Chapter 218: The Pursuit of Happiness

People don’t remain the same. You can’t. Even those who are obsessed by a certain time in their life, the music, the clothes, the hairstyle—in the end they become a parody of themselves. All those middle-aged guys rocking out at AC/DC concerts aren’t reliving their youth, they’re trying to avoid their present. And there’s no way to do that for more than a couple of hours.
You change. It’s better to embrace it and treat it like an upgrade. Level up. Of course, just because you learn things and come to new conclusions, doesn’t mean you’re a better person—different doesn’t always equal improvement—but learning new things is often a route to personal growth.
Take me, for example. I used to be terrified of big monsters. Let’s be frank, I used to be terrified of small monsters. I used to lose my shit hunting rabbits. Now I was in a clearing full of ogres and assorted other beasties, and running away and hiding was no longer at the top of my list. Sure, it was still in the top three, but softly, softly catchee monkey.
I returned Flossie’s pleading look for help with a serious nod. She had got herself into an awkward situation in order to rescue her beloved Dudley, and even if it was a rash thing to do without consulting the rest of us, that didn’t mean I was going to abandon her.
Yes, the Ogre Magi was a fearsome creature, and the magi part of the name suggested some magical ability to boot, but I strode across the clearing without any concern for my own safety, straight over to where Claire was standing.
“Claire, go talk to that giant furball and find out what the challenge is.”
You see? I had already gained enough maturity to know it wasn’t all about me. I was more than willing to share the spotlight.
“Me?” said Claire, in cowardly fashion. “Why me?”
“You know what I’m like around women. Horribly misunderstood. Even my own girlfriend thinks I’m a dick.” I paused for her to disagree. She did not. “You have the whole sisters vibe going on. I just don’t have that kind of rapport with the opposite sex. And you have the other obvious advantage. You can see what she’s thinking.”
Claire rolled her tongue around inside her mouth. She was obviously trying to think of a way to decline the offer.
“Maurice, support your woman.”
“Huh?” said Maurice, like any loving boyfriend would. They both looked over at the enormous ogre, gulped, and then returned their attention to me. Maurice adjusted his glasses. “Shouldn’t we have a plan or something?”
“That’s why you need to go talk to her. Guys, come on. Have we learned nothing? How many times have we assumed monsters are going to try and kill us, only to find out they’re more scared of us than we are of them?”
“Twice,” said Maurice with great certainty.
“Yes, exactly. And this could be number three. They’re just like us, when you get past the superficial stuff.”
Claire and Maurice looked at the Ogre Magi again, a giant hulk made to look even bigger by the small, desperate figure of Flossie cowering beneath it.
“Sometimes a monster is a monster,” said Claire.
“They laugh, they cry, they eat rabbits and shit out bunnicorns. Same as us. Well, similar. Approach with respect, as equals—no better, no worse—and see what she wants. And how best to trick her into letting us go without a fight. Go on.”
Hesitantly, they pigeon-stepped their way towards Flossie, whose eyes lit up as reinforcements arrived. Some people set the bar very low.
“Can I have a word with you?” said Jenny. “Alone.”
“Okay.” I looked around. The others were hanging back, waiting to see which way the wind was blowing. Laney and her mercenaries would be useful if we got into a fight. Biadet could be a game changer, as long as she felt like helping. Keezy, at least, would be a buffer between me and ogre-geddon.
But there were so many ogres—more seemed to have arrived since the magi turned up—it would be hard to fight them all, dumb and easily distracted as they were.
“Colin?”
I looked back at Jenny who had been waiting for me to snap out of my reverie. “Sorry. Over here?”
I took few steps into the trees so we weren’t directly observable by the others. I didn’t know what Jenny wanted to talk about, but it was possible it would be a declaration of love and a quick blowjob. I’m not saying it was likely, but a good leader considers all options.
She stood with her back to a tree, leaning against it and took a deep breath, making her breasts rise. It was difficult not to think about tearing open her shirt and kissing everything inside.
“Don’t look at me like that.”
My expression was completely blank. Just because my thoughts were lewd, didn’t mean I allowed them to show on my face. I have enough experience being around women who have absolutely no interest in me to be able to keep my lustful thoughts to myself.
“Look at you like what?”
“Colin, I can feel it when you think dirty thoughts about me. It isn’t pleasant.”
That smarted. Imagine what it would be like if women always knew when you were fantasising about them. It’s hard enough to face them when you get caught sneaking a look at brazenly displayed cleavage, if they knew the kinds of scenarios we put them in inside our heads, male-female relations would be seriously compromised. And rightly so. We think some sick shit.
“Jenny, I can’t help the way I feel about you. I’m not going to force myself on you, but you can’t take away my need for you. I can resist it, but I can’t turn it off.”
