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i didn't care (you were the most exciting thing i'd ever known)

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The nurse’s office has stout white walls around stout white counters and chairs. The blue plastic bed Fig is laying on isn’t long enough to hold her spindly legs. There’s a poster on the wall above her head: Always remember to wash your hands! She moves one sticky palm away from the ice pack she’s pressing to her head and looks at the way the blood pools in the crevices there. It’s starting to harden around her nails and cling to her roots. She’s not crying. She stopped crying thirty minutes ago.

The nurse slips into the room. Fig doesn’t know her name, despite how often she’s stopped by this semester alone. She’s a friendly-looking human woman with brown skin and graying hair. She smiles sympathetically, which makes Fig feel worse, and says, “Hi, sweetie, is the ice helping?”

She shrugs. It has helped, actually, but it’s done nothing for her mood. “I guess. Did Sandralynn call you back?”

“Yes, she has. She’s on her way here from work right now. She should be here in about ten minutes.” The nurse pauses. “You know, Figueroth, this isn’t as uncommon as you may think. There’s a youth tiefling group at the Elmville community center, and I’m sure they’d be happy to meet you.”

“Thanks. I’ll check ‘em out.” No, she wouldn’t. She can’t stand the thought of people who know what she’s going through looking at her with those bleary concerned eyes, telling her to “be proud of who she is” and “we can make it through this together,”. She’d really rather not be going through it at all.

“Alright. I brought you another water bottle, so drink up, okay? If the skin opens up more, get someone to cast Cure Wounds as soon as possible.” The nurse pats her on the arm and steps out of the little curtained corner, closing the plastic sheet behind her.

Fig draws her knees up under her chin. One hand is still holding the ice down against the two pointed bones rising out of her skull. The other one is wrapped around her calves. Her fingers leave little red splotches against her pink-brown skin where she adjusts her grip. In this moment, head throbbing and eyes wrung out, she can’t help but feel that the timing was wrong. In the stories, tieflings emerge during climactic moments that reveal their devilish heritage. She should be in the woods, wearing a cloak or holding a staff. Instead, she’s following the lines of the wrinkles on her plastic bed with her eyes and wearing a pink tank top.

She flexes her hand against her knee. The red follows her nails in angry little lines. She pauses for a moment, and then smears her palm across her shirt. She looks at the fabric, where the hot shades slide against each other and make something new. She’s starting to feel a little sick when the curtains are parted.

“Figueroth,” Sandralynn says. She has her hair tied away from her face and a heavy backpack is slumping her shoulders down. She must’ve been in the middle of a mission. Fig feels a little smug.

“Baby, are you okay? You’re— good God, you’re so bloody. Let’s get you home so you can take a bath, alright?”

She’s scooped up to lean against her mother’s side. She tugs herself away quickly, her arm burning hot where Sandralynn had touched it. “I can walk,” she says. She’s not even sure if that’s true, but she’s willing to try.

The two of them walk out into the front office, where two girls are placing an attendance slip on the oak desk. They see Fig, blood dried across her forehead and a hand print on her shirt, and they push past each other to get back into the hallway. Fig knows those girls. One of them is on the cheer team with her, the other is in her Algebra 2 class. She eats lunch with those girls sometimes.

She supposes she should’ve seen that coming.

Sandralynn writes something on a sign-out sheet and holds Fig’s arm to lead her to the car. Fig climbs into the passenger seat and pulls the seat belt across herself. A tiny vermilion fingerprint lands just above the buckle. Fig folds her hands together and looks out the windshield. Sandralynn hops in and starts to pull out of the parking lot. It’s quiet for a minute, and then:

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Sandralynn doesn’t respond right away. Fig tries not to look at her, but from the corner of her eye she sees her gnawing on her lip. Fig’s jaw hurts. She realizes she’s been clenching it.

“I thought… I mean, there was a chance you’d just be an elf. I didn’t want you to feel different from everyone else if you didn’t have to.”

Whole lotta good that did, Fig thinks, remembering gym classes with no partners and lunches spent alone. “Does Dad know?”

There’s another empty moment. Sandralynn says, “No.”

Fig buries her head in her knees.

