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.

Harlan’s amused voice broke her reverie. "You like?"

"I don’t 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 driver’s side. She let herself in, then popped Briana’s door. "Don’t. I obviously don’t like people purposefully messing my things up, but if I wanted it to stay perfect I’d leave it in the garage at home under plastic. Which, by the way, would totally defeat the purpose."

Briana could see the logic to Harlan’s argument, but still felt weird about the whole thing. "I guess you’re 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.



Briana looked around the small coffee shop for perhaps the twentieth time. Harlan smirked, glad the location she’d picked was a hit. She’d always liked it herself, enjoying what her father would still term the ‘Bohemian atmosphere’. It was about as far from her life at Westberg U as one could get in town.

"So, you said you had to work later," Harlan commented. "Where?"

Briana focused back on her. "I have a work-study job in the library, usually covering the circulation desk. I’ve done a couple other things too, like put periodicals back, but not often."

"Ah..." Harlan nodded. "I hear that’s not a bad work-study, as they go." Privately, Harlan was glad she didn’t have to work that way. Student government was more flexible as to the amount of time she put in, and when.

Briana took a long whiff of her coffee, apparently enjoying the rich scent. The blonde proceeded to take a sip, and reveled in that too. "It’s been good. My supervisor’s pretty neat."

"Always a plus," Harlan agreed. She took a sip of her mocha.

Briana tilted her head slightly, and made eye contact for a moment. Then, as if coming to a decision, she spoke. "I seem to remember you saying earlier that you’re a political science major. Where are you wanting to go with that?"

Harlan could feel her face flush slightly. "You promise not to laugh?"

"Not if you said you were going to raise yaks," Briana promised.

Harlan bit off a chuckle. Where does she get this stuff? "It’s not quite that exotic. As to where I want to go... it’s the Oval Office." That ambition was one she’d confessed only to her father before, but it seemed right to tell it to Briana.

"Wow." Briana blinked. "Well, if anyone I know could get there, it’s you."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. How about you? What do you want to do?" Harlan brought the mug up to her lips again.

A flicker of pain crossed Briana’s face, so fast Harlan almost thought she’d imagined it. "I want to do med-evac flights. That usually requires training as both a pilot and an EMT."

Harlan nodded. "I’ve heard of that. It sounds like hard work, but rewarding." Briana had surprised her again. Harlan would have guessed — had she known Briana was medically inclined — that Briana would choose to become a doctor, or maybe a nurse. Something with a relatively calmer work environment than med-evac.

"I think it’ll be a good fit." Briana eyed her. "You’re a bit shocked."

"More like surprised. You just don’t come across as the kind of person who digs an adrenaline rush."

"That’s a pretty fair assessment when we’re talking, like, sky-diving. But, this is different somehow. I took a class in CPR and rescue breathing in junior high, and had to use the second once." Briana paused, bringing up the memory. "A group of the younger kids were goofing off at this lake nearby, and I was there kind of as a chaperone. One of the boys got into trouble, and he started to drown. The nearest kid was a few years older than he was and bigger so she was able to drag him back to shore. I helped the last few feet then got to work. I’d wondered how I’d react in a crisis ever since I’d taken that class, and I found out. It was like God just... stood behind me and put his hands on my shoulders to give me support. I was able to stay intense, but not frantic. It only took a few breaths, then his own started up again."

Harlan let out a breath. "Here I was thinking that year I have on you gave me a head start on maturity."

"Wh? Harlan, because of that?" Briana looked at her quizzically.

"The way you’ve handled it. Most teenagers would have done something stupid; at first anyway."

Briana thought that over a moment. "I think farm kids are less worldly, but most of us have seen someone get significantly injured, or nearly so. Our reactions to incidents like that are a little different because of that experience."

"Makes sense. But I still think you’re exceptional." Harlan smirked.



"Thanks for that little trip off campus," Briana said, as Harlan pulled into a parking space near the library. The change of scenery had been very welcome, and it was such an interesting little place. Whoever decorated had a lot of fun, I bet.

