In Which We’re Back

Nothing happened for a long time.

We had all these plans… or ideas for plans, which are at least similar to plans insofar as the phrase contains the word “plans”… but nothing actually came of it, at least not immediately.

I have to admit, I lost my patience with Rowan a bit when he didn’t instantly follow through with his plans to pump the diabolism department for information. It was pretty hypocritical of me, not just because of my initial negative reaction but because I knew what it was like to be in his shoes.

It sounded so simple when you just said it: go tell your old teacher that you’re thinking about taking another class and ask them for some info. But even as someone increasingly comfortable with faking being a confident, functional adult-shaped person, I knew how hard it could be to just go into something like that cold.

No one was waiting for Rowan to produce results, exactly, least of all me. We still talked about… or talked around, more often… the subject of my sketchy and missing memories together, and with my circle of friends and lovers… but no one had any new information or new ideas, and so the whole thing settled into a kind of holding pattern.

The weird thing was how having this one big unresolved thing in my life seemed to put everything else in limbo in a way that seemed like an unavoidable consequence at the time, even though in retrospect it’s not obviously connected.

Rowan seemed nervous about hanging out with me when he had nothing new to report. Even when I tried to talk to him about other subjects, the whole thing about our memories hung over us like a cloud of daggers, and I think he felt guilty about not being able to follow through on what he’d said he would do. Between that and my aforementioned irritability, I didn’t see nearly as much of him.

The subject of my missing memories, my edited childhood, and the connection Rowan had to all of that was never far from my mind. I just couldn’t do anything about it. Worse, there were still facets of it that everyone else seemed to know except me, which either I just couldn’t grasp and retain because of the remaining mental blocks or that they wouldn’t discuss in front of me because of Dee’s semi-professional opinion that it would be dangerous to do anything to disturb those blocks.

I was preoccupied and easily frustrated, which meant that I wasn’t much fun to be around for anyone. Amaranth never minded. Ian minded a little. Glory… well, she stopped short of telling me that I wasn’t worth it if I wasn’t fun. It’s not that she didn’t offer me any support, but she had a limited supply of it and a lot of people who needed it.

While my grades didn’t suffer much, I can’t say that I retained much of what I learned in the first half of that semester. I mean, I didn’t notice any shining deficiencies in my technical expertise later on, but the stuff that was most valuable about learning from a teacher or doing something in a lab… the little tips, the little tricks, the memorable anecdotes that bring things into sharp focus for you… it all seemed to pour out my ears at the end of the night.

The one thing that I really got out of it was a lot of time alone to play around with my wand. The energy leak was still there, but I felt like it was getting better, or at least I had more of a handle on it. It might have made more sense to treat my early effort as an early effort, to scrap it, take what I had learned and move on… but I felt oddly sentimental about it. I’d made it.

It was one of the nerdier applications of enchantment I’d practiced, and not at all conducive to the mass market, but it felt more like what I wanted to do with my life than anything else I had done, designing magic fish tanks or illusionary user interfaces or any of the smaller assignments I’d completed that were geared towards preparing me for a career in consumer magic.

I had no idea how to make a living at that. The only person who would see the value of a non-line-produced wand was someone like me, who could make their own. I couldn’t imagine a market for quirky, artisanal, hand-crafted wizard implements ever catching on.

But it wasn’t like even Acantha’s tutelage had put me any closer to having anything like a business plan for turning my skills into money in any way other than getting a job in a line shop somewhere. I’d learned that I didn’t want to graduate just to become another link in a chain somewhere, but I wasn’t any closer to knowing how to do anything else.

Being a step closer to knowing what to do didn’t tell me how to do it, but it wasn’t nothing.

That was the closest thing I had to an epiphany on any front during that whole lost period, right up until it ended.

It was Nicki who ultimately made me see the light. Nicki knew the least about what was up out of anyone in my life, but she knew something was up, and more than that, she knew I wasn’t happy.

There were a few nights in that period when, by purely random chance, I wound up eating dinner much later than everyone else in our group. Our habit of having dinner together had held up much better than it might have if we weren’t all so committed to it, but it had been unraveling lately.

