In Which Pastry Is Wasted
There were boxes of doughnuts, muffins, and breakfast pastries laid out along the length of the counter where check-in had been the day before. Everything looked wonderfully fresh and beautiful. I figured if MU laid out this kind of spread for welcome weekend, then things were looking up. I walked up and down the line three times, looking at–and inhaling from–each box before finally picking a chocolate cake doughnut with white glaze all over it. Puddy wasted no time in grabbing a pair of white doughnuts with pink icing on the top, tucking her remaining two pudding pops (she’d eaten one on the way down the stairs) under her arm. She hadn’t bothered to get a plate.”So, you don’t really eat nothing but pudding pops,” I said, feeling kind of dumb that I’d believed this rather obvious exaggeration.
“What, these?” Puddy asked. “These aren’t for eating. They’re… visual aids.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, but she was already demonstrating.
“Hey, fishy!” she yelled across the room at Feejee, holding up the doughnuts and grinding the pink frosted sides together at a slight angle to each other. “You and me, huh? How ’bout it?“
“Puddy, please don’t,” I said, mortified. Feejee simply turned her body ever-so-slightly in order to face away, continuing her conversation with Leda and a pair of older-looking boys who seemed slightly furry about the face. Whatever kind of an impression I’d made on my immediate floormates, there were people from the whole building here… and I didn’t want to be a spectacle in front of them.
“You’re a fucking prude, you know that?” Puddy said, without any malice. “How does someone like you end up so uptight?”
“‘Someone like me?’” I repeated.
“Oh, now you sound like that girl with the tongue,” Puddy said. She punctuated her remark by flicking her tongue into the center of one of the doughnuts. “Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not a prude,” I said. “It’s not the sex stuff that bothers me… exactly… it’s just…”
“Just what?” she prompted.
“When you do something like that, people are going to turn around and… look,” I said.
“I don’t like being stared at,” I said.
“Well, relax, they’re not staring at you,” Puddy said.
“I don’t like thinking about other people being stared at,” I said. “It makes me feel embarrassed for them. Don’t you feel embarrassed when you do something like that and everybody turns around and looks at you?”
“No,” Puddy said. “I’m not embarrassed by much, honestly, but if I was, I wouldn’t do it every five minu… hey, girls, if you’ve got some extra head, why don’t you share?” I had to turn, in spite of myself, to see who exactly she was talking to… it was the Leighton twins, of course… the two girls with one body. Extra head. Ha ha, get it?
“I’m going to find a seat,” I said, walking away. The thought in my head was, if she didn’t follow, then I’d be sitting alone but I would have proved to myself that I wasn’t going to bend over backwards just to please somebody else, so yay for me. If she did, then she’d be following my lead and I could assert myself a little better. Yay for unfounded theories.
Most of the sofas around the TV area were empty, but people were standing around in that area… including Feejee and her friends, and other people that seemed like likely targets for Puddy’s roving eye (and mouth), so I headed outside. The front doors were propped open. Beyond them was a patio that ran the whole length of the building, with picnic tables and everything. The whole area was below ground level, with a retaining wall that was level with the first floor and a tall hedge above that.
I guess I should have realized something of what was going to come later, from the fact that our residence hall was given its own outdoor seating area that was conveniently out of view of the rest of campus. Or maybe I shouldn’t have. I didn’t know anything about the other residence halls, or what amenities they did or didn’t have. At the moment, I thought it was pretty nice, and I wondered if people from the other adjoining halls came down and used it.
Puddy did follow me, but she didn’t say anything as I grabbed a vacant table in the shade of the wall. I looked at my doughnut for a while, kind of building up anticipation while Puddy ate another pop before I broke off the first piece. Like I said, I don’t get hungry very often. I try to enjoy the food I do eat.
“Did how I act in there really bother you?” Puddy asked after I’d eaten two bites, punctuating her remarks by brandishing her last pudding pop like a baton. After having wolfed down the first two pudding pops, she was savoring the third one a bit more.
“I don’t know,” I said, though I did know. It did bother me. It was weird and it was rude, and people didn’t act like that around other people, and I was maybe the tiniest bit jealous that she could do something like that in front of a room full of people and feel good about herself and I couldn’t. “It makes it seem like you just want to have sex with everybody.”
“I do want to fuck everybody,” she said. “Everybody I meet. Well, every woman I meet. Present company exclusively included.”
“Please don’t start that,” I said. “Because it’s not going to happen.”
‘Well, you’re not going to make it through the year without fucking somebody,” Puddy said. “Did you see the way that big skirmish fighter was checking out your ass when you were leaving the meeting last night?”
“How could I see somebody watching me leave?” I asked. “Anyway, she was probably just glaring at me like everybody else. There’s only two dozen girls on the floor. Odds are you and Mariel’ll be the only ones who are gay.”
“Yeah, right. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard the stereotype about women’s skirmish players,” Puddy said.
“At my school, they were just bitchy and superior, but it was a small enough school that the same girls were also in drama or cheerleading or band,” I said.