Once they’re home, Fig hurls herself up the stairs. She can hear Gilear starting to say something, but she tugs open the bathroom door and locks herself inside before she can process anything. She takes a wet breath, and then moves to look in the mirror.
She isn’t as shocked as she thinks she should be by her reflection. She’s still in her pink tank top and jean skirt. Her hair is still dark brown and curling around her ears. She turns her neck and looks at the remaining patches where her skin is a warm brown, surrounded by the rose that’s been creeping across the rest of her body. This has been a long time coming, she realizes.

It takes her a while to look up. She’s worried that something will change if she does. It’s a silly worry, of course. The horns are already there. She’d felt them, a dull pressure under her ice pack. She thinks that, maybe, if she ignores them, they’ll just go away.

They don’t, though.

They’re just barely visible above her hair. They're tiny little things, leaning outwards with a slight curve. The left one is a bit longer than the right. They’re a frightening red color, but Fig figures out quickly that they’re still bloody. She dips her head into the sink and watches through squinted eyes as the water runs pink down the drain. She’s starting to kind of hate the color.

She’s rubbing her head carefully on a white bath towel when she hears Gilear start yelling. She’s pulling her shoes and socks off when Sandralynn joins in. She’s cranking the bath faucet as hot as it can go when a hand slams onto granite down in the kitchen. She’s holding her pointy ears under the water, and it’s silent.

It’s a week later. Gilear has been steadily packing his things. He’s in the basement right now, going through old photos and various plaques and awards. Sandralynn is in the kitchen, flicking at paperwork and drinking a coffee. Gilear’s coat is hanging by the door. His wallet is poking out of his pocket. Fig stares at it, and then says, “Gonna go for a walk.”

“Stay safe, baby,” Sandralynn calls. Fig wrinkles a little at the nickname, but she snatches the wallet and heads out the door.

The music store is called “Riff Town”, which Fig thinks is stupid. It’s kind of small, but so is everything in Elmville. There’s a central table where a wiry satyr with his hooves on the table is flipping through a romance novel. He closes it when she walks in and grins.

 

“Hey, kid,” he says, “welcome to Riff Town! What’re you lookin’ for?”

Fig falters, but only for a moment. She snaps her eyes around the display room until they land on a wall stacked with electric basses. That’ll do, she thinks.

“A bass,” she says, and it takes a conscious effort not to say please. The satyr’s eyebrows shoot up, but he swings away from his desk and motions for her to follow him to the wall.

“You’re sure you didn’t just, like, mispronounce ukulele, right? People get it wrong all the time. Don’t be embarrassed.” She glares at him, and he laughs. “Damn, little devil. Alright, take a look.”

The wall is covered in shiny four-stringed instruments of different colors and shapes. She reaches out and plucks the thickest string on one and listens to the dull thrum it makes.

“Not gonna get too much sound without an amp, kid. D’ya have one?”

“No,” she says. She’s starting to feel out of her depth, but she’s not gonna let this guy know. He smiles at her.

“I’ll go grab one for you. You looking for brand new, or is used okay?”

Fig thinks for a moment. It would be so easy to swipe Gilear’s card and forget about it, but— well. He’s not her dad, but he’s still… something. She sighs.

“Used is fine,” she says. The satyr nods and swings into the back room.

With a moment to herself, Fig begins to examine the wall. There’s one right in the middle, shiny and pink and curvy. She scrunches her nose at it and looks at the ones around it. There’re spiky blue ones, thin black ones, one sturdy-looking lime green one on the end. The one that catches her eye the most, though, is a bright red one with a shimmering silver pickguard. She lifts it off the wall with a cautious reverence. The satyr comes back out with a boxy amp with some logo on the speakers. He grins at her.

“Good choice. She matches your horns, don’tcha think?”

She preens at that. This guy is the first person she’s talked to since her horns started coming in. It’s nice to stand out in this way, she decides.

“Now, since this is your first rodeo, I’m gonna give you a little discount. That bass would normally be about 600 gold pieces, but I’m gonna bundle it with the amp and give ‘em both to you for 470. S’that work for you?”

“Yeah, sounds good!” She tries to keep her voice level. She fishes Gilear’s card out of her wallet. The picture on it is some forest in Fallinell. She hands it to the satyr and is immensely grateful when he doesn’t look at it too closely. He slides it across a reader and hands it back to her with a receipt.

“So, you startin’ a band?”

She shakes her head. He raises an eyebrow.

