Chapter 196: Trading In Futures

on January 8, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 6: Career Counseling

In Which Steff Desires A Present

Steff caught up with me outside the Archimedes Center just after breakfast.

Well, I say caught up, but it was more like snuck up… I wasn’t specifically trying to get away from her, and she could have easily stopped me before I left, when the meal was breaking up and before we all went our separate ways.

I don’t think there was any malicious intent there… or even the not-particularly-malicious intent to scare the non-holy bekeesus out of me… but still, I jumped about a foot when there was suddenly a couple of finger tips on my shoulder and her voice in my ear saying, “Hey.”

“Sorry!” she said.

She was grinning, but there was concern in her eyes.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Just give me some warning next time… I know you like to scare me, but I like to know when I’m going to be scared.”

“I wasn’t actually trying to,” she said. “I know I was making some noise.”

“Not a lot of it,” I said. “And anyway, just because I know there’s someone else walking on the same sidewalk as I am doesn’t mean I’m bracing myself for… well, for whatever.”

“I’m kind of surprised,” she said. “Honestly, Mack, I thought you knew I was there… I thought you were all into awareness and preparedness now.”

“I was,” I said. “And I guess I probably should be. That’s the problem of focusing on one thing at a time… it’s pretty indistinguishable from being distracted from everything else.”

“It kind of worries me, how much sense that makes to me right now,” she said.

“Anyway, what’s up?”

She didn’t answer immediately, which made me pretty sure that something was wrong. It wasn’t like Steff to stand there fidgeting without a good reason. She wasn’t one to gather her thoughts before speaking, and she also wasn’t exactly overly delicate in her sensibilities.

Steff had changed quite a bit in the time that I’d known her. She’d gone from preferring shapeless, androgynous clothes most of the time to shapely, feminine ones. The fact that she had a more feminine shape now might have had something to do with it, though her wardrobe had been in a pretty obvious state of transition when I’d first met her.

It still was, in a different way… as exemplified by the lacy black corset dress she had on today, her outfits were increasingly moving away from ones influenced by her surface elven heritage. It had been hard to find elven dresses that were sized for a half-elf body, and the dominant physical aesthetic on the surface didn’t begin to account for the curves that Steff had developed.

Since the flowing gossamer gowns that she had once preferred ended up clinging to her body in awkward and uncomfortable ways, she’d come to embrace clingy, slinky dresses instead. She still alternated them with things like tight leather pants or black miniskirts, but she’d had to get new ones of those sized for her hips.

I didn’t usually pay a lot of attention to her fashion choices, it was just part of the background of her presence in my life. Steff’s style had changed… but it was like the changes to her body, in that it was all still recognizably hers. Her post-potion body was definitely more my type, if I was being honest with myself… but it wasn’t as though I’d been lukewarm about her before the change or ever had a moment when I thought, “Oh, good, now I can find her attractive.”

…although that might have been because giving myself permission to be attracted to anyone much less another girl wasn’t something that I would do. I didn’t get over my hang-ups so much as get past them… just kept going in spite of them.

“Mack?” she said, and I knew that I’d missed something, thinking about her clothes.

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “I was…”

“Lust in thought,” she said. “I know, I saw the blush.”

“I was just… admiring your outfit,” I said. “I’m sorry. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, exactly. It’s just… you know that thing I said before…?”

“I know lots of things you said before,” I said.

“Still a smart ass,” she said.

“That’s why you like me.”

“You’re half right about that.”

“Which thing, Steff?”

“The thing about… seeing you… used and hurt,” she said. “Comma wanting to, in context-specific fashions.”

I blushed, which might have been surprising to anyone who had been paying absolutely no attention to my life up until this moment. Though it still seemed a little weird… this was about the most circumspect Steff had ever been about anything, much less sex, for relevant values of the word. It wasn’t smooth by any measure, not even my own, but it still did something for me… to me.

Although maybe the fact that she was talking around it was what caused the reaction. I’d grown used to blunt talk, at least insofar as it was possible to grow used to something that went in the face of your formative influences. This was… different, from Steff. It suggested instead of announced. As much as it was perfectly obvious what she meant, I still had to work it around in my brain a little, which gave the words that much more time to sink in.