“I thought my school was small,” Puddy said. “At my school, band and skirmish were like opposed elements.”
“Anyway, which one do you mean?”
“I don’t know, the ogre one,” Puddy said.
“Belinda,” I said.
“How the hell do you do that?” Puddy asked me.
“Know everybody’s names,” she said. “You knew Mariel’s name. I didn’t even know that, and I banged her like a battering ram.”
“We went around the room and introduced ourselves,” I said. I almost asked, “Weren’t you paying attention?”, but of course, she hadn’t been. “Anyway, even if she is… of an athletic inclination… I really doubt somebody like Belinda’d be interested in somebody like me.”
“Oh, don’t sell yourself short!” Puddy said. “We do something a little different with your hair, and you’d make a pretty hot dyke.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I said. “And I don’t want to be a ‘hot dyke’, thank you. What I meant was, she’s a big scary jock. I’m a shrimpy little geek.”
“So you’re intimidated by her,” Puddy said. “We can get past that.”
“I’m not intimidated by her,” I said. “I’m not interested! And I really doubt she’s interested in me. Can we talk about something else?”
“Okay,” Puddy said. “Hey, since you were taking notes, what were the names of those two grain bangers?”
“Grain bangers?” I asked, before figuring it out. “Oh. Barley and Amaranth.”
Puddy stood up and waved.
“Hey, Barley… Amaranth… over here!” she yelled. I looked up… I’d been paying more attention to my plate than what was going on around us… and saw the two nymphs walking hand in hand through the doors. They turned and waved, smiling broadly at Puddy’s invitation, and began heading towards us. Okay, I thought, at least they’re not jocks or snobs… but then I grimaced. Amaranth still had her Khersian badge pinned to her chest. It looked like there might have been a trickle of dried blood running down from it, but of course I didn’t look very closely.
Of course, she sat directly across from me. I stared even more resolutely into my doughnut.
“Hi… Puddy, right?” Barley said. “And… um… I didn’t catch your name…?”
At the moment, I was staring resolutely at my doughnut and willing away a panic attack. Nymphs were among the most non-judgmental creatures in the world, I told myself… so if I couldn’t make friends with them, I’d pretty much be screwed. I did not want to jump back and run screaming away from the table just because I couldn’t stand to look at one of their chests.
“This is Mack,” Puddy said.
“Mackenzie,” I said, though I’m sure not very loudly or clearly.
“Is something wrong, Mack?” Amaranth asked. The concern in her voice was almost physical.
“She’s dealing with some issues at the moment,” Puddy said. “I think it’s got something to do with your tits.”
“Why? Is there something wrong with them?” Amaranth asked, sounding aghast. I’d actually squeezed my eyes shut, but I still had an image in my head of her cupping her breasts in her hand and inspecting them for some hint of imperfection. Of course, in my head, they were bare.
“A classic case of female self-loathing,” Barley said. “You should really work to get more in touch with your body, Mack.” She took a bite of doughnut. “How often do you masturbate?”
“Well, I don’t think it’s a question of quantity so much as quality,” Amaranth said in a disquietingly conversational tone. “Quality matters as much as quantity, I’ve always thought. Maybe we could all get together after breakfast and work on some basic technique?”
“Technique’s important, right, but when we’re talking about breaking down a deeply ingrained psychological barriers instilled by society…” Barley started to counter, but she stopped when my forehead hit the table with a thud.
“Can… we… please… talk… about… something… else?” I asked.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Mack, why don’t you just let me tell them what’s bugging you?” Puddy asked. “It’s that stupid thing you’ve got pinned to yourself… she can’t stand it.”
“Oh, do you have a problem with holy symbols?” Amaranth asked. “I can get rid of it! It doesn’t mean anything to me.”
I could have told her that, if it had meant anything to her, her faith probably would’ve made my skin blister at this close a distance, but if I’d opened up my mouth at that point I probably would’ve screamed. The pain and pressure receded, and I opened my eyes and tentatively looked up to see Amaranth and Barley had retreated a few yards away. They were being watched with considerable interest by several of the male students as they fussed with the badge. When Barley finally just ripped it out of Amaranth’s tit, the nearly orgasmic shriek she let out was almost more disturbing to me than the presence of the badge itself had been.
Barley handed it to one of the gawking men, who simply stood there holding it as they came back at the table.
“Why’d you have to tell them?” I asked Puddy glumly.
“What, you were just going to sit there until you passed out?” she asked. “Grow some priorities.”
“Honestly, it’s fine. We don’t care,” Amaranth said, beaming placidly at me. It was honestly a pretty horrific image, as she now had blood seeping out of the ragged tear made by the pin. A naked, bloody woman with horn-rimmed glasses and a beatific smile… there’s a pleasant sight for the breakfast table.
“We totally don’t,” Barley said. “I mean, what do you think the Temple of Kh… that temple… thinks of fertility spirits?”
“You can say it in front of her,” Puddy said knowledgeably. “She won’t melt.”
