151: A Stone’s Throw

on February 5, 2008 in 05: The Weekend Shift

In Which Amaranth Demands An Apology

With thoughts of Ian and Steff weighing on my mind, I finished my lunch and realized that somehow I’d barely tasted it. There was still honey left in the dipping packet, but I didn’t feel like licking and scraping it out.

“Well,” Amaranth said, getting to her feet and pushing her glasses up her nose. “Why don’t you go bus our trays, and then we can go to the library.”

Sunday afternoon was well and truly underway now, and there were more people out and about when we left the union. It was a very nice day, the sort of day you only get in autumn when the sunny weather’s almost gone and it’s like somebody’s trying to make up for lack of quantity with quality.

A group of girls was sitting on and around the low wall on the edge of the paved plaza in front of the union building. A handful of students were mock-fighting in the pent. I noticed a couple dwarves mixed among them.

Dwarves had a longer history of peaceful co-existence with humans than other races. They hadn’t been allied for as long as humans and elves… but then, they’d never been enemies. Dwarves had a reputation for keeping to themselves, keeping out of other peoples’ business. How did they feel about the treatment of their fellow non-humans? As far as I knew, there weren’t any dwarves in Harlowe as they had their own housing somewhere under the campus, but it might be important to know.

There was a certain amount of staring and pointing as we strolled past the pent and towards the library, but as usual, I had no way of knowing how much of this was because of me and how much was because I was on the arm of a gorgeous nymph. Necessity had forced me to get used to this kind of casual attention, or at least tune it out, but that seemed impossible at the moment.

I’d never really noticed before how close the fitness center was to the library, mostly because I had absolutely no interest in the fitness center. This time, though, the doors of the low, sprawling building disgorged a group of shirtless, sweaty boys right as we went past.

I instinctively shied away from the noisy crowd, and jumped back when one of them gestured in my direction, but it turned out he was only giving me half an Arms of Khersis, and one finger over.

I returned it, and Amaranth swatted me on the rear.

No,” she said. “You don’t have to stoop to their level.”

“If we don’t acknowledge how we’re treated, it’s never going to change,” I said.

“How many minds are you going to change flipping people off?” Amaranth asked. “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

“I’m not interested in catching their flies,” I said.

“Go back to hell, you fucking skank!” one of them called from behind us.

“Ignore them and keep walking,” Amaranth said.

We’d only gone a bit further when a small rock picked from around the prickly bushes in front of the fitness building hit the pavement, a few feet ahead and a bit to the side of us.

“Ignore it,” Amaranth said. “They wouldn’t actually hit us.”

Sometime around the word “actually”, another rock struck me in the back of the head, filling my skull with bright blossoms of pain. I grunted and staggered forward.

Amaranth had on an expression that usually only appeared as a momentary flash after somebody corrected her.

She took off her glasses.

“Hold these for me, won’t you, baby?” Amaranth said, handing them to me. Her eyes went into tiny slits as she squinted to see, but that didn’t really detract from the resolute cast of her face. “Be very careful with them until I get back.”

Since nymphs had the ability to magically stow and retrieve possessions in some kind of safe space, I had no idea why she hadn’t done that with her all-important glasses. I figured it out as I watched her striding resolutely back towards the group of boys: I couldn’t run after her without putting them in danger.

Of course, if Amaranth herself was in danger, the glasses would be a secondary concern, but the boys didn’t seem to know how to respond. Probably if I’d come charging at them, they would have either scattered or attacked… but how did they deal with a six foot nymph with perfect breasts?

I couldn’t hear what she said to them, but she put her hands on her hips and tilted her head to the side when she said it. She was met with a chorus of derisive laughter and some pointing in my direction. Amaranth pointed at the glass doors behind them, and there was some shakier laughter and head shaking, and then it looked like the group was arguing among themselves.

Finally, two of them sort of half-stepped forward, with some pushing from their friends. Amaranth grabbed them by their arms and began marching them towards me. One of them had spiky brown hair with blond tips, and the other’s hair was wet and slicked down. It might have been brown or blond. It was hard to tell.

I braced myself for a confrontation, possibly even a fight. There was no way this would end well.

These are the young men who threw the stones,” Amaranth said. “What do you have to say to Mack, boys?”

“Sorry,” they both mumbled sullenly, not looking at me.

“Look at her when you say it,” Amaranth said. “Apologize to her face.”

“It’s fine,” I said, no more comfortable than they were. An insincere apology was a better outcome than I could have hoped for.

“It’s not,” Amaranth said. “Boys, please remember that there’s a zero tolerance policy regarding unprovoked attacks, and then try again.”

“Um, I’m sorry,” spiky-hair said, glaring at me.

“Sorry,” the other one said, a little more clearly and more in my direction.

“Better,” Amaranth said. “Not perfect, but better. You may go… but try not to give us a reason to regret forgiving you, okay?”

“Whatever,” the wet-haired one said and they headed back to their group, who were pretending not to be watching.

“They didn’t think the rules applied to you,” Amaranth said to me, holding out her hands to take back her glasses. “Because it would be your word against theirs.” She smiled proudly as she slipped her glasses back in place. “They changed their tune when I pointed out the closed circle scrying orb set over the door.”

“So, now they’ll know to look for that when they do something else to get back at us,” I said, sighing. “You probably should have just let it go.”

