In Which Self-Awareness Is A Group Activity

I was a little nervous about the prospect of leaving campus at night, especially since we weren’t using the school’s automated coach system that only traveled in a circuit between town and back but just hiking up the road away from town, but Jamie acted like it was no big deal.

“Do you do this a lot?” I asked him.

“I’ve done it a few times,” he said. “Usually not alone.”

“Have you ever been attacked?” I asked. “I haven’t checked the forecast, but the ghoul alert level is bound to be high after all that rain.”

“I fought off a ghoul on this road before, yeah… but it’s not a big deal. I’ve seen worse things,” he said. “The things that live in the deep woods are way worse than moldy corpses that don’t know when to lie down.”

“Please, don’t talk to me about the scary things that live in the woods,” I said.

“I’m not taking you into the woods tonight.”

“I don’t care… I’ve got to go there anyway, and I’m kind of sensitive about it,” I said. “Anyway, I’ve fought ghouls, too, and I think we have very different ideas of what is and isn’t a big deal.”

“Unless I’m misunderstanding how ghouls work or how you do, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one here who would even have to worry about it,” he said.

“Just because I wouldn’t be in danger doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be anything worrying about being chewed on by ghouls, or having to see them up close, or take them apart,” I said.

“Well, if I die, I’m sure it will comfort me to think of how grossed out you are,” he said.

“Hey, try to imagine what it might mean for me to be last seen heading off campus with a mostly human guy who turns up eaten to death,” I said.

“I’d still be the one who dies, in that scenario,” he said.

“The one who dies first,” I said.

“If it bothers you that much to be out walking around at night, we’ll take a cab back,” he said. “I just like walking, and since our destination isn’t far…”

“How not far?”

“Those lights just down there.”

The lights he was pointing at were attached to a long, low building I vaguely remembered from my one and only previous journey on that road, the one that had carried me to MU for the first time. I’d figured it was a bar. I couldn’t remember the name off the top of my head, but I had a feeling it involved a tavern.

It turned out to be called The Public House, and it was more of a bar and grill restaurant than a bar. The actual tavern area was crowded with a mix of what looked like slightly older students from the university and travelers. The seating area was much more sparely populated with a combination of travelers and local families. A hostess asked Jamie if we were looking for a table, and then escorted us to one when he confirmed that we were.

“I guess you technically told the truth, since you didn’t need a reservation,” I said once we were seated and alone.

“What?” he said.

“You said no fancy restaurant,” I reminded him.

“This is a roadside coach restaurant,” he said. “It’s pretty much the opposite of fancy. The only difference between this and a dive is that a dive has character.”

“Any restaurant you sit down to order at is fancy to me,” I said.

“You must have had a very sheltered upbringing.”

“Only as a side effect of the rest of the world being sheltered from me,” I said. “Call it a restricted upbringing. My mind divides restaurants into buffets, fast food, and fancy… my grandmother liked a Sunday brunch buffet, and sometimes we had fast food as a necessity, but restaurants with menus and waiters and things belonged to the people in the TV.”

“And you’ve never been to one in the year plus that you’ve been on your own?”

“Yeah, I have,” I said. “But not enough of them to change that basic impression.”

“Well, as a room of thumb, the happier the host is to see you when you’ve never been there before, the less likely it is to be a fancy restaurant,” he said.

A waitress stopped by give us menus. The food was pretty much burgers and salads, but slightly more elaborate than fast food fare and about three times the price.

“I’m surprised they can survive, charging these prices,” I said.

“Do you see anywhere else to eat around here?” he asked. “That’s the perks of being a roadside eatery, they have a captive clientele.”

“Well, there’s a whole food court on campus, plus two dining halls and assorted other options,” I said. “It’s not far from here by coach to town, and even if you’re not going to stop inside the city walls, there’s a whole bunch of stuff right around it.”

“Yeah, but right here, there’s just this,” he said. “If you’re just passing through, you might not realize how close it is to Enwich, or you might just be hungry now. Or your kids are. If you’re not a university student, you’re not going to be thinking about what options there might be on campus, if you even know how close it is. If you are a university student… well, you can get booze here, if you’re old enough.”

“True enough, I guess,” I said.

“If you’re worried about the prices, don’t worry,” he said. “I invited you, so I’m buying.”

“We’ll each get our own,” I said.

“I’m not trying to stake out territory or anything,” he said. “But it was my idea to come here. Fair’s fair.”

“I’m still getting used to the idea of having my own money,” I said. “It’s like learning a new kind of magic… don’t take that away from me.”

“Okay, we’ll each pay for our own, then,” he said, shrugging.

With that sorted out, I didn’t feel the least bit bad about ordering the most expensive burger… one of the most expensive items on the menu. It had two beef patties plus bacon.

