17: Campaign Dinner

on June 21, 2007 in 01: Welcome Weekend

 In Which Mackenzie Gets Worked Over

I’d bawled my eyes out into my pillow before getting Puddy mad at me, so I did pretty much look, as she put it, “fucking hideous.” Neither of us wore make-up, so she sent me to room 410, down by the stairwell, to get something from Mariel to try to cover up my general puffiness.

The sylph answered the door looking tired and worn, visibly leaning on the doorknob for support. She was wearing a long t-shirt decorated with silver stars that hung down below her knees, and nothing else that I could see. It struck me that half-naked, she was still less naked than she’d been in the slip dress she’d worn the day before. I don’t think she’d been wearing panties underneath the dress. That made me wonder if she had anything on under the shirt.

In an idly-curious-about-the-clothing-customs-of-sylphs way, I mean… not a gay one. The thing with Puddy had me a little turned around in my head, but not that turned around.

It also struck me that I’d never really seen Mariel standing face-to-face with me. She was only a little bit shorter than me. Aside from the half-sized race students… and Puddy, who outmassed me anyway… everybody on the floor was taller than me, some by a wider-than-human margin.

I wasn’t freakishly short, dwarfishly short. If there’d been more than a couple dozen people in my graduating glass, I might not have been the shortest one in high school… but I had been. I just wasn’t used to talking to people my age who were also my size. It kind of threw me, so I kind of just stood there, completely forgetting what I was there for.

“Oh, hi… um… Mack?” Mariel said. Her tone of voice made it sound like a guess. I nodded. “You look like shit!” she said cheerily. “Have you been crying?”

“Puddy said you could give me some make-up,” I said.

“Oh, sure,” she said. She scurried off and came back with an enormous kit bag that took all of her arms to carry. She tipped it forward, so that it flapped open towards me. “Just take what you need.”

I looked in uncertainly at the mass of jars, compacts, pencils, brushes, and things I don’t even have a name for. How could one girl need all of this stuff?

“I’ve… um, I’ve never used any of this stuff,” I admitted.

“You don’t know how to put on make-up?” Mariel asked. She sounded well and truly shocked, as though I’d just admitted that I didn’t know how to tie my shoes. “Haven’t you ever worn it before? Ever?

I shook my head, wondering if I should explain myself or something.

And like that, the exhaustion vanished from her. She all but dropped the bag, yanked me inside of the room, and pushed me down into a chair in front of a brass vanity she’d brought from home. She dragged the bag over, and then all four of her lithe little arms went to work. I’d figured she would just brush some powder around my eyes or whatever it was you did, but instead I had what felt like cold mud daubed all over my face, powder pressed against that, other powder brushed and blended on top of that, my lips outlined in pencil and then colored in with bright red paint applied with a tiny little brush (which I totally did not get… what had ever happened to lipstick?)… all through this, she used two or three of her hands to move and tilt my head, sometimes actually grabbing a handful of my hair and yanking it until she got the angle she wanted.

I thought to myself, this must be what it feels like to be a sculptor’s block… all she needs is a chisel. That was when she went after my eyes with another pencil. It doesn’t matter how much damage you know you can survive… having something pointed looming that close in your view does not herald good times. I flinched and threw up my hands.

“It’s a soft pencil… stop being a baby,” she said, brushing my hands aside and coming at me again. When I yelped and started to get up, she gave me a slap with both her right hands.

It didn’t even begin to hurt, of course. Her hands were like a doll’s. It shocked me, though, after Puddy, and after seeing Sooni. Had I missed the memo where hitting was now the preferred means of interpersonal communication?

My hesitation was all she needed. She shoved me back against the chair and climbed on top of my lap, leaning all of her, oh, I’d say thirty-five pounds of weight against me. I was too stunned to do anything, so she got the eyeliner (soft, my ass) applied and then reached for a couple different shades of eyeshadow.

“Just think… a couple months of classes, and I should be able to do all that from a distance,” she said when she was finished. She climbed off of me and turned the chair so that I faced the mirror. I just stared. I wasn’t looking at my face. There had to be something wrong with the mirror. It was reflecting somebody else… the kind of girl I’d never have been able to talk to in a million years. Where had she come from? “Though, I wish I could so something with your hair… you either need to get it cut really short, or let it grow out all the way… it would take way too long to make anything of this mess,” she continued. “Oh, and your eyes are kind of veiny… hang on.”

