90: Damage Control

on November 1, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which It’s All Hanging Out In The Open

I stared at Two as the words sank in… and then burst out laughing. Steff had just barely recovered from her own laughing fit, and this brought on a relapse. I felt horrible… there we were, the two of us laughing fit to burst, with Two standing on looking at us so damned seriously.

“I’m sorry, Two,” I said, though I was still laughing. “We… we aren’t laughing at you.”

“No!” Steff agreed emphatically. “It’s just… the idea is so funny.”

“Yeah,” I wheezed. “It… it really is.”

“I need clarification,” Two said, once we’d finished. “What idea is funny?”

“That Steff has a penis,” I said… at the same time that Steff said, “That Mack doesn’t know about my penis.”

We stared at each other, the look on Steff’s face pretty much conveying the amount of shock I felt.

“Mack, hon, you don’t have to pretend for me,” Steff said a little nervously. “I don’t exactly go around with warning people ‘Caution: May contain nuts’, but I don’t feel the need to hide… particularly from my friends.”

“I’m not pretending,” I said numbly. The air seemed to be getting thick and viscous… hard to breathe, hard to move. Hard to think. It was like I was dreaming. All the scene needed was for Professor Ariadne to show up that moment with my paddle.

Not that I had a bunch of dreams about Professor Ariadne and my paddle.

“C’mon, Mack, quit messing around,” Steff said in a low voice. “We were just talking about this, for fucking out loud.”

“When?” I asked, more confused than ever.

“When you said you couldn’t go down on me because you saw me as a girl,” Steff said.

“Yeah,” I said. “I meant it… because you are a girl… and girls don’t have penises.”

“But… you already knew,” Steff said insistently. “You knew before that. I was dressed as a boy the first time we met.”

“When?” I said again.

“At the Welcome Festival,” she said. “When I was personing the booth for the Prism Pride Coalition. The president thought I’d freak the froshes somehow, if I showed up in my boots and skirt and stuff.”

“I honestly didn’t know what you were,” I said, and then clapped my hand over my mouth. “Oh, I didn’t mean it like that! I just mean… boy or girl… well, I saw you in class on Monday in a skirt, and it was like, ‘Oh, duh, she’s a girl.'”

“I talk about fucking Amy right in front of you!” she said.

“Girls can fuck each other!” I countered. It’s kind of funny, in retrospect, to consider that in a different conversation, I might have argued against that point.

“Not the way I do,” she said. “And we get pretty graphic talking about it.”

“I never listen when you do!” I said.

Steff gaped at me. As incredible as it sounds, she seemed more shocked by this conversation than I did.

“I’m waiting for you to smile and go, ‘Just kidding!'” she said.

“I think we’re both going to be waiting for a long time,” I said. “You’re serious, you’ve really got a… thing?”

Great, I was back to “thing”. Penis, dick, whatever term was fine in the abstract, but it was hard to get my mouth around the concept of Steff’s… you know, let’s just pretend this sentence didn’t happen.

“You’re serious that you didn’t know?” Steff asked. “What did you think I meant when I said ‘special’?”

“I thought ‘special’ meant ‘special’,” I said. “If it means ‘dick’ now, that’s got some disturbing implications for the kids with ‘special needs’.”

Steff went through a little explosion of giggling, then bit her lip so quickly and savagely I thought she’d draw blood, and said, “How can you joke about this? Everything’s different now!”

“Steff, it doesn’t change anything,” I said. The honesty imp in the back of my head kicked me until I finished the thought, “about how I feel about you… as a person.”

“It changes everything!” Steff cried. “You… I thought you loved me for who I am.”

“I do!” I said. “Steff, I swear to you, I do!”

“But you didn’t know!” she yelled.

Off to the side, Two began to weep in the unabashed, uncontrolled, and unmodulated way that she did.

“Two, please don’t cry,” I begged her, without thinking… and of course, she choked off mid-sob, whimpered once, and then was silent. Fuck. Did I tell her to start again, or try to fine-tune it?

“How can you be so calm about this?” Steff demanded, pulling my attention back.

Calm? That was a laugh. The only thing that was stopping me from reacting was I had no idea how to even begin reacting to this information. It still didn’t feel real.

“I’m five seconds away from screaming my head off,” I admitted. “The only thing that stops me is I’m not sure exactly what I’d be screaming about.”

Steff snorted and shook her head.

