94: All’s Fair

on November 10, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Cans Are Roundly, Openly, And Unabashedly Admired

While I considered whether or not to try to get a hold of Ian again and ask him to wait an hour or so, Steff excused herself to run to the bathroom so she wouldn’t have to later, once we were being all sociable.

It seemed silly to think that with the ways the floors were split up, she had to go all the way downstairs to get to a bathroom she was allowed to use… on top of that, while I wasn’t so naive to think that no girls would object to having somebody who was physically male using their facilities, I also couldn’t imagine that no boys would object to sharing a bathroom with her… and probably more vociferously, if not actually violently.

Two emerged from her room, holding a bag of frozen chicken breasts… or, once-frozen, to judge by the water collecting in the bottom of it.

“Did you invite Ian?” she asked.

“Yeah… he’s on his way over,” I said.

Two’s eyes were as wide as I’ve ever seen them and she seemed to be in escalating panic mode for some reason.

“I invited my friend Dee and she said she would come,” Two said. “I didn’t really think that she would. I would have invited her anyway because she is my friend, but I didn’t think that she would.”

“Is that a problem?” I asked, wondering if she worried about the friction between Dee and Steff… or if she was simply worrying about running out of food, with the ever-growing guest list.

“Yes. There are only six chairs at the table,” Two said. “If you and Steff and Amaranth and Celia and Dee and Hazel and Ian and I are all eating dinner, we will need eight chairs!”

“I don’t mind sitting on the couch or in one of the TV chairs,” I said. “I mean, we can always flip them around to make it more sociable.”

“But then you won’t be at the table,” Two reproached. “You are supposed to eat at the table, unless there is no table, or it’s just a small snack. Dinner is not a small snack.”

I hastily raised my hand to my mouth to cover my smile. It wasn’t funny. This was evidently A Very Serious Problem, in Two’s mind. It was not funny. It wasn’t.

“Um, we can always pull the table away from the wall and bring out some desk chairs from one of our rooms,” I suggested.

“Residence hall furnishings are not supposed to be removed from their rooms,” Two said, shaking her head. “Any missing furnishings at the end of term must be paid for by the resident or residents assigned to the room.”

I started to say, “Well, we’ll put them right back when we’re done,” but of course, that wouldn’t make a difference to her. The issue wasn’t the idea that we might get caught or that the chairs might somehow go permanently missing… it was that there was a rule against it at all. Like everybody else on campus, Two would have been made to sign a statement saying she’d read all seventeen thousand rules and agreed to abide by them… but unlike everybody else, she actually had read them and treated them as binding.

If I ordered her to break a rule, she could choose to interpret the more recent order as superseding the older one… but being forced to make that kind of determination visibly distressed her.

“Would it bother you if somebody else removed furnishings from their own room?” I asked her.

She shook her head.

“No,” she said. “That would not bother me. Anyway, that will be more fair, since I am the one who will be doing the cooking, with my friend Hazel.”

I followed her into the lounge, where she set the plastic bag in the sink. This was the second time she’d mentioned fairness. I honestly doubted it was something she’d ever concerned herself with much before, considering her previous lot in life… and her preference for having something to do, above all else.

“Two, what’s with all this ‘fair’ stuff all of a sudden?” I asked, making my tone as light as I could so she would take it as a simple question rather than a rebuke. A concern for fairness could only be a good thing, if it eventually made it harder for others to take advantage of her.

“My friend Hazel told me about it,” Two said. “She is in favor of it. She told me that fair is fair, which is true. Fair is fair.”

I remembered how Hazel had barged into the lounge just that morning, affronted at the idea that I had ordered Two to make me breakfast. Really, it had been much more the other way around–Two had all but shoved bacon and eggs down my throat–but the way she’d reacted to the apparent situation had been impressive. To other human-sized folk, I was a scrawny little thing… but all the “tallfolk” were giants to a shireling, and a comment Hazel had made about me “eating people” had left no doubt that she at least somewhat understood my nature.

I could believe that Hazel was in favor of fairness.

Having thought through all that made me a lot more comfortable about Two’s “my friend Hazel” talk… which was what made me realize consciously that I had even been uncomfortable with it in the first place. Hazel had all but declared herself Two’s friend when Two informed her that she enjoyed cooking for friends.

But then, they were both domestic arts majors, so maybe this was a legitimate common interest. As long as Two didn’t go crazy and overextend either herself or her limited funds, it could be nice for her to have an actual hobby beyond “following orders”, and a friend to share it with.

“Oh! Here comes my friend Hazel,” Two said, looking past me out through the glass wall of the lounge. “Go help her, please.”

Hazel had just entered the hallway, pushing a large rectangular roasting pan made out of foil ahead of her with her feet. It looked like it was full of groceries. It probably wasn’t all that heavy, all things considered… just far too large for her to carry in her arms.

“Thanks!” Hazel said when I asked if she would like me to carry it. It turned out to contain an open but mostly full box of rice, three cans of chunky chicken soup with rice and vegetables, heavy duty disposable plates, and plastic forks and knives. “Going up those stairs is no great treat anyway, but it was murder with that thing. Getting it across campus wasn’t much fun, either, though at least it was mostly empty and I only had to worry about it catching the wind and carrying me off. The soup’s from the corner store… the rice I bought off a kid in the downstairs lounge. Instant rice… I knew somebody, somewhere would have to have some. It’s cheap, it’s easy… meaning no offense to you or your friends, of course.”

