"That will be all for today. If you have no lessons tomorrow, then continue studying on your own."
"Yes, Miss Olrog," the remaining students said in unison before starting to gather up their things. The younger children had left an hour and a half earlier, leaving only those above the age of thirteen for the last part of the school day. Rink had just gotten up when the teacher approached her.
"Oh, Rink, can I talk to you for a moment?"
"Hm? Oh, yeah, sure," Rink replied and turned to Aniara, who had been sitting next to her.
"I'll wait for you outside."
"Alright," Rink said with a nod. "What's it about?"
"I was just wondering if you have started considering an apprenticeship yet," the teacher asked Rink. "You're fifteen now, so it's about time to decide if you want to continue studying, and if so, what you want to study instead of working."
"I... don't know yet," Rink replied.
"You don't need to decide right now, but give it some thought," the teacher continued. "What you want to do."
"That was all I wanted to say."
"Alright... thanks," Rink said and went outside. The school building was a single-room affair, not containing a whole lot more than tables and benches for the students and teacher, a blackboard, and a bookshelf with a meager collection of books - some that had already been there when the parents of the current students had been the students themselves. It had slowly been added to over the years, but the selection of topics was still somewhat limited.
"So what did she want?" Aniara asked as the two of them started making their way home.
"Just asked me what I wanted to do," Rink answered. "If I was going to do an apprenticeship."
"And... have you decided yet?
"Don't you have anything you want to do?"
"Well, I mean... I don't think anything I really like to do is anything I can work as," Rink said.
"Don't you like cooking?"
"I can learn that at home. And I don't want to be an apprentice to my mom, y'know?"
"Still, it's an option."
"Hey, you're over a year older than me and you haven't even taken on an apprenticeship yet."
"Hard to be an apprentice when nobody's really doing what you're planning for," Aniara replied. "You know I want to be a librarian."
"Shouldn't you be working at the archive, then?"
"They don't really take apprentices, so I can't do much more than plan and study right now... I'm studying there most of the days we don't have school, but it doesn't really matter where I do it. So when we do have teachers I might as well study with the rest of you, so I can spend time with you, too!"
The archive, situated roughly halfway between the town and the midpoint of the island, was the main information repository on Gondol. Part museum, part document storage, and part library, but neither of the parts were big enough to stand on its own. It had historical records of the island, blueprints, trading records, old artifacts, things that most of the island's inhabitants didn't often concern themselves with. It also had a collection of books, and save for the museum pieces, anything that was stored in the archive was freely available for anyone to borrow. Like the school, the archive didn't have a huge amount of books, and had been built up in much the same way. Though, it might be more accurate to say that they were both part of the island's public book collection, as some things had moved back and forth between them, but the school only kept informative non-fiction books. Anything else that wasn't privately owned - and the average citizen of Gondol didn't really care to own any large number of books, compounded by books almost exclusively making it to the island through trading ships - was kept in the archive. It was the first place a student was sent to look if the books at the school didn't have what they were looking for, but there was no guarantee that what they were looking for existed. Aniara clearly had in mind to change this state of affairs.
"Oh, I'm not complaining... and it's barely even a library, anyway," Rink said.
"Give it time, Rin-rin," Aniara commented with a smirk. "Someone has to take the initiative to turn it into a real library."
"Alright, alright, I think you can do it," Rink said and smiled. "If anyone can, it's you."
"So, you have anything else to do today?"
"Not really, no," Rink answered. "Jack's usually coming home late, mom and dad are working..."
"Then, you want to come over for some tea and cake?"
"I don't like tea."
"I like you! I mean... I like hanging out with you."
Aniara smiled. "Let's go, then."
A short while later, the two of them were sitting in Aniara's kitchen, sharing a small cinnamon-chocolate cake and drinking lemon tea. Aniara had still not found any tea to serve Rink that she would actually like, but at the same time, Rink had yet to not actually finish any cup she was given and never protested beyond her usual reply to the suggestion, which at this point had effectively become an in-joke between them. Aniara never questioned it, either.
