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The Imaginary Girlfriend

Writers: Estelle
Date Posted: 2nd April 2018

Characters: R'fal, O'len, Lydela
Description: R'fal finds a way to conceal the fact that he's attending extra classes
Location: Dolphin Cove Weyr
Date: month 4, day 3 of Turn 9


After another long and exhausting day of drills, classes and endless
tossing of firestone sacks, R'fal wanted nothing more than to collapse
onto his bed and close his eyes. Instead, after a quick wash and change
of clothes, he had to return to the classroom for his extra lesson. He
still wasn't quite sure what to think about it. Since he was on his own
instead of being one of a large class, he couldn't keep quiet if he
wasn't sure of an answer, and he felt slow and stupid, embarrassed by
his mistakes no matter how patient the harpers were. But once or twice,
when understanding dawned and something which had at first seemed
utterly confusing suddenly made sense...it was a good feeling. Like
scoring a goal in a game with his friends, or making the perfect throw
in the firestone drills.

Maybe if he carried on improving, he'd write a letter to his mother and
she wouldn't be embarrassed to show it to the others back home. He could
tell them all about Marlath, and his training, and how the strange ways
of the Weyr were slowly becoming familiar, as if he'd never lived
anywhere else...

"Hey, R'fal!"

Another boy ran over to join him, and he recognised O'len, a greenrider
about his age who he'd got to know well over the last few sevendays.
They were both of a similar height and build and often partnered in
exercises.

"Where are you off to? We were going to get a card game together, but
you never seem to be around any more."

R'fal winced, racking his brains for an excuse to avoid telling O'len
his real destination. He'd already used trips to the Infirmary for
various minor ailments, errands for the weyrlingstaff and the need for a
new pair of boots to avoid revealing that he had to go to extra lessons
with the harpers, and he could tell his friends were starting to grow
suspicious. What other reasons could there be for a weyrling to be
absent from the barracks in his spare time? Before long they would start
to think he was up to no good, and...

Then inspiration struck, and he had to catch himself before grinning in
delight. He had the perfect idea - and best of all, it could be used
over and over again.

"I..." He assumed a suitably worried expression, glancing around to
check if anyone else was within earshot. "Promise you won't tell."

"Tell what?" The other boy's eyes lit up at the prospect of a secret. "I
promise! On Niannath's shell, I won't tell a soul."

R'fal took O'len's arm and steered him away from the barracks to a
quieter spot where they wouldn't be overheard. He lowered his voice to a
confidential murmur. "I'm going to meet someone."

"Who?"

He scuffed a shoe in the dust, letting the anticipation build.

"A girl."

"A girl? Really?" O'len blinked. "Are you sure that's...I mean, you know
the rules..."

"We don't do anything we shouldn't, I swear! I'd never risk hurting
Marlath. We just sit together and talk, and sometimes we hold hands."
R'fal was getting well into the character of the bashful holder boy now.
He could even feel his cheeks growing hot.

"But if that's all you do, then why is it a secret?"

"Um...she has this older brother, and he's a bit overprotective," he
improvised. "She's not sure he'd like us meeting so often. I think he
wants her to - to concentrate on her studies rather than hanging around
with boys. Besides, if it got out, someone might tell the
Weyrlingmaster, and even if we are just talking, I really don't want to
have to explain to him! Can you imagine? It would be the most
embarrassing conversation ever."

O'len giggled. "R'fal, you are _so_ holdbred. It's not that embarrassing."

"Yes, it is!" R'fal watched his friend's reaction with an inward
satisfaction that didn't reach his face. "Please? Don't tell. You promised."

"I won't...but you have to tell me all about her! What's she like? Is
she pretty?"

"She's impossibly beautiful," the brown weyrling sighed, and launched
into a vivid description of Holder Lewin's daughter from back home with
all the passion and helpless longing of a besotted teenager whose
beloved was - for the moment - out of reach.

"Wow," O'len said when he finally ran out of words. He couldn't recall
ever seeing anyone like that around the Weyr, but perhaps his friend was
exaggerating a little. "And you said she's studying? Is she a crafter?"

R'fal's mind went blank. What should he say? If he mentioned a craft,
would O'len realise that there were no apprentices of that description
in the Weyr? He needed time to think.

"Look, I'm sorry - I've really got to go. I'm going to be late."

"Oh! Mustn't keep her waiting." O'len winked. "And don't worry about the
Weyrlingmaster. My lips are sealed."

"Thanks!" R'fal waved a cheerful goodbye and set off at a jog, realising
that he'd have to hurry or he really _was_ going to be late. If he could
just keep the pretence going long enough, he'd be done with the classes
and no-one would ever have to know that he was any less intelligent than
the others.

What could possibly go wrong?

***

"O'len!" Lydela grabbed her fellow green weyrling's arm as he passed, on
his way to return his breakfast tray to the kitchens. "Don't think you
can sneak away without giving me all the news. I saw you yesterday
evening, huddled together with that sweet little holdbred brownrider.
Whatever were you talking about?"

"Oh!" O'len heaved a long-suffering sigh and sat down beside her. "Girls."

"Girls? You looked far too intrigued for it to be girls," she teased.

"Well, it was." He rolled his eyes. "If you ever feel like being bored
to death, ask him about his girlfriend."

"R'fal has a girlfriend?" Her eyes lit up. Gossip! "That was quick. How
long has he been here again?"

"Long enough, apparently. You should have heard him talking about her.
It was pathetic. Blah, blah, soft dark eyes, blah, blah, luscious red
lips..." He faked a yawn, which abruptly turned into a gasp as he
clapped a hand over his mouth. "Shards and shells. I wasn't supposed to
tell anyone! He's going to kill me."

"Now you've done it," Lydela said smugly. "Don't worry. I won't say who
told me about it when I tell the others."

"You mustn't!" O'len wailed. "He made me promise! And we were getting on
so well..."

"Well...if you're _really_ nice to me, maybe I'll keep quiet. But you
have to tell me the whole story. Who is she?"

"He didn't say. It's all very mysterious. They talk and hold hands.
Honestly, it was all I could do to stay awake while he was going on
about her."

Lydela giggled. "Liar."

"What do you mean?"

"You can't fool me. You love gossip even more than I do. I wonder who
she is..." Usually it might not have been that interesting, but their
training was so relentlessly exhausting that there was hardly any time
for gossip-worthy activities. "Let's find out! Next time R'fal sneaks
away on his own in the evening, we'll follow him. It'll be easy; we know
the Weyr much better than he does."

"I don't know," O'len said doubtfully. "It's none of our business."

"You're no fun." She pouted. "Besides, what if he is doing something he
shouldn't? He's our classmate. It's practically our duty to find out
what's going on and keep him from getting into trouble. Come on, O'len..."

"Oh, all right. But you have to promise not to tell anyone else. And if
he catches us, I'm blaming you."

"Fair enough." Lydela grinned. "We'd better get going. See you at the
barracks later. I can't wait to find out what that holder boy is up to..."

Last updated on the April 10th 2018


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