298: Bookings

on October 14, 2008 in Book 11

In Which Mackenzie Fails To Save The Day

We spent a little while longer talking about the exact details, though there weren’t actually that many… she wasn’t willing to sit down and outline a ten point plan for enlightenment before we got started. I couldn’t really blame her, but I’d rather talk about anything except the prospect of writing home to my grandmother.

I agreed with Dee that I needed help, and that I wasn’t likely to get it from most Khersians, and that I probably shouldn’t be dealing directly with diabolists… I just wasn’t sure that my grandmother was a better solution.

I didn’t say no, exactly, but I wasn’t ready to sit down and put pen to paper… not that I’d write it by hand. We left with an agreement to start meditation at five the next morning, and left it at that.

At the end of our conversation, Dee thanked me for my time, which struck me as kind of a weird thing to say to a friend. I thanked her for being there for me, which is what I thought she actually meant. The small folks had moved to the shirelings’ room, and Steff didn’t seem to be in there, so I headed back to my own room and waited for her to get back.

I tried for Ian one more time, thinking he might want to get dinner with us, but he was still out. I wondered what the hell he was doing that was so important that it kept him away from his mirror all day. I swallowed my irritation, reminding myself that his mirror was stuck to the wall in his room… he couldn’t carry it around. For that matter, I didn’t even know that he’d been gone all day. All that was necessary was that he was out of the room when I tried to reach him.

I thought about leaving an echo, but I wasn’t sure what exactly to say. “We’re going to dinner, but you’re not there, so never mind?” I could ask him to give me a shout back when he got in, but that seemed like it could lead to awkwardness since I didn’t have anything in particular to say.

I did miss him, though. I couldn’t remember if I’d seen him at all since the dance… I must have, since we had a class together on Thursday. Had I done or said something horrible in front of him?

I hoped not… of course, even if I hadn’t, our parting on Wednesday had been a little strained, up until the point where Oru and Moeli distracted us. There had been the intensity of the scene in the bathroom, and then his crazy idea about becoming a…

Oh shit. Had he been serious about the gladiator thing? All day long, people had been talking about the arena fights, and all day long Ian had been missing. Had he actually signed up?

I invoked the ethernet and found the school’s activity calendar, hoping to find a list of matches or contenders or something. Unfortunately, the schedule for most of the evening just said “Open Bouts”… only the main events had actual names and times.

The whole thing ran from eight to midnight. There was no way in hell I was going to sit through four hours of testosterone-fueled pissing contests just on the off-chance that Ian might show up for one of them. If he was fighting and he’d wanted me to be there, he knew where to find me.

Except I’d been away from my mirror all night Friday, and then I’d sent it back without hearing all the echoes…

But what were the odds that he would have tried to contact me during that window? Or even that he’d be scheduled to fight, three days after he’d even expressed interest for the first time? They wouldn’t just take people off the street, would they?

Except the flyer had said something about all skill levels being welcome.

Of course, if he had signed up for the arena, if he was on the schedule, and if he had left me an echo, then that would mean he’d be expecting me to show up. What would he think if I seemingly blew him off? I had a good excuse for not knowing… right up until the point where I figured it out and then didn’t go anyway.

Well, I had the mirror in my hand. The page said to contact the arena director for further information. I wasn’t that comfortable with just up and reflecting somebody when I didn’t know who was going to be on the end… I just wasn’t the sort of person who was comfortable with going up and talking to strangers, and the intervening medium of the mirror didn’t help enough.

Of course, I might get some kind of automated thing, especially with it being only a couple hours away from the start of a match… and it was as good a time as any to stop running from the metaphorical beasts, especially when the beast in question was a fairly small one. There were worse things in life than a short conversation with a stranger I’d probably never see again, and if it turned out Ian was fighting and I showed up for it, I could tell him how I’d gone out of my way to check after the gremlins ate my messages.

