Chapter 238: Growth Rings

on August 15, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Amaranth Is Easy

Amaranth proved to be easier to find than I had expected… she was looking for me around Gilcrease Tower when I went back to try to figure out where to start looking for her.

“Nicki told me that you might be looking for me, baby,” she said. “I was a little… concerned, because she seemed so nervous. I mean, she was actually wincing. Is everything okay? I mean, at least as okay as it was?”

“Yeah, things are fine,” I said. “Nicki… she was probably just nervous about approaching you, or worried that I would take it the wrong way that she was I, I don’t know… meddling. But honestly, I could kiss her.”

“She’d like that,” Amaranth said. “Honestly, I’m not sure why casual kissing among friends isn’t more of a thing in the Imperium. People shouldn’t need to be drunk to show their friends physical affection. Anyway, you can always kiss me.”

I let my mouth tell her how right she was… okay, that sounds like I just said words, but you know what I mean. Usually when we came together into a kiss, I would stay in it until Amaranth broke away, because I trusted her to know how long was right for that sort of thing. This time, though, I had to break the embrace first, when I realized I had started to forget about why I’d come looking for her.

“Wow, you really must need to talk to me,” she said. “Are you sure everything is okay?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Really, everything is fine… I’ve come to a kind of a decision on Glory, and I just needed to check in with you about it.”

“What do you mean by ‘kind of’ decision, baby?”

“Well… the thing is, I figured out that I can’t really figure out what I want from her from the outside, staying away from her,” I said. “So, I’m going to… I mean, with your permission, I’d like to start dating her. I mean…”

“You want to be the transitive object of Glory’s dating relationship,” Amaranth said.


“Does she know that this is a trial run?” Amaranth said. “There’s nothing wrong with that… when I’ve said that you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things or people, I mean try… but people can still be hurt and disappointed even if they all have their eyes open and they’re communicating well. If you’re not both on the same level, it’s almost a guarantee that it will end, and end badly.”

“Yeah,” I said. “We talked about that. She… she definitely wants to date me, but I think we’re on same page. I get the feeling that she’s also not one hundred percent sure on what she wants, longer-term, but she’s into finding out.”

“Well, that’s good,” she said. “I’m very happy for you… tempered, of course, by my concern for you and Ian, but I’m still cautiously optimistic about that. Have you spoken about what exactly this new stage of her relationship will entail?”

“Not in a lot of specific detail,” I said. “She’ll be holding the reins…”

“Ooh, there will be reins?”

“She will be holding the entirely figurative reins,” I said. “But, I mean… I assume we’ll be actually going out some places at least a few times, and I could see myself spending a few more nights in her room… under less extreme circumstances.”


“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, I don’t expect there to be a lot of sex, necessarily, just… closeness. Getting to know each other without anyone else around. I’m better with people one-on-one, and she’s… she has fewer images to keep up, when it’s just me.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t mind sex,” Amaranth said, and the fact that she felt the need to specify this was how I noticed that she wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of me spending the night with Glory in general.

This was something that I hadn’t expected, though my mind started to make sense of it as soon as I was.

While Amaranth was as capable of being jealous as anyone, she didn’t tend to be envious about matters relating to time and attention… she just didn’t see things the same way as most mortals did when it came to those things. But there were limits, because she did like on occasion to spend time with the people that she loved and it was important to her that we shared a room even when we weren’t always together in it.

“Of course, we wanted to make sure we have your blessing for anything that we do,” I said.

“It’s not that I don’t want you to get out there and experience things, baby,” she said. “It’s just… well, I’d grown used to knowing that you were in here… that wherever I was and whatever I was doing, you would be safe back here in my room, that you’d be there if I needed you or went looking for you.”

“I get that,” I said, and in fact, thinking about my nights alone in those terms gave me both a warm feeling and a kind of hot one, although I think any fetishy undertones might actually have been incidental. “And, to be honest, I like that thought… I wish I’d thought of that more often before, lying in bed. But I’ll probably be thinking about it in the future, because I’m not moving out. I’m just… I had the thought that some nights, I might sleep in Oberrad, if Glory wants me to”

“Do you know how many nights?”

“No,” I said. “But… if you want to set a limit, I’d totally be okay with that, and I think she’d respect that. She understands the concept of ownership and precedence. She’s not challenged by it.”

She frowned, worrying at her lip with her teeth.

“That’s… that’s now how I’d like to do this,” she said. “Clear boundaries are good, but we’re talking about how you spend your free time… there’s no reason I need to have that specific a say in it. If it related to something I needed or something that actually affected me, or if I had an actual concern for your safety… but I don’t. There’s no reason for me to put this restriction on you.”

