Chapter 50: Chekhov's Daughter

on December 4, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Mackenzie Contemplates A Set-Up

Nicki and I talked more before the dance, and then off and on during it. At one point I found myself suddenly fretting on the inside when I realized that at some point she was going to want to dance with me, but then I realized we’d drifted inside the pent and were in fact both moving slightly in conjunction with the music.

Nicki was shy when it came to talking about herself, but through some gentle coaxing I did learn a bit about her family. Specifically, I learned that as far as she knew she wasn’t at all related to the La Belle family, which was a bit of a surprise and a relief.

I learned that she was the middle child of three, which seemed like a big family to me… that also surprised me, because I would have guessed her to be an only child like me.

“Nope,” she said when I told her as much. “I think sometimes that I might have grown up to be a stronger person if I’d been an only child… not that I don’t love my brother and sister. When we were younger it was like having built-in best friends, but then my brother reached a point where he felt like he was too old to play little kiddy games with his sisters, and my sister… well, I had the idea that her being younger than me meant that she should be capable of and interested in everything I did, only like, subordinate to me. Um, that probably makes me sound really immature and self-involved.”

“It makes it sound like you’re talking about a child,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean… oh, right!” she said. She laughed. “I guess I never felt like I was particularly immature when I was a kid, so when I look back on the things I thought and did, sometimes I just… it seems like I was so stupid. And even if I sit here and tell myself that I was only like seven or whatever, it just feels… grown-ups always acted like seven-year-olds wouldn’t know better, but I felt like I did at the time, and now I look back and realize I didn’t but I still feel like I should have. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t really dwell on my childhood that much, but I definitely do know what it’s like to dwell on mistakes, or perceived mistakes… Amaranth has done a lot to help me come to terms with that, and with learning how to forgive myself.”

“For what?”

“For whatever,” I said. “Even in cases where you didn’t actually do anything wrong but you still beat yourself up over it, you have to learn how to forgive yourself for it before you can let go and realize that the forgiveness wasn’t even necessary. Amaranth likes to read just about anything, but lately… well, as of late last spring, anyway… she was following research in the Journal of Empaths about self-forgiveness vs. self-esteem.”

“Are those things really opposites?” Nicki asked.

“No,” I said. “But they’re different approaches. Trying to instill self-esteem in someone… including yourself… is a different process than teaching them how to forgive-themselves. If you’re hung up on self-esteem, then anything that makes you feel like you have a flaw… well, your idea of your value as a person is being defined by value. So you either have to deny the flaw or let your self-image dim a little. Self-forgiveness is more like, ‘So, yes, I made a mistake, and that’s okay.'”

“Still seems like they could go together,” Nicki said. “I mean, if you have enough self-esteem you should be able to handle some criticism.”

“Right, but how many people do you know who actually do that?” I asked. “And think about how easy it would be to take that statement and use it to flog yourself with? I mean, if you believe that feeling good about yourself means you should be able to shrug off insults or not take criticism personally, then what does it say about you when somebody says something that does hurt you? And honestly, that is going to happen.”

“I guess I sort of have been there,” Nicki said. “I mean, I’ve spent some time kind of beating myself up for not being able to handle peer critiques more, in my design classes.”

“Are those a regular part of design classes?” I asked. That didn’t sound like a lot of fun.

“Yeah, they’re pretty common, but I don’t think Professor Stone is planning on doing them,” she said. “They weren’t on the syllabus.”

“That’s good to know,” I said.

“I would have expected you were used to criticism,” she said. “I mean, you must have people saying worse things… shit, that’s coming out wrong.”

“It probably sounds worse to you than it does to me,” I said. “Because, yeah, I did get used to people saying shit about me once it was known that I was a half-demon. But just because I accepted it as normal didn’t stop it from hurting. Though at the time I kind of felt like I reached a point where it wasn’t doing any harm because there was no more harm for it to do.”

“That’s… kind of depressing.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Oh, no, it’s okay… I don’t mean that you’re depressing me,” Nicki said. “I mean, I feel bad for you… oh, hey, I think I see your… girlfriend?”

