160: Talking It Out

on February 18, 2008 in 06: A Period of Conflict

In Which Brickwork Is Further Abused

I stood, cringing on the inside, while Professor Bohd crossed to the door and closed it behind the last departing student. When I’d accidentally burned Ian on the first day of class, I’d expected to be yelled at, to be kicked out of school… possibly to face legal repercussions… but instead had been treated with unexpected leniency.

What would she say to me now that I’d deliberately transgressed, even for something harmless and stupid? What would she do? Had she been the hated Professor Ariadne, I’m sure my mind would have come up with some kind of lurid punishment, but I was drawing a blank.

Would she yell? Kick me out of her class? Fail me?

I stood quietly behind my work table. I wished I had a chair. Standing felt… wrong. Impudent, almost. I felt like I should have been crouching and cowering on the floor, but of course that would have been even more inappropriate.

Bohd came back to my table and stood across from me, looking at me silently for many seconds. Her skin seemed to be stretched tight across her face. She was white and trembling. I was red and frozen.

“You silly, stupid little girl,” she said, her voice shaking. My eyes teared up at the words. I was stupid. Of course it was true. “What were you thinking? Were you thinking?”

“I only…”

“Be quiet!” Her nostrils flared. For a moment I thought she was going to hit me or scream in my face. “I should report you. I honestly should. There’s right, and there’s wrong, and two wrongs do not make a right… showing you favoritism myself will not undo the prejudice you face from others… others who would not hesitate to act on this kind of behavior, and of course, there is only one course of action that is prescribed for cheating. I couldn’t give you just a warning or slap on the wrist if I wanted. That’s what zero tolerance means. Do you understand that?”

I stared at her, feeling helpless. Was I supposed to answer her? The last question she’d asked had evidently been rhetorical. I didn’t want to make her any angrier.

“Do you have any idea how reckless that was?” she ranted on, when I didn’t answer. “Are you honestly unaware how precarious your position is? If you pull this kind of stunt in your other classes, you might very well find yourself packing your bags. You cannot afford to be this careless, Miss Mackenzie… you cannot! Well… do you have anything to say for yourself?”

That seemed pretty unambiguous.

“I was only trying to help,” I said. “I didn’t mean any harm.”

“No, I suppose you didn’t,” Bohd said. She took a deep breath. Her manner changed, tension draining away from her face. “That’s what’s so terribly tragic about all this.” She leveled an unblinking stare at me. I was uncomfortably reminded of Amaranth, giving me the look. “I’m moving you to a different table, effective Thursday. You will be on your best behavior from now on. If there is any more funny business, you’re out of my class. I will not be responsible for your expulsion, but neither will I cover for you.”

Of course, being booted from a course could be the same thing as expulsion, if it resulted in a failing grade. I couldn’t afford to stay in school without my scholarships, and I couldn’t keep my scholarships if I failed a class.

“Professor,” I said, trying to sound respectful and probably sounding timid instead. “The thing is…”

I stopped, struggling to take my next breath around a lump in my throat.

“Yes?” Bohd prompted.

“I can’t afford to fail any…”

“Then your path should be clear,” Bohd said. She sniffed. “That’s all.”

I grabbed my bag, then hesitated. I felt a need to explain myself, to the extent that this was possible. I needed to redeem myself in her eyes, if I could.

“I really didn’t mean…”

“That’s all, Miss Mackenzie.”

I grabbed my bag and scurried out of the room as fast as I could. I made it out the door before the dam broke and I slumped back against a wall by the corner of some stupid display case, sobbing.

She was right… I was stupid. Steff had lectured me for my initial decision to tough it out in Ariadne’s class because she knew what the consequences of being failed would be. If I couldn’t continue my schooling, I’d be torn away from her, from Amaranth… and of course, from Ian. If Bohd had been less sympathetic, my bid to help him would have ended up keeping us apart.

Of course, I’d fucked it up so badly that I’d probably brought that about, regardless.

