Chapter 190: Imaginary ProblemsAlexandra Erin on November 25, 2013 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Endures Frustrating Nights
For the next little bit, not a lot happened with regards to my extracurricular enchanting activities… Professor Stone had to wait for Two to finish out her housekeeping schedule before he would need me to do anything, I had to wait for that to give Acantha my work shedule, and she was waiting for that to schedule what she was calling her little get-togethers.
Since I’d seen Professor Stone’s workshop and I knew the sorts of work that he did, I felt like I had a pretty accurate image in my head of how that all would go. Acantha’s “salons”… I had no idea what she meant by that. It called to mind something a little more sophisticated.
It also sounded like it wouldn’t exactly be a working environment, which meant discussion, I supposed. But would it mainly be her talking, or would it be more of a round table thing? She’d said she was picking students who she found interesting, which was flattering, but also a little frightening in the implications. If we were there because we were interesting, that might mean she would expect us to do or say interesting things… and what if we turned out to be disappointingly boring?
Given how much time I spent thinking about what it might be like, it probably should have been no surprise that I ended up dreaming about it most nights. It was, though… I’d grown so used to having dreams brought on by psychic visitations or no dreams at all that ordinary dreams brought on naturally by normal sleep kept catching me off guard.
The first time, I showed up in a room that looked a lot like the cozy conference rooms in the student life center and a bit like the big lounge downstairs. Acantha was the only person there. She was wearing one of her sharply tailored suits and… for some reason… glasses.
“Am I the first?” I asked, in my dream.
“I hope so,” she said.
“Where’s everyone else?”
“I told you this was for students I find interesting,” my dream of Acantha said. She started to loosen her tie, and I found myself distracted by a sudden internal doubt as to whether or not she normally wore ties or not. “As long as they’re interested… well, I’m only interested in you, Mackenzie. Are you interested in me?”
“Professors aren’t supposed to have sex with their students,” I blurted out. I wasn’t sure if this was actually something I dreaned that I said or my brain just picking up the inconsistency and getting momentarily hung up on it, which then became incorporated into the dream…
My conversations with the ridiculous owl-turtle thing had definitely had an impact on my ability to sit back and experience a dream. This wasn’t a lucid dream in the classic sense, but I was intermittently aware that it was a dream and I couldn’t help breaking down what was happening as it happened.
“I’m not a professor,” Acantha said, draping a tie that I was sure she hadn’t finished undoing over my shoulders. Also, I was somehow right in front of her when before I’d stopped in the doorway. “I’m a teacher.”
“I’m not sure if that’s the distinction the rule operates on,” I said.
“You sound like Two,” she said.
“You’ve never met her… and am I dreaming you’re saying that because I think it’s something you’d say, or noticing it myself and attributing the thought to you?”
And at that point, the dream fell apart like a balloon that had been poked at several times but only really burst after the last one… a balloon that’s really bad at analogies, I guess. I woke up with a head full of the cottony fog of premature wakefulness and a sense of sexual frustration that only grew as I became aware of where the dream had been going.
The owl-turtle thing had given me some tools to turn my dreams lucid, but I felt like seizing control of a dream like that would be kind of counterproductive. If I was comfortable enough fantasizing about my teacher to actually do it, I wouldn’t need random dreams about her.
Not that I needed dreams about her… Coach Callahan hadn’t been completely off-base when she’d said I was fascinated by Acantha, but I wasn’t actually hot for her.
Of course, I had a long and storied history of denial when it came to female attraction, but given that I’d been openly bisexaul for a year and there wasn’t any reason to be in denial I didn’t think that was the case here. Acantha was a woman, she was an authority-ish figure, and she was physically attractive… it wasn’t strange that I’d have the occasional dream about her, or feel unsatisfied when it interrupted itself.
That didn’t mean I actually wanted anything from her.
As if to prove that I didn’t have a thing for her, my next dream went in a similar direction. This one was in larger room, like the rooms in the union that they used for dances, or the bigger fighting salles in the athletic center. Actually, I was pretty sure it was a mix of those two things, though furnished with a mix of dorm lounge furniture.
This time I wasn’t the only one in attendance. The space was large enough to not be crowded, but there was a large crowd, and they all seemed to know each other. Some of them were upper classmen and graduate students I’d seen around, some were people with no connection to the enchantment program, like Nicki’s girlfriend’s sister and her “court” of fellow elven middlings, and some were just random faces from the central casting office in the middle of my subconscious.
I had the sure and certain understanding that they were all enchantment majors in the context of this dream, and they were all successful and interesting and knew what they were doing while I stood in the corner, feeling paralyzed with inadequecy and also paralysis.
That dream never fell apart under the weight of its own internal inconsistency, and I was never aware that it was a dream while it was happening despite all of the hallmarks of it. I’d learned at an early age that life isn’t fair, but it still seemed like dreams should be, which made the fact that they weren’t seem extra unfair.
Most nights I had a dream that roughly fit into a category with the first one or the second, and some nights I had both… either as separate dreams or a single dream that started one way and then shaded into the other. Feeling humiliated and either completely ignored or made the unwilling center of attention might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but then, I’d never been a fan of tea.