“Amaranth… you know I like it when you exert control,” I said. “Even if this isn’t strictly necessary… well, there’s got to be a limit, whether I set it or you set it or it just sort of happens. If you want to set one and I’m not going to have a problem with it, who cares if you don’t have a ‘real’ reason for it?”

“It just… it sort of goes against my nature,” Amaranth said. “You know what I mean.”

“I’m not going to tell you what is or isn’t a transgression against nymphood, but I think you’re overthinking this,” I said. “Amaranth… if I told you that I wasn’t comfortable with… well, anything… you’d tell me I’m entitled to feel that, right?”

“Yes, but this isn’t about discomfort,” she said. “I’m not uncomfortable with Glory, or I’d just be saying no! And anyway, if you did feel uncomfortable with how I spend my nights… not that you wouldn’t be entitled to feel that way, baby, but you’d have to make some choices, because I’m afraid I couldn’t change who I am or what I do for you.”

“I know,” I said. “Which I think is a big part of why it’s never bothered me. But, how would you feel if I was really bothered by that, but I didn’t tell you, because I was afraid of how it would go if I did and so I just kind of pushed it aside and tried to get over it?”

“I’d be… well, probably disappointed, and concerned,” she said. “Bringing it up wouldn’t solve the basic dilemma, but shoving it into the corner would do so even less.”

“Exactly,” I said. “So… if you do have a problem with me spending nights with Glory, or you want to set a limit, for whatever reason… shouldn’t we at least talk about it?”

“My instinct… at the risk of sounding like your mother, my instinct is to say ‘no school nights’,” she said. “Because I saw what happened with Nicki and Grace, and you can’t afford to mess around… and because you do have a way of getting stretched thin, and while I think you have some important lessons left to learn outside the classroom, we shouldn’t forget why we’re actually here.”

“So Friday and Saturday night,” I said. “Just two nights a week…”

Amaranth nodded.

“I know it doesn’t sound like much, baby, but I think there needs to be some restraint,” she said. “Anyway, like I said: that’s what my instinct is. But…”


“But then I think that if you only have two nights a week you can share with Glory, you’ll probably use both of them,” she said. “Which means I won’t ever see you then.”

“That’s kind of your busy time, anyway,” I said. “It seems like most of the time that we end up cuddling together, it’s like a Tuesday or Wednesday or something.”

“You’re… not wrong,” she said. “But the thing about the weekend nights is that they wrap around the weekend days, which is when we both have time to do things together.”

“Amaranth, your reasons for saying Friday and Saturday night in the first place were good, but that doesn’t mean we’re stuck with them,” I said. “You could just… tell me two or three nights a week and then I have to be responsible for getting my ass to class in the morning. I mean, I managed that after getting… after… well, after draining myself and then what Glory did, and she’s made it pretty clear I shouldn’t expect a repeat performance. Honestly, I think I could sleep in a different bed some school nights and still be okay, and as far as I know, that’s really all that we’re talking about, so far.”

“The ‘so far’ is the problem,” Amaranth said. “Well… I don’t say ‘problem’, because I don’t want you to feel like you have to hold back from anything you want to do, but… well… you and Glory seem to have a way of escalating things more quickly than you would do on your own.”

“Well… maybe that will happen,” I said. “And maybe it’s not just Glory. I mean, I didn’t have any great big intentions of having sex with you, the first time… that just happened, too. And it was… it changed my life, Amaranth. I think maybe the real problem… or the real thing that’s going on, problem or not… is that I’ve spent so long in relationships where all of this stuff had been comfortably thrashed out to the point where we could let things happen. I don’t really have any practice or experience with… whatever the alternative is. And maybe that’s what I need.”

Amaranth frowned again.

“You don’t think that I’ve done a good job of preparing you for intentional sexuality?”

“I… you’ve done a really good job with the whole negotiating things inside a relationship,” I said. “But… dating. I mean, other than that horrible joke of an evening out with Jamie Bowman, and ‘date nights’ with people I’m already fucking… I’ve never really done this. Like, there’s whole phases of relationship… ing… that I either slid through really fast or skipped over. And I don’t think I can learn them with you, or anyone that I’m already… you know… with… and you look so disappointed right now.”

“I guess when I pictured you getting out there and doing more things with more people, I didn’t really think about all the… practicalities,” Amaranth said.

“Does that mean you don’t want me to do it?”

“No!” she said quickly. “This is what I want. It’s just… it’s now how I wanted it. It’s not what I imagined. But that’s not your fault.”

“You’re allowed to change your mind,” I said. “And… you’re allowed to be selfish, Amaranth.”

She smiled wanly.

“Part of you is still hoping that I’ll say no, that I’ll say you can’t do it, that you should be mine and only mine, isn’t it?”

“…maybe,” I said. “It would make things easier. But I don’t know if ‘hope’ is the right word. I would probably be relieved on some level… on a lot of levels… if suddenly none of this was happening, but I’d also be disappointed.”

