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. This story is based primarily on the plot of Harvest Moon 64.
This is really the last chapter, everyone. Sorry it took so long to finish. Thanks so much for reading Karen's story all the way to the end—it's been an interesting two years, hasn't it?
Wine Red no Kokoro
by flame mage
Part 25: Last Words
Ann and Cliff's son Jacob was born a few weeks later, the day before the Star Night Festival--almost a week late. Leave it to the offspring of a laid-back person like Ann to be nearly a week late to his own birth. But I was happy for them, and I loved seeing the sparkle in my best friend's eyes. Cliff was smiling too, although he had gotten several bruises and a temporary cast from some injuries incurred during the birth. I'm still not sure how a guy like Cliff can survive dozens of encounters with wild beasts during his travels and be unable to avoid punches from a woman who's lying on her back in a bed, but knowing Ann, she could've gotten up and chased him around the room while she was having the baby. I pegged him as lucky to have gotten away with that, especially after bringing her a present with "Happy Birthday!" on the tag for their anniversary a few days before.
Mom watched Adam during Star Night so Jack and I could go to the beach to watch the stars. The sky always seems so clear on Star Night, you feel like you can see forever.
We had my birthday party at the farm that year. It was a little smaller than usual--my family, Ann, Cliff, Jacob, Kai and Duke were the only invited guests. We sat on the floor around the fireplace and talked. Cliff told a lot of stories about his adventures and the strange things he'd seen. Kai told us about his family. Even Duke surprised everyone with stories of the funny things that had happened to him as a bartender. It was a quiet evening, the glowing fire making it a spot of warmth in a cold winter. It was snowing outside. It was also a season after Adam's birth, and it was on that night that he started to crawl.
I'd started drinking again after Adam was born, but I never went back to drinking the way I had been before getting married. I had lost the desire for oblivion, the burning need to forget and drown my loneliness and sorrow in a glass mug of alcohol. There were still days when I was tired and felt like I couldn't take another step, or when I got so frustrated with the baby's crying that I really wanted to scream. But all in all, life was great, and whatever was gonna happen next, I didn't want to miss it.
Before you start thinking that I totally lost my edge, though, New Year's Eve was one thing that never changed. Jack and I went down to the bar for the party, and I finally made Kai buy me that round of drinks he'd promised me when I was pregnant. I can't say that he and Jack were ever best friends, but they got along.
I still worked on the farm and vineyard some, and at the vineyard a few nights a week. Jack kept saying I didn't have to, that we had enough money. And he was right, actually. He'd started planting multiple-harvest crops like corn and tomatoes in the greenhouse, and he had been making a killer profit all year. Everyone wants fresh summer vegetables when it's below freezing outside. And in the winter, too, fresh strawberries...! I love strawberries...but sorry, I'm getting off track. I didn't stop working at the vineyard altogether because I liked it. It gave me a chance to talk to people, and even though the novelty of working in a bar had long since worn off in more than ten years of doing it, I guess I liked the feeling that I wasn't just a housewife. Ugh...
All right, before Harris gets pelted with angry mail for me, It's not that I don't like housewives--homemakers, there--or don't think that what they do is important. Believe me, I do. My mother stayed at home to raise me too. But I don't think I could stay at home exclusively. With Adam, I was busy around the farm, but I felt like doing something for me was important. I was more than Jack's wife or Adam's mother; I was Karen, and to someone who spent a lot of her childhood hiding, that's important. So I guess that's why I kept working. I explained that to Jack, who replied that he understood totally and repeated what he'd said earlier about finding something you loved doing and doing it. We split up the work around the farm so that everything got done. He did the work with the crops and took care of the livestock; I collected eggs, and when I could, I sheared wool and milked cows. I did the laundry. All this got a lot easier when Adam learned to crawl and Jack could take him out during the day after the work was done. We still cooked together, but with one rule: I was the one who had to go through the recipes and come up with the menus. I agreed, but I made him choose the wine a couple nights a week to make it even.
