387: Looking Forward And Back

on June 10, 2009 in Book 14

In Which Ian May Be An Idiot

Ian met me outside the history building as promised. He was standing with a couple of other guys by the outdoor ashtray a little ways away from the door, but he broke off a conversation and headed towards me as soon as he saw me.

“You’re not taking up smoking, are you?” I asked, crinkling my nose.

“Not outside of Bohd’s class,” he said. “Only losers smoke. Cool losers, with more self-confidence and disposable money than I have who go to parties I never get invited to. Or so the nominally anti-smoking commercials tell me.”

“So, anyway… Ian H. Smith,” I said. “What’s the story?”

“It’s really not that much of a story,” he said. “But I’ll tell you.”

“So why bring it up?”

“Because I think we need to get to know each other a little better,” he said. “And because I think I’ve been getting to know myself a little better, too.”

“How so?”

“Coach has got me thinking,” he said. “About a lot of different things, but about what I’m doing here… where I came from and where I’m going, that kind of thing.”

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “But the story’s about where I came from, if you want to hear it.”

“I asked,” I said.

“My mom went here, you know,” Ian said. “That’s how I ended up here… here in particular, I mean. I didn’t really make up my mind to go to her school or anything like that. It’s a good school that’s far enough away from home to feel like I’m away. But I didn’t have a real preference, and MU was the one school that stood out… so…”

He shrugged.

“Oh,” I said. “I guess I can understand that… I’d probably have gone somewhere connected to my mom, if there was some place. She didn’t make it to college. She never talked about it, but I kind of think she might have liked to… I’d like to say that I was thinking of her when I decided I was going to go in spite of my grandmother’s wishes, but really, it didn’t even occur to me.”

“Yeah,” Ian said. “My mom never graduated. I don’t really know if it was her decision to come here or not. She didn’t talk about the school part of school very often… I mean, she didn’t talk about it at all very often, but when she did it wasn’t the academic stuff she focused on. More about what her life was like, back then.”

“Back in her school days?”

“Back before she met my dad,” Ian said. “I guess she’s got an okay life now… she has friends and all, but they’re pretty much all other wizards’ wives. The wives of dad’s friends. When she talks about her friends today, it’s the way other people talk about their coworkers. She gets along with them, but it’s like it’s part of the job.”

“So where does Mr. Smith Hall come into it?” I asked. “Or was that just a clever way of bringing up the history of Ian?”

“I was named after him,” Ian said.

“I thought you said she wasn’t very academic,” I said.

“I said she didn’t talk about that much,” Ian said. “But Ian Smith wasn’t a professor, he was another student… her friend. Her best friend, I think. She talks about him a lot, at certain times of the year… more than anything else from the olden days.”

“How’d he get the building named after him?” I asked.

“Mom did that, actually,” Ian said. “The history building needed renovating anyway… it had survived mostly intact for longer than a lot of the school buildings, so she organized a fundraiser drive in his name.”

“So… he…”

“Yeah, he didn’t graduate, either,” Ian said. “They were on the debate team together… that was more his thing than hers, apparently, but she enjoyed it… and they were in a lot of history classes together, too. So, after he passed away, she organized the fundraiser and collected signatures and stuff to have him memorialized. When she tried to tell me about him, she told me it was hard for her to explain exactly what he’d meant to her, but I thought I understood… I mean, to go through all that work to get something named after him, he had to be special, right?”

“Two things,” I said. I gave him what I hoped was a sly grin. “Or one thing and a building.”

“Yeah, one thing and a building,” Ian said. “Exactly. So… anyway… bringing it back to the mystery that is me, I didn’t really consciously decide to follow in my mom’s footsteps or to try to get closer to her early life by coming here, but I am here now and… well… we’re here to learn, right? And this kind of stuff seems like it’s worth knowing.”

“It’s funny,” I said. “I mean, not the humorous kind of funny so much as the terrifying kind…”

“What?”

“I’m learning about my family, too,” I said. “My father came to me in a dream.”

“Your… father?”

“Yeah, the demon one,” I said. “And before you ask, yeah, I’m pretty sure it really was him.”

