Chapter 48: Out In The Open

on November 28, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which There Is No Third Chance To Make A Second Impression

The compliment made me blush, and not just because it was a compliment but because it felt undeserved. Depths? I spent way too much time in my own head, but just because I had a head full of thoughts didn’t mean they were deep.

What did I say to something like that?

“Thanks,” was the word that came out of my mouth, eventually. It seemed safe… polite… and more than a little inadequate. If nothing else, I thought it might do something to help correct her impression.

“Well, I should get back,” Nicki said, jerking her head towards the crystal station where a girl with a pair of tight, bouncy pigtails and a face full of piercings was looking increasingly frustrated with her attempts to align a pair of echo crystals while a skinny guy with a shaved head looked on with a look of mild amusement.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to keep you from your friend.”

“Oh, I wasn’t planning on hanging out with Tasha the whole time,” Nicki said. “I mean, she’s working, right? But she has a big tendency to get flustered when she’s doing something she doesn’t have a lot of experience with, so I’m basically going to pop back and distract her any time she looks like she’s about to blow… if that makes sense.”

“That actually sounds like a really helpful thing to do,” I said.

“You think?” Nicki said. “She was my roommate for half of one semester last year… we didn’t really make good roommates, but she’s probably my best friend now. I can introduce you to her when she gets a break? That is, if you’re not busy with your own friends.”

“Well, we are planning on hanging out, but… it’s hanging out,” I said. “You don’t exactly have to fill out a card or make a reservation to do it.”

“Good point,” she said. “Sorry, I’m overthinking… or underthinking and overworrying. Man, how did you get to be so cool about everything?”

She dashed back towards the table where the crystal jockeys were setting things up before I had a chance to come up with a response, though that honestly wasn’t saying a whole lot. She could have dropped to the ground and inched her way back on her stomach and I still wouldn’t have been able to come up with much before she was out of conversational earshot.

Cool? It might have made a tiny bit of sense if she’d been a freshman or something, but she’d started school at the same time I had… and I knew she’d been a witness to at least one occasion that had probably been pretty embarrassing to me at the time, though I didn’t know which one because I wasn’t about to press her for more details. Whenever it had been, it had happened and I couldn’t change or hide it… did my seemingly blithe acceptance of that seem cool to her?

My freshman year hadn’t lacked for excitement, though it hadn’t all been good excitement… and I certainly hadn’t been particularly cool about handling it. Was that all it took to impress Nicki, though? It would have been easy to assume so, but she also seemed to be genuinely interested in getting to know me. That and the fact that she was good friends with someone she’d apparently had a rough start with made me think that she was probably not all superficial… even if she did have some strange ideas about depths.

I didn’t want to spend the whole evening wrapped up in my thoughts. It especially seemed like a bad idea to try to get a handle on who Nicki was and why she thought the things she did when I barely knew what she thought, so I stopped to take a look around at the preparations for the dance. The part of the school year where the weather was still summery and schedules were still light was a big time for dances, and there was never a shortage of campus groups looking to attract a little attention or demonstrate their hipness and with-itude.

This wasn’t the first outdoor dance I’d seen, but it was the biggest… in the wake of Leda’s highly publicized death, the school had taken a slightly less laissez-faire approach to campus security and had supposedly made a few alterations to the protective enchantments around the school. Officially students who went out after dark were still taking their lives into their own hands… except for times when they weren’t.

It was an open secret that they were capable of strengthening the protections during times like the beginning of a semester or around midterms or finals or during an important skirmish match, but the powers that be seemed to have reasons for keeping campus life on the hazardous side. Learning how to cope with mortal peril was considered part of a well-rounded education, after all. I doubted that any of that had changed, but the university leadership had decided to leaven the terror with more “safe” events. Hence the start of year dance had been moved from the big conference room in the union to the open space just outside it.

There was definitely something to be said for an outdoor dance. Having it out in the open air in a space where the boundaries were just lines on the ground and not actual walls allowed for more of a general party atmosphere than did a dance in a darkened salle or conference room.

The dance had not even officially started yet, and already there were people setting up their own folding chairs off to the side of the pent, tossing around beanbags, and fighting with light mock weapons… the sort of thing that people tended to do on the pent during weekends anyway. The dance organizers, other students from the activity committee… were shooing them away from the actual grass space so they could get stuff set up. Some of them were releasing floating paper lanterns to provide a lighted ceiling for the dance floor.

