Chapter 236: Bad Days

on August 11, 2014 in Volume 2 Book 7: Courtly Manners, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Life Goes On

Even though I left Ian’s room on a hopeful note, I still went back to my own and cried in Amaranth’s arms until I absolutely had to leave for class. I’m sure I looked awful, and I’m sure I didn’t care.

The worst part of having a bad day isn’t the bad, because that’s a given. Nobody expects a bad day to be any good. The part that seems crushingly unfair is the part where you still have to have a day anyway.

This was the thing about college, and life: it kept happening no matter what. You got up in the morning and you went to class. You put your hours in. You got your work done.

Or you didn’t, but, you know… that would be its own set of problems.

I was lucky.

I managed.

And I think it actually helped, having my day broken up by chunks of time that weren’t my own, where I had to turn my thoughts towards other things, even if they kept turning back on me. It stopped my thoughts from chasing each other so far down any one path that I couldn’t call them back before they crossed the path of no return.

This meant I went through the whole emotional gauntlet. I was pissed at Ian for even caring what I did with my time when I wasn’t with him, I was pissed at myself for having been so careless, I was scared that whatever I did I would lose him, I was sad because it felt like I already had.

Somehow, I made it through the day despite being emotionally raw and as magically potent as a particularly mundane potato. Coach Callahan had a few things to say about my performance, and I let her say them.

I didn’t go to lunch or dinner in the Arch that day, and the next day I skipped breakfast. It wasn’t that I wanted to be alone, exactly… okay, so it was exactly that. In my darkest moments I saw myself taking my anger and confusion and frustration and grief out on my friends, and in my lowest moments… which usually followed the darkest ones… I felt like I didn’t deserve any company, much less comfort.

I imagined that if I was around the others they’d start to wonder if they really wanted to be with me, or I’d imagine Ian would be there and he’d be angry that I wasn’t giving him the space he’d asked for, even though in my more rational moments I was sure he’d found that space elsewhere.

Amaranth reminded me that she was there for me, but she gave me my space.

The second day, I had my design aesthetics class, where Nicki seemed to look everywhere except at me. I might have been afraid that she was pissed off at me, but she seemed almost constitutionally predisposed against that.

I was a little more worried that she was disappointed in me, but I thought it more likely that she simply still thought I was mad at her. I didn’t have it in me to try to have a discreet personal conversation in the middle of class, especially since we usually failed to keep it discreet on the best days.

While the period wore on, I went back and forth between being anxious to say or do something that would reassure her and thinking things like let her worry… I have enough problems of my own and at least I’m not the only one suffering. I’d say that the end of the class caught me in the more generous mood, but the fact was that as soon as I had the opportunity to do something, I felt the compulsion to.

Apparently for all my faults, I found it easier to be petulant and spiteful about my friend’s insecurities in the privacy of my head than I did when it actually mattered. I’m not pointing this out because I think it’s worth bragging about… at the time, it annoyed the shit out of me that I couldn’t just let her go.

“Nicki,” I said as she hurried away, loud enough that I was sure she’d hear it.

“What?” she squeaked, stopping and turning around.

“…are you okay?” I said, settling on that as the follow-up I hadn’t actually been prepared to give.

“Yeah,” she said.

“Do you… want to talk?” I asked her.

“Do you think we should?”

“I… yeah, I think it might help,” I said.

“Okay,” she said. “Emily can give us somewhere quiet.”

I nodded, and followed her out of the room… and into another one, without any sign of the hallway or apparent transition. She shut the door behind us. Nicki was apparently really at ease with Emily’s awakened nature. While I was cool with Emily, I was a little less sanguine about being shunted around her insides, having been taken on a ghost house tour via that ability earlier in the semester… still, knowing that Emily’s primary level of communication was emotional, I tried to keep my apprehension under control.

As it happened, taking a few moments and a deep breath was probably exactly what I needed to do at that moment, regardless of the situation.

“Okay,” I said to Nicki. “The thing is… you know that I’m really not at all mad at you, right?”

“I’m still sorry,” she said.

“I swear to you, it’s okay,” I said. “The worst case scenario is that it gets a little weird, even if it’s only weird because you’re worried it’ll be weird… but it’ll be okay. Eventually, we’ll all move on.”

“I get that,” she said. “I guess… I guess I’m sorry for having been… there.”

“You had as much right to be in Oberrad as I did, and a better reason,” I said. “Since you’re actually dating one of the residents, unlike me.”