“Khersis,” Ian said, shaking his head. “You didn’t think to mention that earlier? Here I dragged you across campus to look at costumes…”

“It’s not like I’m suddenly a half-demon,” I said. “He’s always been out there. I don’t know why he’s choosing to start messing around with my life now… he said it’s because I’m not around my grandmother any more… but anyway, I’m not about to give up my school career or my social life just because of my father’s interference. I mean, you don’t let your dad stop you from living your life… granted he’s not a flame-spawned horror from an unknown layer of hell…”

“Mackenzie, you’ve got a demon poking around in your head and you’re trying to feed me lame set-up lines,” Ian said.

“That was not a lame set-up line,” I said. “What am I supposed to do? Freak out? Barricade myself in my room? Hide in a circle of protection?”

“Well, if your grandma really kept him away for years, you might think about getting in touch with her,” Ian said.

“Oh, please… not you, too,” I said. “Ian, you’ve been very clear that you don’t want me making editorial comments about your family situation, and I’ve tried to respect that. Can’t I get the same respect?”

“Mackenzie… demon,” Ian said.

“Yeah,” I said. I pointed at myself. “And half-demon. I’d love to go through life without ever having to deal with any demonic-related issues, but that’s clearly not in the cards. So what am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know what you’re supposed to do… I just know what I would do.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Run,” he said.

“Oh? That’s what you’d do if a fiendish predator with a hunger for human flesh suddenly took an interest in your life?” I asked, putting my hand in his.

“Maybe,” he said, giving my hand a squeeze. “You know, eventually. The fight or flight reflex isn’t always terribly efficient.”

“Of course,” I said. “So… this whole ‘know thyself’ thing…”

“You might try it,” he said.

“I like to think I know myself pretty well,” I said. “I do spend a lot of time in my head, you know.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed,” he said.

“I’m just wondering… where are you going with it?” I asked. I’d had a tight feeling growing… or possibly shrinking… in my stomach the whole time he’d been talking. Maybe it was an irrational worry… or maybe not. The first time Ian had sat down to have a serious talk with me, he’d been thinking about breaking up with me.

“I keep telling you, I don’t know,” he said. “But if you’re wondering what it means for you…”

“Yeah?” I said.

I hated to say it, but I really did. Ian had asked me out to the first dance pretty much because he didn’t know anybody else enough to ask them. Since then, he’d had a lot of chances to see my worse side… sides… and he’d started fighting in the arena, joined a band. Even more, he’d apparently come out of his shell when I wasn’t looking and made friends all over the campus.

It was great that he was taking stock of his life… great for him… but what if he took a look at the girlfriend shelf and noticed how bare it looked?

Also, that was an embarrassingly bad metaphor.

“I don’t know, Mackenzie,” he said. “We’ve had some fun. I’d like to have some more. I think I could be good for you. And you make me think sometimes, too. But…”

“But what? We have fun and we’re good for each other,” I said. “What else do you want?”

“It’s not my job to be good for somebody,” he said. “I mean… not to suggest you’re a total shipwreck and you’re dragging me down into the icy depths, but… you’ve got issues that are a lot bigger than me and I can only do so much. It’s nice to be needed, but I can’t be with someone just because they need me.”

“Do you think that’s going to happen?”

“I think it could,” Ian said. “I saw it a lot in high school, with other people… some of those relationships had a built-in expiration date, but some of them were still together as of graduation. If it ever gets to the point where it feels like I’m staying with you out of guilt…”

“If it gets to that point, Ian, I’ll want you to go,” I said, trying not to sound bitter… because I wasn’t. It was just that the words sounded like they should be. “Yeah, I know I’ve got issues, but you have to remember you aren’t the only person in my life.”

“Believe me, I have a hard time forgetting about that.”

“I’m not saying that to make you jealous,” I said. “I love… love having your support, Ian, but I have Amaranth and Steff…”

“Oh, that’s so reassuring.”

“Funny,” I said. “But not just them… I have Two, and Dee’s looking out for me, too. I don’t have as many friends as you do, maybe, but the friends I have… we’ve been through crazy stuff together. ‘Demon issues’… they have a way of forging bonds.”

“I can imagine,” Ian said. “Well, no, I can’t… but anyway… that’s where I am, right now: I’m not bailing. I just don’t want to make any promises… not even by implication.”

“So… you want us to be more casual?” I asked, trying to make sure I understood… and also trying not to overreact. He wasn’t bailing. That was the key thing.

