Chapter 31: Distractions, Distractions

on September 13, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Things Get Kind Of Meta With The Advice

Nicki hit me so hard that we both fell over… being demon-strong and invulnerable didn’t make me any heavier or more stable than any other girl my size. There was a brief bottleneck at the door until we each sort of scuttled sideways out of the path of the remaining students. She got to her feet first, then hurried out to help me up.

“Sorry,” I said. ” Are you okay?

“Yeah, it’s my fault,” she said. “I was hoping to talk to you more after class, and you didn’t seem to be in any real hurry to leave so I was waiting for the crowd to thin out… but then I looked up and you were heading out the door, so I ran to catch up.”

“You wanted to talk to me?”

“You say that like it’s some kind of a shock,” she said. “I wanted to ask if you’re going to the dance on Saturday?”

“Where is it, the pent?” I asked. I hadn’t been paying attention to any notices about dances… my record with them was kind of mixed… but open air dances seemed like a pretty regular thing at the start of the year.

“Yeah,” she said. “Saturday. My friend Tasha is flipping crystals for it. Well, she’s helping. It’s her new job.”

“Maybe I’ll check it out,” I said. I was trying to be non-committal, but as I said it sounded to me like I was trying to be cool. “I mean, I’m not sure what I’m doing yet…”

“I know you have a girlfriend,” she said, and that was the first time it occurred to me that maybe she’d been flirting with me, or at least sizing me up for flirtation. With that, my limited ability to hold an actual conversation with a person disappeared as all the blood in my head rushed to my cheeks.

“Uh, yeah… well, I have two, actually,” I said.

“Yeah, see, I thought it was open,” she said. Her grin got bigger, and I don’t know if she was pleased at being right, or pleased by what she’d been right about. There was something almost cat-like about the way her cheeks went out when she smiled and the look in her eyes.

It wasn’t the least bit threatening, but I’ve never needed much to feel threatened when it comes to attention from other people, especially other girls. I hadn’t thought of Nicki as cute or not cute… I’d never had the habit of sizing up people like that, and a year to come to terms with my sexuality hadn’t changed that.

“I guess we are,” I stammered out. “I mean, we have other partners… and Amaranth is pretty much, you know… well, she’s kind of pointedly open. But… I’m not really looking to date anyone else.”

“I’m not looking for a date,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind a dance, though.”

“I’m not much of a dancer.”

“Well, there’s this traveling dragon show doing a presentation out on west campus…”

“I’m actually more into dancing than dragons,” I said quickly.

“Okay… so I’ll see you at the dance, then?”

It felt a little like I’d walked into that. It wasn’t the worst thing that I’d ever walked into, but I wasn’t at all sure that it was where I wanted to be. Nicki seemed friendly, and I could always use another friend… particularly considering how easily I seemed to make enemies. I still had no idea what had happened to alienate Twyla, for instance.

But I didn’t need another complication in my social life.

“I… I’ll have to talk to Amaranth first,” I said. “To see if we’re doing anything.”

Her eyes flickered down just a bit. It might have been random, but in my mind she was checking my neck for a collar. Probably that was my imagination, but then, she did seem to be up on the latest rumors concerning my love life.

“Should I be talking to Amaranth, maybe?” she asked, grinning.

If we were going to date, then there would probably need to be multiple conversations with Amaranth… between her and Nicki, her and me, and the three of us. Possibly Ian, too, though he’d never minded the idea of me having multiple girlfriends, once he got used to the idea of Steff being a girlfriend. Steff and I were a lot more casual.

Not that I would expect Amaranth to have a problem with the idea, either… she was pretty enthusiastic about the idea of love as something to be shared as widely as possible.

Which meant that if Nicki did want to pursue me, she’d find an ally in Amaranth. Things had worked out well when Amaranth first pushed for me to go out with Ian, but I would rather she preserved her record there than pushed her luck again..

That was why I decided the best thing to do was to step up and handle this myself. Deferring to Amaranth was an attractive option… but it meant deferring to Amaranth.

“I’d rather you were talking to me, actually,” I said.

“Great!” she said. “Then I’ll talk to you Saturday.”

She bounced away before I could say anything, leaving me to wonder again how I’d walked into it.

It would be her own fault if she ended up disappointed, I told myself… and almost believed it. I liked Nicki okay, so far. She was friendly and she seemed cool. But she also seemed to be very forward… not even really overbearing, just a lot more outgoing than I was. I’d had very mixed results when it came to people like that and my boundaries. Some of them were just outgoing and forward and didn’t realize how easy it was to run roughshod over someone who wasn’t, and others… well, others not only knew how easy it was, they had counted on it.

