Tuesday, October 3, 2000
“That don’t mean I have to like it!” Howard wasn’t quite bellowing, but it was a close call. Arnbjörg looked up from the onions she was chopping just in time to see Magnolia put a soothing hand on his arm.
“He’s not gonna hurt her, Howard, honey, and he’s certainly not gonna do any lasting damage. I know she’s your friend—”
“Seems like this keeps happenin’ to my friends! First Lily, then Zita, then Leo and now Cynara. An’ then there’s Arna here, and while I’m sure Jaya’s nice and all, Arna don’t look too keen on the whole thing, either.”
Arnbjörg looked studiously down at her onions. “It’s not all that bad,” she muttered. “I like Jaya.”
“Yeah, an’ well, I like Mags here too, but that don’t mean this whole Keeping thing is right.” Howard tossed his head, looking for all the world like an angry bull. “Look, Mags, there’s gotta be something we can do. She’s just not right. Her nor any of them. I stood there an’ I watched him do his mind-bending shit on her!”
“Howard.” Magnolia looked disappointed. It made Arnbjörg want to hit her, especially considering the way that Howard wilted at the disappointment. “I know you wanna help your friends, but everyone goes through this sorta thing. They’re gonna be fine, and when it’s done, they’re gonna know what Keeping is like before they get into it themselves. Jamian, Sheba – they all had their turn under the collar.”
“Just let me do somethin’.” He sounded like he was pleading with her now. Arnbjörg chopped the onions a little finer. At this rate, dinner was going to involve onion puree. “Let me talk to him.”
“Howard, I have a feeling you don’t mean talk. And we talked about that. You can’t go around punching everyone who upsets you.”
Arnbjörg set the knife down and headed for the door. “I’m going out,” she muttered.
Of course, that got Magnolia’s attention. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Arnbjörg’s shoulders tensed and her fists clenched. She turned very carefully and very slowly to look Magnolia in the eye. “Nobody’s told me not to, if that’s what you’re asking.” She touched her fingers to the necklace around her throat. “This is supposed to keep me safe, right?”
“Ah. Well.” Magnolia frowned. “You really should ask Jaya first, you know.”
“I’m sure I’ll get some order or something if I don’t. And then it won’t happen again.” She turned back around and headed out the door before Magnolia could actually call for Jaya.
“Stupid place,” she muttered. “Stupid place with its stupid rules and its stupid, stupid, stupid Keeping and its stupid controlling everything and its…” She stomped along the hallway, not caring where she was going, just needing to go somewhere. “Stupid ‘it’s for your own good’ bullshit and… yeaaarrrgh!” She slammed her fist into the wood-paneled wall. It hit her like a white-hot shock that faded quickly, leaving several separate and distinct aches, but the pain was gratifyingly solid and real. It made sense. Arnbjörg shook her hand out, relishing a decision she’d made without worrying about consequences, without being told what she should think.
She’d left quite a mark on the wall – and not an inconsiderable amount of redness on her hand. The paneling had shattered. Beneath it, she could see the grey of concrete block. Using her off hand, Arnbjörg pulled away a bit of the splintered wood.
“Careful with that.” The gym teacher strode up to her. Where had he come from? “The maintenance team doesn’t mind cleaning up a few dings and scrapes, but you don’t want to make even more work for them.”
She didn’t? “I don’t?”
“It’s not polite.” Luke closed the distance between them. His wings were folded back against his back and he was frowning at her. “They have enough to do around here.”
“I didn’t even know we had a maintenance team.”
“Well, the floors might clean themselves, but that only handles basic stuff like dirt and blood.” She wasn’t sure, but Arnbjörg thought she caught the slightest smile on his lips. “Broken walls require actual attention.”
Arnbjörg flinched. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking…”
“It’s all right. If you wanna know the truth, I’ve hit more than a few walls here in my time. Luckily, I’m pretty good at Jasfe Unutu.” He aimed the words at the wall, and the paneling began to knit together; he added a second Jasfe with a bunch of other words after it, none of which Arnbjörg recognized, and the wall was whole once again. “There.” He studied Arnbjörg for a moment, then coughed, looking a bit amused with himself. “So what’s got you bruising your fist against our walls?”
“Keeping.” She spat the word out. “The whole fucking concept, excuse my language. The whole goddamn idea of being owned by someone else, the whole thing where everyone here treats you like a child, the lying, the secrets, and yay, I have magic. And now everyone’s gonna tell me how to use it and what to do and what not to do and Jaya’s fucking crew seems to think owning someone is a communal effort and nobody will let you just haul off and punch the people who need it.” She took a breath. “That was probably more than you wanted to know, sorry.”
“Who would you punch, if someone wasn’t stopping you?” He leaned against the wall like he had nowhere in the world to be except listening to Arnbjörg complain. Since he was going to do it, she did the same, flopping into the wall with more force than she needed to.
“Sheba. Magnolia.” She thought about it for a moment. “Dysmas and Rand and Eriko, too.”
“That’s an interesting list.” He sounded so absolutely bland that she had to sneak a peek, but his face wasn’t giving away anything, either. “Why those five?”
“Well, Sheba just thinks she owns everything. Everyone. Jaya and Phelen and Niki and… I mean, this is a place where you can actually own someone, and, as far as I know, she doesn’t own anyone. Oh. Eris. I want to punch Eris, too.”
Luke coughed, something that Arnbjörg was pretty sure was masking a laugh. “Well. If you want to, come up to the gym. I might not be able to put the targets in front of you that you want, but I can give you something to punch that won’t break your knuckles.”