67: Sunday Stroll

on September 18, 2007 in 03: Virginal

In Which Amaranth Confesses Her Sin

It wasn’t that long a walk from the union to the library, but we made kind of a stroll out of it. I deeply appreciated that, both because my legs were shorter than Amaranth’s and Two’s, and because I wasn’t capable of much more than tiny steps at the moment.

We held hands as we walked, Amaranth in the middle. I supposed that helped us turn more heads than the three of us would have otherwise, even given Amaranth’s beautiful nude form. Grown women–as much as I thought of anybody under the age of about thirty-five as a “girl” or “boy”, we were technically women–simply did not hold hands.

A pair of women might be a couple, but even that would draw attention. We were three, and there was something more than eye-catching about that. We got several wolf whistles and barely intelligible hollers.

It was as though the sight of us walking three abrea… side-by-side like that magnified Amaranth’s natural sex appeal. Did they assume that the three of us were going off somewhere together… as in, together? Maybe they did. Of course, I would never have done anything like that with Two… but they didn’t know that.

All they saw was three girls… or rather, two girls and a nymph.

Leaving aside the ick-factor inherent in anybody lusting over Two, it was… oddly exciting, in an embarrassing sort of way. I wasn’t dressed all sluttily, like I had been for the dance. I was just wearing my own old comfy-fitting jeans and a plain black t-shirt… not even a fitted one, or anything. In fact, I couldn’t swear to it, but I think I’d got it from the men’s section.

It didn’t matter how I was dressed, though… I was the NYMPH’S TOY. Of course the boys we passed found that sexy.

Then I remembered that the writing was gone, and for one absurd moment, I found myself actually wishing Amaranth hadn’t erased it. I shook it off. It was nice to think of, but I wouldn’t really want to go through life visibly branded… well, visibly marked… visibly having something written on me which declared me to be somebody else’s toy.

Not really.

“Usually, I have to say something to make you blush like that,” Amaranth purred. Both the observation and the tone in which she made it deepened my mortification. “What’re you thinking about?”

“Boys,” I said. I was pretty much down to the monosyllables at this point. “You.”

“Boys… and me,” Amaranth said, giggling. “Should I start inviting you to come along at night again?”

“No! No,” I said, hastily modulating my voice. “Not… like that. I was… I was thinking of boys… um… finding… me sexy… because…”

“Because you are?” Amaranth said.

“Because of you,” I said. “Because I’m yours.”

Amaranth laughed… a sweet golden sound.

“Oh, Mack, if you went up to one of those boys and told them you were my special toy, his head would probably melt on the spot,” she said.

That would make two of us, I thought.

“You know,” I said, a little hesitantly. I was looking for another topic of conversation, but didn’t want to seem too eager. “I’m glad you said we should go to the library this morning. I was actually kind of worried when I told you I wanted to belong to you that we wouldn’t do any… well, normal stuff… together. Like this.”

“Oh, I had a great time with you last weekend,” Amaranth said. “I wouldn’t give up that sort of… hmm, pleasure,” she said, giving her head a little toss and arching her back to stick out her chest, “for anything. I mean, you have no idea how much I really love books, and it means so much to me that you like them, too. You do have some… well, let’s say deficiencies in your education… but you’re an intelligent person, there’s no mistaking that.”

“I think Mack is very smart,” Two said. “I think she is the smartest person I know.”

“Yes, well, Twoey, it’s good that you’re voicing your opinion,” Amaranth said, giving a giggle that sounded the tiniest bit forced. “And Mack is smart, but she’s not that smart. Well, no, I mean, of course you’re smarter than most people, sweetie,” she said, flashing a smile at me before turning back and addressing Two with a certain level of sternness. “But you should be careful with how you label people with something like ‘smartest’, because that’s an absolute, and there’s always going to be somebody else who’s smarter, perhaps even within the same immediate social group… well, I’m just saying you should keep your mind open, you know, to the possibility that somebody else could be smarter. Okay?”