The hesitation and questioning tone made me cringe with the expectation that she’d be talking about Steff, but when I looked over to where she was pointing, I saw it was Amaranth, arriving with an entourage of several guys and at least one girl in her wake. The exact size and composition was hard to tell, because the party was reaching full swing and more and more people were arriving… with the exception of the kind of short girl who was trying to walk with her arm around Amaranth’s shoulder, it was hard to say who was showing up with her and who was just showing up at the same time from the same general direction.

“Yeah, Amaranth is my girlfriend,” I said.

“I knew you were together,” she said. “I just wasn’t sure what the best term was, with the poly and the, uh, kink and whatever else.”

“Girlfriend works,” I said, realizing that the same kind of confusion over nomenclature could have applied to Steff’s relationship with me even without any confusion over Steff’s gender, or pointed rejection of it.

Amaranth saw us looking and waved across the way at us, though she didn’t hurry over.

“Do you want to go talk to her?” she asked, with a hitch in her voice that reminded me that I would need to explicitly tell her that yes, she’d be welcome to come with me if I did.

“Not right away,” I said. I didn’t really like dealing with groups of people that I didn’t know, which was probably one of the reasons Amaranth hadn’t come running, my not-quite-date with Nicki being the other one. “I want to at least say hi, but I’d rather wait until she’s a bit less entangled.”

“That might be a while… she looks pretty well entangled with that girl,” Nicki said, which was a pretty good description of the way the one girl was,

“Do you think any of those people have had sex with her?”

“I think they probably all did,” I said. “Or sex with people in her presence… that’s probably why they all arrived together.”

“Does that bother you? At all?”

“Nope,” I said. “Not even a little tiny bit.”

“That chick is playing with her tits,” Nicki said.

“Um, yeah,” I said. “That’s not really something I want to watch, but it’s because a breast is being fondled in public, not because of whose breast it is.”

“I don’t think I could be as cool about it as you are.”

“I don’t think it’s being cool,” I said. “Seriously, it’s not like it would bother me but I’m making an effort and choice not to be bothered. It’s not like I got involved with her and then found out that she was a nymph, or how she spent her time… how open she is about sex shocked me at first, and I guess it still does, sometimes… not ‘shock’ in the sense of surprise, but more like jarring my ingrained sensibilities, I suppose. But that’s got nothing to do with any feeling that I have some kind of exclusive claim on her and more to do with having been brought up to believe that sex is something that pretty much no one should be having ever, and that all the sex that isn’t had should happen behind closed doors.”

“You still feel that way?”

“If you asked me if I believed that, I’d say ‘no’,” I said. “Because I don’t. But do I feel that way? Yeah. Not with the intensity of a thousand exploding fireballs or anything, but I get a twinge of it every now and then. I think I’m lucky in that my mother didn’t really do anything to instill that in me… she didn’t go out of her way to teach me about the birds and the bees at an early age, or try to instill a bunch of stuff about free love in me, either… but she wasn’t religious and didn’t try to pound any religious ideas about sexual morality into me. So it’s part of my upbringing, but only part of my later upbringing… my grandmother was able to pound it in pretty deeply, but not as deeply as she might have if she’d had more access to me sooner.”

“You know what surprised me about your grandmother?” Nicki said. “That the White Dragons are a Universalist order.”

“Well, the Universal and the Mother Temples are the ones that have the most orders of paladins and monks,” I said. “And the Imperial Republic’s not very likely to sanction a metro order, or vice-versa… and my grandmother wouldn’t have joined it if they did.”

“That’s what I meant, though,” she said. “I never would have guessed she was a Universalist. I would have guessed her to be some kind of Khersian Essentialist. I mean, I think of places back east as being more Universal Temple territory than south central Magisteria.”

“Well, that’s pretty true,” I said. “But it’s not like temples buy exclusive franchises. I’m not sure why my grandmother settled around Blackwater of all places, but now that I’m thinking about it, I think maybe the fact that it wasn’t part of the Universalist stronghold might have influenced her. She has a lot of respect for the institution and its offices, but I think maybe she likes the idea of hierarchy more than she likes being part of one.”