"Thanks for the cake," Rink said as she ate her last mouthful and put her fork down on her plate, having finished the tea already halfway through her piece of cake. She'd usually finish it early, mostly to get it over with, while Aniara preferred to slowly sip her hot drink and would usually have tea left after being done with her cake. Rink assisted Aniara in cleaning up before they headed into Aniara's room, Rink sitting down on the bed and Aniara at her desk. Several pictures Aniara had drawn were hanging on the walls, pictures of various things. Some landscapes, some houses, some portraits, including a few of Rink. Aniara would often be idly doodling while the two of them were just talking, and it had a tendency to result in a number of small portraits and caricatures of Rink, since she was the closest thing around.
Rink looked at Aniara, who was talking about her ideas for the Gondol library she wanted to turn that part of the archive into, though Rink didn't exactly listen. It wasn't that she wasn't interested, but her mind seemed to be on something else today. She sighed and leaned back, lying down across the bed.
"...need to import a lot of books, and- are you okay? Am I boring you?" Aniara asked.
"No, it's just... Anni... can I ask you something? Something not about your library?"
"You know you can talk to me about anything."
"What do you..." Rink said and sat up to face Aniara again, now having a very light blush on her face. "What do you really think about me?"
"I mean... what am I to you?"
"You're my best friend in the whole wide world, of course," Aniara said with a smile as she leaned forwards and poked Rink on the nose.
"But is that... all?"
"I don't think I'm following you."
"Well... we've been friends for years, and... you're my best friend, but I've... I keep thinking of you, all the time, and..."
"I... just wanted to..." Rink took a deep breath. "Ilouanwantobeyougirfrn," she mumbled.
"Um... come again? Slower?"
"I said, Iloveyouandwanttobeyourgirlfriend."
"You really have to speak up if-"
"I love you and want to be your girlfriend!" Rink almost screamed, her eyes closed and her face mostly red.
"Rink..." Aniara said and stood up. "How... how long have you..."
"For... for as long as I've known you, I think. And I... I don't know, I just... I don't even know if you would want to be with a girl, all I know is I want to be with you, all the time!" Rink said as some tears started to form in her eyes. "Of course I want to always be your friend, but I want to be more, and to hold you, and-" Before Rink could finish talking, Aniara interrupted her with a tight hug.
"You should have said something sooner," Aniara said, still holding Rink. Rink herself was too much in shock to say anything, but she managed to wrap her arms around Aniara as well. Aniara leaned back and wiped Rink's face with her sleeve. "Don't cry!"
"I'm... I'm not... I'm just..." Rink said, trying and failing to form a coherent sentence. "And you..."
"And me what?" Aniara giggled.
"Do you really... want to..."
"Yes, Rin-rin," Aniara said and put her face in front of Rink's, almost touching their noses together. "I want to be with you." Rink didn't have the time to reply before Aniara moved in and planted a quick kiss on her lips. "How's that for an answer?"
"Oh, Anni... I was so worried about telling you... but I had to," Rink said as she finally had regained her composure. "I love you," she continued and gave Aniara a peck on her lips in return. They looked at each other for a few moments, both of them clearly wanting more, so Aniara went for another hug and gave Rink another kiss, this time staying at her lips longer. Rink embraced Aniara in response and leaned back, pulling Aniara down over her. After some awkward shuffling to get themselves lying along the bed rather than across it without actually letting go of each other, they spent the better part of the following hour there. Rink kept repeating how worried she had been that Aniara wouldn't want to be together with her in that way, as if she still couldn't believe that they now actually were girlfriends - which she actually couldn't, since it hadn't properly sunk in yet - with Aniara reassuring her that yes, she really did want Rink to be her girlfriend. All of it punctuated by the two of them pulling each other into hugs and kisses.
And when Rink went home that day, she was already counting the days until she turned eighteen.
With a flower and a cheer
because we hold you so dear
we want to wish you, we want to wish you a happy birthday!
Now it's been another year
and so from all of us here
we want to wish you, we want to wish you a happy birthday!
"Four cheers for the birthday girl! Hooray, hooray, hooray, hooray!" four of the five girls sitting around the table exclaimed.