Her eyes… which I had just noticed were silver, not blue as they had first appeared… seemed to cloud over, and she weaved her hands through the air in an intricate series of loops before snapping the fingers of all four hands at once. I both heard and felt a pop in the air in front of each of my eyes. Blinking away the shock, I glanced at the mirror… my red eyes looked like they’d been bleached. The swelling that had still been visible around the edges despite all the make-up looked gone. I reached up to touch, only to have my hand slapped by Mariel.

“Don’t, you’ll smudge it,” she said. “The make-up, not the glamour.”

“You mean, you could have just done that?” I asked her.

“You asked for make-up,” she said, giving a fluid shrug which moved up her body from her lower arms to her upper arms, and then back down again. “Besides… you look so pretty!”

“It’s just make-up,” I mumbled, tearing my eyes away from the reflection.

“Don’t say that, Mack,” Mariel said. “It isn’t just the make-up. Cosmetics are great… I mean, they really are… but they can only take you so far. For you to be really, truly beautiful, you need to have a great beautician.”

Modesty, thy name is Mariel.

“I should get going,” I said.

“You know, I think I’ll go over with you guys after all,” Mariel said. “I feel invigorated… and I always get a little hungry after I create.”

And, speaking of modesty, she wrestled the shirt off over her head… it gave her so much trouble that I don’t know why she didn’t just wear something with no sleeves, or two giant sleeves… and answered my earlier question on the subject of underwear. I didn’t try to look, but I’d been watching her fight with the shirt, and she was just in front of me. Non-human standards of decency, again. She didn’t even bother shutting the door before she did it. She walked over to her dresser, which was right in the line of sight of the hallway, and pulled out another of her cobweb-thin slip dresses. This one was a pale violet color, with an effect like layered leaves at its right-about-level-with-the-coin-purse hemline.

After seeing her wriggle out of the shirt, I noticed that the dress simply had really long shoulder straps to leave wide enough gap for both sets of arms. This kind of contributed to the barely-thereness of it, as it exposed her breasts almost completely from the side, and sometimes from the top when she leaned forward. It kind of made me wonder if the women of her race had a taboo about showing their bare bellies, or else why would they bother with the dresses at all?

“Tell Puddy I’ll be joining you, okay?” she said. “I just need a minute to do myself up.”

“Okay,” I said. “Do you know where Barley is?” It was Amaranth who I really wanted to talk to, but I knew the other grain nymph was Mariel’s roommate. I knew they had plans together… “plans” in this case being the word I used in my head to avoid thinking the words “fucking a centaur”… and, so much for that.

“Oh, she meant to meet Amaranth on the other side,” Mariel said, meaning the men’s’ half of the dorm. “She said they had, um, plans.”

The way she winced when she said it made me think she was using the same code that I had tried to employ. For as little modesty as she’d shown so far, Mariel could apparently still be shocked by the nymphs’ sexual frankness.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I was just wondering.”

Puddy was leaning against our door frame when I came out of Mariel’s room, licking a pudding pop. She watched me walking back down the hall. I felt a hot flush creeping up my face. No… not just my face. It started much lower than that. I had to tell myself that it wasn’t me she was looking at, it was the make-up.

“Well, look at you, all tarted up,” Puddy said, smiling wolfishly. In the time that I’d been with Mariel, she seemed to have bounced back to normal even more. I was starting to think that the interlude before had been a passing aberration… or that I could make it one, if I could avoid making her angry. Smiling Puddy had been a lot of fun to be around, mostly. I could just keep her smiling, and it would be like nothing had ever happened.

“Rock!” was her response when I told her Mariel would be coming with us, and I relaxed a bit. I’d started to feel like I was dressed up for a date. It really didn’t take the sylph any more than a minute to get ready, but in that time she’d done an incredible transformation on herself. Her ankle-length silver hair suddenly had violet highlights, and was swept up in an elaborate… well, it’s usually called a beehive, but that sounds tacky compared to this. Whatever it was, it was secured with an amethyst-studded tiara.

Pure geek: I may know shit about jewelry, but I can identify precious and semi-precious stones.

“Everybody else should already be there,” Puddy said. To me, she added, “You don’t have to do anything. Just smile, don’t stare at the table or the floor… and talk if somebody talks to you, okay?”

I nodded. The way she talked to me reminded me of something.

“Is Two going to be there, too?” I asked.