Oddly, I saw Nicki more often when I was the one who wound up eating at odd times… though maybe that wasn’t so odd, as she didn’t always eat at a set time like we tried to.

Actually, it’s only just now that I’m putting this together, but it probably wasn’t coincidence that she wound up eating with me so often on those nights. Our holiday travels had cured her of the fear that she might be imposing her presence on me against my will, but they did nothing to mitigate her fear that she was unwanted generally.

We didn’t talk much during those lone meals together. Nicki would talk a lot, and I would listen… or try to. It was a bit like my classes. It all went through me, to an extent. I told myself at the time that it was good for Nicki to have a chance to lead the conversation, though I don’t think I was being completely honest.

“You know,” she said, shyly and I think a bad sadly, near the end of the third or fourth of these evenings, “I wasn’t necessarily expecting that everything would be different when we came back down to earth… I told myself that it might not be.”

“Things have been… hectic for me,” I said. “Or maybe that’s not the right word, but I can’t think of a word that means ‘nothing is happening in a way that keeps me busy’ so we’ll go with hectic. I really didn’t mean to ignore what happened between us. It just… well, nothing’s happened since, you know?”

“I know,” she said. “And… what I was going to say, Mackenzie, is that I was ready for it, if nothing changed, but it feels like things *have* changed, and for the worse… I mean, I barely see you, and when I do, you hardly talk to me, and I just keep thinking, was it a mistake? Well, that’s not true. I keep thinking it was a mistake.”

“Oh, Nicki,” I said. “That’s not… it’s not you.”

“It’s you?”

“I mean, it’s not us at all,” I said. “Not you, not me, not us together. I just… I kind of had a fireball dropped on me pretty soon after we got back, and I’m still… sort of processing it?” The words fell apart in my mouth. Had I been processing it? “It’s… there are things about me that I found out, and things that I kind of suspect, and things I need to know, and… it’s all a big tangled mess and I don’t know how to untangle it, and while it’s going on I apparently don’t know how to do anything else, including, apparently, living my life.”

“…wow,” Nicki said.

“It’s the truth!” I said.

“I just meant, wow, I thought that finding out you were half-demon and, you know, the queer thing… I mean, if that wasn’t all the figuring out who you were that you needed to do, you know…?”

“You’d think everything else would be easy after that, right?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said, blushing. “I realized how stupid that would sound before I said it, though.”

“You know, Amaranth can be a little… insistent… about things, but I think she’s right to hate that word,” I said. “I mean, it’s bad enough to tell someone else that they’re stupid, but I think mostly the world trains us to say it about ourselves… our thoughts, our feelings, our ideas.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“I promise you, Nicki, I’m not giving you the cold shoulder on purpose, or for any reason having to do with anything we did on the cruise,” I said. “And… I want to do, um, you know, more… things like that, though probably with some conversation with Glory and Grace and all, but… I’ve just, I really have to work through this stuff first.”

“I understand,” she said. “Um… is there anything I can do to help?”

“…not really?” I said. “I mean, I appreciate the offer, but I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to be doing right now. Like, I’m… stuck frozen in one place, but sinking deeper, and I just trying to keep moving forward? I know that’s even more mixed-up than most of my metaphors, but the point is… I’ll figure it out, eventually, and once I know what to do, if there’s anything you can help with, I’ll tell you, and either way, I’ll be in a better place to figure things out with you and… okay, I don’t know what that look on your face is.”

I had literally never seen Nicki give anyone a look like she was giving me. It wasn’t angry. It was kind of… flat. Like the marble masks that the elves composed their faces into when they weren’t laughing or smiling.

Probably it was something she had picked up from Grace… even if Grace was the most expressive elf I had ever seen, she could still give the stone face when she remembered she was supposed to.

Nicki was so warm and so lively that it was a little unnerving to see that lack of expression coming from her, much less pointed at me.

“Let me get this straight,” she said, quietly. “You’ve been ignoring me and avoiding me while I sat here, a seething mass of guilt and panic, for weeks on end, and it’s not only not because of anything I did, but it’s some big problem that you’re not doing anything about, either?”