"Thank you," the fifth girl among them, Aniara, replied. "I'm glad you could all be here."
It was Aniara's 18th birthday, which she celebrated with a dinner with her friends. Selma, wearing a green dress with white highlights. Kari, dressed in a red buttoned shirt, a black vest, and black pants. Christina, in a light blue blouse and skirt. And, of course, Rink, wearing the bright yellow sundress that Jack had gifted her on her own 16th birthday, a dress that he had sewn himself. Aniara herself was for the day outfitted in a nearly pure white gown, with flowers in her hair. The five of them were the only ones in the house - Aniara's parents had agreed to let them be all on their own, and would spend the night at Aniara's aunt's house, in exchange for Aniara promising they wouldn't be drinking any alcohol. They had just finished the second part of their collaborative three-course meal, having consisted of a salad for a starter prepared by Christina, followed by a crayfish main course made by Aniara and Selma, and soon to wrap up the dinner would be a strawberry and cream cake provided by Rink for dessert (and Kari had brought a few bottles of elderflower juice for them to drink). But before the cake, Aniara's friends handed over their birthday gifts to her - a sun hat from Selma, a poetry book from Kari, a bracelet from Christina, and finally, a pair of earrings and a box of chocolates from Rink.
"Oh, I love them," Aniara said and gave Rink a hug. "Could you go get the cake now, Rin-rin?"
"Sure thing," Rink replied as she headed out to the kitchen to fetch the cake that she, wish assistance from her mother, had baked for today.
"You're cute together," Kari said. Aniara looked at her with a smile.
"Don't any of you girls have someone you fancy?" Aniara asked the remaining three.
"There's... some boys I wouldn't mind getting to know better," Christina replied with a smirk.
"Why don't you tell them, then?" Selma added.
"I can't just- I don't want to rush into anything."
"I haven't... had any luck," Kari said.
"Oooh, who do you have your eye on?"
"I'd... rather not say."
"That's fine. Just don't give up!"
"Hm... thanks," Kari replied as Rink returned, carefully setting the cake down on the table. It was a rectangular layered cake, with strawberry jam between layers of vanilla-flavoured sponge, covered in whipped cream and topped with fresh strawberries.
"That looks delicious," Christina said while Aniara cut the first slice for herself. The other girls followed, leaving one thick slice of cake on the serving plate after they had all had their portions.
"Anyone want that last bit?" Rink asked.
"I wouldn't mind saving it so my parents can have some cake too when they come back," Aniara answered. "It was really good."
With the food all finished, the five of them worked together to wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. They continued the night by playing cards, sharing some gossip, and Aniara sketching some portraits of her guests.
"Well, it's getting dark, so I should probably be heading home," Christina eventually stated.
"I agree," Selma said. "What about you two?"
"I think I'll... stay a little longer," Rink replied while looking at Aniara.
"Heh... I'm going home too, then," Kari said, having taken the hint. The three of them headed out together, leaving only the birthday girl and her girlfriend to wrap up the night. As soon as the door closed, the two of them embraced each other and locked lips.
"I've been waiting to do that all evening," Rink said as she pulled back.
"I know the feeling," Aniara replied with a smile. "So... how about we take this to my room, rather than make out by the front door?"
"Sounds good to me." Hand in hand, they made their way to the room where they had first become a couple. Aniara sat down on the bed, while Rink laid down, placing her head in Aniara's lap.
"I wanna do this forever."
"I'll have to get up some time."
"Fiiiiine," Rink said and raised her arm up towards Aniara's face, stroking her chin. Aniara, in response, started running her hand through Rink's hair, before grabbing Rink's hand and kissing the top of it. The two of them stayed like that for a while, stroking each other's faces, Aniara leaning down to kiss Rink's face and mouth occasionally.
"Well... that was nice," Rink said after one such kiss and started standing up.
"What happened to 'forever'?" Aniara smirked.
"Eh... I think I do need to be going home too," Rink continued, looking out the window. "Before it gets pitch black out there."
