Chapter 333: Attention To DetailAlexandra Erin on September 28, 2016 in Volume 2 Book 10: Lucky Thing, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Holds The Line
I regretted needling Hazel over her double-decker plate when, as a result of nothing else looking that good to me, I wound up taking three of the big, floppy slices of cheese pizza. I dithered so much in getting to that point that Amaranth had assembled her plate of lettuce and veggies and circled back to me.
“Well, you’re certainly doing a super good job of acting casual about all this,” she said with a playful smirk.
“What?” I said.
“The way you’re micro-analyzing your meal choice really makes it seem like we just came here to eat.”
“You’re the one with the plan,” I said. “Anyway, you said it yourself: the point of taking the potion was to get the rest of my night back and maybe be able to run out and grab dinner. The fact that we now have an ulterior motive doesn’t change that. If you think about it, the next best thing to acting casual would be sincerely being casual. Actually, since I don’t have a single solitary clue how to act casual, it’s probably better.”
“Uh, do you two always stand around discussing your ulterior motives in public like you’re in a TV show?” the pizza station guy asked.
“It’s not like there’s a line forming behind us,” I said, gesturing behind me for emphasis. In the process, I twisted around enough to notice that a couple other stragglers actually had come in and were waiting to get up to the counter. “Oh, sorry.”
“I’m used to it,” the guy said. “Being in food service makes you a background character in everybody else’s life.”
“I’m sorry if we made you feel like you were inconsequential,” Amaranth said. “It’s not that we didn’t think of you as a real person, but since we don’t know you are and you don’t know who we are, it doesn’t really matter if you hear part of our conversation.”
“I know who you are.”
“Oh, do you? I’m really sorry!” Amaranth said. “I usually remember… did you maybe come up from behind?”
“I mean, we’ve never met, but you’re the only naked blonde woman who walks around campus with a hot and fashionable butch girlfriend.”
I tried to say “You think I’m hot?” and “You think I’m butch?” at the same time, only it came out as something like “You think I’m hotch?” Meanwhile, Amaranth was saying, “You think she’s fashionable?” I couldn’t be mad, because I would have gotten there eventually myself.
“I mean, look, she’s all black denim and leather, and the boot, and she’s got that twenty gold haircut,” he said.
“My haircut does not cost twenty gold,” I said, my hand reflexively flying to the edges of my now sort-of-trademark sharp-edged bob that had replaced the unruly mop to that had replaced my grandmother’s definitely-trademark bowl cut. “I wouldn’t pay twenty gold for a haircut.”
“It is a little trendy,” Amaranth said.
“Then why don’t I see anyone else wearing their hair like this?” I said.
“Because you go to school in the rural mid-continent,” Amaranth said. “It’s a little… cosmopolitan… even for Enwich.”
“See?” the pizza guy said.
“But she’s not fashionable! I have to explain the concept of folding clothes to her on a weekly basis!” Amaranth said.
“And I have to explain to you that my shirts are all wrinkle-free on a weekly basis,” I said.
“I understand she seems really put-together if you don’t know her…” Amaranth said.
“Thanks,” I said. “Thank you for that.”
“…but you have to understand,” she finished, it’s taken three girlfriends the better part of two years to bring her to this point. I just think, you know, that our effort should be recognized a little.”
“Okay, that’s actually kind of fair?” I said. “Though, I think you have to give Two a lot of the credit, because even though the kind of stuff she likes for me is not what I like for me, it really helped get me outside my comfort zone and get me thinking about what I do like.”
“Two has a tremendous sense of her own personal style and all,” Amaranth said, “but the thing is, she gets to express that. I’m not allowed to. My appearance isn’t even very mutable. I can’t wear clothes, I can’t even style my hair without it reverting to form.”
“You could wear make-up, though,” I said. “I mean, you could go further than that, if you wanted to. Remember how you discovered that body paint sticks to your body, because it’s decoration and not mess?”
“I’m just not sure about the implications of all that,” Amaranth said. “I mean, my form is supposed to be an image of divinely-inspired perfection. My face naturally looks the way a lot of women’s do when made up. I feel like it would be a sort of hubris to add to that. And body paint might be too close to the border of wearing clothes. I just don’t know about it. I don’t want to mess around with actual divine edicts handed down from the living, breathing goddess who made me.”
“Okay, but first of all, you’re the one always telling me that beauty standards are subjective, so even perfection is subjective when it comes to appearance,” I said. “And second of all? Since she is a living, breathing goddess who usually inhabits the mortal plane and with whom you’re in regular communion, you could always just ask her.”
“I do!” Amaranth said. “But she never really gives me a very firm answer on those fiddly interpretive bits. Sometimes I get the feeling that Mother Khaele doesn’t really care that much about the specific details of how her dictums are obeyed.”
“Well, there’s your answer.”
“Okay, but just because she doesn’t care doesn’t mean that I don’t care,” Amaranth said.
“I don’t see how that makes sense.”
“Well, it’s all very well and good for her as a goddess to be above the nitty-gritty, but these rules form the basis of my existence. So even if she can be blasé about them, that doesn’t mean I can.” She turned to the serving guy. “You know what I mean, right?”
“I’m not actually all that invested in you all’s conversation,” he said. “I was just pointing out that I can in fact hear you when you talk about ulterior motives in front of me.”
“Okay, but to jump back to that,” I said, “the fact that we mentioned having an ulterior motive doesn’t mean that you know what it is, or even what it’s regarding.”
“Sweet fucking Khersis on a khracker, I do not care,” he said. “Would you please take your food and go sit down?”
“Oi, you two leave Derrick alone and let him do his job!” Hazel called from the table where she’d long since set her tray down.
