Chapter 125: An Elf-Decent ProposalAlexandraErin on November 30, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Nicki Has Matters Well In Hand
We were leaving the Arch when Nicki suddenly stopped like she’d just been struck by a very small bolt of lightning. The flow of people… mostly humans, but a few elves… who’d finished eating at around the same time as us backed up momentarily as the rest of our group stopped, then diverted around us.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Nicki was staring at what was in her hand like she’d just noticed it… and once I’d noticed it, I wondered how long she’d been holding it. It was lacy and… not exactly pink, but not what I’d call a solid red. The kind of color that someone like Nicki would probably know the exact name of.
“Um… I think someone just handed me their underwear?” she said. “At least I think it’s underwear?”
She used her other hand to separate the bunch of fabric into two pieces, a frilly thong and another garment in the same style, but rectangular and with a pair of string ties. It might have been underwear, but unless it was a very fashionable loincloth, I couldn’t see how it went on.
“Um… at least it looks clean?” Ian said.
“You call that clean?” Steff said.
“As near as I can tell without sniffing it, yeah,” he said. Nicki looked like she was about to do just that, but then thought better of it. I could understand the impulse to settle the question.
“That’s not clean, it’s elf-dirty,” Steff said. “Which is functionally clean, for most purposes, but still… anyway, that one’s not underwear, it’s a veil. Come on, let’s put some distance between us and embassy row and I’ll explain.”
“What’s going on?” I asked, a little concerned that Steff was suggesting retreat. She had an instinct for self-preservation, but she also had one for self-destruction and often took the view that fate should decide which one won out.
“Yeah… should I be worried?” Nicki asked.
“Not necessarily,” Steff said, “but do we really want to be airing functionally clean laundry in public? Come on, let’s just pick an elsewhere to mosey to, and I’ll explain when we get there. Um… the nexus is nearby?”
“Veto,” I said. Even if I was going to be seeing Jamie again, I didn’t want to run into him so soon. “And I thought this wasn’t a discussion for a public place?”
“There’s a lot of privacy in a crowd, as long as it’s not crowded with elves,” she said.
“The B.A. building has soundproofed rooms,” Ian said. “A lot of them are probably empty right now.”
“That’s probably a little excessive, I think,” Amaranth said, glancing at Steff for confirmation. “But it is nearby, and there are places to sit outside?”
“That’s probably good enough,” Steff said, and so we relocated to a little outdoor stage ringed with stone step seats outside the Lazar Center for the Bardic Arts.
“So…?” Nicki said once we were there.
“Like I said, that’s a veil,” Steff said. She took it from Nicki and held it up in front of the lower half of her face to demonstrate.”Elven femmes cover their mouths to signal their general lack of interest in boys… but they also pass them to people to convey specific interest.”
“And the thong is just for emphasis, I guess?” Nicki said.
“No, that’s part of the message,” Steff said. “The veil means she’s available for oral, the panties mean… well, usually it would be anal, but since they were handed to you so soon after a stirring discourse about how you’re all about pussy and reciprocity, I’d say this is an invitation to make the beast with four legs and also a head in between each pair of legs.”
“…why isn’t there a separate signal for, um, anal?” Nicki said.
“There is… there isn’t a separate signal for vaginal,” Steff said. “Which goes a long way towards explaining why someone who was into that would be excited enough after overhearing Amy’s professional delving into your desires to send you a token of her esteaminess.”
“Oh,” Nicki said, looking a little disappointed. “So it wasn’t really me in particular who merited the panty-gram, then… just the fact that we’re both a little desperate.”
“That doesn’t mean they didn’t like anything else about you,” Amaranth said. “Probably someone thought you were cute to begin with, and that’s why they were listening in.”
“Yeah, I’ve never met an elf who wasn’t picky about looks,” Steff said. “And you’ve got the look that humans think of as pixie-ish… a lot of elves find that kind of adorable.”
“Thanks, I think,” Nicki said. “How am I supposed to reciprocate, if I don’t even know who it was? I mean, is that normal?”
“It doesn’t sound like the standard approach, but I don’t think it’s abnormal,” Amaranth said. “It’s like anything else: some people slip notes into lockers, some people prefer the direct approach.”
“That’s a hell of a note,” Ian said. “That’s the actual underwear she was wearing?”
“Yeah,” Steff said. “That’s how it got elf-dirty.”
“So someone was impressed enough to take off her underwear under the table or whatever and then slip it into Nicki as she went past,” Ian said. “And then walk out, ranger-style.”
“…you mean, with two swords?” Nicki said. “Oh… wait… I got it.” She turned to Steff. “So, what am I supposed to do about this?”
“Well, the usual way to follow up is for them to ask if you have something of theirs,” Steff said.
“And then I give it back?”