“Arena director, Magisterius University,” I said. The mist began to swirl. It went on for so long that I thought it was going to kick me to an echo trap, but then it began to solidify into a face. I realized that I recognized the shape of the spiky mohawk just a moment before the image resolved itself completely, leaving me staring open-mouthed at Jillian Callahan.

Yeah, there were worse things in life than talking to strangers.

“Emo Kid,” she said. “Khersis on a khracker, what the fuck do you want? Hello? What, are you finding new and interesting ways to waste my time? I swear, if you’re masturbating I’m going to find a way to feed you your fingers.”

“I… I…” I stammered.

“You didn’t have any problem spitting words out in class,” she said. “If you make me count to three…”

“I was just wondering if you knew who was fighting tonight,” I spat out.

“Of course I do,” she said. “I’m the arena director. There’ll be programs at the door.”

“Um… is Ian Mason on the program?”

“Ian M… oh, by the Dark fucking Herald, are you the girl he feels so guilty about hitting?” she said. She snorted. “I think I just creamed my panties… well, I might have if I wasn’t naked from the waist down, but… damn. That’s either hot, or hilarious, or pathetic. I’m not sure which. It’s maybe all three. Don’t ask me how you manage to pull that off…”

“Look, is he fighting or isn’t he?”

“He didn’t tell you?” she said. “I think he would have told you, if he wanted you to know.”

“I don’t know if he did or not,” I said. “I had a little problem with my mirror.”

“He’s on the lists, yeah,” she said.

“What time?”

“Whenever he’s up,” she said. “It all depends on how the people ahead of him on the schedule do.”

“So if I wanted to make sure I see him…”

“You should show up,” she said.

“Great, thanks bunches,” I said.

“See you ringside, Emo Kid,” she said, and then vanished.

It seemed I’d have to show up early and stay until Ian fought. Fun. I could at least hope that he’d be in one of the first match-ups… they’d probably put the least experienced fighters in first as like a warm-up or something.

I hoped.

And what had she meant about Ian feeling guilty… had he actually told her about all that? I didn’t want Callahan knowing about my personal life. That was just… creepy.

I shuddered, then closed the mirror. I wondered if Steff would be interested in keeping me company… violent sports probably were more her thing than mine. But what would Ian think about me bringing a date to his fight?

Of course, it wouldn’t really be a date… more of an outing as friends. That argument might be more persuasive if I could get more people to go, though. I already knew what Dee thought of recreational combat, and Two would probably be working past the start of the match. Amaranth… well, I couldn’t see her being too interested in the matches themselves, but she might be interested in getting out and being sociable.

Though if it was just Amaranth and Steff with me, that kind of put it back into “looks like a date” territory.

I could ask them what they thought, over dinner. Maybe they weren’t even interested… or maybe they’d have some insight into how Ian would see things. I didn’t want to fuck things up, any worse than I may or may not have done during my memory gap on Thursday.

Steff and Amaranth showed up at my door less than ten minutes after my conversation with Callahan, though it seemed like much longer.

“I was right,” Steff said when I opened the door. She was beaming and gesturing to Amaranth like she’d just unveiled a statue. “She was hangin’ with Viktor, so to speak.”

“You wouldn’t think those fingers would be so good with knots,” Amaranth said, rubbing at her neck. “Are you sure the mark’s gone, hon?” she asked Steff.

“You healed it right off, babe,” Steff said. “Though personally, I think you should have left it there for a while.”

“I think it was maybe a little unbecoming a nymph,” Amaranth said. “And I definitely don’t want to be perceived as encouraging violence towards women.”

“Um, in lieu of asking something I’d regret… how did you know she’d be in your room?” I asked Steff, closing the door after they stepped inside.

“What, you haven’t forgotten about our little four-way confab we’re supposed to be having, have you?” Steff said.

“Um, no,” I said. “I haven’t forgotten about it, exactly… I’ve just had a bunch of other stuff… you know, things just keep happening on top of each other around here.”