It was probably not actually necessary, since the pent was completely encircled… or enpentagoned… with glowing paths anyway, but it gave a nice sense of this is the dance floor, this is where the dance is happening. The CJ station was set up on the edge of the paved plaza in front of the union, and there were long tables being set up for refreshments there, as well.

“Okay,” Nicki said, coming back to rejoin me. “Crisis averted… or postponed, or deferred, or something. I’m not bugging you, am I?”

“What?” I said. “No. Why?”

“You looked so kind of content or peaceful or something by yourself,” she said. “I’m not like that… leave me alone for thirty seconds and I start looking around for something to do, or wondering why I’m alone… not in like a ‘Oh, Khersis, what the fuck is wrong with me?’ kind of a way, but… okay, kind of that way. Um, can I say ‘Khersis’ in front of you?”

“Prayers hurt me, but just saying his name isn’t prayer,” I said. “In fact, most of the time it’s technically a sin.”

“Does that do anything for you?”

“Not that I’ve ever noticed,” I said. “But no, you’re not bothering me… I’m used to being alone with my thoughts, but I don’t come to a dance to be alone. I mean, being introverted is a big part of why I don’t come to more dances…”

“You think of yourself as introverted?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess I must have seemed like an exhibitionist at times, but… well, it’s more like I’m the partner to an exhibitionist. And I think someone could be an introverted exhibitionist.”

“You also seem to get involved in a lot of things.”

“Kicking and screaming, usually,” I said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure!”

“Why are you so interested in me?”

“Because you’re interesting?” she said. “I mean, you’re one of the cool kids.”

“I am?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I mean, at the beginning of freshman year, when you used to hang out with Puddy and the Harlowe skirmish girls…”

“That didn’t last long,” I said. “Especially the skirmishers. Though I guess I’m kind of friends with Belinda now, again.”

“It seemed like it was a whole phase,” Nicki said. “Though I don’t really have a timeline in my head, the first few weeks were so full of new stuff and the weeks after that were all so busy…”

“I know the feeling,” I said.

“But anyway, it was like… that seemed like the cool table. I decided Puddy wasn’t actually that cool after a while, but you and your friends stopped hanging out with her, so… that seemed okay.”

“Strangely, you’re not the first person to say something about the ‘cool table’ to me,” I said. “Though the guys who brought it up last year were pretty resentful of it. It seemed ridiculous to me. It wasn’t like we were excluding anyone, or staking claim to territory… there were probably a dozen different little groups in the lunchroom at any time with a favorite table. We just stood out because… we stood out. There was probably a bit of human racial entitlement, there, too.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, if a couple of humans… white human guys, in particular, just happen to sit at the same table day after day, they just happen to sit there,” I said. “We do it and it means something. We do it and it’s a statement, and more than that, an encroachment. The human guys are just fine at their table, they’re just fine with all the people who look like them taking up tables, but if we take up a table, that’s like telling them they can’t have it, and suddenly they care about it.”

“See? This is the sort of conversations I wanted to have with you.”

I blushed.

“I’m really… there are loads of people who’d be better at the whole racial politics thing,” I said. “I’m human-blooded, I look human… both my parents code visually as white humans. My father is the ancestral enemy of humanity and I get treated better than some of my friends in a lot of ways.”

“But you’re aware of it,” she said. “And I hope you don’t take it the wrong way when I say things like that. I mean, I don’t look at you as some kind of progressive wisdom dispenser.”

“Good,” I said. “And I’m not taking it anyway, because I don’t know how to take it… I am flattered that you wanted to talk to me so much. I mean, really.”

“Well, I might not have gone out of my way to meet you, but when I saw you in class it seemed like it would be okay to talk to you,” she said. “Well, I probably wouldn’t have worked up the courage for a few more weeks if Professor Stone hadn’t encouraged us to bounce ideas off each other. I was really glad for that. I mean, not just for the whole talking to you thing, but because I can’t stand trying to think creatively when I don’t have someone to talk to.”

“I’m mostly the opposite,” I said. “Though I did find it helpful. Your idea about making things swim past the mirror gave me the idea to make a TV that acts as an aquarium.”

“With real fish, or illusions?”

“Illusions,” I said. “There would probably be a few ways to make a TV that turns into an actual aquarium, but at that point it would be more like engineering a whole new type of enchantment rather than just redesigning an existing product.”

