In Which Mackenzie And Puddy Disagree Over Toys
After getting brought up to speed by Puddy, I holed up in our dorm room for the remainder of the morning while she went off and did whatever she did with her time. I kind of preferred not knowing. I was just happy to have the room to myself. It wasn’t huge, but it had four walls and a door that locked, and at the moment, that was enough.
I’d brought some personal things with me to MU… comfort items, mostly. Stuff that I didn’t want to leave at home, but which I’d resolved to leave packed away until at least my first week of classes was behind me and I was sure I could handle the distraction on top of a college level work load. But, I was having a kind of very shitty day, and I hadn’t yet had any classes to be distracted from, so I’d locked the door behind Puddy and got my suitcase out from under my bed.
The main thing I was interested in at the moment were the few enaction figures that I’d held on to… I used to have a huge collection, but I’d sold most of them to help meet a couple of incidental expenses. I figured I’d get a decent enchanting job with good pay, and I could rebuild my collection… but I’d kept my first edition Mecknights, and I had them riding their motorbikes around the space between our beds, jousting each other and showing off.
Yeah, Mecknights. I know it’s a kiddy show, but I can’t help it. The premise appeals to me. I may be an enchantment geek, but I actually prefer outright fantasy over most magic fiction that gets put out these days. It’s just… knowing as much as I do about how magical artifacts really work, I find it harder to suspend disbelief when I see something which I know is really impossible on TV. Like, if the heroes are going to be riding around on a vehicle that defies every natural law, I’m going to be much happier with some completely fantastic, utterly made-up explanation about “fuel-burning motors” than a bunch of thaumobabble that somebody clearly strung together by taking random words from a high school text book.
The figures were just about warmed up, and I was just about to start putting them in a proper tournament, when the door flew open. I hadn’t even heard Puddy’s key in the lock.
“Hey, close that door!” I yelled, diving to the side to try to block the little knights from view, and incidentally sending Mecknights skittering all over the floor. Nobody but Puddy was standing around outside. Across the hall, Sooni’s door was tightly shut… in fact, I hadn’t seen her since the floor meeting the night before… but I really didn’t want anybody knowing that I collected Mecknights… much less that I played with them like an eight-year-old boy.
“See, that’s how we’re different,” Puddy said, looking down at the confused, scattered figures on the floor as if they were a mess left there by an animal. “I wouldn’t be caught dead with any toy that doesn’t have six speeds and a vacuum attachment, but if it was what I liked to do, I’d have no problem racing them up and down the halls where everybody could see.”
“If that’s the only way you can think of that we’re different, you haven’t been paying much attention,” I said, gathering the figures up and shoving them back in the case. “Anyway, I was almost done… I was actually going to go down and use the ball room. It wasn’t open last night… and… what?”
She was staring at me as if I’d suggested we strip naked and run through the pent. Well, actually, she was staring at me as if she were somebody other than Puddy and I had suggested that.
“Mack, hon, you can’t be seen going in there after this morning… that would be betraying every ideal that we hold dear!” she said. “Besides, it’s almost lunch time.”
‘Yeah, well, I’m not hungry, and even if I was, I wouldn’t be showing my face downstairs,” I said. “So…”
“Of course you’re not going to show your face downstairs,” Puddy said. “You’re going to show it at the dining hall in the student union with me and the rest of your campaign supporters.”
“What ‘campaign’?” I asked. “There’s only two dozen people who are going to be voting.”
“Right,” Puddy said. “So, every vote will count. You’ve got the name recognition now, and two weeks isn’t going to be a long time for anybody else to build momentum, but all you need is to rest on your laurels and somebody’ll swoop in and take it away.”
“Good!” I said. “Let them. I don’t want to be a senator… I just want to be left alone.”
“Well, then student government’s the perfect place for you,” Puddy said. “Nobody pays any attention to it.”
“Who exactly are my ‘campaign supporters’, anyway?” I asked.
“Crazy Celia, the nymphs, the kobold, the golem, and Belinda the ogre,” Puddy said. “I didn’t invite Belinda to lunch… I think she’s only getting behind you because it gives her the best view of your ass, and I figured it might alienate her if you’re ogling Amaranth the whole time…”
“Or if she, unlike you, realizes that the words ‘not a lesbian’ aren’t simply a random collection of sounds that come out of my mouth from time to time,” I said. “Anyway, why would Two be supporting me? She didn’t seem like the kind to take a stand on anything.”
“Yeah, well, when nobody was paying attention I ordered her to give your name to Kiersta, vote for you, and ignore any further orders on the subject from anybody else,” Puddy said.
“You can’t do that!” I said. “She’s free. She can do whatever she wants.”
‘Yeah, well, apparently what she wants is to do what she’s told,” Puddy said. “Is that ironic, or just funny? I’m never sure what the difference is.”
“Well, it’s still interfering in the democratic process,” I said.
“Such passion for the subject,” Puddy said. “So civic-minded. You’re going to make a bitchin’ student senator.”
“Why are you doing this?” I asked. “Why do you want me in the senate? Why do you care? It isn’t getting you laid and it’s got nothing to do with pudding pops, so what does it matter to you if I run for office or not?”
“One, I got a feeling that it’s several kinds of fun to watch you squirm under the pressure,” she said. “Two, whether or not you believe it, I honestly do care about racial politics and how we’re treated on this campus and you have accidentally set yourself up to do something about that, and three… I really think it’ll be good for you.”
“I… think… it… will… be… good… for… you,” she repeated. “C’mon, Mack, you don’t have any problem talking to me one on one like this, and when I first met you alone in here, you seemed almost normal… but when you’re surrounded by people or a pretty girl waves her tits in your face…”
“It was the holy symbol!” I reminded her. To steer the conversation towards something I considered more of a positive, I asked, “Anyway, you thought I seemed normal?”