“But if I said no, it wouldn’t actually make all this go away. It would make the problems in front of us right now easier,” she said. “Because it would take them away and replace them with other ones.”

“Ian told me he was afraid that if he made me walk away from Glory, I’d just resent him,” I said. “I can’t imagine feeling that way about you.”

“Two years ago, would you have imagined feeling any of the ways you’ve felt about me?”

“No,” I admitted. “Not about anyone… not consciously.”

“Then let’s not make plans based on what you can’t imagine feeling,” she said. She sighed. “The truth is… the truth is, what I’m really scared of is something I once assumed would happen.”

“What do you mean?”

“That you’d outgrow me,” she said. “That you’d find in me the comfort that you were needing, come to a sexual awakening, learn how to love yourself and others, and then find the person or persons you were meant to be with.”

“You never told me…”

“I’m a nymph, Mack,” she said. “I see the same people over and over again a lot of the time, but I’ve never been anyone’s forever… most of the people who’ve formed an emotional attachment to me did so when they were young, newly come of age. I’d be there for them as often as they needed, for as long as they needed… and then they’d get married, or open to the point that they can get what they need from their fellow mortals. It seemed as natural as the cycle of the seasons.”

“So you didn’t count on me being clingy,” I said. “On me being stuck in that phase for as long as I have.”

“Oh, baby! You’re not clingy, and I’m not disappointed that things haven’t gone that way,” she said. “And I didn’t expect it to necessarily happen in a single academic year. It was just… outside my experience, to think that things could go any other way than that. But then it seemed like they did, and I got… I got a little used to the idea, but I’ve always told myself that if… not when anymore, but if… if it happened, I would be happy for you.”

“And now you don’t think that’s true anymore?”

“I think… I think I would be ecstatic for you,” she said. “And devastated for me.”

“I would be devastated for you, too,” I said. “I guess, in a different way… this is what Ian’s afraid of, isn’t it? That he’ll wind up just having been a phase I was going through, that I’ll just sort slip away from him over time, as I spend more time with Glory and less with him.”

“If he hadn’t asked you to give him some distance, baby, I’d make the rule be that you have to spend time with him for every night with Glory,” she said. “Which isn’t the ideal long-term solution, but could teach you to be mindful about that.”

“That’s… that’s not a bad idea,” I said. “I mean, yeah, it’s obviously not going to work the way things are right now, but maybe I should make some kind of cost. Well, not exactly cost… just… something to balance it? I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it. I just… I don’t want to take the time I spend with Glory for granted, in either direction.” Something occurred to me right after I said that, hitting me with a moment of breathtaking clarity. “Hmm… you know…”

“What, baby?”

“I really think I’m starting to understand where Ian’s been coming from,” I said. “Maybe it’s kind of horrible that I couldn’t just put myself in his shoes, but… talking to you about your concerns, and thinking about Glory’s… like, I’ve known it’s not enough to take someone for granted, and I’ve known it can’t feel good when it happens anyway, but now… I don’t know. I feel like sorting through this and having to explicitly take everyone’s viewpoint into account, it’s just… it’s more real.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re learning this lesson now,” Amaranth said. “There’s more to balancing relationships than just making special plans whenever someone starts to feel neglected. Maybe I should have been doing a better job of teaching that… though, to be honest… well… I may have read more and seen more, but I only have as much direct practical experience with this as you have.”

I nodded. I knew that making that kind of admission was not Amaranth’s favorite thing to do, but I guessed we’d all been in an introspective mood lately.

“How are Ian and Steff doing?” I asked her.

“Steff has been… well, she’s been around more than I would have expected, with you gone,” she said. “It’s hard for me to judge her mood, whether she’s masking things with humor or forcing cheer, because there’s always something in Steff that’s laughing in the dark, you know? Ian… Ian’s been eating by himself, though he hasn’t been snubbing anyone or freezing anyone out. He seems… thoughtful.”

“I had thought it might be kind of… cruel… to keep him in the loop on how things are going with Glory,” I said. “But now I’d kind of like to see him, tell him that I understand more what I’ve been putting him through. I don’t know what to do.”

“I’d say listen to your instincts, baby.”

“Which one, though?”

“Both of them,” she said. “All of them. They’re not exclusive, baby, or even opposites. Tell him what you just told me… and anything else you have to say that’s about him. If he wants to know anything else, he’ll ask.”

“It sounds so obvious when you say it,” I said. “I’ll go and find him tonight after dinner.”

“If you’re planning on rejoining us, I have a feeling he might drift over,” Amaranth said. “Of course, you’ll probably want to talk to him alone, but it would save the trouble of looking for him.”

“Sorry… I’ll probably be back for breakfast, but I’ve already made plans for tonight,” I said.

