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Ringed By Ordeals

"If you're just going to cry again," Tam snarled, "I'll just go by myself. After all, I can walk on my own, it's not like you have a car or anything."

Nereid bit down on whatever it was she was going to say and swallowed hard. It wasn't like she could win any verbal argument with Tam anyway. "No, I promised I'd take you to see the apartment." She mastered the urge to cry by biting her lower lip very hard, and turned to the door.

"Fine," he snapped, and followed her out.

Once they were out of the Young Cosmics complex, he said, contritely, "You just caught me by surprise is all. I really thought that we were looking for an apartment for us, not just me."

"I can't afford to move out," she said, running a hand through her hair and thinking vaguely that she needed a haircut. "I've got an arrangement with the Cosmics so I don't have to live on campus or with my parents. But when your temporal displacement grant comes through, you'll be able to afford a little place here in town while you look for work."

"But if I can afford a small place," Tam said, taking her hand, "surely the two of us could afford something better together."

"I really can't, Tam," she said, and did not revisit the terms of her contract with the Cosmics, and how they paid her more if she lived at the complex -- something she didn't really understand, but to which she had gladly agreed.

"Oh," he said. After a moment, in a hurt tone, "I thought you liked me."

"I do!" she protested immediately, squashing the voice in the back of her head that said Do you really?

"I mean," he said, "I thought, you know, that you wanted to be with me. Like I want to be with you."

"Oh, Tam," she said, suddenly exhausted. "We've been through all this before."

"How can you expect me to go off on my own and leave you?" he said. "You're my rescuer, and I don't want to leave you when you need me."

"I..." She swallowed what she'd been about to say: I don't need you. Because that would hurt his feelings. Instead, she said, "Tam, the place we're looking at for you is ten blocks away from the complex."

Nereid turned the corner onto Liberty Street and stopped short.

Arrayed before them for the next two blocks were pavilions full of artists and artisans, displays of jewelry and woodcarving and metalwork prominent at least at this end of the street fair. Nereid was inevitably reminded of the Industrial Era Faire, and surreptitiously looked around for Robin and Marian.

"Well, this is pleasant," he said, grinning, and then he tugged her in among the merchants.

She had to admit to herself that they had similar tastes, at least in art and jewelry. They both grinned over the glass globes filled with blue glass water and surprisingly realistic fish. They glanced at each other dubiously over the giant metal chicken sculptures. They admired the same jewelry -- he even liked the same stones she did, down to ooohing and aaaahing over the golden amber lights of a particular necklace, or the citrine and garnet ring.

He was nice to be around when things were like this, she thought. When they were out, seeing more of the city. Not when they were at home, where they always seemed to be arguing over dishes, her lack of cooking ability, or her (to him) unreasonable demands that he use a condom (what he kept calling a Fromm or a prophylactic). She made a mental note to herself -- not for the first time -- to get to the clinic to get started on the Pill.

Nereid was sad when they ran out of street fair and had to return to their purposeful walking. The day was hot and brassy in a way that portended much more weather of the sort once June arrived, and this neighborhood didn't have a lot of shade. They walked in silence, just a little too fast to be called strolling, though she noticed Tam was looking around him, eyeing the little houses and larger blocky apartment buildings with suspicion.

She stopped in front of the brown, pebble-fronted box of an apartment building. "Here we are," she said as cheerily as she could.

Tam peered up at the building and then said, "I don't like the neighborhood. Too many of those sorts."

Nereid knew, from an earlier argument, that "those sorts" was his compromise for not using the N word or any of the other shockingly offensive words that came so easily into his everyday conversation.

"Well, we're here now, why don't we at least take a look?" she said, pulling open the glass door.

He sighed, rolled his eyes, and walked in.

The agent showing the apartment was a razor-thin middle-aged woman with bleached blonde hair that didn't move from its flawless Martha Stewart coiffure and a navy blue skirt suit. Her hard eyes skimmed over Nereid and settled on Tam. "Welcome! You're Mr. Lane then?" she said, reaching to shake his hand.

Tam lit up, giving the woman a warm smile and pressing her hand lingeringly. "Call me Tam," he purred. "And you must be Aileen?" He tucked the woman's hand into the crook of his arm, turning to regard the small living room as if gazing upon a palace.

The realtor fluttered and simpered, guiding Tam on a tour of the living room and kitchenette, then into the bedroom (Tam laughingly calling it a boudoir), and then the microscopic bathroom. Nereid leaned against the doorjamb, simmering in something that was a mix of anger and embarrassment and wretchedness.