On the other hand, I couldn’t deny there was something attractive about having someone willing to take me by the hand… that was why it was so tempting to defer to Amaranth. I wasn’t bothered by Nicki “steering” me so much as I was trying to be aware if it approached a line, much less crossed it. It was like I’d said to Ian earlier: consent made all the difference in the world.

Lost in my thoughts over Nicki, I completely forgot about Twyla until it was too late to have any choice of finding her. In fact, I ended up getting more lost than ever before in the design center’s loopy hallways… it was only when I glanced out a bubble-shaped window and saw with some confusion that I was apparently on the second floor that I realized I’d been wandering aimlessly.

I hadn’t even realized that the building had a second floor, and it was hard for me to imagine being so distracted that I walked up a flight of stairs without noticing. At least not successfully… my wandering mind had conspired with many a staircase to deliver a painful lesson on situational alertness.

Looking out, I figured out the truth of the matter pretty quickly. The campus grounds were mostly rolling hills dotted with drainage ditches, because we were in the Enias River valley system. At the front of the design center, the floor I’d come in on was ground level. At the back, the ground sloped away down towards the trees. A back entrance would have to go into the basement, or maybe the back end was just built up on supports… but probably there was a rear entrance, because I could see a little footpath and there were some students hanging out down there. Probably it provided an easier place for smokers to take a break… they weren’t supposed to smoke by the doorways, but I couldn’t see anyone using that entrance for anything else.

Though none of the people I saw seemed to be smoking. There were three guys and two girls. One of them was the pigtailed Ms. Andersen… and I still didn’t know why she’d seemed so familiar, but now I recognized the others. I’m not great with faces, but even I tend to remember people who put arrows into my shoulder and then threaten to leave me for dead.

They were the delving students who I’d encountered after being accidentally teleported into the school’s labyrinth a year ago.

So Andersen probably had been asking about the sword for reasons related to a delving class. I couldn’t imagine a Glamour & Design student minoring in Delving & Discovery, or vice-versa… but maybe with the school’s new hazard course requirements, she hadn’t had a choice.

I also couldn’t imagine exactly what they were up to. Delving students were pretty infamous as a group for pulling off pranks that required things like penetrating into secure areas or scaling buildings, and also infamous for figuring out how to get course credit for their shenanigans. A persistent rumor that floated around the ethernet and attached itself to any school with a big delving program was that students who managed to steal the answer key to a particular final were the only ones who got an A.

But stealing a sword that belonged to dwarves… even if they planned on giving it back, or even if they just planned on getting around the security and then leaving proof that they could have taken it… the chances seemed high that they’d die in the attempt. Dwarves didn’t leave a lot to chance when it came to protecting their property.

Granted, not every delving major made it to graduation, and this particular group had demonstrated some seriously skewed priorities in the past.

For that reason alone I didn’t want to get involved in their business. If I tried to warn them off… well, the guys in the group had made it pretty clear that they saw me as just another monster to be slain if I was in their way, and even their supposed cleric of peace hadn’t offered much of an apology over that. I hoped they didn’t try anything with the sword, but that was all I could really do.

I hoped nobody else tried anything with the sword, either. I doubted Andersen’s questions would slip Professor Stone’s mind if something happened to it.

Still, it was possible that the information was for something other than a “practical” assignment… maybe they had to outline the steps they would take to liberate something like the sword, or describe some obstacles that might be encountered in an old dwarven fortress.

I did my best to put them out of my mind while I found my way out of the design center. This was easier than it might have been, as I had Twyla and Nicki to fill it up with.

Was it really worth working things out with Twyla, if she was determined to be angry? Outside of this one class, there was no reason we had to see each other. One more person in the world who didn’t like me didn’t exactly change anything.

But even if I hadn’t had much direct experience with her, she’d always seemed sort of decent compared to the girls she got thrown in with during our freshman year. Being on her bad side felt a bit like a missed opportunity.

And Nicki… I had no clue what she wanted from me. When I went back over our conversation, it kind of seemed like she thought I was basically campus-famous and wanted to hang out with me. Was I completely full of myself for feeling that way? The alternative was that she was, you know, into me… and I honestly felt like that was more arrogant than thinking I had enough notoriety to chase. I just didn’t see myself as that attractive.

Amaranth would be quick to point out that no one is actually “that attractive” so much as being attractive to a given person. I could sort of buy that, if only because it seemed a more likely explanation for how I’d ended up with three lovers and a number of people who’d otherwise expressed interest in me when I thought I was fairly plain.

