Several minutes of jogging brought her to the address Harlan had given. A large Tudor-influenced house settled on a wide lawn. A concrete path led from the driveway to the front door, and Briana followed it. There were flower beds on either side of the front step. The plants had mostly gone to seed, leaving only the dead fibrous parts above ground. They would be beautiful again though in spring. Briana wondered whose work the plantings were, since the maintenance people wouldnt have bothered.
She rang the doorbell, and was unsurprised when Harlan answered it herself. "Hi."
"Are you sure you really want to do this?" Harlan said, but she was smirking. Briana smiled back, and Harlan motioned her inside.
"I feel like I know most of them already." They walked through the entry to the living room, where two of Harlans roommates sat on the couch. One, with perfect features and long slightly curly blonde hair, had her feet in the lap of the other, who was brown haired but also made Briana feel half-formed by comparison.
"Thats Colette, who is the house manager..." Harlan said, pointing at the blonde, "... and her footrest there is Rebecca." Colette and Rebecca both turned at Harlans voice, and smiled at the new arrival.
"Hi, you must be Briana..." Colette said, warmly.
Rebecca had a slight wicked streak. "Nice to meet you. We were starting to wonder if Harlan was making you up."
Briana laughed. "No, so far as I know Im totally real."
Harlan rolled her eyes. "Everyone here lives to torment me. Youll see." Briana conceded that perhaps they did, but it was certainly the most affectionate tormenting shed seen recently.
"Okay, who else am I going to meet?" Harlan steered her toward the kitchen.
"Sarah, and Jennifer. Bethy, poor girl, is at rehearsal and wont be home until at least nine," was the answer.
Sarah and Jennifer were occupied making dinner, but glanced up when Harlan entered. Briana felt the same warmth from them too, and found it relieved the anxiety shed felt. It was hard to be afraid of people who could easily become friends.
"Hi; Im Sarah," the more exotic-looking of the two introduced herself. Oregon in general wasnt known for its racial diversity, and Briana realized shed seen Sarah on campus once or twice before.
"Nice to meet you. Then, you must be Jennifer."
Jennifer nodded. "Would you two tell Colette and Rebecca itll be maybe another twenty minutes, and they ought to get the table set?"
"Sure..." Harlan replied, then put a hand on Brianas shoulder to gently steer her out of the kitchen.
"We could have given them a hand. I wouldnt have minded," Briana said.
"I know, but there are a few house rules. Anyone who doesnt cook sets the table and cleans up, and anyone who has a guest - and the guest herself - is free to just have fun. It works out equitably, somehow." As long as that was the case, Briana knew she couldnt really object.
"Okay... so, now I get the tour of the rest of the house?"
Harlan gave a shrug. "If you want."
Harlan had led her guest back to the entry, and pointed out the dining room and the library where most of them did homework. The two women had gone upstairs next, via the curved front stair Harlan had always thought dramatic. Briana had seemed to appreciate it too, from the way she couldnt stop running her fingertips over the bannister.
The top floor was all bedrooms and associated bathrooms, so there hadnt been all that much for Harlan to show besides her own quarters. Briana had immediately gravitated to the window seat.
"Harlan, you dont have a roommate do you?" Briana said, after glancing for a moment at the second bed which had just a spare fitted sheet on it.
"No, and I havent for the vast majority of my time here. I just like my space, I guess." It was, at least, partly true.
"Id been wondering why you hadnt mentioned one, but figured youre pretty close to all of the girls, and this room wasnt set up by two people. Are all of them this big though?"
"About this size, but they are all a little different." Harlan liked that. Shed been in the dorms her first year, like everyone, but had gotten sick of the standard tables, wall paint, and wood trim within a month.
"Cool," Briana pronounced, before glancing out the window. "Its like living in a treehouse up here."
"Yeah. Its a good thing none of us are acrophobic." Harlan took a few steps closer, drawn to share the view.
"You guys get along so well you cant have just known each other since school started..."
Harlan nodded, though Briana couldnt see it. "Most of us were in this house last year. Rebecca and Bethany werent, but they fit right in."
"That doesnt really surprise me..." Briana said. "It seems very welcoming here."
Harlan smiled. Shed been hoping her friend wouldnt find both the house and her housemates too overwhelming. "Im glad you think so. Means theres a chance youll come back."
Briana chuckled, and looked back at her. "More than a chance, if Im asked." Briana, it would be so easy to fall for you. People had called Harlan charming, and Harlan admitted shed made use of that, but the blonde had no idea how mesmerizing her way of moving and openness were.
"Looks like were running out of the potatoes," Colette commented, as she passed the dish on to Sarah. Briana hoped that wasnt the last of them... they smelled great, and she hadnt gotten a chance to try them yet.
"Theres more in the kitchen..." Sarah said. Colette started to stand, but Harlan put a hand up.
"I havent done a thing to help with this dinner. I can play server for a few minutes." Harlan pushed her chair back and started back toward the kitchen, passing Colette on her way. The young woman grabbed Harlans hand and pulled her toward her, placing a kiss that lasted a moment longer than strictly necessary on the dark haired womans cheek.
