153: Of Standing And Sitting

on February 8, 2008 in 06: A Period of Conflict

In Which Mackenzie Is Grounded

I slept for a few hours, then got up and read ahead a bit in my thaumatology text. I also had some tables to finish for my logic class. They didn’t take long, but they got me thinking about Two.

She’d acquiesced to my order not to endanger herself really quickly and with very little reluctance. Was that because she did have (or was developing) a natural sense of self-preservation and was relieved to be freed from her perceived sisterly obligation to put herself in harm’s way? Or did she see a way around it?

In her previous existence, Two would never have bothered to subvert an order because the only thing she wanted for herself was to fulfill them. Now that she had other desires and interests, it was possible that she might become devious in the pursuit of them. That was a step forward on her path to being a person and not a slave, but it could have inconvenient implications, under the circumstances.

A few troubling thoughts–and a collision with statuary–not withstanding, it wasn’t shaping up to be a bad morning. The meditation and the subsequent nap had left me feeling really centered, really… grounded. With plenty of time to kill, I grabbed a bath before heading down and seeking out the others for lunch.

I was glad that Two wasn’t around to reprimand me for putting back on the same “dirty” clothes I’d worn to go meditating and then slept in… for about five seconds, then I felt a little guilty. Amaranth really wanted me to break out of my old grungy habits, and Two liked seeing me follow Amaranth’s rules. But, I didn’t have a lot of spare outfits and I wasn’t exactly made out of coppers, so I decided not to let it bother me.

Much.

I ran into Amaranth, Steff, Two, and Celia as they were heading back to Harlowe to find me. Steff looked one hundred percent better than she had the day before. Instead of feeling relieved to see her laughing and talking with Amaranth, I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It didn’t seem healthy.

“You look… better,” I said, after exchanging a “hi” with Two and sharing a lingering hug with Amaranth.

“I’m over it,” she said. “Yesterday’s so five minutes ago, you know?”

“You’re still going to schedule time with a mental healer, though, right?” I asked.

Steff shrugged, turning her face away. I didn’t like that shrug.

“I don’t know,” she said. “We’ll see, you know?”

“I think it’s a good idea,” I said.

“When people are sick or hurt, they should go to the healer,” Two said.

“Steff isn’t sick,” Amaranth said, leaning on Steff from behind, draping her arms over her shoulders. “She’s wonderful.”

“I don’t like the word ‘sick’,” Steff said. “I heard it too often growing up. It confused me at first, because I didn’t get sick, physically. At least, not much. I had a cold one time… it was the worst thing ever. My nose was running and I kept coughing. I felt so… weak. Human.”

“You mean mortal,” Celia said. “I wish it was only humans who got sick. Do you know how hard it is to swallow a rat when you’ve got a throat infection?”

“Yeah, I wonder how you got one of those?” Steff said.

“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” Celia said, turning away and flicking the filmy membranes down over her snake eyes. She snapped them back up a moment later. “Oh, hey, that reminds me… check this out.”

She tented her fingers in front of her and furrowed her smooth brow in concentration. She dropped her gaze and hissed sibilantly. When she finished, she looked up and I saw to my horror that her eyes had seemingly transformed into balls of flickering fire.

The illusion didn’t actually look much like my eyes had when they’d started to burn on Saturday, but the implied connection was clear.

“Pretty cool, huh?” she asked.

“I’m not sure that’s entirely appropriate,” Amaranth said.

“What? Only your dildo gets to have burning eyes?” Celia asked, jerking a thumb at me.

“Who told you I had burning eyes?” I asked, trying to keep from blushing at the descriptor. Well, if I called myself a toy, I couldn’t really complain if other people did.

“Trina,” Celia said. “She came into our room to tell Feejee about it. Feejee said it sounded interesting. I said it was cool. I think Trina was disappointed. Anyway, I wanted to get some tips about the appearance, now that I’ve got the basic effect down.”

“You might want to work on duration first,” I said, as her eyes faded back to normal.

“What? Already?” Celia asked. “Fuck! I swear I had them going for like ten minutes this morning.”

“Mack did a wonderful piece of elemental invocation in the showers the other day,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, I don’t need to hear any story that involves the words ‘in the showers’,” Celia said.

When we got to the lunchroom, our usual table was full, occupied by a boisterous group of mostly boys. They seemed to have pulled extra chairs up in order to crowd around it. There were still plenty of empty tables, but Amaranth had an idea.

“It’s such a nice day,” Amaranth said. “It’s been so sunny lately… why don’t we sit outside?”

“In the open air?” Celia asked, turning her neck to glance around. Her eyes didn’t really have as much mobility as a human’s.

“Why not?” Amaranth asked.

