In Which Estimates Are Revised

If Amaranth hadn’t been there, I might have waited until exactly seven to head down in order to make some kind of a point, though the fact that I wasn’t sure exactly what that point would be hinted at how heavily the emphasis was on “some kind”.

Okay, I told myself as the lift descended towards the ground floor. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this… no sense second-guessing or looking for things to snipe on the whole time.

I doubted I could make it stick, but at least my brain was on notice.

Jamie was waiting for me when I got downstairs, reading the noticeboard in that way that always makes it clear that you’re looking for something to do while you’re waiting so you’re not just sort of standing around. By that I mean, he was reading the noticeboard.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said. He gave me a very quick up and down, and said everything he could possibly say about my outfit that wouldn’t have resulted in me mentally punching him, which was nothing.

“So…?” I said.

“You aren’t like starving or anything, are you?” he asked me.

“If I were starving, you’d be in trouble,” I said. “I’d like to eat food at some point, but it doesn’t have to be now. Why? Do you have other plans?”

“I thought we’d take a little walk around campus,” he said.

“That’s your big idea for a night out?” I asked.

“No, I don’t actually have any big ideas,” he said. “Because for one thing, you only agreed to meet and talk. It’s kind of an implicit rule of dating anyway that anyone can bail at any time for any reason, but when you make a point of mentioning it in advance, there’s not a lot of point in booking a table at a fancy restaurant. Also, I’ve done the fancy restaurant dates.”

“And what, they didn’t impress you much?” I asked, kind of pointedly. I didn’t have to inquire whether he’d been taken out or had took someone out on those dates, because I knew his history.

“No, actually, they did,” he said. “Probably if two people already like each other, a fancy restaurant can just be a fun thing they do together for shits and giggles, but otherwise, the only point is to impress, and my brain translates that to ‘distract’ or ‘unbalance’. I don’t want to do that. Even if I was trying to get into your pants… skirt… and even if I thought it would work, I don’t want to be pulling maneuvers out of that book.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“…what for?”

“Underestimating you,” I said.

“I’m not sure if I should be flattered or not,” he said. “I mean, I was worried the walk was going over like a balloon full of earth, but if it’s actually more than you expected from me…”

“Let’s just walk, okay?” I said.

“Works for me,” he said, and we headed out into the night.

It was still fairly early, both in the school year and the evening, but I found myself wondering if I’d have to protect him, if we did run into ghouls or some other local hazard. I knew Jamie had an adventurous streak in him, and that he apparently did know something about using the throwing axe he wore on his hip, but I also knew he was mostly human.

“So… not to be entirely lame, but for lack of a better topic: how was your summer break?” he asked.

“It wasn’t,” I said. “I stayed here, did the summer session… I don’t really have anywhere else to go, and it made me more sense than getting an apartment. I mean, I would have had to find a full-time summer job to do that, and if I was going to be working either way, it made more sense to keep working towards my major.”

“…when you say you don’t have anywhere else to go…”

“I lived with my grandmother before coming here,” I said. “And that was pretty much the breaking point.”

“What was?”

“Coming here,” I said. “It’s not that she wouldn’t take me back… though that might be the case now… but that if she did, it would be forever.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Was she tough to live with?”

“She would have been hard for anyone to live with, I think, but the real issue was that I was me,” I said. “And I don’t even mean the whole bisexuality thing, because there wasn’t even a whisper of that… though I wouldn’t be surprised if she caught a whiff of it at some point, anyway. Hell, she probably would have suspected me even without any particular reason.”

“I knew she was a paladin, but it seemed like she was kind of a badass one,” he said. “So I guess I never thought she might have a stick up her ass like most paladins.”

“You knew my grandmother was a paladin?” I asked.

“Well, yeah, she was kind of famous,” he said. “And in a way, so were you. Are? I don’t know. The campus rumor mill hasn’t spun up to speed yet this year, but it seems like you haven’t been in the news lately.”

“If I’m lucky, I won’t be,” I said. “It was never my idea.”

“I’m starting to get that,” he said.

