174: Re-Doing Lunch

on March 10, 2008 in 06: A Period of Conflict

In Which Mackenzie Is Alone With Many People

“Hi, baby!” Amaranth announced, coming into the room with a large wicker basket. Two followed behind her. Amaranth’s warm smile cooled a bit when she saw who else was there already. “Oh, hello, Sooni.” She sounded pleased with herself, but there was a polite distance in her voice I’d never heard before. I thought maybe it was the sound of her knowing that she was only being nice because she was supposed to. “I thought you might come by to visit my Mack again.”

“Hello,” Sooni said, giving the slightest inclination of her head.

“Hi, Two,” I said, a little disturbed that she hadn’t greeted me. “Where are Ian and Steff?”

“Steff is looking for Ian,” she said. “And I am very angry with you, Mack.”

“Two!” Amaranth said.

“I am,” Two said. “I cannot invite my friend Hazel to the picnic because she is not like family but Sooni is?”

“I am Mackenzie’s best friend,” Sooni said.

“Hey, hold on,” I said, way uncomfortable with this promotion. The last time somebody had declared themself my best friend, I’d been so pathetically happy that I’d let them all but take over my life. I wasn’t about to let Sooni walk all over me.

“You are not,” Two said.

“If I’m not, then who is?”

“Steff,” Two said without thinking. “Amaranth is her owner and Ian is her boyfriend and I’m her sister and that means Steff is her best friend.”

“You cannot be best friends with your lover, stupid thing!” Sooni said.

“Hey!” I protested.

“That’s uncalled for,” Amaranth said, but we were both ignored.

“Then it must be Dee,” Two said. “Or Celia. Mack, who do you like better…”

“Wait, stop,” I said. “I don’t need to have one best friend. We aren’t in first grade. I’m not going to sit here and rank everybody that I like.”

“But if you did,” Two said, “Sooni would be below…”

“Two, please,” I said. “I’m just giving Sooni a chance here. I didn’t plan on it… I didn’t ask her to be here.”

“Then she should go,” Two said. “You are not invited and you should leave.”

“I do not listen to servants,” Sooni said.

“Sooni, you can’t talk to my friends like that,” I said.

“But I am your friend!”

“Act like it, then.”

She is talking to me like that,” Sooni said. “Make her stop!”

“Everybody, please,” I said. “If you get into a fight then you’ll all get kicked out and I’ll be knocked out for the day.”

“Sooni, Two, would you please excuse us for a moment?” Amaranth asked. “I would like to talk to my toy alone.”

“Certainly,” Sooni said.

“Okay,” Two said.

They withdrew from the room, and Amaranth came over and sat on the edge of the bed.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Mack, baby, I can’t believe I’m saying this… but… as much as I like to see you making up with Sooni, are you sure you’re not letting your sexual desires blind you here?” Amaranth asked.

“What, you mean I’m being nice to Sooni because I know it’s what you would want?” I asked.

“Um, no, not exactly,” Amaranth said. “I mean your desire for Sooni.”

I stared at her, not knowing if I should laugh or… or… laugh harder. It was such a ridiculous idea.

“I don’t desire Sooni,” I said. “I mean, yeah, she is pretty and I do seem to be attracted to women, but… it’s not like I lust after her in particular.”

“Okay… if you say so,” Amaranth said, though she sounded skeptical. “I just wanted to make sure you’re doing this for the right reason, and I think—in this case, anyway—lust might not be the best one.”

“Well, I agree, but it’s also not the reason I’m doing this,” I said.

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “But, I think you need to take everybody else’s feelings into account. I would love to see you become friends with Sooni, if not something more, but Two is obviously upset and Steff will probably be worse.”

“Probably,” I said.

I sighed.

It would be so much easier and more satisfying to tell Sooni to go to hell… or better, to summon Lynette and have her ejected.

“Nobody ever said doing the right thing was easy, baby,” Amaranth said.

“And this is the right thing, isn’t it?” I said. “Making up with her. Being her friend.”

She nodded, biting her lip.