“Might wanna get on that. Nobody’s really into the bass playing solo.” He ruffles her on the head, not avoiding her horns. “Have a good one, okay?”

She nods. She pulls the strap across her shoulder and grabs the amp by its handle.

“Thanks,” she says after a moment’s hesitation.

“No big,” he says. “Stop by anytime.”

A detailed drawing of Fig standing in a music shop, rows of basses behind her and other music paraphernalia around her. She wears a childish pink outfit and holds a shiny red bass with an awed expression.

She hurries into her room when she gets home so that nobody sees her (though she takes a second to put Gilear’s wallet back) and plugs in her amp. She doesn’t really know anything about bass, but she starts working her first two fingers on the strings and pushing on random frets, and it almost feels like breathing. She cranks the volume.

Inevitably, Sandralynn hears her. She knocks first, but when Fig doesn’t respond, she walks in anyway.

“What is— Figueroth Faeth, where did you get that?”

Fig stops plucking. “Who’s my real dad?” Sandralynn makes an aborted sound in her throat.

“Figueroth, you know I can’t tell you that.”

“If you’re not gonna tell me who my dad is, I’m not telling you where I got this sick bass.”

Sandralynn rubs her temples. “Baby, I really can’t tell you. He’s a... dangerous man. The last thing I want is for you to get wrapped up with devil problems.”

Fig puts her bass down on the floor. “I think I’m pretty wrapped up as it is, Sandralynn.”

Sandralynn’s mouth opens. It closes. “Did you just use my first name?”

Fig holds her gaze. She sits on her hands so they won’t shake. Sandralynn exhales, short and weighted. She leaves the room and closes the door behind her.

The summer is tense. Fig doesn’t have any close friends from middle school, so she spends most of her time practicing her bass and researching Hellish politics. Her left hand is heavily calloused by the time freshman year comes around.

She’s going to Aguefort, of course. Nobody as cool as she is goes to Mumple. Both Gilear and Sandralynn offer to take her back-to-school shopping, but she opts for taking 50 gold from each of them and raiding the trash punk store at the Elm Valley Mall. She’s all denim and pleather and spikes by the time she’s out. Sandralynn doesn’t say anything.

She misses the bus on the first day, so Gilear picks her up. His car is tiny, with a dent in the bumper and a lot of empty fast food containers decomposing on the non-driver seats. Actually, there’s a fry container digging into Gilear’s back, too. Fig doesn’t know how he lives like this.

“Figueroth,” Gilear says as they’re turning the corner into the parking lot, “where is your backpack?”

“I don’t have one,” she says. “I have a notebook in my bass case.”

“No pencils?”

“If I need them, I’ll get them from someone. Why do you even care? You’re not my dad.”

Gilear sighs. “I may not be your biological father, but I still raised you as my daughter. I love you very much, Figueroth, and I know you’re going to do well.”

“Okay. I’m gonna go inside.”

She doesn’t look behind her as she enters the school.

She finds her locker right where she left it after orientation, and she pulls it open to paste a few band posters she snagged from outside the Black Pit on the inside of the door. She pulls her pack of cloves out of her bass case, lights one up with the lighter she stole from Sandralynn’s ranger kit, and leans back to take a drag. There’s a brunette walking around with flyers.

“Sign-ups for the Battle of the Bands open next Monday! Winner plays homecoming! Don’t miss your shot!” She hears her say to some elven kid across the hall from her. She props a leg against her locker as the girl comes up to her.

She pushes a flyer in her direction. “Sign-ups for—”

“Battle of the Bands, I heard you.” Fig puts her clove behind her ear. “I’m Fig, who are you?”

The girl flashes a white-toothed smile. “I’m Penelope Everpetal. I run the Yearbook club and, like, a ton of other stuff. Are you interested?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Fig says. “Do you think it’s gonna be cool?”

Penelope laughs. She’s pretty in a sort of airbrushed way. “I’m organizing it, so... duh!” Fig nods.

“Cool. I’ll probably sign up. Just gotta find some other musicians that aren’t super lame.” Penelope smiles and opens her mouth to speak, but she’s interrupted by a rumbling voice from the end of the hallway.

“Yeah, he fuckin’ plays bloodrush, dude, he’s the ball. He’s the fuckin’ ball, dude!” There’s a beefy half-orc with a crew cut gesturing at something Fig can’t see over the sea of students.