And so once again, live settled back down into a regular pattern until the inevitable but unthinkable finally happened. Rumplestiltskin came back to collect.
I was sitting at the table with Adam one morning, making a dragonfly out of the spoon so he'd eat (Maria taught me that one; I never would've figured it out otherwise) when Jack walked in and sat down heavily. He was looking at a piece of paper.
"What happened?" I demanded. He pushed the paper across at me. It contained only two lines, exactly like the ones we'd gotten after our wedding and Adam's birth.
"Jack: Remember the agreement. I'll be there to see the farm on Spring 30. Dad."
"That's tomorrow..." I said, running a hand through my hair and stopping halfway down before realizing that it wasn't the hand with banana mush on it.
He nodded. "Yep." He let out a long sigh and rubbed his temples. "You know what this means, right?"
"Right. I'll get started booby-trapping the yard," I replied.
"That might be the best idea, but that's not what I meant. If he doesn't think I've done a good job, he's going to sell the farm and yank me right back to the city."
I stared at him. "There's no way. Don't we own this place?"
"Not officially until Dad approves it after two years. That's what the 'agreement' is."
"Oh, my god. What are we going to do?" I asked.
"Foog?" Adam asked, looking at Jack.
"Yep," Jack repeated. "That's what I said too. Looks like you're finally going to meet your other grandfather."
There wasn't much we could do to prepare. We washed and brushed all the animals until their coats gleamed. We harvested all the remaining Spring crops and made sure the flower patches were neat. I tried to straighten the house up.
Neither of us slept well that night. Jack wanted so badly for his father to be proud of him. He tossed and turned next to me, unable to shut his mind up. I held him and tried to comfort him, but there wasn't much I could do. There wasn't much any of us could do. Whatever happened now was in God's hands--and Jack's father's.
It was a sunny day. I took the clean clothes off the line on the porch and then strung new clothes on to dry. There's something about things drying on a clothesline that makes a place look like home. I really wanted the farm to look like home. It wasn't just Jack on the line here: that day, he and I and Adam and all the rest of us would be judged. If we passed that judgement, we were safe. But if we failed, Jack would have to move to the city, and me...I'd go with him. As a child, I'd always dreamed of living there, but we were a part of this island now, and we were rooted here, to this soil.
Jack fluttered around, unable to stand still. He had his baseball cap jammed on his head as if it were the last barrier between him and destruction, which maybe it was.
At eight AM sharp the doorbell rang. I stood to get it, Adam in my arms, but Jack bolted and opened it.
His father was a small man, with dark hair and a little mustache that made him seem like he was perpetually frowning. He wore thick glasses and a somber business suit that looked like it had picked up some dust on the way here, which he apparently wasn't thrilled about. I looked at him, conscious of the smile on my face, trying to judge his reaction to what he saw.
No one spoke for a moment, and then Jack said, "Hello, Dad."
"Hello, Jack," his father replied. "It's been a while."
"Yes, it has," agreed Jack. "Dad, I'd like you to meet my wife, Karen, and my son, Adam."
I stepped forward to shake the man's hand. I expected the shake to be weak for some reason, but he had a firm, strong grip probably perfected through the experience of several thousand other shakes. It made me think that the man really could be a business shark. "It's an honor to finally meet you, sir," I said. "Jack's told me so much about you."
"Nice to meet you as well." He turned to Adam. "And this...this is my grandson?" He looked up at me. "Well, he has my son's smile, but the eyes are yours."
"How was the trip over?" Jack asked. We had entered the obligatory beginning-of-a-parental-visit that all adult children and parents go through when they haven't seen each other for a while, treating each other like acquaintences who've met at a party.
"That ferry..." Jack's father still looked a little green. "I remembered how to get here. The place has certainly changed since the last time I saw it." He glanced around the room, taking it all in, evaluating it.
"Here, have a seat," I offered, pushing a chair up. "Do you want some tea or something? We have some really great tea recipes."