“I told her to go, yeah,” Puddy said. “Shiel’ll definitely be there this time, too. She said she fell asleep before lunch, she’s still not used to being up during the day… and she’ll bring her goblin roommate with her. I think I talked the girl with the eyes and the girl with the horns into coming… and Celia, of course, and Belinda and Rocky, too.” I guessed that she meant Raquel, as the nickname worked for the permanently stoneskinned woman in a couple ways. “Be nice to Belinda,” she added. “I’m guessing if you sway her, her fighter friends will vote for you.”

“Okay,” I said.

It didn’t honestly sound too bad. None of the girls she’d named were the ultra-polished, ultra-poised types that could make me feel two inches tall. I knew Celia. I was nervous about running into her again now that she knew my secret, but maybe it would be better in a crowd than if I bumped into her alone in the hall. I’d talked to Trina, the triclops, a little bit before… and she’d been more embarrassed than I had. I couldn’t be afraid of her. Belinda was huge… but muscles didn’t intimidate me.

Puddy walked a little closer to me than I would have liked on our way across the campus, but she had her hands all over Mariel again. I supposed that was a good thing. Mariel enjoyed it. I wouldn’t have.

I had my knife out, clutched to my chest. I didn’t like actually holding it at the ready, but I didn’t want to get fined again for having it inaccessible. I kept it out all the way over to the student union.

It was nearing seven already when we got in, which suited me. Official sunset was about forty-five minutes away, and that was when the dining hall closed. This would not be a lingering ordeal.

It turned out to not be much of an ordeal at all. We found the table where the others were sitting easily enough… though the dining hall was a lot more crowded than it had been during the day, none of the tables around it were occupied. Puddy introduced me to the group–as Mack, of course–and I silently cursed the fact that I’d apparently been the only one paying attention to names when we’d all introduced ourselves the night before. I was starting to catch on to the fact that I was going to be Mack to everybody, forever, regardless of my preferences.

As we sat down and the others got back to eating, people gave suggestions to me, in the case that I won the election: try to get magic mirrors in the room, more classes devoted to racial studies, an actual non-human dean of non-human students. I really had no idea how much say the student senate in any of those things, to say nothing of the clout a freshman senator from the freak dorm would have, but Puddy had told me to smile and speak when spoken to, so I smiled and said I would try my best.

“I’m not that hungry,” was all I said when Twyla, the girl with the tiny little horns on her forehead asked me why I wasn’t eating.

“It’s a hunger strike,” Puddy said. “She’s protesting the treatment of Harlowe residents as represented by the ‘special meals’.”

That got an immediate positive reaction from Shiel, the activist kobold… and a slightly delayed reaction from Celia, who knew the real reason I wasn’t eating. The others kind of murmured their approval of my conviction. I was very uncomfortable with the lie, but Puddy positively beamed at me. I blushed and looked away… and noticed that Two was eating from a plate that contained nothing but bean sprouts.

I looked over towards the serving area, and saw that a corner of one of the salad bars was the closest thing to our table.

“Did you just go and get the food that was closest?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you know what a balanced, healthy diet is?” I asked.


“Starting tomorrow,” I said, not wanting to make her get up and start her meal again, “amend my previous instructions: when a variety of foods are offered to you, do your best to select a balanced meal with different food. When you can avoid eating the same things in a meal twice in a row, do so. Keep track of which foods taste best to you. Pick those ones most often, staying within a balanced and healthy diet. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” she said.

“And always eat dessert,” Puddy said.

“When it’s healthy and safe to do so,” I added.

“Always,” Puddy repeated. Her voice had a hint of a ghost of a whisper of an edge to it. I might not have noticed it, before. “Life’s too short not to.”

Two looked between the two of us. Her lip was visibly trembling. The conflicting orders appeared to upset her.

“Always eat dessert,” I said.

“Okay!” she said. She almost smiled. That made me feel better about it.

It was a compromise, I told myself. Part of any relationship. Any friendship. Besides, my advice to Two was practical, but Puddy’s might help give her some enjoyment. That wasn’t a bad thing.

Anyway, it wasn’t worth fighting over.

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2 Responses to “17: Campaign Dinner”

  1. Jake says:

    Definitely a Strange story but I am enjoying the Hell out of it. I’m an old fart now but I can still remember my high school days & the sheer viciousness of young females. I didn’t fit well into the school groups either. I can completely sympathize with Mack & I do, to a fair extent, understand Puddy’s actions.

    Current score: 0
  2. Zukira Phaera says:

    typo alert:

    I wasn’t freakishly short, dwarfishly short. If there’d been more than a couple dozen people in my graduating glass,


    Though, I wish I could so something with your hair…


    Current score: 0