Chapter 124: Vent and VentilationAlexandraErin on November 26, 2012 in Volume 2 Book 4: The Reinvention of Mackenzie Blaise, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which A Threesome Arrives Late To The Table
Silence stretched on in the wake of Nicki’s question. All around the table, there were looks of confusion and horror… well, it was possible that I was imagining the horror, or most of it. There was definitely real terror on Nicki’s face, deepening with each passing moment in which I didn’t say anything. I realized that I needed to say something to reassure her that she hadn’t done anything wrong, but then she broke the silence herself.
“…was I not supposed to mention that?” she said
“No, it’s okay,” I said. “I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret… I don’t keep secrets about who I’m dating from the other people I’m dating… but I was kind of trying to work my way around to it in my own way.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize…”
“You didn’t know,” I said gently. “Which is why you have nothing to apologize for. It’s not like I had some elaborate, brilliant plan I detailed to you and then you screwed it up for me on purpose.”
“Especially the part about ‘brilliant’,” Steff said. “Though ‘elaborate’ might cover it… I mean, if you brought Jamie up to tell us you were going to go out with him, you were definitely taking the scenic route to get there.”
“Truth,” Hazel said. “Another eleven minutes of beating about the bush and I might have blurted it out myself.”
“You didn’t even know,” I said.
“I can’t imagine that mattering, at that point,” she said.
“Well, I’d planned on coming to the point a little faster, but then story time turned into a q-and-a session,” I said. “Which, you know, is nobody’s fault in particular, since not everybody here knows all the basic facts about the matter.”
“Maybe you should just start again from the beginning, baby,” Amaranth said. “So, you ran into Jamie Bowman and he asked you out? I don’t know why you felt the need to talk around that.”
“It’s not that simple,” I said.
“Was there a bet or a dare involved?” Amaranth asked, frowning slightly. She was all in favor of the idea of me dating other people in general, but had grown to understand that circumstances matter… and to understand that I tended to attract unfavorable circumstances.
“No,” I said. “Maybe it’s less complicated than I thought at first, but it felt complicated at the time because of how it happened.”
“How did it happen, then?” Amaranth asked.
“Hold on… if we’re starting over, let me get another drink,” Ian said. “I feel like I should be doing a spit-take when we get to the part where you’re dating Bowman.”
“Ian, this is serious,” Amaranth said.
“Khersis, I hope it’s not,” Ian said.
“It’s very not,” I said. “I think it’s a waste of time for us to be dating, because even if I liked him, we’re looking for very different things. But he wants to get together anyway, supposedly just to catch up.”
“Supposedly?” Amaranth repeated.
“He hinted that he’s open to more,” I said. “I think it’s a waste of time, and that he’d probably just be disappointed if it doesn’t go further, no matter what he says.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t have said yes,” Amaranth said.
“That’s where it gets complicated-ish,” I said. “He asked me if we could get together to talk about it some more, and I said yes without thinking about it.”
“Not exactly smooth, but there’s a certain boldness there,” Hazel said.
“More like pushiness… I’m not a fan of the idea that he had to trick you into going out with him,” Ian said.
“…maybe I don’t know him well enough, but I don’t think he was trying to trick anybody?” Nicki said. “I mean, I thought it was just flirting… and Mackenzie’s the one who suggested they get together later to talk. He kind of turned that into asking her out again, though.”
“Did he actually mean it that way, though, or was he honestly just looking to continue the conversation later?” Amaranth asked.
“Well… if someone had said it to me, I would have felt like they were coming on to me,” Nicki said. “I mean, that’s why I thought Mackenzie was into it… or in on it. If she hadn’t said anything, I would have thought she knew what he was doing and said yes because she was, I don’t know, charmed. I think he probably thought the same thing.”
“And looking back on it, I think you’re right,” I said. “Not about me being charmed, but I mean about the flirting, he had this very… playful… attitude, and he seemed really pleased when I said yes. Not in a ‘oh goody, we can continue this conversation later’ kind of way. Like, ‘hey, it worked’.”
“Two guesses where he learned that move from, and the first doesn’t count,” Ian said. “Hint: His name starts with ‘i-a’ and ends with ‘n’.”
“I didn’t know you were giving love lessons,” Hazel said. Ian just glowered at her, but he had sort of walked into it.
“I don’t think that’s necessarily something he picked up from Iason,” I said. “I mean, he might have refined his technique… such as it is… based on seeing Iason in action, but I think that’s more something they had in common, that tendency to come around and try from a different angle until they get what they want. Like that damned bracelet… he wouldn’t stop fucking around with the thing.”
