Chapter 220: Background Desires

on June 24, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which The Dramatic Irony Is Understated

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If I hadn’t said much about the whole keeping an eye on Grace and Nicki thing, it’s because there didn’t seem to be much to say at the time. For the longest while, it all just seemed like it was more of the same… Nicki continued to be Nicki, Grace continued to be Grace, and the two of them continued to be adorable together.

There was a shift going on from the initial rampant highs of the relationship, but it was so slow and gradual that it was only really apparent in retrospect. It was probably necessary, and definitely good. Even if it was possible to sustain a level of new relationship energy that made you forget how many days you’d spent locked in a dorm room together, it wasn’t good.

Grace, with her elven immortality and elven class schedule, might have been able to withstand it for longer, but it would have worn Nicki out.

I’d been doing pretty good with my classes. While I was busy than I’d been any of the previous semesters, I was also more focused. I left myself enough time for my class work and… in the case of spellbinding and enchantment… a little related playing around, but just enough time. It wasn’t necessarily the most fun, but it helped keep me on track.

You want to have some room for error, but as a general rule, things are more likely to get done when there’s “enough” time than when there’s “plenty of” it.

At least, that’s my experience.

I still made time for my friends and lovers along with everything else. Of course, there’s a difference between having time for someone and making time for them, and it does show. Amaranth was very understanding. Steff understood, even if she didn’t like it. Ian…

Ian had problems with it. He’d been looking forward to the thing with Acantha wrapping up and winding down, and he was not happy about the idea that I’d slide from one outside obligation to another. He let me know at breakfast, the morning after my dinner with Glory and company.

“So, I guess now we’re not even going to see you at meals,” he said.

It was the first thing out of his mouth, with not even a greeting first. He wasn’t always the most talkative first thing in the morning so I hadn’t thought anything of his silence… “sullen” and “not quite awake yet” are close relatives when they sit on people’s faces.

Okay, the end of that sentence had sounded more poetic in my head.

The point is, I hadn’t figured out that anything was wrong until he started talking, which meant I spent a few extra seconds registering that he was angry before I could even begin to work backwards to what he meant, and even then I was confused since he was seeing me at a meal.

It was just the four of us that day: Amaranth, Steff, Ian, and me. Hazel, Dee, and Two all had other things going on, as was increasingly the case as the semester wore on.

“Uh… what are we doing right now?” I asked.

“You know what I mean.”

“I actually don’t,” I said, and then I thought that maybe I did. “Is this because I didn’t eat dinner with you last night? Ian, I’ve missed dinner a couple of times because I was busy with project stuff…”

“Right, and I was okay with that because I knew you were working,” he said. “But watching you across the room, sitting and joking with someone else…”

“Like you didn’t eat with other people early in our relationship,” I said. “You have friends outside of us.”

“Yeah, but I’m not nearly as close to them as I was,” he said. “Because I do eat with you all the time. I hang out with you all the time.”

“Except the time you spend at Hazel and Shiel’s,” Steff said. “Where you’ve got a whole new group of friends that doesn’t include her.”

“Okay, but she’s not excluded from that,” Ian said. “It’s not like I could have just walked up to the table and sat down with you. And while I’m not exactly a social outcast, the fact is I’ve only grown more serious about us… it kind of makes me feel like a sucker when you’re not doing the same.”

“Having other friends and outside interests doesn’t make me less serious about you,” I said.

“I don’t think it’s the fact that you have friends that’s bothering him,” Steff said. “I think it’s who those friends are. And again, I’ll be the last person to say that elven culture sucks in unfun ways, but… Glory sucks less? So far?”

“Maybe if you started over, honey?” Amaranth said to Ian. “I think you might have let your anger distract you from what you really wanted to say.”

“I… okay, maybe,” he said. He looked at me. “The thing is, I was wanting to talk about this all night but couldn’t, and it kind of… got built up in my head like we had been arguing about it already, so I came out swinging. Can I try again?”

“Be my guest,” I said. I felt like I’d done a really good job of keeping my calm, though in fairness that was mainly because I was still waking up and felt like I was a step behind, so I wasn’t about to stake out the moral high ground.

“Do you think you’ll be eating with Glory more?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not going to call it a one-time thing, but I don’t see it being every night.”

“Once a week?”

“I don’t know,” I said again. “For it to happen, I think she pretty much is going to have to ask, and I have no idea how often she’ll want to… but that doesn’t mean she controls it. I can say no, Ian. That’s part of what I like about this gig. It’s more freelance… if a job comes up and I don’t want to work, I can just say no. If I want the money and don’t have anything else going on, I can say yes.”

“Okay, you’re saying that now, and I believe you mean it,” he said. “But I know you, Mackenzie.”

“Well, I would hope you do,” I said.

