99: Break Down

on November 16, 2007 in 04: The Body Politick

In Which Puddy Turns

Time halted. Nobody spoke. Well, except for Ian, who sort of whispered, “That’s Puddy, right?” to nobody in particular.

Amaranth turned and rose from her chair in one fluid motion, her posture very business-like as she strode the length of the table. I was reminded unaccountably of a school teacher. Except for the whole nudity thing, she really kind of looked the part.

For some reason, that reminded me unaccountably of Professor Ariadne. Why the fuck was I thinking of that miserable banshee at a time like this?

“Oh, now, Twoey didn’t mean it like that,” Amaranth said in a tone that was so kind that it couldn’t be taken as anything but condescending. “We’re all friends here, aren’t we?”

Nobody said anything. I stared at Puddy, willing her to look at me, to remember that above all else… before anything else… she had been my friend.

Or even to look at me with hatred, as a traitorous backstabber and false friend.

Anything to break the red hot, ice cold stare of coming death she was leveling at Two.

“Come on, guys,” Amaranth said a little desperately.

“Hey, Puddy!” Celia said, breaking a silence that Ian’s whisper and Amaranth’s plaintive begging somehow hadn’t more than technically disturbed. As Puddy turned to look at her, Celia held up both her fists with the pinky fingers extended.

I knew the gesture… I’d been exposed to it more than once during my first few days at Magisterius University. It didn’t matter how shockingly inhuman my other half was, I looked and acted human, and therefore I was a “pinkskin.” Of course, that term showed the hopeless ignorance of racism, as there were plenty of races with skin tones and textures that wouldn’t have been out of place on a human, and more than one color of skin found among humanity.

Despite being even shorter than I was, Puddy looked just as human as I did. Even if her ancestry was as varied as she claimed, she still had a lot more human blood than I did. As far as I knew, she’d been exempted from this kind of treatment. I wasn’t sure why, but it might have been the fact that she wore her inhumanity on her sleeve, bragging loudly and often about her dwarven multiple-great-grandmother… or the one-sixteenth nymph blood that provided her with the minimum legal requirement to claim membership in the Silver Beech Hamadryad Nation… or her perhaps utterly fictitious dragon, giant, and sidhe ancestry.

Her reaction to the rude gesture was almost poetic: she turned bright pink.

“Stop that!” Amaranth said, in her most commanding tone… which, as it drew its authority mostly from its sex appeal, probably didn’t do much for anybody who wasn’t attracted to her. “We’ll scrounge up another chair and make a place for you, Puddy…”

“Oh, hell, no,” Steff said.

“If this creature is indeed to join us, she may have the seat I will vacate,” Dee said. “For I will not share a table with her.”

“Stop it!” Amaranth said, more urgently… almost beside herself with the need to make everybody get along. “There’s no reason we can’t be friends with Puddy!”

“I don’t need sympathy from the fucking campus cum dumpster!” Puddy said. “I don’t need a bunch of pity friends. I’ve got my own friends. Lots of them!”

“Who?” a voice asked… a small, cracked, and frightened voice. When Puddy–and everybody else turned their gazes in my direction, I understood that the voice had been mine.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Puddy asked, with so much disdain packed into the pronoun that I knew what she really meant: what was I doing, opening my mouth? Who was I to question her?

It was how she really felt about me, how she always had… I was pathetic. I was spineless. I was weak, and therefore I was worthless.

So why had she clung to me?

“Who are your friends?” I asked calmly, quietly… well, more quiet than calm, but still pretty calm.

“I’m fucking Puddy, bitch!” she said. “Everybody knows me. Everywhere I go. Everybody.”

“But… does anybody like you?” I asked.

Time slowed to a crawl. The world shrunk until it was just Puddy’s face, and then just her mouth. I watched as that mouth silently but very distinctly formed the words, “I’ll kill you.”

There was no pretense of secrecy about it… every eye in the room was on her. I think she just didn’t have the strength or breath to actually force the words out. Her face turned a splotchy purple, her nostrils flared, and veins stood out in her neck and forehead. From all around the table came the sounds of chairs being pushed back. I stayed in my seat.

Any second, and Puddy would make her move… she’d charge. Her battle axe was on her back, but I didn’t think she’d use it. I wasn’t giving her credit… she was fueled by rage and instinct, and by the way her hands were opening and closing I think she meant to throttle me, even if she didn’t know it yet.

Any second.

I stayed in my seat.

I wouldn’t fight her. The others would, and I couldn’t stop that, but I wouldn’t fight my friend. Or maybe I just was that big a wuss. I’d sort that out later.

Any second.

Puddy gave a cry like a wounded animal and turned, running full-out down the hall. The room she shared with Mariel was the last door before the stairwell. It was impossible for me to tell, from where I was sitting, which door she took.

“Fucking coward,” Celia said.

“Her kind always is,” Steff replied, equal parts disdain and relish in her voice.

I looked around the table… Two and I were the only one still in our chairs. Two looked like she was about ready to shake herself to pieces. Ian had risen, looking steadfast, resolute, and utterly bewildered. I was glad he hadn’t been put in the position of having to try to defend me… on top of being merely human, he’d left his sword in my room along with his lute case. Hazel’s seat was empty, but I couldn’t see where she’d gone until she poked her head above the top of the table… she’d climbed onto Dee’s vacant seat and drawn some kind of slingshot.

“Well, the best fight’s the one you win before it starts, but I won’t pretend I wouldn’t have liked giving that big bully something to chew on,” she said, pocketing her toy-like weapon.

“There’s not supposed to be any fighting at the dinner table,” Two said in a quavering voice as tears began to trickle from her eyes.

“Sometimes, the fight comes to you, love,” Hazel said. “No one meant anything by it.”

