Harlan parked her dark metallic blue Jag in its space in the garage, and got out. She had her purse, but no weekend bag, knowing her clothing and other essentials at home were more than adequate. The car received a loving pat to the hood before its owner made her way out of the garage and around to the front door.
The Italian-style villa had a heavy oak door, tastefully carved. Harlan opened it, and entered the only home she could remember. Her sisters impending birth nineteen years ago had nudged the young family here, out of a slightly smaller house in a less prestigious neighborhood.
She looked around briefly, and didnt see or hear any immediate signs of habitation.
"Mother? Owen? Im home," she called.
She was surprised when her father was the one to come down the stairs, dressed in what he considered casual clothing khakis with a button-down oxford shirt. Hed been as black haired as she was in his youth, but hadnt fought the aging process that had turned it white. Harlan was glad. It looked more dignified this way, and after a certain point dyeing became obvious.
"Ah, my girl " he gave her a hug, which she returned.
"I didnt expect to see you til this evening."
He nodded, and pulled back slightly. "Ive been home the last two days with a cold damnable thing."
Harlan couldnt help but be amused by her fathers annoyance at a cold bug for being so uncouth as to interrupt work. He rarely got sick, and neither did she.
"Did Ines make that tea for you?" she asked. Harlan had found it quite effective.
"Yes, but it just doesnt work for me the way it does for you and your mother." He steered her into the living room, obviously intending they sit for a bit. Harlan took her usual armchair, as her father did his. He seemed relieved to rest, and Harlan reflected with a pang that while he still had a decade or two before age really caught up with him, he was not young anymore. "Tell me how the year is going."
"Its only just started, Father. But I think its going to be good. The university president and I are starting to develop a good working relationship, and my not-so-interesting classes at least have decent professors."
He nodded. "Very important though I might not have met your mother had that been the case for us."
Harlan chuckled. "Id say if she was really the right woman for you, youd have met anyway." Their old, friendly argument.
"Ah, but Destiny is such a busy woman. One must give her a hand now and again."
Harlan swallowed another bite of Ines steamed vegetables. With a touch of butter, they were actually pretty good. She scooped up another slice each of carrot and asparagus, and put her attention back on the conversation drifting around her.
Leigh was missing from their family group, as the distance between Portland and Stanford didnt allow for many trips outside scheduled breaks. Harlan reminded herself she really ought to call soon.
Owen laughed. "Yeah, Sutter threw it right back out of bounds. You should have seen the look on his face "
The parents chuckled politely, but just couldnt find the incident as funny as their son did.
"So, what was the final outcome?" Harlan prompted. If allowed, her brother could talk longer about a soccer game than it had taken to play.
"Us two. Them one. I got a goal, and so did Mike."
Harlan nodded. "That puts you in a good place this season."
"Right next year, Varsity." He used his fork for emphasis, earning a warning look from their mother. "Sorry."
After dinner, stuffed, Harlan found herself walking toward the game room with her mother. Harlan glanced in a hall mirror as they passed, noting briefly that her mother came only to her chin. Shed been taller since the start of high school, and especially then had felt gawky next to her mothers grace. It was amazing how little seven years changed certain things.
"Mother Ive been thinking about graduate school."
The older woman blinked blue eyes mildly at her. "Some area of that subject in particular? I know youve been rather decided on law school."
Harlan nodded. "That hasnt changed. What Im not sure of is whether I want to focus more on schools in the region, or just go for the best programs that might take me."
"Well, what would be the reason for staying in the area?"
Harlan considered the question, not sure how to put her answer across to someone who had come to it for love and little else. "Because I like it here the wild beaches, the weather, the laid-back culture. If I went to Stanford, Id get to see Leigh more often, too."
"I honestly do not feel I can advise you on this. Im perfectly willing to talk, but thus far youve said nothing to cause me to think you couldnt be happy with either option."
"You may have a point," Harlan agreed, as they entered the room. "Its the question of which would be better." She had to admit, there were worse dilemmas to have.
"Perhaps you ought to apply to two or three good programs elsewhere, and two or three in the region."
Harlan smiled. This was why her father referred to this woman as his best advisor. "That sounds like a plan. Ill see where I get in, and go from there."
Her mother opened a large mahogany cabinet, and selected a new 500-piece puzzle. She took it over to the table, and Harlan saw the picture was a Degas. Soft colors, and all rather similar. It would make a great challenge.