“The first time you need to turn something down, you’ll start second guessing,” he said. “You’ll start weighing her reasons for wanting something against your reasons for not wanting it. You’ll start wondering how many times you can say no before Glory takes it as a rejection.”

“You’re… not wrong that I tend to overanalyze things,” I said. “But, Ian… you’re not right about this. Okay? My only interest in this is as something that can be kept no strings attached. If there is a level of me saying no that causes her to reconsider the whole deal, I hope we find it. I’m not saying I won’t be disappointed, but I’m not going to tiptoe around to preserve a relationship… a business relationship… that isn’t what I’m looking for.”

“Okay,” Ian said. “I hear that, but here’s my question: did you get paid for last night?”

“What?” I said. “No, that was just… hanging out.”

“Right,” he said. “And you did that because you like Glory as a person.”

“So?” I said, and now I was getting a little heated. “I’m not hiding that. I wouldn’t be interested in doing the whole agent thing for her if I didn’t… I’d be worried I’d just end up as her lap dog, and since I’ve already got one person out there trying to fit me for that occupation…”

“I get that,” Ian said. “But if you like her… how are you going to convince yourself to walk away, if it becomes not worth it to you? I know you’ve cut people out of your life and walked away before, but we’re not talking about Sooni or Puddy. I’m not about to make a more ringing endorsement of ‘Queen’ Glory than that just yet, but it’s true. Are you going to be able to hurt her, if it comes to that?”

“When you put it like that… I’m not sure that it won’t suck,” I said. “And maybe I should be less flippant about it now, because I don’t think I’ll be able to be flippant if it happens. But… yeah. I think I can do what I need to, for me. And if it turns out I’m wrong and it’s harder than I think… well, I’ll still need to do it, anyway. ”

“Not to stir the pot again… much… but are we all forgetting what Amy said about Glory liking Mack, though?” Steff said. “I mean, you want to avoid strings… that seems like a tangled mass of knots waiting to happen.”

“To be fair: lots of people like lots of people,” Amaranth said. “I see it all the time, every day. It certainly affects things and it can make things more complicated, but at a certain point it’s just so much… background noise. Or the way the wind moves through the trees. Every branch is affecting the flow of air, but there are so many of them that none of them are affecting it much.”

“It is one of the things I’m worried about, though,” Ian said. “And maybe that’s just jealousy and maybe it means I’m not progressive enough for this kind of relationship or whatever, but… I see you getting involved with someone who’s into you, and she’s got her own little group completely outside what we’ve got going on and it doesn’t seem likely she’s going to come hang out with us anytime soon. You know? So where’s that going to leave us? If things heat up for a while with you and Amaranth, or you and Steff… or you and me, for that matter… you’re still around the rest of us. What happens if you and Glory go the way of Grace and Nicki, though? Is it going to be out of sight, out of mind?”

“I… really doubt that’s going to happen,” I said.

“I do, too,” Steff said. “Even if you do end up tumbling in the leaves with her, I doubt it’s going to be quite as epic as anything Grace and the Nickster have managed.”

“Really? What makes you say that?”

“You’re too self-conscious about people with the same anatomy as you,” Steff said.

“I do alright!” I said. I looked at Amaranth for confirmation.

“Well… you’ve been doing better,” Amaranth said. “I think the solo practice I’ve put you to has helped, a little. We’ve always focused on other things, though, and that works for us, which is what matters.”

“I doubt it would work with Glory,” Steff said.

“Well, it won’t have to,” I said. “Even if I’m interested… I don’t know that I am… it’s not going to happen in the context of her being queen and me being her servant. If she’s able to shed enough of those trappings that she can just come over and sit with us sometimes, or we can go join her, or whatever… well, I don’t know what I’d do. I don’t know if I’d be interested. I don’t know if she’s really interested, because we all know there’s a difference between wanting to have sex with someone and wanting to have sex with them. ”

“You said that with the same emphasis both times,” Steff said.

“Yeah, I don’t know how to emphasize it,” I said. “But you know what I mean. It’s like Amaranth was saying: background noise.”

“Are you planning on letting her know this?” Amaranth asked.

“If she actually expresses interest, yeah,” I said. “I am so not into complicated guessing games. But… I’m not going to come out and be like, this is what you have to do before I’ll consider a relationship with you when I only know because of you that she’s even into me. That’s kind of why I was, as Steff put it, forgetting about that.”

“But doesn’t not having that conversation leave you in a guessing game?” Ian asked.

“Maybe? I guess?” I said. “I don’t know. But that implies I’m trying to guess. I spent too long running in circles and wracking my brain over trying to figure out where things were going with Acantha. Now it looks like that’s going to wrap up without any kind of dramatic revelation or nefarious plot, and I think the only thing I really have to show for it is less control than if I’d been able to just step back and see where things were going.”