“The funny thing is, everyone else knew about her before I did. I didn’t know she was ‘Brimstone Blaise’, or that there was a Brimstone Blaise… she was just my grandmother. She was just a backwoods exorcist to me. She was who people went to because you couldn’t get a paladin.”

“There’s a thing Steff says about her dad sometimes,” Jamie said. “That he has a lot of good points, and most of them are distance, or something like that.”

“That’s about how I feel about her,” I said.

“Sometimes I feel glad that I don’t live with my parents all the time… but I guess I’m lucky,” he said. “I mean, I have a place to go back to, and I like going back there. I want to get out for good eventually, obviously, but I’m okay with spending my summers there. The worst thing I have to worry about with my mother is that she’ll say or do something to embarrass me. Which she does. With horrifying frequency.”

“Maybe I should meet your mom,” I said.

“Why, I think you can embarrass yourself well enough… shit, I’m sorry,” he said.

“Just slipped out?”

“Believe it or not, I didn’t come here to insult you,” he said.

“I believe you,” I said. “If it makes you feel better, I actually was starting to feel awkward about having a heartfelt conversation with you like that. I actually feel less vulnerable now.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Neither of us had said anything about a particular route… I was mostly following Jamie’s lead, but we were walking side by side so to some extent we were following each other. Our footsteps had led us onto the path that curved past the back side of Harlowe and Burlew Halls. Well, they were technically the back sides, but since the fronts basically faced nothing, they were the views that most people got coming and going from them, entering and exiting through the covered space between them that was known as the Nexus.

Jamie drew to a stop just past the Nexus. I thought at first he was staring at the outside of Harlowe, but then I realized he was looking at the architectural tumor attached to the end of it. If you had never been inside Harlowe, you might not have thought of it as a separate unit. Even then, it was possible to not realize that the outside of the building had a bend where the inside ran straight.

It had started out as part of Harlowe, but had been partitioned into a separate building when Harlowe first became the designated demihuman dorm, because no one had ever believed that non-human students could fill the whole hall… and after that, of course, the acceptance rates had been influenced by how much space was available in that one dorm.

The sub-dorm’s front door had originally been a side exit, and it hadn’t been expanded or enlarged in any way. The words “OBERRAD HOUSE”, in the same face as the other dorm names but apologetically small, looked badly out of place over it.

There was an air of disuse about it, which was pretty much confirmed by the fact that there was actually a stripe of black and yellow caution tape making an X over the door.

“Oberrad House,” he said. “I don’t know why they call it a house, really… I mean, all the other dorm-style buildings on campus are called halls, except the towers. I guess they thought it was too small to be a hall? People keep trying to make me feel sad over this, but I just don’t get the hand-wringing over it. It’s not like a campus landmark or anything.”

“What hand-wringing?” I asked.

“Well, the university is trying to decide what to do with it, and one of the ideas that keeps coming up is getting rid of it,” he said. “Apparently, it’s been leased to a succession of frats and sororities, but no one stays in it very long. Why would they? It’s an abbreviated dorm. Compared to the actual houses and lodges that a lot of the heraldic societies have, it’s kind of… well, the nickname for it is ‘the dungeon’. Don’t know if that’s racist or something, being next to Harlowe, but it’s apparently kind of cramped and there’s not a lot of light. Nobody wants to live there, but every time somebody talks about getting rid of it, people get all misty-eyed about it and you get preservation committees and stuff. But you know all this.”

“I do?”

“Yeah, you were a Nexite last year.”

“A Nexite?”

“Part of the Nexus,” he said.

“I was in Harlowe,” I reminded him. “It may have been connected to the Nexus physically, but we were kind of separate from everything.”

“Maybe at the start of the year,” he said. “But by the end of the first semester, the barriers were kind of coming together.”

“Then maybe I was kind of separate from everything,” I said. “I didn’t pay a lot of attention to things happening outside my circle, if they didn’t affect me directly.”

“…huh,” he said.

“What?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Okay, I just caught myself thinking something that’s both unflattering and contradictory.”

“What?” I asked.