“Okay, well, anyway,” Barley said, “the point is, we don’t care what a bunch of old-fashioned, repressive, patriarchal…”
“Hey, they do a lot of good work,” Amaranth objected. “Anyway, I’m glad to know it was that silly little icon and not my nudity that was affecting you. Even though we’ve decided to see what the human education system has to offer us, we still take our culture very seriously.”
“I have nothing but respect for your culture and I think it’s a beautiful thing,” Puddy said. “Did I mention that I’m a registered member of the Lower Silver Beech Hamadryad Nation? Not full blood, of course, but I think it’s important to learn as much as I can about the traditions and teachings of my people, and shit.”
“Really?” Barley said. “That’s so good to hear.”
“Yeah,” Puddy said. “So… you guys wanna get together and clang clitties some time?”
“Puddy!” I said. “They’re nymphs. They like guys.”
“Sure,” they both said at the same time.
“Only will Mack be there, too?” Barley asked. “Because that would be really cool.”
“I don’t know,” Amaranth said. “That might be too much masochistic energy in one place. We’d need somebody really dominant…”
“I can be very dominant,” Puddy said.
“Wait… masochistic?” I said. “I’m not a masochist!”
Amaranth got the same shocked look on her face that Trina the triclops had got when I’d told her that yes, I did live in Harlowe Hall.
“Oh,” she said. “Yeah, right. Of course.”
“What do you mean ‘of course’?” I asked. “what made you think I’m a masochist?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I’m sure I was completely mistaken.”
“Well, you were, and it’s a moot point anyway, because I am not even into girls,” I said.
Amaranth and Barley glanced at each other, now both wearing the same look.
“Please don’t take offense,” Barley said.
“I’m not offended,” I said, though I really was. For some reason, I felt like being offended at the idea that I liked girls would imply that I found the idea of girls who liked girls offensive, which I seriously didn’t.
“Okay, well,” Barley said, “don’t get angry, either, but… have you ever had a boyfriend?”
“I come from a small town,” I said. “I wasn’t very popular, and there weren’t a lot of guys. What?” I asked, kind of sharply. They’d just traded the look again.
“Nothing,” Barley said. “We’ve got to go. It was nice meeting you, Mack. Puddy, we’re double-teaming a centaur tonight but we’ll talk, okay?”
“Rock on,” Puddy said. “I’ll definitely see you around.” She stared after the pair as they walked away, hips swaying, hand in hand. I very much did not stare. I didn’t. “Man, college rules,” Puddy said.
“I’m not a lesbian,” was the only thing I could think to say.
“I’m not deaf,” Puddy said.
“Why did they think I am?”
“Nymphs, Mack,” Puddy said. “They get all kinds of crazy ideas. Did you get a good look at those crazy glasses Amaranth is wearing? I don’t think they’re even properly magic. They made her eyes look funny.”
“I didn’t notice,” I said. “I was trying not to look at her, remember?”
“Point of interest? Most people who’re trying to avoid seeing someone’s chest look at their eyes,” Puddy said. I glared at her. “I’m just sayin’.”
I looked at my doughnut. I’d only taken a few tiny little bites, but I didn’t feel like eating any more.
“You want this?” I asked Puddy.
“Is it a pudding pop?” she asked.
“Right,” I said. “I’ll go throw it away, then. You want me to take yours?”
“You can have this one,” she said, handing me one of the pink iced doughnuts. “I think I’ll hold on to this one. It’s kind of fun.”
She licked around the bottom edge of the hole, very lightly, so her tongue touched it but didn’t actually disturb the frosting. I wasn’t sure if that was for subtle effect, or because she took the “only pudding pops” rule that seriously.
“You’re disgusting,” I said, with more force than I felt it. It really didn’t bother me, but I was a little pissed and she didn’t need any encouragement.
“No, this is disgusting,” she said, flipping it over and repeating the gesture with more enthusiasm on the back side of the doughnut. It took me about twenty seconds to catch on, by which time she’d jammed her tongue through the hole and was pressing the doughnut against her face so hard it was starting to break up.
“That’s really disgusting!” I said. “People don’t do that! Do they?”
“You really are a sheltered creature, aren’t you?” Puddy said. The doughnut had broken apart, and she was wiping crumbs away from her mouth. “We’re going to have to work on that… relax, Jumpy McTightAss, I just meant get you out and show you the world a little bit, maybe get you laid… with a boy, even.”
“What makes you think I need help with that?” I demanded.
Puddy snorted and rolled her eyes. Okay, so that actually wasn’t that bad an answer, but I didn’t have to admit that. Actually, I really didn’t have to admit it, because at that moment, Kiersta and a guy I didn’t recognize who, it turned out, was an R.A. for the freshman on the men’s side, came out the doors.
“Hey, if we could have everybody’s attention!” the guy yelled through cupped hands.
“The dean of non-human students is going to speak inside in a minute,” Kiersta said. “So if we could have all the first year students… and anybody else who’s interested… come inside?”
“Well…” Puddy said. “They’re playing our song.”