“Well, maybe I’m just not good enough, then,” I said. “I want to do the right thing, but not if it’s hurting my existing friends. I’ll talk to Sooni and see if I can get her to come back later or something. If she’s even able to make that kind of compromise, then sure. I’ll give her a try. If not, I don’t see how anybody could be her friend.”

“Do you want my help?”

I shook my head.

“No,” I said. “I’ll do this myself. This way, you can tell Steff and Ian what’s up if they get here before she’s gone.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said.

She crawled her way up the bed and kissed me, in the all-encompassing, all-enveloping way that only she could.

“Do you want me to go let her in?” she asked.

“Huh?” My hand was on her breast. I couldn’t quite remember what we’d been talking about a moment ago.

She giggled.

“Sooni,” she said. “I’ll go send her your way.”

She got off the bed and walked slowly to the door, an extra dose of sway in her hips that was there just for me. I loved her. For all her faults, I loved her, and she loved me. What would the past few weeks have been like if she hadn’t been there? I probably would have been still stuck under Puddy’s influence. I wouldn’t have met Steff.

And that’s saying nothing about the changes within myself. The first time I’d met Sooni, I’d been down on my knees examining the sidewalk. She’d cut me dead with a single sentence. Now, she could get under my skin, but she didn’t have that kind of power over me any more. I could look behind her perfect painted-on mask and see the silly girl behind it.

When had that happened? How had it happened? It hadn’t been all at once, obviously. It was more like a gradual process over the past three weeks.

“You wished to be alone with me?” Sooni asked, closing the door behind her. She was smiling her most vulpine smile, drawing herself up to her tallest height. Was her tail actually wagging?

“Uh, yeah, I wanted to talk to you,” I said. “You remember when you thought I’d promised I’d watch TV with you?”

“Because you did,” Sooni said. “But we’re done arguing about that.”

“Okay, yeah, we are,” I said. It wasn’t that important at this point. “I only brought it up because I kind of, in the same way, promised my other friends that we’d have lunch alone together today. That’s why Two’s so upset.”

“Well, we will tell her not to be,” Sooni said. “She has to obey.”

“We don’t do that,” I said. “And she doesn’t have to obey. She mostly chooses to.”

“Then there is no problem,” Sooni said. “We will tell her to accept it and she will choose to do so.”

“No,” I said. “That isn’t how friends treat each other. It’s important to you that people keep their word, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes, but…” She trailed off.

I knew what she was thinking. It was important for people to keep their word to her. It was somewhat less important that they kept their word to others, and probably far less important that she kept her own word.

She couldn’t say that, though.

“So, since I sort of gave my word to the others first, you can see that I can’t really eat lunch with you,” I said.

“You just want me to leave!” Sooni said, her black eyes narrowing. “You don’t want to be my friend!”

“I wouldn’t mind being friends,” I said. “If you really want to eat with me, come back for dinner. I’ll tell Two she can invite her friends, if she wants.”

“I do not want to come back when you let everybody come,” Sooni said. “If your other friends get a private meal with you, then I want to have one, too.”

“Fine, whatever,” I said. “I just don’t want this to turn into a big fight.”

“Do you promise?”

“Do I promise what?” I asked.

“That you will have dinner with me alone,” she said. “That’s only fair.”

“Okay, fine… just not tonight,” I said. “We’ll do it next week, or whenever.”

“Say you promise!”

“I promise,” I said. “I’ll have dinner with you alone some night.”

“Okay,” Sooni said, beaming. “Then I will leave and come back tonight, and because I am such a good friend, I will leave the sekihan which I know is your favorite.”

“Thank you,” I said. “But you know, there’s more to being a friend than just saying you’re one.”

“I know that!” Sooni said. “I am not stupid.”

“I mean, you have to work at it,” I explained. “It’s like how I want to be elected because I think I’ll do a better job…”

“You keep saying that!” Sooni said, stomping her sandal. “Even after I defeated you!”

“Beating me up doesn’t make you the better candidate,” I said. “I actually care about people.”

“I care about people, too!”

“I want to make a difference,” I said.