“You know, as much as it’s totally your turn to stare at your feet and say nothing… but I’m a little worried that you’re not saying anything,” she said. “Mack? I could use a little reassurance.”

“Steff, it’s okay,” I said.

“It is?” she said, in her hopeful voice.

I hated hearing Steff’s hopeful voice.

It’s not that I didn’t want her to have hope. I did! I wanted her life to be filled with hope. It certainly beat several of the alternatives. But hope sounded so fragile coming out of her mouth. There was something high and bright and brittle in it. It made me want to protect her, while simultaneously being incredibly aware that I had no idea how to do so.

But she had told me that she needed reassurance, so I could at least do that.


“Yeah… I mean, you really don’t have to explain what you meant,” I said.

Steff was one of those people for whom the phrase “If you know what I mean…” would often be redundant… not always, but often. If you didn’t, then you probably didn’t want to.

“Oh… well… maybe I kind of do?” she said. “Because what I meant was I want to see those things… badly, and, you know… soon.”

“Oh!” I said, blushing again… harder. I realized Steff was being shy, too, which seemed positively indecent, in all the best ways. “Steff, you know that I always have time for you, right? I mean…”

“…schedule, class, and the rest of your personal life allowing,” she said. “Yeah, that’s reasonable. So, what I’m asking is, do you have time for me now?”

“Right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “Not right now… we’ve got places to be. But tonight? Or this weekend? Soon?”

This was at least the second time this year that Steff had come to me like this, which wasn’t really a thing that had happened last year. Then, last year we’d been in the same dorm, if on different floors and different sides… this year, Steff was the only one of our group who hadn’t moved into the co-ed Gilcrease Tower.

The first time, I’d chalked it up to her feeling left out, and indeed it had seemed like she’d really wanted company. There had been other stuff going on in her life, of course, because there’s always stuff going on… she hadn’t just gotten lonely at random.

But still, the pattern seemed kind of… if not weird, then at least worth noting.

“Sure, but… what’s the rush?” I asked. “I mean, where did this come from?”

“You talking about the future… post-graduation, I mean. Have you really thought about what that’s going to mean?”

“Well, maybe not in exhausting detail, but I’m starting to think about it,” I said. “That was the point.”

“I meant personally, not professionally. Mack, the future is a lot closer for me than you, and the present shorter,” she said. “I mean, you know we aren’t going to be together forever. I don’t think there’s any way I’m going to be ready to graduate next spring, but it won’t be much longer than that. Then I’ll be heading west, or wherever… and you’ll still be here.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s going to take me four years to get my degree, if it comes down to that,” I said. “So we might end up graduating at around the same time.”

“So? That just means we’ll both be going our separate ways instead of you staying while I go,” she said. “Nothing changes from my point of view.”

It hadn’t slipped past me that she’d mentioned heading “wherever” as an alternative to going west. It seemed like the closer the future loomed for Steff, the less sure she was of where it would take her. Given that her plan… her dream, really… wasn’t exactly healthy or realistic, this could be a good thing on the balance. But I didn’t like the idea of Steff adrift. I remembered the way she had been when I’d first started getting to know her: confident and helpful, relentlessly positive and genuinely insightful. Then it was like she’d lost a part of herself, and it had taken her a long time to come most of the way back from that.

Maybe time does heal all wounds, but it doesn’t work like magic. It’s the natural kind of healing, the kind that happens really slowly over a long period of time, and it’s never really quite finished.

“Just because life might take us in different directions, that wouldn’t mean that we couldn’t still see each other,” I said. “We’ll be adults. I mean, we are adults, but we’ll be able to travel after school, if we want to.”

“Let’s be realistic,” she said. “Everybody thinks they’re still going to be friends after school, but that’s not usually how it works, is it?”

“Yeah, okay, but by that kind of thinking… we might not be together next year, or next week,” I said. “I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t, but people grow apart. They fall apart. Everything we do with each other, we’re doing in spite of that. We’re doing it because we’re not just people, we’re us… and maybe we’re not anyone special, but our lives aren’t guided by averages or statistics.”

