150: Food For Thought

on February 4, 2008 in 05: The Weekend Shift

In Which Extra Condiments Are Provided

After Sooni’s little comment, I was braced to be confronted by an angry crowd as soon as we left Harlowe, but the campus was pretty quiet. It was early Sunday afternoon, after all… a lot of people were probably still in bed.

“Um, listen,” I said to Amaranth when we got to the union doors. “When we get upstairs… you can probably say hi to Two but you shouldn’t try to stand there and talk to her.”

“Well, of course I’m going to talk to Twoey,” Amaranth said. “I mean, if there’s a line or something I can wait. I’m not going to bother her while she’s working.”

“Yeah, but, any talking while she’s working is going to bother her,” I said. “It’s just the way she is.”

“She’s always happy to talk to a friend,” Amaranth said. “I’m not going to embarrass her, if that’s what you’re worried about.

I sighed.

Well, Two could tell her.

“Hi, Twoey!” Amaranth called, waving enthusiastically as we headed into the food court.

Two was standing at attention behind the counter of the White House, her uniform visor up high on her forehead so as not to cover the runes on her forehead which had given her life and her name. The rest of the stands were not so attentively manned at the moment; student workers lounged behind the counters or out of sight

“Hi, Amaranth,” Two called back, returning the wave. “I’m not supposed to chat while I’m working.”

“Oh, I’m not going to take up all day,” Amaranth said. “Say hi to Mack.”

“Hi, Mack,” Two said dutifully. Turning back to Amaranth, she said again, “I’m not supposed to chat.”

“I know, honey,” Amaranth said. “So how’s work been? Are they treating you okay?”

“It’s fine. Yes. I’m not supposed to chat,” Two said. She was starting to tremble.

“Twoey, it’s fine,” Amaranth said. “Come on, talk with us a while.”

This visibly increased Two’s distress level, as she now had an order–from a friend, no less–conflicting with the rules she was supposed to follow at work. Her eyelids twitched and a tic seemed to pull her face to the side.

“Amaranth,” I said. “Look at her.”

“You just hush and let me have a little talk with Twoey,” Amaranth said, putting her finger on my lips. Within the rules that had built up for our relationship, this meant I couldn’t talk.

I only had half a second to mull whether now would be the time to break that rule when Two burst into tears. She was still fairly new to crying openly, and she did it without self-constraint or shame.

However much she might have looked like a waifish young woman who just happened to have runes carved bloodlessly from her forehead, Two was a golem, clay transfigured into living flesh.

She had a mind, and she’d been relieved of her magical compunction to obey her creator by the command which had freed her to do as she wanted… but that same creator had invested her with no other desires than to do what she was told.

Living in a group home set up to help other golems with less crippling personalities hadn’t really helped her adjust to freedom as much as two weeks at university with friends who tried to understand her had.

“Twoey, honey, don’t cry,” Amaranth said, and of course, Two stopped, just like that. Her mouth clamped shut, and she was breathing fast in and out through her nose.

“What the crap’s going on out here?” her co-worker, Kyle, said, coming up front.

“It’s just a little misunderstanding,” Amaranth said.

“What the hell did you do to her?” Kyle demanded, looking at Two, who was standing ramrod straight, jaw locked tight, her bright blue eyes held wide open as she tried her best not to cry.

“I was just trying to talk to my friend,” Amaranth said, a touch of defensive anger in her voice.

“Two, take our order when you’re ready,” I said softly as Kyle responded angrily and Amaranth responded in kind.

They were both still talking loudly over each other when Two swallowed, blinked her eyes, stepped forward, and said, “Welcome to White House. May I take your order?”

“Oh!” Amaranth said, jumping back.

“You good?” Kyle asked Two, who nodded.

“I’m so sorry,” Amaranth said to Two, then caught herself and added, “but I’m going to need a minute to look at the menu.”

“That’s okay,” Two said.

“This place sure doesn’t have a very wide variety of food,” Amaranth said, wrinkling her nose in distaste at the pictures of the little burgers. “You guys should consider stocking some vegetarian alternatives.”

“Okay,” Two said.

“They’ve got fries and stuff,” I said.