“Hoo-fucking-boy,” she said, shaking her head. “I know how you feel, kind of. I guess… I guess it is kind of funny. Just imagine, what’s Amy going to think when she finds out…”

She trailed off. Our eyes met and I saw the change in hers. I realized we’d come to the same conclusion at the same time: Amaranth knew. This was what she had thought was so funny, at first… and what had later almost consumed her with worry.

“That bitch,” Steff said coldly.

“Steff…” I said gently.

“That fucking bitch,” she said.

“Steff… please.”

“That thoughtless, selfish… stupid bitch!” she spat. She spun around in place, stomping her feet, shaking her fists, and strangling the air in front of her. “I’m going to kill her… I’m going to fucking send her back to that hippy commune the quick way, and if she shows her stupid bug-eyed face here again, I’ll send her right the fuck back!”

“Steff, please don’t say that,” I said, anguished. I couldn‘t pretend I really understood what was going on, except that one of my favorite people in the world was angry at the woman I loved. The very thing Amaranth had been afraid of… the thing I had thought was unthinkable… was happening. “You don’t know… this has been eating her up. She was sure when I found out, neither one of us would ever want to talk to her again.”

“She had it half right,” Steff said. “I can’t believe you’re letting her off… she’s been laughing at you this whole time, do you realize that?”

“You laugh at me,” I said quietly.

“I do not!” Steff said.

Nothing like righteous anger to make a person hypocritical, huh?

“Yes, you do,” I said. “You think it’s so fucking cute when I’m clueless and flustered about this kind of thing.” I very nearly imitated her gushing cry of “I want one!”, but realized given the prevailing mood, she’d probably take it as mocking and turn her anger around on me. Any port looks good when you’re in a storm… and any target does, when the storm is you.

“Don’t you see?” I said, deciding to keep pressing forward as long as she’d let me. “She felt bad when she realized how long it had got strung out. This is why she wanted us to take it slow… she wasn’t jealous, and she didn’t want to keep us apart. She just didn’t want me finding out… like that. She figured I’d react badly.” I didn’t add that I probably would have hit the fucking roof. “She was trying to fix it.”

“She could have just told us!” Steff said. “Instead of letting us keep on like a pair of idiots…”

“She thought I’d figure it out faster… and I think she thought you knew. When she realized that you didn’t, she didn’t know how to tell you without hurting your feelings. She was going to tell me,” I said, replaying the morning’s conversation in my head. It was starting to make a weird kind of sense. “She was all set to… then she got a crazy idea that she could fix it by making me like… boy parts… before I found out. That’s why she was so dead set on me going down on Ian.”

“You’re kidding,” Steff said. “How could she be so fucking dumb about it?”

“Amaranth is smart,” Two put in, hiccupping a little. She looked like she still needed to cry a little.

“Two, you don’t have to say that just because she told you to,” I said, figuring this was an automatic reaction after Amaranth had worked so hard to foster this impression in Two.

“She is smart,” Two insisted, pulling herself together as she spoke. She was putting a visible effort into stringing together her next thought. “She’s smart and nice. But… she isn’t always smart about being nice… or… nice about being smart.”

“Do you have any idea what’s she on about?” Steff asked, her curiosity about Two’s odd declaration apparently momentarily overmastering her anger.

“She means that Amaranth means well,” I said as confidently as I could, though I was still working it out for myself as I spoke, “but she doesn’t really know what she’s doing, and she’s too proud to admit it.” I looked at Two questioningly. “Is that right?”

Two nodded, smiling a little wanly. I guess she was pleased to have made herself understood, even if the situation as a whole wasn’t exactly happy-making.

Steff shook her head.

“That doesn’t excuse it,” she said.

“Did you have any idea what you were doing when you came here last year?” I asked. “Did you have everything all figured out?”

“No,” Steff said. “But I don’t go around keeping secrets and fucking with people’s feelings for my amusement.”

I remembered an off-hand comment Ian had made, repeating something he’d heard about a “hot half-elf chick” in the necromancy–Steff’s favorite subject–section of the library, and wondered how true that was… but decided it wasn’t the time to speculate.

“She didn’t think it would hurt anybody,” I said. “You know she wouldn’t have thought about it otherwise.”

“Of course you’re going to forgive her,” Steff said. “You’re in love with her. I’m not even going to hold that against you… but it’s not that easy for me.”

“Don’t you love her, too?” I asked.

“If I didn’t, I’d be over it already!” Steff said. “But I don’t know how I can keep loving her, after this.”