There was a wide patio/balcony area attached to the dining hall, above where the event hall on the ground floor jutted out from the rest of the building. We’d never used it, since we had pretty much used the same table every day. We all got our food–I picked out a turkey sandwich–and headed outside.

The outdoor tables were square, with metal benches sized for two people attached to each side. I sat pressed against Amaranth on one, and Steff, Celia, and Two sat on the others.

At first glance I thought Two had taken both a big slice of chocolate cake and an ice cream sundae, but on closer inspection I saw the latter was actually a bowl of red gelatin under mounds of whipped cream, crushed nuts, sprinkles, and cookie crumbs.

“My friend Hazel says that gelatin is a fruit,” Two said when she saw me staring at it. “And the pudding doesn’t count because it was on the salad bar.”

I hadn’t even noticed the pale yellow pudding on her plate. Well, what she ate was her business, not mine. She had some rice and veggies and a slice of bread, too.

“Is that banana or vanilla?” I asked.

She picked up her spoon and tasted it. Her face scrunched up.

“It’s lemon,” she said. “I thought it was banana but I was mistaken.”

“I’ll have it if you don’t like it,” I said, remembering the lemon gum drop and its combination of sweet and tart.

“I do like it,” she said. “I just thought it would be banana.”

“Why don’t you go get some, sweetie?” Amaranth said.

“Okay,” I said.

Inside, I grabbed a soup cup and went to the salad bar to find the pudding. I was leaning in to reach for the scoop when I collided with somebody else’s side.

“Oh, excuse me,” I said, turning to find myself face to face with the short and broad figure of Puddy.

Puddy… my original roommate, former tormenter, and supposed best friend. She’d got herself a new haircut, which lifted her strawberry blonde curls up off her shoulders.

I was shocked to see her. I would have been shocked to bump into her anyway, but seeing her in the lunch room with a tray full of a variety of actual food?

“You gave up the pudding pops?” I said.

I probably shouldn’t have said anything to her, but it was just so out-of-the-blue. Puddy had made a speech to me that had basically been about how nobody could make her eat anything she didn’t like and all she liked was pudding pops. In retrospect, that pretty much summed up what was wrong with her… she was too invested in being in charge, to the point where she’d do stupid or insane things to appear in control.

Seeing her with a plate with fried rice and vegetables, another plate of salad, a bowl of soup, and two glasses of milk gave me a little bit of hope for her.

“Fuck no. I get a tray of food and Mariel eats off it,” Puddy said. “That way they can’t kick me out for not eating, and the little pig gets to keep shoveling crap in her face. So, I see you finally got kicked out of the corner, too. How’s that feel?”

“We didn’t get kicked out,” I said. “Somebody else sat there first.”

“Yeah, tell yourself that,” Puddy said.

“It’s just a table,” I said.

“Not to them,” Puddy said. “It’s our… I mean, it’s your table. They took it from you to make a point.”

“What point?” I asked. “That anybody can sit anywhere they feel like sitting? That’s a great point. I’m glad they made it. I wish everybody would get the memo.”

“No, that they’re not afraid of you,” Puddy said.

“That’s an even better point,” I said. “Yeah, I can be dangerous, but maybe people’ll stop throwing holy signs in my face if they’re not afraid of me.”

“Bad idea,” Puddy said. “If they’re not afraid of you, they’ll come after you.”

“What, to prove how absolutely not afraid of me they are?” I asked. “Is that why you tried to smother me in my sleep? To show you weren’t afraid of me?”

Her face turned splotchily red. I backed away, preparing for an explosion.

“That was a joke,” she frothed. “I told you it was a joke. Fucking Khersis, if I’d known you were going to be so damned sensitive about it, I wouldn’t have. Is that why you don’t like me? Because you have no sense of humor?”

“Puddy…”

“What?” she demanded.

I considered, thinking long and hard before I made up my mind whether to say anything else.

I really didn’t like Puddy. It was hard to admit it to myself. It would be harder to say it out loud. I felt guilty about not being able to like her, because she’d reached out to me.

As Dee had said of me, Puddy had named me a friend, and she’d been the first person to do that since elementary school.

She was also an abuser, in every sense of the word. From what I could see of her relationship with Mariel, I’d only been given a taste of what she could dish out, and that had left me pretty well turned around in the head.

So I had plenty of reason not to like her… but I still felt bad about it.

“Get some help,” I said, finally. “Please.”

“You’ve been talking to a counselor, haven’t you?” Puddy said. It was an accusation, not a question.

“No,” I said. “But I’m starting to wonder why I’m not. Maybe we all need a little healing.”

