Chapter 227: Slowly and SteadyAlexandra Erin on July 16, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort
In Which Things Happen
We might have progessed to calling it a relationship, but we didn’t figure much else out that day.
Over the next few days, Glory and I took a few more stabs at defining what she had with me and figuring out where its boundaries might lay… not the boundaries between us, our individual boundaries… but rather the outward shape of the relationship itself, if that makes any sense.
We… didn’t have much progress in those conversations.
Every time we tried to talk about it, we’d get sidetracked into circular discussions about things like expectations and the future. Unlike when I did this with Ian, there was never any real breakthrough moment where we got out of the circular rut and moved somewhere new. I think this was maybe because neither one of us lost their temper with the other one. But while we were able to keep our calm, that didn’t mean it wasn’t frustrating.
What we did have a lot of in those first few days was kissing. Sex was something that was going to require some imagination and more of the same sort of dancing we’d done involving above-clothes contact before the kiss, but there was still a lot of kissing… often accompanied by more such touching, and not all of it over the clothes. She’d cautiously slid her hands down the back of my pants a couple of times.
I’ll admit, it took me a while to get used to the peculiar coolness of her lips.
Well, I shouldn’t say “peculiar”, because that was the nature of elves. The slow, soft burn of immortality might have been attractive, but it didn’t give off a lot of heat. It was like the difference between a candle or torch, and the soft white glow of a continual light spell. The spell would last forever, or until something ended it, but you couldn’t warm your hands with it.
“I’m sorry I keep pulling away from you,” I said after one particularly short-lived make-out session. Glory responded to this the same way she usually did when I was apologetic: she took my hand and held it tightly by the tips of my fingers.
“You aren’t pulling away from me,” she said.
“I’m sorry, should I have figured out a way to make that passive voice?” I asked, confused and thinking she was objecting to me describing our interactions in terms of me rather than her.
“No, what I mean is, I don’t take it personally,” she said. She touched her other hand to her lips. “This, this isn’t a flaw, personal to me… it’s part of how I am, but it’s not who I am. If you were to find yourself being kissed by any other elfmaid of about my age or older, you would find the same difficulty. So I content myself that the reason you recoil so from me is that I am kissing you, and not them.”
“Is age really a factor?”
“Oh, yes,” Glory said. “When I was growing, I think you would have found me quite warm. It takes a few decades for the fires to damp themselves completely. I don’t know if it’s something that happens naturally over time, or if we just lose a little more of our spark each time we neglect to breathe or still our hearts in our chests and it just adds up over time.” She shrugged. “It’s how I am, though. You’ll get used to it.”
“How can you be sure?” I asked.
“There are two situations in which people can get used to absolutely anything,” she said. “When they can’t get away from it, and when they want something.”
“That makes it sound like you don’t believe in dealbreakers,” I said.
“Oh, no,” she said. “I know there are things that would make you walk away from me, Mackenzie Blaise… but those would be things that would leave you in the unenviable position of not wanting to stay and be kissed by me. I can tell that you want the kisses, even if you don’t like the chill.”
“I can stand the cold for you,” I said.
“Careful,” she teased. “You are getting dangerously close to sounding romantic.”
“Yeah?” I said. “What are you going to do about it?”
Her way of shushing me lacked the originality of Amaranth’s, but was equally effective… and fun.
That was the thing that kept me coming back, really. There were things that I admired about Glory, but I couldn’t say I knew her that well yet. She was undeniably beautiful, but not really my type, inasmuch as I had a type that I was able to understand.
But she was fun, and it was fun to do things for her, and fun to do things with her.
That’s also why it didn’t bother me more that we didn’t ever succeed much in threshing things out, even though I kept coming back and trying to.
I’d never really expected to start a new relationship at any point in the foreseeable future… certainly not any time while I was still at school. The three I’d already had were more than I’d been expecting in the first place to begin with.
The thing with Glory… just sort of happened. I mean, they all sort of just happened, in one way or another. Like I said, I hadn’t been looking for them in the first place. But I’d always felt on some level that even though I wasn’t looking for anything more, if I did find myself in a position to pursue another relationship, I would be more… organized… about it. I would go into it with both eyes open and my feet firmly planted on the ground.
And in a lot of ways, that was true. Hadn’t I been cautious? Hadn’t I been skeptical? Hadn’t I spent time thinking about and talking about what she wanted and what I wanted and where it might go?
But at the end of that first pivotal encounter, the first time she kissed me… I still felt like I’d been blindsided. Maybe there was a more general life lesson there about the nature of planning and preparation, and how there’s not really an upper limit on how much you can have before you’re fully prepared.