“I was thinking that was really self-involved of you, which I was thinking was typical,” he said. “Then I realized that the reason I think of you as self-involved is that one of my first impressions of you was that you stuck your nose in everything and were always drawing attention to yourself.”

“…um, thank you for your honesty?” I said.

“I’m just saying, it’s not fair for me to ding you for keeping to yourself when… there’s like a semantic double-bind going on there, where I could call you self-involved for keeping to yourself or for not doing so,” he said.

“I’d rather you did judge me for keeping to myself than for being some kind of attention-craving busybody, but I’m not sure why you’re judging me at all,” I said. “You talked me into this, remember.”

“Good point,” he said.

“Anyway, pretty much the extent of my interest or knowledge in this place was finding out that it existed,” I said. “I noticed there was something off about the layout of the rooms in Harlowe, and then I found out why, and then I sort of shrugged and moved on.”

“That’s pretty much my reaction to the whole thing,” he said. “I mean, there’s been talk about tearing it down and building another full-sized dorm off the Nexus in its place, and I… I don’t see a downside to that? Now that the Arch exists, these dorms are all getting more popular. We’re closer to the actual center of campus than the eastern dorms, but we’ve always been farther from the old centers of student life.”

“No offense, but you sound kind of oddly passionate about this,” I said. “I mean, are you in favor of tearing it down, or do you just not see the point in opposing it?”

“It’s mostly that I don’t see the point, but when people put petitions in my face I guess I start thinking about why they’re wrong,” he said. “It’s almost an automatic reflex.”

“Since we’re talking about the Arch… how about dinner?” I said.

“So, you do want to get dinner with me, after all?”

“I’ll be honest,” I said. “Unless you completely insulted me in the first five minutes, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I was going to… I mean, I get that you’ve been walking on eggshells a little bit because you know I really don’t like you, and I’ve been preparing for the first for like two days now, but I’m… I’m really not up to sitting and silently judging someone. I mean, that’s not to say that I can’t be judgmental, because I have been massively judgmental in the past. Part of my upbringing, really, with my grandmother… but what I can’t do is be all cold and calculating about it. Short of actually physically driving me away, there’s not a lot you can do that’ll make me stomp off.”

“I guess that explains why you’re still with Ian Mason, then.”

“…okay, let me correct myself,” I said. “Short of driving me off or making fun of Ian, or my other relationships.”

“Sorry!” he said. “Honestly, that was… it wasn’t even a joke. It’s like a Margot joke. I mean, there’s nothing particularly funny about it and it’s not grounded in reality, but it still kind of fits into the situation generally? Like, it had the potential to be a real zinger, if it actually applied.”

“Okay, you get a second chance just for admitting that Margot’s jokes are annoying,” I said.

“I didn’t say that. They’re actually kind of comforting in their regularity,” he said. “The truth is, of all the people you’re dating…”

“Who are only three people,” I reminded him, since he’d had some confusion on that score in our last conversation.

“Of those three people, Ian’s the one I know the least about,” he said. “I know shit about him.”

“He’s not your biggest fan,” I said.

“I always thought his problem was with Iason.”

“Well, yeah, but… you were with Iason,” I said. “Iason might have treated you like shit and used you, but when he was being douchey, you were the douchebag who was fawning all over him.”

“That’s… fair, I guess,” he said, though he sounded genuinely hurt. Caught between my impulses to comfort him or rub salt in the wound, I decided to change the subject.

“So… dinner?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “Only we’re not going to the Arch.”

“I hope you’re not expecting me to go eat in the union,” I said. “I’ll take back what I said about underestimating you.”

“We’re not eating there, either.”

“You did say that you didn’t get us reservations at a fancy restaurant,” I reminded him. “I’m going to be seriously disappointed if you lied.”

“I didn’t,” he said. “For all the reasons I mentioned before, and also because I wasn’t sure when we’d get to it. But there are places to eat that fall somewhere between school cafeteria and high cuisine.”

“Okay, but I’m warning you, I’m going to be hard to impress,” I said. “I had fast food on Monday.”


