defence mechanisms by phoenix.writing

26 Sep

Every Sunday afternoon, Iain had tea with his mother.  His mother insisted on calling it “tea” despite the fact that that particular meal didn’t really exist in North America.  But Iain’s mother was like that; if she wanted it to be tea, it was tea.

They would get together, therefore, and have tea, little sandwiches, scones, sometimes something more substantial depending on June’s mood and whether or not she thought that Iain needed feeding up.  Iain was thirty-three years old and thought that he should be perfectly capable of taking care of himself by now, but his mother tended to disagree with him on that front.

Tea was now a tradition that was much too established to argue with.  Getting out of it required severe illness, absence from the country, or a really good story.  And while Iain sometimes found it a bit onerous, of all the possible mother/son bonding activities, this one really wasn’t so bad.

It was about eight weeks back, now, that Iain had arrived for that customary meal and been completely thrown by the presence of another person.  His mother had never invited another person before, and Iain had been immediately wary.

Marcy had been quiet, defensive, and practically rude when she actually spoke.  Iain had not been happy.  For reasons that he could not begin to fathom, his mother had insisted upon repeating the experience.  Every week that Iain had shown up for tea after that, Marcy had been there.  Whenever Iain had wanted to know why, June had gotten cagey and told him varying degrees of ridiculous lines like “I thought it would be nice”.  As if it had not become abundantly clear by now that it was anything but nice.

His mother’s conversation had become peppered with “Marcy this” and “Marcy that”.  Iain had finally accused her of trying to set him up, but she had been clearly appalled at the notion.  It also meant that the impulse he’d had to pour his woes into her ears—constantly checked by the presence of a stranger—had died completely.  Marcy couldn’t be more than ten or twelve years older than he was, and yet his mother had reacted as though the thought of their being together was utterly inconceivable.  He’d hoped that he was going to have a sympathetic ear when he talked about Emma, but now he had his doubts.

This left him with very few options, and he found himself getting angry when the rational part of him knew that it really wasn’t Emma’s fault; it wasn’t as though it were her cabin.  She hadn’t invited him, she hadn’t asked him to stay, she hadn’t taken alcohol up there in order to loosen his inhibitions.  He really couldn’t rationally accuse her of setting the whole thing up, but there was an angry, hurt part of him that kept muttering about her taking advantage of the situation.

The fact that he was apparently good enough for a roll in the hay but not good enough to so much as acknowledge afterwards was upsetting him more than he had ever calculated.

But Emma continued to be cool, efficient, and act as though he didn’t exist, and Iain had thus found that work was far less enjoyable than it had been in the past, and now even tea with his mother was all screwed up.

Blowing up at work could result in his getting fired; Iain finally snapped at his mother.

“What the hell is Marcy really doing here, anyway?” Iain demanded.  “Why do you keep throwing us together?”

“Why do you dislike her so much?” his mother hurled back.

“Me?  Dislike her?  I don’t even know her,” Iain snarled.  “She’s the one who’s always wooden-faced or glaring or ignoring me!”

June was staring at him with a look on her face that made him feel as though he were twelve years old and he was about to get the mother of all scoldings.

“For your information,” his mother said stiffly, “Marcy was very much looking forward to meeting you.  It is you who was immediately suspicious and unwelcoming, and her behaviour has been nothing more than a defence against your insolence and rudeness.”

“But—” Iain started.

“No buts.”  His mother was glaring, just the way she did when he had interrupted with excuses as a child.  “Your behaviour has been disgraceful and has been solely responsible for the unpleasantness that has resulted.  I think it would be better if you took several weeks off and thought about your behaviour.”

Feeling remarkably as though he’d just been sent to his room without dinner, Iain slunk off as ordered.

At first he was just angry—at his mother, at Marcy, at Emma—but then he actually started to think about it.  Had Marcy’s behaviour been a result of his?  He thought back to their first meeting and tried to be rational and discerning.
God, he hadn’t even noticed that he was doing it.

A new thought struck like a bolt out of the blue.  His behaviour had informed her behaviour.  Marcy had apparently felt as though she had no choice.  Classic defence mechanism.

For the first time, he thought back to that first day that he and Emma had been back at work together and tried to actually analyse his behaviour instead of hers.  He had not sought her out.  He had not greeted her happily.  He had not alluded to what had occurred between them.

Was it possible that Emma had really only been reacting to the signals that she thought he was sending?

Galvanised by this thought, Iain got very little sleep but came up with a plan.

In retrospect, waiting for her in the underground garage was possible not the wisest move ever.  She let out a surprised shriek when he appeared, body tensing into a defensive stance, and he resisted the urge to hit his head a few times against the wall.  Stellar first impression, that was.

Although she relaxed slightly when she realised who it was, she still looked adversarial and not best pleased.

Really, he was a moron, but it was too late to fix that.

“Sorry,” he said with a bit of a grimace.  “I just wanted to make sure I had the chance to talk to you, not act like a stalker.  I didn’t really think this through very well.”

She softened marginally.  “What did you want to talk about?”

“Actually, I wanted to tell you that I was an idiot,” Iain admitted.  “Which I’ve clearly demonstrated thoroughly, though that wasn’t actually what I was aiming for.”  He scrubbed a hand through his hair and decided, screw it, he couldn’t make the situation any worse, and got the rest of it out in a rush.  “I knew you’d be busy when you got back from holiday.  I thought you’d appreciate time to sort through everything.  I thought you’d want me to behave professionally.  I hoped I was someone you’d want to be involved with for more than one night.”

Emma was staring at him inscrutably, and just as Iain began to think that he was going to have to mark this entire week down as the most embarrassing ever, he suddenly found himself flattened against the wall with Emma on top of him and her lips sealed over his.

As his brain caught up with what was going on, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back, taking this as “apology accepted” and admitting that not only was he going to have to apologise to his mother, he was going to have to apologise to Marcy, too.

Just at the moment, however, he was more interested in seeing just how late Emma was willing to be to work.


We’ve seen Emma and Iain before in Away from It All and Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained.


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