When the pair emerged from the bathroom, the realtor was laughing and touching her hair, and Tam still held her other hand captive and had turned the full wattage of his smile on her. "Well, what do you think of the place?" the realtor said. "You know, it's a good deal, and likely to go quickly in this neighborhood."

"Well, I wouldn't want to miss out on such a good deal," Tam said. "My friend will write a check for the deposit," he added, without even looking at Nereid.

She endured the next five minutes -- the writing of the check, the mental calculations of just how much was left in her account after that, the laughter that worked on her nerve endings.

The realtor saw them to the door, and stood, holding Nereid's check in one hand and waving with the other. "Remember, Tam, we'll need first and last month's rent and a para deposit before the first of June!" she called in her weedy voice.

When they were out of sight, Tam slid his arm around Nereid's waist and kissed her neck. "See? I could have anyone I want, and I still pick you. You're my girl, all mine. Don't stay at the Cosmics' place, baby. You're so much better than any of them. None of them like you, especially now you've got me. Move out with me and I'll take care of you." He pulled her to a stop and drew up her hand. Before she could say anything, he slid a ring onto her finger.

She stared, first with amazement, then with dawning horror, at the lovely garnet and citrine ring the two of them had admired less than an hour earlier. "Tam, how did you get this?"

His brilliant smile lost its shine. "I got it. That's all that's important."

"You don't have any money yet," she said, turning a deeply troubled gaze on him. "Tam, where did you get the money?"

A white-hot flare of rage crossed his face. "It's none of your damned business!" he hissed, his hand closing painfully on hers. "I give you a present -- one you wanted! -- to apologize and all you can do is accuse me of unspecified crimes. Is it any wonder none of your teammates likes you? You're just so damned paranoid and crazy." He threw her hand aside as if it burned him, turned, and stalked off.

She yanked the ring off her hand and leaned into a nearby doorway, biting her lip. Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry, don't cry. If you cry, you'll wet yourself like a baby, like he said, like the baby you are.

When she'd fought the wave down, she walked quickly back to the street fair, hoping the brisk walk and the hot day would explain her no-doubt blotchy face.

She found the pavilion easily, and as she held out the ring and opened her mouth for explanations, the merchant gave her a pitying look. "Your friend already explained," she said. "I hope you find some help for this obsession you've got. The price is $130. I take checks and credit cards."

Nereid recoiled as if she'd been struck, horrified and appalled, and entirely unable to form words. She pulled out her checkbook again and wrote the check in silence. The merchant gave the ring a rub with a polishing cloth and tucked it into a box for her, and said, "Thank you," loudly when Nereid handed her to check. By this time, of course, everyone at the pavilion was staring, and Nereid shoved the box into her pocket and ducked her head, hurrying away like a kicked dog.

She avoided everyone as she entered the compound, even though it was time for a team meeting, and slunk back to her apartment, dreading the moment she was going to have to face Tam. What if someone recognized her name? What if someone told her mother?

When she opened the door, the television was on and Tam was sitting at the computer. He looked up mildly and said, "So what's for takeout tonight, since you don't cook?"


Note from the Author:

Posting today because No One Will Read Anything this Thursday. :) And yes, I am trying to come up with something worse than a bucket of horse piss.

Can we get up into the top 10 again? Vote for WCS!

Date: 2011-11-23 12:41 am (UTC)
finch: (Default)
From: [personal profile] finch
Can I punch Tam? Like, if I make a donation, can you write a drabble where I punch him? Or make some someone else does it soon?

Date: 2011-11-23 01:58 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I like this as a fundraising idea!

Date: 2011-11-23 01:24 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
....does he get a comeuppance?

Date: 2011-11-23 01:58 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I think in this case, I'm not gonna play coy. The answer is: yes.

Date: 2011-11-24 08:17 am (UTC)
yyzeff: (Default)
From: [personal profile] yyzeff
Can we at least have it for Christmas? c.c

Date: 2012-01-29 12:55 am (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
I don't think I can wait that long. And I know Christmas has already passed. Reading the bits with Tam and Nereid is painful.

Date: 2012-10-08 12:56 pm (UTC)
wispfox: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wispfox
Good. I hate him and his awful treatment of someone he claims he loves and who didn't want to be with him at all!

Date: 2017-03-14 10:06 am (UTC)
cosmicdawn: a fox smoking happily (Default)
From: [personal profile] cosmicdawn
The Nereid/Tam sections are so getting to me (new reader binge reading through all this wondrousness). I'm just yelling at the screen wanting to save her (or maybe a part of myself?) and wishing the worst on this abusive bastard.


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