Disclaimer: I don't own Harvest Moon, Karen, or any related characters or events; to the best of my knowledge, they're all owned by Natsume. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events is purely coincidental, but you knew that. This story is based primarily on the plot of Harvest Moon 64.

Wine Red no Kokoro

by flame mage

Prologue: This is My Story


It isn't blood that flows through my body, it's red wine. The feel of the cool, sweet wine running down my throat and the release, the escape from life into the oblivion of drunkenness where I could forget...that's what kept me alive. Wine's the reason I'm still here to tell the story, too.
I could point to a lot of people that helped. The best friend, the parents, the man. But the person who shaped the events that I'm going to tell you about most for me was probably my grandmother. My blood was once hers.

Her name was Eve, and her father started this vineyard three generations before me. Somehow--I only asked once and then never tried again, because talking about it upset my father--her parents died, and so she was raised by her grandfather.
But my great-great grandfather was a mountain man, and Grandma had to fend for herself a lot. Like me, she worked at the bar to make ends meet. When her parents died, though, the vineyard was abandoned. The mayor told her she had thirty days to find someone to take it over, or they would have to tear it down. This was in the days when the village was really struggling, and if the vineyard couldn't be any use to them, it would have to be replaced by something that could.
My father used to like to tell the story she always told him about it: how she went up to the vineyard alone one night that fall. She was walking around, looking out at the last few grapevines dying in the darkness, and she thought about her father's dream of having a wonderful vineyard and started to cry. Grandma was never a religious person--a family like ours that built its roots out of grapevines never could be--but she fell to her knees at the foot of the huge old Spirit Tree and started to pray.
No one--least of all Grandma--knew how long she stayed there, wishing with all her heart that there was something she could do, but suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a great silver light descend on the grapevines. She started running, but when she came closer, saw that the light was really thousands of tiny fairies. As she watched, she realized that the fairies were kissing the withered, dying grapes, and those grapes were growing fat and round and rich purple.
There's a legend around here of the Kifu fairies, the spirits of the grapevines, and from that time it's been passed down in our family: pray to the Kifu fairies, and they will watch over you.
It was then that she realized that she was the one who had to save the vineyard.

And Grandma raised that vineyard out of the dust and into the sky. Those few lonely grapevines expanded into a vast crop, long row after row stretching into the distance. With her hard work and the blessing of the Kifu fairies, the grapes grew until they were the richest, best grapes anywhere.
She loved creating new kinds of wine, and she'd use anything she could find--not just the grapes from the vines, but wild grapes, and berries, and even flower petals or herbs. And they were great wines. Ask a wine expert about Starlight Rain, or Dying Ember, or one of my favorites, Scarlet Sonata--and their eyes will still light up as they talk about the flavor. But the wine that made her famous was the Door to Heaven.
We all call it Heaven's Gate, and it is the best wine in the world.
I realize that makes it sound like I'm just saying it to plug the vineyard. I'm not. It was on all the best-wine lists for years. And each year, we shipped a very small amount out--at astronomical prices--and let the rest of the buyers come to us, begging for just one bottle. It made the vineyard famous, it made the bar famous, it made the village famous.
It was like magic!

Eventually Grandma got married and had my father. She stopped working at the bar then, and she focused all her energy on the vineyard. She had the skills and the energy to do it, and she never forgot to pray for the Kifu fairies to come and bless the grapes.
She kept creating more wines, but the Door to Heaven got better and better every year, inching up the wine lists until that incredible decade when it was the best wine for all ten years--the only wine ever to remain that long.
But as Grandma's husband died and her son grew up and her beautiful blonde hair began to fade to gray, the wine gradually slipped down to number two, and there it stayed. There was no question--my grandmother was dying.

I was born then, in the dead of winter, a time when the drops of wine froze like blood in the snow and the grapes were gone once again. My mother and my grandmother were lying in separate rooms, each moaning and crying out--my mother with the pain of life, my grandmother with the pain of death.
I finally made my way into the world on the stroke of midnight on the 29th of Winter, my mother sobbing with exhaustion and joy. And then my grandmother came in.
I have no memory of her face. Sometimes I think I can almost feel her arms around me, see the long hair falling down her shoulders, hear her voice singing to me. I know this has to be an image I've come up with based on what my parents have told me, but it doesn't feel like it. I've heard the story a thousand times, and it's always a little different, but the one thing that always remains the same: the last words she said to me.
"Save it when I'm gone. You are the chosen one. You are my legacy in this life."
Then she set me down, carefully, in my mother's arms, pressed a tiny jar of seashells into my hand, and left the room. In the morning she was dead.

