83: By Any Other Name

on October 17, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which A Door Is Shut In Mackenzie’s Face

Ian watched me dress. I wanted to ask him to turn around, to look away… but it felt stupid being embarrassed over him watching me put clothes back on when I’d stripped them off without a second thought.

Of course, that feeling of stupidity only made me feel more embarrassed, which made me feel… well, yeah.

“So, um,” I said, casting about for a topic of conversation as I fought with my jeans. “You hear about that bingo night?”

“Yeah, I saw the posters. How la… uh… you’re going to it, aren’t you?” Ian asked, though it sounded more like a statement of shaky certainty than a question.

“What makes you say that?” I asked, a little suspiciously.

“The urge to call it stupid and lame,” Ian said.

“Huh?” I asked, not following at all.

“I had an urge to call bingo night stupid and lame the moment you mentioned it,” Ian said. “Clearly it’s something that you care deeply about, or why else would I feel compelled to belittle it in your presence?”

“It is stupid and lame,” I said. “But I am going. Wanna come with me?”

“You make it sound so tempting,” Ian said. “Why are you going if you… this isn’t another weird sex thing, is it?”

“Hell no,” I said. “I promised Two that I’d go with her, though… and it might suck a little less if I knew you were suffering, too. That’s, um… I was joking. Though I’d still like you to come.”

“Two’s the girl with the…?” he said, sketching vague shapes on his own forehead with his finger.

“Yeah,” I said. “We’ve kind of latched onto each other… and somehow, I just can’t say no to her.”

“Funny, it seemed the other way around,” he said.

I laughed a little bit. It was funny… kind of.

“What’s her deal, anyway?” Ian asked. “I mean, is she free-willed, or isn’t she?”

“She’s free,” I said. “She just has… issues… that make it hard for her to adjust. She’s free to do what she wants, but she mostly just wants to be told what to do. She’s getting better, though.”

“She must be popular at parties,” Ian said.

“Don’t joke about that!” I said. The idea of anybody using Two for sex… it was just unfathomable. And gross.

“Sorry,” he said, and he sounded sorry. “I wasn’t thinking. Has… has something like that happened?”

“Of course not,” I said. “Who’d be sick enough to take advantage of a girl who can’t say no to anything?”

Ian blinked a couple times, looking at me like he was trying to figure out if I was joking.

“What?” I demanded.

“You couldn’t believe I’d pass up a blowjob…”

“Well, you didn’t, did you?” I pointed out.

“Can I please finish a thought?” he asked.

“Sorry!” I said, clapping a hand to my mouth. I’d have to remember that interrupting people I disagreed with was as much of a no-no as shouting. “Please, go on.”

He gave me another weird look, and then started again.

“You couldn’t believe I’d pass up a blowjob, but you can’t imagine how anybody would be interested in a girl that does whatever she’s told.”

“That’s different,” I said. “I was offering. Somebody would actually have to proposition her, she wouldn’t make the first move.”

“Right, and nobody’s going to be so crude as to come up to a Harlowe girl and proposition her,” Ian said.

Well, I couldn’t really argue that one.

“How would they know she’s a Harlowe girl?” I asked.

Ian tapped his forehead.

“And even free-willed golems kind of have a rep for being, you know… agreeable?” he said.

“You seem to have this all thought out,” I said. Again, I couldn’t argue with him… so apparently I would settle for picking him apart. What exactly was it about him that brought out my inner bitch? I made an effort to soften my expression. “Alright, some guys did try to mess with her the first day here,” I admitted, not mentioning that they had presumably been other Harlowe residents. “But the R.A. put a stop to it and told her not to let people do that. That’s about the only time fucking Kiersta’s intervened in anything, actually.”

Though, now that I was thinking about it, she had tried to intervene that time Sooni had been hurting Kai… that had actually been the last time I’d known our resident adviser to take an active interest in floor affairs. What had Sooni said… or done… to her, once she had her alone?

“I’ll talk to Two, anyway,” I said, thinking… Ian had put some uncomfortable ideas in my head, but it wouldn’t be productive to just snipe at him for them. “Make sure she knows what to do if a guy’s coming on to her.”