“I suppose,” Nicki said. “It’s still a pretty cool idea. I went through a bunch of different versions of my idea… at first I was thinking about ways to make public mirrors blend into their environment more, but then I realized that would make them harder to see. So I started thinking about ways to make them stand out more, but some of the ideas were starting to border on the obnoxious. So then I went back to where I’d just been thinking of ways to make the boring utilitarian mirror look more like the classy old ones, and I think I came up with something pretty cool.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Make them show a reflection of a fancy mirror,” she said. “Not just like an overlaid image around the edges like I was talking about, but an actual three dimensional reflection… so when you look at it, it looks like you’re looking at an older mirror.”

“Wouldn’t that make the area for reflecting an actual conversation really small?” I asked. I felt pretty awful as soon as I said it, because from the way she was grinning I could tell Nicki was pretty proud of her idea, but she took the criticism completely in stride.

“Possibly,” she said. “My mirror would have to be bigger, and ideally it would be set back into the wall, though it would be possible to make one that wasn’t… it just wouldn’t look as snazzy. And even then there would have to be an option to dispel the internal image and just display things directly on the… oh. Better idea! Simpler idea! Illusionary frame extending behind the area of the boring utilitarian mirror!”

“That actually would be a pretty awesome way to implement it,” I said.

“It could be personalized,” Nicki said. “I mean, you could have flames… not that you personally would have flames, necessarily, but a flaming border is a thing that could be done. Or an icy one. Or whatever. Like how the new mirrors let you put wallpaper behind you to screen out background stuff when you’re talking. Oh, sorry… this is what I meant when I said that I think better when I’m talking to someone. I’ve been going back and forth and around in circles on this stuff for two days and now I have a much better day thirty seconds after I started describing what I was doing to you.”

“Do you ever try just talking out loud to yourself, or writing things down?” I asked. “I mean, that’s basically what I’m doing when I’m thinking something through… just having a conversation with myself.”

“I think I’d be too shy to talk to myself,” Nicki said. “And I wrote all my ideas down, because I do that. It just doesn’t lead anywhere beyond having things written down.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, I guess everyone’s going to be different… there isn’t anything wrong with the way you do things. I just thought it might be useful if you had the option of… you know…”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Nicki said. “A big part of getting my act together last year was figuring out how to work with what I have… um… to work with. You know? Can I ask another question?”

“Sure.”

“It’s another… it’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Go ahead,” I said, feeling pretty confident that I was about to disappoint her.

“It’s about… how you meet girls.”.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s not something I set out to do… living in an all-girls dorm helps.”

“I mean girls who are queer,” she said. “As far as I can tell, you’re not in any of the campus groups. I tried them… not, like, specifically to pick up chicks, but my thought was that it would be a good way to meet people I could relax and be myself around, and I’d know if they were queer and they’d know I was… it just seemed like a good first step.”

“So what happened?” I asked.

“Well, first of all, no one takes a bisexual freshman girl seriously,” she said. “They get called ‘elvers’.”

“Elvers?”

“Because elves… well, what I’ve heard is that most young elves are gay, but adults are more likely to be straight.”

“I don’t think they see it quite in terms of straight and gay,” I said. “But yeah, I think that’s basically how it works out… surface elves have a lot of social pressure to hang out with the same sex when they’re young, but adults consider mixing to be a sign of maturity. It’s really just a very different way of looking at things, especially since ‘young’ and ‘adult’ mean different things to elves.”

“See? This is what I meant about you being up on things,” Nicki said.

“You’re not a freshman anymore,” I said, more to have something to say without responding to that.

“I guess not… you know your friend with the horns?”

“She’s not exactly my friend,” I said. “And she’s definitely… I mean, I’m pretty sure she’s not a lesbian. She seems like a pretty liberal Khersian, so I guess it’s possible, but I wouldn’t be the best choice for someone to introduce you to her. You’d probably be better off just approaching her in class, like you did me.”

“Oh, I wasn’t…” Nicki said. “I was just wondering what was up with you and her after class the other day, like if you were trying to stay out of her sight, or vice-versa, or anything…”

“Is this a non-hypothetical situation?” I asked.

“Pretty non-hypothetical.”

“How non-hypothetical?”

“About ten feet behind you and a bit to the left.”


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48 Responses to “Chapter 48: Out In The Open”

  1. Hey, folks! LJ is having some issues, so if you’re wondering why the notification for this hasn’t gone up on my LJ community yet, that’s why.

    Current score: 0
  2. Nemo says:

    That is a wonderful, wonderful ending.

    Current score: 1
  3. carson says:

    Some chapters I just want to giggle my whole way through. This chapter reminded me of a Dar Williams song. In a good way.

    Possible typo, but could be intentional:

    “And I’m not taking it anyway” I think you mean “any way” as in “not this way, nor that way, and not even that other way.”