“I want us to be what we are,” he said. “Whatever that is. But I don’t want to be setting any… expectations.”

“So you are thinking about bailing, then,” I said.

“I thought about bailing,” he said. “Come on, Mackenzie… I’d be an idiot not to consider it. Maybe I’m an idiot not to do it.” He tightened his grip. “But I’m not going to do it, especially not now.”

“Why not now?” I asked.

“Because then I wouldn’t get to see you in a fur bikini,” he said, and I blushed, ducking my head. “You know, that damned coat really ruins the effect when you do it.”

“Love me, love my coat,” I said. “Speaking of the other furred horror, though, where’d you leave the costumes? Your room?”

“No, I didn’t want to make you come into Weyland… there are a lot more religious displays up in my hallway for Veil… or against it, I should say.” I thought of my grandmother and her feelings about the feast… that sounded about right. “So, I left them in your room. I think Two’s a little conflicted about your outfit.”

“Oh?”

“She stared at it sideways for like a minute… I was afraid I’d broken her brain… and then she asked me if it was pretty,” he said. “I told her I didn’t know, either, but I thought it was sexy.”

“I don’t think Two needs to know about sexiness,” I said.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt her,” Ian said. “I mean, it’s not like she lives in a bubble. Anyway, maybe if she gets some concept of sexiness as its own thing she can understand the difference between it and ‘pretty’?”

“Maybe,” I said. “I wonder if she’s going to the ball… we talked about costumes really briefly earlier, but all we really talked about was maybe going as each other. I hope she wasn’t counting on that.”

“She didn’t seem put out to find out you’re going as a warrior chick,” Ian said. “So I would think no.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said. “I would rather disappoint just about anybody in the world other than Two… I think having things to look forward to are kind of a new experience for her.”

“I don’t know,” Ian said. “I mean, she’s got her job and her classes every day… I think she looks forward to those.”

“Yeah, but those are routine,” I said. “Okay, yeah, she likes routine, but looking forward to something you know you’re going to get almost every day isn’t the same as looking forward to special things… Two should have more of those things in her life.”

“Mackenzie, I’m not going to say something that might sound disparaging of Two while you’ve got my hand, but… are you talking about what you want for her or what she wants?” Ian asked. “I mean, it seemed like she had fun at the party, or that she appreciated that you had it for her, but did you see how stressed out she was about the mess and all the tension and stuff?”

“Are you saying we shouldn’t have had it?”

“No, I think she probably did like it on the balance… though maybe you should ask her that, she’d probably answer you honestly and I doubt she’d be offended… but what I’m saying is you might not want to be so fast to dismiss the routine as something to look forward to,” he said. “And I see you opening your mouth and if the words you’re about to say are anything but ‘okay, but’, I’ll give you a gold coin.”

“I… um… okay, I was going to say ‘okay, but’,” I said. “But…”

“But nothing,” he said. “You know Two better than I do. If you don’t think I’m right, you don’t have to take my advice, but I don’t want to argue with you about this. But think about how much better you feel when you know exactly what’s going on and what you’re supposed to do before you tell me that you can’t look forward to something routine.”

“Okay,” I said. “No but. Just okay… but on the subject of knowing exactly what’s going on… what did you come up with for the rest of my costume?”

“Oh, I don’t want to ruin the surprise,” Ian said.

“Surprise?” I asked, my stomach giving half a twist in pre-emptive dread.

“Yeah,” he said. “See, now you have something special to look forward to. Isn’t that great?”

“It’s a little overrated.”


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5 Responses to “387: Looking Forward And Back”

  1. Anthony says:

    Very interesting. Kinda makes you wonder if Ian is… how to put this? Named after his father?

    Current score: 0
    • Anonymous says:

      I got the impression that there was more than a 9 month period between the death, the fundraiser and the subsequent marriage.

      Current score: 2
      • zeel says:

        Yes, I don’t think that time line fits quite right. It could, for sure, but I think we would have been hit with a more significant clue if it was true.

        Current score: 0
  2. JerK says:

    Bail Ian. You’re the opposite of good for each other. You appeal to the worst aspects of each others personality.

    Current score: 2
  3. Jechtael says:

    This is SO not going to look good for Two. It might BE good for her no matter how whatever will happen looks, but I doubt it.

    Current score: 1