Two blinked a couple times. I have no idea how she parsed what Amaranth had just said. At a guess, I’d say she accepted the “keep an open mind” part as a command and just let the rest wash over her. Finally, she just said, “Okay.”

Amaranth visibly relaxed, and her smile grew several degrees brighter.

I didn’t say anything. Amaranth would never admit to such an un-nymphly failing as jealousy, but it was pretty obvious to me that she was invested in thinking of herself as “the smart one.” She didn’t brag about it herself, but probably she’d never had to.

For my part, I thought it was probably too close to call. Amaranth seemed to have a handle on things that absolutely mystified me, but that could have been more from my lack of experience than anything… and then, there were a few things she seemed certain that she understood, but I was less sure of.

She had a kind of wisdom about her, or at least, she seemed to sometimes. She understood a lot about human relationships, at least in the abstract, anyway. She was certainly well-read on a wide variety of subjects… but maybe not very discerning about her sources.

It was interesting to think about, all the different ways in which a person could be “smart” or not. There was the old “street smart”/”book smart” thing, though I personally felt a lot of people who insisted they were only “book dumb” were very likely to make a dumbass move on the street. Somebody could be unlearned about most things, but smart about money or smart about love… and really, was education really the same thing as intelligence?

Or was that wisdom?

I mean, what the hell was wisdom, really?

Were any of these things really quantities that you could compare like two numbers, or were they more than that?

I must have been more lost in thought than I realized, because I felt a sudden tug on my arm and stumbled forward… I’d stopped, or slowed down, and nearly tripped Amaranth up. She let go of my hand and turned around, still holding on to Two.

“You okay, honey?” she asked.

“I’m just thinking,” I said.

“What about?” Amaranth asked.

“Just that… well, I think maybe intelligence is another one of those things that’s more complicated than we usually admit to,” I said, putting my thoughts into order as I said them. “I mean, you could pick two people and compare all the ways in which one is smarter than the other, or all the things one knows and the other doesn’t, and I don’t think you’d ever run out of things to compare, you know?

“You know… I think you’re probably right,” Amaranth said. “In fact, I’ve read that some subtle artists and mental healers have opined that there’s actually several different types of intelligence, like, say, emotional intelligence and spatial intelligence and numerical… I mean, there’s all kinds of different ways of looking at it, and part of it comes down to where you want to draw the line, right? But, still and for all that, I think it’s probably possible, with careful observation, to look at a given group of people and say, for instance, ‘That one there is the smart one.’, or ‘She seems a little more intelligent in general, compared to the others.’, or…”

“I think you’re very smart,” I said. “I think you’re the smartest person I know.”

She scowled at me, but I kept my face blank and still, and finally, she burst into laughter. I laughed, too.

“I… I need clarification,” Two said, her voice shaking. “Are… are…”

“Oh! We’re not making fun of you, Twoey,” Amaranth said.

“I’m not!” I said, aghast at the realization of how Two had taken my lame little imitation. “Really, Two, I wasn’t! I swear, I wasn’t.”

“She was making fun of me, the little brat,” Amaranth said. She turned to me. “Don’t think you’re not going to get an extra swat or two for that tonight.”

“Flat side?” I asked, hopefully. I wasn’t ready for the studs again.

“Bare handed,” she said, giving a careful emphasis to each syllable. All the muscles in my body suddenly wanted to contract inwards, even down to my toes, which curled inside my sneakers.

“Oh,” Two said, sounding spectacularly unconvinced and looking like she was about to cry. “Okay. I was mistaken.”

“Two, I really, truly wasn’t,” I said. Tears were filling up my own eyes now. “I would never…”

“No, Two, she really wasn’t,” Amaranth said. “I was being silly, and… well,” she said, swallowing. “Silly and vain, which I shouldn’t have been, because… because it’s a fault against my nature, and against the goddess who shaped me. I need to try to remember that I’m more than just a mind… I’m also a pretty face and a sexy body, and holes to be filled.”