“Yeah, well, this thing can’t keep happening on top of that thing, if we don’t get some better ground rules set,” Steff said, pointing to herself and then me. “Viktor’s taking this very seriously. He cut short our personal time so he could have some time alone to think about it.”

“Um… is that a good thing, or a bad thing?” I asked. On the one hand, the fact that he had to think about it meant… well, actually, I didn’t have a clue what that meant, on any hand. That was why I asked Steff.

“It’s a Viktor thing,” Steff said. “Don’t worry, Mack… he isn’t going to split us up. He wouldn’t need a sit-down meeting to do that.”

“He just has some concerns, and so do I,” Amaranth said. “Oh, on that subject… I mentioned Gwynedd to him. She had wanted to be at the meeting, and she probably would have been if you hadn’t said anything. You see how it’s better when you tell me these things?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said.

“So now it will just be the four of us,” she said. She put her hand on top of my head and ruffled my hair. “And if you have anything you need to say, you can say it to… you know, baby, the next time we go shopping we should get you a detangling hairbrush.”

“So, are we doing this thing tonight? Because Ian’s fighting in the arena,” I said. “I think he’d probably want me to be there.”

“Oh… baby, you might have said something earlier,” Amaranth said. “I’ve just been hashing this out with Viktor. Do you even use that day planner Steff bought you?”

“Yes!” I said. “I mean, I would, but I just got it, and I just found out he was fighting, like, ten minutes ago… if he told me about it, I didn’t get the message. ”

“When is this match?” Amaranth asked, twirling her hair around her finger.

“It lasts from eight to twelve, but I’m hoping Ian will be sometime in the first half,” I said.

“Okay… I think that should be fine,” Amaranth said. “We were actually talking eleven-ish. Do you want some company?”

“I’m… I’m actually not sure about that,” I said. “I don’t know if Ian would want this to be a me-and-him thing or what.”

“Well… baby…” Amaranth said, in the slow, halting way that told me she was weighing her words carefully. I realized she’d done that a lot more in the opening days of the school year than she had lately. Was that because she’d got more confident, or because I’d got more comfortable… or because she’d stopped thinking as much? She stopped to chew on her lip a bit, and then went on. “Maybe… I would guess that maybe he doesn’t mean for it to be a ‘you’ thing at all.”

“What, you mean I shouldn’t go?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that!” Amaranth said. “But this is something he’s done for his own reasons, for himself. I have a feeling… not an instinct, in fact this kind of goes against my instincts… not the divine sex ones, just… well, anyway I don’t think you want to try to make this into a ‘couple thing’ before you know more.”

Biting her lip, she looked at Steff for approval, then relaxed when she saw that Steff was nodding.

“Yeah… when someone goes off to do their own thing, the last thing you want to do is cling hard,” Steff said. “That just leads to a bunch of resentment and him pulling away even harder.”

“So I shouldn’t go,” I said, relieved.

“Um… no I think it would be okay if we go, to cheer him on,” Amaranth said. “This is his first match, and who knows if anyone else will be rooting for him, up in the crowd?”

“So I should go,” I said.

We should go,” Amaranth said. “We’ll be his cheering section!”

“Yeah… if he kicks a little ass and is all excited about it, we can tell him we saw it,” Steff said. “And if not… wait for him to say something about it, and tell him how impressive he was anyway.”

“I guess that makes sense,” I said.

“This’ll be fun,” Steff said. “Girls’ night out.”

“Hey, yeah,” I said. Maybe it was the same reflex that made me respond so strongly to promises of pizza, but when she put it that way, spending a couple hours watching people swing swords at each other’s heads didn’t sound so lame and boring.

Girls’ night out. We were the girls. We were going out. No sex, no rules or orders, no pressure. Not that those things weren’t good, in their place… but there had to be space left over for a girls’ night out every now and again.

