143: Startling Steff

on January 25, 2008 in 05: The Weekend Shift

In Which One Wonders Why They Even Make Black Licorice Flavor

When I got back to the room, Ian was reading my copy of Sci-Force 5 and Two was arranging her gum drops in neat little rows on her desk, separated out by color.

“Hi, Mack,” she said without looking up. She was peering at the gaps between the candies, making sure they were even.

“Hi, Two,” I said. “Interesting?” I asked Ian, remembering how he’d spoken disdainfully of Sci-Force when I asked him if he read it.

“Um, about what I expected,” he said, putting it aside.

“Do you like black licorice flavor, Mack?” Two asked, looking at the shortest row of gum drops. “I don’t like black licorice flavor.”

“Um, I don’t really, either,” I said.

I watched Two pick off the extras in the longer rows until they were all even, except the black ones. She smiled at the results, then wrinkled her face in distaste at the short line of darker drops. She swept them aside.

“Those don’t count,” she declared, and the smile returned. “Because I don’t like them. Would you like a gum drop, Mack?”

“Won’t that mess up your rows?” I asked.

“I don’t mind eating the extras,” she said.

“Can I have a green one, then?”

“Yes,” Two said, handing me one. “They are spearmint.”

I’d been hoping for lime. Spearmint was something I didn’t have to rely on fuzzy childhood memories of… it was the one thing I’d tasted almost every day that I’d lived with my grandmother, in the form of toothpaste.

“Um, can I try yellow, then?” I asked. “That’s lemon, right?”

“Yes,” Two said, putting the green one carefully back in place, then picking it up and eating it herself. She picked up a yellow and handed it to me. “I had been hoping for banana, but lemon is fine, too.”

I bit the tiny jelly candy in half and sucked on the piece. It was tart and sweet, just like I’d imagined. The texture of the sugar on the outside was interesting… big grainy crystals, like sand, but they melted quickly. From middle school on up, I’d watched people pop candies like this in their mouths by the handful. Had they really enjoyed them? Had they even tasted them?

I did eat the second half a bit quicker, but only after I’d savored the first half. Two, meanwhile, cleaned up the disordered rows, with a similar lack of haste. There was no doubt that she enjoyed her candy.

“Uh, can I have a gum drop, Two?” Ian asked.

“No,” Two said. “They are mine.”

“Two!” I said.

“It’s fine,” Ian said.

“It’s rude,” I said.

“My friend Hazel told me to get something for myself and I did,” Two said. “Mack can have some because she is like my sister but they are still mine.”

“Two, you’re being childish,” I said.

“They are mine and I don’t have to give them to anybody if I don’t would like to,” Two said.

“Seriously, Mackenzie, just forget I asked,” Ian said.

“Two, I would like it if you would please try to be nice to my boyfriend,” I said. It was kind of an unwieldy sentence, but it wouldn’t be fair to her to tell her outright to be nice. On some level, I could almost be proud that she was managing to be a brat. She just could have picked a better target.

“You can have the black licorice ones,” Two told Ian.

“No, it’s fine,” Ian said. “I don’t really like them, either. Weren’t we going to go get food, anyway?”

“I will come with you,” Two said, getting up from her chair.

“This will be… fun,” Ian said as we headed out into the hall.

I almost gave him a dirty look, but honestly, I felt about the same. I could have used some alone time with Ian, in case he was ready to talk about Steff.

I would definitely also need some alone time with Two, for a little “girl talk”… on top of grilling her about the demon summoning and a little more in-depth sex talk, it was evident that she hadn’t completely forgiven Ian, whether for slapping me, pushing her out of the room, or simply for being in my life.

Or, maybe it was much simpler than that… was it possible she’d simply decided that disliking my boyfriend was part of her sisterly role?

“Hey, Mack,” Steff said, seeming to materialize behind me as we headed down the first flight of stairs.

I made a sound that was more or less like “Yee!” as I tripped and went stumbling down to land sprawled at the bottom of the steps, my head down by the landing.

“Mack!” Two cried.