The two women were silent as they dumped the pieces onto the table. The next task was to spread them out, and turn over any pieces that had landed upside down. Four hands did that quickly, and Harlan got on to the fun part. She let the conscious part of her brain slow down, rapidly taking in the curved edges and starting to fit each with its mate. The puzzle would be completed before bedtime.
Harlan had barely gotten in the door when she heard Colettes voice coming from the living room.
Slightly curious as to what was going on, Harlan wandered in. Colette was stretched out on the couch, book in hand, most of her curly blonde locks over the armrest.
Colette gave her a mock scowl. "I guess its too late now, but a Briana Larson called for you. It sounded like she wanted company for that thing at the arts building downtown, and she said not to bother if you got in after 8 shed have already left for it."
Harlan could only blink. It seemed the soft-spoken woman was more tenacious than shed thought. This was so not good... Briana, she recognized, scared her on some level but not talking to the blonde as a result seemed so chicken.
"So, just who is this, Harlan?" Colette asked. "A new girl? She sounded sweet." The book closed with a gentle thump.
"You know Im not really dating now... and yes, shes a sweet person, but just a friend." Thats all she can be.
Colette seemed willing to leave it at that. "Okay. That was the only message for you."
Harlan nodded. "Thanks." Then she turned, and headed upstairs. Her mind began to search for a way to repair what damage had been done to her relationship with Briana; the woman was too perceptive not to know when she was being avoided.
Harlan had her opportunity the next day. She was crossing the main quad after her last class when she spotted a slightly smaller blonde figure doing the same. Briana had on a backpack that Harlan thought, with some hyperbole, was about the same size as the girl carrying it. She sped up her steps, and was soon within a reasonable range.
The slightly younger woman turned to face her, and stopped walking. Harlan was glad to see her intrusion was at least accepted. Harlan took the last few feet at a jog.
"Hey..." Briana greeted her.
"I'm sorry about last night," Harlan apologized. "With traffic I ended up not getting in until too late." Briana hid it well, but Harlan caught faint signs of annoyance.
"You don't need to apologize to me; it's fine." Briana's voice was flatter than it would have been if she'd meant it.
"No, I do," Harlan insisted. "Maybe not about last night in particular, but I have been... abrupt. That was wrong of me, particularly toward someone I'd like to have as a friend."
Briana let out a breath, then looked out at the grass for a moment before meeting Harlan's eyes. "I just don't understand why you've been that way in the first place."
Harlan had a dilemma on her hands. Telling Briana the whole truth might irrevocably sever whatever relationship they had. But, if it continued due to a lie of omission... Harlan knew she wouldn't be able to trust it.
"I'm willing to talk, but would you mind if we found a quieter place?" She had no intention of continuing this discussion in the middle of campus.
They ended up in a small, wooded area with exposed rocks that were large enough to make seats. They were cold on the tush, but to Briana rather comfortable. Interesting. Eastern Oregon wasn't nearly as rocky, and the most common trees were overgrown junipers and a few other low-water species.
Harlan had also settled herself on a rock with a surprising familiarity. Briana had pegged her as an indoor girl, given her clothing style and general upper-class aura, but the blonde wondered if she was going to need to reevaluate that assumption.
"So... what were you going to say?" Briana found herself prompting.
Harlan folded her hands in her lap. "I... when we met, I was attracted to you. But, I also wanted you as a friend, so I had to start the process of getting that attraction to die down to a level where I could be around you, and not have it be strange between us."
Briana thought aloud. "So, when we ran into each other while you were doing that, it kind of threw you off."
"I suppose that's a good a way as any to put it, yes." Harlan nodded. To Briana she still seemed slightly wary.
"You thought I was going to blow up at you over this?" Briana said, stunned. She realized Harlan must have had her reasons, but it still hurt.
Harlan brought her knees up to her chest. "It's the oldest story in the lesbian book... girl becomes attracted to straight friend, girl admits that to friend, friend gets offended by that..."
Briana slid off her perch, and took a step closer, determined to show the story didn't always turn out that way. Even if she suspected it had in Harlan's past.
"Well, I refuse to be a stereotype." At that, Harlan actually smiled.
"You're too smart for it. By the way... what is in that huge bag of yours?"
Briana laughed and bent down to open up her bag. A moment later, she displayed the sweatshirt she'd had wadded up inside. "My attempt to deal with the weather around here. Its freezing in the morning, then by noon shorts and a t-shirt are in order."
Harlan gave her an evil grin. "Just wait till it gets to late October or November and the rain starts."