“When you put it like that…”

“You know, I’m… I hate…” The mask was gone. Her voice was rising, and the tears of too much emotion overflowed the corners of her eyes. “I hate this, because you are the only reason I know that I deserve better than this, but I do deserve better than this. And probably everyone else, the people you’re actually with, deserve better… and even you do, but… I definitely do. I’m not saying I deserve anything from you, not time or attention or, or… anything else… but I don’t deserve to be strung along, or to be put off with… with… with… ‘eventually’.”

“I didn’t say ‘eventually’,” I said.

“You totally said ‘eventually’.”

“…I might have said ‘eventually’,” I admitted. “It wasn’t exactly a well-thought-out speech.”

“No, it wasn’t,” she said.

“You’re right,” I said. “I’ve been shitty… to you, to me, to everyone. I’ve been wallowing in what I don’t know and can’t do, and hitting my head against walls. I got stuck on one thing, and it’s a big thing, but it’s not everything… but I’ve been so focused on being stuck that I haven’t been doing anything. I’m sorry.”

“Well… at least you know,” she said.

“I don’t know if there’s any coming back from… well, if you decide you don’t want to go any further, I’d understand,” I said. “But I would really hate for any, you know, potential between us to be gone because I fucked up, especially if we both wanted…”

“I still want,” Nicki said. “But… maybe it’s not a good time to make predictions?”

“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “And I don’t know if I’m in the best place to make you promises. But… I need to sort my shit out, starting with my ‘sorting-my-shit-out’ shit, so that I’m not putting you or anyone else on hold while I’m doing it. And if you want to know what’s going on…”

“Only if you want to tell me,” she said. “I need to know that you’re alright, Mackenzie. I need to know that you… like me. But mostly I just… I need to know that I’m wanted.”

“You are,” I said. “And not just by me. I’m going to make a point to get to dinner earlier tomorrow. You should come, too. Bring Grace, if you’re hanging with her.”

“Okay, but you know, I don’t bring Grace anywhere…”

“She brings you,” I said. “I know, I know. Got to protect those delicate elven sensibilities.” Had I mentioned that I was a bit irritable, and Glory wasn’t a fan of it? “You know what I mean, though.”

“I do know,” she said. “Okay, yeah… I think I’m gonna along scoot now, because I don’t think we can improve this conversation any by having more of it? But I’m not mad or anything. I just… tomorrow’s another day, you know?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I do know.”

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27 Responses to “Chapter 309: Ennui Go”

  1. […] Chapter 309 is go. […]

    Current score: 1
  2. Zathras IX says:

    Shit always sorts itself out

    Current score: 11
  3. pedestrian says:

    O am happy to see new postings of TOMU. And wishing for many more to come.

    Current score: 7
  4. Nocker says:

    Wondering where things go from here. Mackenzie obviously can’t resolve the problem herself but the situation really isn’t being treated as immediate enough to do something hasty and regrettable. Her classes aren’t being prominent enough to give some big checkovs gun in the sense that the personal scribe was.

    Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      Accidents… I think Dee is probably *right* to a degree, and if someone says the wrong thing, it could break some more walls (in less than pleasant ways). If Mackenzie decides to tell Nicki more about what is going on, she could easily blurt something out that the others would think twice before mentioning. Nicki is pretty insightful, so she could easily jump to the conclusions the others have jumped to before she fully considers what they mean – and she is the “thinking out loud” kind of person.

      Current score: 11
  5. Daez says:

    oh man oh man, am I pleased to see a new chapter posted! I was really beginning to worry for you, AE! We’ve missed you; I hope life is sorting its shit out for you, too. Much love, support, and thanks coming from my direction, along with some good juju! <3

    Current score: 7
  6. euthanatos says:

    I enjoyed the chapter, and I’m thrilled that MU is back in action!

    I also invite any and all readers to join us over at the Tales of MU reddit! ( Discussions of any MU-related topics are welcome, as are suggestions for how to improve the community.

    Current score: 6
  7. Cadnawes says:

    Booo, the forum being on Reddit. It isn’t very blind people friendly.