But even operating under that theory, it was still surprising when someone found me in particular attractive…

Of course, attraction could mean a lot of things. Maybe seeing me around campus while hearing whatever rumors she’d heard was part of why Nicki was interested in me. It could also be mostly curiosity. I might have invited Twyla to a dance or to go see some presentation if I thought it was a chance to find out more about what was bothering her… that is, if I had the social skills of someone like Nicki and I thought there was a chance in hell that Twyla wanted anything to do with me.

My head was awash with a swirling sea of Nicki and Twyla all through the rest of the day… with occasional cameos by the delvers. Unfortunately, all of that meant that I wasn’t exactly at my peak during my daily combat class.

To say that I got my ass handed to me would be putting it likely, and ignoring the many other useful and important parts of my body that underwent similar transactions.

“That was absolutely disgraceful,” Coach Callahan said to me afterwards. “If you come in here with a performance like that again, not only can you forget about any chance of making an A, but I will have sex with everyone you love. I will record it, post echoes on the ethernet, and win several hardcore amateur awards for the performance”

“I… what?”

“I’ve been asked to cut down on threats of bodily harm while the school’s under consideration for some grant or lawsuit or other damned thing,” she said. “That’s okay, though… constraints breed creativity, right? Right. Seriously, though. Get with the program and stick with it. You’ve impressed me so far this year, but then the year’s barely started and you’ve impressed me before, too. Doing a big impressive thing every once in a while is only impressive once in a while. If you can’t go the distance then you need to go home.”

A lot of times it was easy for me to be frustrated with Coach Callahan, but this time I knew she was right.

That, of course, only made it more frustrating.


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34 Responses to “Chapter 31: Distractions, Distractions”

  1. Connor Sorrisi says:

    “To say that I got my ass handed to me would be putting it likely..” should probably say lightly instead…

    Current score: 0
  2. brandon says:

    Ook first loved the chapter

    Current score: 0
  3. Kevin Brown says:

    Well at first I thought Ms. Andersen was part dwarf (Andersen sounds like a good Dwarven name) but I suppose her being dumb enough to attempt to steal dwarf-made artifact is more plausible.

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    • Chris says:

      All the dwarves – except Caron, who was adopted by humans – I can remember had German names like Karl or Andreas.
      Andersen is a Scandinavian name, so I would assume that Ms. Andersen has Thylean ancestors.

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    • CanB says:

      Well the red hair and odd sense of familiarity could mean she’s a LaBelle (maybe on the maternal side), and we know there is dwarf in their bloodline.

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  4. Lunaroki says:

    Somehow I doubt that Ms. Anderson is planning to steal the sword herself but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she’s attempting to get inside information to help those delvers to do the job.

    Typo Report

    “Sorry,” I said. ” Are you okay?

    Extraneous space between the opening quotes and “Are”. Also, the closing quotes are missing entirely.

    I was trying to be non-committal, but as I said it sounded to me like I was trying to be cool.

    Needs a second “it” between “said” and “sounded” in order to make sense.

    I will record it, post echoes on the ethernet, and win several hardcore amateur awards for the performance”

    Punctuation missing before the closing quotes.

    Current score: 0
  5. Zathras IX says:

    Knowing Amaranth
    Mackenzie should try to keep
    Her dance card open

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  6. angellus00 says:

    *reads back* Her hair sounds awesome, I’d dance with her.

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  7. wg says:

    “That was absolutely disgraceful,” Coach Callahan said to me afterwards. “If you come in here with a performance like that again, not only can you forget about any chance of making an A, but I will have sex with everyone you love. I will record it, post echoes on the ethernet, and win several hardcore amateur awards for the performance”

    I can’t even begin to sum up how awesome this is.

    Current score: 2
    • Kevin Brown says:

      My only thought to that was that at least a few of the people Mack loves would be more than happy to help Callahan win those hardcore amateur awards.

      Current score: 1
      • Oni says:

        …all of them?

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        • Kevin Brown says:

          Not a hundred percent sure on Ian.

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        • Rethic says:

          Wow, that might be part of the reason Mack hates her so much, lol. All of her lovers would gladly bang Coach C. I’ve never realized that til now!

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      • Tamina says:

        I’m willing to bet Mack loves her grandmother at least a little – I’d pay good money to see that go down ^_^

        Current score: 1
    • Month says:

      Soooooo…. How many of you began chanting “Fail! Fail! Fail!” when Coach said that? Just asking.

