Disclaimers: Harlan and Briana are mine, though you will see certain similarities between them and a certain Warrior and Bard, property of RenPics. I’d also like to thank all the bards who got me interested in this genera in the first place — Missy Good, T.Novan, L.J. Maas… Language isn't going to be any worse than you'd see on your average network in the evenings, and so far there aren't any parts to scare the kiddies. And, just FYI, 'subtext' is nonexistent - it's maintext. Feedback is always appreciated, and I can be reached at MiriBard@aol.com




Harlan rolled onto her back, and felt the down comforter give under her weight. She kept the tiny cell phone to her ear, allowing her mother's carefully modulated voice to continue uninterrupted. "You are all by yourself out there… are you getting settled in properly?"

"Mother, I'm starting my fourth year of college," the dark haired young woman said rolling her eyes. "I think I'll do fine getting settled in by myself." She nearly had, already, as the neatly hung clothes in the closet and plush bed attested.

"I know dear... we just so wanted to be there to see you off again. Your father and I didn't expect that New York deal to require us to go there in person," came the response.

"How is it going, anyway?"

"You know I hate that expression, Harlan Shale. But, to answer your question, well enough. Another few days should have us back in Portland."

"Good…" Harlan hadn't meant it when she said it, but once the words were out of her mouth realized they were truth. "I'll be back for a weekend soon."

"That would be very nice. I have to go now, I'm afraid." Harlan caught a rustling sound.

"Goodbye, then."

"Goodbye." The connection closed, and Harlan flipped the phone shut. Her eyes went to the plaster ceiling. The start of yet another year at Westberg U…



"The school bought up these apartments back in the sixties," Abby explained, as Briana and her father set down the boxes they'd loaded themselves with. She hadn't offered to help, as either Larson would have. "They fixed 'em up, just like they did with those houses you passed, and now each gets four boys or four girls."

Briana gave her arms a slight rub. "Interesting… are roommates set already?" She figured it would be best to meet hers as soon as possible.

"Yeah - kinda by default. Naomi and I've shared a room since freshman year. You're in this bedroom with Riane Pascale, who's out doing some shopping right now. But don't worry, she's really nice." Briana looked to the side of the bedroom that had already been moved into. Well, no obvious signs of psychosis. It was neat, though not obsessively so, and Briana hoped that was characteristic of Riane's approach.

"Alright, thanks."

Abby took that as her cue to leave, giving a nod as she headed back into the small hallway. Briana and her father exchanged eyebrow raises, then looked to the boxes.



Some time later, they had transferred all of Briana's things from the bed of the truck to her bedroom. The only thing left to do was unpack, and he wasn't needed for that.

"Well, I guess that's done. How're you feeling?" She gave him a half smile.

"Okay. I'm definitely nervous, and already a bit homesick, but it's going to be good to be out on my own."

He nodded, and patted his daughter's shoulder. "You'll be making friends before you know it." Why is it I have to wait till Thanksgiving to go home? Briana whined to herself.

"I hope so," Briana said. "There are certainly enough opportunities." He'd left his hand on her shoulder, and that lead easily into a hug. I don't want to wait till Thanksgiving to hug him again, either.

"Well, it's time I got going." Their eyes meet a moment, green to green. Briana had always thought his especially kind, set in a weatherbeaten but still handsome face. She repeated her mental vow to repay all the sacrifices he'd made for her by seeing that he was able to stop working the farm when his health dictated.

"Love you - have a good drive back."

"That's a lot to ask, Kitten. But, I'll try." She felt him let out a sigh.

"We'll be fine... c'mon, I'll walk you down to the truck." He let her lead him out of the small apartment and back down to the parking lot. Neither really trusted themselves to talk, so they didn't, storing up memories for the months ahead.

The truck looked neater than it had, now that her stuff had been cleared out of its bed. But, it still stuck out like a tear in an antique lace tablecloth. He went around to the driver's side, opened the door, and slid in. Briana leaned in the open passenger window.

"Give me a call when you get home..."

He started up the truck. "I will." She moved back, so he could pull out. Briana tried to think of something to say, but couldn't - for once. After a beat, the truck moved and within moments all she could really see was the silhouette. He's going to get a ticket, I just know it.



Harlan set a weekly calendar sheet, which had spaces for times from 8 AM to 8 PM, on the desk next to her printed class schedule and laptop, and began sketching out her time this semester. Good, I'll have an hour between International Relations and Macroeconomics. She was pleased with the courses she'd chosen, thinking they would be a challenge but doable. A quick application of colored pencils satisfied her aesthetic demands. After checking it over for accuracy, she thumbtacked the schedule to the bulletin board just above her desk.

There were seven identical desks, one for each resident of Lilley House, lining the walls of the study. Most hadn't been completely moved into yet, their owners determined to deny the fact that they were back at school and would soon have homework for as long as possible.

Harlan didn't really understand that sentiment. Yes, she enjoyed time on break, either to just relax or do things like overnight skiing trips, but she liked her classes too. Otherwise, she felt, they were just a waste of time and money. Her family wasn't old enough to count that a virtue.

