14: At The Library

on June 18, 2007 in 01: Welcome Weekend

In Which Amaranth Explains A Few Things 

I liked the MU library. For one thing, it had three stories and a basement, making it the largest one I’d ever been in. For another, they had rows of gleaming crystal balls along most of the walls, just sitting out for anybody to use.

In high school, we’d had to have a signed note from our instructors detailing exactly what we were supposed to be looking for, and how long we had. There was a duplicated hand-lettered sign stuck to the wall behind each row of balls that said, “Please limit use to 45 mins. when others are waiting.”, but other than that, there didn’t seem to be any restrictions.

I still might have managed to convince myself that maybe we weren’t actually allowed to use them… but Amaranth saw my hesitation and gave me a hard push.

While I gazed the ethernet, she brought over random books and flipped through them… also seemingly at random. She paged through them so quickly, I wouldn’t have believed she was actually reading them, except that from time to time she’d quote me a passage and then comment on it. She was keeping her voice down, but I still kept expecting somebody to come over and shush us.

Instead, the library staff was busy re-shelving books, and didn’t take much notice of us except that every now and again, one of them would say “hi” as they bustled past. Maybe they felt gratified to see students using the facilities before there were any homework assignments or papers due. Maybe they were actually that friendly.

It seemed odd that they themselves should already have so much work to do, but I guess there were summer sessions, too. College was brand new to me, but that didn’t mean it actually was brand new.

Amaranth talked, or maybe babbled would be the word, but it was a nice babble. I quickly learned that the nymph had thoughts and opinions on almost everything. Normally, I’d associate that trait with a more forceful personality like Puddy’s or Celia’s, but somehow, it was enough for Amaranth to simply share her thoughts with others… she just put them out there, and didn’t much care if she convinced anybody of anything.

That was weird to me. I’d been a lot more assertive once, and I still couldn’t imagine somebody holding a belief strongly enough to espouse it to the world but not having the conviction to back it up in an argument.

“It’s not a matter of conviction,” she told me when I, having exhausted topics to look up and caught up on all the recently updated threads on my Mecknight tapestry, asked her about this. “It’s a matter of respect. The world’s an awfully big place. There’s room for more than one opinion on most things within it.” She shrugged. “Plus, there’s always the chance that I might be wrong, or that somebody else might know something I don’t. How am I going to learn from them if I just shout them down?”

“Okay,” I said, “but… what if they’re wrong and you know something that they don’t? If you just let them walk all over you, then…”

“Oh, Mack… is that really how you see the world?” she asked, sounding anguished on my behalf.

She’d called me “Mackenzie” maybe twice, on our way over to the library, but once she got going she fell back into her original habit. I still didn’t like it, but I didn’t want to be pushy. Again, she was my friend, and she meant well.

“There’s a pretty wide field between letting people pushing you around and being the person doing the pushing,” she added.

“Is there really?” I asked. “I mean, it doesn’t really seem like it. And anyway, even if you try to find some middle ground, doesn’t it just take somebody else who comes along and wants to start pushing you around to force you to one extreme or the other? I mean, you either let them do it, or you push them back.”

Amaranth shook her head.

“I can’t imagine living my life like that,” she said.

“I don’t have to imagine it,” I told her.

“If that’s true, why do you let them?” she asked me. “Why don’t you push back?”

“I… well… you wouldn’t like me if I did,” I said. I looked away. This wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have. I wanted to be vague enough that she wouldn’t be able to judge me, but implicit enough that she’d know I was serious, and I wasn’t sure I could do either. “I can push pretty hard.”

“I’d like you no matter what you did,” she said. “I might not like the thing that you did, but I hope you will never let anybody push you into the ground because you’re worried about my opinion of you.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I said. I felt like this was probably true; I’d been letting people push me into the ground since long before I even knew her.

“But, I’d like you even more if you smiled,” she said. “I liked making you laugh, before.”

“And then I ruined it by getting all tense,” I said.