“I want to make a bigger difference!” Sooni said. “You think you are the only person who can make a difference? I am cunning and beautiful and wise and rich. I can make a far bigger difference than an ugly, stupid, poor lesbian!”

I rolled my eyes.

“Sooni, that’s not something a friend would say.”

“Well, it isn’t my fault!” Sooni said. “You keep insulting me first! It’s hard being your friend if you keep saying you’re better than me.”

“What are you going to do if you win the election?” I asked.

“Be a senator,” she said.

“But what will you do?” I asked.

She blinked several times and seemed to deflate, then drew herself up again.

“You already said that you do not want me here, so I am going to be a good friend and leave,” she said. “Don’t forget your promise! I will tell your mistress, so do not try to weasel out of it later.”

“I won’t,” I said. “Bye, Sooni.”

She headed out in a huff. I wondered if anything I’d said had actually sunk in. Probably not.

Amaranth led in the whole group, including Ian and Steff, a few moments after Sooni had departed. Ian and Steff both hurried to me, but then Two cut short their greetings.

“I would like to talk to Mack alone!” she declared, stomping her foot.

“Okay, Twoe… uh, Two,” Amaranth said. “You can talk to Mack if you w… would like to. We’ll just wait outside.”

She tried to usher the others towards the door, but Ian shot me a questioning glance. I just nodded. This was weird, but I knew Two wouldn’t act out like this without a compelling reason.

“Hi, Mack,” she said when the door was closed and we were alone.

“Hi, Two.”

She tilted her head a bit to the side.

“How are you?” she asked.

“I… um… I’ve been better,” I said. “But I’m okay. Is there something you needed to tell me about?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “My friend Hazel says that if you plant a jelly bean in the ground then it will grow into a jelly tree and that’s where jelly comes from.”

“Uh, really?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “It isn’t true. But she says it isn’t a lie because it’s a joke. I told her that it isn’t like any joke I’ve ever heard before, but she says that’s because I haven’t heard enough jokes.”

“Two, why did you ask the others to leave?”

“Because I wanted to talk to you alone,” she said. “Amaranth and Sooni got to.”

I wanted to groan and laugh at the same time. I smiled instead. Of course, what was a compelling reason to Two wouldn’t necessarily strike me as one.

“Two, I love you so much,” I said.

“I know,” she said. “I love you, too.”

“Have you talked to me alone enough?”

She thought about it.

“Yes,” she decided, nodding.

“Please let the others back in, then.”

“Okay,” she said, happy as could be.

“What was that about?” Ian asked.

“Two had some concerns about fairness,” I said.

“Okay,” Ian said.

“So, what did you guys bring for lunch?” I asked.

“We made sandwiches,” Amaranth said. “Two did, actually.”

“And Amaranth carried them,” Two said.

“What kind of sandwiches?” I asked.

“Bacon, lettuce, and tomato,” Two said. “And lettuce and tomato for Amaranth. I ate her bacon so it wouldn’t be wasted.”

“Good thinking,” I said, covering my grin with my hand.

“You shouldn’t hide your smile,” Steff said. “It’s… pretty.”

“It is,” Two agreed.

I blushed.

“Let’s pass the food around,” Amaranth said. She picked up Sooni’s wooden carry-case. “Mack, baby, did you actually want some of this… uh… sekihan?”

“Yes, please.”

Amaranth opened it up and Two started passing around paper plates and sandwiches. Amaranth scooped some of the rice onto a plate and handed it to me.

“Ooh, what’s that?” Steff asked.

“Sooni brought it,” I said. “She, uh… helped make it.”

“And you’re eating it?” Steff asked.

“It’s good,” I said. “You should try it,” I told Amaranth. “It’s just rice and beans. I don’t think there’s any animal bits.”

“Thank you, baby,” Amaranth said. “I think I will. A lot of Yokano dishes are vegetarian because there aren’t any land animals on the island, only intelligent beings.”

“Really?” Ian said. “That big cat girl could have fooled me.”

“And how well do you speak Yokano?” Amaranth asked.

“Point.”

