Doubt (a vignette)

Jnelle's Weyr
A cottage within the meadow.

A pair of footprints leave a trail of a boy and girl. Not that one could easily tell that the prints belong to a female and male, as inches of snow distorts things like size and shows nothing of the styling. But as it is, this particular set of prints do belong to a boy and girl, and they are set close to one another as the girl has nestled herself against the boy the entire way from ridge to a cottage weyr set off at a distance within the meadow. One lone naked tree grows nearby, its boughs white with snow. The footprints disappear at the threshold, and within, two weyrlings are found.

“I’m sorry..” Jnelle has been seated upon a lush loveseat and is removing the boot from her injured foot slowly. “I’m so accident prone! It’s a wonder I haven’t broken a leg yet.”

Ka'el hears her, he really does, but his eyes are set upon his surroundings. The cottage, from the outside, looks like any other. Made of wood. With windows. A chimney. Nothing extraordinarily spectacular about it. But within? He can’t wrap his mind around the … luxury. This couldn’t’ve been an abandoned weyr. The dark wood floors gleam with polish, and he’s pretty sure he could see his reflection if he bent down far enough. Smack dab in the middle is a fireplace that separates the living area from dining. Made of slabs of greyed stone, a low fire smolders within. Before it, some feet away, is a carpet that looks more new than used, and around that are seats for company to assemble before the warmth of the flames. A wicker chair with a pillow and cushion, and two matching butterfly seats of the same color and soft material. The loveseat that she sits on rides against a wall away from the group area, and the end table that usually is beneath it has been moved to the front so that she can prop up her leg.

Against another wall a bookshelf has been made right out of the wood itself. Upon it are books. At least a hundred of them, probably more. A large window is adjacent to that, curtained to let in light or block it out, depending. The reading area has a long, cushioned wooden bench, perfect for lounging with a good book.

On the other side of the fireplace and elevated by one step is the kitchen and dining area. The cottage has been gifted with an electric stove. The flooring is the same color wood, but cabinets are a lighter hue, while countertops of polished stone are dark. To offset the darkness though, flowers and glass knick knacks are found on the countertops and upon the small kitchen island in the center. The dining room table looks as new as everything else. Long and rectangular, it holds not a scratch of nick on the surface. Four chairs are set around it, all matching, two on one side and one on each end. The last side has a bench instead of chairs, though the stain of the wood matches that of the chairs. This is a girl who likes to surround herself with others.

Electric lights provide lighting at night, and a master bedroom branches off from the living area, as does a smaller guest bedroom on the opposite side.

“This looks..brand new,” Ka’el says, deaf to her concerns about being a bother as he meanders to the bookshelf, eyeing the spines

She watches him, and for a split second, modesty touches her expression. A split second, mind you. “I don’t think it is, but it definitely isn’t old. My father wouldn’t have me living in conditions like .. ugh, Mur’dah’s.” She gives a visible shudder as she pulls her boot off, wincing and making a small noise of discomfort. “Ow..”

It’s enough to turn Ka’el’s attention from admiring the contemporary paintings that have been hung back to her, and he approaches with furrowed brows. “Here, lift your leg up,” he instructs, patting his hand on the end table’s surface, and she complies by gingerly resting her socked foot there.

“This is embarrassing..” she groans, covering her face.

Ka’el smirks and shrugs. “Not really. It’s my fault anyway. If I would’ve just left well enough alone and did my duties…” He pulls off his gloves, setting them on the floor before lifting a hand to touch at her ankle, watching her face for reaction. It’s only slight, the wince that she gives. “If you left well enough alone,” she interjects, “then things would hardly be as fun.”

“Safer maybe,” he insists, giving her ankle a gentle squeeze.

“But still…*ah! wince* .. less fun.” Jnelle pulls her lip between her teeth and holds it there, sculpted brows furrowing. “It hurts a little,” she confesses. “But…will you do that a while?” she asks, looking mighty embarrassed to be asking. Her eyes lower at the questioning look that is given in reply to her request, and with her bottom lip still gnawed, she lifts a hand to gesture to her ankle and his hand upon it. “It felt better when you rubbed it a little.”

Ankle massage? Er, sure. He can do that. It is, after all, his fault, and if Jnelle goes to class with a limp V’dim will be asking questions. And some way somehow, that old man can see through every lie that these wyerlings can come up with. Not that they’ve tried overly many on him. “Yeah sure,” he replies easily. “Just .. y’know. Let me know if it hurts. Can pack snow on it or something.” A masseur Ka’el is not, but his fingers find and press against the bone of her ankle easily enough, moving in circles, forward and back.