“Only if you want to say that you appreciate the offer but aren’t interested,” Steff said. “That’s a polite refusal. An impolite refusal is to say you assumed it was garbage and threw it away. If you say nothing but take her by the hand and lead her away, that’s a yes. Offering to return them in private later is a yes. Asking to hold on to them for a while means you want some more flirting. Daring her to take them back or asking what she’ll give you means you want her to come on more aggressively.”
“You’re making this up,” Nicki said. “…aren’t you?”
“No, she isn’t,” Amaranth said.
“So, at some point in the near future, I should expect a hot elven woman to walk up to me in public and ask for her underwear back?” Nicki asked.
“Well, she might be elf-plain,” Steff said. “But that’s functionally hot. And that’s assuming she doesn’t get cold feet. This kind of thing can easily turn into a bunch of giggly school-girl stuff… the fact that she passed them on and ran could be coyness, but it could be nerves.”
“Or it could be a game,” Ian said. “As in, what a hunter stalks with a bow and arrow. A lot of the elves stuck in extended childhood mode have some messed up ideas of fun.”
“I think you’re exaggerating the prevalence of an extreme behavior,” Amaranth said.
“It doesn’t have to be that prevalent,” Ian said. “It only takes one.”
“I know what you’re talking about,” I said, “but don’t you think you’re being a little… overdramatic?”
“I don’t know,” Ian said. “If Nicki’s luck with women is anything like yours…”
“Should I be worried?” Nicki asked Steff.
“Well… I wouldn’t recommend going back to her place, if she’s in Treehome,” Steff said. “That’s really more of an independent elven fiefdom than a dormitory, in a ‘what happens there, stays there’ kind of way. Even if your correspondent doesn’t have middling fever, some of the bitches who run it would eat you alive, just so they could say they’ve done it.”
“…so, how would I say that I’m open to the idea, but would prefer spending some time face-to-face in a public place first?” Nicki asked.
“You mean like dating?” Steff said. “Just say you’d like to discuss it over coffee or something. If she’s not into that, she’ll say something like, ‘If they mean that much to you, you can keep them.’ and walk away.”
“And we’re still talking about her underwear, right?” Nicki said. “I’m inviting her to come talk about my possession of her panties over coffee.”
“Well… she probably won’t bring them up by name,” Steff said. “It’d be more like… ‘I believe you have something of mine.’ And you’re not literally going to be talking about it on the date. That’s just the pretext.”
“You’re sure she’s not making this up?” Nicki asked Amaranth.
“I promise, she’s not,” Amaranth said. “There’s a whole chapter in On The Courtship of Elfmaids about this. They call it… love-betokening.”
“Anthropologists call it that, maybe,” Steff said. “The ‘elfmaids’ call it breezing, especially when they pass something on secretly or subtly… the idea is that oops, the wind blew my veil into your pocket.”
“Is there any way I can signal my, I don’t know, receptiveness?” Nicki asked.
“Well, if your ‘love-betokener’ is still listening in, that’s kind of redundant,” Steff said.
“That’s why you wanted to move away?”
“No,” Steff said. “It’s because of all the other elves around that I wanted to move away. I figure if your admirer wants to know the results of her handiwork, it would be easier for her to find out than for us to stop her, and I don’t really see a downside to letting her know that you’re up to speed and what direction your mind is drifting. I just didn’t want the whole thing to get too interesting to the other elves… a lot of them can’t resist messing around with each other. A lot of it’s fairly benign… well, I mean it’s…”
“Elf-benign?” I suggested.
I couldn’t figure out where I sat in this whole argument. I knew the elves in Treehome could be dangerous, but I liked the thought of Nicki having found someone. At the same time, though, I kind of felt like I didn’t like that thought. It wasn’t jealousy, exactly… at least not the raw, naked kind.
I didn’t want Nicki like that, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy her attention and admiration… and knowing that I felt that way had made me sit on my other misgivings a little. I felt like I wasn’t capable of being impartial.
Still, how much would my impartiality count for, if Nicki ended up in a bad situation when I could have said something?
“Yes,” Steff said.
“I’ve seen enough of that to know it’s functionally terrible,” I said. “Most of that was second hand, but… yeah.”
“And Iason doesn’t even have a full-blown case of the fever,” Steff said.
“That’s the second time you’ve said that,” Nicki said. “What is this fever?”
“It’s a stereotype,” Amaranth said. “With some basis, but if all elves of middling age fulfilled it, it wouldn’t need a separate name, would it?”
“It’s not a real disease, obviously, but… well, elves grow as fast as humans, but they don’t count their children as grown until they’re into their second century,” Steff said. “Elves who are caught between childhood and adulthood are middlings, and they pretty much form their own separate society. A lot of them run a little wild. Some of them run a little feral. That’s middling fever.”
“But you can make it official-like by tying the veil around your arm like a scarf or something. If you want to be really direct, you can pin it to the front of over your jeans. That sends…”
“I think I can figure out what that means for myself,” Nicki said. “Do I do anything with the… this?”
She held up the panties.