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45 Responses to “Chapter 157: A Walk On Eggshells”

  1. Tomo says:

    man, I still don’t like jamie, even WITHOUT iason…..just something about him rubs me the wrong way.

    also, OOK.

    Current score: 1
    • 'Nym-o-maniac says:

      Agreed. I’m trying to give him a second chance and all, and maybe he’s trying to be less of an entitled douche, but he still comes off as a huge entitled douche.

      Current score: 1
      • Amelia says:

        He really does, but as one who at least *wants* to change, even if he hasn’t figured out how to do that.

        I actually like this: it’s a believable character develop from the totally self-centred, blinkered jerk-with-potential-to-be-decent he seemed when we first met him

        Current score: 2
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      I – have to agree there, although I don’t like him, I don’t dislike him quite as much. There are some hints of growth here. I don’t know as I’d ever actually get to where I like the chap but tolerate, perhaps. At least he isn’t Puddy.

      Current score: 0
    • Bob says:

      I always liked him less than the elf

      Current score: 0
  2. carson says:

    see, I was just thinking that i liked Jamie.

    Current score: 2
  3. Burnsidhe says:

    It’s the reflexive sniping. Good to see he’s trying to control it, but were I Mackenzie, I’d walk away after this and not look back.

    Current score: 0
    • Luke Licens says:

      And I see that reflexive sniping, and it makes me think of the way my own friends talk. It’s an intrinsic part of the only friendship he’s managed to maintain long term, so deadpan snark is a natural part of his idea of communication and friendship. It’s a very different dynamic than Mack and her circle are used to, but that doesn’t make it less valid.

      Current score: 3
  4. pedestrian says:

    For my next prediction, I will need the assistance of someone in the audience. How about this lovely lady? Now don’t be shy, dear. Come on everybody, give her a hand for being such a brave girl….

    Now dear, I have a pack of 52 cards here. You know the suites, do you not? Spades, Diamonds, Clubs and Hearts. Now I’m going to shuffle these, like so. Then fan them out in my hands.

    Now what I need you to do is, looking only at the backs of these cards, I want you to pull out the Queen of Hearts….without fail.

    Succeed or fail, that will determine the rest of your life.

    Welcome to dating.

    Current score: 0
    • Dete says:

      In the mu-verse, wouldn’t the suits Swords, Cups, Wands and… maybe orbs or coins or something?

      Still true either way though =p

      Current score: 0
      • Christopher Martin says:

        Would it?

        Just because they replaced science with technology, why would they have any reason to have different symbols?

        For the reference, here’s the wikipedia article on the various suits of cards (mostly differentiated by region): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suit_(cards)

        Current score: 0
        • Burnsidhe says:

          Cards evolved from the Minor Arcana of the Tarot. Swords, Cups, Wands, and Coins were exactly what they used.

          Current score: 0
          • Mist42nz says:

            And the mystic tarot we know evolved from french picture card decks which were collected for the cute pictures and some games were invented to make use of them. A bitlike baseball cards of magic the gasping. These picture cards were the inspiration for a magician to develop a particular set of symbols for use in exploring and remember his Kabbalh and its attributions. It became popular amongst a group of people and became used to for other games. The rigid one deck and standardised contents lent itself well for new games with solid rules to be developed and spread.

            Current score: 0
            • alexanderthesoso says:

              Well, it was used as code for Alchemists to talk shop before the french started turning it into parlor games.

              Current score: 0
            • Mist says:

              Some pictures were, others were copies of famous paintings, or famous people. Of course famous paintings and pictures of famous people have always been favorite hiding places of knowledge. Right back to early Egyptian times we know some stories tell a public “key” story, yet depending on your knowledge of the secret codes, one can spot other hidden stories…although some are false tot act as shibboleths 🙂

              Current score: 0
        • Sejemaset says:

          There was a chapter a long time ago in which they played cards and the suits were Swords, Cups, Wands, and Coins. The game “hearts” is also called “Cups” in MU.

