In Which It’s A Long Story

After my face-to-face with Glory ended and I’d recounted it for the rest of our group, I was so focused on telling Nicki the good news that it took a gentle reminder from Amaranth to stop me from going straight to the design building afterwards for the class we had together.

My excitement regarding Nicki’s situation had briefly overshadowed the events of my own life, but until I finished my nighttime training with the ridiculous owl-turtle thing it wasn’t safe or possible for me to walk into the Emily Dactyl Center without shielding my thoughts in some other way.

I did have a borrowed magical item, a circlet of thought filtering that I had been given for a couple of weeks to use for exactly that purpose, but it was very valuable and also not mine, so I couldn’t exactly carry it around with me. It was supernaturally durable, in the way that old school magic items tended to be, but I was supernaturally strong and more than normally clumsy, so it stayed in its case in our room until I needed it.

I’d been back in the design building since I acquired it without incident, but that had been days ago and even a uneventful weekend had a way of drawing a line of separation through points on the calendar, telling our brains that those days have nothing in common with these days… or maybe that’s just me. Either way, I couldn’t help feeling a touch of trepidation as I headed off to my afternoon class. As far as I could tell, increased mental focus wasn’t an actual enchanted property of the circlet, but wearing it definitely sharpened my thoughts with regard to the fact that I was wearing a valuable magical item that wasn’t mine to break or lose, which made me think about why I was wearing it and what could go wrong if it didn’t work out as expected.

But just like before, there was no negative reaction when I crossed the threshold, and the hallways of the living building were more cooperative than they’d ever been.

I showed up plenty early in the hopes that I’d catch Nicki there, too, and be able to spill my good news to her… well, technically, it was probably her good news, but I was the bearer of it and who didn’t love that? It wasn’t the kind of thing that could be slipped in with a few sideways sentences during class, either.

Even if I could have found a way to summarize the whole thing, there was no way my summary wouldn’t lead to questions that would turn into the kind of conversation that would draw a gentle reproach from Professor Stone. He’d already tossed a few words in my direction about getting sidetracked by chatting during class, and since I was already benefitting from his indulgence with my mental problems… that is, the problem of my mind clashing with the spirit of the building… I didn’t want to risk that.

Nicki wasn’t there, though, and as the minutes scrolled by I started to fear that she’d really slept in. I knew from talking to her and Grace that she hadn’t literally gone the whole weekend without sleeping, but even with that you had to expect that she’d be both short on sleep and pretty fatigued once the euphoria faded.

But I’d arrived way early, and she still came into the door a bit before the bell sounded, looking a little worn but also happy. I could tell the slight smile on her face was real because she didn’t look like she had the strength to fake it.

“I wasn’t sure you were going to make it,” I said.

“Yeah, I didn’t make it to my morning classes,” she said. “Not on purpose or anything, but once I realized I’d slept past the start of the day, I figured if I’m going to have been out sick, it might as well have been for something serious enough to keep me out for more than one day.”

“I’d be careful of that kind of rationalization if I were you,” I said. “It’s hard to not miss class every once in a while, but thinking like that can take an occasional inevitability and turn it into a habit. Also, I don’t think that professors in different programs get together to compare notes and figure out who was really sick and who was just looking for a long weekend.”

“Oh, I know that,” Nicki said. “And I’m not planning on making a habit of it. It was more just… something I thought as I was drifting back to sleep. I think I’m probably going to go to bed early tonight.”

“Well, make sure you get dinner first,” I said. “Your body needs sleep, but it needs food, too.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Nicki said, then stuck out her tongue. “Oh, and seriously, thanks… thank you for, you know, what you did yesterday. I think we would have pulled ourselves away from each other by now anyway, but I really hate to think what kind of shape I’d be in today if you hadn’t interrupted… and that’s on top of not knowing what day it was.”

“No problem,” I said, and the bell rang. Keeping my news to myself all through the class seemed completely impossible… I would have been just as distracted thinking about it as I would have been if I spent the whole time talking about it. “Oh, I have something to tell you after class.”

“What?” she said. “Should I be worried?”

“No, it’s good news,” I said. “Just… the set-up is kind of a long story.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, mollified.

“It involves Grace,” I said, apparently allergic to mollification or something.

“What?” Nicki said, her voice dropping to a whisper in volume but a rising shriek in tone as Professor Stone entered the room. “You can’t drop that on me and then not say anything else!”