Or maybe there was a more specific lesson, something about love and its nature being as mysterious and unpredictable as the ocean tides… wait, tides are pretty predictable, aren’t they? I mean, I think they have almanacs for them or something. Wouldn’t they need to know when the tides are going to be coming in and out, for getting in and out of harbors and stuff?
So maybe the lesson was that love was as mysterious and unpredictable as a very mysterious and unpredictable thing… as hard to unravel as an analogy about tides from someone who had always lived a thousand or more miles inland.
Or maybe there wasn’t a lesson… maybe it was just a bunch of stuff that happened, and we did some stuff right, and it ended with us kissing.
Well, it led to us kissing… it hadn’t ended yet.
In fact, in a lot of ways, that was when things well and truly began. I’d done some jobs for Glory, but most of them were quick and minor errands.
Glory had always been kind of… well…I was going to say “furtive”, but maybe that makes it sound like she was sneaky about it… she’d always been slightly hesitant about calling on me and putting me to a task.
It was like she was afraid that if I said no too many times, it would become a habit, or that if I thought she was asking too much, I’d blow my top and call it off instead of turning her down.
Or maybe she’d been concerned that if her agent seemed like too much of a free agent, it would undermine her authority. For whatever reason, though, she’d pretty much stuck to occasional tasks that didn’t require too much from me and also fit well into my schedule and other plans.
It was only after we’d sealed our deal with a kiss, so to speak, that she really started to take full advantage… of the arrangement, I mean, not me. Some of it was clearly flirting… thanks to Steff, I knew what it meant when she slipped me one of her veils, even if she asked me to wash it for her.
But she would also do things like ask me when I was going to town, so she could give me a list of items to pick up for her. I did end up being her go-between with the contractors who were working on Oberrad House more than I would have liked, but… she was still paying me. It was also probably good experience. It’s useful to get forced outside your comfort zone, if you can find a way to do it inside your comfort zone.
And anyway, the work had become a lot more involved once she’d received approval to “restore” the old wing to the glory days that never were. Amaranth had dug up the name of the architect responsible for the original designs, and while he’d gone on to design houses on a higher plane, his firm was still around, and still had the plans in their records.
“It turns out it’s not going to be as hard to do the alterations as we’d thought,” I told Glory, after I’d delivered them to her dwarven contractors. “I know we were thinking that it would be a big deal because of the structural alterations, but… well… the structure now is the same as it was back when this was proposed.”
“Oh, of course!” Glory said. “I’ve been thinking… not in words, but in the back of my head, the worry’s been there… that when they did the actual renovations, they sort of indelibly locked the building into this form. But of course the reason the cheaper version was cheaper was that they didn’t have to do any substantial changes.”
“Right,” I said. “So from the architectural point of view, it’s still basically the same building the plans were made for… which isn’t to say it will be cheap or easy, but… cheaper and easier than we were thinking.”
“That’s good,” she said. “You don’t… you don’t mind doing this, do you?”
“Our deal was that I only take the jobs I want,” I said. “That’s still true, right?”
“It’s true that this is our deal,” she said. “I’m asking because I want to be sure that you don’t feel the choice is between your freedom and me.”
“If I’d felt that… I’d have chosen my freedom,” I said. “I like you, Glory, and while I’ve been… kind of door mat-ish in the past, I know that about myself, and I watch out for it. To tell you the truth…”
“Please, never hesitate after an offer of truth.”
“Well, I always got the feeling that you were holding back, before,” I said. “Like, you didn’t ask much of me. I felt like on some level that the whole thing was mainly about excuses to see me… or maybe excuses to boss me around… but in retrospect, that kind of makes me wish you’d called for me more often.”
“I hope that you didn’t feel unwanted!” she said.
“No, just… slightly confused,” I said. “It’s really only in retrospect, now that I can look back on it, that I realize how… careful… you were. Like you were afraid that if I said no too many times, I’d get used to it, or something.”
“It’s more that I was afraid you would think I was overreaching, and leave,” she said. “I’m sorry if that made it less interesting for you.”
“I don’t think you ever need to apologize for being cautious about that sort of thing,” I said. “I mean, going fast can be fun, but it’s more fun to get where you’re going safely. Anyway, I had said I was looking for a light, low-pressure sort of thing… with the job, I mean. And you gave me that.”
“Twice,” she said. “Though I think my demands on your time have more than doubled.”
