In Which Mackenzie Comes Clean

I could have stayed a bit later after class than I did, but I was supposed to meet Jamie in the lobby of Gilcrease and I wanted a chance to get upstairs and change before running into him. Luckily, there was no sign of him when I got in.

I didn’t have any interest in dressing up for him, nor did I want him to think that I did, but I wanted to come as myself, not in fighting togs… it was only a little thing, but it seemed more important now that I’d started expressing myself more through my clothes instead of just wearing what was practical and not offensive to my rudimentary sense of taste.

Thinking about that made me think about how much it seemed like it was my wardrobe upgrade that had made me interesting or acceptable to him in the first place, which kind of ticked me off more than a little. I pushed it aside for the moment because I had agreed to meet with him, and I was doubly committed now that I’d opted out of more fighting practice to do so.

I hadn’t agreed to anything more than meeting with him, though, and I would definitely be keeping that tidbit in mind when weighing any further options. I doubted I’d have to strain myself to remember, though… if Jamie Bowman had a good point, it was that he liked to remind you of his faults.

…which raised the question of why I was even doing this. I couldn’t even say that it had seemed like a good idea at the time. The most I could say of it was that it seemed harmless. Was that enough? Well, I was trying new things, and hanging out with Jamie voluntarily and without any magical hijinks bringing us together was new.

And while the fact that I didn’t owe people second chances… or third, fourth, or fifth ones… had been a hard-won lesson for me, that didn’t mean the idea of a second chance was a bad one. Never giving anyone or anything a second chance would just get me stuck back in the same old ruts again. Also, even if his criteria for judging me were crass and shallow, he’d at least opted to give me a second chance. I could give him the same benefit.

That was where the “harmless” came in, I guess… the worst that would happen is I’d waste an evening, and if it was completely terrible, I wouldn’t even waste that long.

Amaranth was waiting for me when I got up to the room. I could tell she was waiting and not just there because of the expectant way she was looking in the direction of the door when I came through it.

“Hey… I thought you’d be at dinner,” I said. I tried not to sound disappointed or accusing, because I wasn’t, really… I was just undergoing that moment of adjustment that happens when reality doesn’t match up to what you were counting on. I’d expected to walk into an empty room and have some time to myself to get ready. It wasn’t that being alone would actually be helpful… or that Amaranth being there wouldn’t be… it was just the way I’d envisioned things unfolding.

“I ate fast and came back, in case you needed any moral support,” she said. “I guess I could have eaten a little slower… I was starting to worry that you were getting cold feet.”

“Nope,” I said. “You know me, I can’t stand to have cold anything… I was actually staying after for Coach Callahan, for extra credit.”

“Oh!” she said. “Well, in that case, I’m proud of you… and doubly proud for not using it as an excuse to blow this off.”

“Believe me, I thought about it,” I said. “Maybe not in those exact terms, but it was definitely a factor.”

“Well, I think you’ve made the mature decision in honoring your commitments… but having said that, I guess I should also remind you that you don’t owe time or attention to anyone,” she said. “So, if you don’t want to go through with this, you don’t have to. I can even carry your regrets if you want, if you don’t want to see him in person.”

“I have been having second thoughts,” I said. “And third thoughts, and fourth thoughts… does it show on my face?”

“Actually, if anything, you look sort of grimly determined,” she said. “Resolute. It’s just not a look I normally associate with someone about to go on a romantic assignation, which is why I said something.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not exactly romantic, is it?” I said. “But I just decided to put my doubts aside and just see what happens.”

“…if you’re having doubts…”

“I’m pretty much always going to have doubts, though,” I said. “I mean, if I only did things I was one hundred percent sure I wanted to do, I wouldn’t be with you… and a lot of the times when I do something that turns out to be a huge mistake, it’s something I was completely certain about at the time.”

She smiled.

“I guess I can remember some of those times,” she said. “So, maybe it would be more worrying if you didn’t have any doubts… but that doesn’t mean that more doubts are better.”

“My main doubts are that we’ll get along or I’ll have a fun time,” I said. “Which I think makes a big difference. I don’t think he’s got a hidden agenda or is going to drag me into anything dangerous, and if he does, I’ll leave. I guess it’s mainly the fact that I keep wanting to brace for the worst… which is probably unfair. I mean, underneath it all, I think he’s probably about as decent as most guys our age are. And he’s had some time to mature since the last time I saw him… and he didn’t really see me at my best then, either. And if he’s really kicked the bracelet habit for good… I don’t know. I guess my problem is that this whole thing could go either way, but I don’t have any model in my head for how it would be if it goes well. All I can dwell on is what I know, and that’s not good.”