“You can do the same thing with it, if you want to be a little more explicit about it,” Steff said. “It won’t actually change the content of the message to leave it out, though… even elves understand that human society frowns on underwear as outerwear.”
“If I just wear the veil as a veil, would that mean I want to talk to her?” Nicki asked.
“No, actually, that would be declaring that your mouth is exclusively hers,” Steff said. “Basically, asking her to go steady… and yes, I’m sure I’m not making this up. Look, just start tying it around your arm at lunch. I bet if she doesn’t come forward, you’ll at least get some more messages from her.”
“I still think you’re better off steering clear,” Ian said. “Adult elves? Can be cool. Elven children? Probably scary adorable. But this hundred year adolescence thing is just a recipe for crazy.”
“My mother, you’re exaggerating, Ian,” Amaranth said. “There are many well-adjusted elves in residence at Treehome. Have any of you even actually been there?”
“I have,” Steff said. “A few times.”
“Well, I’ve spent whole nights there,” Amaranth said. “And yes, there are some… distressing… things being done by some of the cliques there, but they aren’t the whole of Treehome, any more than Treehome is the whole of surface elven society.”
“But, Amaranth, weren’t you the one who said the worst thing about Jamie was his boyfriend?” Ian said. “And what about Semele? Oh, hell… what if it was Semele?”
“Semele doesn’t wear a veil,” I pointed out.
“Or underwear,” Amaranth added.
“It wasn’t Semele,” Steff said. “I’d bet money on that. I didn’t see who it was, but Semele… she stands out. Especially among other elves. I mean, she can be stealthy, but she would have had to have been stalking us from hiding the whole time, and that’s really not her style.”
“Here, what about that supposed elven poetry club that gave you the honor guard treatment?” Hazel said, nudging me with her elbow… which surprised me because I hadn’t realized she was still with us until that moment. “Mind, we didn’t exactly get to know them, but they seemed like a stand-out bunch. I’m not saying it was one of them, just that it goes to show they aren’t all bad.”
“What’s she talking about?” Nicki asked.
“Oh, there were some elves who sort of unexpectedly helped me avoid a problem with a professor,” I said. I wasn’t being cagey deliberately, but the conversation was already multiple nested layers of complicated. “Obviously they overheard us talking about the problem and decided to help, but we don’t really know who they are or why they helped.”
“Oh, hey,” Ian said. “That… that actually kind of makes sense to me. I mean, clearly someone was paying attention to us, and then did something nice for us… I mean, they were helping you in particular, but they might have had some good feelings towards our group in general.”
“But we don’t know that their intentions were actually benevolent,” I said. “Or… more than elvenly so.”
“No, we don’t,” Ian said. “But still, it just seems less… ominous… to think that it might not have come out of nowhere. Like maybe somebody’s wanted to be friends with us, or at least is looking at us with some kind of, I don’t know, fondness. And then they hear someone in our group lamenting her love life, and they think she’s cute…”
“Are we back into the singular they now?” Nicki asked. “I’m not following all of this at all…”
“Okay, I’m assuming there’s a group of elves, but one specific elf within that group gave you her underwear,” Ian said. “Clear enough?”
“This certainly sounds more plausible than someone randomly deciding to lure Nicki into a trap,” Amaranth said. “But if you’re at all nervous, Nicki… about that or anything else… you could always suggest a double date, or invite your admirer to eat with us. I can’t pick up on everything that passes through a person’s mind, but I can tell you if someone’s getting excited by something you might not want them to be excited about. Steff can help you interpret any cultural things that I’m not familiar with, and if Dee’s there… well, Dee’s very insightful, even without her subtle arts.”
“Hang on, though, oh Amy-able One,” Steff said. “For all we know, Dee and me might be the reasons Ms. Terious hasn’t come forward herself to talk to any of us. Neither of us are exactly the picture of elven respectability.”
“Yeah, well, if someone has a problem with you two, that’s a pretty good clue that I should hand them their panties back, right?” Nicki said. “I like this plan. I don’t see a downside to it.”
“I’m not sure about it, but I like that we’re all helping someone else with their problem instead of me,” I said.
“Who’s ‘we’, freeloader?” Ian asked teasingly.
“Yeah, well… what are you doing?” I asked back.
“I advanced the theory of the helpful poetry club,” Ian said. “I did my part for the cause.”
“Yeah, well, I attracted the help of the helpful poetry club,” I said. “Thereby giving you something to theorize with.”
He stuck out his tongue at me. I returned the favor.
“You’re never going to reach him from there,” Steff said.
“It’s fascinating how a distance of a few yards is enough to turn a situation from adult to juvenile,” Hazel said.
“In all seriousness… I hope you’re right and this is all connected to those elves who helped me before,” I told Ian. “I mean, the voice in my ear sounded friendly enough, but I’d really like to find out what that was all about.”
“Believe me, I know the feeling,” Nicki said.