I don't remember exactly when it started. For a few years after I was born, everything was all right. Even without Grandma there to walk the grapevines, we still had enough of her wine to last. The wine that had been made since her death was still being aged.
When the first of that wine hit the sommeliers...
It took less than a year for the Door to Heaven to plunge from the top of the best lists to the top of the worst. We lost all the fame and glory that Grandma had worked so hard for. The grapevines were the same, but the grapes were all different. We did everything the way she had, but our wine was still bitter, our grapes still small and weak.
My father no longer danced with Mom and me when he drank. But he drank more often, spending his nights at the bar. He started yelling more often. Mom started crying at night, when she thought I couldn't see her. Everything was falling apart.
Dad never hit me or Mom, and I'm grateful for that. But there were days when I wished he would, when even being beaten would have felt better than his furious shouting.
When that's happening to you, when you're being abused in any way, you react in one of two ways. You start hiding, going inside yourself, moving through each day like a shadow, just trying not to get yelled at. Or you fight.
I was a fighter.
From the time I was five years old, I'd decided that I wasn't going to cry any more. I was going to fight back.
He never hit me, never used his strength to hurt me. But he screamed until my ears were ringing and involuntary tears of pain streamed down my cheeks, and then he would lock me alone in the darkness of the wine cellar.

Normally he would come get me after an hour or two alone in there, give me a talking-to about how what I did--whatever I'd done--was wrong, then give me a hug and let me go. But this time it was three hours and he still hadn't come. I was starting to get frightened.
A sinking feeling grew in the pit of my stomach. I was hungry, and I was afraid that there might be spiders in there. I wanted to go home. I started banging on the walls, hysterically, yelling for Daddy to come let and let me out.
"Daddy! I'll never get in trouble again! Please open!" I cried. There was no answer. I knew he had to hear me. But he wouldn't let me out!
I realized that I might starve there, alone in the darkness. That thought scared me more than anything, and I started screaming, "Let me out! I'll die!" I hurled myself against the wall, but no one answered me, and I started to sob.
I howled in terror and pain for a few more minutes, and then I stopped suddenly and realized that I was angry. My daddy had locked me in a wine cellar to die. I kicked the door with all my strength.
"Hi," a voice said behind me.
"Oh..." I jumped and turned. "Who are you? Where did you come from?"
It was a boy, about my age. He was wearing overalls with muddy sneakers and a blue and orange baseball cap. "I came from the farm," he explained.
I just looked at him. He came up to me, totally unafraid, and wiped a tear off my face.
"How did you get in?" I asked suspiciously, still sniffling.
He pointed to a piece of the wall next to one of the big machines. In the half-light, I could just make out the hole.
"Wow, there is a hole here..." I murmured.
"Come on. You can fit through," he said, grabbing my hand to help me out.
The sun was setting when we got out, the sky a bright pink. "Where do you live?" he asked me.
I felt a flash of panic and shook my head quickly. "My daddy is angry, so I can't go home..."
"Why not?" he asked curiously.
"He made me go in there. He said I was being bad. But I didn't break that bottle of wine! It wasn't me!" I was getting worked up. "You believe me, right?!" I demanded.
"Yeah," he agreed. There was a long pause. I stood, my feet firmly rooted to the ground in case he tried to make me go home. If he did, I would slug him.
After a minute, he held out his hand.
"Come on," he said. "We'll go home together."
Slowly, I took his hand. It was warm, and being with someone made me feel stronger. Together, we started across the yard.
We got as far as the door before I started feeling scared again, but he squeezed my hand and I felt a little better. Then he started to knock, but the door swung open and my mother was standing there, Daddy behind her.
"Karen..." Mommy said.
"Mommy!" I cried, clinging to her leg.
"I brought her home," the boy said behind me. "She got locked in over there."
Daddy didn't say anything, but Mommy picked me up and asked me, "Karen, did he take you home?"
I nodded. "He found a big hole and saved me."
"Thank you very much," she told him. I echoed, "Thank you! I'll see you later!"

