Chapter 040: Girl talk

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"She?" Mirise asked.
"Someone you don't want to meet again?" Markus added.
"Someone I want to see more than anything... but that would be the worst idea," Rink replied.
"An old friend?" Allen asked.
"She was my best friend... and..." Rink sighed and looked down at the table.
"Your girlfriend," Muse stated.
"My first girlfriend. My first love, too... the love of my life, and all that stuff," Rink said.
"I know what that's like," Muse replied with a sigh of her own. "And what it's like to..."
"Wait, girlfriend? Love?" James asked Rink with a puzzled expression on his face. "You were in love with a girl?"
"What about it? I mean, you know I'm gay..."
"Uh... I didn't know that, no," James said. "Not before now."
"Wait, really? I guess I might not have actually said it, but... the rest of you knew, right?" Rink asked and looked around. Everyone, except for Muse and Allen, shook their heads or otherwise indicated they had no idea. "Oh, seriously? It's not like I've been hiding it!"
"The rest of you really couldn't tell?" Muse asked. "So I understand Charon, since he's only been with us for a day, and James because he's an idiot-"
"-but I don't know if I'm more surprised over you knowing..." Muse said and pointed to Allen.
"It was pretty obvious, really," Allen said and rolled his eyes.
"...or you not knowing," Muse continued, this time pointing at Mirise, "with how she's been flirting with you!"
"I... thought she was just being nice," Mirise said.
"And James, I mean..." Rink started, "I know you heard me sing a couple love songs that were obviously directed at women while you stayed at the hotel. All love songs I sing are with women in mind."
"I... guess I listened more to the songs than the words... and didn't think too much about you singing to someone." James looked down for a moment, then back at Rink. "And all your fans knew?"
"I guess that would explain why nobody cared when you called me backstage..."
"So maybe I shouldn't have assumed that you all knew, I'm just used to everyone I know actually knowing... at least some of you figured it out," Rink said and looked at Muse and Allen.
"So what happen-" James started, but was interrupted by Muse throwing a spoon at him and shaking her head while staring at him. "Ow! I mean... you don't want to go to Gondol because your ex is there?"
"It's... a bit more complicated than that," Rink replied. "She's the entire reason I left in the first place... but I never got over her. Even if I've had some kinds of relationships afterwards... I never, for a second, stopped being in love with her." Rink closed her eye and blushed slightly.
"You can stay on the ship, if you don't want to risk running into her," Markus noted.
Rink put a hand over her face and looked up at the ceiling, deep enough in thought that she didn't even hear - or chose not to hear - James whispering to Markus "no she can't, we need to get the boat out of the water for the repairs." She was quiet for a while.
"Maybe... maybe it's time I actually faced this. The Seabass landed there once... but I stayed on the ship that time, made sure nobody knew I was there, and we were only there for a few hours..."
"Seabass?" Mirise asked.
"Oh, that was the ship I used to travel with. But if I have no choice now... it's been so long. I don't really believe in fate, but I should've known I couldn't hide forever..." Rink trailed off as a slightly uncomfortable silence filled the cabin. She eventually resumed drinking her coffee, and the others slowly went back to their breakfasts as well. It was James who eventually spoke up.
"So, apart from... that... what's Gondol like?"
"It's large in space but small in spirit," Rink replied. "Agricultural society. Lots of open space, so there's a lot of fields for growing crops... my dad was a farmer. Population isn't huge, so everyone knows everyone to some degree."
"Would you have been a farmer too, if you had stayed?" Markus asked. "I mean, were you expected to take over?"
"Not necessarily," Rink replied. "I did help out at home, but if anything, my brother would have been the one expected to take over. There were women among the farmers too, of course... but in general, girls were usually expected to take on other roles while the men did the heavy farming work. I don't know what I would have been if I had stayed... stayed with..." Rink trailed off and fell silent. She stood up, picked up her coffee cup and left the cabin without another word. Muse cast a couple of critical glances at the others around the table and seemed like she was about to say something, but stopped herself and just shook her head instead.

"Should we... do something?" James asked after a few awkward moments of silence. "Talk to her?"
"No... you shouldn't," Muse said, dismissively. "None of you should."
"And you have any better ideas?"
"Yes," Muse continued and walked towards the door. "Someone who understands should talk to her." Without looking at the others, she left the cabin, closing the door behind her.
"She knows what emotions are?" James asked.
"Not the time, James..."


