In Which Amaranth Blushes, Again
I didn’t cry.
I know it seems like the sort of situation where I might have, and I know I haven’t really showed myself to be that great in the emotional control department, but I’m telling the story and I say I didn’t.
It was Amaranth who found me. I’ve only got her word that the others were looking. It’s the sort of thing she’d do to make somebody feel better, I think. “Everybody’s been looking for you!” I know Celia wasn’t. I wouldn’t bet money either way on Puddy… but it was a harmless, easy lie. I’m not much for lies. I usually end up saying the truth or not being able to speak at all. When I do lie, I can’t stick with it for long. It’s got to do with how I was brought up, the things my grandmother taught me.
Yeah, okay. I did cry.
Fuck you, if you want to judge me for it.
Amaranth found me, sitting under a big tree on the far side of the campus from the union and the residence halls, in the midst of the actual school buildings. I hadn’t seen anybody go past since I’d got there. It was Saturday. Classes hadn’t started yet for the year. It was kind of like being in a place between places, in a time outside of time.
Yeah, I was feeling poetic. Bite me.
She found me, and asked me if I was okay, and I told her I was fine with all the sincerity Two had when I’d asked her the same thing earlier, and she told me they’d “all been looking for me”, and then she sat down against the tree with me. Not quite beside me, but close enough I could see her out of the corner of my eye.
“You might be a demon, but you’re not all those things that you said,” she said, after we’d sat for a while.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” I said.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.
“You’re not ashamed of anything,” I replied.
“No,” she agreed. “I’m really not.”
“What’s that like?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “I look at other people… humans, I mean… and I think it must save me a lot of time, not having to get over shame. I can’t imagine what it feels like, really. I mean, I can feel regret that I’ve hurt somebody, or I can feel abashed for somebody else’s rudeness, but that isn’t shame. Shame burns. I only get one really burning feeling, and it feels… well, wonderful.”
She shivered a little bit.
“I’m afraid all the time,” I told her. I’m not sure where that came from, except that we were talking about feelings. “You know that? I’m afraid of people finding out… of what they’ll think… what they’ll say, or do… but mostly what they’ll think. Does that make any sense at all?”
“Maybe,” she said slowly, like she wasn’t sure she believed it, but she was trying to think her way around to it for my sake. “Like, maybe you know, deep inside, you could defend yourself if somebody wanted to hurt you… and as for people talking, well, if it’s what you imagine people are thinking that gets to you, then nothing they say out loud can be as bad. So maybe it does make sense.”
“But it’s stupid,” I said. One part of me wanted to embrace what she was saying, but the same part of me that believed everybody pointed and stared everywhere I went wanted to deny her logic. “Everybody else in our dorm looks obviously inhuman, and they don’t go around scared of what people are thinking all the time, do they?”
“Puddy’s almost as human as you, and don’t you think she’s probably afraid all the time, too?” she asked.
“I don’t think Puddy’s afraid of anything,” I said. I actually believed this. That was why, in spite of everything, I liked her. “I think even maybe when she should be, she’s not.”
“You don’t think she’s secretly terrified of everybody around her?” Amaranth asked. “Because I do. I think she’s even more afraid than you are.”
“I can’t imagine anybody who’s as scared as I am doing and saying the things that she does.”
“You mean like, ‘hey, you wanna clang clitties?’” she said, in imitation of Puddy. She did this by deepening her voice, way beyond what was necessary, so that she sounded more like a muscle-bound jock than Puddy.
I laughed. I was clinging to my misery, but it was so unexpected that I couldn’t help it.
“Do you?” she asked, suddenly.
“Do I what?”
“Wanna ‘clang clitties’,” she said. I looked over at her and saw that she was grinning, but it was a different grin than her normal placid smile. Not wolfish or predatory, but hungry all the same. “Because I do, Mack… I really do.”
“I… um,” I said. I suddenly felt very shaky. I tried to laugh again, but couldn’t. “Why does everybody think I’m a lesbian?”
“I don’t,” she said. She leaned towards me, actually crawling over the grass to get her face right up close to mine. “If you say you’re not, then I’ll believe you, but I think fun is fun, and friction is friction, and if my body touches yours in just the right way, you’ll enjoy it all the same.”
I leaned back away from her as she came on, but she simply continued forward. The closer she stalked in, the more I leaned back. Before I knew it, I was laying on the grass looking up at her… suddenly very aware the fact she had a good seven or eight inches of height on me, and a good deal more flesh on those shapely bones. If I’d been able to think, then intellectually, I would have known that I had to be stronger than she was.