Harlan couldn't help but stare for a moment at the nameplate on her office door. ASC PRESIDENT. She hadn't felt the little flutter she did now since just before attending her first meeting as freshman class representative. You've come a long way since then - get to it.

That thought made her smirk slightly at herself as she opened the door, and entered the office. She'd been able to get the basics set up, but knew she wouldn't finish decorating for a while. Her predecessor had been a very efficient man, but the job had still taken an almost ridiculous amount of time.

She settled herself in the leather computer chair, and booted up the school-issue desktop. Within minutes, she'd downloaded the e-mail she'd gotten over the school system.

"I'm happy for you, really… No, no, no… Nice to hear from you, Mr. President." She quickly composed a response to that one, agreeing to meet the next day for a general chat. Though she'd met him as VP last year, they'd be working a lot more closely together this year. Harlan was cautiously looking forward to it.

There was a knock, and then her VP let himself in. Adam Wynter was about her height, or just taller, with a distinctly Nordic look. Their families would approve of one another.

"Hey, Prez. Getting settled into the, uh, Rectangle Office?"

Harlan had to laugh. "Kind of. You?"

Adam smiled sweetly. "Well, I was seeing if the presidential mystique with the girls extended to me."

She shook her head. "Did Zach spike your coffee again? You're in too weird a mood." Harlan handed him a stack of papers for him that had immigrated to her office.

"Tch, that could just as easily have been Joe and you know it." Harlan snickered - such a trick did seem more Joe's style. Adam accepted the papers gracefully, tucking them under an arm. "Anything else?"

"No… just don't 'private conference' with a class rep!" Harlan did, after all, want a clean administration.



Saturday was registration day for new students, and Briana had been out early in an attempt to beat the rush. It had been marginally successful; the line's size had doubled within minutes of her arrival, but she'd still waited half an hour just for the process to start.

First, she'd had to confirm she was, in fact, Briana Larson and pick up a packet. Then there'd been parking registration - unnecessary for her since she had no car and certainly didn't anticipate being able to get one. From there she'd gone on to confirm her schedule, check that her financial aid was in order with a very sweet older woman, get her student body card, and have a picture taken for the student directory.

She'd also chatted with several people, mostly freshmen, as they waited in various lines. Most of them had also been nice, and there were a couple she thought might become friends with more time together.

All In all, it had been a satisfying but hectic morning.


Her afternoon plans consisted of turning in work-study applications and buying her textbooks. First though, a rumble from her stomach reminded her, she needed lunch.

Briana headed into the student union building and made her way to the Shack, a student-run establishment where one could buy snacks, or simple lunches. The prices were reasonable, too, and the seating was in the form of couches with coffee tables. That sounded perfect after a morning on her feet.

There was no one in line when Briana approached.

"Hi…" she greeted the young man behind the counter.

"Hi - what can I get for you?" He gave her a charming smile, and Briana quickly realized he intended to flirt. Oh, I don't need more complications right now… but, no harm in being friendly.

She gave him her usual smile. "A toasted plain bagel with cream cheese… and one of those sports drinks." He handed her the drink, and jotted the order down on a pad.

"Alright - and your name?"


"I'm Brad. Should be ready in just a couple minutes. Your order comes to $3.75." She dug some cash out of her purse, and counted out the money. As she set it on the counter, he printed off the receipt. "Thanks."

"Thank you…" She zipped her purse again, and turned to look for a seat. Most of the couches were already occupied by groups of two or three well-dressed students who seemed to already know one another well. There was one person seated alone though, on a couch touching a wall. She was a tall woman with dark hair and an edge that was softened somewhat by stretchy charcoal pants and a sleeveless ice blue sweater.

Briana liked her immediately. A few quick strides had her in comfortable earshot.

"Hi… I'm Briana Larson." The woman extended a hand, and Briana was sure they were just about the same age. From a distance, she'd wondered.

"Harlan Shale." They shook hands, firmly.

"I noticed you were sitting alone, and wondered if you'd mind if I joined you," Briana said. Harlan looked at her for a moment, then spoke.

"No, go ahead. You must be new here, if I don't recognize you."

Briana found it difficult to believe Harlan could know every person on campus, but she'd said it so confidently it was hard to disagree with. "Yes, I'm a junior transfer."

"A transfer… interesting." Harlan scooted to one side, giving Briana room to sit. The blonde did, setting her purse to the side.

Briana noticed one of the male patrons give Harlan an appraising look. From the flick of her eyes Briana knew Harlan had seen it too, but dismissed it.

"He was cute… why didn't you at least smile back?"

Harlan leaned back into the couch. "Because he's one of those guys who's convinced all a lesbian needs is the right man, and he's it."

Briana blinked. "You mean you're… but you dress so nice." She caught herself. "God, that sounded stereotypical. I just haven't really known anyone who's lesbian before."