“No, just the roll of the dice,” she said. “I mean, what are the odds that you’ll even have the money to travel? Or the time? If you’re free, that probably will mean you’re out of work and broke… but if you’re working, you’ll probably get like one week of time off a year… if you’re lucky. So much of it comes down to chance.”

“Well, maybe that’s a good reason to be thinking about this now,” I said. “I mean, I’ve never thought about ‘freedom to travel’ as one of my career goals before… maybe I should.”

I was thinking about Acantha, whose work as a consultant seemed to take her all over. Well, all over the places that there was work… but I got a strong sense of freedom from the way she talked about the way she operated. Like, since she could pick and choose her jobs to some degree, then to the same degree she could choose where she went.

Like the saying went, it was nice work if you could get it.

Not for the first time and probably not for the last, I wondered if I’d been judging Acantha’s very self-centered sense of ethics too harshly.

There had to be limits, obviously, and there also had to be more to it than that, but maybe you had to be willing to take what you wanted from the world, in order to get what you wanted.

“Okay, but even if you’re lucky enough to be in a position where you can do that,” Steff said, “that’s your idea of a life? Bouncing back and forth? Splitting your time between lovers in different provinces? That sounds like a good time to you?”

“Kilrest isn’t a province,” I said. I wasn’t just being pedantic… I was also trying to angle for just how much Steff was re-thinking her future. “Anyway, it’s not so much the bouncing back and forth or the splitting time that sounds good… it’s the love. It’s still seeing you, still having you in my life, still… being… had.”

“You have no idea how it wears you down, being pulled between places,” she said. “That was my life growing up, remember? One year with my dad, one year with my mom.”

“Yeah, but… your dad was an asshole who forced you into that. You probably wouldn’t have liked living with him all the time in one place, either,” I said. “You said it: you were pulled. This would be me, doing what I want because I want it. Steff, you’re the one who told me how much difference it can make when you want something… don’t you think that would make it better? Easier?”

“Better? Maybe. Easier? Maybe,” she said. “But that’s a long way from good or easy… I still think it would wear you down. I think you might keep it up for a little while, but how long do you think it would be until you decide it’s not worth it?”

“That really depends on if it is or not,” I said. “Anyway, this is all speculative… it’s not like we can know what our lives will be like, a year or three down the road.”

“That’s… true, but not reassuring,” she said.

“Yeah, I didn’t think that one through,” I said. “But it works both ways. You and I could live for a long time. Amaranth could live forever. If it does take us ten years… or longer… before we’re in a place where we can see each other regularly, it’ll suck, but in the end…”

“We’ll have spent ten years growing apart,” she said.

“Well, I don’t know what you want from me, then,” I said.

“The present,” she said. “The future can suck my delightfully feminine dick. That was my whole point, Mack… we don’t know what the future’s going to be like… it might suck, it will probably suck, but in the meantime, oh somebody’s god do I want to fuck you now… and no, not right now, but… soon.”

“Okay… soon,” I said. “Tonight?”

“Tonight,” she agreed, and that was that.

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32 Responses to “Chapter 196: Trading In Futures”

  1. Lunaroki says:

    Not a single typo did I find, so instead I’ll comment on the chapter itself.

    The Mack/Steff dynamic in this one was so sweet. The hesitancy and shyness from both of them, Steff especially, was the stuff of adorbs. I also love the way they’re both thinking about the future. In different ways, perhaps, but talking about it together helped give them each insight into how the other is thinking. Now they’re thinking more together than they had been.

    Steff feels so fragile this year, without the certainty and stability of her relationship with Viktor. I think finding out that a relationship she thought was etched in stone could change or fall apart has really opened up her vulnerabilities. Now she’s looking for reassurances, which may be in short supply. I’m glad Mack is picking up on this stuff and doing her best to be there for Steff and looking for ways to bring her some hope that isn’t as fragile as glass.

    Current score: 5
  2. Spartakos says:

    I find Steff’s straightforward lust incredibly endearing, for some reason…always have. 🙂

    Current score: 6
  3. Sapphite says:

    I noticed a little while back how little we’d seen Steff of late. Didn’t realize until now how much I’d missed her.