“Ooh, it is kind of exciting,” Amaranth said. “This is our first chance to really get out there and show our school spirit! Or, it would be if it wasn’t intramural, I guess. Hey… do we want to eat now, or should we wait and get arena food? Do it up right?”

“Oh, that could be cool,” I said, visions of hot dogs and peanuts and popcorn in my head. Do it up right. Even somebody who hated sports knew that was what you ate when you went to the arena.

“Yeah, um, I don’t know how your stomach works, Amy, with regards to hunger pangs… but mine’s not going to put up with me waiting much longer,” Steff said. “And honestly, I don’t think they exactly cater to veggie types. I mean, there might be cotton candy and stuff, but in terms of actual meal fare it’s probably going to be corn dogs and pizza and stuff.”

“Oh,” Amaranth said. “I guess that’s true. You ready to go, then, baby?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Let me just grab my coat and spell it up.”

I pulled on the brown coat, slid the mirror into the pocket, checked that I had my student ID, and grabbed my keys. I paused to gather my energy and recite my insulation spell, and then we headed out.

“So, what did Dee want to talk to you about, anyway?” Steff asked me as I was locking up the door.

“Oh, the whole thing with… well, Thursday, basically,” I said. “I’ll tell you guys more over dinner, once we’re out of the halls. She… she has some ideas about how to handle it all, going forward, and I think some of them are pretty good.”

“Oh?” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, she thinks I need to learn self-control,” I said.

“Heh. She’d be the one to teach it,” Steff said.

“You can mock her, Steff…” I started to say, but Steff cut me off.

“Thanks for the permission, but I’m actually not,” she said. “Tittermilk fetish aside, she’s about the most stable person I know. Well, except maybe the pseudowench, but I don’t see her teaching anything besides baking.”

“This sounds like a good idea, baby, but… what exactly does she have in mind?” Amaranth asked.

“Well, the only definite thing is more meditation,” I said, because that was the only part I’d definitely agreed to. “She has some other ideas, but… well, I don’t want to get into them in the hallway. Anyway, I’m meeting her tomorrow at five… oh, Sooni!”

“Five-O-Sooni?” Steff said. “You must have a different timepiece than I do.”

“I double-booked again,” I said. “That’s Science Princess time.”

“Baby, you really need to start using that day planner,” Amaranth said.

“I will!” I said. “But I didn’t exactly have it with me, and I’m not sure why I’d have my Sunday morning shows…”

“Well, it’s not going to do any good sitting on your desk, and if you don’t put your plans into it you shouldn’t be surprised when you end up forgetting them,” Amaranth said. “Go back into your room and get it. I want you to start keeping it with you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Oh!” I said, pointing at Dee’s room, since we were right by it. “Should I…?”

“Yes, baby, ” Amaranth said.

I knocked on the door. Dee, who obviously would have heard the substance of our conversation already, opened it immediately.

“As I have no other engagements on Sunday morning, six would be fine,” she said. “But I hope you will take this situation as an example of another part of your life that would benefit from a greater awareness of self and the world around you.”

“Um, okay,” I said. “Hey… did you want to have dinner with us? I meant what I said about, you know, getting to know each other better.”

“I would enjoy that very much, thank you,” Dee said. She gave a short bow. “If you will please excuse me, I will change into warmer robes.”

“Do you want to come to the arena with us later, Dee?” Amaranth called as Dee retreated into her room.

“I do not believe I would be good company at such an event,” Dee said through her door. “But I thank you for the invitation.”

“‘Getting to know her’?” Steff whispered into my ear.

“As a person,” I whispered.

“Hey, whatever floats your goat,” Steff said.

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3 Responses to “298: Bookings”

  1. Antistianus says:

    I wonder how Sooni will react if she hears about Mack going to the match without her….

    Current score: 3
  2. keyonte0 says:

    God, Mack. Anything you can call a sport or a game is a pissing contest by definition.

    Current score: 0
  3. Leila says:

    Haha, “khersis on a khracker”

    Current score: 2