In Which A Simple Meal Is Shared

“How the hell do you forget a name like Rowan?” Ian asked when I finished recounting the afternoon’s odd encounter.

Ian Mason. My boyfriend. My rock.

He sat on the edge of the bed, a hamburger in a cardboard tray box thing held in both hands. His hair was a dirty blond, dirtier during the cold months than after a long summer. Medium short, in the ragged sort of way that it gets when someone’s not too picky about cutting it short but isn’t growing it out. His body was compactly muscled, less tightly corded than when he’d done the whole unarmed grappling/gladiator thing.

His dad was a hotshot pyromancer from a long line of the same and expected his son to be the same, but more than anyone else I knew, Ian was actively finding himself. He’d joined a band, he’d fought in the pit, he’d toyed with a couple of different majors.

He wasn’t frantic about it. It was more like there was something in him that got restless if he got too comfortable. Maybe that was why our relationship had lasted for more than a year… it had a way of keeping him on his toes.

If his being with a polyamorous bisexual half-demon stretched his comfort zone, my being with a heterosexual male human was my way of stretching back towards mine.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really grow up dreaming about the whole picket fence thing. I couldn’t remember having dreamed about marriage before the day I turned and my demon side was revealed, and I definitely didn’t do so afterwards… but the life I didn’t dare dream of had definitely been with a man.

Maybe it was just social conditioning. Maybe it was something more. Whatever it was, it was real enough for me. If it seemed like there was something in me that leaned towards women… and I had to admit that there was… there was something else in me that lunged towards men, or at least, a man. My man.

It was funny, I’d always assumed that bisexuality would have to be a kind of ambivalence, like an equal and opposite pull in two conflicting directions . At least in my specific case, I had been wrong on every count.

It wasn’t equal.

It wasn’t opposite.

The directions weren’t actually conflicting.

And no matter what my pedantic streak might have insisted about etymology, I wasn’t even sure that the “two” part was accurate before we even got into the fact that there were people who didn’t sort into the box labeled “man” or “woman”. All of my partners did, but I couldn’t say that the way I felt about any one of them matched how I felt about any of the others.

I needed different things from each of them. I wanted different things. I responded to them differently. I gave them different things.

Whoever it was that said that love is a many-splendored thing didn’t know the half of it.

It was dinnertime on the second semester’s first day of classes, and I was eating with my three full-time partners, if that was the right phrase: me, Amaranth, Ian, and Steff. We were eating together, alone. It wasn’t that we hadn’t seen each other in weeks or anything like that… we had all been back on campus already. Amaranth and Steff had never left.

It was more that we were decompressing from a complicated situation, and some of us… Steff, mainly, and me to an extent… were kind of all peopled out. When Amaranth had suggested getting dinner at the food court and taking it back to our room, we’d all jumped at the idea.

I had been extra enthusiastic about it because I was still rattled by the bizarre encounter with Rowan Hartley. Everything about that encounter had been odd, but on top of it, he had been so sure that we knew each other… and so hurt that I didn’t recognize him.

…and oh, right, Ian had just said something about Rowan’s weird name. That would be why he and the others were staring at me kind of expectantly.

“That’s the thing,” I said. “I would swear I didn’t forget him. I mean, I don’t remember him. But looking at him… hearing his name… I kind of feel like there should have been a spark of recognition, and there wasn’t.”

“You mean like when a name is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t find it?” Amaranth said. She was sitting at the writing desk we shared, since her salad was harder to eat without a surface in front of her. She’d barely touched it, though, since the desk faced the wall.

“No,” I said. “Pretty much the opposite. There’s nothing there. I can imagine forgetting someone so completely in the general case, but this guy… he was pretty distinctive.”

“Hot?” Ian said.

“…not ugly,” I said. “But that’s not what I meant. I’m not good at picking faces out of a crowd, but this guy would stand out in one.”

“You’re not making him sound any less hot… or maybe ugly,” Ian said.

