Vrian is busy loading his plate once more with cheese sandwiches and potato salad. He has had a hard morning, and requires refueling. He is at the age when he requires excessive refueling even when he's sleeping in, if he were in a position to do so, of course.
Vrian is seldom in a position to eat food that tastes this good, however, and is taking full advantage of the "free lunch".
Estragen pops her head around the corner to see what needs refilling.
Vrian is doing his best to make that "everything".
Estragen she has learned to stay out of the traffic flow when people are hungry.
Estragen: Oh, wow, you must really like to eat.
Estragen has no tact and very few social graces.
Vrian turns beet red, and pulls his hand back from the tempting sweet roll he was about to add to his plate.
Estragen starts to clear away the empties as she squints at the boy who is piling on the food.
Vrian mumbles an apology, and something that sounds vaguely like "I didn't want it to go to waste".
Estragen: Hey don't worry there's lots more.
Vrian isn't used to the concept of there being an unlimited quantity of food available.
Estragen: My Ma always said boys are just stomachs with legs.
Vrian has fortunately not yet been exposed to the common Sime view that all Gens fit that definition.
Estragen: But hey, you look a little peaked. Are you okay?
Vrian think it's nice to have someone concerned about him, after his own brother was so worried about Bibi, instead.
Vrian: I'm fine. It's just...well, it's been a long morning.
Estragen: Oh, did you have to do your chores before you came in to donate? That can make you real tired.
Estragen remembers her morning that starts before sun up and commiserates with the boy.
Vrian: Well, it's not that, really. I'd be doing the chores, anyhow. It's just that, well....I'd never donated before.
Estragen: Oh! [the light comes on]
Vrian: It was a lot harder than I thought it'd be.
Estragen: Well, Hajene Bibi is just the sweetest thing isn't she? I know I was scared out of my mind when she did it to me the first time.
Vrian is glad to have someone he can talk to about it, who won't go tattling to his father.
Vrian: ....You were?
Vrian didn't think real grown-ups got that scared.
Estragen: Oh, you should have seen me. Almost wet my pants. Think I did in fact. You wouldn't think somebody that little could hold on so tight.
Vrian worried about the pants issue, himself, although a strategic visit to the rest room headed off the worst danger.
Vrian: Yeah. She's strong. Are all Simes that strong?
Estragen keeps picking up empties.
Vrian politely reaches over to stack two plates that are a bit out of Estragen's easy reach. He is unaware that he has revealed that he was struggling against Bibi's hold.
Estragen: Well, the other ones around here stay away from us Gens as much as possible. I guess they all are though. Saw one holding up a wagon while the other put on a new wheel.
Estragen smiles a thanks at Vrian.
Estragen: But you know how she just keeps talkin' and talkin' until you just sort of...
Vrian: Hajene Bibi's friend said that donating gets easier, with practice?
Estragen: Oh, yeah it does. Well, it did for me. The next time I managed not to wet myself.
Vrian smiles back, weakly.
Estragen has a pretty happy-go-lucky outlook, at least when her mother isn't around.
Vrian: You weren't scared the next time?
Estragen: I said I didn't wet myself. I didn't say I wasn't scared. It's those last four squigglies.
Vrian: Four squigglies?
Estragen: You know, the laterals. They don't feel like the others.
Vrian shudders involuntarily.
Vrian: No, they don't.
Estragen has stopped clearing up and has set her tray down so she can get to talkin'.
Vrian: It's like being licked by a hungry cougar. One who's decided to maybe sample a potential dinner.
Vrian's voice quavers.
Estragen: Hmmm, feels more like worms crawlin' to me. You know, like leeches. Ever been bit by leeches?
Vrian: Only a couple of times. I don't have much time for swimming, with the farm and all. Nasty critters.
Estragen: Yeah they are. But I tried real hard not to think about it and after awhile it stopped botherin' me so much.
Vrian considers that for a moment.
Vrian: How long did it take, before that happened?
Estragen still gets a bit skittish when the "squigglies" come out.
Estragen: Well, I been workin' here 'bout a year. They won't let a Gen work here if he don't donate.
Vrian: Oh. So that's why you did it? So you could get a job?
Vrian can understand being that desperate for cash.
Estragen: Well, not at first. At first it was just to help Ma out when they had extra people. But when I established I had to donate or they wouldn't let me help Ma.
Vrian: So you didn't really have much choice about it? ~~ sympathetic ~~ I didn't, either. The farm's mortgaged, and with my dad losing his job, well...
Estragen: Well, yeah I did. But Ma is kinda hard to say no to. Besides she worked a lot of different jobs to keep all us kids fed and a roof over us. Least I could do was help.
Estragen: I hear ya.
Vrian: I guess my dad wouldn't have given me too much of a hard time, if I'd backed out. But who wants to be a coward?
Estragen: You don't look like a coward to me.
Estragen has NO tact.
Estragen: I don't think a coward would be standin' around eatin'. He'd be runnin' like his a-- er tail was on fire.