“You like being called names,” Ian said, suddenly uncomfortably close, in front of me. I looked up so fast I banged the back of my head against the wall, feeling chips of brick falling into my hair and clacking my teeth together painfully. The world swam for a few moments, but at least I didn’t chomp my tongue. “You beg to be hit, and you cry before I get to yell at you properly. You really take the fun out of being mad.”

I gave him a weak smile, through the tears.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were doing it on purpose,” he said. His eyes still showed some anger, but he was trying to hide a smile of his own and just failing, maybe on purpose. “Just to bug me, you know?”

“You… you caught me,” I said.

He sighed.

“I came back to my room last night and found the words ‘demon lover’ gouged into the door,” he said. “It’s fixed now, but my roommate’s pissed at me because somebody might see it and think it’s about him.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It isn’t your fault,” he said. “And it probably wouldn’t stop if I broke up with you… but honestly, it’s the sort of thing that weighs on me.”

“Do you really care what other people think?” I asked.

“I don’t want to. All things considered, it almost makes me want to stick by you out of stubbornness, you know? To say ‘fuck you’ to people like that. I kind of have to care what my roommate thinks, though,” Ian said. “I live with him.”

“I’m sorry,” I said again, sniffling.

He handed me a wadded up tissue from the pocket of his corduroy jacket.

“It’s, uh, just crumpled,” he said. “I haven’t, you know, used it or anything.”

“Thanks,” I said, dabbing at my eyes and nostrils with it.

I didn’t blow my nose.

I hated blowing my nose in front of other people. It always seemed way too loud and gross when I did it. I suspected I just didn’t know how to do it properly, that there was some secret trick I’d never mastered, like how I’d never learned how to whistle.

Of course, that idea seemed ridiculous most of the time… just none of the times I was crying and needed to blow my nose.

“Does it count for anything that I’m crying over this?” I asked.

“I’m not adding up points,” he said. “But I noticed, yeah. It would count for more if I thought you’d break up with Steff for me, if I asked.”

“I wouldn’t break up with you if Steff asked me to,” I said. “Which she wouldn’t.”

“You would if Amaranth did, though,” he said.

I sighed. He wasn’t wrong, but I couldn’t see any point in going over it again. Amaranth was the first person who’d told me she loved me since my mother. Even if I hadn’t loved her back, I would have followed her anywhere for that.

Was that unhealthy? Or was it just love?

“I thought about you during class yesterday,” I said. It was something, anyway. “It was… pretty hot.”

Hadn’t it been? I was fuzzy on the details, but I’d definitely been thinking about going down on him.

“I think about you a lot of the time,” he said. “Saturday night… the lead-up was kind of messed up, but it was unbelievable.”

I nodded. It really had been.

“Does that mean you’ve made up your mind?” I asked.

He shook his head.

I gave a little sob, and the streams from my eyes which hadn’t fully stopped redoubled themselves.

“I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my face. “Fuck… I don’t know why I’m still crying. I wish we could just talk about this, but…”

“Um,” he said, shifting uncomfortably. “It’s not, you know…”

“What?”

“That time?” he asked.

I blinked away tears, trying to figure out what he meant. Then I had it.

I sniffed hard, pulling an impressive amount of snot into my throat without meaning to–just in case you were wondering–and glared at him. What the hell did he know about that? Not every girl got all weepy and moody around her period, and anyway, it wasn’t like I was going to forget about mine.

No matter how eventful my college life had turned out so far, that would be an impressive trick. I’d always been as regular as they come, and I’d spent my entire post-pubescent existence under the watchful eyes of my grandmother, who had never let me forget when my “unclean time” was coming up.

I still had… I had… well, I’d been at college for two weeks, and before that, it had been…

Shit.

I needed a calendar.

First things first, though.

“It’s not my period,” I said.

“Okay,” he said, like he didn’t believe me.

“It isn’t, okay?” I said. “I have perfectly legitimate reasons to be upset. I thought I was going to be kicked out of class, out of school… and I probably made you hate me.”