“Oh, shit,” Steff said, reaching my side almost as I hit. “Sorry, honey, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Khersis, are you okay, Mackenzie?” Ian asked, coming down after her.

“Ow, fuck,” I said. I’d landed with one arm beneath me, and the other had tried to stop my fall seemingly of its own accord, jarring my shoulder badly. It was hard to say which hurt more.

Neither was an actual injury, of course, though I hadn’t actually escaped unscathed: I’d managed to bite my lower lip. I could taste my blood. Steff and Ian helped pull me to my feet. I reached up and touched my mouth, and my fingertip came away scarlet.

“Oh, Mack, hon, you’re bleeding,” Steff said. She leaned in as if to kiss me, and before I knew what she was doing she was sucking on my lower lip.

“Steff, don’t,” I said, pulling away. I suddenly felt dirtier than I had for a while, like the contagion in my blood was crawling all over my skin. “That’s nasty.”

My blood didn’t taste nasty to me, but it was what it was.

“Um, you know, I think I’m just gonna take off,” Ian said, kind of looking at the air between Steff and I rather than looking at either one of us.

“Bye, Ian!” Two said.

“You don’t have to,” I said, reaching a hand out for him.

“I need time,” he said, pulling away. “I told you.”

“Okay,” I said. “But, it’s really…”

Ian put a hand on my shoulder and turned us away from Steff, leaning in close. This didn’t actually make much difference… Steff’s half-elven ears could still hear every word he said.

“The more you tell me it’s not a problem, the more something in me wants to say it is,” he said. “Maybe that’s not the most mature response, but it’s still true.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m sorry. I just… I want everybody to be happy.”

“Not everybody can be happy with the same things,” Ian said.

“That doesn’t mean I can’t hope,” I said.

“I haven’t said no,” Ian said. “Give me time.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Bye, Ian!” Two said again.

Ian rolled his eyes.

“I’ll talk to her,” I said.

“Goodbye, Two,” he said. “Bye, Mackenzie.”

“We’ll talk later,” I said. I didn’t like hearing “bye” from him right that moment.

“Yeah,” he said.

I told myself that he’d come around. He’d put up with everything else so far. He was my rock.

“What’s… um… what’s going on?” Steff asked. She seemed a little jittery.

“Ian’s… well, he just kind of found out about your… nature?” I said, not sure how to finish that sentence without hurting her feelings. “Condition” didn’t sound right.

“Oh,” Steff said. She was hardly ecstatic, obviously, but I would have expected more reaction than that.

“Anyway, what were you doing hiding by the door like that?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.

“Uh, yeah… um, Viktor sent me for you?” Steff said. Maybe she felt guilty about scaring me half to death, but she seemed a lot less sure of herself than normal. Between her and Sooni, it was turning into a surreal day.

“Oh,” I said. “But why were you lurking outside the hallway, then?”

“Well… I didn’t want to bug you before you were properly awake, you know?” Steff said.

“You could have come into the lounge,” I said. Steff was being evasive, and it bothered me. Her nervousness was almost contagious. “You didn’t have a fight with Dee or something, did you?”

“No, no,” Steff said.

“Did you know your belt’s up in my room?” I asked.

“Oh,” Steff said. She seemed to have gone slightly paler than usual, losing whatever scant color her human heritage had given her. “Um, good.”

“Your daggers are with it,” I added.

“Good,” she said again. “That’s good.”

Her reaction was underwhelming, and way off. Steff put so much stock in her weapons training and her ability to defend herself, she probably would’ve still carried the blades even if the weapon policy somehow got rescinded.

“Do you want to go get it?” I asked.

“You can just bring it to me later, or whatever,” Steff said. “No rush.”

“Is something bothering you, Steff?” I asked.

“What, me?” she said, giving a brittle little laugh. “Nothing bothers me, sweetie. You know that.”

“Well, um, we’re right here,” I said. “Let’s just run upstairs and get it.”

“Okay,” Steff said, after a second.

“Steff, do you not want to come onto our floor for some reason?” I asked. “Are you having a problem with somebody?”