Vrian: Well, she's already done her worst, right? Might as well enjoy the perks that go along with being...well, a Sime's milk cow.
Estragen: Milk cow?
Estragen being female has certainly come to terms with the fact that she will someday be a milk cow for her own screaming horde, but why would Vrian think he was one?
Vrian: I mean, it's not like there's anything more worth taking, for a while, right? Simes feed on the stuff they take from Gens, right? And Hajene Bibi harvests it for them, like a farmer milking his dairy herd.
Estragen: Well, they don't exactly feed on it. They eat food like Gens. Well, not exactly like Gens but...
Estragen scratches her head.
Vrian: They can't live without the stuff, right?
Estragen: You're right they can't live without it. Hajene Bibi does take it and hold it for the other Simes. So I guess that makes her kinda like a milk cow too.
Vrian thinks about that.
Vrian: More like the farmer who keeps milk in a holding tank until he can sell it.
Estragen: I just know that if she couldn't do what she does my brother would be dead now.
Vrian: Your brother?
Estragen: Yeah, Bubba, that's what we called him cause he was our big brother, his real name is Franx, changed over about five years ago.
Vrian: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.
Estragen: It was scary cause Ma woulda had to shoot him if Hajene Bibi hadn't been here. We owe her a lot.
Vrian: I suppose that's easier, living here in Hannard's Ford. In Gumgeeville, well, it's a long ride here.
Estragen: Yeah. You folks should get your own Sime Center. They really are nice people, the Simes. Pay good too.
Vrian: I don't think that'll happen in my lifetime. Gumgeeville folks don't like change, much.
Vrian is ~~ resigned ~~...and just a bit relieved with it.
Vrian: They weren't real happy when Hajene and Gerrhonot were renting our second bedroom.
Estragen: Well, Hannard's Ford ain't that much bigger 'en Gumgeeville. If we can do it y'all sure can. Besides, once you get to know 'em, Simes are just like people. I mean other people.
Vrian: People with snaky tentacles on their arms, that grab you with them. And take your stuff.
Estragen: Yeah, that part's kinda tough.
Vrian: I don't think Hajene Bibi was very happy with how scared I was.
Estragen: What happened?
Estragen can remember doing some very stupid things the first few times she donated.
Vrian: Well...I couldn't keep from pulling against her.
Vrian thinks this sounds better than "I was twitching wildly".
Vrian: But I didn't tap her wrist to tell her to let go.
Vrian offers this last in a forlorn tone.
Estragen: Oh that. Yeah, I pulled on her the first few times too.
Vrian: I don't think she likes that, at all.
Estragen: It hurts her.
Vrian: But she's so strong. How could it hurt her? Or are those non-squiggly tentacles sensitive to being pulled on? I wouldn't think so, the way Hajene was using them.
Estragen: Well, she told me once that it's hard to try not to hurt the Gen and protect the squigglies. They're the once that can get hurt. You know like when you hit your funny bone only like a thousand times worse.
Estragen has had a year of donations to try and understand why she shouldn't jerk around.
Vrian: She didn't seem to be in pain. More...upset.
Estragen: Upset, Hajene Bibi? What do you mean?
Vrian: She was shivering. And she didn't talk to me. That's not like her.
Estragen: Oh, boy! She got like that with me once, too.
Vrian: What happened?
Estragen: She was sick and her Donor stayed with her a lot and she didn't see anyone for a while. That was when she told me about how bad I could hurt her. I didn't think a Gen could hurt a Sime just by jerkin' around but I guess I did.
Estragen is not proud of this. ~~ embarrassed ~~
Vrian is struck by a worrisome thought.
Vrian: Did she tell your mother about it?
Estragen: Didn't have to. It was all over the Center and all the Simes were looking worried and the Gens from Simeland just looked at me and shook their heads. But no one said anything to me about it. I guess Hajene Bibi told them not to. Didn't stop 'em from looking at me cross-eyed though.
Vrian doesn't find that reassuring.
Vrian: If my dad finds out...well, at the very least, he won't let me try it again. And we've got to have the money to keep the farm.
Vrian doesn't yet know of the offers to upgrade his father and brother.
Estragen: Well, unless they hang around for a while they won't find out from anybody here.
Vrian looks towards the veranda, and his brother still chatting with Cristal.
Vrian gets a queasy feeling in his stomach.
Vrian: Sosu Cristal won't tell my brother, will he?
Estragen: Nope. Hajene has probably told him not to mention anything and since he isn't with her right now she's probably not as bad off as she was when I hurt her. [looks down in remorse]
Vrian: I don't think he likes me at all.
Estragen: Donors do seem to be a might touchy about their Simes.
Vrian thinks that's something, at least.
Vrian: He was acting...like he thought I was an idiot. Or a scaredy-cat. Or something like that.
Estragen looks in the direction of the veranda and Cristal.
Estragen: I don't think he thought you were a scaredy-cat. But I think he believes all us "Wild Gens" are idiots.
Vrian: Why? Hajene Seruffin didn't. And I'm pretty sure that Hajene Bibi doesn't, either.