“So you’re not gay, or whatever,” she said, lowering herself down on top of me. “Don’t you ever want to do something that’s not about what you are or aren’t? Don’t you want to do something that’s just for you?”
I swallowed. Her weight was pressing against me, pressing my body to the ground. Her lips were centimeters from mine.
“Would this be about me, or about you?” I asked.
“It’s about both of us,” she said. She wiggled a bit, from top to bottom. I don’t know how to describe how it felt. “I would enjoy myself. I won’t pretend that I wouldn’t. But also, I love you, and I don’t know any better way to show you that.”
I felt really, truly weird hearing her say that she loved me. It was weird because she was a woman, and naked, and on top of me… and it felt kind of nice, because I couldn’t remember the last time somebody had said it to me… and that made it weirder.
“You love everybody,” I said. I focused on that thought. She was a nymph. Even without the sex, they did pretty much love everybody unconditionally. It didn’t mean anything. She loved child murderers and tax evaders, too.
“I do,” she said. “Including you.”
My muscles weren’t working again. If she’d been a big ugly monster, I could have thrown her off of me. I’m not trying to brag, by the way, when I say things like that. Most monsters aren’t a threat to me to begin with, so what’s to brag about? Monsters, no, but pretty girls… self-assured girls… naked girls… but I’m still not a lesbian. It’s not about sex. I suck at lying, so if I say it isn’t, then it isn’t.
I closed my eyes. That much control I had.
“Please get off of me,” I said.
In my mind, I could see the hurt expression falling over her face. Maybe she was right. Maybe I would enjoy it. Amaranth was my friend. She’d come looking for me after I’d run off. She was trying to help me. Would she feel so strongly about me after I rejected her advances? Was it worth risking her friendship just to prevent my discomfort? Even if it was just because she was a nymph and she had to, she loved me. Did I want to lose that?
“Please,” I repeated. I whimpered a little as I said it, I think. I’m not sure. It felt like a whimper moment.
I hoped she’d listen. I didn’t think I could say it again.
She withdrew. I wondered if maybe she understood, and she wasn’t hurt or offended… if maybe her face wouldn’t have the awful look that I’d imagined for it. I opened my eyes, and felt sick to my stomach. The exact same look I’d envisioned was on her face, and I’d put it there.
“No, wait…” I said.
What was I going to say? That I didn’t want to have sex with her but it was okay if she wanted to keep lying on top of me? That we could cuddle a little? Of course, there was nothing that I could say. She’d wanted to give me something that I couldn’t accept.
“It’s okay,” she said. She smiled the same serene, non-committal smile she usually gave the world, but I still saw the other face. She stood up and brushed some grass off of her knees. “I shouldn’t have… um… do you want to just go back to the dorm?”
“Not really,” I said.
“Do you want me to go?” she asked.
“No!” I said. I think I said it so forcefully because I didn’t want her to think I was rejecting her, just her advances.
“Well… what do you want to do?” she asked. I thought about it. Maybe I thought too long, because she said, “You didn’t really seem like you wanted to go to the cafeteria. What would you rather have been doing?”
“Ball gazing,” I said. “Or going to the library. That’s the sort of thing that I really wanted to do today, but that’s kind of ruined for me now…” As I said it, I thought about it. That was the kind of thing that I thought to myself all the time: can’t do that, it’s ruined now. It didn’t sound half as certain outside my head as it did inside it. My mood might have sucked at the moment, but it was still early afternoon. The day wasn’t wasted.
“Okay, which do you want to do, then?” Amaranth asked. “Or which first?”
“I don’t know, you pick,” I said. I wished I’d told her I wanted to be alone. No, I didn’t. “I can’t decide. I’ll do whatever you want.”
“If that were true, we’d be back on the ground,” she said. A ghost of the sad look flickered over her face.
“Whichever you want,” I corrected. I was mumbling again, but not so badly as to be unintelligible. “The library or the ball room. Whichever.”
“If you really don’t have a preference…” she said. “How about the library?”
I did have a slightly larger inclination towards the ballroom than the library, but I’d told her to pick.
“I really do like you, Mack,” she said. “I mean, as a person liking another, not just as a nymph liking another living being.”
“Thanks,” I said. “But… my name’s Mackenzie.”
“Oh!” she said. She blushed, again. That was twice in one day. I think I must have been blood red, myself. “I thought… well, Puddy said… um, it’s a pretty name. Mackenzie.”
“I don’t know if it’s pretty or not,” I said. “But I don’t really like being called Mack.”
“Well, maybe it’s just because it’s how I’ve been thinking of you all day,” she said, “but I think you make a good Mack.”