main concern in that area… comfort was. I tried on a bunch of different coats, finding the warmest one. It occurred to me that I could probably find an enchanted one in the bazaar, if I was really willing to part with some gold… but it occurred to me a moment later that I was an enchanter, more or less, and I already had a bare bones spell for enhancing insulation. It didn’t last long, but it also didn’t take a lot of energy to keep up, and I could certainly use it for getting between buildings in the winter.

After spending fifteen minutes trying to narrow the field between a very warm but bulky jacket and two different slimmer but still fairly effective models, I threw them all aside when I saw a brown floor-length coat lined with faux fur and a hood that Dee would have envied. I tried it on. Okay, it was clearly meant for a taller woman than me, but it was toasty. Better, it came with a pair of gloves, so I didn’t have to bother searching for a pair that matched. I threw it over my shoulder and headed back towards Amaranth and Two.

“Well, that’s certainly… enveloping,” Amaranth said when she saw my selection. “Is that what you really want, baby?”

“Why, what’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said.

“It’s ugly,” Two said.

“Well, I like it,” I said. “It’s like wearing a blanket.”

“It is,” Two agreed.

“I like it,” I repeated.

“That’s what matters,” Amaranth said. “Go ahead and put it in with your clothes.”

They’d actually got a second cart for the bedding and stuff while I was away. I supposed that would make it easier to separate it out when it came to pay for it.

“Are you guys done?” I asked. They had bed sets, and a big rolled-up area rug, and I wasn’t even sure what all else stacked and stowed in their cart.

“Almost,” Amaranth said. “I’m thinking about getting some scented candles.”

“I don’t think those are allowed,” I said.

Lit candles aren’t, but they’ll still smell nice, anyway,” Amaranth said. “We could just get an air freshener, but the candles will look nicer.”

“Do you mind if I go look at bath stuff while you figure that out?” I asked. The robe-like coat had reminded me that I wanted a bath robe, and it would be nice to have some bubbles and salts so I didn’t have to bum off Steff if I wanted them.

“No, go on and have fun,” Amaranth said. She seemed pleased that I was actually interested in shopping.

I took my cart with me, which was a good thing as on top of the robe, I also got a pair of big bath sheet towels that would be easier to wrap around myself if I needed to, and a few different gift baskets with scented oils, salts, and bubble stuff in them. Conscious of how much stuff I had piled into the cart, I looked for the discount ones.

When all was said and done, I ended up dropping a pretty large chunk of my savings in that one trip. Considering that apart from the coat and the stuff that we were splitting three ways, no one thing was terribly expensive, it was surprising how quickly stuff had added up… but then, I wouldn’t need to repeat this kind of shopping trip any time in the near future.

Despite how much we’d bought, Amaranth was able to hide it away out of sight as quickly as it was bagged up. Once I’d stopped trying to spot how exactly she did it and just accepted it, it was a pretty handy trick.

We did go back to the bookstore, and stayed there until it closed. There wasn’t really anything that Amaranth felt comfortable eating, but Two and I both had deli sandwiches for dinner and we all enjoyed a drink. I’ve never been big on coffee, but their blended mocha things were more like a caffeinated milk shake, really.

Despite what Amaranth might have said about me being “determined to be miserable”, it had kind of been an up and down day, but it ended well enough, and as the saying goes, all’s well that ends well.

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8 Responses to “220: Shop Talk”

  1. MadnessMaiden says:

    Chapters like these remind me of why I love Amy and why she’s good for Mack.

    Current score: 2
  2. Maesenko says:

    @MadnessMaiden: I agree very much on that account, but I’m still waiting to see Amaranth develop as a character more…she’s “always” right in that slightly annoying way.

    Not to mention that she doesn’t deal with sarcasm well at all, which is a big part of my character.

    Current score: 0
  3. Arkeus says:

    Urgh, Amaranth, you always bait-and-switch between ebing right and being a horrible hyprocit that forces Mack a couple of step backs. Let’s hope Amaranth being ok-ish stays for a couple more chapters. Hah.

    Current score: 1
  4. P says:

    I love the symbolism of the butterflies. Is it for Two, Mack, or the story as a whole?

    Current score: 0
  5. Sher says:

    First she’s bullied in high school. Then she thinks she’s evil incarnate. After that she’s struggling with being a lesbian. Now she’s fat. Mack has issues.

    Current score: 4
  6. Anon says:

    In which Mack neglects to get a swimsuit, to the surprise of nobody.

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      Do you think she want’s to go swimming with Sooni? The lack f a swimsuit is her excuse, she isn’t going to give it up without a fight.

      Current score: 1