Briana put on a pleading look. "Stop, right there. I want to remain in denial as long as possible."
"At least it will be better than last year," Harlan pointed out. "That drought did a lot of damage." Briana, whose home climate was already arid and a farmers daughter, knew that too well. Neighboring farms had either shut down or barely survived. One of the Kettlemans workers had spent a night in jail after one of many protests over water rights turned too rowdy.
Water is life here, even more so than in most areas.
"Yeah..." Briana took another glance around at the rich greens and sloping terrain. "Is this a favorite spot?"
Harlan nodded. "I dont know if Id term it a favorite, exactly, but I do come here every so often. Its a nice change of pace."
Briana returned to her rock, glad to continue the conversation. "Seems like it would be. When I needed that back home, Id saddle up our horse, Morie, and ride her out to this hill..."
Riane was cooking dinner when Briana came home, an hour after her last class. She gave the macaroni a stir, and got a look at her roommates face. The blonde seemed to be in a good mood. That meant she probably hadnt been studying.
"Hey..." Briana returned the greeting, as she set her bag down by the door.
"So, what were you up to? Youre usually home an hour before this." Riane caught a flash of anger, which was wrestled down almost immediately.
"I was talking with a friend," Briana answered. "Not that Im under any obligation to keep you informed of my whereabouts."
Riane faked a hurt look. "Im your roommate Im supposed to keep an eye out for you." I bet she was talking with Harlan. Why is that dyke such a golden girl anyway?
"Be that as it may, Riane, Im twenty years old. I can take care of myself." Briana headed down the hall, toward their room. Riane watched her go for a moment, then had her attention called back to her dinner by the timers chime.
Within another two weeks, Briana was wearing shorts only on the warmest days. All but a pair or two had gone into storage in the top of her closet, and shed taken down a few more cold-weather items. But, as Harlan had predicted, the rain hadnt started yet.
Briana had made other acquaintances in class, even forming a loose biology study group, but her friendship with Harlan was quickly becoming central now that an understanding had been reached.
Their senses of humor, theyd realized, meshed very well. Neither was a fan of gross-out humor or practical jokes beyond sneaking up behind one another. At that, Harlan was the clear victor; some kind of fine-tuned hearing allowed her to pick up on Brianas presence every single time. That, of course, just made Briana try all the more.
"Miss Larson I fail to see whats amusing about choking." Mr. Forsters voice was reproachful.
"Sorry, sir. I was daydreaming." There were assorted bits of laughter from her classmates, but Briana ignored them. She settled her eyes back on the instructor, and after a moment Mr. Forster delved back into the finer points of the Heimlich maneuver, and then adaptations for use on small children...
Briana successfully kept her mind on her First Aid class for the rest of the period. It wasnt until after theyd all filed out and shed started for the library that she realized she never daydreamed. Not in class, anyway.
After a few seconds more of thought, she decided it must be the new environment and freedom. Her community college, though good, had always felt a little like a continuation of high school. Shed lived with her father, and been one of the younger students. Yes, that had to be it.
"Briana!" Harlans voice called. She stopped, and looked in its direction. Harlan was put together as always, dressed in a black suit just a little shorter than would be appropriate for an office with a white shirt under it and a smile.
"Did the presentation go well?" Briana asked, for formalitys sake.
"Oh yeah. The class ate it up, and Lehman has to take that into account. Not to mention she seemed pretty intrigued too." Harlan smirked, quite proud of herself. Briana thought she had reason to.
"Thats great." Briana smiled.
"Have time to celebrate?"
"Ive got work in an hour, but that oughta be enough. Where do you want to go?"
Harlan gave her a crafty look. "You liked my last surprise. I think youll like this one too."
Briana just stared at the car. Executives in the movies had cars like this. Only once or twice had a director given even a rich college student one and then it was usually red and not the understated midnight color it was.
Harlans amused voice broke her reverie. "You like?"
"I dont know anything about cars, but I feel like I ought to take my shoes off before I get in."
Harlan rolled her eyes, and went around to the drivers side. She let herself in, then popped Brianas door. "Dont. I obviously dont like people purposefully messing my things up, but if I wanted it to stay perfect Id leave it in the garage at home under plastic. Which, by the way, would totally defeat the purpose."
Briana could see the logic to Harlans argument, but still felt weird about the whole thing. "I guess youre right." Briana opened the car door, and slid into the passenger seat. It was as well designed as everything else seemed to be, cradling her perfectly.
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