"Thanks youre a peach."
Harlan, now freed, grinned and wagged a finger at Colette before continuing on toward the kitchen. "No taunting the lesbians."
Briana didnt hear Colettes response, wrestling down an urge to... an urge to what? Smack Colettes hands? Alright, so she was jealous. What of, exactly, was trickier. After several seconds, she decided what she envied was the freedom of their play. Back home it would have labeled Colette lesbian too, regardless of her real orientation.
She gave her head a little shake, and got her attention back on the conversation. "Harlan said Bethany was at rehearsals... is she in The Importance of Being Earnest?" Briana had seen audition flyers up for that at the beginning of the year.
"Yeah, but the rehearsal shes at now is for a community theater thing," Rebecca said.
Briana was impressed. "Those must take up a lot of her time."
"Oh yeah... but, she enjoys it so it cant be too terrible for her." Rebecca smiled at Briana. "We joke about how she has to invite all of us to her first big premiere." The other girls grinned, confirming Rebeccas story.
"She also has to give Rebecca the best seat, because Rebeccas the one who gets woken up when Bethy tries to sneak back into their room at two AM," Sarah offered.
Briana laughed. "That sounds fair." She was still getting used to the din of six people eating,
moving around, and having conversations that sometimes drew shrieks, but had never been welcomed this way even by family. Briana was beginning to think a twenty-eight hour day would be a great idea.
Harlan returned, carrying the potato dish on an upturned hand like a waiter. Why became apparent a moment later, as she set the dish on the table. "Zis ees our finest entree..." Whatever Harlans talents were and Briana seemed to discover a new one with every time they spent together a French accent was not one of them.
Sarah threw a dishtowel at Harlan as Colette started laughing, and Jennifer and Rebecca started chanting "Le Pew, Le Pew..." Harlan just grinned, and tossed the towel back.
"You never did tell me how things went with Riane," Harlan said, much later when they found themselves alone in the backyard. Briana sighed, apparently having wished to forget about her terror of a roommate.
"She got to my two other roomies first, and convinced them what happened was some kind of gut reaction. I told her I didn't believe that for a moment, and that I would not accept pulling another stunt like that. Then, their jaws just kind of hung open."
Well, that certainly wasn't how Harlan had expected that to go. "Mine would too... though, I see showing you're not going to take being treated that way as a good thing."
"I know, it doesn't sound like me at all." Briana stuffed her hands into her jacket pockets. "It just got me so angry. Lying to me was bad enough, but then she has to create some weird kind of folie au trois..."
"'Folly for three'?"
Briana nodded. "'Folie a deux' is a psych term for when two people get together and reinforce one another's delusions. It's three in this case, so I paraphrased." Harlan had to chuckle at that.
"The other thing that got me was her total lack of remorse..." Briana continued, taking a step forward and looking up at the night sky. "Hell will freeze over, and she'll still believe she did nothing wrong."
"I'm sorry..." An idea occured to Harlan which had the potential for great benefit, and also quite a bit of risk. "You know, my room was designed for two. You'd be welcome to move in with me, if things get to be too much for you with Riane."
Briana looked to her, gratefully. "I'd like to see if I can change some attitudes first, but it'll help to know I have that out available."
"Good." Harlan aceeded to human instinct, and joined Briana in stargazing. There was less artificial illumination here than at home, and so there were far more visible pinpricks of light. Astronomy had never really interested her, but it wasn't needed to appreciate the sight above her.
"Harlan... what do you see up there?"
"Do you mean in a philosophical sense?"
"No." Harlan heard a rustle of hair as Briana shook her head. "Do you see that group of stars, there?" Briana drew an oblong shape with her fingertip.
"I see an eye... that's the top edge, and the pupil..." Briana sketched it out.
"It looks more like a leaf to me."
"A leaf?" Briana said, in mock offense. "Harlan, its clearly an eye."
"No, no... that one stars the stem... and then see the veining?" Harlan smirked at the absolutely pointless argument.
With a speed that left Briana dizzy, October gave way to November and end-of-semester projects. She hoarded what free time she had, spending most of it with Harlan. It was a strange and wonderful thing to have a real best friend for the first time.
Harlan gave her a slight nudge, and a gentle smile. "Whered you go off to?"
"Ah. You know... Im not sure Ive ever had this kind of friendship before, and Im very thankful for it. Theres usually been some role to play."
Briana let out a surprised chuckle. "Harlan, just before you said that I was thinking almost exactly the same thing."
"Really?" Harlan raised both brows, pleased.
Briana was given a pout that would have been the envy of any two-year-old. "Next week, were not going to see each other for four days. Ill be in Portland, and youll be with your dad."
"Well, I think I know what hed say in this situation. Buck up, Kitten." Ack... Briana realized she had said her fathers nickname for her aloud.
"Kitten?" Harlan gave her an evil grin.
Briana felt her cheeks flush. "I always liked the barn cats back home... so, he said once that I was a pretty little kitten myself, and it just kind of stuck."
Harlan laughed, not unkindly. "I cant say I really have a nickname at home. Not unless Harlan Cilla Jameson Shale! counts."