    Current score: 5
    • Anthony says:

      Funny, I’m having the opposite reaction: I’m suddenly being forcibly reminded just how obnoxious and stupid Steff has always been. Sure, she’s not Jamie or Iason, but IMO Steff is pretty high on the list of Most Unlikable Characters.

      Current score: 2
      • Eliska says:

        For me, it’s not that Steff is obnoxious or stupid; just that her low self-esteem and attention-seeking behaviours remind me too much of myself a few years ago, and it’s painful to watch. I don’t like her very much because she makes me sad and wince a bit, but because of that, I’d like to see more of her so we can watch her grow and hopefully eventually become happier.

        Current score: 5
        • Brenda A. says:

          I’m trying to remember – has Steff ever been to see Teddi or another therapist?

          Current score: 0
          • not her, the other girl says:

            She was seeing Teddi last year – she was actually seeing Teddi before Mack was – but I don’t know if it’s been mentioned this year yet so I don’t know if she’s still going.

            Current score: 0
  4. Flooge says:

    “but our lives aren’t guided by averages or statistics.”
    “No, just the roll of the dice,”

    Lol I loved those lines.

    Current score: 4
  5. pedestrian says:

    AE, this chapter is a pretty good insightful look at the present stage of the relationship between Mack and Steff. That the road to maturity is not only long but can have unexpected twist and turns and potholes. And sometimes you find yourself in a deadend and need to back up and relearn life’s painful lessons, over and over again.

    Current score: 0
    • not her, the other girl says:

      Having just reread the first year stuff, Mack was really good at finding the dead ends and having to relearn stuff. 😀

      Also, yay the hearts are back!

      Current score: 2
  6. lacilove says:

    I love Steff and I really missed her. Especially her sense of humor and insight. I also love her primal reaction to sex. She is never shy about what she wants and is unapologetic about it. I love the way her and Mack interact.

    Current score: 1
  7. scree says:

    What a bunch of pseudo-introspective bullshit! This entire chapter was a complete waste of time. No plot advancement, no character development, just the worst of your specialty Protagonist Internal Monologue Drivel (TM). Once all the fat is cut out: here’s what’s left of the chapter:

    Steff caught up with me outside the Archimedes Center just after breakfast.

    “Mack, I want to fuck you now. No, not /right/ now, but soon.”

    “Okay… soon,” I said. “Tonight?”

    “Tonight,” she agreed, and that was that.


    You need an editor, someone who will take the time to read your stuff before you post it and won’t hesitate to tell you when you’re pointlessly ranting. That’s the only way you’re going to stop making this mistake over and over again.

    Current score: 1
    • If you keep coming back and reading an author who specializes in writing things that you don’t personally see the point of, the person who’s making the same mistake over and over again might not be the author. Just a thought! <3 AE

      Current score: 25
      • Kenshiro says:

        There has been very little plot advancement in the last few months. It’s also been frustrating to see Mack regress back into a character that can’t make a simple decision without agonizing about it, when it seemed like she was doing such a good job of finally growing and developing.

        Current score: 1
    • Maxwell says:

      Except this chapter also serves as a decent briefing on the relationship between Steff and Mack for new readers, and also expresses that Steff might be the first of the main cast to be Put on a Bus in the future, and also does have character development in the form of Steff being less direct about her desires and seriously considering a future conflict, which is against her reckless tendencies. The whole theme of these chapters lately has been “What does the future hold?”

      This also brings up something else that Mack might want to do, vis-a-vis being able to travel as part of her job, and also touches in on how her three-way cross of lovers will be untenable in the long term and there will be a time when she has to decide.

      Try picking up on context and subtext, and you’d get more out this story.

      Current score: 5
      • Anthony says:

        First to be Put On a Bus? What about Sooni? I miss her and her endearing craziness. And the nekos. (Well, Maliko not so much. But I miss the other two.)

        Current score: 5
    • Gruhl says:

      Scree’s variant would have been refused immediately, as being flat with cardboard characters. The original consists of living beings speaking with eachother with more motive than just to advance a main plot.