"It was my pleasure. Interested in going there again, sometime?" Harlan braked to a stop, and turned the car off.

"You bet. So far as I know, I’ll be in tonight doing homework."

Harlan nodded. "I’ll give you a call."

Briana opened the door, and slid out of the seat. "Seeya."


Briana shut the car door firmly, and headed toward the two story wood-clad building. The more time she spent with Harlan, the more her opinion of the supremely confident young woman rose. I can learn a lot from her; she knows how to get what she wants openly but without trampling people. Briana began to turn her attention to work, and practiced her ‘yes, I know there were extenuating circumstances but the book was still overdue’ smile.



Harlan sat back on the couch and smiled as her sister related a freshman misadventure. There was only a bit of a crackle from using cell phones instead of land lines, and Harlan was old enough to know what an improvement that was.

"Leigh, I could have told you that if you’d just asked," Harlan said, chuckling.

"Yes, well... It was kind of an icebreaker anyway. And, partly responsible for my date tonight," Leigh replied with satisfaction. Harlan recognized she was hardly inclined to celibacy herself, and her more free-spirited little sister never wanted for attention. Owen was a harder case; she hadn’t lived at home since he was thirteen and while she didn’t know of him having anything approaching a steady relationship he was, after all, a sixteen year old boy.

"I hope it goes well, and he had better treat you right." Oh, the priveliges of being the oldest.

"Come on, you know me better than to think I’d stay on a date with a jerk."

"Ian MacDougal."

"I was fifteen years old!" Leigh laughed. "I’d like to think I’ve learned something since then. I seem to remember a certain older sister sneaking out to see a certain Mindy Walker. " Mother had been both pleased, and a bit chagrined, by the ‘American independence’ all three of her children had developed.

"Just the same, I want you happy and safe, sis."

"Aww, now you’re going all mushy on me."

Harlan rolled her eyes, as Sarah entered the room and raised a brow. The African-American was a beauty by any standard, with skin that reminded Harlan of rich oak. Harlan mouthed at her, ‘Talking to my little sis’.

Sarah nodded. ‘Neat.’ She moved toward a bookshelf, leaving Harlan to her conversation.

"Me, mushy? Tsk," Harlan said, into the phone.

"Heh. Well, I ought to head off and get ready." Harlan heard something rustle in the background.

"Alright then. Do call Mother and Father; I’m sure they want to hear how things have been going too."

"Okay," Leigh said noncomittally. "’Bye."

"’Bye." Harlan ended the call. In a way, she felt like she was missing seeing Leigh and Owen grow up... they’d only been fifteen and thirteen when she’d gone away to college. On the other hand, it had lowered the number of arguments they got into more out of boredom than any actual conflict dramatically.

"You’re a kick, Harlan," Sarah commented. "’Do call Mother...’"

Harlan flushed slightly, knowing the more formal phrasings her mother had ingrained by example were probably never going to go away. "It’s what I heard as a toddler. My mother had only been in the country a few years."

"I didn’t mean it as a critique. It’s kind of cool, actually." Sarah thumbed idly through the book she’d chosen.

"Thanks," was the only answer Harlan could come up with.

"Colette’s been talking about having dinner, all together, on Saturday. Why not invite Briana? We haven’t gotten to meet her yet."

Harlan gave an inward groan. "Sarah, we are not dating. She’s straight."

Sarah just smiled. "So am I, but you’re still hot stuff," she teased.

"I am also very female stuff. Off with you," Harlan said, shooing her with a hand. All I need is for Briana to get a hold of that...

Sarah laughed as she exited, taking it all in good humor. Colette would have taken the joke farther, comfortable enough in her heterosexuality to get pure enjoyment out of tormenting her.

She brought up Briana’s number next, and dialed. It was picked up after a single ring.

"Hello..." a voice, not Briana’s, said.

"Hi, this is Harlan Shale. Is Briana in?"

"I’m Riane, her roommate. And, no. She left to meet a group of friends about half an hour ago." Harlan took an immediate dislike to the woman, but couldn’t find a reason why. Perhaps it was the slightly annoyed edge to Riane’s voice.