“Yeah, when you made me come on to you and press my body against yours,” Amaranth teased. “You bitch.”

“I… okay, so maybe it wasn’t totally my fault,” I said, grinning ruefully. She wasn’t going to let me get away with much bullshit in the pity department, it seemed.

“And there’s that smile again,” she said. “Somebody’s going to kiss you, if you smile like that often enough.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, covering my mouth with my hand. I was trying to frown and it wasn’t working.

“I know so,” Amaranth said. “Because I want to kiss you right now.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You’re a nymph, you want everybody… we went over this before,” I said.

She looked at me over the tops of her odd glasses.

“I may want everybody, but that doesn’t always involve kissing,” she said.

“I’m not opposed to the idea of kissing… or other stuff. It was actually one reason I was excited to come here,” I told her. “I had this idea in my head that I’d get here, and because nobody knew me, I’d be able to get past all my hang-ups, and so I’d have friends…”

“You do,” Amaranth said.

“…and then I’d, you know, meet a guy,” I said. “Only, I still feel pretty much the same as I did in high school, and I have yet to even talk to any men… or any worthy of the name. I know it’s only been one day, but it seems like I’m setting a bad precedent for the coming year.”

“Well, the thing to remember is that’s not likely to change, if you just hang out in your room and the library all semester long,” Amaranth said. “Trying going to the main lounge in the evening, or just come up to boys’ side with Barley and me some time.”

“But I don’t want people to think I’m a…” I started to say, then stopped. How could I finish that sentence without insulting her?

“Slut?” she said, innocently. “Right, you probably don’t. At least not before you know how much you like sex. Still, if you just sit around downstairs alone long enough, some guy’s bound to come up and talk to you.”

“Why would they do that?” I asked.

“Because you’d be a girl, sitting alone, in a college dorm,” she said. “Not that you aren’t cute, but there’s nearly a hundred guys living in our dorm. Anybody is bound to be somebody’s idea of paradise.”

“How can you say I’m cute?” I asked. I wasn’t. My dark hair was not a shiny, lustrous black… but just a dull, flat one. My hips and breasts had got lost in shipping somewhere. I was bone-skinny and way too short, and I don’t think anybody’s ever had a face that was as just plain blah as mine.

“If you don’t see it, I can’t convince you by telling you,” Amaranth said. “But you try hanging out alone in the lounge, or anywhere else where there’s boys, and see what happens.”

“I hung out alone in the halls at high school all the time,” I told her. “I got some attention from boys, but they didn’t think I was cute.”

She gave her head a little toss from one side to the other, a quizzical expression on her face, as though she was trying to decide how to put something.

“Well, young humans have a weird pack mentality about those things, I’ve noticed,” she said. “You look at the girls in an average-sized high school, and none of them are really going to be model-pretty or, you know, tragically disfigured or anything. They all fit pretty well into the spectrum of normal physical appearance.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “There’s always the pretty girls, who are popular, and the ugly dorky girls who aren’t, and the kind of plain girls in the middle who have to suck up to the pretty ones to be accepted.”

“At best, most of those ‘ugly dorky girls’ would just be considered plain, in the world outside high school,” Amaranth said. “To some extent, I suppose it’s that the really vain girls put more time and effort into improving their appearance, but mostly it’s just the collective talking. If you aren’t accepted by the pack, then to a certain extent nobody’s going to be willing to admit that they find you desirable… and to a certain extent, they really won’t. Perceptions are highly suggestive, and standards of beauty are mutable. The popular girls aren’t necessarily popular because they’re pretty; they’re considered pretty because they are popular.”

“That’s… insane,” I said.

“Okay, but think,” she said. “Have you ever heard somebody talking about a girl they went to high school with who was supposed to be really, really ugly, and they just heard she’s getting married to somebody really handsome and they can’t believe it?”

I had to think about it. It was kind of a weird thing to try to think about, but it seemed to me like maybe I had.