Even though I got better at not picking at my dreams as they happened, I still woke up feeling frustrated most nights because dreaming about Acantha wasn’t helping me figure out how to feel about her or what was expected of me. I saw her twice more during the week in class, which might have given me a perfect opportunity to ask her for more details about what exactly she had planned, but I was having a hard time looking at her.
It was a little ridiculous… I felt like a blushing freshman again. Back then I hadn’t even been unsure of my sexuality, I’d been completely certain that I didn’t have one but that it certainly wasn’t gay or anything. I knew better now, but… you wouldn’t know it.
The only good thing about the passage of day into night is that it meant we were getting closer to the day I could put these doubts and anxieties to rest. Two turned in her apron or whatever and we set up an initial work schedule with Professor Stone, which I passed to Acantha the following Monday. She accepted with a nod and a smile that left me weak in and diagonally adjacent to the knees.
I so did not need this.
But did I want it?
And what would it matter if I did? Acantha was my teacher, and if she wouldn’t be my teacher forever, she had no reason to stick around once she’d finished the semester. There were even multiple plausible scenarios where she wouldn’t be around that long… including theone where she disappears or goes on the run because she’s a thief.
Trying to talk myself out of feeling an increasingly powerful attraction to her just convinced my subconscious that I wanted her even more, though. I started dreaming about improbable situations where I caught her in the act of trying to steal or misuse the prototype mockboxes, or where she came to see me at the end of her time at Magisterius University and asked me to give her a reason to stay.
And… to be completely honest… some of them were only dreams in the sense that those things you have when you’re awake and thinking about something you’d like to happen are called “daydreams”. I daydreamed that Acantha tried to distract me with naked duplicates of herself as she made her escape, or that she offered to do things to me if I helped her instead of turning in. I fantasized about her offering me various… well, let’s say “positions” and leave it at that.
I blamed Coach Callahan for having planted the seed in my head. If I’d had any serious attraction to Acantha before it had been a small thing buried in the back of my head, but she’d started me digging around… okay, so she hadn’t actually planted the seed, she’d just made me… aerate the soil? Fertilize it? I don’t know what it would be. People who have lost control of their imaginations can’t be expected to put together metaphors.
Amaranth noticed that I had an increase in sexual energy but also that I was restless and unsatisfied. She asked me what was wrong, and to the extent that I was able to explain the problem and to the extent that she was able to understand it, I told her.
“This is why I’ve been encouraging you to masturbate,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with a healthy fantasy life, but you’re just going to keep going around in circles if you never actually get a release.”
And then she spanked me, which honestly helped a lot. Maybe it was the release she had been talking about… and there were definitely multiple substantial releases… and maybe it was that it gave me something else to think about.
Until the next night, when I dreamed about Acantha laying me out across her desk and paddling my bottom until it was red.
By that point, I’d had my first session with Professor Stone and Two. It had been more of a brief orientation thing than an actual work night. I was glad it was so brief and undemanding, because I was too distracted to really focus on anything. I could do the job he’d taken me on for, which was helping him communicate with Two, but I probably wouldn’t have learned much from watching him work while a much more interesting show kept threatening to play out behind my eyes.
He’d just shown Two around his workshop, explaining his current projects… toys, mostly… and his tools, and inquiring if she knew how to use them… though it actually took a couple of tries to refine what he was really asking her and what her answers actually were, because it happened she hadn’t actually used a lot of woodworking tools but she had been created with the knowledge of their use and had seen them in action.
“Well, we’ll proceed gently, then,” Professor Stone said. “Slow and easy does it.”
That night, Acantha used both of those phrases in my dream.
The next day in reality, she slipped me a piece of paper face down on my desk as she went past. It said, “O’Kelly Lounge, BAC, Thursday @ 8 PM”.
I didn’t know any O’Kelly Lounge and “BAC” was a mystery to me, but I puzzled it out pretty quickly… the Bardic Arts Center was the only building on campus that really fit. In terms of places I enjoyed visiting, it fell somewhere below the fitness center and above the admin building. Her choice of venue also seemed to further imply more of a social thing… and thus more burden of conversation on attendants.
But maybe it was wrong to read too much into it. It wasn’t like the buildings used by the enchantment program were full of comfortable meeting spaces.
Eight PM on Thursday came up on me much too quickly and couldn’t have come along soon enough. Amaranth asked me if I wanted company, and the truth is I would have loved to have brought anyone or everyone along for support but the invitation had been for me and the gathring… whatever it might actually be… was intended for enchanters. So I set out alone for the Lazar Bardic Arts Center. I wasn’t worried about being out by myself. Like the fitness center, the Bardic Arts building was one of the buildings that tended to have big groups of students late into the night, so it well-protected and lit up like Magisterion’s Day.
The specified room wasn’t exactly a room, it turned out, but a little elevated space partially divided from the main lobby area. A sign at the entrance proclaimed it was reserved for a private function.
It looked a bit like an eatery and there was a coffee counter or something there, though it was closed. The center of it was dominated by a glass column in which a translucent illusion of a harp floated, playing an elven air. Each time one of the strings plucked the harp became more vibrant and solid-looking. Once I’d noticed it, I realized there was a kind of flute or whistle and a small handheld drum that were also playing.
It was really completely unlike anything else I had dreamt or imagined when I’d tried to picture how the evening would go, except in one respect: as it had been in my first dream, Acantha and I were the only ones there.