“Those have usually got some kind of animal fat in the oil,” Amaranth said.

“Seriously?”

She nodded.

“This was so much easier back home where all the food was locally produced,” Amaranth said. “I always knew exactly what was in anything I ate.”

“Well, one of the other places might have salads,” I said.

“Oh, well… I suppose,” Amaranth said. “I’m sorry, Twoey, I wanted to eat here, but there’s just nothing I can safely eat. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No,” Two said. “I don’t mind. But I’m not…”

“…supposed to chat,” I said, along with her. “It’s okay. When you’re working, interpret any non-business-related things we say to you as purely rhetorical unless it’s an emergency.”

“Okay,” Two said.

I ordered my chicken, some fries, and a drink, paying with one of my meal points, then went with Amaranth over to Burger President.

“Are you for real here?” said the girl behind the counter. Her name tag said she was a Cynthia.

Amaranth looked puzzled, but said, “Well, yes.”

“You’re just going to walk up naked and try to order food after you made that poor feeblemind cry?” she asked.

“Nudity is my natural state,” Amaranth said, giving the girl a patient smile and pointedly ignoring the insult directed at Two. “Yours, too. Anyway, what I’m looking for is something without any meat, bacon, cheese, eggs, or anything else that comes from an animal… and it looks like the only one like that is the garden side salad, which is a little small. So, what I’m wondering is, do the bigger ones come pre-packaged or…”

“We don’t serve naked people,” the girl said. “It’s against the health code.”

“Nymphs are exempt, and naturally clean,” Amaranth said. “Is there somebody else working here I could order from, please?”

“Or what? You’ll sic your pet demon on me?” the counter girl asked, her voice rising. “I have a bottle of holy water under the counter, and I swear to Khersis I’ll use it if that thing comes near me.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Hush, baby,” Amaranth said, pulling me back and stepping in front of me. “I just want to get some lunch. If special orders upset you that much, I’ll just have two of the garden salads.”

“What’s going on out here?” a guy in a BP uniform said, coming from around the back of the food prep area.

“Larry, we don’t have to serve to monsters, do we?” the girl whined. “They threatened me.”

“I think you misunderstood,” Amaranth said.

Larry wasn’t listening. He was looking past her at me.

“Fuck off, we’re all out of people burgers,” he said.

“Now that is just uncalled for,” Amaranth said.

“It’s fine,” I said. “I’ll just go wait…”

“You stay right there, missy, or I’m going to swat your little butt so hard when we get back to the dorm,” Amaranth said, making me go red all over. I lowered my head, which probably saved me from further mortification at seeing the BP employees’ reactions. “Look at her,” Amaranth said, grabbing me by the shoulders and manhandling me up to the counter. “Does this look like a dangerous monster?”

“Fine, I’ll get your salad,” Larry grumbled. “You can toss my fucking salad, while you’re at it.”

“I’d be happy to, if you want me to,” Amaranth said. “But, um, two garden salads. They’re a little on the small side. And, any kind of vinaigrette dressing’s fine.”

He went to a little fridge back behind the counter and opened it, pulling out a small container of salad.

“Right, dressing,” Larry said. “I’ll get your dressing.”

He took the salads back around to the storage area or whatever was in back.

“Ring them up, Cynth,” he called. “I’ll bring them out when they’re ready.”

“They’re prepackaged salads,” I said to Amaranth. “What do you think…”

“Hush, baby,” Amaranth said. “Let’s not make a bigger deal out of this than it already is.”

Once Amaranth had paid for her salads and a drink, we headed out of the food court to one of the tables by the railing overlooking the ground floor. I sat there without touching my food, thinking it would be rude to start eating before Amaranth had hers. So, we just sat there sipping our drinks instead.

The chicken smelled so good, though.

Eventually, Hi My Name Is Larry came over bearing a tray with Amaranth’s salads. He slammed it down on the table, causing the rather suspiciously loose lids to rattle.

“Thank you,” Amaranth said, picking up the single pack of salad dressing he’d included. “I was thinking that one dressing packet would be more than enough for two small salads, and you anticipated my wishes.”

“Have a nice day,” Larry huffed, and then stormed away.