The next day he came to the vineyard again. He said he was new and hadn't made any friends yet. So I said I'd show him around some, and I took him to the beach. We spent the whole day there, swimming, and the next day he told me he'd show me the best tree for climbing, and we went there. Eventually we ended up spending the entire summer together.
I never really went through the boys-are-icky stage--most of us here don't. With so few kids on the island, we all got used to playing with whoever was around and wanted to be friends. You refuse to play with half the kids on the island, you spend a lot of time alone, so the two of us got along well. But that summer...I don't know.
I've never believed in things like destiny and fate. I believe that I control my own life, that I am the one that will decide the outcome. And I don't believe in premonitions, but that summer, when I was five years old... I can remember, with a strange clarity, thinking that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Everyone remembers their first love. And everyone remembers, too, the last time they saw them, that last moment together before you say goodbye for the final time. For me, that day came on the twenty-ninth of Summer.
We went up to Moon Mountain, the very top, and we lay on our backs on the ground and watched the clouds.
"I'm leaving tomorrow," he said suddenly, snapping me out of my daze. I was actually half asleep by that point.
I rolled over to face him. "I have something for you."
"What?" he wanted to know. I rummaged around in my pocket for the gift Mom had given me. Then I pulled it out and looked at it: a music box, still warm from being in my pocket, shining in the sun.
"This used to be my mom's," I told him. "She said that if you give it to someone you like, they'll be with you forever." I looked down, flicking the little gold clasp on the lid back and forth, back and forth. "I wanted to give it to you."
He held out his hands, and I put it in. He slid the clasp up and opened it. The tiny dancer, with her blonde hair and green eyes, spun slowly in front of the mirror, looking like my mother. The music began playing, drifting softly on the breeze.
He was silent for a moment, and then he said, "I'll give it back to you someday."
I frowned. Why didn't he like it? "Why? I gave it to you."
"I'll have to come back to give it to you, right?" he asked. I nodded. "It just means that I'll come back to you again."
I nodded, thought for a second, then blurted out, "Let's get married someday!"
He grinned and agreed. "Okay. I'll give the music box back to you, and then we can get married."
For a while no one said anything. The only sound was the melody, floating slowly out to the horizon. I knew that song; it was Dance Under the Moon. My mother used to sing it to me when I was very small. Quietly, I started singing, and then he joined in. But I can't listen to music and not dance, so before long I was on my feet, spinning like a leaf on the wind. He stood and we danced together, totally unafraid and free, and I didn't want the moment to ever end.
It was the last time I saw him.

He left, taking the music box and a little bit of my heart with him, and gradually I tried to forget. After a while, I couldn't remember his name, the colors of the sky faded in my mind, the pain dulled.
My father began to drink more and more, spending almost every evening at the bar while the grapevines faded and died once more. One night I snuck out after he'd gone to the bar, and when he left, I ducked in and begged for a job there. I still don't know why. The psychologists would probably say that I wanted to be near him, or that I was desperate for approval, and maybe they're right. But the pay was good, and it wasn't hard to sneak drinks. Duke had arrived only a few weeks earlier, from a town far to the north. I never heard the whole story--bartenders hear a lot of stories, but they don't talk much about their own--but I think there was a fire, and his wife and daughter died. He came to live at the bakery with his nephew, Jeff.
Duke looked at me and almost started crying. Of course, when you're a kid, you hate to see adults cry, but Jeff told me it was okay. "It's nothing you did," he whispered. "You look like his daughter." Duke agreed to give me a job, waiting tables a few nights a week.
I was doing full time, at least five nights a week and making and serving drinks too, by the time I was fifteen. That was the year Kai showed up.
Kai originally came from a poor farming town, I think somewhere in the south. His family--him, his parents, and four brothers--grew oranges. But they didn't make enough money, and if the crop that year was bad, the family would begin to starve.
He ran away without telling them, intending to get to the city and get a job there, maybe send for them in a few years if he could. I'm still not sure how he ended up at the gates of our vineyard one evening in early fall that year--sometimes ships will stop at the island, or maybe there was a shipwreck--but that's where I found him one morning, wiry, strong- looking, with a purple bandana and worn brown clothes, asking if there was some job he could do for food. It was the fall harvest. Cliff--my cousin-- had been working there until he, too, had run away--and with only the three of us, we were desperate for help. Dad hired him on the spot. He never left.

But even with Kai's help, the vineyard got worse and worse, and my father got angrier and angrier. But we managed for a long time until the year that everything blew up in our faces.
I was nineteen. It had been ten years since I started working at the bar, five years since Kai had started working at the vineyard. Twenty years after my grandmother died.
It was the year the inevitable collapse of the vineyard finally came. The year my first love returned. The year when the world started to crumble at my feet...and the year when I started to rebuild it.
My name is Karen, and this is my story.


Author's Note:

Shameless plug (and then I swear I'll stop): If you're a Karen fan, you might want to check out my shrine to her, ::wine red no kokoro::, which is located at . I tend to be a little slow with updates (^_^;;;;), but the site houses information about Harvest Moon and Karen, fanfiction and fanart, and some cutesy things like coloring book pages and goodies for your computer.

There, now I can lay off the plugs. Please enjoy the rest of the story! ^__^