“I don’t hate you,” Ian said. “I hate that you did that.” He sighed. “And if I was going to make up my mind right now, I’d say fuck it and be done with you, but I’m not. I wouldn’t break up with somebody for doing something stupid. I might get mad as hell for a while, but it happens. If my dad left my mom every time he blew his top, he would have… um…”

He trailed off into uncomfortable silence.

“So you’re not breaking up with me, but you’re not going out with me,” I said, trying to sum the situation up. It sounded worse outside my head than it had inside, and I choked back a wail.

“The fact is, I made up my mind about you weeks ago,” he said. “I saw you and thought, ‘She’s pretty. Talk to her.’ And since then, I’ve been changing my mind about a lot of things I was pretty sure were set in stone. I don’t know how much more I want to change.”

“Hey, I’m changing, too,” I said. “If you could see what I was like before I came here, you wouldn’t recognize me.” I stopped and thought, and fought off another bout of sniffles. “I don’t know if I would.”

“Maybe that should worry you more,” Ian said.

I shook my head.

“You wouldn’t have noticed who I was before,” I said. I turned my face away from him. “Or you would have pitied her, or hated her for taking up space.” I crossed my arms. “I’m glad that girl’s gone and I hope she never comes back.”

I was suddenly very aware of how close he was, and the wall behind me. Tears were trickling down my face, but I was starting to want… to want.

“It’s okay,” he said, leaning in even closer, putting one hand on the wall beside me. With the brick behind me and the trophy case projecting to my other side, his arm and body enclosed me, walling me in. I was in a box again, and it was nice. His voice was quiet, confidential… but confident. I relaxed and melted into it. “I was kind of a loser in high school, too. In fact…”

The word “loser” bit into me like a knife.

“I was not a loser!” I said, stomping my foot.

“Fucking Khersis!” Ian swore, jumping back like I’d bit him. “What am I supposed to do here, Mackenzie?”

I was about to tell him exactly what he could do, when an idea hit me.

“Come eat lunch with me,” I said. “With us. Me and my friends.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a fun time.”

“I’m serious,” I said. “Just hang out with me for a while. You can get to know Steff a little better. You’ll see that she’s okay.”

“The question isn’t whether or not she’s okay,” Ian said. “I don’t have a problem with her, per se…”

“But you don’t really know her,” I said, seizing on the idea with desperate force. “I got to know her before I found out about her situation, and I can’t think of her as anything but a girl.”

“A girl whose cock you crave,” Ian said.

“Don’t say it like that,” I said. “It isn’t like that.”

“What is it like, then? Tell me.”

“I love her,” I said.

“So how do you feel about me?” Ian asked.

“It’s different with you,” I said. “You’re a guy… you’re in a different category from her.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Is that ever true,” he said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Bisexual or not, you’ve got a pretty clear preference,” Ian said.

“I like boys,” I said. “I like dick. I like you.”

“Not like you like your girlfriends,” Ian said.

“I’ve spent my whole life being attracted to men,” I said. “The girl thing is new, that’s all. That doesn’t mean I don’t want a man in my life.”

“You want a man, or you want me?” Ian asked.

I stared at him, confused. My definition of gender had changed a bit in the past few weeks, but I was almost entirely sure he was a man.

“You know what, never mind,” he said. He sighed. “You want lunch?”

I nodded, a stupidly insane level of gratitude washing over me. It was a small step, but it was a step all the same, and it beat the hell out of crying my eyes out in the hall.

“I guess I can buy for you,” he said.

“You don’t have to,” I said, trying to figure out if I had any points left. It was hard, when my mind kept wanting to count days further back.

“I still like to,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, smiling.

Why fight it? He liked to pay for my lunch. That was another way of saying he liked me. He still thought of me as his girlfriend. He liked me. That thought managed to make me unbelievably happy.

I started crying again.

Shit.


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One Response to “160: Talking It Out”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Cry when you are sad
    Cry when you are lonely
    Cry when you are together
    Cry when you are apart
    Cry when you are angry
    Cry when you are happy
    And sometimes
    Cry for no reason at all
    You gotta problem with that?

    Current score: 6