“Is that the only way you think someone could stand out?” I said.

“Well, was he holding a pink umbrella with pictures of hearts on it or something?” Ian said. “You just keep saying he was distinctive without spelling it out.”

“He was just… kind of oddly put together?” I said. “Not like deformed, but not like a model. You know?”

“You mean his face has character,” Amaranth said, ever charitably. I was inclined to agree with her charity, since again, the guy hadn’t been ugly.

“Funny how only guys are allowed to have faces with character,” Steff said. “If he was a chick, she’d be homely… or just plain ugly. I guarantee it. But a guy can look like he walked into a shovel and be a famous bard or actor, because it’s rugged or some shit. Where are the rugged ladies?”

That was Steff. She sat balanced on the corner of the desk, knees drawn up and looking like weighed half of nothing. She’d inhaled half her sandwich and then put it aside, and had been fidgeting and bouncing in place during my story.

Steff liked to think of herself as a plain speaker, though I’d learned that she wrapped her feelings in layers of edginess and snark that only got thicker the stronger the feelings were.

I tried not to judge. Being a half-elf seemed like a picnic compared to being a half-demon, but she had kind of had the worst of both worlds growing up. As a closeted trans girl, she’d basically been taken for… for lack of a nicer word… a sissy, by humans. The willowy androgyny granted by her elven father hadn’t made that any better. Her elven cousins tended to be more understanding of that kind of thing, but everything human came off as jarringly masculine to them.

I don’t think anyone had ever just taken her seriously as she was until she came to school and started dealing with non-elves who had never known her as anything but another girl.

Maybe that was why she’d glommed onto me as hard as she had, actually: I’d been the last one in our social circle to figure it out, and “figure it out” here pretty much means “get whalloped over the head with a Club of Clueing”.

She’d progressively unwound a bit, especially after a smuggled alchemical secret from the underground elves had eased the worst of her dysphoria by giving her a body more like the one she needed. This wasn’t to say she didn’t have her issues, but I think having had a chance to hang out with some elves who weren’t total jerks about the human blood thing had also helped a bit.

“The thing is, it bothered him that I didn’t know him,” I said, trying to move the conversation along.

“I’m serious, though,” Steff said. “I would love to meet a rugged lady. Someone with a lantern jaw and maybe a whip.”

“So, do you have your first new enemy of the semester?” Ian asked.

“…I really don’t think so,” I said. “He was more disappointed than mad. Assuming he’s not some crank who saw me in the TV and got really invested in an imaginary relationship, I’d like to figure out where he knows me from before I run into him again.”

“Now, when you say that you ran into him…” Ian said.

“I didn’t actually run into him,” I said.

“Just checking,” he said.

“Yeah,” Steff said. “I mean, ‘don’t you know who I am?’ takes on a whole different character if the person who is saying it just got body-checked into a wall.”

“No, I’d just like passed him in the hall when he stopped and said my name, like he’d just recognized me but wasn’t one hundred percent sure,” I said. “Which, you know, would make perfect sense if he was someone who saw me last semester, or freshman year…”

“But also would make sense if he knew you from before you came to college,” Amaranth said. “Baby, are you sure he wasn’t in your high school?”

“I’m sure,” I said. “It was a small school. Even an outcast like me would know all her own classmates on sight.”

“What about someone a year below you?” Amaranth asked.

“I don’t think I knew all their names, but I’d still know them,” I said. “I mean, in a general sort of way. A person doesn’t change that much between their junior year of high school and their freshman year of college, if that’s the angle we’re going with.”

“I don’t know,” Ian said. “You changed a lot in your first semester of college, from what I could tell… and you changed your whole look between semesters. A guy wouldn’t have to be a whole lot better with faces than you are to recognize you while not twigging any memory for you.”

“Especially since you were the outcast,” Steff said. “Speaking from experiences I really wouldn’t care to dredge up… any random student in my high school had a hell of a lot stronger idea who I was and what I looked like than I had about any of them.”