“So, your da got you this weyr?” he asks, still curious.

Jnelle is slow to answer, having relaxed back and fixating at the feel of fingers that massage a not so badly injured ankle. That smile is back on her face. Muted. Tiny. Yet that same smug smile she had upon abandoning Idrissa, Mur’dah, and the rest for this. “Hm?” An owlish blink. “Oh! Mm, yes and no. I got my weyr the same time as everyone else, but .. well, it wasn’t very … It wasn’t up to my standards, and so I sent message to my father asking for assistance. It’s why I took so long for me to finally move in. He sent things over, and his people fixed some things up for me and moved in the furniture, and here I am. There are a few things I’d like to change and add but .. ah, I have time. And it isn’t like I’m going to stay here for long.”

At her last, Ka’el lifts a brow. “You’re not? Are you leaving after graduation?”

She nods. “Yes. I don’t have a purpose here. Lovely as Xanadu is, it really isn’t … my style. And .. It’s not as if I have much choice,” added in a near begrudging tone, but before Ka’el can question, which he was getting ready to, she waves it all off with a flick of a wrist. “But nevermind. Come on. I feel awful with you down there rubbing my foot like some sort of servant!” Grinning now, she pats at the seat next to her. “I’ll be fine, I think. Just want to rest it a little. Will you stay with me?”

What’s the harm, really? Plus, it’s wonderfully warm in here, that’s to that smoldering fire that’s radiated heat since whenever it was that she lit it. “Well if I’m not gonna spend this time slidin’ the ridge, I might as well spend it defrosting from it.” He grins, hands slipping from her as he stands up to first stretch before moving around to plop down on the available cushion. “Shards … even your couch is nice,” he notes as he rubs his hand down the fabric of the arm. Apparently, Mur’dah isn’t the only rich one of the weyrling bunch.

A giggle lifts, girlish and amused at her guest’s antics. “I hardly think you live in a shack, do you Ka’el? You’ll have to show me your weyr sometime so I can compare.”

“Right, and laugh in my face when y’see my lack’ve … everything? It’ll be a shack in comparison. Please, have a gander. You’ll sit on a chair made of pins and needles. The floor is dirt, and meet my roommates, the trundlebugs of Xanadu,” he quips, grinning as he’s playfully bapped on the arm in response.

“You’re funny,” giggles Jnelle, hazel eyes sparkling. “And adorable.” Her giggling subsides now, downplaying to a smile, and even that begins to lessen until the look on her fair face is something closer to marveled incomprehension. “Ka’el? Tell me something..”

Poor Ka’el is still baffled at that ‘adorable’ bit. Adorable? It isn’t the rugged manly term an eighteen year old male hopes to hear from a seventeen turn old female, or anyone for that matter. Adorable? Like a bunny? Like a baby feline? Like .. He becomes quickly aware that he has a pair of eye-shadowed eyed staring at him, and he blinks himself back to the present, brows lifting. “Yeah .. what’s up?” he asks, curiosity in his tone.

“Why do you stay with her?” Her eyes are doeish, appearing wider with just enough eyeliner along the rim to accomplish the look.

Outside, the sound of the beginnings of sleet tick against the wood of the exterior, making a sharper sound against the glass panels of windows. Ka’el’s eyes tighten at the question, watching her with a look of question in his gaze. The confusion is not of who she means. That goes without saying, at least for him. It’s the why that’s baffling him. Why ask this? “She’s my girlfriend.” His answer is simple and honest.

“Is she really though?” Her eyebrows lift now as a meaningful look is given to him. He, her prey, who she tries to corner. “I know I’ve only known you since candidacy, Ka’el, but even so it’s been long enough for me to see what I think you don’t want to see. You’re such a good guy,” says with a feeble, near shy grin, “I just hate it that…gosh, I hate to say it, but you care about her a lot more than she does you.”

Ka’el’s eyes remain riveted on her, but there’s a furrowing of his brow that wasn’t there before. A downward tug of his lips. “That’s not true. There’s a lot you don’t know about her. Or me.” His tone isn’t angry, but it is defensive, and his posture hints at that same feeling, stiffing more now than he was before. Stance rigid.

Jnelle nods her assent, not arguing that. “I know, Ka’el. I know,” she purrs, attempting to soothe the bristled fur. “But, you know, you aren’t always around. And.. if I was her and I was dating you, there’s no sharding way I’d ever be alright with you being with someone else other than me. She’s weyr grown, isn’t she? With a gold rider for a mother, she’s probably … ah, unused to committing to anyone. She seems ok now, but do you think someone like her is really going to be satisfied with just .. one boyfriend? Especially after being so willing to rent you out to someone else?”