“I don’t have a problem with anybody,” Steff said, suddenly sounding a lot more like herself. “And if they have a problem with me, they can kiss my beautifully freaky ass.”

“Okay,” I said. “I just don’t want to make you uncomfortable, somehow.”

Steff laughed at this.

“You? Make me uncomfortable?” she said, heading past me and up the stairs. “That’ll be the day. The world is my comfort zone, doll.”

“I can go get the belt,” I said. “I don’t want to make you do something you don’t want to.”

At the top of the stairs, Steff whirled around. There was a fierce, defiant anger in her eyes.

“Nobody can make me do anything I don’t want to,” she said.

“I know that, Steff,” I said, repressing the urge to sigh as I headed up after her. “I misspoke.”

Her eyes went to every door as we went past. She seemed so jumpy. Was it just because she was unarmed? I couldn’t believe that she didn’t have other weapons available, but maybe realizing she’d been careless enough to get disarmed somehow–and maybe not even noticing it until the next morning–had left her in a state of spellshock.

Dee’s door opened as we passed and Steff yelped, actually jumping back and slamming against the nekos’ door.

“Oh, shit,” Steff said. “You startled me.”

“My keen elven senses discerned as much,” Dee said. “It pleases me to see you as well.”

“Sorry,” Steff said, her shoulders drooping as she visibly relaxed. “I’m just… jumpy today.”

“You know, I don’t think I ever thanked you,” I said to Dee. “For your help last night.”

“You did not,” Dee said.

“Um, thanks,” I said, feeling about an inch tall. I was no Sooni, but I could afford to brush up my manners a bit. “Hey, you didn’t happen to leave Steff’s daggers hanging on my door, did you?”

“I would never leave another’s weapons lying in plain sight,” Dee said. “If they fell into my hands, I would treat them with as much care as I do my own.”

I couldn’t think if I’d ever actually seen Dee’s weapons. Considering that she almost always wore her voluminous cloak over almost equally voluminous robes, that was hardly indicative of anything. I wondered if campus security ever hassled her over her lack of visible armament? Probably not… if I was a typical human rent-a-guard, I wouldn’t be in a hurry to ask a dark elf to show me her weapons.

“So, how did they get there, then?” I wondered aloud.

“I would surmise that Leda is responsible,” Dee said.

“Leda?” I asked. I’d only seen the haughty swan maiden in passing since the first floor meeting. I couldn’t imagine what she would have been doing with Steff… I could imagine all too easily what Steff would be doing with her, but not the other way around.

“Last night Steff and I came upon Leda swimming in the fountain,” Dee said. “She was… surprisingly forward towards Steff. I must confess that, despite my better instincts, I find myself possessed of some vicarious interest in the conclusion of the encounter.”

“Um, we don’t want to talk about this kind of stuff in front of the pseudowench, right?” Steff said, putting her arm around Two and giving the best impression of a bone-crushing hug that a person of elven descent could mimic. “Because, you know, it bothers Mack.”

“I was under the rather strong impression that she was becoming rather more comfortable with matters of natural relations,” Dee said. “Nevertheless, I salute your efforts to actually respect another thinking being’s boundaries.”

“Steff, you are squishing me,” Two said.

“Oh, sorry,” Steff said, letting her go. “Hey, what are we all standing around in the hall for?”

She reached for my door, which was locked. When she didn’t appear to notice why the knob wasn’t turning in her hand, I gently nudged her aside and unlocked it.

At the end of the hall, Hazel and Honey’s door opened. Steff jumped again at the sound. I wondered if one of the skirmish team had tried to get in her face or something.

“Hey, love,” Hazel called, her head poking around the corner. “You get my sugar, then?”

“Yes,” Two shouted. She talked way too loud considering Hazel was only two doors down. It was adorable. “I left you a note on your door!”

“Well, why don’t you bring it on over… and bring that vest of yours you were talking about, too,” Hazel said. “We’ll see if we can’t find a match.”

“My friend Hazel’s cousin Honey has a whole drawer full of buttons,” Two explained. “Excuse me.”

