Chapter 225: Leading DancesAlexandra Erin on July 10, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Mackenzie Is Found In A Compromising Position
As thin as the lead was, I didn’t waste any time getting it to Glory. After making apologies to Two… who accepted them with her customary automatic grace… I checked the book out and took it directly to the throne-room-to-be in Oberrad House.
The floor had been cleared of debris and cleaned, though it was still badly in need of a retiling that would logistically have to wait until the rest of the work was done. The boards had been taken off the windows to let in sunshine and air, although one of the worst panes had been covered with a wall of force to avoid letting in too much of the latter.
It still wasn’t much to look at, but as someone who was normally wedged into the tower, I still found something palatial about it.
This was the first time I ever dropped by unannounced and unsummoned, but I thought it would be worth the risk of appearing presumptuous.
The plans for renovating the old dorm may have been proceeding slowly for her tastes, but they were proceeding, and I figured that the further along they got, the harder it would be implement any major changes, on any level.
My initiative was rewarded by the sight of Glory clasping her hands and actually twirling around in place in delight.
“Yes!” she said, her face a mask of utter delight. “Oh, yes, yes, yes!” She took the book from my hands and looked at it. “It’s perfect! So… human, but so… not… this.” She gestured to the blocky confines of the room around us. She turned the page, then flipped back to the picture. Abruptly she composed herself, and her face was just a mask. “But… is this the only reference you could find?”
“So far,” I said. “Nothing else in the history section really looked like it would touch on the subject. Amaranth is checking the periodical archives for me, looking for any further mentions of the renovation from around the time it was current events. I kind of doubt anyone published more pictures or anything like full schematics, but if nothing else, there’s probably at least one newspaper article out there with the name of the architects who designed it. Assuming they’re still around, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind being paid again for work they already did.”
“Well, that’s something,” she said. She cupped my face with her hand. “I could kiss you, you know… although I may not and will not, I certainly could. I take it that Amaranth knows why you seek this information?”
“Yep,” I said. “To be fair, a lot of the credit for this goes to her.”
“You’re not a very elven agent, Mackenzie,” she said, withdrawing her arm and turning away. “You’re the one who brought it to me. I take it, though, that Amaranth is in favor of things that win you my approval?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Definitely.”
“So it’s not due to reservations on her part that she is slow to assent to any advancement towards a relationship with you.”
“I… well, it’s not that we’re saying no,” I said. “Just… go slow.”
“I can go slow,” she said. “I know how to do things slowly. I can walk slowly across a room. I could speak slowly. I’ve spent more than three decades counting slowly to a hundred. The problem with taking this slowly is that it’s not one thing that we’re doing, so to do it slowly means to wait and do nothing, punctuated with perilous leaps into the unknown.”
“Is that how you feel about it?” I asked.
“I said so, did I not?”
“It’s just… I’ve sort of been enjoying how things have been,” I said. “It’s exciting. I thought you felt the same… I’m sorry it hasn’t been as fun for you.”
“Oh, it’s been fun!” she said. “Quite a bit of fun, in places. Particularly when you feel bold… because then you’re the one making the move, so I don’t have to worry that it might take you somewhere you don’t want to be. I enjoy the feeling of taking liberties, but it’s tempered by the knowledge that if I go faster than you want, I might set things back, or upset them completely. I don’t expect you take orders like one of my underlings, but I feel like I’m leading the dance while you’re setting the pace.”
“I think I’m doomed to be an awkward dance partner no matter who’s in charge of what,” I said. “But I want you to know that I… I’ve really enjoy the dance, anyway.”
I said the last line the same way I might have made a suicide charge against an enemy line: by lowering my head, closing my eyes, and plowing straight ahead anyway. Embarrassment has a way of compounding itself, so that knowing that I was blushing made me blush all the harder. Some people seemed to find this charming instead of hilarious, a fact which left me confused but grateful. No surprise given that she was sort of a fan of mine, but Glory seemed to be among that group.
“Oh, Mackenzie… sometimes, I swear you must have a devil behind you, whispering words in your ear,” she said. I flinched at the association, and immediately felt bad for ruining the moment. “Oh, I’m sorry… I didn’t think… perhaps I should have said a guiding genius.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you didn’t mean anything.”
“Well, I did mean the compliment,” she said.
I didn’t have anything to say to that, so I cast around in my head for something to save the conversation and maybe restore the moment that had been lost. I ran back through the previous exchanges to see if I could find a thread to pick back up.