“I meant… if I hadn’t been feeling so guilty about having… been with Amaranth… I wouldn’t have gone up with Amaranth, and I wouldn’t know… that you slept with Glory.”

“Given that you’re dating her sister and you’re friends with all my friends, I think you probably would have found it out either way,” I said. “And I don’t care that you know.”

“Okay, it’s not… it’s not knowing,” she said. “Like I said, it’s being there… I feel like I was intruding. I should have found out, instead of… seeing. If that makes sense.”

“You mean, you feel guilty for having been peripherally involved in me fucking up my own relationships,” I said.

“Well, when you say it like that, it sounds silly,” she said,” she said, in a way that made it clear that she knew that it was silly. I gave a little laugh, more of a “heh” sound than anything, to let her know that I got it.

Such were the things that communication was made of. It felt like an effort… in that moment, it felt like such an effort… but at the same time, I knew it was worth it. Nicki was a friend worth a little effort not just to keep, but to keep happy. Something in the back of my head whispered that if I’d kicked her when she was down, she’d probably get up and follow at my heels just as much as if I took the time to check in and make sure she was okay and help her up.

Maybe Ian was right and I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew a lot of things I didn’t want, and that was one of them.

“So… what are you going to do about it?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess what I’m supposed to be doing is figuring things out, but I really don’t know how to do that. The past couple of days, I’ve been swinging back and forth on a lot of things, but not anything helpful. The problem is, I don’t have a more specific plan for how to stop doing that than… stop doing that.”

“It’s hard,” Nicki said. “I mean, I know what it’s like to not be able to… I mean, to keep thinking… what I’m saying is, my brain has never been a great place for figuring things out.”

“People talk about making decisions with their gut or their heart, but I can’t figure out how you’re supposed to know what those are saying without thinking about it a lot,” I said.

Nicki nodded.

“Um,” she said.

“What?” I prompted, and when she continued to hesitate, I added, “Whatever you’re thinking, Nicki, I’d love to hear it. I’m sure two brains can’t be worse than one.”

“It’s… not exactly directly related to your problem,” she said.

“If it’s something you have to say, I want to hear it,” I said.

“The thing is… what you said about the others being my friends…”

“They would tell you the same thing,” I said. “I’m sure of that.”

And I was. I doubted that any of them, except for probably Amaranth, really felt as strongly about Nicki as I did, but I was sure they would tell her they thought of her as their friend, and I was sure they cared about her.

“I can mostly believe that,” she said. “But… it’s like, I’m not really there yet with them. And I feel like… sometimes, I feel like… I’m there with you.”

“You are definitely there with me,” I said. “Or here, or however it would go, from my point of view.”

“I know that’s true,” she said. “I believe you. And sometimes… I even feel it. And I want to be there with the others, but… I don’t think I’m in far enough that I could get the rest of the way on my own. Like, I couldn’t just… you know… walk up to a table and sit down with them. Or whatever.”

“But… you’re wondering when I’m going to stop sulking and start going to meals again so you can hang out with us again,” I guessed.

“I wouldn’t have said sulking!” she said.

“Maybe, but only because you wouldn’t have said anything if you thought it wasn’t absolutely necessary,” I said. “And anyway… it’s not all sulking, but at least some of it is… but I guess that’s beside the point. The real question is, when will things get back to normal… and I really don’t know, anymore than I know what ‘normal’ will be. But I do know that it’s not actually been helpful for me to spend so much time alone.”

“We could… never mind.”

“You were about to suggest that we could hang out more,” I said. “Without the others.”

“Sorry, it was stupid of me… that wouldn’t even help me get in with them.”

“No, it wasn’t stupid,” I said. “You don’t have to have a specific practical reason for wanting someone’s company. And you don’t even think it was stupid, Nicki… you’re just worried that it would be too much of what you want.”

“Well, it’s selfish to be thinking of what I want when we’re supposed to be focused on your needs.”

I’m supposed to be focused on what I need,” I said. “And I just said that what I’ve been doing isn’t helping there… I mean, you know the one thing I haven’t thought about at all in the past two days? How I feel about Glory. What I want from her… what I want with her. Nothing like that… and even now, when I think about that, my first response is wanting to shout at Ian that this is proof that I don’t care about her. And maybe it is, but I won’t know that as long as I’m still avoiding the subject.”