“I’ll tell you everything after class,” I said. “I promise it’s all good.”

“That doesn’t make me less curious!” she said, but after a warning glance from our instructor, she let the subject drop, though she did send me what I thought were pleading looks a couple of times throughout the class. “Please, if we get cut off, we get cut off, but if you start now then I’ll still know more than I do now.”

“Okay… today at lunch, I met Grace’s sister,” I said.

“Really? What was she like? She didn’t say anything about me, did she? I mean, I know Grace said she’d probably be proud of her for, you know, catching me, but I can’t help thinking that doesn’t necessarily mean she’d approve of me for her sister.”

“She definitely approves. And she’s basically like a more confident version of Grace,” I said. “Though I suppose she’d probably prefer me to say that Grace is a less confident version of her. And I’d say that she’s a bit less… flexible… about elven culture vs. human culture stuff. But she’s very much in favor of the relationship… and honestly, Nicki, so am I.”

“You are?”

“Yeah, totally,” I said. “Like, I don’t think you should let this color your judgment or anything, but as long as it’s safe for you and you’re having a good time, I think it would be good for you.”

“I don’t know,” Nicki said. “I mean, it was fun and all… I mean, way more than just fun, but now that it’s over and I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, I can’t help wondering if it’s really such a good idea.”

“Seriously?” I said. It probably wasn’t the most supportive thing I could have said under the circumstances, but… seriously? After all that… all the build-up and mystery, all the taking charge I did, all the minimalist drama and intrigue with Glory… after all that, it turned out Nicki was having second thoughts.

“Well… not really,” she said. “But it seems like the kind of thing that would apply in a situation like this, doesn’t it? I mean, it seems like a little introspection would be the responsible thing to do, you know?”

“I think the really crucial part of any self-examination is the self part,” I said. “If you’re not feeling all that, don’t try to make yourself feel it.”

“I’m not really sure what I feel, though, is the thing,” she said. “I’m just… trying things on to see if they fit. If that makes sense.”

“I think it makes plenty of sense,” I said. “It would be worrying if you were already one hundred percent sure you’d met the love of your life or something.”

“It’s way early to be talking about love,” Nicki said. “But…”

“But?” I prompted.

“…but I think that might be part of why I have such a hard time pinning down my feelings,” she said. “I keep thinking that it might be love, or that it could be love… and then I think it’s too soon to say. But then what am I supposed to feel?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I think a lot of the stuff you get at the start of a relationship… giddiness, excitement, nervousness… they’re the things we think are supposed to come along with love. ‘I’m in a new relationship and I love it’ isn’t a simple concept that’s expressed as a single feeling, but it probably should be.”

“Yeah, but you can’t say to someone ‘I love that I’m in a new relationship with you’ if they ask how you feel about them,” Nicki said. “I mean, ‘I love being with you’ just sounds like something a jerk says to avoid saying they’re not in love with you.”

“You could say that you’re excited to be with them,” I said.

“That does sound better,” she said, and that was right before the bell rang and Professor Stone started the class. He didn’t say anything to me about my whole mental situation, but he did catch my eye as we were working and tap his forehead in a significant way, as if reminding me to keep on top of it.

“Is this your last class?” I asked Nicki when it ended.

“Yeah. You?” she said. “Oh, no, it isn’t… you’ve got that fighting class still.”

“Yeah, but not for a while,” I said. “The reason I asked is because I haven’t told you the good news yet.”

“Oh! That part about Glory being in favor of stuff wasn’t the good news?”

“Oh, no, that’s just part of the set-up,” I said. “I told you it was a long story. Let’s take a walk, though, I have to get this crown back to my room. ”

“Okay,” she said.

Once we were outside, Nicki didn’t wait for me to begin.

“How did you even meet Glory?” she asked.

“She kind of… summoned me to tea at lunch, so we could talk in private in a one of the conference rooms.”

“Neat!” she said. “Or… was it scary?”

“Way more neat than scary,” I said. “Like, she was kind of bending over backwards at the beginning to avoid getting me bound up in any obligation when she offered me food. You’ll probably have to deal with her before too long, so just remember that she feels constrained by all that stuff even if she doesn’t necessarily agree with it.”

“…that’s not the good news, is it?”