“You know,” I said, “dancing is something else that can be done slowly. I mean, a real dance… not a metaphorical dance that is just a bunch of starting and stopping with a lot of waiting around in between.”
“A better class of genius would have stopped you one sentence sooner,” Glory said, smirking. “Do you like to dance, Mackenzie?”
“I’ve been known to move around in the same general vicinity as music,” I said. “It’s not something I feel a real strong urge to go out and do, though… um… for me, it’s more about the right partner.”
“And the genius recovers,” Glory said. “Shall I ask permission to ask you to dance, Mackenzie Blaise?”
“I’m sure I’m free to dance with who I please,” I said.
She quirked an eyebrow.
“Your owner permits such liberty?”
“She encourages it,” I said.
“I gathered that, but I had also gathered she was protective of you,” Glory said.
“I think she trusts me to be discerning in my choice of partners,” I said. “I mean, she would actually rather I was a lot less choosy about these things.”
“Well, then… I think we must have music,” she said.
She held up her wrist, which had a bracelet made up of little tiny cymbals. She touched one, and immediately a song filled the air around us. It wasn’t an elven melody, or even the bubblegummy elven/human fusion music that Steff liked, but a human rock ballad that sounded like it was from about thirty years ago, though I couldn’t have named the band… spending my teenage years in my grandmother’s house had left me a bit out of the loop on popular music trends and recent musical history.
“Oh, I love this song,” Glory said, exactly as if she had not picked it out. She held out both hands. “Mackenzie, darling, pet…unia… would you care to dance?”
“You’ll have to lead, my queen,” I said, favoring her with what I knew was the highest compliment, because she’d made the effort to avoid calling me pet. I knew she hadn’t meant it in a claiming way, because she would have said my in front of it, but she’d still picked up on the fact that I didn’t like my pet names to be pet names. “I’m afraid I’m not very good at it.”
“That won’t be a problem at all,” she said, and we began to turn about the floor together. I was following her in the most straightforward sense of the word, which is to say that mostly I just held on and went where she went, or moved where she moved me. She seemed to enjoy it, and I know I did. I don’t know to what extent her bracelet was operating under her direction, but the next song was a slower and quieter one, and when she started to pull me closer, I nodded and let her.
“My first date with Ian was a school dance,” I said. “It was… awkward.”
“Hey, do you know what else is awkward?”
“No… wait, is it bringing up my boyfriend while I’m dancing with you?” I guessed.
“I’m not envious, Mackenzie,” she said. “But I am jealous, in the classic sense. I don’t want to share what I’m holding on to, and right now, I’m holding on to you.”
“Sorry,” I said, and I meant it, not just because I’d hurt her without meaning to, but because I realized that I liked being in her arms, and I might have given her the impression that I didn’t. “You could slap me, if it would make you feel better.”
“I could,” she said. “But then I’d have to let go.”
The slap came at the end of the next song. We broke apart, Glory held up her hand and let me see it, then she moved it too quickly for my eyes to make out more than an ivory blur before stopping her fingers the thickness of a feather away from my cheek. She smiled, tilted her head, rotated her hand back at the wrist, and gave a light smack.
“That… was an interesting experience,” she said.
“You’ve never slapped someone in the face?”
“Oh, no, it’s often been necessary,” she said. “It’s one of those things I did more often than I’d like to, in Treehome… that’s what makes this interesting.”
“That you wanted to?”
“That I liked it,” she said. “Believe me, Mackenzie, I’ve wanted to slap you and every one of your friends so… many… times, but I didn’t actually expect to enjoy it when I did. It just seemed…”
“Necessary?” I suggested.
“Yes,” she said.
“Well, I think you can probably do it as seems necessary,” I said. “To me, I mean, not to my friends.”
“That’s… that’s quite a leap forward, if I understand what you’re offering,” she said.
“You should talk to Amaranth about it, but she said she’d be along when she’s done with her research anyway,” I said. “Still, I don’t think she’ll object.”
“Are you sure about that?” Glory asked. “I know she’s free with love, but as I said, I also know she’s protective of you… and given some of your history…”
“Yeah, oh, definitely,” I said. “She would put her foot down so fast if she thought I was giving in to somebody physically abusive again. But I think she can trust in your judgment, if you’ve gone this long without doing it.”