“Um… I’m not just saying this because I don’t think I deserve to hang out with you,” Nicki said, “but if that’s the problem, then hanging out with me probably isn’t the answer.”

“Well, when what I’ve been doing hasn’t been working, any change could be for the better,” I said. “And look, I’ve already had more progress talking to you than I have in the day and a half before. What do you think I should be doing instead?”

“…hanging out with her?”

Oh,” I said.

Why hadn’t that occurred to me?

…because you’ve been avoiding thinking about her, I realized. Since long before Ian had correctly pointed it out.

I knew that Ian was right about another thing: sitting back and seeing what happened without thinking about it really wasn’t my style. It was totally something I’d done before, but because that condition had been beaten into my head long before I arrived at MU, not because it suited me.

I’d fallen back into it with Glory because I’d decided that I liked my life with Amaranth, Ian, and Steff the way that it was and that it was busy and complex enough without any more complications, but I’d accepted another complication on the premise that as long as I didn’t look at it too closely then it couldn’t touch me.

And then it had definitely touched me.

“Nicki, I’m going to see if I can catch Glory this afternoon,” I said. “But seriously… meet me at the union for dinner, okay? Bring Grace if she’s free and wants to come along, but even if it’s just the two of us… I get the feeling you don’t feel like you’re close enough a friend to hang out with me, but seriously, I have such an easier time getting close to people one on one.”

“That’s funny,” she said. “I’m a lot more comfortable with vanishing in a crowd.”

“I guess I can understand that,” I said. “But isn’t the problem with it that you vanish?”

“I guess so,” she said. “So… are you going to go talk to Glory next?”

“Yeah, that’s what I said, right?” I asked.

“Okay, it’s just…”

“Go ahead and say it,” I said. “Even if I don’t agree, I’m not going to get mad.” I stopped to consider that maybe she was in a better position to guess how I might respond to whatever it was that she was holding back, and then realized that making a promise based around a future emotional state was both more uncertain than it needed to be and also sort of missed the point. “Even if I do get mad sometime, it wouldn’t mean I don’t like you.”

“Okay, it’s just… I’m sure I’m not the only one who misses you,” she said. “Don’t you think you should check in? If you go from avoiding Ian to hanging out with Glory, he might think you’ve made up your mind.”

“Ian’s showing some forbearance about the whole thing, but I kind of doubt he’d appreciate status reports, even if the whole thing was his idea.”

“No, but how about Amaranth? Not only would she probably like to know, but she might be in a better position to tell Ian, if he does start to draw the wrong conclusion.”

“You’ve got a point,” I said. “But on the other hand, I don’t really have a right conclusion to tell him right now. The beginning and ending of my plan is talking to Glory and seeing what we can figure out. Is that worth telling Amaranth?”

“Mackenzie, I think it’s more important that you talk to her than it is what you tell her.”

“I guess I see your point,” I said. “This did start because I did stuff without checking in…”

“See?” Nicki said. “I can’t imagine more communication making things worse.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

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18 Responses to “Chapter 236: Bad Days”

  1. Anthony says:

    Can’t imagine more communication making things worse? Nicki seriously lacks imagination… 😉

    Current score: 10
    • Order of Chaos says:

      It’s still a good idea.
      Also typo report
      “Well, when you say it like that, it sounds silly,” she said,” she said,
      The first she said,” needs to go.

      Current score: 1
  2. Carrie says:

    “Nicki was a friend worth a little effort not just to keep, but to keep happy.”

    I wish Mack would apply some of her thoughts on keeping Nicki as a friend to Ian. I think this stuff is what he is missing.

    Current score: 17
    • Zukira Phaera says:


      Current score: 3
    • Mack says:

      Unless she doesn’t actually really want to keep Ian. I’m projecting; I think he is a jerk, aka he has a lot of growing to do before he can have a healthy relationship, and that doesn’t need to be Mackenzie’s problem.

      She needs to focus on herself, so dating people who are very Independant and low maintenance is great. Glory might be those things, counter intuitively. She is clear about he expectations and used to being Independant. Ian is none of these things.

      There is an argument to be made that Mack shouldn’t be dating anyone right now, but then the story would be vastly different. I’m probably projecting there too, since my name is also Mackenzie and I shouldn’t be dating.