“‘Normal’ is not the badge of pride you think it is,” Puddy said. “I mean normal as in, functioning normally. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve kind of realized what your problem is: mentally, you’re still in high school.”
“Yeah, I was going to say the same thing about you,” I said.
“No, look… you had a shitty time in high school, right? Loner, picked on, always chosen last for melee, no date for the prom, blah de blah blah blah…”
“Yeah, okay, that was pretty much me,” I said. “What’s your point?”
“That high school’s over and all that should be in the past,” Puddy said. “Except you’re carrying it around with you, aren’t you? When you’re trying to psych yourself up, you probably think something like, ‘Nobody here has to know what a loser I was.’… or even worse, ‘…what a loser I am.’”
“Oh, wow, you read me just like a book,” I said sarcastically. “You should really think about a career in the subtle arts, oh master of the mind, because…”
“I’m not hearing a ‘no’,” Puddy pointed.
“You never do, do you?” I said. “Well, listen up: no, no, no, no, no, and no. No, I’m not going to run for senate. No, I’m not going to the lunch room with you and your naked friends and a psychopathically paranoid race-baiting snake woman. No, I’m not a lesbian. No, I’m not going to sleep with you… ever. And no, I’m not going to leave Harlowe every time I want to get on the ethernet when there’s a perfectly good ball room right downstairs.”
“You’re short a no,” Puddy said.
“You said ‘no’ six times,” she said. “And then you only explained five of them.”
“That’s no to any other crazy, stupid thing you might want me to do,” I said. “Because, I’ve been thinking… and I kind of like having everything I need within Harlowe Hall. I’m okay with never having to go outside except to go to my classes. Maybe, after I’ve got my footing a little bit more… after I get the hang of this whole college thing… I’ll feel differently and use the option of going to the student union instead, but…”
“Except, you’re never actually going to,” Puddy said.
‘I said, you’re never actually going to,” Puddy said. “Why would you? You’ve got your comfort zone, and you’re so safe and cozy inside it, why would you ever choose to leave it if nobody makes you?”
“Hey, I don’t want to be… shy, or whatever… forever,” I said. “I’m only eighteen. I’ve still got time to change.”
“Whoa, you’re eighteen?” Puddy said.
“Summer birthday,” I told her.
“Rock,” she said, smiling. Her mind seemed to have shifted to a very different place. “I’ll have to hurry up and nail you while you’re still barely legal, then.”
“Uh… you can’t be more than a year older than me,” I said, almost as put off by the absurdity as by anything else.
“It’s the principle,” she said. “You wouldn’t understand.”
‘Yeah, I really wouldn’t. See above, in re: no, no, no,” I said. “And even if you’re right in saying that I need to start changing now, this student senate thing’s just too big a leap. I’ll start smaller… join a club or something.”
“It’s not that big. You won’t have to get up and make campaign speeches in front of whole crowds… it’s just us on the floor here,” Puddy said. “You can focus on people individually, and anyway, I’ll probably do most of the actual work of persuading people to vote for you. The senate itself? You’ll be one out of a hundred, a freshman from a marginal dorm. All you have to do, if you really want to, is sit and listen and vote every once in a while. But while doing that, you’ll meet some people and maybe you’ll get some confidence in dealing with people out here in the real world instead of just over chant runes.”
“What makes you think I use chant runes?” I asked.
“C’mon, Mack, you are, like, textbook geek,” she said. “I know that you want a social life… I can tell you like the idea of having friends, in theory… but you can’t handle the reality of it. So, chant runes. You can’t tell me that’s not what you wanted on the ethernet for.”
“Okay, you’re right about that, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have friends,” I said. “Maybe, okay, they’re not people I know outside a crystal ball, but I come from…”
‘…a small town,” Puddy said. “Yeah, okay, whatever… the point is, where ever you might have come from, you’re not there any more, are you?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Then stop trying to hide there, and start living here and now,” Puddy said. “Look, if you do this senate thing… make a real, honest run of it, then whether you win or lose, I’ll stick by you, and if you try your best and you do lose, I’ll never badger you into doing anything else like it again, because I’ll know that you tried. I know I must seem pushy, and I’m sorry, but I see you, and I know you don’t want to spend your life hiding out all alone, and I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t try to do something to give you a hand.”
“Wow,” I said, and I meant it. Had I underestimated Puddy? Had I misjudged her completely? Was she really, under all her outrageous behavior and sexually-charged bullying, a decent person?
As it happened… not really.
“On the other hand, if you don’t try, or you pretend to try but fuck it up on purpose, then I will personally masturbate with each and every one of your stupid fucking plastic knights,” she said. “Or, on second thought, I’ll masturbate with one of them, and never tell you which one.”
“Don’t even fucking joke about that,” I said. “I’ll… throw out your pudding pops. Or… mess with them.” Okay, it was lame, but I couldn’t think of anything better. I couldn’t very well turn her threat around on her and say I was going to masturbate with them, because one, ew, and two, she’d probably be into it.
“No, you won’t,” she said. “Because you are a pussy and I will kick your ass if you ever think of touching my babies.”
“I could seriously hurt you, you know,” I said.
“Yeah, you could… but if you get up the ovaries to do it, I’d say my mission has succeeded,” she said. “Until then, you’re pretty much going to end up doing what I say, anyway, so you might as well quit bitching about it and just get it over with.”
Fuck her, she had a point.
“Friends don’t threaten each other to get them to do what they want,” I said.
“And grown ups play with each other instead of plastic miniatures. Anyway, you can thank me when you’ve got enough friends that you can afford to dump me,” she said. “Now, let’s get your sweet, marketable little ass over to the dining hall. It’s time to meet your adoring public.”
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