"Hold on," Aniara said and rose as well, putting a hand on Rink's shoulder. "I was wondering if maybe you'd like to... stay the night."
"Oh, um, well... I... don't have my nightie with me, and..."
"You won't need it," Aniara leaned down and whispered in reply. Rink's face started turning a variety of shades of red - the two of them had had sleepovers before, but then they had always been planned beforehand. "Remember... my parents promised me that I could have the house to myself until noon tomorrow, as long as I promised there'd be no alcohol and no boys here."
"But... they knew that I'd be here... and about us... right?"
"They know," Aniara replied with a small nod and a wink. "So... what do you say?"
Rink replied by turning around and wrapping her arms around Aniara tightly, burying her face into Aniara's chest.
"I'll take that as a yes."
"Yes!" Rink confirmed before pulling back and giving Aniara another kiss and letting go of her. Aniara moved back to the bed, this time climbing up into it and sitting herself in the middle, with her back towards the foot end.
"Come here, then," she said with a wink towards Rink. Rink did as suggested, sitting down herself in front of Aniara, facing her. She swallowed nervously as Aniara leaned forwards and started planting kisses on her face, moving downwards towards her neck. As Aniara started tugging at Rink's dress, slipping the shoulder straps off to the sides, Rink snapped back slightly, crossing her arms over her chest. "Rin-rin?"
"Did I... do too much...?"
"I, just... I'm..." Rink managed to express as she closed her eyes and turned her head away, red-faced. Aniara put a hand on her head.
"It's... it's fine if you don't want to, if you want to take it slower... just... let me know if I should..."
"No, no, I really... I really want to do this with you," Rink said and looked into Aniara's eyes. "It's just... I've never done this before."
"Don't worry, because neither have I!" Aniara replied with a giggle.
"Oh, I... thought you knew more than me about these things..."
"You're my first girlfriend, silly."
"That's... that's true, I guess..."
"We'll figure this out together," Aniara whispered and gave Rink a quick peck on the cheek before getting back to taking Rink's dress off. Rink took a deep breath and smiled as she raised her arms, letting Aniara continue unhindered this time. She dropped Rink's dress on the floor, moved her head down towards Rink's chest... and blew a raspberry on it.
"Hey!" Rink exclaimed and leaned backwards. "That tickles!"
"Sorry, sorry, I couldn't resist," Aniara laughed before kissing the same spot, moving her hands to Rink's back to unfasten her bra. It joined the dress on the floor.
"Shouldn't... shouldn't you..."
"I shouldn't be the only one undressed," Rink said.
"You're right," Aniara replied and held her arms out. "Feel free."
"Al... alright," Rink said and started working on getting Aniara's clothes off as well. Her gown was intricate enough that Aniara had to pitch in herself to get it off, but eventually it too was reduced to a pile on the floor. It wasn't much longer until the pile contained all the garments they had been wearing when they sat down in the bed, so the two of them were now facing each other in nothing but their birthday suits.
"Alright, now we... continue," Aniara said and ran her hand down Rink's arm.
"Y... yeah," Rink said and looked her partner up and down. "We'll... we'll... how do we..."
"Well, we... did learn about these things in school. How it works when..."
"Only when it's a boy and a girl! And I... I don't have a... a... you know!"
"We'll just have to... improvise. Figure out each other."
"Well, I... guess I can, um... use my fingers, like when... I've... beenwithmyself," Rink said and blushed.
"Were you... thinking of me, when you...?"
"...yes," Rink said with an even heavier blush.
"Hey, it's nothing to be embarrassed about!" Aniara said with a laugh and hugged Rink. "If I didn't want you to think of me like that... I wouldn't be naked in a bed with you right now."
"Y... yeah. Alright. Let's do this," Rink replied and put her hands on Aniara, hoping that whatever she did, it would make Aniara feel good.
So they slowly explored what they could give each other, having no other instructions than what felt right to them. They allowed one another full access to their bodies, figuring this whole thing out one small bit at a time. After tiring themselves and each other out through a variety of approaches under Aniara's bed covers, they fell asleep in each other's arms.