Chapter 46: Design & Dance

on November 16, 2011 in Volume 2 Book 2: The Trouble With Twyla, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Two Messes With Mackenzie’s Head

Waking up and going back to bed multiple times in the course of the same morning had the effect of making the weekend feel like it had already been going on a long time when Amaranth and I finally got up for good early Saturday afternoon, but at the same time it felt like it should have been a lot earlier than it was… like, we just woke up, so it should have been breakfast time.

We’d never really come to an official conclusion about what we were going to do about going to the dance, which meant that Ian’s idea of not worrying about who was officially going with whom sort of unofficially won by default. Amaranth and I talked about it briefly and decided that we would each go over on our own, to give her some time to spend circulating around one of the dorms since she’d spent the night getting intimate acquainted with a book instead of performing her nymphly duties. She’d still be there to step in if I needed support or if things got weird or uncomfortable with Nicki.

On a certain level, this made the whole thing a lot easier. Not sweating over who I was going with somehow meant that I was sweating a lot less over things like what I was going to wear and worrying less about who else would be there or what they might think or say… of course, noticing how little I was worrying made me start to worry, but I was able to cut that line of thought off fairly quickly.

I did have to give some thought to what I would wear, but I decided to just go with one of my nicer dark blue pairs of jeans and a black fitted tee with a bit of an actual neckline… not exactly the stuff I would have pulled on after rolling out of bed if I still got dressed by rolling out of bed and pulling on what I found underneath it, but not exactly the sort of big production I’d gone with for my first dances.

I had a few skirts, mostly gifts from Amaranth and Steff, and even one that had been a Khersentide gift from Two, but I didn’t feel fully comfortable in them. The shorter ones left me feeling exposed and the longer ones just felt ridiculous. I could navigate either of those feelings in the context of submission, but I wasn’t going out in sub mode.

I did let Two put my hair up in barrettes, after I asked her how I looked and she asked me what I was doing with my hair in a way that suggested that ”nothing” was not an available option. I had a feeling that Amaranth would approve of the effort, and Two certainly enjoyed it.

It was a little weird to think of a golem who’d spent the majority of her life living in what basically sounded like a display case playing dress-up doll with me, but that was how I felt any time Two took an interest in my appearance.

“Thank you,” I said when she was finished and had pronounced the effect to be suitably cute.

“You’re welcome, Mack,” she said. “You can pay me back for the barrettes later.”

“Um, I wasn’t planning on keeping them,” I said.

“I do not expect you to, either,” she said, and I understood her meaning.

“You will get them back, Two,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “I will be very pleasantly surprised when that does happen.”

She was being very matter-of-fact about it, not snotty at all or anything, but it was definitely irritating the way she just assumed I would lose or ruin anything I borrowed from her. Okay, yes, that had happened before, but it was one thing to extrapolate a future pattern from past events and it was another thing to… the point is there was a good chance that I could get through the night without losing a barrette.

With half the day gone and the dance ahead, I was basically setting Sunday aside for homework… I’d had a tendency to do that during the slower parts of my freshman year anyway, because I could usually take it to the library and so still keep that part of my social routine.

There was one part of my design assignment that couldn’t wait, though… asking for Steff’s help in bringing my vision, such as it was, to life. If she wasn’t willing or able to help me, I’d have to get cracking on my own sketches all the earlier to make sure that I was able to adequately convey my intentions with them. I wasn’t exactly a terrible artist, but I had managed to improve my grade in a junior high art class by keeping my mouth shut while the teacher explained what she thought I’d been painting.

Steff had said she might drop in at the dance, which made me think that she probably would… but I thought it would probably be a mistake to assume that I’d see her there, so I wandered over in the direction of Harlowe to see if I could find her.

It was weird how this could feel both completely normal and extremely strange at the same time. Harlowe had been my home for the better part of a year… not even my home-away-from-home, but my only home. I hadn’t had anywhere to go back to over the holidays or at the end of the year. It had been where I’d met most of my current friends, and I’d felt like I belonged there more than anywhere else on campus… but I’d never really felt like a member of the crowd there.

As a participant in and occasionally alleged ringleader of the so-called Harlowe Exodus, I felt doubly out of place when I thought about going back to it.

I knew that going into Harlowe and up to Steff’s room during daylight hours wouldn’t be violating any rules… you couldn’t get around a campus having as much anxiety as I tend to have about doing things wrong or being in the wrong place and not become acquainted with the rules regarding things like visitation and what buildings are open when and stuff like that. But the room she shared with Viktor was on the boys’ side, and it was the room she shared with Viktor and both of those were reasons for me to feel a touch of trepidation about the whole thing.

