74: Upsets

on September 29, 2007 in 03: Virginal

In Which Sooni Returns To Our Tale

I was looking over my logic homework one more time before the start of class when I felt a looming presence in front of my desk. I looked up to see Sooni staring down at me, her imperious face a blank mask. I waited for her to say something… then wondered if I was supposed to say something… then waited some more.

“You have not been coming to knife class,” she finally said, her voice oddly flat, as if the random-seeming peaks and valleys of her musical accent had been ironed out. “It has been a week now and you never came back.”

“Uh… I actually dropped it,” I said. I thought about adding a sarcastic, “If that’s alright with you,” but she was kind of freaking me out with the intensity of her stare.

“You did not come to the television room yesterday, either. I waited halfway through your stupid bike show,” Sooni said, making every sentence a separate accusation. “I wanted make certain nobody would come and claim the set before you arrived. But… you never arrived.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled, my head dropping. Why would she care? Why did I care that she cared? Anyway, I hadn’t asked her to reserve the TV for me.

“If this is your idea of handling a commitment I do not see how you intend to represent the floor in the senate,” she said. “You should drop out of the race the same way you dropped out of knife class. You should drop out of school. Nobody likes you except for your lovers and you cannot even commit to one of them.”

Nobody likes me, I should just leave… she was saying all of the things I imagined girls like her thought every time they looked at me, but somehow it didn’t affect me. I’d like to say it was because I was growing as a person, but really she just sounded so petty and… well… pathetic when she said it.

I didn’t even feel compelled to argue the point about who was or wasn’t my lover, as I usually did… or what exactly was meant by “commitment”, as Steff once had argued to me. Sooni just didn’t seem to be worth the effort that day.

She glared at me, her shiny black eyes seeming even shinier up close, and it seemed like she actually expected some kind of response to her bizarre diatribe. I had nothing, though. Finally, she turned and huffed away towards her seat. Maliko immediately leaned across the aisle and began crooning to her in Yokano, only to get a vicious-looking backhand across her nose for her trouble.

How was it that she could just do that, in public, and nobody even said anything?

If Sooni thought I was going to withdraw from the election, she was doomed to disappointment. I didn’t know what kind of groundwork Puddy had laid when she’d placed herself in charge of my campaign… and to be honest, I didn’t really want to know… but it was time for me to get serious. I was determined to do whatever it took to win the election, even if it meant going so far as talking to my dorm mates.

Hazel and Honey seemed approachable, now that they’d loosened up a bit. Gnomes had a reputation for being particularly sociable. I could ask them if they’d seen the posters for bingo night and what they thought about it. Shiel the kobold was probably less likely to be interested by a night of little rubber balls with numbers on them, but she’d certainly be interested to hear about the CSC’s habit of skipping over Harlowe when it came to promoting campus events. I could start with them and hope they’d tell others.

I thought about this throughout the class and after it let out, planning out different approaches in my head and wondering if it would be enough just to talk to those few people. Celia, Amaranth, and Two were already on my side. Amaranth hadn’t hesitated to spread the word about my role in the whole bingo poster thing. Celia could be counted on to do the same.

On the other hand, if Sooni won because I was unwilling or unable to knock on a few doors and get to know my neighbors…

Then there was the fact that some of the other fifth floor girls actually were human, or nearly so. Could I honestly ask them to vote for me? Then there was the fact that I’d made an ass of myself with Feejee, and I’d never had an encounter with Trina that went well… and I could see Delia Daella going either way, given my friendship with Steff.

And there was Puddy… the last time I’d talked to her, she’d said she was still my friend, but she’d been drunk and half-conscious. If she was still supporting me, at least as far as the election went, then that was another vote or two. If not, I had a feeling she could do a lot more damage than just voting for Sooni.

Fuck! It’s a demon!” somebody shrieked from uncomfortably close behind me as I hurried down the hall after class. I’d been so wrapped up in my thoughts about the election that it would have startled the hell out of me no matter what the person had shouted.

As it was, my heart didn’t just leap up into my throat, it crashed through the roof of my mouth to cling nervously to the underside of my brain. I spun around, eyes huge and hands spread out wide, desperately searching for the right words to convince the world that I meant it no harm, no matter how dangerous my heritage made me.

Then I saw who had screamed.

“Barley,” I said. She was wearing white cotton sweatbands on her wrist and head. I wondered what Amaranth would have said… were those clothing, or accessories? “We… we wondered where you’d gone. Celia said you took your stuff out of Harlowe.”

“Yeah, I’ve been sleeping with a nine hundred pound troll,” she said, then snorted. “You know where a nine hundred pound troll sleeps, don’t you?”