“She always wants to be in charge?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Because officially she has a lot of old-fashioned ideas about women and our place… but I think maybe she needs to be in charge, and chafes when she isn’t, or when she thinks the people in charge are doing things wrong. So she just stays away from it all. If she paid attention to what the Pontifex was doing, she might have an opinion about it.”

“Doesn’t the fact that she thinks she could do better tell her that she’s wrong about women?”

“On some level, I’m sure,” I said. “But my grandmother already believes that people… women especially… are prone to ‘error’, so when that happens it’s probably pretty easy for her to tell herself that she’s wrong for thinking she’s wrong. I don’t know… it’s not like I spend a lot of time analyzing my grandmother’s thought processes. I really don’t like thinking about the way she thinks in general. It’s just not always possible to avoid it, after spending most of a decade living with her.”

“Do you still live with her?”

“No,” I said. “Right now, officially, I don’t live anywhere except the school.”

“Seriously? Where does your mail go?”

“To the school,” I said. “I think they still have my grandmother’s place as my official address, but I was here all summer so I got all my enrollment stuff for the new semester through the intracampus system.”

As we spoke, Amaranth appeared to be saying farewell to her escorts, exchanging embraces and kisses with several of them. The girl who’d been hanging off of her appeared to be especially reluctant to let go of her, which just made me feel even more embarrassed by proxy. Amaranth gave up and led her onto the grassy dance floor instead.

“I think that girl’s got it hard,” Nicki said.

“You know, if you want to know who likes girls, hanging out with Amaranth might be a good way to find out,” I said.


“Well, yeah,” I said, a second before I realized that her disbelief wasn’t at the idea of Amaranth as a walking spell of detect lesbian tendencies but at the idea of her hanging out with Amaranth. “I mean, she’s really easy to get along with… I’m sure she’ll like you.”

Of course, while it wasn’t what I’d meant, Amaranth actually could literally detect lesbian tendencies, and other facets of a person’s romantic and sexual being. Outing people for the convenience of a friend would be inappropriate, but now that I was thinking about it, Amaranth had to know other people who were in the same position as Nicki, and playing middleman or matchmaker for a couple of them was exactly the sort of good deed she’d enjoy doing.

“Hey,” I said. “Maybe Amaranth could set you up?”

“I don’t know… I mean, beggars and choosers and all that, but that chick seems a little aggressive for me,” Nicki said. “Oh, sorry… I don’t know if that’s one of your friends or not.”

“I didn’t necessarily mean her in particular,” I said. “And no, I don’t know who that is, either.”

Amaranth’s dancing partner was short, as I’d mentioned… a bit shorter than me, judging by how she looked next to Amaranth. She was a bit more built than I was, still mostly on the skinny side. Her hair was brown, and maybe a little reddish… though that could have been the fact that they were standing under an orange paper lantern.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen her before, but I don’t really pay a lot of attention… and Amaranth tries to meet as many people from around the school as she can,” I said.

“Oh,” Nicki said. “It just seemed like…”

“Like what?”

“I can’t imagine being that close to someone I didn’t already know,” she said.

“I can’t, either,” I said. “But a lot of other people don’t have that problem. Anyway, maybe they do know each other. Amaranth has a much bigger social circle than I do.”

“Oh, hey!” a voice said from behind us. “I thought it was you.”

I processed whose voice it was as I was turning around to face her: Twyla.

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23 Responses to “Chapter 50: Chekhov's Daughter”

  1. Burnsidhe says:

    Heheh. Mack’s pretty comfortable with Nicki already. And this should be interesting.

    Current score: 0
  2. Celti says:

    “…which was a pretty good description of the way the one girl was,”

    I do believe that’s either cut off or supposed to end with a period.

    Current score: 0
  3. FMan0801 says:


    More Twyla hijinks coming our way?

    There should be a comment about wishes in here but one is not forthcoming from the depths, no matter how shallow, of my brain.

    Current score: 0
  4. Zathras IX says:

    Amaranth likes to
    Read just about anything
    But does she learn it?

    Current score: 2
  5. cnic says:

    Now I am curious about Miss Fremdschämen, or at least she causes it in Mack.

    Current score: 0
  6. anon y mouse says:

    “is a different process than teaching them how to forgive-themselves” – self-forgive, or forgive themselves?