“Like I said… if I don’t want to do it, I won’t,” I said. “I wasn’t counting on this, on any of this, but… well… we’re here, and the time I spend with you is more than twice as valuable now.”
“You are a sweet one, Mackenzie Blaise,” she said.
“I was trying to be rational more than poetic,” I said.
“You’ll always be more rational than poetic,” she said. “But some of the most beautiful poetry is accidental.”
“Since we’re talking about excuses to see me… how long have you been angling for this? I’m not, like, judging your motives or anything, I’m just curious. I’ve spent so much time this semester trying to figure out what’s going on in other people’s heads, and it’s just now hit me that I’m in a position to just ask.”
“Well… angling, or hoping?” she asked.
“Let’s start with hope,” I said. “Since I would guess it came first.”
“Then maybe I should start before that,” she said. “I’ve been… let’s say, I’ve been idly imagining something of this nature for quite some time, since before I even began to get to know you properly. But that’s not to say that I had any designs on you at that point. I most certainly didn’t. My fantasies were often wildly improbable, unlikely to come about and less likely to lead to any sort of repeat experience or ongoing relationship. Not that I wouldn’t have… I mean… I simply wasn’t considering that. I did not know you, and it seemed unlikely that I would.”
“Yeah, I know something about unrepeatable fantasies,” I said, thinking of Steff. A lot of hers were unrepeatable in more than one sense of the word, since in the confines of her imagination, she preferred scenarios to have a final ending.
“‘One night stands’ are a human concept with a very elven appeal,” she said. “Though as I imagined them happening again and again, in a myriad of different ways… I realized that what I really wanted was a series of them with the same person.”
“It’s possible you’ve misunderstood the concept,” I said.
“I do have permission to slap you.”
“Yeah… you haven’t, though. Not since the first time.”
“I… don’t know how I feel about it yet,” she said. “Is that okay with you?”
“Never apologize for caution,” I said. “I’m the last person who would yell at someone for taking time to figure out how they feel about something.”
“It’s not an experience I’m used to,” she said. “As a queen of Treehome… and even before I established my court… I had to be decisive in all things and guarded in my feelings. Being able to relax somewhat is… nice, but it doesn’t yet come naturally to me.”
“Do you not think of yourself as a queen anymore?”
“If anything, I think of myself as a queen rather than a pretender who has made it much further than was wise more now that I’ve escaped Treehome’s confines,” she said. “I guess that’s what happens when you no longer have anyone else to compare yourself to. But not having anyone to compare myself to means that I don’t have any model to follow, and that makes things… shakier… than I would like. My faithful retainers look to me and follow my lead, but I wonder how much we can bend, collectively, without breaking?”
“You’re worried that they won’t want a queen anymore?”
“That would not worry me,” she said. “My reign will end within a handful of years either way. What I worry is that they won’t want me as a queen, and I’ll face an insurrection, or mass defections. I cannot hold the house by myself, and I have no desire to subordinate myself to another.”
“No one’s left your court yet,” I said.
“No,” she said. “And there are some feelers out from others looking to join me, though I intend to wait for the renovations to be finished… we’re too vulnerable now to have strangers under our roof, and not nearly impressive enough to be sure to keep the loyalty of anyone who might drift over.”
“So just keep doing what you’re doing,” I said. “You won’t have to do it forever.”
“Do you mean, keep relaxing things at the same pace that I have been, or keep things at exactly the same level that they are now?”
“I meant the first… but if it’s only until the renovations are finished, you might as well aim for the second,” I said. “I mean, the structure’s going to be losing some of its rigidity anyway… I’m sure that you having me, the way that you do, is having an effect. I’m sure that your courtiers are getting bolder on their own as they enjoy the new freedom. So maybe for a while, don’t try to steer it… just let it happen.”
“That’s very excellent advice that I am almost certain I will not be able to abide,” she said. ”
“Well, that’s the best advice I have,” I said.
“I’ve spent too long keeping things firmly under control to be able to just… let go,” she said. “But I think… I think I can live with a ‘no rush’ approach to things. As you said, it’s better to arrive at the destination safely, even if it makes the journey less exciting.”
“Yeah. Wait for the renovations to finish, and then focus on shaking up the court, or whipping it into order… or not whipping it out of order, or whatever,” I said. “One thing at a time… that’s pretty much my motto these days.”
“Oh? And how does that work out?”
“It’s very excellent advice that I almost certainly am not able to abide,” I said.
“I’m afraid that mocking the queen will get you a very chilly reception,” she said, taking me by the hands. “Come here, you…”