“If we don’t acknowledge how we’re treated, it’s never going to change,” Amaranth quoted. She smiled. “Maybe I don’t always learn any more quickly than you do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn well.”

I hugged her.

“I just don’t want anything to happen to you because of me,” I said.

“What can they do to me?” Amaranth asked. “I’m the next best thing to a true immortal. As long as my field is intact, I’m safe.”

“If they kill your body, you could be gone for a week or more,” I said. “That could wreck your semester.”

“I know,” Amaranth said. She pulled back, putting her hands on my shoulders and looking down into my face. “But… I made the decision to be responsible for you.”

I honestly didn’t know whether to hug her again or roll my eyes. Was this some kind of personal progress or overcompensating? I supposed that on some level it didn’t matter if she was just doing something to impress Mother Khaele or not… the real issue was the long-term effects.

In any event, it would be better if she overcompensated on the whole “listening” thing instead of standing up to belligerent bigots with nothing but her bare pacifism.

“Amaranth, on another subject… you know that thing with Two?” I said as we started walking again. “That’s the kind of thing I was talking about earlier.”

“Well, I just wanted to talk to her,” Amaranth said defensively. “I didn’t know it would upset her like that.”

“She was telling you she didn’t want to talk,” I said.

“See, no, I don’t think she was,” Amaranth said. “She said she wasn’t supposed to, but I think since there was no harm in it…”

“She doesn’t like doing things she’s not supposed to,” I said. “You know that.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, her lip quivering. “I just had this idea in my head that she’d be glad to see us. I mean, we are her friends… and she didn’t even say hi to you until I told her to!”

“You shouldn’t have,” I said. “She was glad to see us, but she’s working.”

“I just… I had this image in my head of how it would go,” Amaranth said. “I mean, I don’t think it would have really been so bad if she’d talked to us, do you?”

What Amaranth wanted to hear was that she hadn’t been wrong, that it had been a good idea anyway. What she needed to hear, though, was something else entirely.

It just wasn’t something that would be fun for me to tell her.

“You weren’t listening again,” I said, with some effort. “Two and I were both trying to tell you…”

“I know!” Amaranth said, almost in a wail. “But it’s only been one day… not even that.” She was getting frantic, digging her nails into the sides of her legs. “I need time. You can’t judge me based on not even one day. I’m trying, I really am.”

Once again, it took me far too long to figure out that this was a hugging situation. For the first time since I’d known her, Amaranth was stiff and tense in an embrace, and took a few moments to melt into me. It was a disconcerting experience, like sticking your feet into your own shoes and finding out they don’t fit.

“I’m not judging,” I said as she relaxed. “I’m trying to help.”

“I thought I was helping you,” she said.

“You’ve helped me so much,” I said. “But there are times that you don’t make things easy, and I’m not talking about domination.”

“I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “I don’t mean to.”

“Good intentions don’t always lead to good actions,” I said. “You should know that… I mean, think about it. When somebody does something wrong, you always think, ‘Oh, they didn’t mean to.'”

“But, I’m not like that,” Amaranth said, releasing me and stepping back. She sounded affronted, but then doubt crept into her face. “Am I?”

“You’re wonderful,” I said. “In a whole lot of ways. Just… work on the listening thing.”

“You know, you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for,” Amaranth said. She gave me a kiss on the forehead. “And smarter than I give you credit for. Maybe Two was even right about you being the sma… well, I don’t know.”

She turned away, an unaccustomed blush on her face. Was she embarrassed at almost having said that somebody was smarter than she was, or at her reluctance to actually go through with it?

Either way, I wasn’t going to push her. She was right about one thing: it had been less than a day since her goddess had called her on her behavior. Real change, real improvement, would have to happen over the long-term.

When the school year began, I’d made the mistake of thinking I could change all at once… I could make myself a better, more confident person just because I wanted to. It hadn’t worked. Amaranth had been patient with me, though. In her own way she’d helped me on the path to where I was now… where I was heading.

I could be patient with her. I could help her.

I just hoped her goddess was equally patient.

“Come on, baby,” Amaranth said, once she’d composed herself. “Let’s head on inside.”

The rest of the afternoon was nothing but pleasant. The library was one of our mutual places of comfort. Anybody else who was in it on a Sunday afternoon had more important things than me and my misdeeds, imagined or real, to occupy their minds.

For dinner, we decided to skip both the food court and the dining hall. Amaranth got a couple veggie trays from the corner store and let me have a couple carrot sticks and some cherry tomatoes. I was surprised at how crisp and sweet the carrots were. I don’t know what I’d expected them to taste like, but I didn’t have many fond memories of vegetables.

It was a very anticlimactic ending to what had been a hellaciously climactic weekend, but I didn’t mind it in the least.

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3 Responses to “151: A Stone’s Throw”

  1. pedestrian says:

    A.E., if I understand this chapter, you are comparing the relationship between a Dom & a Sub with a couple dancing. Yes there is a leader and a follower but it is complex series of mutually beneficial exchanges.

    “I had to dance backwards and in high heels!”

    Current score: 0
    • nobody says:

      A good teacher should learn as much from their student as their student learns from them.

      Current score: 2
  2. nobody says:

    Listening would be the most effective thing for Amaranth to start on, the rest would be easier if she can accept advice and criticism from her friends without ignoring it.

    Current score: 3