It’s such old news. An old argument, but Jnelle wouldn’tk now about that, would she? Ka’el’s frown falters a little, his mind speeding back in time to less happy moment. An argument. A breakup. His own assumptions. A .. misunderstanding? Or was it really something else. There’s a shift in Jnelle’s expression too as she sees a change in his. An imperceptible look of accomplishment.

“You’re different though,” she goes on, voice softening further. “You broke up with Idrissa because your values are different. Do you think she would’ve done the same for you? I … don’t.” Brows press. “Please, don’t be mad. I don’t mean to be hurtful, but you really are a good guy, Ka’el, and I don’t wish to see you hurt by her.”

His wits return to him now, and a brisk shake of his head seems all that’s necessary to have words return to him. “What makes y’think I’ll be hurt?” he asks, voice a little rougher than intended, causing Jnelle to shrink back a little. He’s instantly sorry.

“Because I’ve seen the way she looks at … others.” Vague. Why insert a name when the jealous mind can conjure up so many on its own? “I’ve .. seen the way others look at her.” Truth, or a lie? With Jnelle, it’s impossible to say, though the look that she gives him seems genuinely anguished, as if she’d rather keep these words to herself than spill them to him. “I’ve seen who she chooses to be with when you’re not around. I know how things work in a weyr. It isn’t you. It never really is anyone when it comes to pointing blame. Time just .. runs up. Weyrfolk aren’t meant to be with one person. It’s why they don’t marry. It’s easier to be weyrmates and break up when they get bored with one another with no paperwork or official things involved.”

It’s not making sense to Ka’el. None of it. But on the other side of that coin, it is. But they’ve gotten past all this, haven’t they? He and Soriana, together. They’re beyond this already and moved on to a stronger place… or is it that it’s only been swept beneath the rug to be disregarded and forgotten until it comes up again? There was doubt before, and it was cast away, only to be replanted now by the delicate hand of one he calls a friend.

And that’s all she needs. Doubt. Everything else will tumble on its own. Jnelle’s just the gentle wind that nudges the first domino over and the others will cascade soon enough. She’s sure of it.

“She isn’t like any’ve that. She’s different.” Ka’el knows she is. She must be. All that Jnelle said may apply to others, everyone else possibly, but not Soriana. There’s been nothing .. right? Nothing to make him think otherwise. … Or was there? The haze in the forest. The thick smell of burning mushrooms. There was something … maybe. Or was that all in his mind? Closeness. Touching. Purred words. Or was that, slurred words? But not to him. Not with him. Where there things before?

“I’m sorry.” Jnelle sounds disheartened, and her foot is slowly pulled from the table top and set back onto the polished floor. Her hand reaches for his, manicured fingers curling over his larger ones to hold while her other lifts to touch fingertips to his jaw, gently applying pressure to turn his face towards her. He does so, blue eyes seeking hazel though his hand remains still. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe all that I’ve said will turn out to be useless crap to you and all that you hope for comes true.” A smile, and her hand moves a little, fingers daring to trace at the ridge of his ear, caressing the dark strands of hair that curl about it.

An unexpected shudder.

Murmured, “But if I’m right, then just know that I’m here for you. Good guys like you deserve more.”

A kiss to the cheek follows, and her hand is drawn away from his face as she pulls back, rising to stand, injured foot and all. But at least she does appear to be favoring it a bit. “A wrap should work for this,” she says, tone back to normal as she gestures to her bootless foot. “I’ve some in my room. I’ll be back, and then we should probably go, huh? Even I can’t talk my way out of being gone from duty for hours!” Her usual coy grin is back in full force now, and she departs to her bedroom to tend to her ankle, leaving behind the slight scent of beach berry.

.. What was that? That static shock in his chest? Unanticipated, unwanted, yet felt? Such things are not meant for her. They shouldn’t arise because of her. But this was just a blip. A minuscule comparison to the real thing. Forgettable. Unimportant. An automatic response of a boy to a flirtatious girl. He exhales a breath. Get it together.

He slumps against the cushioned back, eyes peering up at the beams and rafters above, gravitating towards a skylight covered by snow and ice as he awaits the return of Jnelle, her words still bouncing around in his head. The tiny seed of doubt has been planted, but only the future knows if it will take root.

This is what he gets for playing hooky.

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