Chapter 223: Uphill BattlesAlexandra Erin on July 2, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Old Habits Resurge
Apparently my advice to Glory about how to deal with the accumulated stockpile of furniture in her new residence did the trick. She insisted on giving me a bonus payment for it, which I didn’t mind one bit. I was less sure about her suggestion that she pay me by slipping the money into my back pocket, especially since the jeans I was wearing didn’t have any.
Admittedly, that was because I’d chosen to wear my tightest pair of jeans to meet with her, instead of one of my more practical pairs. While I found her attention confusing and I still wasn’t sure where it was going or where I wanted it to go, I still appreciated it.
I didn’t mind her testing my boundaries, since she always backed down when she found where they were… and I think the process of finding them probably gave her at least a little bit of the same thrill she was looking for.
I know it did for me.
Was this what flirtation was supposed to feel like? Was this why people did it? I’d never really gone through a flirty phase in the lead-up to my relationships with Ian or Amaranth… Steff could be flirty, but a lot of her style was more teasing, and back then, I’d probably processed a lot of stuff as teasing even if it wasn’t.
I’d always assumed it was more… practical, like a less blunt way of stating one’s intentions. I’d never thought of it as something that could be fun in its own right.
I’d heard Amaranth and Steff both making points about how negotiating boundaries didn’t have to take all the spontaneity out of a relationship, and it certainly didn’t mean that you couldn’t have fun. With Glory, I felt like I was experiencing a slightly less regimented side of that.
Did I mind her putting her hand on my shoulder when she spoke to me? No, I didn’t. Did I mind her touching my face sometimes when she talked? No, I didn’t mind that. Did I mind her arm around my waist when she led me somewhere? Maybe, for now… but I didn’t mind her asking.
I didn’t mind that at all.
Amaranth surprised me by being the next one to evince jealousy at my budding… whatever… flirtation, I guess… with Glory. It’s not that I’d never known her to be jealous of others when it came to certain subjects… like perceived intelligence and wisdom… but she’d always been beyond open to the idea of me having relationships with others. “Enthusiastic” would be the word.
“I’ve noticed you’re doing your laundry more often,” she said to me the night of the pocket-that-wasn’t incident, as I was putting that pair of jeans in the hamper.
“Yeah,” I said, pleased with myself before I took a moment to catch up to the tone of the question, which hadn’t been proud or approving, but the studied attempt at neutrality that usually meant that something was bothering Amaranth. Still, I pressed on, because I was pretty sure this was something she should approve of. “I’ve been leaving my clothes on the floor less often, too.”
“Yes. I’d noticed. You know, I can’t think of the last time I’ve seen you wear the same shirt twice in a row,” she said.
She still didn’t sound pleased.
In fact, she’d started to chew on her lip, which was a sure sign that something was bothering her.
“Well… I run out of clean ones less often,” I said. “I don’t exactly plan these things out, you know… clothing is mostly something that just sort of happens.”
“I know that used to be true,” she said. “I’m just wondering when it changed.”
“I thought you’d be happy that your good influence eventually wore off on me after all this time,” I said.
“It’s the ‘all this time’ that makes me wonder,” she said. “Is it really my influence?”
“Well… Glory does prefer when I wear clean things,” I said.
“Baby, everybody prefers when you wear clean things,” she said. “Including and especially me.”
“So… everybody wins?”
“I guess,” she said. “It’s just… funny how Queen Glory can tell you to change your shirt a couple of times, and suddenly you know your way to the laundry room.”
“She’s never told me to change my shirt,” I said. “I’ve just been making a point of wearing clean ones.”
“Of course I know that,” she said, stamping her foot. “I brought it up. I just don’t know why you suddenly find it worth your time to do something to please her that you’d never do for me.”
“Okay, first of all… it’s not really fair to criticize me not wanting to wa… spend my time on laundry when you never have to do it, and you spend zero percent of your day having to clean anything to begin with,” I said, and I immediately regretted it. I didn’t think I sounded heated, though I felt like I was getting into the rhythm of an argument rather than making an important point.
More than that, mentioning Amaranth not wearing clothes was sort of hitting her below where a belt would go, if she was allowed to wear one.
“That’s not fair… you know it’s not up to me how I dress, or don’t dress. I would do laundry if I could wear clothes,” she said. “I like to think… I mean, I imagine that if I did, then the things I wore might occasionally get soiled, despite my divine influence, since they wouldn’t actually be part of me… it would be fun to find out, anyway. But I can’t.”
I remembered that when Barley had started wearing clothes the year before, they had visibly accumulated dirt. It was hard to say if that would have been the general case or not, because there had been some other complicating factors in play… and even if I hadn’t been smart enough not to bring up nymphs wearing clothes in general, I knew it wouldn’t have been a good idea to bring up Barley. I didn’t like thinking about her either, but the association between nymphs and dirty clothing was too strong.
It might have been there for Amaranth, too, because she kind of drew aback at the same time that I bit my tongue.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s just… being more mortal than you means that I have demands on my time that you don’t.”
“I know that, baby,” she said. “But you’re less mortal than a lot of people who still manage to do what they need to… and anyway, that’s the thing. General personal maintenance isn’t about fair or not, it’s just… things that need to be done. They’re part of life.”
