380: Personal Growth

on May 15, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Steff Begins Some Character Development

I offered to help Two carry her dishes back to the dorm room when she was done washing them. I felt a twinge of guilt at the look of what I could only call panic that froze her face, though she quickly put on her thinking look. I watched her eyes moving over the shiny metal ones, the glass containers and lids for the metal ones, and then finally she pointed to a single flexible rubber container that was already kind of twisted a bit.

“You can help me carry that,” she said.

“Two,” I said. “I can carry a couple pots halfway down the hallway without getting them all dinged up.”

“I know that you can,” Two said. “But I don’t know if you will.”

“I won’t drop them,” I said. “But even if I did you could fix them as good as new… not that you should have to, but you won’t, because I’ll be careful.”

“I know that I can fix them but they’re mine and I would like to keep them nice,” she said.

“But if you can fix them,” I said, and it wasn’t so much that I was trying to convince her to let me carry them as I thought she was hung up on an imaginary distinction, “then they’ll still be nice.”

“They’re mine and I can do what I would like with them,” Two said.

“Okay, you’re right,” I said. I picked up the crummy tub she’d indicated. “I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, I forgive you,” she said, and with that we went back to our room.

“I suppose you’re going to tell Amaranth about that,” I said as she was putting her things neatly away.

“About what?” she asked.

“Me arguing with Shiel and you like that,” I said. “You know Amaranth doesn’t like it when I do that.”

“I did not know that,” she said. “But if Amaranth doesn’t like it, you shouldn’t do it. I would tell her, but I don’t think she likes it when I take responsibility for you. Though she doesn’t own me, and that means…”

“Wait.. are you telling me you’ve never noticed her shushing me or telling me off for arguing?” I asked.

“Now you are interrupting me and that means I can tell her,” Two said. There was a perverse glee in her voice that was… well, I hated to use the word “perverse” to describe Two, but managing to have perfectly innocent glee at the thought of being able to get your roommate and surrogate sister spanked was its own kind of perversity.

“I’m sorry, Two,” I said. “I didn’t mean to.”

“That’s okay, I forgive you,” she said. “But what I was telling you is that I’ve never noticed her shushing you or telling you off for arguing like that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like you were arguing with Shiel,” she said. “I think you almost lost your temper but you didn’t, and you didn’t interrupt either one of us or talk over us, and you didn’t say we were stupid.”

“But…” I said, then stopped. But what? Two was right… I hadn’t done any of that stuff. I hadn’t stopped and thought to myself that I needed to stay calm and in control. I had felt defensive that she was attacking the one holiday I really loved, and frustrated at seeming to go in circles… but I hadn’t backed down and I hadn’t blown up.

I’d spent the whole conversation in that middle ground Amaranth always talked about… the medium volume. It was quite startling to realize this, especially after having spent the early morning vacillating between extremes.

“Huh,” I said.

“Huh what?” Two said.

“Just… huh,” I said. “I guess I did good.”

“Yes,” Two said, and she gave me a little pat on the head.

“You know,” I said, “I love you, but it’s not just Amaranth who gets annoyed when you act like you own me.”

“I did not know that,” she said. “But people can pat their little sisters on their head to show them they’ve done a good job.”

“I’m not your little sister, Two,” I said.

“No, but you’re like my little sister,” Two said. “So I can treat you like one.”

“You’re older, chronologically,” I said. “But ‘little sister’ implies that I’m less mature than you are.”

“Yes,” Two said, nodding.

“Okay, let’s not have an argument about who’s more mature… but there’s a difference between ‘younger sister’ and ‘little sister’.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know, exactly,” I admitted. “But I think the younger sister stops being the little sister, for practical purposes, when she’s an adult.” I tried to find a way to quantify what I was talking about… the things you had to explain to a golem. I knew whatever I said, she’d inevitably run into counterexamples that would lead to confusion and inappropriate behavior like, well… patting a grown-ish woman on the head. “I mean, you might see people still saying ‘hey, little sis!’ or whatever, but… okay, think of it like this. It’s appropriate for adults to treat children differently, because they’re children, and if you’ve got a tight family bond like sisters do, then those privileges can be stretched further, but if both sisters are at an age when they look about physically the same stage of development, it can get… creepy and weird.”