“So… obvious question,” I said once our burgers had arrived and we’d made some decent inroads on them. “What are we doing here?”

“Obvious answer,” he said. “Eating dinner. Or was the emphasis on ‘here’? I guess I kind of wanted an excuse to come here.”

“The emphasis is actually on ‘we’,” I said.

“Well… you didn’t make the best first impression on me,” he said. “Okay, hang on. That sounds like it’s something you did. I didn’t have the best first impression of you. But I thought part of that could have been me… and I also thought that maybe I hadn’t made the best impression on you, either. I used to think that you didn’t like me because I didn’t like you, but Marlot actually made me try to think about things from your point of view.”

“Hooray for Marlot,” I said.

“Steff had a lot to do with it, too,” he said. “At first when I ragged on you she’d take the chance to vent about things that bug her about you, too, but after a while I think she started thinking I was off-base. But it was Marlot who kind of gave me the last push.”

“What did she say, exactly?” I asked.

“I don’t remember,” he said. “Not exactly. It was something about me not being the main character of your story. That was what made me think about the way I came off to you. I mean, I’m not the most self-aware person in the world, I know that… but I don’t like to think I’m so full of myself that I can’t imagine anyone not liking me for reasons other than I didn’t like them first.”

“Do you want me to start listing them off?” I asked.

“No, I think it’s better for me to try to imagine them,” he said. “If you give me the answers, how will I learn?”

“So it wasn’t just because you approve of the way I dress now that you’re willing to be seen with me in public,” I said.

“Well, to be honest, it’s not like I care about fashion enough that a change of clothes is going to completely change my opinion of someone,” he said. “Or… at the risk of confirming everything you think about me… your new look is actually so wildly appealing that it would make anyone do that.”

“I wasn’t actually trying to appeal to anyone but myself,” I said. It was another perfect example of Jamie Bowman saying something but not in a bad way.

“I get that, and that’s cool,” he said. “That’s why it was just, like, a conversational opener for me. Yeah, I took it as confirmation that I didn’t actually know everything about you… you can call that shallow if you want, it probably is… but the main reason that I asked you to hang out that day is because I saw you then. If I’d seen you playing minigolf or something I probably would have tried talking about minigolf and then said we should hang out. The real point is getting to know you.”

“That makes a surprising amount of sense,” I said. “And you know… as someone who’s been working on the whole ‘self-awareness’ thing, I have to say it at least sounds like you know your own weaknesses.”

“You can only run your leg into a coffee table so many times before you start to remember that it’s there,” he said.

“You’ve clearly never been in the same house as me and a coffee table,” I said. “I almost hate to say this… okay, the weird thing is I actually don’t hate to say it, but it seems like something I should hate to say… but if you want to get to know me, what you need to do is hang out with me when I’m with my friends. Because this? We can manage to not completely insult each other, but that’s not…”

“Not seeing you at your best?”

“Not seeing me at my most unguarded,” I said. “Which is the same thing as not really seeing me.”

“So you’re saying you’d like me to hang out with you some more?” he asked.

“I’m not saying what I would or wouldn’t like,” I said. “I’m just… laying out a course of action that will lead you towards the goal you’ve stated.”

“But you wouldn’t mind it?”

“I can’t say what I would or wouldn’t mind,” I said. “It would be a guess. I’m just… not smiting the idea down immediately.”

“Well, that’s something.”


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37 Responses to “Chapter 158: Burger Time”

  1. pedestrian says:

    Mackenzie and Jamie
    sitting under a spreading chestnut tree
    I’ll insult you
    and you’ll insult me
    until I get all flamey
    and you will say adieu

    These two, as a couple…..
    “A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”

    Current score: 1
    • The Chosen One says:

      …on a bed of circumspection, slathered with ambiguity, and served with a side of noncommittal positing.

      Current score: 1
  2. DeNarr says:

    [The seating area was much more sparely populated with a combination of travelers and local families.]

    Should that be “sparsely” instead of “sparely”?

    Current score: 0
    • hueloovoo says:

      Actually, sparely works in this context, so I would tend to assume it was intentional.

      Current score: 0
  3. Zathras IX says:

    No one is the main
    Character in anyone
    Else’s life story

    Current score: 1
    • Angnor says:

      Ah, if only that were universally true.

      Current score: 0
    • Angnor says:

      Ah, if only that were universally true.

      Current score: 0
    • Julian Morrison says:

      If you find yourself in a fiction, you might be the protagonist, but going by the simple numeric ratio of many NPCs to one PC, that isn’t the way to bet.

      Current score: 0
      • sanityoptional says:

        I always assumed I was the comedic secondary character. Never really do much myself, but I help others out, make parties/conversations amusing, and be hilarious and good looking.