    Current score: 0
  4. Alyxe Barron says:

    -laughs- Definitely pretty non-hypothetical. I am coming to like Nicki, I think.

    -r

    Current score: 1
    • thelurkerdreams says:

      Same here. Reminds me of a close friend from college. Shy-ish with wonderful wit. Spent a lot of time together. Awkward moment when I (a hetero male) discovered she only dated girls. Didn’t hurt the friendship one bit, and later allowances were made- as she put it “I’m a lesbian but Lurker doesn’t count.” Think I’m gonna go give her a call, see how her Thanksgiving went.

      Current score: 0
  5. Zathras IX says:

    Crisis averted
    Or postponed or deferred or
    Something or other

    Current score: 2
  6. Ben says:

    This is a really cute story. I really like Nicki.

    Current score: 0
  7. Kevin Brown says:

    That ending exchange was just epic.

    “Pretty non-hypothetical.”

    “How non-hypothetical?”

    “About ten feet behind you and a bit to the left.”

    Gives me flashbacks of Tony Dinozzo saying (in reference to Gibbs):
    “He’s standing right behind me isn’t he?”

    Current score: 2
  8. HiEv says:

    “…now I have a much better day thirty seconds after I started describing what I was doing…” I think “day” should be “idea”. Not quite sure how “day” got in there.

    Anyways, I can empathize with Nicki. I find I’m way more creative when I have someone to bounce ideas off of. …Which can be kind of frustrating when I can’t find someone to bounce ideas off of. 😛

    Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      No, I think it works as it is. “Suddenly I’m having a much better day.”

      Current score: 0
      • Tierhon says:

        I was thinking “idea” too, but after seeing your post, your reading fits Nicki’s personality better.

        Would a comma after day help or hinder?
        Don’t ask me about grammar, I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to punctuation and run on sentences.

        Current score: 0
        • Brenda says:

          A comma after “now” would make it clearer, or “I’m having” instead of “I have”.

          Current score: 0
          • darthbeandip says:

            While it works as is, given the context it seems pretty clear this is meant to be “idea” not day. She’s describing her thought process and how she thinks better when talking to people.

            Current score: 0
  9. Fai says:

    ooh, that ending was awesome. 🙂 Good update. Though, I have to admit, I’m a little confused by Nikki’s project. I don’t entirely understand what she’s doing to the mirror.

    Current score: 0
    • Time Kitten says:

      Say some low resolution video players you find on the web are set inside an old tv box frame, to give them a little interest to fill space, back when it was considered trouble just to size up the video. Like that, but with video chat.

      Current score: 1
    • Lyssa says:

      Made me think of skins.

      Current score: 0
  10. ylistra says:

    I keep worrying that Mack is going to pull a zero on the TV project. If the general idea was Nikki’s, and Steff is doing the detail work… exactly what did Mack do to deserve any credit at all?

    Current score: 0
    • Lunakitten says:

      The fact that she’ll do all the work on it? Artists, for example, take their inspiration from a lot of sources- it’s what they do with those inspirations and ideas that make the pieces they produce unique to them- the effort and the work they put it.

      Current score: 1
    • Time Kitten says:

      Would have been bad if Nikki had kept the idea for her own, but I think they got it right.

      Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      First of all, how is the professor going to know Mack got the idea from something similar that Nicki said? And Mack is going to be designing it, just having Steff draw the design according to Mack’s plan. Mack already got permission to do that.

      Current score: 1
  11. Time Kitten says:

    Love the later parts of this chapter. Thank you for taking your time! Worth it.

    Current score: 0
  12. Oniwasabi says:

    “Is this non-hypothetical situation armed?”

    ^_^

    Current score: 0
  13. Kaila says:

    I was all set to comment after reading, then I read the comments and just clicked on about four little hearts.

    Win.

    Current score: 0
  14. Spec Grim says:

    >.>
    <..>

    Ook!

    Current score: 0
  15. calthor says:

    nikki is definately becoming a favorite of mine

    Current score: 1
  16. cnic says:

    I wish I had something constructive to say other than I liked the chapter. Not that the dialogue was bad to start with, but there definitely seems to have been an improvement in conversation over the last few months. This felt like conversations, both internally and externally, that I’ve had.

    Current score: 1
  17. Caroline says:

    “No one takes a bisexual freshman girl seriously.”

    YES. THAT.

    I’d caught on that I liked girls more that other girls liked girls by freshman year of college, but I barely ever talked about it because I didn’t want to deal with being called a LUG, or having to justify my sexuality. It was easier to just hang out with the other bi girls I found over time.