“Are you sure that’s something he has in common with Iason and not something he has in common with you?” Steff asked.
“Hey, I’ll keep poking at something until I know how it works… not because I want to figure out how to get something out of it without paying the price,” I said. “And I… mostly… restrict myself to things that are within my abilities to poke at. Okay, I had no business trying to help decipher the bracelet’s enchantments, but I was closer to being qualified.”
I realized that my volume was rising as the heat crept in, so I cut myself off before it turned into a full-fledged rant.
“Baby… I think you know the reason you ended up in that situation was that you let yourself be goaded,” Amaranth said. “And I hope you don’t feel obligated to do anything you don’t want to do… whether it’s intentional or not, this all sounds like a misunderstanding… you should let him know as soon as possible, of course… but even if you had meant it, you’re still entitled to change your mind.”
“I know… and really, I didn’t actually agree to go anywhere with him,” I said. “I agreed to meet in order to talk about the possibility of going somewhere. So that’s all I’m going to do. I mean, that’s all I’m committing to doing… I don’t see myself agreeing to anything else, but if he suggests something I actually want to do, I won’t say no out of spite. I told him he could meet me, so I’ll meet him. I don’t think he has any plans about sweeping me off my feet and carrying me away, but if he does, he’s going to be disappointed.”
“I think it would serve him right if you didn’t even show up,” Ian said. “If he’s not going to back off when you make it clear that you’re not comfortable with him, you don’t owe him the courtesy of honoring a commitment he pressured you into.”
“I’m not exactly uncomfortable with him, though?” I said. “I mean, I don’t think I like him very much, but I trust him. Like, if I had to compile a list of guys I’d have to be locked in room with, he’d be on it… if only because I’ve been there, done that with him and nothing happened. He’s an asshole, but he’s a decent asshole.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty accurate,” Steff said.
“Oh, come on,” Ian said. “Steff… you hate him more than anyone here.”
“Yeah, and I like him more than anyone here… except maybe Amy-doll, in her bland and all-encompassing way,” Steff said. “He is an asshole, but he is a decent one… otherwise I wouldn’t fuck with him… all entendres intended..”
“I don’t understand why he’s even interested in me,” I said. “Even interested in catching up with me. Most of the time he looks at me like I’m something on the bottom of his shoe. He couldn’t wait five seconds to insult me!”
“Well… is ‘most of the time’ really an accurate description when most of the time you two don’t actually see each other?” Steff said. “Okay, there was one time when you were kind of stuck together, but nobody could really be at their best under those circumstances, could they? Look at it like this… he’s giving you a second chance to make a first impression.”
“Why do I need a stuck-up prick like him to give me a second chance?” I said. “It’s not like I stay up at nights crying into my pillow because the great and wonderful Jamie Bowman thinks I’m some kind of… goth street urchin, or however he put it.”
“It was ‘emo street urchin’, and well… maybe it doesn’t bother you,” Steff said. She paused… a fully mortal person would probably have either held their breath or taken a deep one, but Steff just didn’t breathe for a few seconds. “But… but… maybe, just maybe… it kills me a little bit that he doesn’t know how awesome you can be.”
I stared at her, not sure why she’d been hesitant to say this, since it was a pretty sweet sentiment. Ian figured it out before I did.
“Holy shit,” Ian said. “You put him up to it.”
“What? No!” Steff said. “I didn’t know she’d run into him… but I do talk to him, sometimes. And, sometimes Mack… comes up.”
“You mean he talks trash about her behind his back,” Ian said.
“Well, no… okay, yes, sometimes, but more often I’m the one who brings her up. Sometimes I need to vent about something in my life to him, and sometimes that something involves her… and sometimes he’s taken that as a cue to start bashing her alongside me, and I end up defending her.”
“Why the hell are you bashing her in the first place?” Ian asked.
“Hold on… could you all do me a favor and say ‘you’ instead of ‘her’?” I asked. “Honestly, there are worse things than talking about someone behind their back… doing it in front of them is one of them.”
“I’m sorry, Mack,” Steff said. “And really, I’m not bashing you… but sometimes I get frustrated or annoyed, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings. It’s just… it’s venting. It doesn’t mean I don’t like you.”
“I understand venting,” I said, and I did… possibly if I’d heard Steff doing such a thing, or if any of the things she’d said had spread beyond Jamie and circled back to me, I’d have been furious, but I had nothing to be angry about and that made me feel very tired of the subject. “I’m not mad, I just… were you trying to push us together?”