“I’d feel a little better if I knew that you knew what you wanted,” Ian said. “I mean, are you looking for something with Glory? Hoping for it? Open to it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “And I feel like any snap decision I make now based on… well, basically based on the need to make a decision… is going to be the wrong one in the long run. That would be avoiding a long-drawn out guessing game by basing everything on a single short one, and I don’t think that’s better.”

“I can’t fault your logic,” Amaranth said. “And I wasn’t that worried about you before this conversation, so I’m trying not to be more worried now… but still… be careful, baby. I only have one of you.”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Ian said. “Well, I wouldn’t have said ‘baby’.”

“I’ve heard your pet names for her,” Steff said. “I like them better.”

“Guys, I appreciate the concern… but this is me being careful,” I said. “I’m going into this with my eyes open. I don’t want to hurt Glory, I don’t want to be hurt, I don’t want to hurt any of you by having you feel left out or left behind… basically, I’m all about avoiding pain all around.”

“Really?” Steff said. “Because I have some particularly vivid memories that suggest otherwise.”

“I’m all about avoiding emotional pain all around.”

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25 Responses to “Chapter 220: Background Desires”

  1. moridain says:

    I would be far more worried about Ian’s desire to cut off outside relationships and obligations, a classic abusive trait, if they weren’t having the conversation at a table with two of her other lovers.

    I am honestly impressed with his ability to backtrack and rethink in the middle of an argument though. That is hard.

    Current score: 8
    • Zukira Phaera says:

      Ian didn’t really come across to me as wanting to have her cut off outside relationships and obligations so much as he was worried about himself, and the others, being cut out of her life.

      Current score: 10
    • Mian says:

      Yeah, he’s basically upset that Glory won’t include everyone else. he’s fine with nikki, and other people who aren’t being an elvish asshole.

      Current score: 1
  2. D. D. Webb says:

    Well, this was a dimension I hadn’t really expected to develop…though I can’t say I’m surprised.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      It’s not just the readers who have felt like we are missing something. We want more of our beloved characters, and they want more Mackenzie. Well done.

      Current score: 7
  3. Nick says:


    “While I was busy (busier?) than I’d been any of the previous…”

    Also, I feel spoiled with all of these recent updates, loving it!

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      Things are more likely to get done when there’s “enough” time than when there’s “plenty of” it.

      I have to wonder if this is a little soapbox moment. Perhaps the one-a-week schedule was “plenty” of time for writing, AE might be trying out something with merely “enough”.

      I certainly know what she means there, it’s easier to procrastinate when you have all the time in the world, a tight schedule gets you to act. How many times have you written a paper the night before it was due? Probably could have written it the night it was assigned and put it out of your mind for a while – instead you put it off and it hangs over you like a dark cloud.

      Current score: 5
      • Alderin says:

        I had a plan to write a book on procrastination once, but I never quite got to it. I still have time, though. 🙂

        Current score: 2
    • HiEv says:

      I’m guessing “more busy” instead of “busier” so it flows better with the end of the sentence:
      “While I was (more) busy than I’d been any of the previous semesters, I was also more focused.”

      Current score: 0
  4. Riotllama says:

    Really, with 3 partners, a freelance job, and a full courseload, I feel like Mackenzie could have just gone out on a limb and said,” no, I’m not going to hook up with Glory, that’s too complicated.” Now Mackenzie is so not me, so she didn’t say that, but good god girl, even if you wanna hit it, sometimes you gotta say no!

    Hey AE! You got a shout-out at the Trans* characters in sci-fi workshop at the Philly Trans Health confernence a week or two ago.
    Hope it turned some traffic your way.
    Here’s a link to the power point of the workshop if anyone is curious:

    Current score: 4
    • zxc says:

      I got so excited reading your comment about PTHC, and wondered who else was there, and then I saw it was you, Riotllama. I already knew you were there!

      Current score: 1
  5. pedestrian says:

    Thinking about this conversation got me wondering. There are umpteen hours of consciousness in a day and umpteen days of crawling out of one’s bed and staying upright.

    Our Mack’s plate seems kinda full. The dimension pocket provides extra, secure space and since space & time are two sides of the same reality. Could one of those pockets be modified to provide extra time.

    Then I remembered, I’m channeling HP and Hermione’s Magic Pocketwatch.

    Dammit! Back to the scribbling pad.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Well back when dealing with Emily Mackenzie mentions time manipulation – and that it’s super difficult. But possible.

      So I would go ahead and say yes, but so impractical as to be pointless. The time spend creating the device would be better spent simply living ones life.

      Current score: 0
      • Lunaroki says:

        “So, if you hadn’t been so busy inventing the time machine you wouldn’t have needed it.”

        Current score: 2
    • Hollowgolem says:

      In our real world, you can cause your passage through time to be slower than that of the universe around you (by either being close to a very powerful gravity well or by traveling near the speed of light), so it stands to reason something similar would be possible in a setting where actual magic exists.