“Anywhere he wants,” I said. I confess… when I was much, much younger, I had a huge weakness for stupid jokes with obvious punch lines.

“I’m young, beautiful, naked, and willing,” Barley said. “Finding a bed isn’t a problem for me. I’ve been making a survey of the fraternity lifestyle… thinking about pledging.”

She cackled at her joke.

“You’ve been drinking again,” I said, not making it a question.

“Again… still,” Barley said with a shrug. “Whatever. Beer, though… not that shit Puddy has. Barley beer… there might be a little bit of me in every bottle, do you think?”

“I don’t think alcohol of any kind is going to help you,” I said.

“I was wrong,” Barley said, regret seeping heavily into her voice. “I know that now.”

“I’m… glad you do,” I said, relaxing by degrees.

“Wrong about you… I thought you needed rescuing,” she said. “But you’re too fucked in the head to let yourself be free. You just go from one captor to another.”

“Amaranth isn’t my ‘captor’,” I said sharply.

“Oh, of course,” Barley said derisively. “She’s your perfect love.”

“I know she isn’t perfect,” I said. A beat, and then, “But… I do love her.”

“She’s a fraud,” Barley said.

“She tries really hard,” I countered.

“The whole damned valley thought she was something special even before Mother fucking Khaele started turning up to chat with her,” Barley said. “Of course, nobody stopped to think exactly why the goddess was dropping in on one of her daughters so often, nooo… they were all just soooo proud of their exotic new amaranth nymph. Everybody just thinks the world of her…”

“Yeah, and who did she think the world of?” I said.

She recoiled as if slapped. For a moment, I thought I’d got through to her on some level, but then the look of shock and hurt fell off her face, replaced with something mean.

“You know, I’m going to do you favor, Mack,” she said.

“Is it anything like the last one you tried to do?” I asked, taking a step back.

“Better,” she said, with no trace of irony in her voice. She came closer again. “I’m going to tell you a secret. Did you know that nymphs can look at people, at mortals, and know instinctively what they’ll respond to… what’ll make their pot boil?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head, though I’d kind of suspected it. Even though I’d refused some of the things Amaranth had offered, I had to admit–at least to myself–that they all held some kind of excitement for me.

“It’s true,” Barley said, stalking after me as I backed away until I was up against the wall and she was standing far too close. “That’s how Amaranth has you so wrapped around her finger… she just knows how to jerk your strings, how to push your buttons.”

As she said the last, she stuck her hand between my legs, cupping my crotch and lifting upward as if she meant to pick me up. My stomach lurched and knotted. I closed my eyes.

“Amaranth loves me. It doesn’t matter how or why she knows what I like, it just makes her a better lover for me,” I said, trying to keep the words coming in an orderly fashion. It was important to me that I addressed this point, even before moving on to what seemed to be the more pressing matter… which also needed addressing. I wasn’t supposed to let anybody take advantage of me. “And… please don’t touch me.”

She squeezed and then let go, stepping back. My stomach heaved and I fell to my knees, retching fruitlessly.

“My touch disgusts you,” Barley said. “Puddy’s didn’t.”

I didn’t correct her. It wasn’t any of her business, anyway. I recovered myself and got to my feet.

“I’ll tell Amaranth you’re okay,” I said.

“Tell her to eat shit,” Barley said. “Though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it turns out she’s actually into that. There’s something for you to think about, the next time you’re kissing.”

I had nothing to say with that. Partly it was because it wasn’t the sort of thing one should dignify with a response, and partly because I’d fallen to my knees again and this time my stomach had managed to produce part of the cookie I’d eaten for lunch. Barley laughed a mean, cold laugh which I heard receding into the distance.

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4 Responses to “74: Upsets”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Barley is bringing a whole new level of meaning
    to the term Nympho-maniac.

    Current score: 7
  2. MackSffrs says:

    Barley, Celia, and Two are the few people who understand Mack, and also how fucked up Puddy’s thing with Two is.

    Current score: 0
  3. Mickey says:

    Minor typo: ““You know, I’m going to do you favor, Mack,” she said.” should be ““You know, I’m going to do you a favor, Mack,” she said.”

    You draw character interactions so powerfully and precisely. It’s not just that you draw characters well. You also draw the nuances of character that people elicit from each other in their interactions. Mack with Amaranth is different from Mack with Two is different from Mack with Barley. Brilliant.

    Current score: 1
    • tordirycgoyust says:

      I just realized that I need to pay more attention to how people have (sometimes very) different personalities around different people. I will note that the only concrete examples of this in fiction that I can recall offhand occur either as a deliberate act on the part of the character or in Xderes–good job on the verisimilitude, AE.

      Current score: 2