"You seem to be handling it pretty well, given that," Harlan replied, and Briana got the distinct impression she'd raised Harlan's opinion of her a notch or two.


"And, between us?" Harlan gave her a bit of a smirk. "On weekends, I am a sweatshirt kind of gal."



Briana had gotten her meal, and nibbled at it as they continued their conversation. Harlan surprised herself by finding it involving enough she had to keep track of time consciously to avoid being late for her I PM meeting.

"So, it's good I got Wilson over Pelel for that class?" Briana said, wanting confirmation she'd heard properly.

"Yes… Pelel's a researcher, not a teacher. Most of the student body who've had him wonder how he got the job at all."

Briana nodded, taking another bite. When she'd first seen her, Harlan had thought her attractive. Harlan had always been a sucker for blondes, but there was something refreshing about Briana's lack of makeup and the only scent she put off being that of a nice soap. There was still some baby fat on Briana's features, but another couple of years would take care of that and until then would add to the overall impression of innocence. Briana was also very straight, and that was an unequivocal 'Hands Off' warning if there was one.

"It's too bad to hear that. He can't be happy with that situation, either," Briana said, characteristically seeing both sides.

"No, I suppose not…" Things were getting too close. "Sorry to leave you alone, but I have to get going."

Briana nodded acceptance. "It's okay. Nice meeting you."

"It was nice meeting you too, Briana." Harlan gave her a smile and stood. She scooped up her messenger bag and slung it over her shoulder. "Maybe we'll run into each other again sometime."



Harlan nibbled at a thumbnail as she typed in the last sentence of her first reading response. She scrolled up to the beginning to review her work, and found only a typo or two as she went over the document. Good… it was always nice when homework cooperated.

She hit 'print' on her word processor's taskbar, and leaned back to wait. The first page came out perfectly, but then two pages caught… then three… the printer started beeping in mechanical alarm.

Harlan reached over and jabbed at the power button. The printer gave a last whirr, then was silent.

"Perfect, now I have to go to the computer lab before class," she grumbled. She retrieved a blank disc from the top desk drawer, and set about copying her work to it.



Briana had been on the internet for an interesting but strangely exhausting hour when she realized she needed to get the feeling back in her butt, and visit the ladies'.

When she got back to the computer lab, she sat back down and was surprised to see the wallpaper had changed. Huh - that's odd. But I've heard about programs that do that for you. Someone must have downloaded one.

She decided it was time to stop playing and get to work, and as a step in that direction found her way to a biology article database. Her first search produced so many results she went back and added another two terms in order to narrow things down.

That produced a more reasonable list of articles, and she began to skim through.

Briana heard footsteps nearby, and looked up to see Harlan make her way to the computer next to her.

"Hi…" She kept her voice low, in deference to people more actively engaged in work.

"Hi. Didn't see you earlier."

"I was out for a couple minutes. What're you up to?"

Harlan pressed at the disc release, and frowned. "My printer seems to have been possessed, so I got a paper printed out here. Had to pick it up upstairs."

Briana winced. "Hope it's nothing too serious."

Harlan tried the disc release again. "Now this doesn't seem to be working…"

"Harlan - I'm not sure there's a disc in there." Briana followed her hunch, and tested her own computer. Sure enough, a little plastic slab poked its way out. Briana removed it, and gave it a little wave.

"What the…" Harlan laughed, and tossed her hair back behind her shoulders. "We must've switched computers."

"Yep…" Briana grinned back. She handed the disc over, and watched as Harlan tucked it into her ever-present messenger bag.

"Thanks. Now, I have to run or I'm going to be late to class." Harlan turned and started to walk off.

Briana pushed her chair out, and watched her go. Why does she keep doing that?


Briana tossed her backpack onto her bed with a frustrated sigh, and only then noticed that Riane was in the room. The chocolate-haired young woman, about Briana's weight but several inches taller, was looking at her from her desk with a curious expression.

"Rough day?"

"Not really… I'm just getting the feeling someone's avoiding me. Just not sure if she even realizes she's doing it." Briana slumped onto her bed.

"Back up… who's 'she', for starters?" Riane asked.

"Harlan Shale. Know her?"

Riane crossed her legs. "Who doesn't? So, go on…"

Briana took a moment to work her thoughts into a logical order. "I met her the day I registered, and we really seemed to get along. Then, today, we ran into each other in the computer lab and as soon as she returned her disk she ran off."

Riane turned back to her book. "Don't worry about it, Briana. She's not the type you'd want as a friend anyway."

Briana frowned. "If you're referring to the fact she's lesbian, I already know. And, it doesn't matter to me." She didn't pretend to understand that life, but it seemed a shame to dismiss someone as a friend over a single aspect of her personality.

"I was, and I guess that's your choice to make," Riane concluded.

Briana shot a glare at the back of Riane's head, and curled up on the bed. She knew Harlan would have had some incredibly witty rejoinder, but she'd never been all that good at that. Too sweet-tempered, her father had said. Whatever it was, it sucked at the moment.


Part 2


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