I’d learned long ago that the best way to get along with Steff’s primary partner was from a distance. They had a mirror in their room, but I knew I could get Steff’s attention from the hallway without disturbing Viktor if he were trying to sleep or compose. From what I knew about him, it seemed like he did very little else.

It turned out that luck was with me, because Steff wasn’t in her room… she was wandering the pathways around campus, as she often did when she needed to think. And, as she often did, she noticed that I was out and about and took the opportunity to sneak up on me. This time, she goosed me right as I reached the door from the nexus into Harlowe Hall.

“How long were you following me?” I asked her after I’d settled back into my skin.

“Just since you came around the corner of the complex,” she said. “Look at you, half dressed up. Is this for your new stalker?”

“It’s for the dance,” I said. “And just because I have a new stalker doesn’t mean I love you any less.”

“Well, at least she’s having a positive effect on your banter,” she said. “But it seems the stalker has become the stalkee… you were looking for me?”

“Yeah, actually, I was,” I said.

“Let me guess: you wanted to tell me the latest about Twyla?”

“I’m actually a little tired of talking about her,” I said. “I mean, it’s interesting, but I’ve got to get on with my school stuff. If you’re really dying to hear Amaranth’s theory about the alchemical properties of copper and its alloys…”

“Boring,” Steff said. “If you can’t drink it, it’s not real alchemy, and I’m not supposed to be doing that anyway.”

“Okay, then I’ve got this assignment for my design class that I need to get some drawings done for. I’ve spoken to the teacher about it, and it wouldn’t be cheating if I supplement my sketches with your art.”

“Why would you want to do that?” she asked.

“Because it would be a lot better than just turning in my sketches,” I said. “Steff, you can draw the pants off me.”

“Yes, and I have sketchbooks full of drawings that prove it,” she said. “But ‘art’ isn’t exactly the best word for what I do. It’s very flattering, but I think your feelings about me are clouding your vision… and that’s flattering, too, but I know your grades are like a big deal to you and I don’t want to be the reason they suffer now… not after all the times I held back to avoid distracting you.”

“It doesn’t have to be great art or anything,” I said, even though Steff’s quick sketches were pretty great. “I’ll just be supplementing my sketches with your slightly better sketches.”

“How much difference can that actually make?”

“More than you might think,” I said. “Whatever you think of your actual talent, you know you’re better than me.”

“That’s true, I guess,” she said. “What are we talking about, anyway?”

“The project is to redesign a modern utilitarian product in a way that’s more… elegant, I guess. I want to take a TV and make it look like a fish tank.”

“And you can’t draw some rectangles?”

“Well, it’s the decorations inside the fish tank… illusionary, obviously… that are the subject of the design,” I said.“And I have something kind of specific in mind. I want a castle and a treasure chest that sort of match the old TV from the fifth floor girls’ side of Harlowe.”

“You mean the one you broke?”

“The one Sooni broke, yes,” I said. “My teacher was evidently a fan of it.”

“Does he know you broke it?”

“I don’t know who he thinks broke it,” I said.

“Sounds like it would be smarter to avoid anything that would make him think of it,” she said.

“It’s a little late for that,” I said. “Anyway, I’m not great at this kind of thing in general, so I’m trying to work the angle that I have. I know he likes this kind of thing. I don’t really have much else to go on here.”

I might have said that I really needed her help or that I would seriously owe her, but it was a little early in the year to be handing an emotional marker like that over to Steff. I loved her, and I was pretty sure that she loved me… but if I gave her something like that, she would totally use it.

I wasn’t one hundred percent opposed to that, but I wasn’t in the mood for it at the moment.

“I don’t know, Mack… I like to doodle, but that’s just thinking out loud with my hands,” she said. “I’m really not great at the detail work.”

“That’s okay… I don’t need finished drawings, just rough concept sketches to get the general idea across,” I said.

“Then why do you need me at all?”

“My sketches are going to be a lot sketchier than yours,” I said. “Yours would at least be able to convey the resemblance. Besides, I have a feeling that your specific style might be better for this particular project.”

It was really a matter of quality over style, but I figured that Steff would be less likely to argue if I said I was looking for her style than if I told pushed the quality issue.

“I don’t know,” Steff said. “You know, I’ve got homework of my own… when you get up into the three hundred level classes the profs aren’t shy about bringing the rocks down during the first week.”