"They mean well," Rink said as soon as Muse had closed the door. "They're just... not great at it."
"They wouldn't know tact if it hit them in the face," Muse replied.
"It's understandable, honestly... James is naturally curious, and I'm not surprised anyone would be interested after learning I'm from where we're going next."
"You don't have to make excuses for them."
Rather than reply, Rink just chuckled and finished her coffee. "You'll learn," she eventually said.
"I'll learn what?"
"I don't- anyway... I was just wondering, um... are you alright?"
"I'm fine."
"I just thought... maybe you were reminded of some things you didn't want."
"It might be painful to think of her, but..."
"But what?"
"Not a day goes by that I don't. Forgetting my past, forgetting her... that's the last thing I want. I keep singing love songs to her, songs I know she'll never hear... just as a way to always keep her in my thoughts."
"Oh... I see," Muse said and briefly touched her left ear.
"There's a lot of little things, things we used to do together... I keep doing them, even if they don't mean anything anymore, just because... I like to imagine she's there, doing them with me..."
"You don't have to explain. I... think I understand, even if I..."
"Don't worry about it... and probably don't say too much about what I just told you to the others. I'd rather tell them myself when... well, when it's necessary."
"And Muse..." Rink said, putting her hands, one still holding an empty cup, on Muse's shoulders.
"Thanks for caring about me," Rink said and pulled Muse into a hug. "You try to stay so distant, but... you've proven that you know how to be a real friend. Never underestimate how much that's worth."
Muse backed off slightly, making Rink let go of her. She crossed her arms and looked to the side. "I just... I couldn't just... after what they said, and you..."
"You care," Rink replied with a smile. "You really do care, no matter what you want us to think."
"That was... not what I... anyway, this isn't about me!"
"You bothered with me enough to actually figure out I like women. Even if I've never considered that to be one of my secret personality traits... but I guess you if anyone would know about those."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, you seem to be keeping your entire personality a secret," Rink stated. "But I know there's more to you."
"Don't... look too hard."
"Oh, I'm not going to try to force anything. You do you at your own pace... we all have stuff to deal with and we all have different ways of dealing with it, and people need to respect that," Rink said and pointed at Muse's face. "But I know you've got a genuine smile in there. I've seen flashes of it. You'll get it back for real some day."
"You have too high hopes for me."
"Nonsense," Rink replied. "I mean, someone has to believe in you if you're not going to do it yourself."
"I... believe in myself, I just..."
"But like I said, it's up to you figure your own life out. Just remember that there's no shame in asking for help with that... even if you just need to vent, I'm here for you. We're here for you. That's what friends are for."
"I'll keep it in mind..."
"Anyway. Thanks for coming to talk to me, but I think it's time to head back in."

Inside the cabin, the others - save for Charon, who did not appear interested in the subject at all - were making small talk around the not yet cleared breakfast table. Even if Rink hadn't heard what they said just before she entered, the topic of conversation was obvious from how abruptly they fell silent the moment the door opened. Neither Rink nor Muse said anything as they entered, opting to simply sit down and resume eating their breakfast. Some attempts to say something were made by some of the others, but they kept changing their minds and going quiet again before uttering even a full word. Rink slowly finished her bowl of porridge, and as she laid her spoon to rest, sighed.
"Alright, just to get rid of the most awkward silence I've heard in years... yes, I'm fine; yes, I'll tell you more about Gondol; it was wrong of me to just assume you all knew that I'm gay; and yes, I have been flirting with Mirise." She turned to the just-mentioned girl. "But I would never do anything inappropriate to you... unless, of course, you wanted to," Rink said with a grin and a wink - which, due to her only having one eye, was indistinguishable from a blink.
"I know you wouldn't," Mirise replied. "All you've done is compliment me... I don't think I can complain about that too much."
"If you think it'd make you uncomfortable now, I'll stop... or try to, at least." Rink chuckled a little.
"Can I just... ask one question about that?" James said.
"Since Mirise obviously hasn't responded to it, or even knew you were doing it..."
"...why have you continued?"
"Like a girl not reciprocating has ever stopped me from flirting with them before," Rink replied and chuckled. "Honestly, it's force of habit at this point... I see a girl I think is cute, the chance I'll flirt with them without thinking too hard about it myself is pretty big... and you're one of Avasine's cutest girls," Rink continued and turned to Mirise with a smile. "You know, my old captain used to do that."
"What?" James said.
"Casually flirt with a lot of girls. I think I picked it up from him."
"So did it work for him?" Allen asked.
"Oh, not at all, he was terrible at it. He got rejected so much it was a running joke on the ship. Though some of the girls really did like him, one in particular... he ended up marrying her, so I guess it worked out in the end anyway."
"Is that what you're counting on?"
"Probably not, I just... it's worked sometimes, but it's just one of those little things I enjoy doing," Rink said and shrugged. "But I think we've been having breakfast long enough, let's clear this out, and... then I guess I'll tell you about Gondol. Just... don't ask too many questions about... her."
"Is one question alright?" Mirise asked.
"Probably," Rink replied as she stood up.
"...what is her name?"
Rink sighed and looked out of the window before turning back to face Mirise.
"You don't have to answer, if..."
"It's fine."
"The name I always carry with me, everywhere I go..." Rink said, closed her eye and put a hand over her heart. "Aniara."

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