Tanna looked baffled and tilted her head so that her right ear succumbed a little to gravity. “No, of course not,” she said, her darkish beige brow wrinkling with concern. “What makes you think that?”
Moo hadn’t expected this question and now cursed himself for not thinking of it. “I… Um-” Sheer adrenaline made him think of an answer. “I know I’m not very popular and I wondered if that’s what it was.”
His sister slumped a little, although it seemed to be in exaggerated sympathy. “Moo, Little Brother, you smell fine. They can see you don’t feel confident so they give you space until you’re ready to meet them.” She picked up a piece of fruit to eat but her gaze lingered on him, heavy with the concern about him.
Moo thought of a comeback to that, but if Tanna was convinced that that was his reason for asking, he wouldn’t push it any further. “Thank you, Sister.”
Soon after that Tanna had a class to attend and left him to finish the contents of his own lunch tray. Which was just as well because Sar’ Helm had been hanging around some distance behind her for some time, chatting to a kilma he didn’t recognise.
Moo hoped Helm would end the conversation and come over as soon as he saw Moo was free.
He didn’t. Why isn’t he coming over? Moo wondered, and finished his lunch. He suddenly didn’t feel like eating it: not hungry, and very conscious of his chubby belly. But he wanted to see if Helm would come to him, and even if he didn’t, Moo should wait a while so that the taller kilmi could finish his conversation. And the food was rightthere so Moo ate it.
By the time his meal was all gone, Helm had finished talking – and still he hadn’t come over. Instead he looked for something to eat and picked distractedly at what was on offer at the canteen.
Moo took a deep breath and went over. “Hello Sar’ Helm,” he said. He almost managed to hide the shake in his voice, although the tone that implied an apology was exactly as he thought it should be, in case Helm was still angry with him. He wasn’t sure why he felt nervous since Tanna had already convinced him he didn’t smell.
Or did she simply not notice it because she was family? Did she smell the same way?
Helm didn’t answer. Instead he looked… inconvenienced and passed Moo to get to another section of the canteen.
“Um- Helm?” Moo said after him and tentatively followed.
Helm pretended he wasn’t there, so Moo took over inspecting the nearest canteen offerings (packets of things, fruits, bottles of drink and the like) to disguise his mounting panic and watched Helm out of the corner of his eye. When Helm sat down and settled into his lunch, Moo went over. He sat down opposite Helm.
Helm ignored him.
Moo immediately clamped down on the urge to cry. He wasn’t going to!
“Helm… What’s wrong?”
Nothing. Not even the flicker of an eye in his direction. Helm picked distractedly, daintily at his noodles.
“Helm?” Was the friendship over? What was he going to do without him? “Helm!”
“What?” Helm snapped. Moo didn’t like the distance he saw in his eyes.
Moo ducked his head. “What have I done wrong?” He hoped – trusted Tanna – that he didn’t smell and that Helm’s strange behaviour was about something else.
Helm huffed and shook his head. He continued eating his noodles and ignored Moo.
Moo developed a case of the shakes, stood and walked away.
Helm watched him go in little glances; he wasn’t about to let anyone know he cared that Moo was leaving him. It wasn’t that he cared in a big way, it was just that Moo was clearly trying to con him. This was manipulation, pure and simple!
First of all was Moo’s little power trip where he’d wheedled Helm to tell him what was wrong. Moo already knew what was wrong: he was a whining little parasite! All ‘Ohno, I can’t afford any clothes at all!’ and ‘Is something wrong? Oh, puh-leaze tell me Helm!’ He hung off Helm all the time and expected him to do all the work of being in a friendship for him. Conniving little bitch.
He wasn’t going to leech off Helm any more. It was over.
During the next couple of weeks Helm continued with his life. He went to parties when he felt alone. He snitched (or stitched) on other kilm when he felt powerless. He walked off by himself when he wanted peace and quiet from others and their selfish behaviour.
At first he didn’t notice how he felt. He was free of one more emotional and financial leech, and that was a good thing. But gradually he realised that the laziest non-friend he knew – Sar’ Muss – was among the best friends he’d had, as useful as his papaver dealer or a particularly good sexual partner. He went to parties in search of better friends than Muss, but the outgoing and extrovert kilm he met there never shut up and were completely obsessed with what they felt, what they thought and whatthey wanted. Muss had a way of keeping his needs non-explicit and listening to Helm that none of those party-heads had. He really seemed to care what Helm thought and wanted.
Muss was a trainee engineer, and Helm couldn’t have found this subject matter more boring. It was also very different from Helm’s area of expertise, and Muss had told him in any case that he was struggling with his grades. In a flash of insight Helm realised there was no reason to stitch Muss up because he didn’t threaten Helm’s appearance to the tutors of being a great student. And while Muss never did anything interesting enough for Helm to snitch on, it also meant there was an honesty to their relationship.
Or as honest as any friendship could be. There was an air of honesty at least, and Helm increasingly found that he missed that.
And as much as Helm had resented Muss’ never-ending passivity in their relationship… There was something he missed about Muss’ quietness. Helm could have both peace and company at the same time, with Muss around.
Muss was the lesser of the many evils of having to have relationships at Altair.
One day Helm approached a very miserable-looking Muss, and offered his friendship, along with an offer Muss couldn’t refuse.
“What- really?” Moo exclaimed, before he wondered if he sounded too accusatory. He asked more gently, “Y… You want to be friends again?”
Sar’ Helm smiled his charming, crooked smile. “Of course Sar’ Muss.”
Moo felt his stomach unclench for the first time in days. He felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him but in a good way. “Thank you,” he almost whispered. The relief was so intense that he wanted to cry.
“Do you feel like going shopping again?” Helm asked, as upbeat and engaged as Moo ever remembered him. “I’ve had another payout from mother.”
Moo took a deep breath to stop himself automatically saying no. He didn’t feel like accepting such a thing (he already felt indebted to Sar’ Helm many times over), but he understood that refusing the gift meant refusing the friendship.
He looked up at his Great Friend, and accepted.
Make internet friends!
( Sending... )
(Saturday, Jan 12. 2019 11:32 AM)
For Brian – Umm… not sure what you’re talking about?