“It’s easy to love somebody before you really know them,” I said, remembering something Amaranth had told me. “The trick is to keep loving them once you do.”

“You really are hers, aren’t you?” Steff said.

“I am,” I said, strengthened by the rush of pride and pleasure that simple declaration called up from within me. “And if Amaranth doesn’t want to share me, that’s her decision, but until she says otherwise… it’s mine. I love you, Steff, and it might not be fun to be with both of you if you stay mad at her, but I’m going to do it anyway, and I can’t imagine Amaranth will stand in the way.”

Steff looked at me with, if possible, even more shock and incredulity on her face than had been there following the initial revelation. Her eyes were wide and wet with tears, but I could see that look again… the hungry look.

She wants me. She wanted me so much it was almost frightening. Why? Did she want everybody like that? Or even just everybody that she wanted at all? Or was it just me? She tore her gaze away from me abruptly.

“I’m not forgiving her,” she said, sullenly.

I didn’t argue. I didn’t say anything. I wanted this to be over and done with… I wanted everything to be back the way it was, the way it had been the day we’d gone into Enwich and hugged and cried all over each other… but if I had to settle for things not falling completely apart, I would.

“Not yet,” Steff added, scuffing at the sidewalk with the toe of her boot. “I don’t know. Maybe not ever… but I’ll let her try to explain. At least, after I’ve given her a piece of my mind… and then maybe I’ll give her another piece of it when she’s done.”

“That’s okay,” I said, doing my best to exude a calmness that, strangely enough, I actually felt. I had no idea how it had happened, but somehow, I was in control of the situation. I’d handled it. I had handled it. There were so many things wrong with that idea, it wasn’t funny. “You’ve got every right to be angry. Anybody would be.”

“Damn right,” Steff agreed, but with a muted sort of sullenness.

“Now, weren’t we going to go get dinn… oh, shit,” I said. I’d wanted to steer us back from the emotional precipice towards our everyday routine, to try to pick up where we’d left off, as best as we could, but I’d suddenly remembered something. “I don’t have any meals left… or money, really.”

“No worries, we’ll get you in,” Steff said. She seemed, if anything, to have been cheered by this fact. Here was something she could do, a problem that was easily solved. She put an arm around Two’s shoulders. “Mack’s got enough friends to keep her covered, right?”

“I don’t have much silver to spend, but I promised my friend Hazel that I would cook dinner in the lounge for her,” Two said. “I w… would like… it if you would both come, too.”

“Where are you getting the food?” I asked. If Hazel really meant to be a friend to Two, that was great… but if she was taking advantage of her…

“Hazel is bringing some of it and I’m bringing some of it,” Two said. “That’s fair.”

“I guess,” I said. “But if we’re eating, we’ll chip in some money, somehow.”

“You don’t have to,” Two said, shaking her head. “Anything that is mine is yours.”

“I’ll chip in, then,” Steff said. She looked at Two sternly. “And absolutely no arguing, missy… no matter how much you like it.”

I forced a laugh. Steff was trying hard to act normally, I could tell… but she was trying, and that was a good sign, I thought. I was a little amazed that we’d come through the crisis so quickly… and more amazed at my part at getting us through it. I figured I must still be in shock. I mean, Steff had a penis. How was that possible? What did it mean? Was she a boy? I didn’t begin to understand it… but it really wasn’t the time for questions.

Except for one, which I felt had to be asked. I loved Steff… I trusted Steff, mostly… but I had taken on a responsibility to Two.

“Um… just out of curiosity, how did you know about Steff’s… thing?” I asked Two.

“It is often visibly erect in your presence,” she said.

“Oh, there’s my favorite blush!” Steff squealed… and just like that, things were back to normal, if only for the moment.

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4 Responses to “90: Damage Control”

  1. pedestrian says:

    “It’s easy to love somebody before you really know them,”………. “The trick is to keep loving them once you do.”

    Ain’t that the truth. The twenty-five years with Alberta had a lot of ups and downs but somehow we always seemed to find a way to reinvigorate our love. The journey is the reward.

    Current score: 8
  2. Anthony says:

    That last line of Two’s is awesome, both for the matter-of-fact way in which she says it and for the hillarious implication that it was always right there under Mackenzie’s nose and she never noticed…

    Current score: 10
    • Kanta says:

      Hopefully not literally right under her nose, although I may like to see it there in the future.

      Current score: 9
  3. Isuigetsu says:

    Welllllll…. It will probably be RIGHT under her nose soon enough. 😛

    Current score: 8