Chapter Description: Another peek of Clark's morning routine, including getting harassed by and outmaneuvering an overeager Amazon.
Chapter 3: Less Pleasant Rituals
The three of us- Tracy, Mrs. Beouf, and I- walked up to the school’s front office. Amazon, and even Tweener steps are longer and therefore faster than Little footsteps, but we’d all long since gotten into a kind of groove. Mrs. Beouf took a medium to slow pace; leisurely walking to work but not dilly dallying. Tracy walked briskly. I was power walking. Any faster and I’d have to at least jog.
I’d long ago mastered the art of conversing while at a near run. I wasn’t winded and I wouldn’t be, not in anyway that would show. “Warm weather’s back,” I said. More small talk.
“Feels good, doesn’t it?” Tracy grinned. “You know what that means, right?”
“SPRING BREAK!’ we all said in unison.
“What are you going to do, Mr. Gibson?” Tracy asked me.
I smiled. “Maybe read a book,” I replied. “Other than that, hopefully nothing and love it.” That may or may not have been true. I did love just lazing around the house, but it was just as possible Cassie would take the opportunity for us to get out of the neighborhood and visit one of our friends. “You?”
“New laser tag place opening up. I’m probably going to get lost there,” Tracy said. “Mrs. Beouf?”
“Drinking,” Mrs. Beouf said. “A lot.” That’s another reason I liked Beouf. Amazons tended to not talk about things like drinking or going to a lewd rock concert in front of me. It was much the same way an adult might not curse in front of children. As far as the giants wanted Littles to be concerned, all Amazons were the picture of adult responsibility. Beouf talked to me and Tracy the same way I’d eavesdropped on other Amazons talking to each other: like people. “I just found out that my daughter is pregnant. I’m going to be a grandmother”
“Thank you,” she said. “But her and her husband are moving back in before the baby is born. So I’m going to enjoy my house while it’s still my house.”
Going up with the two of them was a matter of safety. Keeping up with Beouf was practically my morning exercise, and Amazons had some kind of unwritten rule, maybe instinctual, about snatching up each other’s captives. By being so closely associated with Beouf, most of my coworkers at least subconsciously registered me as “her Little”.
Walking beside one of the giants had additional benefits. If I walked by myself I might be “mistaken” for “getting “lost” or “dawdling” if I was too slow. On the other hand, I might be “hiding something” or “about to have an accident”, if I was going too fast. Don’t get me started on how many justifications I’ve heard involving an Amazon quite literally wanting to give me a lift.
Never once had either of my two companions ever even offered to carry me. Mrs. Zoge had brought it up once, and only once. Mrs. Beouf had said she’d talk with her assistant about it in private and I considered the matter settled. I never got an apology, but that was years ago and the offer had never been made again. Fair enough.
Other teachers, all Amazons, thought I was being a Helper; cozying up to my future “Mommy” so she’d take it easy on me. Some even thought I was purposefully hoping to get “adopted” and that’s why I’d taken the job teaching Pre-K in the first place.
How did I know all this? Amazons, though incredibly intelligent, didn’t give the shorter peoples enough credit. They were smart enough to clam up around me but never caught onto who might be wandering around and listening to the office gossip first thing in the morning, or during lunch in the teacher’s lounge. With a friend like Tracy, I knew who my enemies were.
I can’t objectively say if any of my precautions actually worked or if it was just my own paranoia justifying itself; but nothing an Amazon did to a Little was objectively justified. Fair was fair. So was unfair.
Mrs. Beouf grabbed the door and ushered us inside the front office. Oakshire Elementary was an open campus, with each grade level sectioned off in separate buildings on either side of a row of communal buildings: the Library, the Cafeteria, and of course, the Front Office. It was there that we went each morning to sign in, just as the sun was starting to crest over the hills, and then wait for the buses up front.
“Mr. Gibson. Tracy,” a coworker, a Tweener, acknowledged us as she passed. “Mrs. Beouf.”
“Good morning,” I said, trying to sound cheery.
Another familiar ritual.
“Mrs. Beouf. Tracy. Mr. Gibson.”
“Mrs. Springfield. Mr. Renner. Ms. Grange.”
Basic stuff. Thoughtless stuff. If not for Mrs. Beouf’s coffee I could still do this in my sleep.
I got the rare pleasure of thoughtless un-anticipation as I punched my employee number into the sign-in terminal just behind the receptionists’ desk. The terminal didn’t have a stool to reach, but after so long, I could do it all by feel. “CLAAAAAARK!” An all too familiar voice called out to me. Great. Time for another ritual.