“So don’t dwell!” Amaranth said. “If you do want to go, just go.”

“That’s pretty much where I am right now,” I said. “Except for the fact that there’s been time to fill and I can’t shut off my brain. Also, in terms of literally going, I want to, you know, freshen up a bit first.”

“I hoped you might,” Amaranth said. “I thought you might want some help picking out clothes.”

“Okay,” I said. Amaranth had an interest in clothing that was at odds with her nature and what she saw as her divine duty, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt anything to let her play dress-up. Well, as long as there were some ground rules for the game. “Just… remember that this is a casual thing. I doubt it’s going to lead anywhere, and even if it does, it’s not going to lead anywhere-lead anywhere, and it’s definitely not going to do that tonight…”

“Oh, I know, baby,” she said. “We’ll make you look nice, not wrap you up like a present.”

“I think I’m going to start with a quick shower,” I said. “I know I might not really need one, but I still feel kind of… spattered… even if it was all illusionary. I mean, I still felt it happening. I need to feel myself getting clean.”

“Make sure you wash your hair,” she said.

“…is there something in my hair?” I said.

“No, but you could wash it more often,” she said. “And comb it out more often, too. To be fair, I don’t think you’re used to your hair being this long? The tangles are a bit more noticeable.”

“Oh,” I said. I hadn’t really thought of my hair as something that got tangled, but then again, this sentence could have stopped seven words in and it would still be pretty much true. “Okay.”

“I’ll lay a few things out on the bed while you’re doing that,” Amaranth said.

Normally I would have lingered in the hot water and steam, but I was on a schedule so I tried to keep everything on a strictly utilitarian basis. While I’d thought of it as doing her a favor, I found myself glad that Amaranth was going to be seeing to my wardrobe because as I thought about it, I realized that pretty much everything I might have thought to wear myself was in the dirty clothes hamper. If I couldn’t talk Amaranth into some kind of reasonable middle ground on that whole issue, then I’d have to do something about it. Getting extra copies of my favorite clothes seemed a bit extreme, to say nothing of inefficient, but I wasn’t sure what else to do about it.

Okay, it seemed obvious that I’d have to start doing laundry more often, but where did you stop when it came to something like that? I was already looking at going to the laundry room twice as month as it was.

Amaranth had laid out my black miniskirt, one of the few skirts that I owned, which I probably should have expected… not because she ever really made an effort to get me into skirts, but because I hardly ever wore them and thus they were clean.

“I’m sorry, there wasn’t as much of a selection as I’d expected,” she said. “But I guess this is kind of your date skirt anyway?”

“You know that nothing is really going to happen, right?” I said. She didn’t seem to be pressuring me, but I still wanted to make it clear if for no other reason than to prevent her from being disappointed later.

“Oh, I know!” she said. “And the weird thing is that even with the idea of sex off the table, I’m still excited for you… because even if nothing happens, well… something is still going to happen, and I kind of want to find out what it is? And hopefully it will be something good! Maybe you’ll have a new friend, and even if it goes terribly, maybe you’ll have a funny story. I don’t know, baby… maybe this sounds strange, but I like the idea of you having a life apart from me. In a weird way, I feel like that will give us more to share.”

“But we’ll be sharing less,” I said.

“But when everything that happens to one of us happens to both of us, there’s no… effort,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like it counts for much when it just sort of happens? I mean, I wish I could have gone with you to see Glory, but hearing about it from you after the fact was kind of fun in a way I didn’t expect.”

“I guess that kind of makes sense,” I said.

“And I think about… well, it’s kind of silly,” she said. “I mean, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The future’s going to be pretty complicated, whatever happens, but I think about a time when instead of both of us being in school, you’ve got a job and you come home and tell me about your day… okay, maybe that’s not the most likely scenario, but I think about it.”

I nodded, but didn’t say anything.

We’d talked about life after college before, but never for long and not very often… mainly because there were obstacles there, obstacles that didn’t have an obvious solution. Amaranth lived in… was bound to… land in what was essentially a religious commune. I was semi-infernal. Even if the people who owned the land that her existence was bound up in were amenable to her having a long-term relationship… and there was a decent chance they would be… it wouldn’t be the safest place for me to live, and it would be far away from any centers of industry. I could maybe find work as the enchanting equivalent of a village blacksmith, but that wasn’t what I wanted in life. A life away from Amaranth also wasn’t what I was looking for.