      Current score: 5
    • erianaiel says:

      And using your unique and extreme logic you can also come to conclusion that there is only one story: “boy meets girl. the end.” and no further writing is necessary since it has already been told thousands of times.
      The mistake you are making is assuming that all stories need to be about the action, discounting that it is the psychological factor that makes stories worth reading. In movie terms you insist on ms Erin writing a summer blockbuster instead of a psychological drama.
      Instead this chapter is a lovely little study into the half-human condition of two adorable persons (with all their foibles and quirks) caught halfway in developing between being utterly and merely mostly socially inept.

      Current score: 5
    • zeel says:

      While the PIMD™ can be a bit much at times, it’s kinda the point of writing in the first person. And while to some it’s terribly boring (hey, nobody stapled your eyes open a and shoved this book in your face) many of us find it to be the most relatable (how do you spell that word?) part. I don’t think I have ever been able to identify with a character as much as I have with Mackenzie, simply because of the way she spins around in her head double over analyzing everything. It’s exactly how I think, and reading about another person struggling to overcome it helps.

      So sure for some it might not be the most thrilling bit of prose ever written, but that doesn’t make it bad, it just means it’s not to your taste.

      Current score: 5
    • Burnsidhe says:

      I’d have to say you need some training as a reader, to understand what *kind* of story you’re reading.

      This isn’t an action story. This isn’t an adventure story. This isn’t a romance novel. This isn’t a fantasy novel.

      This is a ‘slice of life’ story, a milieu story, that follows Mackenzie Blaise in her day to day activities in college in a fantasy world. Once you truly understand and comprehend that, you’ll be better equipped to read and enjoy, or to stop reading because the story isn’t going to morph into one of those other genres.

      Current score: 4
  8. P says:

    Poor Steff. There’s been lots of clues in the last few chapters that her relationship with Viktor isn’t going very well and she’s had a lot to deal with in the last year or so.

    Current score: 5
  9. zeel says:

    Hmm, I think I’m going to have to stop reading new chapters while I am reading through the back-log. I’m kinda confused by some recent chapters, trying to read the same story from two different points at the same time is not easy.

    EDIT: Are we missing a plug-in for the avatars? AE has one, but nobody else seems too.

    EDIT2: That’s not it, I see them on other pages.

    Current score: 0
  10. Order of Chaos says:

    Now to the true point of this chapter…
    BRING BACK SUPER AWARENESS! It was great and then it left and never came up again.

    Current score: 1
  11. Zathras IX says:

    Focusing on one
    Thing at a time distracts from
    Everything else

    Current score: 4
    • Order of Chaos says:

      The one problem with
      book 2 of tales of MU
      the focus is not dilute

      Current score: 0
  12. Lyssa says:

    I loved this chapter, thank you. 🙂 I’m too tired to explain why in-depth, but something about it just made me smile.

    Also, I love that the hearts are back.

    Current score: 1
  13. Cadnawes says:

    I’m happy the main elf in this chapter was Steff and not Acantha.

    Steff has long been one of my favorites. Not because she isn’t flawed. Quite the reverse. I want to hug her and make her tea and share art supplies and grumble about how we both suck. Which neither of us does, but it’s part of the artistic condition to think so.

    Current score: 4
  14. pedestrian says:

    I have several storylines unposted. Mostly because they consist of a number of unconnected chapters. Each could stand alone as a short story. But I can not see any ending or resolution to them. Like assembling scraps of cloth into a quilt.

    I am of the opinion that stories such as these should have their own genre, that I call “Life Stories”. Basically, they have no real ending.

    In ‘Real Life’, people we know pass on. We, you and I, we die and the world will keep on rotating. After we are all gone, whatever the future holds. The wind will blow, water will flow, the Sun will shine and the Moon reflect.

    Current score: 1
    • Mickey Phoenix says:

      Swinburne, “A Forsaken Garden”. One of my favorites for many decades.

      Current score: 0
  15. pink says:

    Oh gosh, I was really missing Steff. She’s been my favorite character or close to it since she was introduced. I love her flaws and her weirdness and her pretending-to-have-it-together-ness. As foreign as a lot of her particular individualities are, she’s a character I can identify with in a lot of ways.
    Just… Steff-centric chapters, happy sigh.

    Current score: 0
  16. Time Kitten says:

    I just wanna hug Steff to pieces now! Probably helps that I’ve been through so much more of my own transition now, I just get so much feels.

    Current score: 0