“That wouldn’t explain why he thought I should know his name,” I said.

“I’ve found that people overestimate the impression they make in a fleeting contact,” Amaranth said. “Of course, I have a certain skill with faces and names, but even I can’t remember everyone… and people are so crushed when I don’t that I’ve found the polite thing is to just smile and not correct them.”

“I really don’t think it was that,” I said. “Unless he was in the big thaumatology lecture I had freshman year, I really can’t imagine I’ve ever been as close to this guy as even being in the same room. I would have remembered him for sure.”

“He’s that good looking?” Ian said.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” I said.

“You know our Mack doesn’t look at guys that way,” Steff said.

“You’re not helping,” I said.

“I never do,” she said with a grin.

“Baby, you’re obviously rattled by this,” Amaranth said. “Instead of focusing on what you don’t know… and probably can’t know, short of talking to him and asking his story… let’s focus on what you do know. You know he either lives in or had a reason to be visiting this dorm, and this floor, even. If we proceed with the assumption that he lives here, we can assume he just moved in over break, or you would have seen him before. Right?”

“…I actually don’t know what floor I was on,” I said. “I could have checked when I got to the lift, but I didn’t think to. Um, I’m reasonably certain he’s on a floor below us? I mean, not one floor down, but the floor he is on is one of the floors below ours.”

“That’s still assuming he wasn’t visiting a friend,” Steff said. “You could look him up in the directory to find out for sure if he’s in this hall or not, but they don’t give out room numbers anymore.”

“Oh, they don’t even give out the halls anymore,” Amaranth said. “Too many privacy concerns… but if he is in our building, I’m sure Two could look it up.”

“I’m equally sure she wouldn’t,” I said. “I don’t like putting her in a position where she has to say no. She doesn’t hesitate, but I’m sure she doesn’t like it.”

“Well, the directory would still let you send him a reflection,” Amaranth said. “You don’t have to know his location to do that.”

“Right, but that seems like it would be super awkward,” I said. “I mean, to start with, the rooms in here don’t come standard with magic mirrors, so if he doesn’t have one of his own, he’ll get summoned to the RA’s room or a public mirror, and then what? I remind him that I have no idea who the hell he is, but would he mind reminding me? I’m not ruling out using the mirror to reach out to him eventually, but if I’m going to be interrupting his life to drop back into it, I’d like to be able to explain and/or apologize for whatever weirdness is going on.”

“What makes you think the weirdness is something you have to apologize for?” Steff said. “He felt like you should know him, Mack… that’s his feeling, not yours. You’ve been in the TV. Do you know how many people out there probably feel like they have this whole one-sided relationship with you? Some of them probably don’t realize it’s one-sided.”

“Yeah, I doubt my fifteen minutes was enough for someone to get a deep, abiding fixation on me,” I said.

“You’ve got a short memory for deep, abiding fixations,” Steff said. “Why not shoot him an a-mail, though? That’s in the directory, and you can take all the time you want to work up to it and get the wording right.”

“But I still don’t know who he is or where he thinks I should know him from!” I said.

“But you don’t have to!” Steff said. “That’s the magic of… magic. You don’t have to be there looking him in his sad, weird face when you tell him you don’t have any clue who he is. You can open with an apology that doesn’t distract him with that look in your eye that says you’re bracing for whatever you’re bracing for, you can load the whole thing up the qualifiers and mitigators, and then you can go run and hide in a dark hole… or better still, keep hiding in a dark hole because it’s a-mail.”

“That’s… not a bad idea,” I said.

“It’s one of the better ones,” Steff said. “Though, alternate plan: do nothing. Forget it. Weird kid says weird thing… why is that anything you even need to acknowledge?”

“Hey, did anybody hear something?” Ian said.

“Ha-ha,” Steff said. “But take it from me, Mack.. .this guy’s problems, whatever they are, they don’t need to be yours. Do you really need to start a new semester off with some big mystery?”