“I’m actually not the ball—”

“You’re The Ball, that’s your fuckin’ name now.”

There’s a clattering of metal and a ripple of laughter as Fig watches a small green form fly through the air and into the garbage can. A tiny goblin kid hoists himself out of it and rubs his head. His newsboy cap is a little crooked.

“I suppose I’m technically the ball this time, but not always!” He says, grin toothy and eyes frantically moving through the crowds. Nobody’s really paying attention to him anymore, though. His face falls, but only slightly, and he pulls himself out of the trash. Fig looks back at Penelope.

“Like I said, super lame,” she says. Penelope laughs.

“You’re a bitch, girl. I, like, love it. Do you sing?”

“Uh, yeah, but mostly I play bass.” Penelope gives her a weird look.

“That’s cool, I guess. Well, I’m a senior, so if you need anything, just, like, let me know, okay?” Fig pops a thumbs-up and Penelope steps lightly away.

Fig looks at the flyer in her hands. It’s just some clipart and Fantasy Times New Roman, but she pins it to her locker just the same.

Her first period is Solesian History. She’s never liked history as a class too much. Memorizing arbitrary dates and names has never been her strong suit. The classroom is a little stuffy, but that is due in part to the frankly unreasonable amount of freshman clambering over desks and tossing papers. Fig grabs a seat in the back and drops her feet onto the desk in front of her. Her platforms graze the seatback.

More kids shuffle into the room and find seats. A tiny satyr girl in a huge hoodie blinks at Fig’s shoes.

“Hey, uh, I’m, like, so sorry, but could you, like, move a tiny bit?”

Fig, nearly fully zoned out at that point, startles and looks up. “Huh?”

The satyr shakes her head and clutches her backpack. “Oh, it was nothing, it was so dumb, honestly—”

“Oh! Yeah, I can move. No biggie. I’m Fig, who’re you?” The girl opens her mouth and then closes it. She opens it once more, but this time she speaks.

“I’m Zelda.” Fig crosses her ankles so they take up less space on her desk and Zelda sits down. She places her backpack on the floor next to her hooves. “I, um, like your horns.”

“Oh, these?” Fig turns her eyes upwards. She can’t see them without a mirror, but she can feel their weight, the constant tilt on the left side of her head that she really hopes looks nonchalant. They’ve gotten rapidly longer, twisting into bone-white spears with pink tips. Zelda has horns too, thick ones that curl back in a way that frames her face nicely. “Yeah, they’re pretty rad. Yours are nice, too.”

Zelda smiles. She scrabbles her hand through her bangs and tugs them into her face. Just as she does, a large green form barrels into her side. A half-orc guy in a letter jacket slumps into the desk next to Fig’s.

“Ha, watch it, goat girl!” He says as he throws his arms behind his head. Zelda is hunched in on herself, eyes burning into the wood of her desk. Fig frowns.

“Are you the guy from earlier? With The Ball?” The half-orc groans.

“God. If I get stuck as ‘the guy who threw The Ball’ this year, I’m dropping out for real.”

Fig backpedals. “No, I mean, it ruled. That kid’s a total geek.”

“You don’t even know, man! He was giving out business cards. Like, printed and laminated with his number.” Fig winces on the goblin’s behalf. She kinda feels for him, as far as trouble making friends goes. Not that she’d ever say that to this guy.

“That’s so embarrassing,” she says, because she’s still learning how to do the whole ‘being mean’ thing. The guy seems to agree, though, because he reaches out a calloused hand.

“Ragh Barkrock,” he says. “I play bloodrush. You into bloodrush?”

Fig has vague memories of watching a bloodrush game on a crystal with some of Sandralynn’s friends when she was younger. She grabs Ragh’s hand. “Fig Faeth,” she says. “Bloodrush rules. I love when they, uh, rush. And when there’s blood.”

Ragh narrows his eyes, but Fig’s deception must be higher than his insight because he nods approvingly. “Hell yeah, dude. You get it.”

A bell rings. The class doesn’t quiet down, but Fig takes it as an excuse to stop talking to Ragh. She watches the last of the students file in: a goth elf, a cute butch girl with a unibrow, and a tall dark-skinned girl with fiery hair and wings. That girl sits right in the front row, neatly organizing her notebooks and pens in front of her. Her eyes are huge. They flutter around the room at a hummingbird’s pace. Fig tears her gaze away before any eye contact can occur.