"Wild teenager, huh?" Briana smirked.
"Lets put it this way... I heard that at least once a week, and my parents didnt know the half of it."
Briana smiled into the hug, holding her father as tight as she could. Shed always reveled in his strength, product of the active life he led, since she was a child and that hadnt changed one bit as shed gotten older. There was safety here, and a comfort she couldnt imagine losing.
He released her from the hug, but kept his hands on her shoulders as he looked her over. Briana smiled under the scrutiny, knowing shed taken care of herself during her time away.
"Youre looking great... a little pale though."
"Daddy, Ive been inside most of the time," she reminded him.
"Exactly, and is that any way for my daughter to live?" Erik Larsen mock grumbled. Briana grinned and gave him another hug.
"Ive missed you so much. I worry about you here alone... itd be good for you to get out every now and again. Be with people."
His face softened a bit. "You know I see the Hendershotts, and Billy in town."
"Yes, but Im not sure thats enough." She gave him a firm look that hed always said reminded him of her mother. Briana thought of it as her secret weapon.
"Kitten, dont give me that... what I want to hear is what youve been up to." Briana gracefully accepted the change of subject, and allowed herself to be lead over to the threadbare couch. She hadnt noticed its condition before, and it disturbed her that she did now.
"I think I covered most of it in my letters... classes are going well, and Ive made some friends." She took a seat, and shifted slightly to settle in.
"You also said your roommates were an issue." He took a seat next to her, smoothing his plaid button-down shirt as he did.
"Yeah. I should have known when I moved in, but..." Briana shrugged. "Harlans been great shes offered me a place in the house she lives in if I need it."
"Sounds like shes a good friend. Id like to hear more about this young woman." But not everything...
"Perhaps the best way to sum her up would be to say that she wants to be President someday, and I cant see any reason why not."
Erik gave her a surprised look, then spoke. "An unusual goal for a young woman."
"Yes, but shed exactly what youd want. She can make deals and play a role, but has a core of... integrity, I guess, and compassion that is really her guide. I just hope shes able to keep that when things get nastier."
"I have a feeling Im going to hear more about her over the next few days."
Briana had the grace to blush. "More than likely. Shes just an amazing person. I dont think Ive ever had a friend like her before."
"Youve never had problems making friends," her father objected, mildly.
"I know..." Briana moved her hair back behind her shoulders. "Its just never really lasted. I see people from high school in town sometimes, and well say hi, but I havent kept in touch with them. This, I think, is going to last a lot longer than just our time in school together." As she said it, Briana felt a rare but usually correct sense of prophecy.
Her father seemed to catch the odd current in the atmosphere, too. "That being the case, Id like to meet Harlan. Maybe shed have some time to spend here over Christmas."
That gives me a month to tell him shes lesbian... I think preparation time would help, and Harlan wouldnt hide her sexuality from him any more than she did me! "That sounds like a great idea, Daddy. Ill ask her when I get back."
Harlan watched as people, most of them looking relieved, began to file through the double doors. They were a varied lot, from babies sleeping in snuglis on a parents chest to grandmothers. As the crowd grew, Harlan thought Im never going to find Leigh in this I just hope she thinks to look for me.
Harlan continued her search for several more minutes, and saw no sign of her sister. She considered briefly that Leigh might be having trouble with her carryon, or had hung back to avoid the press of people. The latter wouldnt make sense though. Leigh was definitely a people person as the cloying term went.
The dark haired woman felt a poke at her lower back, and whirled to face the culprit. It was Leigh, with a smirk on her face that belied the innocence of her hands-behind-the-back posture. She came up only to Harlans chest, and though she had the Shale blue eyes her hair was a couple of shades lighter than the black of her siblings. More of a melted chocolate.
"You are a brat..."
"Yep..." Leighs voice was cheery, and quite pleased with herself. Harlan just shook her head, and put an arm around her sisters shoulders.
"Nice to know that hasnt changed."
Leigh settled an arm around Harlans waist, too small to comfortably rest it on Harlans own shoulders. "Its not like you thought it would."
"Have a carry-on, or did you check everything?"
"Its all checked," Leigh replied.
"Okay... lets pick your luggage up, then get you home." Harlan smiled, and steered them toward the baggage claim.
Leigh was greeted home by their mother with a kiss pressed to each cheek, which she tolerated. Harlan had to smile... over the drive home shed noticed her sister had changed since shed left. It was subtle, but Leigh was definitely more independent.
Were all growing up, even Owen...
"Oh, its good to have you home again..." Mother said, before relinquishing her grasp on Leighs small hands.
"Im glad to be home..." Leigh replied. "Father..." She got a quick hug from him.
"All together again. Now, why dont you girls head upstairs and dress for dinner? I hated to do this, but the mayor has to be entertained sometime." Harlan had heard of the dinner plans when shed first arrived, and didnt like them. But, business was business. And, she might be able to learn something from their guest.
"Come on, Leigh..."
The two sisters, who despite their difference in height were marked as such, started up the stairs. Harlan was grateful when Leigh began to talk about nothing in particular.
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