    “and that all the sex that isn’t had should happen behind closed doors” – is had, or is happening, maybe?

    “So it’s part of my upbringing, but only part of my later upbringing… my grandmother was able to pound it in pretty deeply, but not as deeply as she might have if she’d had more access to me sooner.” – this is a bit confusing; at first, I thought ‘it’s part of my upbringing’ was referring to what her mother taught her, not what her grandmother did (it doesn’t necessarily need to be changed, but I thought you’d like to know).

    Current score: 0
    • Silverai says:

      The sex sentence works, although I had to doubletake to figure it out. She’s saying sex shouldn’t happen, and that the stuff (that totally wasn’t happening, ok?) should happen behind closed doors. It’s denying the sex, and then saying the thing she’s denying should happen behind closed doors, thereby admitting it does happen really, she just chooses to believe it doesn’t.

      Part of my upbringing is refering to her whole childhood, including both mother and grandmother. Hence the later upbringing refering to the grandmother part which happened after the mother part.

      Current score: 0
  7. Oniwasabi says:

    The non-hypothetical situation is back, and it won initiative!

    Current score: 0
    • Eris Harmony says:

      I think Mack’s die is loaded to always roll a natural one.

      Current score: 1
  8. Kevin Brown says:

    I have to say that this is an excellent chapter title (and chapter) of course we all know about Chekhov’s Daughter. She’s the one who shot him, with his own gun no less!

    Current score: 0
    • siberian says:

      lol all i could think was what? Chekhov didn’t have a daughter, Sulu did!

      Current score: 0
      • Kevin Brown says:

        As much as we all love Mr. Takei I was referring to the literary device known as Chekhov’s Gun which refers to the idea that a detail is only worth mentioning if it relates to the plot. The given example is that if a gun is shown on the mantlepiece then that gun will be used to murder someone.

        Current score: 1
  9. Erianaiel says:

    I hope that Mackenzie manages to appologise and explain that she messed up sending Twyla to professor Bohd, even though she did not know there would be a problem at the time she suggested.

    It probably is asking a bit much of her though.

    Current score: 0
  10. valentino says:

    I didn’t get the Chekhov’s daughter reference and i tried looking it up lol but all I found were allusions to it or links to an actress. Could someone explain or maybe just point me in the right direction? Or is it just a play on words for chekhov’s gun?

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      I’m pretty sure it is in fact an allusion to Chekhov’s Gun. We saw Twyla in the previous chapter, so according to the principle of Chekhov’s Gun she had to be “fired” by the “third act”. Not that AE is a slave to such conventions, which is why she neatly lampshaded it with the chapter title.

      Current score: 0
  11. Tamina says:

    My guess is that the aggressive girl is that autumn elf that featured in the theatre department and one of the interviews earlier. She says stuff like “After I touched you I’d skin you so your skin would never touch anyone ever again” because – romantic?

    My point is a) what was her name? and b)anyone else seeing showdown when desperate-for-attention elf sees Amaranth give romantic attention to Mack?

    Current score: 0
    • N. says:

      I don’t know. “She was a bit more built than I was” – does that jibe with full elf?

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      • Bubble says:

        My guess is that it’s a La Belle, cos of the red hair, stockiness and generally just cos there seems to be so bloody many of em.

        Current score: 0
        • fka_luddite says:

          My first thought also. Specifically one of this years fresh(man) crop.

          Current score: 0
    • Krey says:

      I dunno about the elf bit, since I can’t remember that copper girls name, but the character tags seem to suggest this new short clingy girl is named Nina.

      Current score: 0
      • Sapphite says:

        Wasn’t it Simone? I think I still have the interview story bookmarked at home (hoping for it to be finished).

        I think Nina is the CJ.

        Current score: 0
  12. 3023ogilvyd says:

    I just wanted to say that ToMU has felt very different over the 550 chapters, weaving in and out of different styles and things… but these past few chapters feels a lot like the first hundred chapters, very classic MU, and strikes a lot of the chords that made me fall in love with the series.

    Current score: 0
  13. Erm says:

    tell herself that she’s wrong for thinking she’s wrong.

    Ouch, my brain…

    Current score: 1