    Yay, new chapter, tho. I liked it, and am happy.

    Current score: 2
    • euthanatos says:

      I’m sorry to hear that reddit is not accommodating of blind people. Is there anything I (the moderator of the ToM sub-reddit) to make it more accessible to you?

      Current score: 2
      • Cadnawes says:

        I don’t know what you can actually do. I have some vision, and if I blow up the font six times I can read it, but it doesn’t reformat to the screen and I’m left scrolling side to side. So annoying, but not impossible. Is that a thing that’s fixable?

        I thank you for asking.

        Current score: 0
        • euthanatos says:

          How are you blowing up the font size? If I zoom in using Firefox (only up to 300% magnification, although there are plugins like Zoom Page that allow more), the page reformats pretty well. The only issue is that the default reddit information in the upper right increases in size as well, which can cause problems with whatever is at the top of the page. It’s possible there’s a way to fix that issue, but I’m not aware of one.

          Current score: 0
        • Arancaytar says:

          Maybe the mobile site ( would work better? The layout is cleaner and somewhat more adaptive to different screen sizes.

          Current score: 1
  8. Brenda A. says:

    Wow, there are a lot of levels to this chapter…

    Glad to see a new chapter, and good luck with the new plan, AE!

    Current score: 2
  9. Sarah says:

    Welcome back! Glad to see you return.

    Current score: 1
  10. LetsSee says:

    Interesting new chapter. Seems to bang heavily on the fourth wall.

    Current score: 7
    • Cadnawes says:

      I think art always imitates life a little. Your brain repurposes what it’s already working on.

      I like how this touches on how sometimes one doesn’t know how heavily events are affecting them until someone else points it out. It’s hard to see the shape of the lake you’re swimming/drowning in, I guess.

      It makes sense now that Mack would be extra hard on Rowan. He’s the unwitting bearer of pretty upsetting news.

      Current score: 1
  11. Miz*G says:

    Happy you’re back, Happy Mackenzie’s back, and this chapter was a great return :). I’m excited to see where things will go.

    Current score: 1
  12. Sapphite says:

    Way to make lemonade (or ‘write what you know’?)!

    Be well all.

    Current score: 3
  13. Mike Conner says:

    Whoo! New chapter!

    Current score: 0
  14. P says:

    yay tomu is back! and we get emotional poly girls, which is the sort of thing I find relatable. :p so glad to be reading.

    it’s great how nicki was able to express her needs and what she felt like mackenzie was doing wrong without attacking mackenzie or being disrespectful to her and nicki didn’t have to avoid expressing her feelings to do so (even if she held herself back for a second to check herself rather than just reacting).

    there’s lots of nice little details here too. what’s steff doing though? mackenzie specifically mentions glory, amaranth, and ian’s reactions, which makes me wonder if steff has been busy dealing with something herself.

    Current score: 3
  15. Reader says:

    I’m grateful for another meal at the restaurant. Happy for it to be open when it’s open. Great work.

    Current score: 7
  16. Alex says:

    Welcome back!

    Current score: 2
  17. Mack says:

    Thank you so much for writing. It makes my life better to read what you write. When you don’t post, I go about my life like an adult. I have enough other things to worry about. Just know that as long as I’m alive and have the internet, I will be happy to read anything you write and will simply wish you well when I don’t. Even if there are years between chapters. Even if there are different stories and this one ends. Even if you never post again. This story grew with me in my formative years; I will always have that.

    Current score: 5
  18. Sylvan says:

    Thank you. I needed to read something like this, at just this time.

    I’m really glad this place is still open. I’ve learned a lot here over the years, and laughed a lot. You have a beautiful imagination.

    Current score: 1
  19. Paul says:

    Just wanted to add my thanks for “keeping the restaurant open”. This entry was poignant for me as I have been spending a good deal of time lately trying to figure out what’s next for me. i.e. being distracted by inner termoil. Though my issues are much more pedestrian, it’s nice to see things writ large.

    Current score: 2
  20. Gruhl says:

    Thanks for the chapter. Looking forward to the next five hundred of them 🙂

    Current score: 1