“But you are forcing yourself on me,” she said angrily. “Every time I sense your lust for me, it floods me with desire. It’s like a drug that takes away my self-control. If a guy slipped something into my drink that made me want to fuck him, what would you call that?”
I knew what I would call that, and what she was calling me, and I wasn’t having it.
“What you’re feeling isn’t ketamine or some date-rape drug. It’s just how love works. Hormones are chemicals, drugs manufactured by the body. And I’m not feeding them to you. The love potion you got tricked into taking was from your Queen. An anti-love potion. It stopping your true feelings getting through, but they can’t be stopped. Real Jenny is leaking. That thing you’re fighting to maintain control, that’s the true owner of this body trying to reclaim it. You’re the trespasser here.”
I was talking with great passion, probably because I was suffering from severe blue-balling and this seemed like the most important battleground of my life. If I’d had time for a quick wank, I probably would’ve been much more relaxed about the whole thing. Sure, you go do you, I’ll be over here making a sandwich. Do we have any pickles?
Jenny lowered her chin and stared at her chest. It was hard not to do likewise. “I accept I used to feel that way about you. It isn’t a mystery to me anymore how I could possibly want to be with you.” She looked up at me and licked her lips. “There have been moments when I’ve wanted you. Really badly wanted you.” Her breathing was heavier now. “But it’s confusing. My body seems to react in a way my mind can’t comprehend. I don’t know you, but I hunger for your touch. I don’t like being a slave to my emotions.”
It was very hard to not push in on her. To be with a girl you wanted more than anyone, who was telling you she had feelings for you, and not to act was difficult, but she was also saying she distrusted those feelings, considered them to be no more than an artificially produced state of mind.
My history with her, intimate as it was, didn’t allow me to dismiss her concerns. Not because she had a right to refuse those desires, but because I’m an insecure idiot. What if these were her true feelings? What if everything up to now had been a mistake? If I could brainwash her brainwashing, would that reveal her true self?
As is probably obvious, I wasn’t thinking very clearly. I am not a great pickup artist. I don’t chase women. If Jenny hadn’t made all the moves, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with her. We can grow and change, but our flaws remain embedded, ready to drag us back when the struggle becomes too much.
“I want you to do something for me,” said Jenny, her mouth not very far from mine. My heart was thumping hard.
“What?”
“I want you to let me kiss you. Don’t kiss me back, don’t push it any further. I just want to see what it does to me. Okay?”
I nodded. What was I going to say? No?
Her mouth moved towards mine. I closed my eyes. There was a gentle pressure against my lips. And then a horrific amount of pain as her knee introduced itself to my groin. I slumped to the ground, eyes tightly shut, the sound of her footsteps quickly receding into the woods.
The natural order of things is for the man to pursue the woman. He tries to woo her with charm and gifts and lies, and if she falls for it, they bang. Or get married, or whatever. Biology doesn’t require people to be soulmates or to have a love beyond space and time, it just needs a window of somewhere between seven and fifteen minutes. Everything else is just set dressing.
After that, you can spend your lives together if you want, raise a family, grow bored of each other, start looking at other people as possible alternatives—a range of options usually grouped under the umbrella of ‘happily ever after’.
But that initial pursuit is the spark that brings you together.
I have never pursued anyone. If I liked someone, the best I could do for them was to leave them alone, I felt. And if they gave me an indication I had a chance, I refused to believe it. And then came Jenny.
She didn’t make me chase her. She came after me, and I did my best to ignore her, but I couldn’t. And I was grateful for her persistence.
Two things brought me relief as I lay, betrayed, in a foetal position on the forest floor. One, I had my healing magic. Two, when you kick a guy in the nuts, his hands instinctively go to his balls. Even through the pain, I was able to lay healing hands on my ‘nads.
I got to my feet, very pissed off. I had let my guard down and paid the price. She wasn’t Jenny, but she was the only way to get Jenny back. And whatever rights she had as a human being to choose her own destiny were irrelevant. My right to be rejected by the real Jenny superseded hers. If Jenny came back and told me she didn’t want to know, fine. But this proxy had no right to cut me loose on Jenny’s behalf.
I ran after her. There were some sounds up ahead, breaking twigs, possibly dirt being kicked. I ducked and weaved, no sight of her but I ran on, convinced I was headed in the right direction.
A bugle sounded, clear and sharp. It caught me by surprise, distracting me. I stumbled and crashed through some shrubs, branches scratching at my face. I fell, rolled, got back onto my feet to find Jenny standing in front of me. Behind her stood at least a hundred men, swords drawn and pointing at me.
They say it is better to have loved and lost, but rejection can be so very painful.

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