        Current score: 2
  4. Elf says:

    I’m just wondering… When did Jamie figure out that Steff is a girl?

    Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Jamie probably figured it out right about the time Steff’s ‘sweater bunnies’ virtually doubled in size.

      Current score: 1
  5. Maahes0 says:

    Ok, I am starting to like Jamie again. I am now past the Iason part of his past.

    Current score: 1
  6. Potatohead says:

    ““I don’t remember,” he said. “Not exactly. It was something about me not being the main character of your story.”

    Code red! Code red! Repair team, report to the fourth wall immediately! This is not a drill!

    Current score: 1
    • Dete says:

      While your comment is hilarious, I wouldn’t really consider that a breaking of the fourth wall. To me it is more of just a metaphor about life because a break in the fourth wall is when a character in a story tries to talk to the audience (reader in this case).

      Current score: 0
  7. Eris Harmony says:

    “If you give me the answers, how will I learn?”

    If you don’t have the answer key, how will you know your answers are right? As someone with major social issues, I wish people would be more upfront with me about my faults–relying on me being able to figure things out for myself is a good way for me to never learn.

    Current score: 2
    • Luke Licens says:

      Concurrence. If I don’t know there’s something wrong, I can’t fix it. Granted, he’s in a bit of a different boat. He knows somethings wrong, and is trying to figure out why.

      Current score: 0
      • Eris Harmony says:

        Still, knowing something’s wrong isn’t the same as knowing what’s wrong. I’ve had plenty of people tell me things like “That’s why no one likes you” but that’s way too vague to actually help me any.

        Current score: 0
  8. scree says:

    “Well, as a room of thumb”: Should be ‘thumbs’. If there’s enough of them to fill up an entire room, they should be plural. Or, you know, ‘rule of thumb’, whatever.

    It annoys me whenever I see these typos. They show a complete disregard for basic editing. Re-reading what you wrote to see if it makes sense before you throw it to the dogs is not some elaborate writing technique; it’s the most basic of basic editing operations.

    That and cutting the useless fluff out, which you’re still not quite doing. There’s about half a chapter worth of material up there, diluted into a full-length feature, and still you’re neglecting characterization in favor of pointless navel-gazing. I feel particularly bad for ‘a hostess’, who was not even granted the decency of an adjective, because the protagonists were so obliviously discussing ‘self-awareness’.

    If only it was a joke!

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      While on the one hand I agree that proof-reading your material before you post it up is definitely a most excellent idea, on the other hand that doesn’t guarantee that typos won’t slip through. If you’re not a writer yourself you don’t necessarily realize how easy it is when reading over your own material to gloss over typos because you’re seeing what you expect to see rather than what is actually there. You’ve got the story on the page and the story in your mind and both are going through your head at the same time when you reread, and that can cause you to mistake what you think you wrote for what you’re actually seeing. I can’t tell you the number of times I have completely proofread a story, posted it, then come back months later to read it again only to find half a dozen typos I can’t believe I missed. Trust me, proofreading your own material can be very tricky. It helps, but it’s no guarantee.

      Current score: 0
      • N'ville says:

        And that is why a professional writer employs proof readers, they didn’t write the story, they are there to read and pull the faults.
        Alexandra is a good story teller, but although earning a crust from her writings, is a long way away from a full pro.

        Current score: 0
        • Christy says:

          I’ve been proofreading someone else’s story on another site since he started writing it. I sometimes miss the odd typo. He has a couple other proofers, and they sometimes miss some typos too. It’s in my case something about enjoying the story so much that you imagine certain words being spelled right as you read over them, therefore missing the typo. Even if I read the story first, then go scrutinize the entire story for typos, I sometimes miss a couple.

          Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      A point you may be missing is that a good deal of that ‘useless fluff’ is also building and affirming the characters.

      It is good for this story, because this story is NOT a novel, meant to be distilled down to the bare minimum to get the point across. Novel writers do that in order to minimize page count and thus printing costs. There is some virtue in being able to cut these things down to their essence, but that is NOT this story.

      This story is about Mack’s life. And in every life, most of what we do and pay attention to is ‘useless fluff.’

      Current score: 0
      • N. says:

        The “fluff” does go with the realism of a character-driven story, yes. What that does also entail is more than occasional blandness. For a story that is broken down into parts of approximately equal length, some individually presented parts are going to be…not filler, but what amounts to garnering the same audience response. In serial fiction, that’s just how it’s going to be. Though people are still entitled to their disappointment when a segment is less than impressive. Maybe that indicates that the story is best consumed as a digital novel, but I personally wouldn’t want to wait for all the chapters to accumulate.

        Current score: 0
        • Lyssa says:

          I agree, completely. This was a boring, fluff piece chapter with a lot of dull, bland navel gazing. But that’s fine by me! Like you said, it’s serial fiction.