“No, I was just… encouraging him to see that there was more to you than the surface,” Steff said. “I know, I’ve said I like your body more than your personality… and to be completely honest, that’s probably always going to be true… but your personality has grown on me. Or it’s grown, I don’t know. Or maybe I’m just in a better position to see more of you? The point is, I understood where he’s coming from, so I thought with a push I could get him to end up where I was.”
It would have been easy to be insulted by Steff’s honesty, but I accepted it for what it was. Her focus in relationships had been pretty firmly centered on the material… not as in wealth and clothes, but as in bodies and sex, physicality. Personality traits only mattered insofar as they made one willing, and not so annoying as to make the whole experience an exercise in frustration. In truth, there was probably a bigger personality mish-mash between her primary partner and her than there ever had been between the two of us.
At the end of the day, I wasn’t sure that Steff actually liked anybody, in the way that I would have meant the word…
Well, that wasn’t true.
She liked Two.
And she liked me enough to try to lobby on my behalf, in her own way, when one of her fuckbuddies spoke out of turn about me. When I thought about it, that meant more to me than if she would have said that my personality was all sparkly and awesome and she loved everything about me. It was an action that spoke louder than her words.
“Okay,” I said. “So you think I’m worth Jamie’s time. Is there anything about Jamie that’s worth my time?”
“…yes,” she said, after a few moments. “Don’t ask me to put it into words, because I can’t… except to say that he is decent. I mean, I could tell you about times we were together and things that he said, but I don’t know how to block it out for you in concrete terms or anything, what it is that I like about him. Honeslty, though, a lot of time we’re together he’ll say or do something that just makes me roll my eyes and I think, ‘Fuck, Mack would have loved that.’ You two really do have more in common than you think.”
“Having something in common doesn’t mean we’ll get along,” I said.
“No, but… okay, for the first month we knew each other, he thought I was a guy,” Steff said. “Not really his fault, it’s that elven cultural thing… I thought he was making up his elven-iness, I mean I could tell he had some elven blood, but there are really less pure humans walking around than you’d think, but he spent enough time in the woods to internalize some of that stuff. My point is, he thought I looked like a guy, and I got past that. That should tell you something.”
“I think I know what you mean,” I said. It was like when he’d made the crack about my clothes: there was not a lot of actual malice in Jamie Bowman’s body. He was a well-intentioned jerk. That in and of itself wasn’t enough to make me like him… but I could see it cracking open the door. “Okay… well, like I said, I’ll meet with him, and I’ll be… open to the idea of that meeting going somewhere.”
“I’m glad,” Steff said. “And, no pressure, but I hope you will keep an open mind about where it leads, because… no offense to the Amazing Amy… but I think it’s time we started having threesomes with other people.”
“Now, there’s a word I thought would turn up sooner,” Hazel said. Though I hadn’t been thinking it, I had to admit that she was right. It pretty much seemed like an inevitability.
“Why does she call you ‘Amy’?” Nicki asked Amaranth quietly in the pause that followed.
“So I don’t remind her of her father,” Amaranth said.
“I’ll explain later.”
“I… uh… seriously, I’m not making any promises in that area,” I said. I barely felt the flush in my cheeks, the conversation had been so heated at times. “I’m really not interested in… well, him, or anyone else. New, I mean.”
“I’m not going to push until I know there’s something to push on,” Steff said. “But I thought I should get that out in the open from the beginning instead of hitting you with it out of nowhere later.”
“It wouldn’t really be out of nowhere, believe me,” I said. “But… there really isn’t going to be anything to talk about until I see Jamie again, and I can see things going bad if we keep going back and forth over them now.”
“So… things aren’t bad now?” Steff asked.
“No, they’re good,” I said. “We’re good.”
I reached across the table and gave her hand a squeeze, and she let out a breath that she hadn’t actually been holding. Elven respiration… even semi-elven respiration… could get weird, when you were paying attention to it and they weren’t. I supposed it said something in line with Amaranth’s analysis that I noticed Steff’s breathing anomalies more often since she’d grown breasts.
“Well, on a slightly different subject,” Amaranth said, after no one else said anything for several seconds, “Nicki, did you have something you wanted to ask Steff and Mack?”
“No, I really don’t,” Nicki said quickly, her cheeks turning bright red.
“Oh, sorry,” Amaranth said. “I just…”
“I know,” Nicki said. “But, no. I’m fine. Really.”
I wasn’t actually so completely clueless that I couldn’t sort out what reaction Nicki might have had that Amaranth might have been picking up on, but in deference to her I didn’t dwell on it.