I waited while Amaranth had her dressing open and drizzled it over her salad, and then until she had taken her first bite.

Then… I kept waiting, for some reason.

She looked up from her food and saw me sitting there, not touching my own.

“You may eat,” she said. She giggled. “Viktor must have made a big impression on you.”

I blushed. That was it. I’d been waiting for permission.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Well, you don’t have to do that when we’re around others,” she said. “But when it’s just you and me… or Steff… I’d like you to wait for permission. It’s kind of cute.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“So, tell me all about your visit with Viktor,” Amaranth said.

I did, but I started at my encounter with Steff, so she’d get the full story. Amaranth made little noises of concern and pursed her lips as I described Steff’s unease at being on our floor and her jumpy, almost guiltily nervous state.

What really got her attention was something else, though.

“She didn’t want to hear you talk about sex?” Amaranth asked.

“I think she had a bad experience,” I said. “I don’t know if she just did something she regrets, or if she… well…”

“If she what, baby?” Amaranth prompted.

“If she went too far,” I said, feeling guilty for suggesting it even while knowing that it wasn’t totally far-fetched. “If she, you know… hurt somebody, or… took advantage…”

“Oh, Steff wouldn’t,” Amaranth said, shaking her head. “No, never. She’s been through… she wouldn’t. I’m going to forget you said that, baby, and I want you to forget it, too.”

“Okay,” I said. It wasn’t any more than an idea, anyway, and I wasn’t likely to get Steff to open up to me by throwing accusations around.

“Oh, baby, look,” Amaranth said, holding up a large forkful of lettuce with a glob of something that was distinctly not dressing attached to it. “He came on my salad.” She opened her mouth wide and lowered it around the salad, then closed it with obvious relish. “If that’s his idea of being mean, he must not really be trying.”

“You should file a complaint,” I said.

“Nonsense,” she said. “A little extra sauce doesn’t hurt anything. Anyway, go on.”

I told her about Steff’s detours, including her unsuccessful stop at the room of the potion-dealing alchemy major, Finbar. I felt a little guilty, like I was talking behind Steff’s back… but then, our little group had probably had too many secrets lately.

Amaranth made me slow down and go over exactly how I’d been treated by Viktor and how it had made me feel in great detail, purring throatily as I recounted my reactions.

“That was probably Gwynedd,” Amaranth said when I told her about the girl who’d been locked up in the closet. “She’s one of Viktor’s classmates, I think. She’s nice. Well, she seems nice. Since she can’t speak, I’m not sure, but I assume she’s nice.”

“She’s not allowed to talk?” I asked. I hadn’t been allowed to speak in Viktor’s presence without instructions to, but I had thought that was because of my unique status of being at the bottom of a chain of submission. “At all?”

“No, she’s congenitally mute,” Amaranth said. “And I can’t get past the alphabet in the hand cant. Steff’s really good at it, though.”

“Oh,” I said.

“So, anyway, he actually played a song for you?” Amaranth asked.

“I wouldn’t say it was ‘for me’,” I said. “But he did play.”

“What did you think of it?”

“I thought it was really good,” I said. “Have you heard it?”

“He’s never really played for me,” Amaranth said. “He just kind of fiddles around with the keys a little. He does look very serious about it, though. I’m sure he’s quite good.”

“He is,” I said, a little defensively, though I was sure Amaranth meant it… just as she was sure a girl she’d never spoken to was quite nice, and a guy who’d jizzed all over her lunch had nothing but the best of intentions.

I finished the tale without further interruption, ending with Steff taking me out of the room.

“So, if he gives me permission for you to date Steff, and you accept, then you become responsible for her well-being,” Amaranth said. “But it doesn’t sound so bad. I mean, you know you’d never hurt Steff, so that’s not even an issue… and for the rest? We’re here for her, whether you date her or not. Whatever problems she’s having, we can overcome them.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” I said. “That’s why I suggested she try mental healing.”

“So, what are you going to do, baby?” Amaranth asked. “I mean, not to jinx it or anything, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to tell me it’s okay, or else why would he make that speech at all?”

“Well… I love Steff,” I said. “So, I should do my best to keep her safe anyway, right? And if I can make her even a little bit happier, that’s got to help, too, right?”