          My other favourite serial fiction (a webcomic) updated yesterday with this comic. It’s a wolf scratching at a door. That’s all that is really happening. But do I give a shit, you ask? No! I really don’t. Because that guy updates every single MWF, without fail, and he tells a damn good story.

          That being said, I think people would cut AE more slack if she were more professional. She does not treat this like it’s her career. She does not update consistently even years into this, her updates are always riddled with typos despite her best efforts, and she hasn’t learned how to make these boring parts suspenseful (for me at least). So I don’t cut her a lot slack because I think this is too hobby-like for her, but I’ll keep reading. She’s improving with time, and I really think she’ll get there. I have a lot of faith in her.

          Current score: 1
          • Erianaiel says:

            Your definition of riddled and mine are obviously rather different.

            Current score: 0
            • Lyssa says:

              I can live with that.

              Her chapters have more typos (between spelling and grammar errors) than I would be comfortable sending in for anything professional. That’s all I meant.

              Again, though, I see improvement there. The “Typo Reports” seem to have gotten smaller over time.

              Current score: 1
          • Burnsidhe says:

            So, your problems with AE’s writing are that you have a different schedule expectation than once every four days and you expect every chapter to be copy-edited, and she doesn’t end every chapter with a dramatic cliffhanger?

            Current score: 0
            • Lyssa says:

              Nope! I think I stated my problems pretty clearly.

              She’s gotten better about being consistent, and I genuinely hope that it does last, but the “every four days” thing hasn’t been around long. Before that, she’s had several schedules, none of which she kept with any regularity. That’s what I mean when I say “inconsistent.” I thought that was pretty clear, especially to someone who’s been around for years, like yourself. You already know this, assuming you’ve paid any degree of attention.

              I certainly don’t expect every chapter to be copy-edited, but I do think they should have fewer mistakes than they do. I understand that we disagree on that point.

              It would be nice if we could have a conversation about this, but what happens every single time anyone complains is that people react like you: getting defensive, twisting things into hyperbole, and not really addressing the complaints at all. Oh well.

              Current score: 1
            • pedestrian says:

              Personally, I’m pretty blasé about errors on this medium. The spellcheck programs are homophone-phobic and we should all consider ourselves fortunate that we are smart enough to reasonably guess authorial intentions.

              Heck, the wrong word auto-replaced in the right context can even be hilarious.

              Ass a punny gui, eye warship at the alter of Gnomic Stultiloquence.

              Current score: 0
  9. pedestrian says:

    I can understand and sympathize with people wanting their companions and friends to be honest with them about personal issues. But my experience is, this is very relative and dependent on the participants always mutable emotional sensitivity.

    I am an older, tall, WASP, male. Think Ian as an encyclopaedic intellectual and demagogic. The problem I run into all the time is that many, if not most people are confused by my variegate speculations and their feeling are that I am trying to bully them into changing their mindset.

    That I am willing to argue several conflicting sides of an issue, to explain different viewpoints of an issue. Many, if not most people are emotionally unwilling to alter their ingrain beliefs or accept the proposition that a conflicting idea could possibly have equal value or credence. And they take my opinions as a personal attack.

    I have to be careful to rein in my intellectual enthusiasm and be sensitive to the emotional needs of the people I am with. What most people seem to want is for me to mirror or echo their opinions so they can remain in their comfort zone.

    It is the rare person, I meet, who is willing to engage in the fierce debates I enjoy. If we are not bleeding afterwards, what was the point of this discussion?

    Current score: 0
  10. Erm says:

    It was something about me not being the main character of your story.

    Let’s hope that fourth wall is sturdy. 😀

    Current score: 0
    • Gruhl says:

      No need for a fourth wall, when he is in character and refers to something that happened in character, and which did not invoke the fourth wall then. Remember, people have life-stories without having them written down, and they are one of the main characters in their stories.

      Current score: 0
  11. Mike says:

    “Well, as a room of thumb, the happier the host is to see you when you’ve never been there before, the less likely it is to be a fancy restaurant,” he said.

    Ha! So true.

    Current score: 0
    • N'ville says:

      Amazingly enough, the food, the service, and just about everything else, including a reasonable price, is what you are likely to get too in the real world.

      “Fancy” usually means that if you don’t fit, I.E. not rich, not well known, not some sort of celebrity, you are treated as crap.
      At 65, I have been there seen it, wrote the book, published and printed the tee shirt, and starred in the film.

      Current score: 0
      • pedestrian says:

        hahahahah!! very funny n’ville and very true.

        Current score: 0
  12. justme says:

    I think if there were ever a large set of chapters without typos, the people who hunt for and post typo corrections would lose a fun little word hunt embedded in the story.

    Current score: 0