“Well, since he might be in my dorm… yeah, I would kind of rather know what’s going on with him than wait to find out some other way,” I said. “Especially since the a-mail gives me a straightforward way of moving forward, without having to track him down, or get in arm’s length.”

“You don’t… you don’t think he’s dangerous, do you?” Amaranth asked.

“No, I didn’t get that kind of vibe off him at all,” I said. “Honestly, you guys… I know I said he was kind of odd looking and maybe that’s coloring how this is coming across, but other than the fact that I don’t know who he is, everything was pretty really normal.”

“Okay, Mackenzie,” Ian said. “We’re just concerned, that’s all. But we’ll trust your judgment. You were the one who saw him.”

“Yeah, and seriously, he was normal as can be,” I said. “In fact, the only really odd thing was that he seemed to have the idea that I would be able to read his mind.”

The words had barely left my lips when the door connecting our room to Two and Dee’s swung open and Dee’s rang out in the air.

“Tell me exactly what he said.”

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26 Responses to “Chapter 299: Odd Remarks”

  1. Lucy says:

    oh snap!

    Current score: 4
  2. zeel says:

    Well that is certainly interesting. Though I’m not sure if it really gives us any clues.

    Current score: 1
  3. Nocker says:

    You know, I’m remembering WHY I like Dee and Ian. They’re both so …direct.

    Current score: 0
  4. Order of Chaos says:

    Dee and the Owl Turtle will solve everything.

    Current score: 0
  5. Mike Conner says:

    Uh-oh, Dee is mega-interested. Shit’s about to go down! But really, they have magic internet, just google him.

    Current score: 6
  6. Rip says:

    Maybe the Owl-Turtle Thing is how he knows her? Maybe everybody who the Owl-Turtle Thing inhabits automatically knows Two, Dee, and Mack, since they helped shape it.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      I really doubt they do automatically, and I really don’t think it goes around spreading rumors. But I guess it could have been a vector for information.

      Current score: 0
  7. LetsSee says:

    He IS the Owl-Turtle Thing.

    Also, while it was clear that they were eating together alone, it was not clear that they were eating together alone until much later when they said they were in their dorm room. The result is I pictured them being in the food court, alone at their own table but surrounded by other people, and then was jarred into “Oh, they’re in their dorm”. And if in their dorm, where did they get their food.

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      Ian has a burger in a box, so I assumed that they got take out before meeting with Mackenzie.

      Current score: 0
    • Yumi says:

      “When Amaranth had suggested getting dinner at the food court and taking it back to our room, we’d all jumped at the idea.” That detail about the how and why of eating arrangements is a bit of the way in, after Ian’s reintroduction, but before that there’s also the start of paragraph three, “He sat on the edge of the bed,” to give some indication of setting.

      Current score: 2
  8. Dani says:

    This arc isn’t working for me. Mack has always been the viewpoint character, but the story works best when she is viewing the world around her, and bogs down when her view is directed inward.

    We are being reintroduced the main characters systematically. At first I thought and hoped that the author was crafting a jump-on point for new readers, but this arc seems crafted to appeal to long-time readers. There is no hook for a new reader.

    The inside of Mack’s head isn’t interesting in large doses. She’s grown up in the last year. She’s in a polyamorous relationship. She introspects about these things. She thinks about her introspection. One chapter of that would have been good.

    The switch to telling one storyline at a time may be part of the problem. When five things are happening at once, it’s harder to tell the story, but it’s also harder to get bogged down.

    I thought about what I particularly enjoyed in the earlier MU that seems to be missing here, and a large part of it was the sense that MU is placed in a big, exciting world waiting to be explored and discovered – that there’s so much happening that the story can’t but go in five directions at a time.

    With so much to see and so much to discover, what reader would prefer to spend three weeks listening to Mack sounding like a sophomore?