“Let’s not talk about the yokai,” I said. “I’ll have to deal with Sooni eventually, but now I want to know how things are going with all of you.”

“I’m doing okay, I guess,” Steff said. “Considering I’m talking to a healer for an hour every day and they keep adjusting my potion.”

“Well, at least it’s doing some good,” Amaranth said.

“I guess,” Steff said. She fidgeted. “I just feel… I don’t know. I spent years mad at the world and fighting who I was… and then I figured that out… and I thought I had everything figured out and I could just move on with my life.”

“Yeah, I think you’re going to be waiting a long time if you want to have everything figured out before you start living,” Ian said.

“Oh, I don’t mean it like that,” Steff said. She gave a soft, sad smile. “Waiting to live has never really been my problem… it’s just like I’m happy with who I am and I am not ashamed, but I still wonder what it would be like if I wasn’t, and then I wonder if I’m really as okay with myself as I say I am.”

“Oh, honey, I don’t think so,” Amaranth said. “I think it’s possible to accept who you are and still wonder about how your life might have been different… I mean, I sometimes try to imagine what it would be like to be a human woman instead of a nymph, but that doesn’t mean I’d give up my immortality.”

I silently willed her not to turn to me or Two for support on her point. I knew I would be human in a heartbeat if I could. I couldn’t guess how Two would respond if the question was put to her, but there had to be times that she would jump at a chance to have her old life as lab equipment back, even at the cost of everything she’d gained.

Fortunately, Amaranth let herself stand as example and the conversation turned to other things. Ian and I talked about comics, and got in mostly good-natured arguments with Steff about the depictions of science therein. Steff and Amaranth talked about sex. Two and I talked about sandwiches, mostly. She tried some of the sekihan after Amaranth pronounced it “sweet”, and liked it.

Ian said he’d talked to Professor Bohd and she was satisfied that I wouldn’t be behind long for missing class, as long as I didn’t strain myself trying to catch up. Steff said she’d talk to Callahan about my melee class.

“You’re already so far behind, though,” Steff said. “I think what you really need is some more individual attention.”

I thought about it and realized she had a point.

“Yeah,” I said. “I think you’re right.”

I’d have to try to talk to Gloria. If she was willing to speak to me, maybe we could step up our practices… maybe even add private lessons outside of class?

All in all, it was a pretty nice lunch, even if I had to grudgingly acknowledge Sooni’s contribution in the form of the rice dish.


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8 Responses to “174: Re-Doing Lunch”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Uhhmmm, private lessons with Gloria?
    The beautiful young exotic with the Joan of Arc complex?
    The one who is concentrating on learning the very best methods to kill demon spawn?
    The young lady of unquestionable virtue Our Mack wants to “knock clitties” with?
    That religious fanatic over with the steely eyed glare, zealously muttering prayers under her breath while putting a nice polish on her divinely honed sword?

    Two, please give Our Mack a good thump on head with your mace. Thanks, you are a good sister.

    Current score: 3
  2. Psi-ko says:

    Pedestrian! Khersis, I am shocked at your phrasing! “Knock clitties”!?

    ….

    Everybody knows it’s “CLANG clitties”!

    Current score: 4
    • capybroa says:

      Whenever this phrase is used I envision a loud, ringing bell toll emanating from the room where the action itself is taking place. I expect that Mack’s dorm hallway would sound like Notre Dame Cathedral on Easter morning if that was the case.

      Current score: 4
    • zeel says:

      Alliteration is important!

      Current score: 0
  3. Arkeus says:

    Dammit Amy, why do all your blind sport are all about making Mackie’s blind spots bigger.

    Current score: 0
  4. Hoopla says:

    I just love Two’s character more and more each time I see her.

    Current score: 1
  5. Tinker says:

    Kheez. I just realized, yokano, yokai… Japanese demons. What’s going on with me that… Bllargh. Anyhow… Wait now I e confused myself…

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      According to the chapter commentaries (available on the Ebooks) there was supposed to be something to that. But that idea was dropped before any part of it actually got into the story.

      Current score: 1