    <3 Thanks for putting that in.

    Current score: 0
    • ANON says:

      but lesbians until graduation are [i]fun.[/i]

      Current score: 0
      • Brenda says:

        Thank you for translating that. I was a little leery to start googling…

        Current score: 1
    • Calia says:

      Yep. A similar problem is the tomboy bisexual who has difficulty understanding girls in an intimate relationship setting.
      For the most part, I just don’t get other girls, so I don’t have girlfriend relations with them, but I very much enjoy casual sex with them. For the emotional aspect, though, I rely on men, despite being less physically attracted to them in general. People insist on telling me I’m not actually bisexual because of this, calling me a LUG or a poser or just a whore :/

      I just wish people would understand that there’s a vast continuum of sexual and emotional desires, but apparently that’s too complicated.

      Current score: 2
  18. Eris Harmony says:

    Very random thought–the way TVs work in the MUniverse, directors wouldn’t be able to use tricks like force perspective, would they? I can’t help but wonder how low-budget projects would compare.

    Current score: 0
    • TheTurnipKing says:

      I’d imagine they have a whole range of magic tricks to compensate.

      Current score: 1
      • Eris Harmony says:

        Well, that’s kind of what I was wondering. In big-budget projects, sure, but with smaller flicks that maybe couldn’t afford to hire a magician…

        Current score: 0
  19. mafidufa says:

    “I think I’m too shy to talk to myself.” Nicki, your worldview is so alien to me…

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      That one made me double-take and giggle a bit before I figured it out. I don’t think she meant she’s afraid she’d bite her own head off if she talked to herself but rather I’m thinking she’s shy about talking to herself in front of other people. People have this weird way of looking at you funny when you do that. I still love that line though. 🙂

      Current score: 1
    • fka_luddite says:

      I think this is getting at the difference between introverted and shy. “Introverted” involves how people see themselves, while “shy” is how people thinks others see them.

      Current score: 0
  20. Ego says:

    Gosh golly gosh, I’m a sucker for pieces of fiction where the hero doesn’t realize how cool she is even when told straight in the face. And the ending was witty too.

    Current score: 1
  21. Kallio says:

    It’s really nice to see a character who thinks Mack is cool. I mean, within her immediate circle of friends she’s usually treated as (and considers herself to be) the least cool, even though she’s had massive character growth since the beginning of the story.
    As much as I wouldn’t mind reading a story all about any of the other major characters, there are reasons why Mack is the main protagonist and it’s nice to see that recognized by someone in-universe.

    Current score: 1
  22. Tierhon says:

    Yep, This is a good chapter in a series of good chapters. I don’t know if this is a result of you getting a better handle on the chaos around you, or a breakthrough in writing style and ability, hopefully both. I love the insights and the way you get the reader involved in the characters thoughts and lives. Thanks AE for sharing this story.

    Current score: 1
  23. Gruhl says:

    I liked this chapter. Just as much, or perhaps a bit more than the other chapters. The end was FTW.
    One thing got my nerdy curiousity peaked though, without getting it satisfied, and I hope sometime during the next month or so, I will get the explanation I crave. I assume a CJ station is MU equivalent of a DJ station, but I can’t help wondering exactly what the CJ abbreviation stands for.

    Excellent, truly enjoyable work. My thanks

    Current score: 0
  24. Sapphite says:

    Fun, fun, fun!

    Nikki is really maintaining her individual feel (but not staying 2D). And yes, great ending. Especially depending on how much of Mack’s last blitz of speech she heard.

    Current score: 0
  25. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report

    Nothing major this time. Just a bit of double punctuation.

    “It’s about… how you meet girls.”.

    The period after the closing quotes is not needed.

    Current score: 0
  26. tjhairball says:

    “Well, we are planning on hanging out, but… it’s hanging out,” the pot said. “You don’t exactly have to fill out a card or make a reservation to do it.”

    “Good point,” the kettle said. “Sorry, I’m carbonized… or maybe just blackened. Man, how did you get to be so shiny clean?”

    Current score: 1
  27. Bau says:

    The symmetrical docking will be awesome.

    Current score: 0
  28. Amy Jo says:

    I would have to say this chapter is in my top 10 favs. Well written, witty, great flow and pace. Well done AE.

    Current score: 0
  29. Mickey Phoenix says:

    I adore Nicki’s semi-self-conscious stream-of-consciousness. She really reminds me of myself, and yet I find her foibles endearing (as opposed to embarrassing).

    Current score: 0