    Current score: 4
    • Nocker says:

      On the contrary, the inside of Mack’s head is VERY interesting. You have dream chimera and demon overlords and all manner of strange constructs. It’s just not that great when she’s alone.

      Current score: 0
  9. ANameIsRequired says:

    Every time Mack calls Ian ~her rock~ I want to throw my phone through a window. Do they have ANYTHING in common besides complementary fetishes? Do they ever go on dates or hang out one-on-one for anything but fucking? Both of them are kidding themselves, their relationship is one that should have ended/downgraded to fuckbuddies a looooong time ago.

    Current score: 6
    • Trent Baker says:

      Really? Two people can’t just stay together in a relationship because they are comfortable with each other?

      Current score: 2
    • Nocker says:

      Hey, Ian’s been trying. The thing about this being his one relationship is that he’s been trying to get her involved with whatever he’s into like Stone Soldiers or Arena matches. Mackenzie’s kind of just been blowing him off though.

      I mean though it IS kind of telling that Mackenzie doesn’t see a future with ANY of her lovers, despite Ian not being committed to some faraway kingdom like all the others.

      Current score: 4
      • Lyssa says:

        I never thought of it that way. You make an excellent point.

        Current score: 1
  10. Rafinius says:

    Now I’m pretty sure that Rowan is a pre demonic manifestation childhood friend. And they both had telepathic playdates. And Mack has forgotten most of everything from that time.

    Current score: 4
    • Snuffa says:

      …or had it professionally erased, together with the circumstances of her mother’s “death”

      Current score: 4
      • Nocker says:

        I dunno if I’d call Laurel professional. Well, Lorellion is, but the circumstances there are foggy at best.

        Current score: 0
        • zeel says:

          Seeing as professional means you are paid to do a thing… I highly doubt she had a job like that when she was raising Mackenzie.

          There was also mention of an oblivion potion, the effects of which are not fully explained.

          Current score: 0
    • Ducky says:

      It wasn’t her fault.

      Current score: 5
  11. Zathras IX says:

    Just because you have
    No recollection doesn’t
    Mean that you forgot

    Current score: 4
  12. readaholic says:

    The plot thickens…

    Current score: 0
  13. DeNarr says:

    Wow, that may just be the most rude thing that I’ve ever seen Dee do. Granted, it’s not that bad compared to what many other people do, but from her that just seems shocking.

    Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      Demons and mental powers are a VERY dangerous combination. Hissy almost DIED because she got too gung ho about trying to push Mack around and even Dee needs to be excessively careful around her for that very reason. Even then Dee is terrified of what a REGULAR untainted psychic can do untrained, and the idea of such a thing run amok is probably one of the few things that actually scares her. Remember that according to Teddi, a psychic of sufficient power can bring to bear force that’s indistinguishable from divine retribution.

      For Mackenzie, an infernal who’s had a whole lot of mental bullshit and indications that she’s not quite a “normal” half demon already, to manifest that kind of power in any respect is terrifying on a whole nother level. She could go around killing or hurting basically anything pre epic level by accident and there’d be no recourse except lengthy and expensive healing processes after, short of killing her, which Dee long ago came to terms with as an option.

      This is also a large part of why whatever her father was planning, it’s probably sinister on a whole new level. He carefully selects his mates and breeds only a few times in a generation at the outside, and he specifically sought out a female with such power. If he’s actively creating such creatures it means that, whatever his intentions, he’s bringing into existence a number of individuals who’s destructive power can potentially equal that of a god or great dragon.

      So yeah, forgive her haste if she forgets her manners.

      Current score: 4
  14. pedestrian says:

    In my opinion, for what it’s worth…

    I yelled “Gold! I’ve struck gold!”
    aside, he muttered “Looks like iron pyrite to me?”

    I think readers should be a little more patient with Alexandra’s pace of writing.

    It is difficult to see the future wall yet to be, of the entire storyline. For all the bricks of storyarcs that she is using to develop her vision.

    Current score: 3