“Sorry, we didn’t realize he was a friend of yours,” Amaranth said.
“Never said two words to him that weren’t about food, ‘please’, or ‘thank you’,” Hazel said. “But he’s wearing a name tag, you pair of massive tits.”
“…okay, just to be clear, are you calling both Mack and me each individually a single tit, or are you referring to me entirely in terms of mine?” Amaranth said. “Because I’m not sure that in this context I appreciate being reduced like that.”
“Can’t take big folk anywhere,” Hazel said. “It’s a figure of speech, I mean both of you, and now if you were all fired up about having dinner with me, please for the love of Owain sit down and do it.”
“Thank you!” Derrick said, and we meekly stepped all the way away from the counter… though in our defense, we hadn’t actually been obstructing anyone’s path since it was pointed out that there were people behind me. If no one had stepped forward because we were more interesting than getting their cafeteria pizza, there was only so much blame I was willing to take for that. It wasn’t like I enjoyed being the center of attention.
“So what was all that about an ulterior motive?” Hazel asked.
“Oh, you heard that?” Amaranth said.
“I mean, I didn’t hear the original conversation and I wasn’t paying attention at first, but you sort of drug it out, didn’t you?” she said.
“Well, the main reason we wanted to take the opportunity to eat with you is we wanted to make sure you knew there weren’t any hard feelings or awkwardness about the ring thing,” Amaranth said.
“Why would there be hard feelings? I’m the one who acted a damned fool.”
“…and I knew you’d be feeling foolish about it, and when people feel foolish, they sometimes worry that other people will see them as foolish, too, and blame them for it,” Amaranth said. “But, you know, you explained the situation to Mackenzie and as strange as your behavior was out of context, everything about it made perfect sense, knowing your point of view.”
I had to hand it to Amaranth. We had no idea how whatever we were dealing with got its information, but in the probably likely eventuality that it was not in fact omniscient, there were a lot of scenarios in which it would make sense that most of its attention would be centered around Hazel.
Maybe it mostly knew what she knew. Maybe it mostly saw the world through her eyes. Maybe it could roam freely and spy on whomever it chose, whenever it chose… but most of its time and attention were on its host, or master, or victim, or whatever.
Whatever the case might be, if there
“Yeah, it’s not like I had any reason to want to keep it in the first place,” I said. “So I was happy to give it back, and relieved to hear your explanation.”
“Well, as I said to your Mack the other day, the less said about it, the better,” Hazel said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a closed topic.”
To be technical, she’d said that before she’d admitted the ring was a gift from Andreas and gratefully accepted it back, when she was still sticking to her initial desperation-fueled cover story, but I wasn’t about to press it. It wasn’t like me to drag a conversation out by quibbling over minute yet ultimately irrelevant technical details.
At least, you know, not twice in five minutes.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Amaranth said. “I didn’t even plan on bringing it up? They say actions speak louder than words, and so I mostly just thought that asking you along on our late night cafeteria run would show you that everything was okay between us.” She laughed the only way she could, a beautiful, natural laugh. “I’m actually a little embarrassed that it came out like this. Let’s not say another word about it.”
“Sounds good to me,” Hazel said.
“Though… since the subject came up, I have to say that I have been looking for something to hold my glasses in place,” Amaranth said. “They’re both breakable and precious, and being a functional item rather than a fashionable accessory, they’re the only thing I can wear with a clear conscience.”
“…alright,” Hazel said. “Don’t see what that’s got to do with the thing we just agreed not to talk about.”
“Oh, nothing!” Amaranth said. “Not another word. But, see… well, maybe you heard me lamenting my lack of fashion choices a minute ago? So I started thinking that maybe I have an opportunity here to personalize a bit more. I could get some colorful strings, or straps patterns, or something fun like that. Maybe even different ones for different occasions? It would be a bit like dressing up… a bit… but still fully within the confines of the divine edicts I live by.”
“Makes sense,” Hazel said, with a tone of doubt that I recognized to mean she was still waiting for the other entirely metaphorical foot covering to drop. Amaranth had said since the subject came up, after all.
“And then for more formal occasions, like festival days back home, I would want something more formal for those,” Amaranth said. “And I remembered that you had that lovely cord you wore at the party, like a lovely chain of braided silver strands.” Hazel tensed up immediately, went so still that she almost became see-through, but Amaranth went smoothly onward. “Was that part mithril by chance? I thought maybe it was dwarven, too.”
“I… you know, it could be,” she said.
“Would Andy know?” Amaranth said. “I mean, did he give it to you, too? If he knew who made it, I’d love to know. Do you think it might be a Sternbauer?”
“I don’t really know much about fine jewelry,” Hazel said. “Didn’t have many nice things, growing up on the river, you know? That was more Honey’s bag. Had some of her hand-me-downs”
“I don’t mean to put you on the spot,” Amaranth said. “If you could just tell Andy I was asking about it…”
“He didn’t give me the strand,” Hazel said, very quietly.
“Oh,” Amaranth said. “Okay. Well, where did you get it? One of Honey’s cast-offs.”
“You know, I’m honestly sure where I picked it up, alright?” Hazel said. “I spend so much time at the markets, looking at a bit of this and that. Can’t remember it all, no reason to.”
“Sure, sure,” Amaranth said. “If there’s no big personal story behind it, there’s no reason you’d remember it in particular. Is that where you got it? The bazaar in Enwich?”
“Yeah, maybe. That sounds right. The bazaar.”
“Are you sure? Could you tell me which part. Even just knowing where to start would be a big help…”
“I DIDN’T STEAL IT, OKAY?”