“If you don’t have time, I understand, but what I’m looking for is really basic,” I said. “If it takes you more than half an hour, you’re probably going into too much detail.”

“When do you need it?”

“Tuesday,” I said. “But… they have to be based on my sketches, and I’m not going to have them until tomorrow.”

“Well… I can probably find half an hour to sketch a castle between Sunday night and Tuesday morning,” Steff said. “But no promises about quality.”

“The treasure chest is the more important part,” I said. “And I’m not asking for any promises. Whatever you can manage will be better than what I can do on my own.”

“That much is definitely true,” Steff said. “Okay… I’ll do it. If only so you can get some official feedback from someone who actually knows something about art.”

“What if he comes back and tells me that he loves your drawings?”

“Then he’s a walking argument against tenure,” Steff said. “Do you want to bring the sketches over to my room tomorrow?”

“Um… I was thinking I’d just see you at dinner tomorrow night, so…”

Steff laughed.

“Relax,” she said. “I’m just messing with you… I’ve seen you walk into a lawyer’s den with less dread than you had on your face coming over here.”

“Thanks a lot,” I said. “It’s nothing personal, I just…”

“I don’t mind,” she said. “Viktor and I are going to be co-overlords some day, so it’s really kind of good if people quiver a little at the thought of facing him in his lair.”

“I don’t think the other ogres are going to be quite as easily intimidated as I am,” I said.

“I don’t think burrow gnomes are as easily intimidated as you are,” Steff said. “Anyway, I have to go get ready for the dance, and since I doubt you want to tag along…”

“So you’re definitely going?” I asked.

“No, but I’m definitely going to be ready in case I do.”

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14 Responses to “Chapter 46: Design & Dance”

  1. Hey, folks! Want to own my website for a month? Okay, not quite, but you can get the next best thing. Advertise your new project, or give another MU reader a Christmas present they’ll never forget.

    Current score: 0
    • Luke Licens says:

      Typo report:

      “than if I told pushed the quality issue.”

      Another good chapter, btw. ^_^

      Current score: 0
  2. anna says:


    “intimate acquainted”

    Your adverb is in disguise! Should be ‘intimately’

    Current score: 0
  3. Zathras IX says:

    Mack’s new claim to fame:
    Alleged ringleader of the
    Harlowe Exodus

    Current score: 1
  4. Month says:

    I wonder what the problem with her sketches are. I mean what kind of “bad” do the elves find?

    Current score: 0
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      It is the part human inferiority complex coming into play when comparing to the fine detail of a full elven sketch.

      Mack to Steph comparison is like a Steph to (full)Elf comparison in Steph’s eyes. A full elf looking at both Mack and Steph’s sketches comparing to their own would likely class Mack as scribbing 1 or 2 year old, Steph as at least able to color inside the lines in a coloring book, and themselves as an artist. Steph is hard on herself but I have a feeling a full elf is likely harder on her than she is on herself even when she is self depreciating.

      Current score: 0
  5. Zergonapal says:

    Steff’s rough sketches would probably make da Vinci hide his sketchbooks for fear of comparison.

    Current score: 0
  6. Lunaroki says:

    They really need to take Steff to visit a museum of art sometime and let her poke fun at the human art there. That might help give her a little more confidence in her own abilities.

    Current score: 0
    • ylistra says:

      Or make her really depressed at the limitations of being only human.

      Current score: 1
  7. Brenda says:

    I thought Mack’s hair was really short! Has she been growing it out since last fall? (What I had pictured really wouldn’t work with barrettes…)

    Current score: 0
  8. Kaila says:

    Of *course* the burrow-gnomes are less intimated. Little sods usually have bonuses to resist fear. Should bring in a halfling barbarian – just think how utterly horrified even the most outgoing of shirelings would be.

    Current score: 0
  9. Stonefoot says:

    Two really great lines I feel compelled to point out: “of course, noticing how little I was worrying made me start to worry” and “I don’t think burrow gnomes are as easily intimidated as you are”.
    But she didn’t get trapped in that first line of thought, and she was actually on her way to Steph and Victor’s room. That’s a lot of progress from a year earlier.

    Current score: 1
  10. pedestrian says:

    i kinda doubt Our Mack is going to get thru the night with her pants intact much less the barrettes. i love TWO’s developing the proper snarky sense of humor needed to put up with Mackenzie self-delusion, her pretense that she is just another, average young woman.

    Current score: 1
    • Anthony says:

      From Two, that doesn’t actually come across as humor. More like just telling the truth as she sees it, with no filter.

      Current score: 2