“Yeah,” Ian said, thoughtfully. “Though… if she really wants to be told what to do…”

Don’t,” I said, in a warning tone.

“What?” he said. “I’m just… well, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this whole thing. I’ve kind of accepted that you really do want to do what Amaranth tells you.”

“That isn’t the same thing,” I said.

“Okay,” Ian said.

“It isn’t,” I insisted.

“I’m not arguing!” he protested.

“Sorry,” I said. “I’m just a little defensive… of Two, as much as myself.”

“But, just for the sake of argument…” he said.

“I thought you weren’t arguing,” I said.

“It’s an expression,” he said.

“Well, express it somewhere else,” I said.

“Okay, then, for the sake of discussion,” he said. “How is it different?”

“Completely,” I said.

“In what way, I mean.”

“In the way that one is one thing and the other is something else entirely,” I said.

Honestly, I hadn’t given this all that much thought and it’s doubtful I could have articulated the exact difference even if I had… but I wasn’t about to do something silly like admitting that. “Look, just drop it, okay?”

“Okay,” Ian said. “I should probably get going… I’ve got to get my stuff together for my afternoon classes.”

“Okay,” I said. “Um… see you tomorrow night?”

“Tomorrow night?” he echoed blankly.

“Bingo,” I said. He looked puzzled for a second, then remembered.

“Oh, yeah. Right. Um… you know,” he said. “You don’t really have to do… that… again, any time that I say so.”

He means well, I told myself. No sense biting his head off for that.

“I do,” I said flatly. “You can decide not to ask for it, but you don’t get to decide what I have to do.”

He shook his head.

“I still don’t really understand you,” he said.

“Does that mean you’re not going to ask for it again?” I asked.

He turned beet red.

“I… class,” he stammered, and left.

Once again, we’d made it through a date… or what I was going to secretly, privately count as one… without a kiss. Of course, we’d actually gone quite a bit further than that, but I thought it would have been nice to have at least a kiss goodbye at the end.

Though, maybe he wouldn’t have wanted to kiss me after that particular encounter…

I’d managed to make it through the whole thing–the whole thing twice–without feeling particularly dirty, but now that I was thinking about it, the inside of my mouth felt like it was crawling. I needed to get it clean.

Maybe I was regressing a bit, but at least I repressed the urge to run to the showers and stand under the faucet with my mouth open. I would deal with this impulse… which, after all, was hardly completely irrational… in a rational fashion.

What did people do when their mouths were dirty? They brushed their teeth.

Here I came to a slight problem. I hadn’t brought a toothbrush with me to school. I had, in fact, impulsively chucked my toothbrush into a trash can at the coach station bathroom with no small amount of satisfaction. This might sound strange, but that was kind of my way of proving to myself that I was really out on my own… see, my grandmother had always insisted that I brush my teeth three times a day… morning, noon, and night.

You know, after every meal I didn’t eat.

As a child, that had always seemed so completely unfair. If it was wasteful for me to eat regular food, then surely I was also wasting water, toothpaste, and a perfectly good brush. It wasn’t as though my teeth would rot, even if I had been eating regular meals, anyway.

I’d never really grown out of that resentment, and when I had found myself automatically pulling out my toothbrush during a midday stopover… well… all I can say is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Okay, so it had seemed like a bad idea at the time, but it had felt good to indulge it.

It had been just one tiny act of rebellion, of independence… one act that I would have taken back in a heartbeat now.

Especially as it seemed remotely possible that I might actually be eating often enough to make the little ritual worthwhile… I was probably safe from tooth decay, but how about bad breath? I was immune to some of the petty complaints of mortality, but not all of them.

I decided that for my immediate need, I would see if I could find Amaranth or Two and borrow a toothbrush… and then wash it really, really thoroughly afterwards. Amaranth, being inherently clean, had no practical reason to have one, but if there was one thing she loved… well, there were a lot of things that she loved, but among them were the habits of cleanliness, and impractical things.