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  8. readaholic says:

    Heh :). I can’t wait until Mack realises that the Building is aware. And I hope those delvers get their arses handed to them in a painful, inglorious, hideously embarrassing and hilarious (to everybody else) way. Though in all likelihood, the female members will likely get handed to the dragon for gourmet delicacies, and the others will just outright get killed by Clan Schwertgriff. Btw, is that a nod to Mercedes Lackey’s Black Griffon series and her kestra’cherns?

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    • Erianaiel says:

      Sadly not. It is simply German.
      Schwert is German for sword.
      Griff is German for grip.

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    • Daemion says:

      How do we know that the building is aware? I can’t remember reading about that but I might just have overlooked that detail.

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      • fka_luddite says:

        It has been generally assumed by the readers that “Emily,” the Design Center building,is self aware. this from Mack’s problems finding her way around plus various comments made by and to design majors.

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    • Never read that series, and after Googling “kestra’chern” I’m not sure what in the story you’re even asking about that could have been a reference.

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      • · says:

        I think it’s a bit of confusion. Schwert=svärd=sword, not schwartz=svart=black. So the name is sword grip, i.e. hilt, not black griffon.

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        • Ahhhh I can see that.

          I’m just puzzled over the idea that a group of swordsmiths was supposed to be a reference for intimate healers.

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          • Daezed says:

            They aren’t so much intimate healers in the Lackey world, so much as…. Entire-being (bodily, mentally, emotionally) healers that can and do use intimate contact when or if it’s needed. In one book, I recall the kestra’chern Amberdrake disciplining two healers who were working with the same client, and fighting about it in public, saying something along the lines of, ‘you do not necessarily give the client what they think they want, you give them what they need!’ and sometimes what that does include is sexual in nature, but just as often as not, is more in line with a therapist or trusted confidante.

            Not that this is particularly relevant (especially with how after-the-fact of your initial discussion it is), but I figured I’d explain anyway.

            They’re quite good books –I’m personally a huge fan of the whole Valdemar series, in fact– if you ever want some good, mostly-PG fantasy to read, especially if you like horses and raptor(hawks/eagles/etc) fiction.

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  9. Raemon says:

    “Constraints breed creativity”

    Is this phrase originally from Mark Rosewater, or is it just a general truism?

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    • Kevin Brown says:

      I don’t know where that phrase came from but it explains why there are ten times as many ways to figure out the access code to your parents cable box as there are things to do once you have.

      (In other words that phrase gave me flashbacks to my childhood)

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    • Zukira Phaera says:

      made me think of Plato’s words of wisdom – “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

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  10. Metheglin says:

    Possibly typo report!

    …and win several hardcore amateur awards for the performance”

    I think there needs to be a period before the quotation marks.

    EDIT: Whoops, someone already got it but lazy me didn’t notice. Huzzah for unreliable perception.

    Current score: 0
  11. anna says:

    “I completely forgot about Twyla until it was too late to have any choice of finding her.”

    Should that be ‘any chance’, by chance? This might just be a dialectical difference; I’m not actually sure it’s an error, since it makes a kind of semantic sense to me.

    Current score: 0
  12. Brenda says:

    Wow. Am I the only one who was having flashbacks to Puddy at the end there? Manipulating, flustering, friendliness that results in something Mack does NOT want with no idea how she got there…

    Maybe Nicki is a LaBelle.

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    • Kevin Brown says:

      I disagree, Mack doesn’t seem to have a problem hanging out with Nicki it’s just a question of what to do while hanging out. Also there is no way for Nicki to know why Mack wouldn’t want to see a dragon show so Nicki’s ammunition for getting her to the dance is purely by chance.

      ~EDIT~ Occurred to me right after hitting enter that it’s possible that Nicki is actually a dragon in disguise in which case she might know exactly why Mack wouldn’t want to go to a dragon show. Of course if this were the case Nicki would be asking Mack to dinner instead.

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  13. Kaila says:

    The lengths to which I did not laugh(or tried not to) nearly made me choke. It’s late, and going BWAHAHAHAHAHAH very loudly for about five minutes straight would not make me popular with the neighbors…even if I showed them what I was laughing at…and if they got the joke.

    Thank all deities I’d finished my tea.

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  14. anon y mouse says:

    “Lost in my thoughts over Nicki, I completely forgot about Twyla until it was too late to have any choice of finding her.” – do you mean chance of finding her?

    “the guys in the group had made it pretty clear that they saw me as just another monster to be slain if I was in their way” – should this be were? (I’m not completely clear on that rule, but it seems that it might be)

    “To say that I got my ass handed to me would be putting it likely,” do you mean lightly?

    Current score: 0