“Right, but there’s some wiggle room,” I said. “I’m sure I’m not the only college kid who slacks off on this sort of thing.”
“I’m sure most people do fall behind on their laundry once in a while… especially the people who were never responsible for washing their own clothes before,” she said.
“Well, there you go,” I said. “My grandmother never let me be responsible for anything. She held me responsible for everything, but she didn’t trust me enough to give me much of what you’d call chores.”
“But baby, there’s a difference between ‘once in a while’ and… you know, I kind of doubt that before recently, you did much laundry except when I specifically told you to,” she said.
“That… might be true,” I said. “Broadly speaking. But that just goes to show you that I don’t listen to Glory any more than you do.”
“But I had to keep telling you,” she said. “You never really accepted it as an ongoing thing, and you always acted like you were humoring me whenever you’d put your clothes in the hamper instead of on the floor by the bed… when you were resenting me for it. But she comes along and snaps her fingers and suddenly, you’re completely housebroken.”
“Let’s please, please stay away from any comparisons to a pet dog,” I said.
“Oh… I’m sorry!” she said. “But, I’m still upset.”
“Okay, but… even if Glory’s preferences were the most immediate impetus for the change, don’t you think that you deserve credit for putting me on the path to begin with?” I asked. “If you feel like you were pushing and pushing and pushing and getting nowhere with me, that’s because you were pushing uphill. Your hard work got me to the top of the hill, and once I crested that, it was just… all downhill from there? You know what I mean.”
“I do,” she said, and she smiled the almost shy smile that she got when she felt like she’d maybe got something wrong. Amaranth was a nymph; the only time she felt bashful was when she was abashed. “I guess I was… resentful… that I’d worked so hard, when I should have taken pride in that work.”
“You should be proud,” I said. “Glory doesn’t know how easy she has it… before you, I wouldn’t have had any idea what was happening when she hit on me, or how to handle it. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to admit that I might like it.”
“Well, I’m proud of you,” she said. “All the pushing in the world… even along with gentle support and loving guidance… couldn’t have changed you one bit. The progress you’ve made is yours. I’m just very happy to have helped.”
“What also helps, I think, is the whole thing with Acantha,” I said. “I mean, as much of a runaway wagon as that whole thing was at times, it did make me more confident and assertive, and I really started taking an interest in appearing more professional because…”
I stopped suddenly, as she’d put her finger up to my lips to shush me. I have to admit, I’d only stopped talking at first because I was confused about what was happening… it had been a while since she’d invoked this particular rule.
“Now I just need someone to teach you how to quit when you’re ahead,” she said, then removed her finger only to replace it with her lips.
“You know, I wasn’t kidding about the time constraints,” I said. “It’s really not fun taking time out of my weekend to do something that ties me to the general area of the lounge, especially when the rest of my week is so busy.”
“I know, baby, but it’s something that has to be done,” Amaranth said.
“Yeah, I’m not trying to argue against it,” I said. “I’m just saying, with everything else… classes, school work, work… it’s been a while since we’ve made it to the library.”
“Well, I’ve still been ending up there sometimes,” she said. “But I know what you mean. Our usual Sunday date isn’t so usual, these days.”
“So, let’s make a point of doing it this weekend,” I said.
“Are you sure that won’t conflict with anything?”
“I’ve never actually had a conflict on Sunday morning yet,” I said. “It’s just that the more stuff I’ve got going on the rest of the week, the more likely I’m going to need that time for something else. It’s usually when I end up doing my laundry. But I don’t think my time’s actually so scarce that I can’t carve out another chunk of time somewhere for that. Even if I can’t… well, I think I can go more than a week between laundry runs.”
“Please, don’t start that again,” she said.
“I meant because I have more clothes now,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I have more than a week’s worth of unique outfits by now.”
“You didn’t even have a full week’s worth of anything when you came here, and you still didn’t bother washing them,” she said.
“That’s just a sign of how much I’ve changed,” I said. “If you’re worried about me falling back into bad habits, though, we don’t have to g…”
She gave me a light slap on the cheek, then shushed me with her finger again.
“You have gotten cheeky, haven’t you?” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, when she let me.
“Is that how you talk to Glory?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“And she lets you get away with it?”
“Well, you won’t talk to me that way, will you?”
“No, ma’am,” I said, and if yes, ma’am nudged me into submissive mode and started heating things up, somehow that… well, in terms of speed of change it was like the difference between being pushed up hill and being shoved down the other side.
“And why is that, my little toy?”
I knew what the right answer to that was… I knew the answer she expected was that she was my owner, and I almost gave that, but then something else came to me and I smiled, knowing it would be better. The smile might have been a little cheeky, but I thought the answer was sufficiently respectable, or at least would be flattering enough to be deemed acceptable.
What the hell… I’d try it, anyway, and if it crossed the line then I would be corrected and we’d move on. Hadn’t I been learning how much fun it could be to figure out where the lines were instead of staying safely in one place?
“Because Glory is only a queen,” I said.
“That’s… that’s right, baby,” Amaranth said, practically purring with pleasure. “That’s exactly right.”