“My… was Glory that confident of my answer?” Amaranth said. “I mean, I can understand why you would both be sure I’d be generally in favor, but… well, a person doesn’t like being taken for granted.”

“Oh, it’s not a date,” I said. “And it was my idea… I mean, Glory will be there, but it’s really for Nicki’s benefit. She’s been kind of caught in the middle in all this… well, not really caught in the middle, but left on the side.”

“Nicki? Oh! Well, then of course I don’t mind,” Amaranth said. “Nothing makes me more proud of you or happier to own you than watching you be a friend to Nicki. I hope you know that.”

“I do now,” I said, and only a little bit of my blush was because every mention of ownership made my heart race a bit. “I… I, uh, have to run… I promised Glory I would be back with your answer as soon as I had it.”

“Run along, baby, you are excused,” she said. “But I will see you tonight… if you don’t have a date, and you have to come back to Gilcrease to find Ian anyway, then I expect to see you in bed tonight.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

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16 Responses to “Chapter 238: Growth Rings”

  1. Order of Chaos says:

    This is interesting. Could all Mackenzies relationships be about to shift?

    Current score: 7
  2. Zathras IX says:

    Transitive objects
    Of dating relationships
    Cannot be passive

    Current score: 10
  3. Alex says:

    “That’s… that’s now how I’d like to do this,”
    Typo – I suspect that ‘now’ should be ‘not’.
    “That’s… that’s not how I’d like to do this,”

    Current score: 0
    • Lunaroki says:

      Typo Report

      or worried that I would take it the wrong way that she was I, I don’t know… meddling.

      The “I” before the comma doesn’t make sense structurally. It needs to go.

      This was something that I hadn’t expected, though my mind started to make sense of it as soon as I was.

      This sentence feels awkward. I’m having a hard time picking out what exactly feels wrong about it, but the sense of it just keeps leaving me feeling like I’ve taken a wrong step every time I hit it.

      that I’ll just sort * slip away from him over time,

      Missing an “of” between “sort” and “slip”.

      Current score: 0
      • Tierhon says:

        Be careful of pointing out errors in a characters words, unless it goes against the characers nature, or doesn’t fit the situation is was probably intentional.

        Current score: 0
  4. Barnowl says:

    Well, this clarifies Amaranth’s feelings a bit. I was about to predict that Amaranth was more jealous on her own behalf than she realized, because nymphs aren’t supposed to be jealous. And look what happened to Barley when she got jealous….But it sounds like Amy’s coming to terms with it already.

    Current score: 9
    • zeel says:

      Thing is, I’m pretty sure Amaranth is the one who said Nymphs don’t get jealous. Her idealized understanding of her own kind is one of her many blind spots, which is part of what lead to the Barley incident. The fact is I think Nymphs can have all the same emotions, negative or otherwise, as any other people – they just have a different way of looking at the world that filters those emotions.

      Current score: 8
  5. tijay says:

    I don’t like this at all :/

    Current score: 0
  6. Mack says:

    I feel like amaranth, trying to be a wise young person, and being good enough to get away with it, but still being vastly inexperianced.

    “That you’d outgrow me,” she said. “That you’d find in me the comfort that you were needing, come to a sexual awakening, learn how to love yourself and others, and then find the person or persons you were meant to be with.”

    This is a thing that happens to me a lot too, to the point of taking it for granted that this would happen. I hated it but accepted it and appreciated it.

    I’m sad. I think I need to choose people differently. Because this is not why I’m on this planet.

    Current score: 7
    • Order of Chaos says:

      The mark of a good teacher.

      Current score: 3
    • adsipowe says:

      …and the reason you were sent to this planet is…?

      its alien conquest isn’t it. thats ALWAYS the reason 🙁

      Current score: 1
  7. Tarnished says:

    The problem is: Our Mack is a masochistic submissive, with a high sex drive and a short ‘fuze’, who is more than a little into humiliation, and needs a lot of external reassurance. To an extent, Amaranth is able to keep up with the need of reassurance by ‘owning’ Mack. Ian, Steff, and Amaranth together just barely meet her sex drive needs. Ian and Steff are able to provide the sadism that helps with her masochism. And all of them are good enough at humiliating/playfully degrading her.
    None of them, however, are dominants, or, if you prefer, Dominants. They lead her, but they don’t just settle into that role. Ian has consistently needed to be talked through that role by Amaranth, Steff is actually a submissive acting out as a Dom with Mack, and Amaranth tries but often forgets how much Mack needs boundaries, rules, and consequences to feel safe and owned. Glory, on the other hand, is a natural, full time, Dominant.

    Current score: 1
  8. Arancaytar says:

    “Ooh, there will be reins?”


    Current score: 2
  9. spess imvader says:

    And this is what happens when former losers turn into cool kids. Their former relationships show the league difference, sooner or later.

    Current score: 0