“Oh, no… sorry, I got sidetracked again,” I said. “The good news is that she said Grace can come see you tomorrow. Oh, the more incidental news is that she wants me to keep in touch with her and let her know how things are going with you and Grace.”

“I guess she can’t just ask her sister, then?”

“I think she just wants an outside opinion,” I said. “I think she trusts her sister to tell the truth… at least more so than most elven middlings would trust one another… but she doesn’t exactly trust her to be objective about it.”

“So, you guys are friends now?” Nicki asked. “Glory and you?”

“I… I hadn’t honestly thought about that,” I said, but now that it had been raised, I wondered. All that rigmarole might have been necessary to have a private conversation, but… did it really need to have taken that exact form? Might she have wanted something a little more… social in nature… than a simple interview with her social inferior?

It was possible, I supposed. Her sister had suggested she was basically nice, but it had seemed like Glory was nicer to me than she was her own friends… but of course all her friends were also her underlings, and had to be treated as such or else one of them might try to seize control from her. It was obvious she hadn’t seen me as an equal, but my inferiority wasn’t specific to her. I was lower than her… but sort of off to the side, not specifically beneath her. Did that make a difference? “She was definitely friendly… I wouldn’t call myself her friend before she does, that would probably be insulting, but I guess I could see us becoming friends? Still, that would be kind of random.”

“From what Grace said, it did sound like they were interested in you before I came along,” Nicki said.

“…I guess Glory did pretty much say that,” I said. I didn’t want to mention that it had sounded like I was the reason Nicki had caught their collective eye to begin with.

“Wow… now that I’m thinking about it, I really kind of hope she does want to be friends with you,” Nicki said.

“That’s a nice thought, but what makes you say that?” I asked.

“Because if she’s interested in you and doesn’t want to be friends… that’s kind of scary.”

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10 Responses to “Chapter 154: Friendly Conversation”

  1. Remind me that no matter how much work I have done in advance, I shouldn’t commit to posting during a con again. The problem of finding usable internet was harder than I remembered/realized it would be, and the problem of finding quiet moments to myself is just going to get harder the more well-known and sociable I become.

    Current score: 3
    • Readaholic says:

      Ah, yes, the unforseen hazards of increased sociability.
      At least it’s not as bad as MU.

      Current score: 2
    • zeel says:

      I though WordPress had the option of setting an article to publish at a later date. Thus you could queue up chapters and let the site take care of the rest.

      Maybe that’s a module though. . .

      Current score: 0
  2. Anne says:

    “Because if she’s interested in you and doesn’t want to be friends… that’s kind of scary.”

    Nicki is as ever the mistress of the understatement here!

    Current score: 0
  3. R says:

    Wow, that’s a cheery thought. Maybe she wants to be friends. Or maybe she has heard of Mack’s tendency to make unfavorable contracts, and wants to use friendship to get Mack to slip up and turn her into a Mercy-style slave.

    Or maybe she has been hired by Mercy to enslave Mack. No better way to ensure her sister’s safety in Treehome than to have an expert assassin offing anybody who threatens her.

    Current score: 0
    • pedestrian says:

      R, I could see a small possibility that Glory may be manipulated into acting against Our Mack on the behest of one of the lurking antagonists. But I would say that it seems rather improbable to me.

      I cannot imagine the cliques of Treeholme tolerating any hint of outside interference with their myopic, narcissist and internecine social dramaturgy.

      I would agree that there is a good possibility that Glory would want Our Mack to pay her homage. Dominating the demon girl might gain Glory some cachet among the competing Elvish Queens. Perhaps raising Glory’s status enough to assist Grace to improving her ranking.

      Plus the bonus of pissing off their Auntie, with whom they seem to have some familial hostility.

      Current score: 0
  4. Zathras IX says:

    An occasional
    Can become habit

    Current score: 0
  5. Karr says:

    Small grammatical typo…
    “and even a uneventful weekend”
    The a should likely be an, an… at least, that’s how it comes out in my head.

    Current score: 0
  6. Bolongo says:

    I was a little confused by a seeming time skip that… wasn’t.

    “after a warning glance from our instructor, she let the subject drop, though she did send me what I thought were pleading looks a couple of times throughout the class”

    Except there’s then 15 paragraphs of dialogue before the class actually starts.

    Current score: 0
    • Dave says:

      That confused me too – then I noticed “that was right before the bell rang and Professor Stone started the class.” which suspended the dialogue during the actual class.

      Current score: 0