Tuesday was a long period day, so it was just possible that either or both of them would have come back to the dorm after finishing lunch. I decided to try Two first. It seemed likely that Amaranth would have some other demand on her time, and anyway, it would feel almost… presumptuous… to ask to use something of hers, especially something that had actually been inside her body.

Also, she’d want to know all the details… and I would have a lot easier time dwelling on them with a clean mouth.

There was no answer when I knocked on Two’s door, though, and no sound of movement came from within. I was just turning to try Amaranth’s when it opened. Delia Daella stood there, black skin framed by blackness. The room was absolutely dark. She’d hung a heavy blanket embroidered with some kind of web pattern over the window.

Not that I could see it, in the darkness.


“Yes?” she asked, and I jumped, realizing I’d been just sort of standing there.

“I… uh… was looking for Two,” I said. “I wanted to ask if I could borrow her toothbrush.”

“Two is not here,” Delia Daella said.

“Oh, sorry,” I said. I wasn’t sure what I was apologizing for. Delia Daella’s stern manner, her sullen tone and her superior air, just seemed to demand one. “Thanks, anyw…”

“I cannot find it in me to believe that she would object to the use of anything of hers, particularly if it was by you,” Delia Daella said.

“Well, yeah, but… that doesn’t mean I can just take it without asking,” I said, a little indignantly.

It seemed like that little indignity was enough to affront the proud dark elf, because the door closed in my face with speed that was even more astonishing for its silence.

I only had a moment to consider whether I should knock on the door again… just try to apologize through it… or slink back to my own room, once again utterly defeated by my own social ineptitude… when it opened again. Delia Daella held out a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste.

“I couldn’t… without permission,” I said.

“Take it,” she said, thrusting the brush and the tube at me. “This belongs to me… or it did. I would not particularly care to have it back.”

I blushed. Of course, she would have heard everything Ian and I said, everything we did.

“Oh, I couldn’t…”

“It’s no great inconvenience,” she insisted. “These are merely temporary replacements for my own hygiene kit, which was lost when my luggage and I became separated on the journey to the skydomed lands. I have already sent for something more suitable.”

“Thanks,” I muttered, taking the items. “Thank you.”

She closed the door without another word.

Three seconds later, it hit me that I was an idiot and a jerk.

“Thanks, Dee!” I called.

“You’re quite welcome,” came the reply… sullen and superior as ever.

Well, maybe that was just her voice.

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7 Responses to “83: By Any Other Name”

  1. Bad breath or halitosis can be easily elimated by using mouthwash with hexetidine or triclosan.’~~

    Current score: 5
    • Kanta says:

      But does Mackenzie, who does not know what germs are, and wouldn’t believe in them if you explained it, know that?

      Current score: 3
      • zeel says:

        I still have to think mouthwash is a thing. In fact, they probably have special alchemical mouthwash. That’s what she really needs anyway. You brush to keep teeth from being damaged by things – but she should be immune to that. She wants to make her mouth clean, thus mouthwash is a more efficient and effective solution.

        Current score: 1
        • Athena says:

          Actually… no. You brush your teeth to get the plaque off – something which, as a build-up of bacteria and grime and not in and of itself damage, would still happen to her with eating regularly. The acids produced by both you and said bacteria digesting the things you put in your mouth is what causes the damage.

          In fact, not only does the toothbrush not itself directly prevent damage, it can actually directly cause it. It’s better to brush before a meal rather than right after, as the scraping on enamel already softened by digestive acids will in fact damage the teeth more.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            Of course, she doesn’t have to worry about damage one way or another.

            Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    Isn’t Dee some sort of telepath?

    jeez, i hate looking into my own mind, can’t imagine why anybody would willingly crawl through another person’s psychic muck.

    Current score: 1
  3. Erm says:

    “I had an urge to call bingo night stupid and lame the moment you mentioned it,” Ian said. “Clearly it’s something that you care deeply about, or why else would I feel compelled to belittle it in your presence?”

    The guy’s pretty genre-savvy.

    Current score: 11