It took me a second to catch her joke, and then I snorted. I wasn’t that “easy”, but I knew what she meant.

“Instant rice and soup in a can,” she said, shaking her head and clucking her tongue. “Humans! They think of everything, don’t they? You know they’ll sell you bacon that’s already been cooked, and you just stick it in a warmer box for half a minute? I’m not turning my nose up at that, I tell you… do you know how much work it is to fry up a pound of bacon in a skillet? Work, and mess! The human way’s so much easier. I could spend all day making a pot of soup from scratch… and I would, without complaining… but to open a can and have soup all ready for the eating except for the heating, that’s no small thing.”

“I’d expect you to care more about home cooking,” I said. My image of shire life might have been a little stereotypical, but it involved a lot of cast iron pots and pans, and silver spoons, and brass kettles and things.

“It’s all in the priorities, isn’t it?” Hazel said. “I mean, sure, a pot of really good homemade soup’s gonna be really good… but on the other hand, I’ve had me some truly terrible soups in my day, and they didn’t get made any quicker than the good ones. You find a can of soup that you like, though, and not only do you know what you’re getting every time, it’s done in a few minutes.”

“Why do you need chicken soup to make chicken?” I asked.

“I’m gonna mix it in with the rice, to flavor it and keep everything moist,” Hazel said. “Also, there’s nowhere that really sells vegetables on campus and I didn’t feel like pinching any. I don’t think they even count how many of the roasting pans and plasticware they go through, but fresh veggies are worth something.”

“Wait, you stole this stuff?” I asked, suddenly understanding Honey’s reaction to Hazel “scrounging” supplies.

“I didn’t steal it,” Hazel said. “It’s made to be used and thrown away. How can you steal something like that? It’s like a leaf of paper… you might tell somebody you’re borrowing it, but they don’t really expect to get it back.”

“I guess,” I said, a little dubiously.

“Hi, Hazel,” Two said as the burrow gnome led the way into the lounge. “The chicken is just about thawed.”

“That’s great news,” Hazel said. She pushed a chair from the table over and used it to climb up onto the counter. “Look at this!” she said, poking at the bag. “All breasts, and no bones… that’s got to be some mighty queer-lookin’ chickens that these came off of.”

“I think we should probably get started,” Two said. “There is a boy coming and he is not supposed to be up here after dark.”

“Fine by me,” Hazel said. “Sooner begun is sooner done.”

“Do you have a recipe?” Two asked.

“We don’t need a recipe,” Hazel said. “I figure we just put the rice and soup in the pan with a little water, layer the chicken in with it, and we’ll cook it until it’s done. We can mix in some rosemary and thyme, a little black pepper, an even littler garlic…”

“But how do we know that’s right if we don’t have a recipe?” Two asked.

Hazel blinked in surprise.

“Well, it’s cooking, love,” she said, sounding a little affronted at the idea. “There isn’t any ‘right’ in cooking… you know you did right if everyone leaves satisfied.”

“I don’t understand,” Two said, her lip beginning to tremble. She seemed disappointed… I could understand why. Her enjoyment of cooking probably stemmed a lot from the fact that it could be done entirely by following instructions. Hazel evidently took an entirely different approach to the subject. It appeared their friendship might be doomed from the beginning.

“Why don’t you just tell Two what you’d like her to do?” I suggested to Hazel. “You could even split the work that way… you figure out what’s next, and she actually does it.”

“Well, alright,” Hazel said. “She’s got longer arms, anyway, so it might be easier that way. So long as we’re both doing what we like and are good at, I suppose it’s still fair.”

Two calmed immediately.

“Yes,” she agreed. “And fair is fair.”

“It is,” Hazel agreed, very seriously. “Fair’s fair.”

“You know, I think I’m going to go downstairs and wait for Ian,” I said… which was true, though I was also thinking it might be a good thing if I bumped into Amaranth before Steff did. I was kind of surprised she hadn’t turned up yet… normally, we all just kind of bumped into each other and drifted over to the dining hall at dinner time… but it was getting to be past the time that happened. Of course, she might have been deliberately keeping her distance, either to give her masterful plan a chance to work or out of fear that it wouldn’t.

I felt kind of bad for thinking it, but it hit me that it might be good in the long run if she did stress a bit over it… that way she’d learn not to do it again.

On the other hand, though, this particular situation was very unlikely to ever recur, and if we could get out of it with no further hurt feelings beyond Steff’s initial anguish and anger, I’d be glad. That wasn’t very likely to happen, but it seemed worth praying once again to nobody in particular for it.

It didn’t seem like nobody in particular was listening, though… I came into the stairwell right as Amaranth and Steff turned the corner on the landing below. Steff was standing a bit behind Amaranth with a look I couldn’t quite characterize, and held Amaranth’s odd eyeglasses in one hand and one of her daggers in the other.

Amaranth appeared to be unhurt… but her hands were on her face, and she was sobbing with an abandon that made Two’s crying look tastefully restrained.

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