“You’re being cheeky again,” she said. “It suits you, somehow… and yet, I feel the urge to slap rising. Still, I will wait for Amaranth. It’s only courteous. Shouldn’t she be along by now?”
“She’ll be here sooner or later,” I said. “She’s the best person I know at finding stuff out, but she’s not always the most efficient about it.”
“She’s easily distracted, you mean,” Glory said.
“Yeah,” I said. “You could always send someone for her.”
“Are you in such a hurry to get away from me? Can you not stand to be alone with me a moment longer?”
“No!” I said, and she laughed. “I just thought… you might be getting… you know… impatient.”
“I have been getting impatient for days, if you’ve been paying attention,” she said. “Oh, I said I’d wait until I speak to Amaranth to slap you again, didn’t I?”
“Can I ask you something?” I said.
“Oh, I like it when you ask,” she said. “But say, may I?”
“May I ask you something?”
“Did you really want to slap everyone?” I asked.
“At some point,” she said.
“Even Hazel?” I asked.
“That time she was trying to pretend she wasn’t pregnant,” Glory said.
“You have good ears,” I said. “Okay… Dee? I know you respect Dee.”
“Oh, sure. It’s just…”
“It’s just that she can be a bit… superior, don’t you think?”
“She’s one of the most humble people I know,” I said.
“Yeah… and that’s another thing,” Glory said. “She’s so smug about it.”
“Also… she kind of is superior to most people,” I said. “In terms of being a telepathic, psychokinetic combat expert who’s also a promising priestess. I really wouldn’t want to be standing next to someone who tried to take her down a peg. Or up a peg. Or whatever vertically oriented preposition applies.”
“I didn’t say I would… just that I’ve wanted to.”
“What about Two?” I asked.
“I do not care to answer that,” she said.
“Because I know how much you care about her and how much you judge people for not liking her,” she said.
“You don’t like Two?”
“I love Two!” she said, rocking back on her heels about six feet and putting up her hands, with an expression of genuine concern… bordering on fear… on her face. “From a distance, by proxy, vicariously. She’s a dear little doll, and smarter than people think! But… this reaction is exactly why I didn’t want to bring up anything negative about her.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Maybe I am a little overprotective of her. But, you said yourself: she’s smart, she’s adorable. What’s not to like?”
Glory tilted her head and narrowed her eyes.
“Sometimes… she’s a bit of a brat.”
“…okay,” I said. “Fair enough. She is. I just… I don’t like the idea of strangers thinking that about her. I mean, you’ve been watching us, you’ve been listening to our conversations, you’ve been following whatever stories you can put together about us the whole time we’ve been hanging out, but at the end of the day, that’s not the same thing as knowing us. You know?”
“I know!” Glory said. “And I… I don’t want to give you the impression that I think otherwise, Mackenzie. I don’t judge you or your friends. Sometimes I see or hear things that frustrate me, but that’s… that’s a reaction. It’s fleeting. It passes. At the end of the day, please remember that I want you, and not as a jester or a clown. I found you entertaining, Mackenzie, but you’ve never just been entertainment.”
“Okay,” I said. I took a deep breath and tried to… square myself away. “Okay.”
“…have we made things worse?”
“I think we actually made them better,” I said. “Usually, when I’m with… someone and we end up arguing, it just brings the stuff we’re not talking about to the surface and then we’re better for it. It’s just how we make progress.”
“Well, I recognize some progress when I see it,” Glory said. She glided closer. “It’s a shame I haven’t been given permission to do more, Mackenzie, but among elves, it’s not uncommon for friends to exchange kisses, as I think was once the fashion among humans.”
“…I think it still is, some places,” I said, with growing enthusiasm. Although the restriction on things like kissing was being done at my behest and for my benefit, there was a limit to how much I was willing to just throw it out unilaterally. For my benefit or not, the control I’d surrendered to Amaranth still meant something. This seemed like a decent enough compromise, under the circumstances. “Like on the cheek.”
“Yes,” Glory said, nodding enthusiastically. She turned her head to one side, then the other. “Sometimes, even both cheeks.”
“Yeah,” I said, swallowing. “Just… like that. I know what you mean.”
“Well, I don’t think you need ask permission to be a friend,” Glory said. “Nor to accept a friendly gesture. Right?”
“…right,” I agreed.
“Oh, for the love of… of loving,” Amaranth shouted. “Would you quit messing around and just kiss her already?”