          Current score: 1
        • Dete says:

          Late response but I was basing this from when they were playing cards in Ian’s room freshmen year.

          http://www.talesofmu.com/story/book05/127

          They game they play is called cups, and they use the arcana suits but only mention Swords, Cups and wands in the chapter. So I just assumed that the playing cards in the mu verse used those suits instead.

          Current score: 1
      • Tamina says:

        I’m pretty sure there’s been some references to cups, swords, wands and…something? Like, people have played cards at some point. I might be thinking of MoarMU, and I can’t be bothered digging through archives, but my brain has latched onto that fact.

        Current score: 0
        • Zukira Phaera says:

          yeah – Jamie and his right hand gal Mar were fleecing folks

          Current score: 0
      • Dworf says:

        but they started in terrot right? and that was magic….and here magic is science. shouldn’t it be gears and shit?

        Current score: 0
    • DaManRando says:

      “Don’tcha Draw the Queen of Diamonds boy, she’ll beat you if she’s able….”

      *coughs* err yeah… good song

      Current score: 0
    • Seth says:

      That setup would virtually guarantee that the Joker would be pulled.

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        Dammit! That’s what I forgot…
        Smart play Seth, on my joke.

        Current score: 0
  5. Christopher Martin says:

    I’m liking the turn lately in which Elven society has been getting a lot more face time.

    Especially liking the alienness of their society, very befitting of their (real-world) origins as Fae.

    Current score: 0
  6. DevanGelic says:

    It seems to me that Mack and Jaimie are similar in that, who ever they are with, they adapt themselves personally (personality and in how they interact in their environment) to who they’re with at the time. So in this case, with them being together, they are adapting to each other, to accommo(date) each other, and it “seems” as if they have both learned to be “cautious” in how they act and in what they say to each other, and that’s just coming out as what seems as an honest dialogue. But again, I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop, stumbling down the stairs, tripping people on their way up, who then trip Mack and Jaimie down the stairs over people and land face first in said troublesome, shoe.

    Or simply he is or has been made aware that he himself is not instinctively compatible with Mack, and he likes a challenge, so he’s trying his best to do, say and be the exact opposite of himself, to have the feeling of satisfaction of “one-upping” Mack, on this Date, so he can feel justified…

    Wait, scratch that, he’s already said it about the petitions. I took that as his General attitude toward everything that’s in his face…

    “It’s mostly that I don’t see the point, but when people put petitions in my face I guess I start thinking about why they’re wrong,” he said. “It’s almost an automatic reflex.”

    So, this is just him trying to prove Mack’s thoughts about him, wrong, in General. So he has thought about why Mack would be wrong, and is just making sure she is.

    Current score: 0
    • Dworf says:

      to be fair I think thats how most people react to petitions. My school had one going around about how the “social justice club” hated our commencement speaker, so they barged into a faculty meeting grabbed the mike and when they dean tried to reasonable and deal with them “the chair of chemistry was speaking, but if you sit for a moment while he finishes we’ll be happy to hear your complaints. who would you prefer the speaker be and what are your objections to this one?” the guy said something like “the time for talk is over” and tried to start rabble rousing….of course when you act like that a large section of people who didn’t give a fuck or know anything about the speaker will instinctively oppose you and decide they’re on her side. So when a few got up took off their gowns and turned their backs to her when she started talking most of the student body applauded extra for the speaker.

      Well that and when actual facts about the speaker came out she wasn’t bad at all, so the people who prefer to find their own facts and be reasonable also supported her against the “protest” So basically only the idiots were protesting at all. ( She was the commencements speaker for doing a whole bunch of human rights stuff in africa with her company. lol. they opposed her because “oil bad” and “exploit workers, genocide, sourthafrica” which didn’t even make sense. its like they collected buzwords and tried to tack them on hoping nobody’d notice. also I don’t think they knew she was black.)

      Basically some seniors(the social justice club) must have hit the end of college and realized they hadn’t gotten a chance to protest and this would be the only time they had so they made up reasons to do it and declared her racist and evil hoping others would sheep and follow them. It didn’t help they threw a tantrum when they didn’t

      Current score: 1
  7. miz*G says:

    Great chapter. I always kinda had a soft spot for Jamie. But wasn’t Margot’s name actually Marlot or am I crazy?