Estragen: Cristal gets bent out of shape 'cause we don't "act right" around his pet Simes. Now I know my manners ain't the best but I don't think I ever did a thing to the Simes.
Vrian: What, does he think we're going to shoot them or something?
Estragen: I don't know. It's just that every time I try and be nice to one they shy away like I smell bad or somethin' and then Cristal or some other Donor gives me this talkin' to about how I shouldn't bother the renSimes. All I did was try to be neighborly.
Vrian: Huh. Those Simes came out here to recruit Gens to donate selyn, right? At least partly? Seems to me they shouldn't try to run off the customers, so to speak. Or maybe I should say, spook the dairy herd?
Estragen: They got different ways in Simeland I guess. [shrugs] Maybe they don't let the Simes be around the Gens.
Vrian frowns in ~~ confusion ~~
Vrian: That's not the impression I got from hearing Hajene Seruffin and Gerrhonot talk.
Estragen: Really? What did he say?
Vrian: Well, it was Gerrhonot, mostly. Hajene kept to the bedroom, a lot of the time, because Ma was scared of him. But Gerrhonot said that there are a lot of Gens living in Simeland, and that they even sometimes marry Simes. So they can't live apart from each other all the time.
Estragen considers this for a minute and frowns.
Estragen: Maybe I do smell bad then.
Estragen still doesn't get the nager thing.
Vrian sniffs experimentally in Estragen's direction.
Vrian: Naw. You smell like a normal girl to me.
Estragen smiles at Vrian.
Estragen: Thanks. By the way what's your name?
Vrian doesn't have a lot of experience smelling girls, but the Mullins charm gene does have a respectable penetrance.
Vrian: I'm Vrian Mullins.
Vrian extends a polite hand for shaking.
Estragen: Well, pleased to meet you Vrian, I'm Estragen Steppin.
Estragen shakes Vrian's hand enthusiastically.
Vrian blushes again, not being used to social contact with the female of his species.
Vrian can't really call his interactions with Bibi "social", at least not in the sense of "recreational".
Vrian: Do you work here?
Estragen: Yeah, sometimes when I'm not in school. I like havin' my own money. You keep donatin' and you'll have your own money too. I bought this dress just yesterday. I got a lot of boughten dresses now.
Vrian: It's...it's a nice dress.
Vrian has always been told that complimenting a girl's dress is mandatory.
Estragen: I got nicer ones at home. This one is just to work in.
Vrian: I just dunno if I'll be able to donate again. If my dad hears about what happened, he probably won't let me. And I'm not sure if Hajene Bibi is very interested in having me try again, either. I'm pretty sure Sosu Cristal would be just as glad never to see me again.
Estragen: Well, if Hajene Bibi has anything to say about it you will donate again. She's little but she awful tough. She's still takin' my donations.
Vrian perks up a bit at this.
Vrian: It's just...I feel like such an idiot. My father wasn't scared. I know, I saw it.
Vrian didn't have the benefit of Gegg's analysis of his father's mental state, alas.
Estragen smiles at Vrian and nods.
Vrian: And my brother Bart...he's thinking that he wants to be a Donor. Like Gerrhonot.
Estragen: Some people come in and they ain't scared. Some come in and they are but they come anyway. Hajene Bibi takes them all. I mean, I still don't like the squigglies but I'm not scared anymore. ~~conviction~~
Vrian thinks that sounds promising.
Vrian: How did you stop being scared?
Estragen: By watchin' Hajene Bibi. She cares a lot about people. She ain't never turned anybody away when they come for help. And I know a secret.
Vrian: You do?
Estragen: Yeah. Want to hear?
Vrian leans towards Estragen, eager to hear.
Estragen: I once saw her cryin'.
Vrian: Why was she crying?
Estragen: She lost a kid in changeover. I don't think she cared that I saw it.
Vrian: Well, of course she'd cry. That kid was a Sime, just like her, right? One thing seems pretty clear: Simes view Gens a lot differently than they do their fellow Simes.
Estragen: Then there were the Tabbert twins. She sat rockin' that little boy after she tried and tried to save him. The other twin was shot by Miz Tabbert before she brought the Gen twin here. She cried for that kid too.
Vrian: Why did Miz Tabbert bring a Gen here? Why didn't she get him a doctor?
Estragen: Because round town folks know that if there's a Sime involved you come here for help. Not everybody does but everybody knows.
Vrian thinks about that.
Vrian: Well, I guess Simes would have more practice treating Gens who've been attacked than a regular doctor.
Estragen: Yeah, but she cared the same for one as the other.
Vrian thinks about that for a moment.
Vrian: I dunno. She's okay, I guess. But she still scares me, when she gets too close.
Estragen: You know she's from this side of the border. Grew up just like us. That's why she talks so good.
Vrian: Yeah. Hajene Seruffin has an accent. Not hard to understand, but you can't miss it.
Estragen: Yeah I heard him. But Hajene Bibi, she's just plain folks like you and me. I really like her. And it ain't her fault she got the squigglies.
Vrian: Well, no. I don't suppose it is.