In Which Three Fall Into Bed
Once I fully calmed down from the events in the leather store, I stayed calm… way calm. By the time our coach rolled up at the MU station, it was almost like I was in a trance. The rest of the afternoon somehow slipped away from me bit by bit, but I didn’t really notice or care.
We went back to Amaranth’s room. After Amaranth waved the end of the marker over my head, Steff sat me down and started applying different combinations of make-up on me. She was good, but she was no Mariel… she only had two hands and no native talent with glamour, and our colorations were so completely different… so it took her quite a while to find a look she was satisfied with. While Steff worked me over, Amaranth slipped off to take care of some “business” and Two, who’d been sitting on Amaranth’s bed, nodded off to sleep.
Well, if she was staying up crying every night, that was hardly surprising.
It was only after about the eleven hundredth time she completely scrubbed my face off that reality started to creep back in around the edges. It started to really hit me why Steff was doing my make-up… why Amaranth and Steff had even picked out that outfit for me in the first place.
I was going to a dance.
Why had I thought this was a good idea? I didn’t know how to dance. What I knew about popular, modern music could be written on a pair of the thong underwear I’d been forced to buy. On top of that, I’d agreed to go with a boy who had thought my housing assignment was a flashing sign saying “Hey, guys… I take it in the ass!”
Steff must have noticed the change in my breathing, or posture, or facial expression, or the fact that I was beginning to radiate waves of sheer physical terror.
“Gettin’ a little nervous?” Steff asked.
“Oh, does it show?” I asked, laughing feebly at my weak joke.
“Amy would say it’s adorable, but I’m a little jealous,” Steff said. “I never had a proper first date with anybody. I mean, Viktor and I’ve had a few nights on the town… but nothing like this. A boy and a girl, each about ready to piss themselves with fright…”
“I don’t piss,” I reminded her.
“Well, the feeling’s the same, I’m sure,” Steff said. “Try to remember that, too… that he’s likely as scared as you are. Or, probably more scared, given… well, everything.”
“I just… I just don’t know if this whole thing’s a good idea,” I said.
“Oh, honey, what do you mean?” Steff asked.
I didn’t say “I’d rather go with Amaranth or you.” I caught that one before it made it out of the gate. I took a deep breath, and said, “I don’t know if I should be going with Ian.”
“So, he didn’t make the most promising of first impressions,” Steff said. “Or second, or third… but you know, I’ve always thought that initial, secondary, and tertiary appearances can be deceiving. Who knows? He could turn out to be okay… and there’s really only one way to find out, isn’t there?”
“No, I mean… Amaranth seems to think I’m not going to be interested in boys,” I said. “And she seems to be pretty… in the general neighborhood… about my other tastes.”
“When she’s not visiting her lovely summer home in la-la land, yeah,” Steff said. “Our Amy is pretty much on the mark when it comes to sexual matters… but I think she may be misreading the signs with regard to you in one important way.”
“Why would she do that?” I asked.
“Well, the only time she sees you is when you’re around her,” Steff said.
“When I’m around who?” I asked, confused.
“Around Amy,” Steff said.
“Amaranth… only gets to see me… when we’re together? As in, with each other? Amaranth is only with me when I’m with Amaranth?” I asked, making sure I’d understood Steff correctly. It didn’t make any sense that she’d bother to point out something so obvious and act like it was a statement of such great profundity.
“Right,” Steff said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
“Okay, well, um… think of it this way,” Steff said. “What’s a dragon look like, inside of its egg?”
“Like a baby dragon?” I said. “Maybe a little half-formed or something, I don’t know. Dragon eggs being so spell-resistant, you’d probably have to break one open to see for sure.”
“Yeah, but there’s one small problem with that,” Steff said.
“Mama dragons aren’t big fans of infanticide?” I guessed.
“Once you’ve opened the shell, you’re not looking at a dragon inside its egg,” she said. “Do you follow me?”
“Well, you could crack a hole and peek in without actually removing anything,” I said. “And even if you split the egg in two, it’s not like the dragon suddenly looks different when exposed to air, is it?”
“Okay, forget about the dragons!” Steff said. “Think about this instead… what happens to the light in the fridge when you close the door?”
“Nothing,” I said. “It stays there.”
“You don’t know that,” Steff said.
“Yes, I do,” I said. “It would take more time and energy to put a limiting enchantment on the permanent light spell, which would serve no purpose anyway, since there’s no reason to care whether the light is on or not when the door is closed.”
“But how do you know it’s still there, if the door is closed?” Steff asked.
“Because I study this stuff,” I reminded her. “I plan on doing that kind of thing for a living, you know.”
“Okay,” Steff said. “Forget about the fridge. Um… you know how you can only ever see one side of the moon?”
“Well,” I said, “seeing as the moon is actually a disk affixed to the vault of the heavens…”
“Amaranth couldn’t tell if you liked boys or not because you’re so in love with her that when you’re around her it’s all she sees!” Steff blurted out, drowning out the beginning of what probably would have turned into another anti-science rant.
“What?” I asked, though Steff’s meaning was pretty clear. It was just one of those “What?” moments.