    Current score: 0
    • Bolongo says:

      No, you’re absolutely right.

      Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      Oh good, I’m not the only one who thought that.

      Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      As one ‘psychotic’ to a potential,
      being smart doesn’t rule out being crazy.

      Remember the hoary old joke about the guy
      who has a flat tire near the County Asylum……

      Current score: 0
  8. YayGasm says:

    Come on Jamie, do your thing!
    Sell Mack over to the Mercy Queen!
    Eat her Slurp Her
    Do Her Hard
    Take her down
    to Mercy’s Backyard!

    Current score: 0
  9. Readaholic says:

    Heh. I’m begining to find Jamie a bit more bearable. He catches himself on the contradiction between his two ideas about Mack, is willing to realize that Mack’s life and Mack aren’t what he initally thought they were, and seems to be generally behaving like somebody who’s done some personal growth since we last saw him as the callow kid in his first year on campus.

    Current score: 0
  10. Arkeus says:

    Man, i dislike Jamie, but i dislike Mackie being around Jamie even more. After all, it’s like her only reason to be around Jamie is that he hurt her, so she should learn if he has changed.

    In that case, why not just simply learn to see other people that haven’t hurt you? This makes me deeply uncomfortable.

    Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      He was an ass, apologized, and asked for a second chance. Mack is giving him a second chance. From her musings last chapter, I would bet she would not give him a third.

      There’s nothing wrong with second chances.

      Current score: 0
    • Goose says:

      yeah, it all seems weird forced and counter to the rest of the story

      its like the world and everybody in it are all doing this:
      http://winteriscoming.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/tumblr_m65wp34pnZ1rpojrr.png
      as an excuse to bring this bowman guy back as a character.

      Current score: 0
  11. HiEv says:

    Not exactly a typo, but some iffy grammar, “and it made me more sense than getting an apartment.” I’d either drop the “me” or say “it made more sense to me”. Also, that’s one of two “it made more sense”s in one paragraph, which is kind of awkward.

    As for Jamie, well, I kind of wish people would wait until the “date” is done before judging him.

    Current score: 0
  12. arsenic says:

    Hahaha these two are RIDICULOUS together. Their dynamic actually reminds me of my sister and me: they’re so different that they have to keep explaining themselves, and they’re just a liiiittle bit too candid, and they have lots of assumptions about each other. Reading this is like looking into a strange mirror.

    Current score: 0
  13. Mo says:

    When did Jamie hurt Mack? They got magically joined at the wrist for a week and as I read it that was mainly Mack’s fault for being overconfident about her ability to break an enchantment.

    Current score: 1
    • Rin says:

      I think they’re mostly talking about Jamie’s erroneous judgment of Mack, for which I personally can’t really blame him.

      The boy didn’t get to read all about Mack’s life like we do. The only info he had on her was what he could glean from the campus rumor mill, the few brief encounters between them and, mostly, what Barley told him about her. Now, we know Barley was an extremely unreliable source, but she never really gave Jamie any reason to doubt her.

      In short, while clearly mistaken, Jamie’s opinion of Mack was entirely understandable in my opinion.

      Current score: 1
  14. Zathras IX says:

    If you are hungry
    Oberrad is a good place
    To get Frankfurters

    Current score: 0
    • Dizzy says:

      I feel like I should mention the fact that after every new posting I look forward to the haiku I know I will find in the comment section. I should be collecting these. Thanks for being awesome!

      Current score: 0
  15. Erm says:

    Heh, I live across town from Oberrad. Only been there a few times though.

    preparing for the first

    The worst?

    Current score: 0
  16. Brenda says:

    Catching up on chapters – AE, Marlot is still Margot in this chapter.

    Current score: 0
  17. Ryzndmon says:

    Ok, small, unwanted and almost unnoticeable building. With tiny, dark rooms. Seems like a perfect place for those students of a subterranean background who would not be comfortable or welcome at the Dwarven hall.
    Under Elves, kobolds, ect.
    Just a thought.

    Current score: 1