I turned and started to walk away from her, still carrying the empty bowl. I’d got a few steps and then heard the clatter of a tray of dishes hitting the floor. I actually closed my eyes and bowed my spine in anticipation of a crushing impact, but nothing happened. I spun around to see the back of Puddy’s head, moving rapidly towards the exit.

Just as when Mariel had freaked out in the dining hall during the first weekend, the meal services manager appeared out of nowhere with a couple of campus guards.

The last time this had happened, Amaranth had put him off his balance with her friendliness and then Mariel had stopped them from kicking me out by identifying herself as the source of the disturbance.

This time I was alone… but strangely calm.

The worst they could do would be escorting me out, unless I gave them a reason… and I wouldn’t give them a reason.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“Now, we can’t have you frightening other diners,” the manager said, a little shakily.

“What are you talking about?” I said. “Puddy’s not afraid of me. She said so herself.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave now,” he said.

How would this look? The guys in the corner, the ones who’d taken “my” table, probably had done it to make a point. I remembered a couple of my classmates in mixed melee complaining about how we hogged it, and that nobody would mess with it because they knew it was “mine.” That was absolutely stupid, because it was seriously only the force of habit that kept us going back there, but it was what people thought all the same.

So, they make a big symbolic stand against me and then I get walked out under armed guards. What would that mean, for me and for the other non-human students, especially the “monstrous” ones?

Other people had managed to stand up to this guy on my behalf. People seemed to do a lot of standing up on my behalf, period. Everybody had stood up to Puddy at Two’s little dinner party. Dee and Steff and some of our classmates had stood up to Professor Ariadne when she’d tried to intimidate me in her class. Amaranth had stood up to the rock throwers. Dee and even Two had stood up to Gloria for me.

Why couldn’t I stand up a little, for myself and everybody else?

“Fine,” I said, and the manager and guards all let out their breaths. “Ask me to leave, if you have to. I’m going to get some pudding and go back to my table.”

I turned back to the salad bar to do just that.

“Young, ah, lady, I’m not sure you understand,” the manager said. “If you resist…”

I set my bowl down on the salad bar and turned to face him.

“I won’t fight, if that’s what you mean,” I said. “I’ll just… um… I’ll sit down.” Yes, that was it. I would sit down. The classic immovable object. That’s what I would be. “Right where I am… right here, in the aisle between the salad bar and the main buffet. What will you do then?”

The manager looked at the guards, who gave him no help. They’d probably had it drilled into their heads over and over not to get violent with a student who wasn’t violent themselves, and I’m sure they weren’t thrilled about the idea of fighting the half-demon of Harlowe in the first place.

“Won’t somebody come clean this mess up?” he blurted finally, turning to address the area behind the counters, where all the food service employees were of course staring at us. The guards hurried away, obviously relieved.

“Hey,” I said quietly as the manager started to stalk away. He stopped and turned around. His moustached face was white with unexpressed rage.

Why’d I gone and done that? I’d “won” the encounter, so to speak. Why keep pushing him?

Because the bullshit about the dining hall had gone on long enough. Because it wasn’t right. Because today, I would not yield to pressure. I would not bend over or knuckle under. Because being submissive to my lovers didn’t mean I had to be a doormat for every asswipe that walked the planet.

It was funny how having a morning to relax by yourself could clear your head.

The meditation had probably helped, too.

“What?” he asked.

“The problems in this dining room wouldn’t go away even if I did,” I said.

“I’m just trying to keep things running,” he said. “We’ve never had a problem with the non-human students eating here before you.”

“You mean you never had the non-human students eating here before,” I said.

“Enjoy your pudding,” he said, and then stomped away.

It was only after he left that I noticed that my hands were shaking and my knees were practically knocking against each other. Or maybe that only started once it was all over. I felt a little queasy. Not to the point of throwing up, but enough that I considered giving the pudding a pass and just nibbling on my sandwich a bit.

I didn’t consider it for long, though. After all, it would be kind of a hollow victory if I stood up for my right to sit down to a meal and then didn’t eat.


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3 Responses to “153: Of Standing And Sitting”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Amazing the number of people who react badly, even violently to someone quietly, peacefully insisting that they should be treated with courtesy and mutual respect.

    Their rude behavior makes me so angry I just want to rip their heads off. I cannot abide bad manners.

    As my wife said, i was her doberman. Wasn’t often she would let me off the leash, but when she did, i really enjoyed beating the crap out of whoever had threatened her.

    Current score: 6
    • MackSffrs says:

      When worst comes to worst an anonymous pedestrian saving the day is one of the most awesome things.

      Current score: 1
      • nobody says:

        Better if the intended victim does the work first.
        Also if the person causing trouble just screws up in public view or on camera without intervention by anybody being needed.

        Current score: 0