"Any idea when she might be back in?"

"No, sorry." Harlan got the distinct impression she wasn’t.

"Alright, then. Goodnight." Harlan ended the call, disappointed. Sternly she reminded herself that she was hardly Briana’s only friend and that it really wasn’t so surprising the blonde wanted to see them too. She had been monopolizing Briana’s time lately. With an inaudible sigh, she stood and headed toward the kitchen.



Briana poked her head into the living room once she was done with homework, and saw Riane and Abby — just back from work — seated on the couch idly flipping through the three very snowy channels the antenna was capable of picking up.

"How was work?"

"Oh, not too bad," came the expected reply.

"The phone rang earlier —anything important, Riane?"

The brown head shook. "No, just a wrong number."

Briana set a hand on the wall, and leaned briefly. She considered calling Harlan’s cell phone, but decided something had to have come up. They were most likely going to see one another the next day, anyway. The blonde turned, and headed back to her shared bedroom.




Briana was slightly surprised to see Harlan, dark head slightly above the rest of the milling students, at the foot of the Davison Center stairs as she made her way down. They usually did meet there, but Harlan’s macroeconomics professor believed in squeezing in every minute of class he could. Briana was usually the one waiting.


"How was class?" Harlan stepped slightly to the side, giving her a clear space. Briana took it, then the two started toward the battery of doors.

"Good... I’m starting to get the concepts in there, not just the facts." Biochemistry, offspring of the demonic organic chemistry, seemed to be getting less evil the more she delved into it.

"I’m still not sure how you do it at all. I had general chemistry and general biology and that was enough for me." Harlan shuddered in distaste.

Briana grinned. "And I like people, but not the dealing and stuff you’re getting into."

Harlan smiled and nodded, acknowledging the truth of her statement. "Sounds like we each have our areas."

"Yep." Briana tried to stifle a yawn, and failed.

"Up late?"

"Yeah. Just couldn’t fall asleep for some reason."

Harlan gave her a slightly concerned look, blue eyes a shade darker. "Will you have a chance to take a nap, or at least rest?"

They reached the doors, and Harlan opened it for her. Briana passed through quickly, but Harlan caught right up within four steps. Of course, the long legs help in that Briana reminded herself.

"I don’t really nap unless I’m sick," Briana said. "Tends to make me disoriented, for lack of a better word."

"Ah. Well, did you at least have fun?" The question came so out of nowhere Briana skipped a step.

"Doing what, Harlan?"

The dark haired young woman gave her an utterly perplexed look. "I called your apartment last night at about seven. Riane said you were out with friends."

"She said what?" Briana felt her anger rise. She’d known Riane was no Miss Congeniality, and small minded, but this was deliberate obstruction. "Harlan, so far as I knew till you said that I hadn’t gotten so much as a phone call from a friend."

Harlan sighed. "Are you certain of what we’re both thinking about Ms. Pascale? It’s a pretty strong accusation."

Briana nodded firmly. "I heard the phone ring, and she picked it up. I didn’t hear what was said. Later, when I asked who’d called, she said it was a wrong number. Straight to my face."

Harlan muttered something under her breath Briana figured it was just as well she couldn’t make out. "I’m sorry you have to deal with her. Any idea why she’s doing this?"

Briana settled herself enough to consider the question properly. Riane had made snide remarks about Harlan’s sexuality, but that didn’t seem to explain the jealousy or envy she’d sensed directed at herself and Harlan. "She just seems like a deeply unhappy person. I get the impression she feels we, and you in particular, get everything handed to us."

Harlan’s brow creased. "Monetarily?" A weak possibility and Harlan knew it.

"No... her family’s a lot better off that way than mine. I think she has the impression somehow our lives have been charmed."

"I do have to admit life hasn’t treated me badly," Harlan said. "I’ve never needed anything we couldn’t afford, and if my family’s a little distant it is at least intact and nonpathological."