“Oh,” Two said. She frowned. “I do not… I do not would… I don’t want to be creepy.”

“I don’t find you creepy!” I added quickly, remembering seconds too late how she’d been thrown out of her old life for being “a creepy thing”. “Even when you act in ways that wouldn’t be appropriate, I understand that it’s just you being… you. But I know that you would rather not be found creepy, so… I’m trying to give you some tips. Do you understand?”

“I understand that you don’t want me to be found creepy,” Two said. “I don’t understand how I should treat you, if you’re like my sister and you’re younger than I am.”

“What… like six years?” I said. “If you were twelve and I was six, or I was twelve and you were eighteen, that might make a difference… look, the key is that we’re both freshmen and we both look about the same age, so you treating me like a kid is going to look wrong, especially since people don’t know that you’re older.”

“Oh,” Two said. “So I should treat you as a sister that is the same age as me, because that’s what you look like?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And when you look older than me, I should treat you like an older sister?”

“Two, I don’t know if I ever will look older than you,” I said. “I don’t exactly have an exact frame of reference. But either way, I think the best thing to do is just treat me like me. Like you’ve been doing… without the pat on the head. You’re like my sister because I love you… you, not somebody like you who goes around following some perfect sister script.”

“Oh,” Two said. “Okay.”

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“I think so,” she said. “You want me to act just like myself, except when you don’t.”

“Uh… yeah,” I said. It didn’t make perfect sense to me, but it seemed like she could live with it.

There was a knock on the door, a rapid but gentle tapping of the knuckles that I knew could only be Amaranth. I yelled “Coming!” and hurried to let her in.

“Hey, baby,” she said, giving me her biggest smile when I opened the door. We shared a kiss. “I hope your morning’s improved.”

“It has,” I said. I blushed. “And… and it’s getting better all the time.”

“Oh, aren’t you smooth,” she said, and she gave me a little pat on the head. I blushed harder and turned away, sneaking a peek at Two to see if this threw her at all… but it didn’t. Of course. I was Amaranth’s and she could do what she pleased with me, just like Two and her dishes. “Are you guys ready for lunch?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s go… I left Steff in the stairwell.”

“Is she okay?”

“Oh, she’s… well, she’s a little… she’s on a new potion,” Amaranth said.

“What? I thought it was working,” I said. “She seemed so… well, not worse, I guess.”

“I think she’s fine!” Amaranth said, her voice high and bright and brittle like it usually was when she was worried and things were outside her control. “She’s just… sleepy.”

“How can she be fine? Why would they mess with her potions if they were working?”

“Baby, don’t y… well, you’re not yelling, but I don’t know,” Amaranth said. “She said it was okay, she’ll explain it to us later. Anyway, I didn’t want to make her walk up all those stairs but I don’t like to leave her alone… let’s just go.”

When we got down to the first floor, I thought Steff had fallen asleep. She was wearing a black and white outfit… a white vest and black skirt over a black and white striped bodystocking, with a floppy black hat pulled low over her eyes.

“Hey, honey,” Amaranth said to her, speaking slow and softly as if she was afraid to startle her. “You ready for lunch?”

“Uh huh,” Steff said, flinging an arm out vaguely. Amaranth took her hand and then held onto the handrail while Steff pulled herself up. As loopy as she was, she had a big smile. “Hey… Mack,” she said, giving a slow wave that was mostly in my direction, and then she bumped her face against Two’s trying to give her a kiss. Two tried again, but Steff had collapsed against Amaranth’s chest.

“She didn’t do it right,” Two griped.

“Later, sweetie,” Amaranth said. “She’ll do it better later when she’s rested. Steff, hon, are you sure you don’t want to go to bed?”

“Nuh uh,” she said. “Need food. S’portant.”

“Mack would be happy to bring you something,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah,” I said. “You know I don’t have anywhere to be for a while.”

“I’m fine,” Steff said, still all smiles. I wondered if her new potion had been dispensed by a healer. “Let’s just… go.”