      Not necessarily time travel, just time dilation.

      Current score: 0
  6. Lyssa says:

    While I can understand Ian’s discomfort with not seeing Mack, it came off like him trying to invent intrigue and drama where there was none. And then everyone worried about the possible intrigue together. Silly guys. You have enough real drama to contend with! Maybe the group just wants to feel more involved in her drama, as well as missing her?

    Anyway, great chapter, nice to see Steff and Amy again. I’m really loving this schedule of yours AE, and if zeel was right about you now having “enough” time instead of “plenty,” I hope it works out for you. Good luck!

    Current score: 1
  7. Zathras IX says:

    Initial rampant
    Highs of relationships soon
    Begin to ramp down

    Current score: 2
  8. JerK says:

    I’d already take Glory over Ian and Steff. The things they bring to the relationship are ultimately pretty unhealthy and Ian especially is way too needy. Glory could end up being a nutcase but at least the conversations are enjoyable.

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      I would say that the least healthy of the relationships is with Amaranth, and it’s not so much the relationship but the way Amy acts at some points (and how Mackenzie lets her act). Ian here doesn’t strike me as needy, this is a legitimate concern, he doesn’t try to talk her into not hanging our with Glory, he just asks where things are going. If he keeps bringing it up then there is cause for concern, but I think the Mack/Ian relationship is probably the most healthy of the three.

      Current score: 2
      • Lyssa says:

        I dunno, I do feel like he was trying somewhat passive-aggressively to make her not want to spend time with Glory. “What happens if you and Glory go the way of Grace and Nicki, though? Is it going to be out of sight, out of mind?”

        That being said, I agree with everything you said about Amy. And I don’t think Ian is being needy, or really trying to cut off Mack from other people. I think he wants higher priority and to be reassured of that.

        Current score: 2
        • Glenn says:

          I disagree. In fact, when combined with Chapter 204, I wonder if this chapter is AE’s way of foreshadowing a breakdown of Mack’s relationship with Ian. In 204,which is about the trouble Mack’s lovers have with accepting the Non Disclosure Agreement Mack signed with Acantha, AE writes:

          “Amaranth was far from the worst. She’d been persistent, yeah, but her persistence had come from concern, and she very clearly felt bad about being pushy.

          Steff and Ian, on the other hand, both employed arguments that boiled down to “dude, come on”, and “no, seriously”, and “seriously, come on”. The only way I could get Steff to back down was to finally whip out my safeword, something I’d only ever had to do a few times before. From that point, she was more concerned with how pushy she’d been than with whatever she imagined I was keeping from her.

          Ian was less pushy, and yet more persistent. I’d think we’d covered it and it was buried, and then he’d bring it up again.”

          In this chapter, Mack’s three lovers react in the same way:

          “I still made time for my friends and lovers along with everything else. Of course, there’s a difference between having time for someone and making time for them, and it does show. Amaranth was very understanding. Steff understood, even if she didn’t like it. Ian…

          Ian had problems with it. He’d been looking forward to the thing with Acantha wrapping up and winding down, and he was not happy about the idea that I’d slide from one outside obligation to another. He let me know at breakfast, the morning after my dinner with Glory and company.”

          Do you see the pattern? Amaranth understands and accepts the fact that Mack has a career and needs to do things to keep her career going, Steff isn’t happy, but reluctantly accepts it, and Ian can’t accept it, and keeps coming back to the same argument that his needs should take priority over Macks career.

          Current score: 4
          • Alderin says:

            He is shown to be fighting it, but yes, Ian’s natural reaction is passive-aggressive and jealous. He needs anger management help (which we’ve long known), as well as jealousy and control issue management help.

            I also think that he’s shown a fairly normal progression in attempting to break out of his anger issues, moving from aggressive to passive-aggressive in his confrontations. Not exactly a healthy progression, but a common one that I’ve seen happen to people who get clued-in to their anger issues and try to work on it themselves. Could just be “common” in my sphere of observation, but this aspect of the character feels normal and natural to me.

            They are still young, still trying to figure things out, and still far from perfect. That’s life.

            Current score: 2
  9. Legendary says:

    DISCLAIMER: I am not criticizing you in any way. I do not know your comment history and am not implying any flaws in your character.

    I find it amusing that the entire Acantha arc was “We want the gang back!” and now that Glory is going into full swing there’s already a “We want less of the gang!” comment. Poor AE.

    Current score: 1
  10. JerK says:

    We’ll have to disagree then. For me it seems like every conversation they’ve had is an argument. The only time they’re on the same page is during sex when he fulfills Mack’s need to get degraded and dominated. So not a real big fan as a spectator of the relationship. Steff, well I don’t think I need to elaborate too much on that. Self destruction thy name is Steff. She’s the type of person that will drag you down with her. Run Mack, run.

    Current score: 2