That calmed her a little, but she still sniffled and shook a bit. I wanted to go to her and hug her… but I was shaking just a bit, and didn’t trust my legs. Steff hurried over and began stroking Two’s hair and whispering soothingly to her. Two instantly improved, closing her eyes and even letting out a little sigh. I guess Steff’s soothing whispers were as good as her sensual ones.

Amaranth, meanwhile, retook her own seat. She pulled it out away from the table before she sat down, and I found myself reaching out to her before I’d even registered it. She pulled me up into her lap, and I collapsed against her chest without a second thought.

“Mack, baby, you were very brave but I don’t think it was very wise to taunt her like that,” she said, stroking my hair. “What Puddy needs is love. Help, and love.”

“I wasn’t taunting her,” I said. “I was trying to…” What? What had I been trying to do? I didn’t know. I hadn’t been thinking, I had just been doing. “I was trying to reach her.”

Steff bent down next to me.

“Oh, honey, I don’t think there’s anything there to reach,” she said. “She’s made her choices. She’s happy with them.”

“She isn’t,” I insisted. I felt like a child… or like Two, arguing the latest bit of nonsense she’d become convinced of. I had maybe less reason than anybody to believe that there was anything left that was right about Puddy, that there was anything worth saving… but I did. “Nobody could be happy like that.”

“So, um… what are we doing now?” Ian asked, awkwardly. I felt for him. He couldn’t have understood more than half of what had just happened, and now his girlfriend was pressing her face up against a nymph’s boobs for comfort.

“Why don’t you go get your lute?” Steff said to him. “We’ll gather up the rest of the food and take this party downstairs.”

“Okay,” Ian said, and headed off towards my room.

“But… there’s no table downstairs,” Two said. “You’re supposed to eat at the table. That’s what tables are for.”

“There’s coffee tables in front of the TV,” I said.

“Coffee tables are for…” Two began, but Amaranth broke in.

“It’ll be like a picnic,” she said. “Won’t that be fun?”

“Picnics are supposed to be outside,” Two objected.

“Sometimes, it’s just fun to do things differently,” Amaranth said.

I watched Two wind up to tell Amaranth that she was mistaken, reconsider, and then simply say, “Okay,” in a slightly defeated tone. I felt bad. Her little dinner party for her friends could hardly have gone less according to plan.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “All your friends are still here. We’re all still together.”

Without being asked, Dee had put the cover on the rest of the chicken rice. We each gathered up our plates and drinks and things. I dumped the rest of my food onto Ian’s plate and carried it for him. He rejoined us in the hallway. The joviality was kind of forced on the way downstairs, and for the first little bit once we got settled in a corner of the downstairs lounge. I didn’t recognize the RA on duty, who was one of the boy ones. He didn’t give us a hard time, anyway.

The forced air didn’t really lift as Ian picked his way with a very visible deliberateness through a few songs I would have been hard pressed to name even if he’d provided lyrics. As it was, I probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize them at all if they hadn’t been examples of the grungy, angst-ridden music that had been unavoidably popular when I’d started high school.

Of course, he did the nigh-unto-obligatory intro to Gateway to Elysium, too. Even I recognized this.

We all listened with a polite amount of rapt attention. I was just glad he had the instrument on his lap, because it made me feel less guilty about sitting on Amaranth’s. When he put it down and began picking at the food I’d given him, the conversation turned back to classes and things. Celia was still very excited about her ideas for her illusionary skin, explaining to everyone how she’d always felt like she really did have scales, on the inside. I guess I found this idea a little less ridiculous after the talk with Steff.

Gradually, and then all at once, we all became aware of the sound.

With the group’s attention turned elsewhere, Ian had picked up his lute and began to play it, more quietly and with less… ostentation? Obligation?

He didn’t really notice when we all turned to look at him… he was looking down at the lute. Not at his finger positions, as he had been when he’d been fighting his way through the covers before… but at the instrument itself. There was a kind of wonder in his face, and also a calmness and a sense of purpose I hadn’t seen on it before.

There was more of a classical feel to his playing now, but it was unmistakably rock. If it was an existing song, it wasn’t one I knew, for all that was worth. I couldn’t help recognizing one thing, though… Ian was good.

Without a word, I slid off Amaranth’s lap, onto the floor, and more or less crawled over to the floor in front of Ian, looking up at his face, the pick in his hand, his fingers on the string.

The impromptu song–if that’s what it was–eventually broke down and he gave a little shake of his head, as though he were coming out of a trance. He looked up and saw everybody staring at him… and down at me, looking up at him. He blushed.

“Sometimes, I like to just mess around a little,” he said apologetically.

“You should mess around more often,” Steff said. Ian blushed harder and looked away from her, dropping his gaze and incidentally turning it back towards me.

“Play more,” I said, lowering my head slightly and raising my eyes up towards him. “Please.”

And he did.

And it was good.

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4 Responses to “99: Break Down”

  1. pedestrian says:

    The classical boon begging position. Canine young do it to induce an adult to regurgitate food. The painting Jupiter and Thetis is a very explicit depiction of this behavior. But I’ve always like my women to have a mature figure.

    Current score: 0
  2. Erm says:

    Hazel’s seat was empty, but I couldn’t see where she’d gone until she poked her head above the top of the table… she’d climbed onto Dee’s vacant seat and drawn some kind of slingshot.

    You don’t mess with the Shire! 😉

    Current score: 3
  3. ElectricHarpsichord says:

    (Possible?) Typo report:

    “Why the fuck was I thinking of that miserable banshee at a time like this?”
    Don’t they use “bansidhe” in the MU-niverse?

    Current score: 0
  4. fedback says:

    That es why halflings have bonus throws en throwing weapons

    Current score: 0