“I think so,” I said. “I can’t remember exactly when, or where, though.”

“Well, that’s not surprising,” she said. “Because it probably happened more than one time. That same conversation goes on, all over the world, all the time.”

“Yeah, but some people are, you know, late bloomers,” I said. “Or they get work done, or are really good at glamour.”

“Then there’s the pretty girls who move from one school to another and suddenly can’t get the time of day… or the ugly girls who move and suddenly find themselves the center of attention,” Amaranth continued, ignoring my objections. “I’m not going to say something trite, like ‘the message is that real beauty is on the inside’… because, that’s not the kind of beauty we’re talking about… and it makes it sound like there’s some kind of rhyme or reason to this, or at least a basic level of fairness about it.”

“So what is the message?” I asked. She had given me what I had to admit was an interesting theory of high school social dynamics, but I still wasn’t sure I could believe it. I’d seen the girls that were considered pretty at my school every day. They’d looked pretty damn pretty to me. And the rest of the ugly girls… well, I wasn’t really in any position to judge them, was I?

“The message is that, instead of listening to the memory of people you’re never going to see again, you should look to the here and now in determining your cuteness,” Amaranth said. “And that goes double for your self-worth.”

“I didn’t need anybody from school to tell me my worth,” I said.

“well, you sure need somebody to,” she said.

“You know, sometimes being told that I’m wrong for thinking I’m pathetic just makes me feel worse,” I said.

“But at least when I do it, you have my breasts to stare at some more,” she said, lifting them up with her hands and squeezing them together.

I really didn’t go around staring at other girls’ chests. I just don’t spend a lot of time looking at people’s faces, until I’d got comfortable around them… as I had with Amaranth. But as she drew attention to her chest, something tripped in my mind.

“Uh… on the subject of that,” I said. “What happened to the… cut… you had earlier on your… um, person?”

“Oh, well, Barley finally asked me to heal it before we went to lunch,” she said. “She tries not to judge… but I think it disturbs her, what I do. She understands all about pleasure. She doesn’t get the pain.”

“I don’t, either,” I admitted.

“You know what?” she said, her smile widening. “Neither do I, really. I just know that I like it. It makes me feel alive.”

“I’ve got enough pain in my life without seeking it out,” I said.

“That’s good to hear,” she said. “You should practice saying it every day. You ready to go back?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I’d managed to push the disaster at lunch from my mind, but her question brought it front and center. Had Celia told the others? Was there going to be a nasty reception waiting for me?

“Oh, it’s okay!” she said quickly. I guess my panic must have shown. “We can stay here all day, if you want to. If you have to.”

She didn’t sound like she was doing some passive-aggressive, reverse-psychology thing when she said it… she sounded sincere. The mention of staying in the library all day, though, got to me.

“No,” I said, grimacing slightly. “No, I think I’d better go and face… well, whatever.”

It turned out I’d been worrying about nothing, though. Celia hadn’t blabbed. Puddy and Barley were nowhere around… when Puddy came back much later in the afternoon, I found out she’d been helping Barley “stretch out” for her date with the centaur later. If I’d been there, I might have suggested that Barley reverse the order there.

Also, if we had waited any longer to come back to the dorm, I would’ve missed a rather interesting bit of drama which played out right outside my door, in front of the room of Sooni the fox girl.

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4 Responses to “14: At The Library”

  1. smashy says:

    “well, you sure need somebody to,” she said
    shouldn’t the well be capitalized?

    Current score: 1
  2. Zukira Phaera says:

    typo report:
    There’s a pretty wide field between letting people pushing you around and being the person doing the pushing,” she added.

    first pushing should be push

    “Trying going to the main lounge in the evening, or just come up to boys’ side with Barley and me some time. Trying should be Try.

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    Self-deluding bullshit is always on sale in the pity department.

    Current score: 0
  4. Maria says:

    Love this chapter! I really liked the high school analysis.

    Current score: 0