The teacher starts talking. Fig stops listening.

Fig goes through the rest of her morning classes in an herbal haze (not that the cloves get her high. She just likes the flavor). The Intro to Bard Studies class was one she was, mortifyingly enough, excited for. It proves disappointing, though, when the other students are plucking their lutes and tooting their panpipes and the two seniors who effectively run the class are flirting the whole time. Like, nasty theater kid flirting. If she wasn’t so grossed out, she would’ve fallen asleep.

Lunch comes like a parting of clouds. Fig drags herself through the line, really starting to kick herself for not eating breakfast. The unseasoned mashed potatoes make her stomach rumble as the lunch lady scoops it onto her tray.

“Thanks, uh…” Fig scrambles for a nametag. “Doreen! Thank you, Doreen.” She beams and the lunch lady cocks an eyebrow.

“It’s my job, kid.” Her voice is raspy in a cool smoker way.

“Exactly! You’re a shining pillar of the working class among a bunch of stuffy academics.”

Doreen huffs a laugh and then coughs into her shoulder. “Keep the line movin’.”

Fig scans the cafeteria for an open table. She sees a few upperclassmen in their pre-established friend groups, along with several scattered freshman eating alone or together in silence. Near the room’s entrance, she spots Ragh sitting down across from Penelope and a few other blond people. She steps over to their table.

“Hey, Ragh, Penelope.” She nods to both of them. The blond guy next to Penelope looks at her blankly.

“Oh, um… Twig! Hey, girl.” Penelope says. She smiles, but her jaw is set. Fig sits next to Ragh.

“It’s Fig, actually. No big deal, though.” Fig takes a bite of her potatoes. Penelope glances at the blonde elven girl sitting on her other side.

“Okay,” she says. “Well, anyway, this is Aelwyn, and this is my boyfriend, Dayne.” She motions to the girl and the boy as she says their names. Fig nods. She’s been nodding a lot. Her neck kind of hurts. The blond guy— Dayne— speaks up.

“So are you, like, evil?” Fig frowns.

“Depends who you ask, I guess,” she says. “Why?”

“Like—” Dayne motions to the top of his head. “—you know, the horns. Are you, like, a demon?” Penelope takes a slurp of her applesauce. Aelwyn is staring at Fig.

“Actually, I’m part devil—” she starts to say, but Aelwyn cuts her off.

“Why are you sitting here? You’re a freshman.” She turns to Dayne and Penelope, fully ignoring Ragh. “Aren’t you going to make her leave? We were supposed to be putting together a setlist.”

“I don’t mind,” Fig says. She steals a glance at Ragh, who is horking down some chicken and clearly not listening. “Are you guys in a band together?” Aelwyn rolls her eyes.

“Yeah,” Penelope says. “We’re called Local Royalty. We played at the Black Pit once.”

“I play cajon,” Dayne says. “It’s a type of drum. In case you didn’t know.”

“Aelwyn plays ukulele, and we both sing.” Penelope adjusts her hair so it’s out of her face. “We’re, like, really good.”

“What does Ragh play?” Fig asks. She gets a blank look. She turns to Ragh, who has frozen with some bone in his mouth.

“Obviously he’s not in the band,” Dayne says. He reaches across the table and hits Ragh on the arm. “Does he look like he could work an instrument?” Penelope laughs and leans into his side.

“I mean—” Fig starts to say, but Ragh shakes his head.

“He’s right, man. I tried guitar once. It went real bad.”

“Maybe you’re more of a percussionist?” She smiles. Aelwyn shakes her head.

“We already have one. Are you done here?” Penelope shrugs at Fig a little, but doesn’t say anything. Dayne is horking down a chicken finger. Ragh is tapping his fingers on the table.

“Yeah, uh, okay. I have—I mean, I’m meeting someone anyway. Later.” Fig salutes and scrambles to dump her lunch in the trash. She doesn’t feel like asking if she can bring her tray out of the cafeteria, so she doesn’t. She heads for the bathroom and shuts herself in a stall.

She isn’t mad. She most certainly isn’t sad. She closes the toilet seat and sits down on the lid. On the inside of the stall door, a hastily posted sheet of paper advertises the Battle of the Bands. Fig looks at it, hard.

She’s gonna win that fucking battle. She has to.