As intractable as those problems seemed, it was possible that something would happen in the next few years that would resolve them, or give some new perspective on them, or open up new possibilities… but that got into the other reason I didn’t like to think about it.

Any number of things could change in three years. I didn’t like to think about it… I couldn’t imagine the chain of events that might lead me in that direction, though that was less than reassuring when I couldn’t have imagined the events that had led me where I was… but who could even say that we’d still be together when we graduated?


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34 Responses to “Chapter 156: Disturbing Doubts”

  1. Jace says:

    Love the story, as always, AE.

    Current score: 1
  2. Ducky says:

    I was planning for 2 attending two October weddings two weeks ago.

    One week ago we broke up.

    You got this, Mack.

    Current score: 1
  3. pedestrian says:

    Mackenzie, on a date with Jamie Bowman….hhmmmm.

    Any bets on which one of them will have the

    ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ look in their eyes?

    Current score: 1
    • Lunaroki says:

      Would be fun if it were both of them. ^,^

      Current score: 0
    • Nikelas says:

      Is this where we start making puns? Because I’m sure a number of the people who read this could have a lot of faun with that.

      Current score: 1
      • pedestrian says:

        Nikelas, take a Bow, man.

        Upun my word, this may not endeer us with the other readers.

        I’ll try to rein in my enthusiasm for molesting the Britimerican language but when my antlers start itching, I get into a rut of wanton punning!

        Current score: 1
  4. JustAReader says:

    Why would Ian be okay with any of this and why is everyone trying to turn her outing with Bowman into an actual romantic date?

    Current score: 0
    • quart says:

      especially given the moral of this story is supposed to be the one in mac’s position is in control with this sort of relationship and all that…

      Current score: 0
      • Lyssa says:

        Is that the moral? I didn’t think so. I guess we all see different things in it. 🙂

        Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      I think Ian gets off on being the ‘Top’ of his relationship with Mackenzie. And that includes shoving her into situations where her ‘bottom’ can get redden by embarrassment or paddling. Or better yet, both, simultaneously.

      That whole Magisterian/Metropolitan aristocratic superiority thing Ian’s got going for himself.

      Current score: 0
    • Lyssa says:

      If it’s NOT romantic, why wouldn’t Ian be fine with it? If it IS romantic, he’s fine with it because poly is a fact of their relationship, I’d assume.

      It *does* bother me that Amaranth keeps pushing for a romantic angle on the whole thing, but that’s just the glasses she views the world through. She sees sex in everything anyway.

      Current score: 0
      • JustAReader says:

        I think it was pretty clearly established that Ian wants to be the only man in Mackenzie’s configuration.

        Current score: 0
  5. rini says:

    After first two paragraphs I knew we are in for another bout of Mack’s internal ranting and we won’t see Jamie in this chapter…but Amy saved it 🙂

    Current score: 1
    • Lyssa says:

      Not for me. 🙁 Last chapter, it goes from Monday to Wednesday in a matter of sentences. This chapter, I’m pretty sure we covered half an hour of time while AE figures out how she wants the evening to go.

      Current score: 0
  6. moxicity says:

    I kind of feel like the story has been slowing down A LOT lately. Occasionally there’s bursts of activity and the narrative moves along, but then there’s this. A chapter of Mack coming home, exchanging a few words with Amaranth and taking a shower. And looking at a skirt. There are some important moments here, but I still feel like there’s so much stuffing to go through to get to those.

    Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      It’s…emotional stuffing. The yummy, fatty part, to compliment the lean action scenes!

      Current score: 0
      • Lyssa says:

        Emotional stuffing can happen much better than this. AE is a pretty skilled writer, but she is very, very inconsistent, not only in updating but in her writing style itself. She doesn’t have the luxury of editing a book as a whole and adjusting it to flow together. The result is that her writing is a bit haphazard and we sometimes get chapters like these that could have been done more elegantly if this were a standard chapter. But the nice part of it, of course, is that we don’t have to wait months/years for her next installment. 🙂

        Current score: 0
  7. Readaholic says:

    ^What Athena said^

    Both parts are yummy, and complement each other. Lean chicken breast is nice, but Roast Chicken, with lemon/herb stuffing, is delicious.

    Current score: 0
  8. Lunaroki says:

    Typo Report:

    Okay, it seemed obvious that I’d have to start doing laundry more often, but where did you stop when it came to something like that? I was already looking at going to the laundry room twice as month as it was.