Briana nodded. "I don’t know all that much about her situation, and if things are awful at home or whatever I feel very sorry for her and hope that changes. That doesn’t excuse the lying though." Riane was going to learn that as soon as Briana laid eyes on her again.

"Of course not," Harlan said. "You do have to live with her though — please keep that in mind when you do talk to her about this."

Briana sighed, cursing Harlan for being so damned rational. "I hate to say it, but you’re right. That doesn’t mean I’m not imagining introducing her to Old Robin."

"Who or what is an Old Robin?"

"This old chocolate lab who lived behind us. She was a sweetheart with people she knew, but if she didn’t know someone and she sensed they had a bit of meanness, she’d chase ‘em all over while herding them away from the fences."



Briana walked into the apartment, setting her bag beside a chair in the living room as she scanned the space. There was no sign of Riane. "Hello?"

"We’re in our room," a voice answered back. It was either Naomi or Abby’s; the two women’s voices were similar enough Briana hadn’t learned to distinguish them yet. She made her way back to the bedrooms. Naomi and Abby’s room was decorated in a more ‘feminine’ style than she would have chosen, but it was put together well. The two girls were sitting on one of the beds.

"Hey... we need to talk. Riane’s..." Oh, horse poop. A small movement had caught her eye. Riane was seated on the other, a look of total innocence on her face.

"We’ve already been talking," Naomi informed her.

Abby broke in. "She agrees she was wrong to lie about the phone call. It was just a reaction."

Briana shut her eyes briefly. "I don’t buy that for one moment, Riane. You were not only rude to my best friend..." She was surprised how right that term felt applied to Harlan. "... you mistreated me too by doing that. If it really was some momentary reaction, the decent thing to do would have been to correct your error."

"I know, I know..." Riane said. There was a momentary hesitation before her ‘repentant’ expression took place. She was a good actress, but Briana knew every one had her weaknesses. Even if they weren’t apparent to Naomi and Abby.

"Riane, if you ever do something like that again... I’ll forgive you for my own mental health but it’s gotten impossible to trust you." Abby and Naomi were looking at her with as much shock as they would if she’d stood there and stripped. She was annoyed standing up for herself was that surprising.

"Jesus, Briana..." Riane said.

"I mean it. I will not accept being treated like that." Finally, the message seemed to be getting through. Briana wasn’t sure how much change in behavior it would effect, but she was riding on the triumph she felt. She turned and left the room, not entirely sure where she was going.




Hi, Daddy,

Briana paused, and put the end of the pen gently between her teeth before continuing.

My classes are going pretty well. I keep mom updated in my prayers, and I think she’s proud. You’ve always said she wanted me to have choices in life. Work-study is going well too, and the paychecks are more than enough for me to live on — about $200 a month. I’m going to save what I can, and use that as a head start on the loans.

Well, that completed the business part of things. She wasn’t sure how much to say — if anything — about the situation with Riane. In the end, she decided to give more good news first.

I also have my first best friend. Her name is Harlan, and I met her almost my first day here. Harlan’s one of the most considerate and most confident people I’ve known, and I think you’d like her. She treats me very well and I know that’s a major requirement for you with anyone. Not that I’d let someone around you who treated you badly either, right? Right. Riane doesn’t like her, but not for any logical reason. So, pooh on her, I’m keeping Harlan as a friend.

I miss you, and little things like having time away from civilization and those potatoes from the garden. Mrs. Walters’ complaining, even. I’m happy here, but I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving more than I ever have. All I’ve got to get through is about a month and a half... Love you.

Your Kitten,


Her neat, gently looping script covered the page when she was done writing. She looked it over briefly then folded it in thirds. A few moments later, she had it addressed and stamped to be dropped off the next time she collected her mail.

She glanced at her watch. 5:30. 5:30! Briana grabbed her jacket off the back of the chair and her keys from the desk, and jogged out of the apartment. It wasn’t likely she’d truly be late, but if she didn’t hurry she was going to stretch the concept of ‘on time’. Harlan genuinely liked her housemates, and Briana was determined to make a good impression.

Part 4

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