I wasn’t comfortable around Mrs. Zoge, or most Amazons, but at least Zoge was more or less professional in her own odd way. Miss Forrest, the school’s receptionist was a hungry cat looking for a mouse of its very own to play with. Second perhaps to only one other Amazon on campus, Miss Forrest was the person who most palpably wanted to see me out of a job and into a playpen. She was also proof that not all Amazons were brilliant.
So as not to seem panicked, I turned around and smiled. Tracy shot me a look. It said: “Do you need help? I can make an excuse for us to walk away right now.” I smiled up at her. For real this time. She was able to read my confidence and started walking out front, leaving me to this game of cat and mouse.
Not all rituals were pleasant, but they had to be done. Grudging respect was better than no respect. Failing that, frustration might at least cause hesitation.
“Why hello, Miss Forrest,” I said. “How are you this fine morning?”
The receptionist wasted no time, (or subtlety). “My my, Clark, you look so stressed this morning. Are you okay?”
Of course I wasn’t okay. Amazons loved word traps and games of societal niceties. “Oh, you know,” I shrugged. “Just getting old. Nothing that I can’t handle. Though if you wanna talk stress, don’t get me started on those union negotiations, amiright?” A couple passerbys muttered agreement. “Like whose side are they on and where’s my money really going to?” More muttering. Office bitching. Another universal constant.
“I’m not Union,” Forrest said. Yeah. I knew that. But Beouf was Oakshire’s Teachers’ Union representative. Just saying the U word around her caused her ears perk up. She craned her neck just before walking out to the bus loop. Yeah, I said I didn’t need Tracy’s help. Probably wouldn’t need Beoufs help, either. Better safe than sorry and alert them to what was going on. I gave Beouf a wink. She winked back. “Would you like some chocolate?” Forrest said, reaching into her purse. “I got it just for you.”
We Littles must have some kind of superpower when it comes to not rolling our eyes. Just for me? Really? Could it be any more obvious? “I really should be on a diet,” I said. “But the thought is appreciated.”
“I’m just offering you a gift,” Forrest said. “I thought it was something special that we could share.” I could practically see the venom dripping from her teeth. If I said one thing wrong, she’d try to twist my words around as me being “cranky” or “fussy” or “snippy”, and go from there.
“Well if we’re sharing,” I said. I held out my hand. Even Amazons weren’t baby crazy enough to go kamikaze and poison themselves. She placed the “gift” in my hand: A round box of chocolates, tamper evident plastic wrapping removed. I opened the lid.
The box was already missing a chocolate. A glance at the inside of the lid indicated that it was a “chili flake bonbon”. Amazons like spicy food. It might not be a fact based in biology, but it’s definitely present in their sociology.
I felt a knot form in my stomach. This was training chocolate. I just knew it. Every Little with an internet connection and an ounce of self preservation instinct knew about training chocolate. Like a certain little blue pill it was designed with one clientele in mind but found success in a completely different market.
It was originally marketed as a “gentle” and “subtle” laxative that tasted like candy to a toddler. The original commercials had said it would help in potty training because kids would need to use the toilet more often. Instead the stuff both irritated and numbed the bowels simultaneously.
No Amazon parent bought this sort of thing for their potty training child, anymore. But there was a reason that they were still on the market and repackaged in fancy boxes made to look like gifts. I’d seen Halloween and Valentine variations too. Any holiday involving candy saw a spike in Little “accidents” and subsequent “adoptions”. If I ate this now, I’d be shitting my pants by lunch.
Typical Amazon stuff.
I looked into the empty slot in the middle of the box. It’s very possible that the chili flake was put in there as a red herring. A safe choice in a box full of poison. Either that, or she just chucked it in the garbage. “Have as many as you like,” the receptionist said. “No need to be shy.”
I put the lid back on the box and moved to go. “Thank you,” I said. “I’ll enjoy them later.” I was half tempted to say that my students might enjoy them as well, there being so many, but that would be laying it on a bit too thick.
Her hand shot out, blocking my chest as I made a move to walk around her desk. “Oh no, take one,” Miss Forrest said. “I insist.”
My nostrils flared. “You insist?”
“Yes sir,” she said. “I got them for you as a present. And it would be oh so rude of you to not let me see you enjoy at least one. Don’t you agree?” Oooooh, that was a good one. Calling me “sir” as if she really thought of us as equals. Forrest brought her “A” game today.