    First off, only twice a month? Mackenzie, you slob! You should be doing laundry once a week minimum! Second, should be “twice a month”, not “twice as month”.

    Current score: 0
    • grothvar says:

      wat? when did that become a rule? If I have enough cloths to do it once a month why not do it once a month?

      Current score: 0
      • Ducky says:

        I generally do laundry every three weeks, but if I had as few clothes as Mack does, I would do it more often. Because, y’know, I need to wear clothes.

        Current score: 0
        • Brenda says:

          It doesn’t have to be a particular day, either. It could be a week and a half, or almost two weeks, or a little over two weeks…

          I’m a little annoyed on Mack’s behalf about the whole “if you wore it for ten minutes it’s dirty” thing. I always had a place to put clothes I was going to wear again before washing – either hooks, or a separate laundry basket.

          Current score: 0
  9. Cass says:

    What annoys me is that no one ever listens to Mackenzie. She doesn’t want to see Jamie, let alone date him, and she has been forced to do so, and has everyone seeing it as a date! I know she needs encouragement, but should be allowed to know her own mind a bit more now – rant over, sorry!

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      I thought that Jamie and Mackenzie had sort of talked themselves into this ‘non-date’ as a way to delude themselves that this could turn out to confirm that they do not have nor intend to have a relationship.

      Shall we start a betting pool as to how soon they fumble their way into sex, pregnancy and then marriage? And a subsequent divorce?

      I pick fourth non-date, Junior year, and upon graduation. Instead of divorce, can I chose the box marked ‘fiery accident’?

      Guess we’ll find out the accuracy of the college tests claiming I’m psychic. Maybe they misspelled psychotic?

      Current score: 0
    • Cadnawes says:

      Yeah I don’t get how having dinner with someone under duress is a “date”. especially if it’s with a guy and the lady in question is somewhere around Kinsey 4.

      I’m afraid wearing that skirt will reinforce the idea.

      Current score: 0
    • Brenda says:

      Go back and reread the chapter where all this got set up, and you will see that she and Jamie sort of stumbled into doing this.

      Current score: 0
  10. William Carr says:

    Say… if Jamie still HAD that bracelet… what’s Amaranth’s parental unit’s rule on ‘dating’ transformed humans?

    {cough} Horse ! {cough}

    Current score: 0
    • grothvar says:

      deer.

      and I think that was generally resolved by the fact that any transformed druid had the mind of an animal and wouldn’t want to fuck. don’t think there was any ruling on transformed humanoid beings still both willing and able to consent in that body

      Current score: 0
      • Ducky says:

        Or the elven stag’s rider being ok with it.

        Current score: 0
        • Bob says:

          He seemed like he should be and would be surprised he was still expected to have an opinion in the matter.

          Didn’t they get it disenchanted so it could be removed and also to give control to the stag instead of the elf? I got the impression Iason was given the bracelet because his grandfather left it to his only reasonable descendent as opposed to yellow eyes(the younger) who was far more “traditional”

          Iason ended up actually trying to fix this and still wanted the bracelet to be a gift after they split right? Real ass most of the time but in the end he seemed like if somebody had to turn you into a deer he was the best elf it could have been.
          He helped get it off twice. Once when he was pretty sure fake death would trick it and the other after the story ended when they went to the enchanter to alter it. And released Bowman so if he wore it again it’d be free will, and even then, when Jaimie did didn’t force a lasting claim when as an elf, by the magic of the bracelet and by elven law he easily could have in a way that even jaimie’s elven family and probably the imperium didn’t seem motivated to dispute if it happened.

          Current score: 0
  11. Zathras IX says:

    Some foreshadowing:
    Judging by Mackenzie’s hair
    Things will get tangled

    Current score: 0
  12. Moridain says:

    Is there any particular reason why Amerynth has to return to living in her field..? I mean, she IS the field and should stay connected to it, but from what I understand her role as the spirit of the field is being fulfilled by her nymphly duties as it is.

    Right now she is paying for her (the field) safety with abundant and work free Ameranth. They don’t seem to lack for ‘recepticals’ as I understand it, and the ‘blessing’ is being provided by willing doners all over campus.

    So, if she gets a job to pay for her tuition and living costs, or ‘marries’ Mack after she starts working in Enchantment, does she actually have to return..?

    Note that I am not suggesting she cut herself off from the field. First because giving up effective immortality is a big ask, and second because that isn’t what she wants on any level.

    Current score: 1