“Okay,” Two said, and this time she sounded more like she meant it. “I… I don’t think I like people making fun of me.”

“Do people make fun of you often?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Not often. Most people don’t notice me,” she said. “But sometimes.”

“If somebody makes fun of you, ask them to stop,” Amaranth said.

“If you feel it’s safe,” I added.

“What do you mean, safe?” Amaranth asked. “Who would possibly want to hurt our Twoey?”

“Who would want to make fun of her?” I countered.

“Maliko,” Two said. “Maliko would.”

She’d jumped on my question to Amaranth, interpreting it in a way that let her tell us who had been giving her a hard time: Maliko the cat girl, one of Sooni’s nekoyokai… friends? Slaves? Retainers? Whatever she was, I felt monumentally stupid… why hadn’t I thought to just ask Two outright?

“Well, Twoey, the next time Maliko says something that makes you feel bad,” Amaranth said, “you let her know that she’s hurting your feelings, okay? And then ask her to please stop.”

“Okay,” Two said. She glanced at me, and I just shrugged.

I thought that Sooni and Maliko would find this nothing short of hilarious, but I didn’t contradict Amaranth. She’d already had her vanity pricked once, and she’d actually admitted to it… maybe we were all making some kind of progress. I wasn’t going to push it, though. I would talk to Two about the yokai girls alone.

“Um… I need clarification,” Two said. “Are we still going to the library?”

“Yes, sweetie, we are,” Amaranth said.

There was a sort of understated urgency in Two’s voice that caught my attention. Well, there would have to have been some kind of urgency, or else she probably wouldn’t have spoken up. She wasn’t fully comfortable asking unsolicited questions, hence her need to phrase it as a request for clarification… so…

“Why do you ask, Two?” I asked. I amended the question as soon as it was out of my mouth. “Why did you need clarification?”

“Because if we weren’t,” she said, folding her hands in front of her below her waist, and crossing one leg in front of the other, “I would need to go find a bathroom somewhere else.” She gave a little half-roll of her eyes, like she did sometimes when she was thinking, and then added, “soon.”

“Oh!” Amaranth said.

We strolled the rest of the way to the library at a bit less leisurely a pace. I didn’t complain.

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4 Responses to “67: Sunday Stroll”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Off the top of my head, a Nymph protecting a demon and a golem.

    Wait for it….

    So Mother Nature does have a sense of humor.

    And for toilet jokes: At my age, nature doesn’t call, nature yells! The way she is treating me, you’d think we were married.

    Current score: 1
  2. Maesenko says:

    I find my self liking Amaranth less and less. Each time she dominates Mackenzie in what would otherwise be a very reasonable point for her to voice an opinion.

    Plus, Amaranth seems to not understand what Mackenzie is trying to do in improving Two. Ultimately, Amaranth just orders Two without trying to coax out Two’s personality, like Mackenzie does.

    Current score: 0
    • Firebat says:

      That’s exactly the reason Two thinks Mack is smarter than Amy. Mack actually understands that Two is a person.

      Current score: 2
      • Anon says:

        I think it’s close to the opposite, actually. Amaranth thinks of Two as a normal inexperienced human, or a small child, and gives her “orders” in the form of things that would be decent lessons or recommendations to somebody who thought like a normal person did (considering exceptions, following vague guidelines instead of solid rules, repeating things as habit after only being told to do them once, etc.), but which are completely inapplicable to a mind built around logic and obedience. Mackenzie treats Two like an emancipated golem, fully sentient and a real person but almost entirely inhuman. And that might be because of a more logical mindset or her enchanting background, but I think it’s probably mostly because she just doesn’t have enough experience to form any default setting for talking to people and has to work from scratch to figure out how to deal with each individual.

        Current score: 12