Amaranth and I helped Steff on the way over to the union. At one point, we stopped because we thought she was sobbing, but it turned out she was actually giggling.

“Steff,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” she said. “It’s great. I’m… great.”

“Steff… I’d probably just as soon have another chitchat with Mercy as talk to Viktor, but if it’s a matter of your well-being…”

“No, we talked about it,” she said. “I’m fine, just… sleepy.”

“You should be in bed,” Amaranth said. “Let’s turn around, Mack. I want to get her back to bed.”

“Need to eat,” Steff said. “Won’t work without… raw…”

She trailed off.

“Steff, they have veggie trays in the dorm store if you want something raw,” Amaranth said.

“Not raw food,” she said. She giggled. “Raw materials.”

“She’s delirious,” I said. I was picturing Steff trying to build a patchwork zombie out of the cafeteria’s offerings. She’d be there for the entire lunch service trying to find enough actual meat.

“Merciful goddess!” Dee cried, running towards us with her cloak flapping gracelessly behind her. “Steff, you didn’t!”

“What’d she do?” I asked her.

“Steff, I thought I made myself very clear to you,” Dee said. She pulled Steff away from us. “I warned you.”

“What’s going on?” Amaranth asked.

“Thought… you were… exaggerating,” Steff mumbled sleepily.

“You thought you were invincible,” Dee scolded. “You thought you were tougher than any full-blooded elf, especially a ‘dark’ one, didn’t you? You just had to prove me wrong… well, I’ve suffered for my pride today, and now you are doing the same.”

“Dee, what did she do?” I asked.

“Is she going to be alright?” Amaranth asked.

“Hi, Dee!” Two said.

“Hello, Two,” Dee said. Her cowl had fallen off and she was staring squintily right into Steff’s eyes. “I told you to wait for the weekend…”

“Is the weekend,” Steff said. “Practic’ly.”

“I said you would need at least four shifts of absolute rest with a ready supply of nutrition after you took the potion,” Dee said.

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8 Responses to “380: Personal Growth”

  1. Natalie Ford says:

    One thing that is a bit weird in the mobile version of the site is that the navigation links at the top to the previous and next chapter are the wrong way round for intuitive use. Next is on the left and Previous is on the right. Intuitively they would be the other way around, like turning pages in a book.

    Apologies for typos — written on my iPhone with big thumbs on tiny keys!

    Current score: 0
    • Daezed says:

      That is why I stopped using the mobile version, and just load the standard page. Plus, I prefer the tan page to the stark white of the mobile one, too, haha

      Current score: 1
      • Daezed says:

        Edit: ha, guess I should have read the comment name as well as the comment…. Didn’t realize I was responding to myself a year and a half later….. Whoops!

        This. I always change my mobile readers to sepia tones whenever I can. Easier on the eyes, for me. And I absolutely hated the next/previous page locations; I always found myself going one step back before needing to go two forward. Plus, I like that the ‘regular’ page has links at the bottom, too – no need to scroll much to move on!

        Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      The mobile theme is gone now. It was a bit weird, but I liked it because the text was the right width. The normal site needs zoomed, then you have to be careful not to slide it left or right.

      Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    Everyone automatically assumes that Steff can be trusted to not abuse the shit out of whatever she gets her mitts on. But an addictive personality trait is never capable of being honest with you or themselves.

    Current score: 2
  3. Anthony says:

    …and there was much facepalming. Steff continues to get dumber and dumber, and this latest boneheaded move’s a real doozy…

    Current score: 0
  4. JerK says:

    Having grown up with a mother who was bent on self destructive tendencies Steff really rubs me the wrong way. I just cannot deal with people like that any more. Some times you just need to cut ties and realize you can only be responsible for your own happiness.

    Current score: 1
  5. Jechtael says:

    Assuming Pax is the same as English in this regard: You did /well/, Mackenzie. We have yet to see if you did good.

    “Oh, aren’t you smooth!” Thanks to Caron’s depilatory lotion, she is!

    Blast and condemnation, Steff! I hope Viktor okayed the potion, or you’ll be in a WORLD of emotional hurt. As it is… *whistles negatively*

    Current score: 2