      Current score: 1
      • Davis88 says:

        I’m always puzzled by reactions like that. All Ian has been doing for a good while now is trying to express what he does and doesn’t like, defining his relationship with Mack and setting boundaries on that relationship without being mean about it, or setting ultimatum’s or anything like that? How does that make him a jerk? Isn’t that a perfectly reasonable thing to do in any relationship?

        Of course, one might wonder if he even should be in a relationship with Mack to begin with if he does spend so much time having to talk about what that means (I mean, seriously, when was the last time Ian and Mack had a moment together that wasn’t about where they stand with one another?).

        I’m also beginning to wonder if Mack shouldn’t start admitting that she actually is a lesbian after all and if perhaps everyone should start admitting that this entire story is gynocentric to begin with.

        When it comes to Mack’s sexuality, how many girls/women have we seen her fantasize about? Amaranth and Steff, obviously, also Sooni, Gloria, Feejee, professor Ariadne, Glory nowadays and probably one or two more I forgot.

        How many boys/men has she had romantic or sexual thoughts about in the same period? Ian. Period. In fact, the one time we’ve seen here in a primarily male environment (playing cards in Ian’s room), she was thoroughly uncomfortable and actively repulsed by at least one of the boys there. Though admittedly, that particular specimen really was repulsive.

        Of course, it is pretty hard for Mack to be interested in boys when they simple do not even feature in the story. Let’s face it, Ian isn’t just the primary male character in the entire story, he’s the only significant one.

        Andreas took a somewhat bigger role during the Acantha arc, but it’s too early to say if he will actually stay involved in the story. Other than that who do we have?

        Jamie? He was introduced into the main story a while back, but promptly put on the bus again.

        Viktor? A name fairly frequently heard but a character rarely actually seen. And the name dropping seems to be winding down too. He’s still probably the second most significant male character in the entire story.

        Finbar is probably the third (or maybe fourth, after Andreas), but when was the last time we’ve seen him? MU was supposed to be a mixed campus, right?

        This isn’t necessarily a bad thing mind you. A story can be perfectly good without even a single male character in it. And being gay myself, you certainly won’t hear me suggest that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian. It’s just hat I don’t think this story was really supposed to be all about the ladies even when that is rather clearly what it’s becoming.

        Current score: 2
        • spess imvader says:

          I agree with you, and have often wondered why bothering keeping Ian on the story. But someone else pinned it well: he is the male representative of Mack’s harem, faithful, dependent and secondary. His talks with Mackenzie are always about her, his life is completely irrelevant. That contrasts with his dominant approach to sexuality. I’d like to see him discover himself a submissive cuckold, that would make sense if he has been repressing it, and would recycle him as a more interesting character.

          Current score: 0
  3. tijay says:

    Is it just me, or is Mack being petulant?

    Also ook

    Current score: 2
    • Computer Mad Scientist says:

      I don’t think you’re being petulant, just Mackenzie. 😉

      Current score: 7
      • tijay says:

        I don’t think I’m being petulant either, I think Mackenzie is

        Current score: 2
  4. Trevel says:

    “The worst part of having a bad day isn’t the bad, because that’s a given. Nobody expects a bad day to be any good. The part that seems crushingly unfair is the part where you still have to have a day anyway.”

    I loved this.

    Current score: 2
  5. pedestrian says:

    So the Emily is a tesseract?….Nice! Enfolded Eleven Dimensions Rock!


    …”I’m sure two brains can’t be worse than one.”…

    J’adore how Alexandra keeps coming up with these statements that presage utter disaster.

    “Oh yes, you’re right. I am about to step off the edge of this precipice! Who woulda thought?”

    Current score: 3
    • tijay says:

      ” J’adore how Alexandra keeps coming up with
      these statements that presage utter disaster.”

      I have no idea what this means?

      Current score: 2
  6. Joshua says:

    it sounds silly,” she said,” she said,

    Otherwise, great chapter! I’m really enjoying the complications of maintaining poly relationships and adding new partners. I like even more the way she trips over her lack of self-awareness here. It’s cute to have Nicki helping her discover this instead of Amaranth!

    Current score: 1
  7. Zathras IX says:

    Mundane potatoes can be
    Magic … for a spell

    Current score: 5
    • Holodrum says:

      Oh god… A pun, wrapped in a Haiku, based on an offhand analogy… You have a gift; I’ll give you that. And thanks for sharing.

      Current score: 3
  8. Mist42nz says:

    Alexandria, are things ok? Are you trying to put a wrap on the Mu story lines?

    Current score: 0