“Look, Mack,” Steff said, visibly struggling to maintain her composure. “I’m not going to say that I think you would like boys or that I think you wouldn’t, because one, I don’t think of the world in those terms, and two… well, I’m obviously going to be a little biased. I mean, I know it’s perfectly possible you’re never going to be interested in anything but pussy…”
“I’m not sure I’d say that I even like… pussy,” I said. “Just that I like girls.” I shook a little bit, as it took quite a bit of effort to say this much… and also because even as I said it, I knew it made no sense. “But I don’t think… the thing between their legs… has much to do with it. In fact, I try not even to think about that, if I can.”
“Oh, Mack,” Steff sighed. Was she tearing up? “I love that you can say things like that.”
I smiled weakly. It was kind of an accomplishment… in a lame sort of way… for me to admit to this kind of thing, but I thought Steff might have been overselling her reaction.
“Anyway,” Steff said, pulling herself together, “the last thing you want to do is think of this one night as some alchemical test that’s going to tell you if you like men or not. You worry about that too much and you’ll probably end up crying because nothing happened, or because you worked so hard to make something happen that you did something you weren’t ready to. Just go and have fun… that should be your own goal for tonight, because you can reach it no matter what.”
“That seems kind of optimistic,” I said. “What if…”
“What if Ian’s a nice boy but there’s nothing there?” Steff posed. “Then you had fun making a new friend. Ian’s a dick? Blow him off and make fun of him later. You feel some kind of attraction? Well, do what you think is best. Of course, Amy’ll be thrilled if you put out… well, forget I said that. You don’t need anything influencing your decisions. But, again, the key thing is for you to enjoy yourself… and remember that Ian is just one guy.”
“Meaning?” I asked.
“Meaning that even if he does nothing for you, that doesn’t mean that nobody in the ranks of manhood will ever have anything to offer you,” Steff said. “There is such a thing as sexual alchemy. People say they’re attracted to a certain gender, but usually they mean they’re attracted to certain people who are of that gender.”
‘Maybe that’s true for, you know,” I said, groping for a word. Not “straight”… not “normal”… it was becoming a foregone conclusion that I wasn’t either of those things, but I wasn’t ready to say so, or to implicitly insult Steff by using them in this context. “For most people,” I finally said. “But…”
“Oh, but nothing!” Steff said, and I knew from her tone and the flash in her eyes that my word substitution had been completely transparent. “Do you think being queer means you give up the right to individual taste? Do you think that because I don’t care what my partners have between their legs, it means I don’t have any standards at all?”
“I’m sorry!” I said, flinching and turning away. “I’ve… I haven’t really thought about this stuff before, okay? It’s all new to me.”
“Oh, Mack… I’m sorry, too,” Steff said. “I didn’t mean to snap like that. I just… well, being openly polyamorous, I’ve got used to a certain attitude from people… or rather, I’ve never got used to it. I should know better, though… I mean, Amy takes everybody as they are, and Viktor… well, Viktor loves me and he loves what I am, and I’m okay with that, but you… you’re the first person I can say for certain who’s just plain accepted me for who I am, and that’s… that’s…”
She started to choke up, and I sat there like an idiot not knowing what to do. Okay, I’d had real friends for less than a week. When she actually started to cry, though, I figured it out… but her crying roused Two, who woke up crying… out of sympathy for Steff or with renewed distress at her own plight, I wasn’t sure. Steff and I, hugging tightly, made our way sideways to the bed, and we each threw an arm around Two.
“Look at us,” Steff said. “Hugging and crying again… how many times does this make?”
“I don’t care,” I said. I’d only just noticed that I was crying, too. “I love you guys.”
“I… I n-need… I need cl… clarification,” Two sobbed.
“You, too, Two,” I said, crying harder. “I love you, Two.”
“Th-thank you,” Two said, the final vowel coming out as a kind of a wail.
Steff burst out laughing through her tears, tried to stop, and ended up breaking away from us coughing and sputtering.
“What’s so funny?” I asked, thinking she was laughing at Two. Or at me.
“It’s just… I’m going to… have to do your… your… make-up again,” she said. “You fucked it up crying.”
She pointed at the mirror, and I turned and looked… and saw that I now looked like some kind of domestic abuse-themed clown, at least around my eyes. We both laughed at this sight, and cried some more, and we hugged, and then we hugged, and following that we hugged some more… and at that moment I wouldn’t have given up those hugs even for a lifetime without tears.
The orgy of emotion ended with the three of us lying–fully dressed, and completely chaste–on Amaranth’s bed, with me between Two and Steff. Steff and I were facing each other, though somehow I’d ended up with my head by her feet and vice-versa.
“You know,” Steff said, a little hoarsely. “I don’t care if you like girls, or boys, or pussy, or dick, or whatever you end up liking and however you end up looking at it. You’ll always be awesomely adorable to me.”
“Thanks,” I whispered.
“Hey… listen,” Steff said, quietly.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“No, I mean, listen,” she said.
“To what?” I asked, but then I heard what she was talking about. Two’s breathing had become deeper, steadier… she was not quite snoring, or maybe she was just snoring in a very petite, feminine sort of way… but I could definitely tell without looking that she was once again fast asleep.
Carefully, quietly we got up from the bed, gathered Steff’s cosmetics, and retreated to my room, where Steff cleaned up my face and went to work again.
We didn’t talk much while she did it.
It was like we’d said everything already.