She darted into our room with more speed than I’d ever seen her move to collect the damaged garment and the bag of sugar. She obviously enjoyed Hazel’s company. Maybe it was time to relax and accept this as a good thing.

Then again, everybody else kept revealing troubling new sides just when I thought I knew them.

Steff slipped inside my room right behind Two. I followed. Dee remained out in the hall.

“Um, would you like to come in?” I asked.

“Yes, thank you,” Dee said.

“So what happened with Leda?” I asked Steff when Two had gone and we’d shut the door.

“Oh, come on… you don’t really want to know all the horny little details,” Steff said with a laugh.

“Um… nothing bad happened, did it?” I asked. As hard as it was to picture Leda propositioning Steff, it was harder still to imagine how this would have led to Steff leaving her weapons behind, and then acting so guilty about being on our floor.

“What do you mean?” Steff asked. “It’s sex. What could have happened?”

“What did happen?” Dee asked.

“Well, um, she had this really strong vodka… I mean, the real shit, not the grain stuff they sell around here,” Steff said. “And anyway, after we killed the bottle I can’t really remember anything clearly.”

“I had heard that humans had the habit of dulling their already marginal senses before engaging in an act of pleasure,” Dee said. “Did you pick up this behavior from them, or do the elves of the surface do this as well?”

“You don’t usually drink before sex, do you?” I asked. Maybe my recent experiences had biased me, but I didn’t think alcohol and sex were a very good mix… especially not with Steff’s propensity for violent sex.

I was starting to get a sick feeling in my stomach. Had Steff done something?

“Fucking hell, what’s with the interrogation?” Steff said, color flooding her face. “We fucked! It was raw, animal passion… I fucked her brains out, okay? It was the best fucking lay I’ve had all week!”

“And yet you cannot remember any of it,” Dee said.

“Fuck off,” Steff said.

“I mean no offense,” Dee said.

“Steff,” I said, not wanting to know but needing to ask. “Did you… you didn’t do anything to her, did you?”

“Of course I did,” Steff said. “I threw her down and I…. threw her… I…”

She staggered a few steps back and collapsed onto Two’s bed, dissolving into tears. After getting over a few seconds’ shock, I ran to her side, climbing on beside her and tried to put my arms around her.

“Don’t touch me!” she shrieked, jerking aside.

“I’m sorry,” I said, getting up and backing away. “I’m just trying to understand what happened.”

“I could endeavor to find out,” Dee said.

“Don’t you touch my mind,” Steff said, catapulting to her feet. She seemed to be hysterical at the thought. “That’s private property, okay? It’s mine. What I keep in there isn’t for you or anybody else to look at.”

“I simply meant that if it’s too painful for you to speak of…” Dee tried to explain.

“Just because my body’s a playground doesn’t mean I don’t have any boundaries,” Steff said.

“I apologize for the misunderstanding, but I feel I can do nothing helpful for you in this state,” Dee said. She gave a little bow then headed for the door.

“Steff, she was only trying to help,” I said.

“Whatever,” Steff said, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “I’m over it. Do you want to talk to Viktor, or what?”

More than ever, I thought, though I just nodded.

“Good,” Steff said. “And not another word about… this.”

I nodded, but I didn’t intend to let this drop. I was under standing orders to obey Steff as if she were my owner, but I had a higher duty to her as my friend.

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4 Responses to “143: Startling Steff”

  1. pedestrian says:

    That’s Our Mackenzie, managing her priorities.

    Current score: 7
  2. Arkeus says:

    Finally, Mackie is growing a semi-spine.

    Current score: 2
    • Anthony says:

      Yeah. Watch as the chapters go on. Mackenzie, Two, Ian, and (to a lesser degree) Amaranth all exhibit significant emotional growth and development. Steff, though, just seems to get stupider as the story continues not in terms of intelligence; more like in terms of wisdom, like “I can’t believe she did something as idiotic as that… again!”

      Current score: 3
  3. capybroa says:

    Awww, Steff! 🙁

    Mack, use that spine and don’t let this go. Your friend obviously needs some TLC.

    Current score: 2