Think Clark. Think. I hadn’t planned on this. The chili flake had to have been safe. That’s why she ate it: To get rid of my safe option and I couldn’t refuse without falling into a circular logic trap that would surely trigger every crazy Amazon brain to rallying behind her.
I smiled, sweetly. “Why Mo-...I mean Miss Forrest,” I said. The look on the giant’s face suddenly looked a bit hot and bothered. It was almost like I’d just talked dirty to her. “You’re absolutely right.”
“Please forgive me my lapse in etiquette, Ma’am. I was only following your example.”
She was still dazed; not connecting dots. The “slip up” had thrown her off her game a bit. Good. “You were?”
“You said you wanted to share these with me, but you ate the first one without me.” I presented the box again. “Please. Share one with me. Let’s both eat one. Together.”
What I was suggesting was finally registering to her. “I couldn’t,” she said, inching away in her rolly chair. “Any more will go straight to my hips.” I was suddenly holding a poisonous snake.
“I’m going on a diet too. But this is special,” I said. “A gift. To share. Between friends. Right?”
I opened the lid again. “Right…” she said.
“I’ll have one, if you show me how,” I pressed. “I’ve never had them. Do I just pop one in my mouth or bite in half?“ Forrest’s hands had retreated to her chest, like little claws. She reminded me of a T-Rex; a T-Rex that was suddenly deathly afraid of chocolates.
These things were so strong that they’d work on an Amazon just as easily as me. Forrest would likely end up in diapers too if she had an accident. She probably wouldn’t be “adopted” out, but she might be forced to work wearing diapers “just in case”. And she definitely wouldn’t be allowed to take any Little as her own. Crazy cut both ways sometimes.
I’m not going to lie: As scared as I was, sometimes moments like these made it all worth it. Some Littles took up skydiving. Others climbed mountains with no safety harnesses. Me? I became a teacher.
Incidences like this one are another reason why I think Amazons are crazy. If one managed to figure out their particular quirks, you could play to them and they’d have no choice but to play along, no way to adapt.
Miss Forrest hemmed and hawed. Stalling. Looking for a way out of the rules she’d set down and not finding any. “Um…uh….um.” I had her stumped. If I was going to eat one, she would have to too in order to keep up the farce she’d weaved.
The gentle tones of the morning bell rang out over the intercom. Both of us breathed a sigh of relief. Her visibly. “Better get going. The buses will be unloading. Wouldn’t want you to be late for class.”
I ignored the way she phrased that last sentence as a slight against me. I’d won. She wouldn’t admit it, but I think she knew it. “Quite right, Miss Forrest.”
“Mr. Gibson,” a voice came up behind me. “I hope you’re not dawdling to avoid the responsibilities of your job, young man.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stuck out. It hadn’t been thirty seconds, and already Mrs. Brollish, Oakshire Elementary’s Principal for the last five years was standing behind me. Raine Forrest was the second most likely Amazon to see me fired and padded up. If you’re reading this, you now know the first.
I bit my tongue so hard it almost bled. Another lightbulb! Two in one morning. Not bad, Clark. Not bad. I replaced the lid and gave the box a slight rattle as I turned around. “Not at all, Mrs. Brollish,” I said, looking up. “Miss Forrest had just gifted me these wonderful chocolates.”
I re-opened the lid. Perfect! The laxative bonbons were a little jolted around, but they still looked very presentable. Better yet, one of them had shifted positions and was now occupying the chili flake middle space. “Would you like one?”
Damnit. I just couldn’t help myself! I held out the box, the lid open so that Brollish could see. Just as I’d hoped, a large, wrinkled, bony hand was making a beeline for the bonbon in the dead center.
“NOOOOOO!” Miss Forrest was falling all over herself, tumbling to the floor to slap the box out of my grasp. The chocolates went scattering to the floor.
“Oh no!” I yelled. “My present!” It was bullshit of course, but certain parts had to be played out.
Forrest was on her hands and knees. Finally! I was just a little bit taller than her, if only by an inch or so. “Ooops,” she said, looking right past me and up to our boss. “Butterfingers...?”
Mrs. Brollish was a wretched old beldam of an Amazon, but she was significantly quicker on the uptake than Miss Forrest. “Miss Forrest,” she said. “We’re going to have to talk...privately…” I felt her gaze shift to me. “Mr. Gibson,” she said curtly. “The buses?”
“Right away Ma’am.”
And I walked off, doing my best to hide my own smug expression and shit eating grin.