“So you would say yes,” Amaranth said.

I nodded.

“I think so.”

“And Ian?” Amaranth asked. “Do you know how he feels about this?”

“He doesn’t know how he feels about it,” I said. “I mean, he knows we’re involved already so this dating thing’s not anything new, but he just found about Steff’s… equipment.”

“How did he react?”

“He needs time, he says,” I said. “I don’t know. I like Ian. I love having a boyfriend. I might even kind of love him. But… Steff’s not about to make me choose between her and Ian. It wouldn’t seem fair to turn my back on her because he wants me to.”

“Well… it’s sad, but some people can’t change the way they’re grown,” Amaranth said. “If he’s not able to handle a poly relationship, you may just have to let him go. But, you can still be friends.”

“I don’t want a friend,” I said. “I want a boyfriend.”

“Mack, I know you like Ian very much but you should think about your motives here,” Amaranth said. “I know you don’t like to think of yourself as a lesbian, but that’s probably not the best reason to date somebody.”

“Okay, maybe that’s one of the reasons I like having a boyfriend,” I said. “But it’s not why I like Ian.”

“What do you like about him, baby?” Amaranth asked.

“Um…”

“Don’t think, just answer.”

“His hands,” I said. I shivered, remembering the feeling of them on my body. “They’re… strong.” They were… strong and quick. A musician’s hands. “And his voice.”

I blushed. I actually liked it when he raised it, when he got mad. He was such a dork sometimes, but he had presence beneath it.

“Physical attraction is a wonderful thing,” Amaranth said. “But I think there should probably be more. You don’t love Steff and me just for our bodies.”

“I don’t, either, with Ian,” I said. “We have things in common. Kind of.”

For instance, we read comics, but not the same ones.

There was probably other stuff, too.

If I could only think of it.

“I like you two together,” Amaranth said. “I just want you to… you know, be prepared.”

“You can tell what people are into,” I said. “Can’t you…”

“He’s way into you,” Amaranth said. “But that doesn’t necessarily translate into actions, especially in the long term.” She sighed. “I wish love could be as simple as sex…”

“I don’t know, sex seems pretty complicated to me,” I said.

“Well, you’re still learning,” she said.

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7 Responses to “150: Food For Thought”

  1. pedestrian says:

    it is important not to confuse lust-sex and love-sex and comfort-sex and mad-sex and happy-sex and sad-sex and pride-sex.
    They each have a distinctive and mutual effect.
    They each have their own niche in a long-term relationship.

    Current score: 3
  2. Dangflabit says:

    Reading all this for the first time every chapter I love Two a little more. she is possibly my all time favorite literary character, and every time Amaranth inadvertently makes Two’s life difficult or confusing i want someone to grant her murder victim fantasies a little more.

    …. Of course she would love it and not learn a damn thing -_-

    Current score: 4
    • zeel says:

      Two really is one of the best written and most compelling characters I have ever encountered. You just can not help but would like to see her happy.

      2<3

      Current score: 1
  3. Rey d'Tutto says:

    That Dumb @$$ “manager” should have known better than to have put his Semen within the grasp of a Half-Demon Enchanter who he’d just Insulted & Pissed Off… SMH

    Also:

    It may be in poor taste where he comes from, but Gifting a Nymph with your Semen on a Bed of Lettuce, to me, is a Blatant Cum-On.

    btw, Did Amaranth ever get him back… I mean, get back to him (& his repressed sexuality)?

    Current score: 1
    • nobody says:

      I would have added grease of some kind (bacon, burger, etc.), if I was trying to spite her by messing with her food.

      She made it clear she wouldn’t have enjoyed that during her order.

      I agree that Larry is pathetic at revenge.
      Also at least with what he was told, he at least would have *believed* that he was justified in his actions, that is why it counts as a failed act of revenge and not just unwarranted spite.
      Pathetic, but not worth hating him for at this point.

      Current score: 1
  4. Me says:

    This is the around the point where Amaranth begins to become a less and less wise individual, acting oblivious to other people’s concerns in a way that is far more destructive than it was before.

    Current score: 0