"That's all right," he said. "Jack, why don't you show me around the village? It's been so long..."
Jack nodded. "Sure." He cast a glance at me as they left.
"Well, Adam," I said. "Nothing we can do now but wait."
I decided to go through with the day as normally as I could and went outside, Adam toddling behind me. Ann stopped by while they were gone.
"How's the evaluation going?" she asked.
I shrugged. "Don't ask me. They went around to 'see the town' and they've been gone for hours."
"Yeah, they came by the ranch. Jack's father asked if Jack was good with animals."
"And of course he said yes," I prompted.
"Yeah, of course. And Cliff and Gray and I all put in a good word for him. He's a good guy, and nobody wants to see you guys leave."
"You think he'll like it, Ann?" I asked.
She gave me a quick hug. "I know he will." Then she turned to go. "Better run before they get back. And remember--"
"Nothing's better than being in good spirits!" we said together. "Puuf!" added Adam for emphasis.
They returned a half hour later to look around the farm. I shot Jack a questioning look and he smiled almost imperceptibly--it's okay. I breathed a tiny sigh of relief and started taking the laundry off the line and folding it. Adam was pulling on my shoelaces, so I gave him his blankie and helped him fold it. We folded a washcloth together before he lost interest. Kids today are so ungrateful.
I finished the job on my own and put the clothes away inside. Then the two of us went out to the back porch to sit on the steps and wait.
As my husband and my father-in-law wandered around, peering into the barn and the chicken coop and the greenhouse, inspecting the fields, climbing the stairs inside the house to look out over the farm from the loft, I heard snippets of questions.
"Do you have friends here? You like the people?" "Definitely. I've met the best friends I've ever had here."
"Do you like working on the farm?" "...I love it. It was hard at first, but now it's like second nature to me."
Eventually they came down to sit on the back porch and talk. It was five PM when Ann, Cliff, and Jacob came, followed by Gray, Popuri, and Doug. Maria, Harris, and their new daughter Amy were next, followed by the Mayor and his wife. Then Lillia, Basil, Jeff, Elli, Ellen walking on a cane, Kai, my parents, the potion shop dealer, May, Stu, and Kent, the midwife, the shipper, the carpenters, the old couple from the restaurant on the mountain, Rick, Saibara, Duke, Greg the fisherman, the pastor, everyone. The entire village was there for us.
"Hey, Jack. Hi, Karen." "Hi there, you guys. I brought the soup." "Jack, this is your father? It's so nice to meet you." "Good evening." "Hey." "Hello." "You're Jack's father? Your son is a great guy." Everyone greeted us as they filed onto the porch, setting food carefully on the table. When we ran out of room on the porch, we carried rocks over from the far edge of the field and turned them into chairs.
"These are all your friends?" Jack's father asked, amazed.
Jack grinned, his face in profile to his father as he flashed a secret wink at me. "Yep. We decided to throw a party so you could meet everyone. This is my best friend Cliff, and his wife Ann, and..."
The party lasted long into the night. I couldn't remember the last time I'd laughed so hard. The best thing was that it wasn't an act. We'd asked everyone to come that night, but they'd come because they liked us and they wanted to. I knew that these people wouldn't lie. If they said they liked Jack and that he'd worked hard on the farm, they were telling what they thought. And knowing that these people really did think that he-- we--had done a good job meant the world to us.
Eventually, sometime around midnight, I guess, the crowd gradually left. Jack, Adam and I sat on the porch with Jack's father, talking.
"Son?" the older man said. Jack's head turned instantly and he fell silent. I realized he'd never been called 'son' by his father before.
"Yes, Dad?" was all Jack responded with.
"I know that when your grandfather died, I didn't want you to take over the farm. I wanted you to stay in the city and work with me." He looked around. "This farm's always been in the family. It's the place where I was born. And...I think..." Here he looked straight into Jack's eyes. "I think your grandfather would be proud of you." He paused. "And I'm proud of you."
A slow smile was spreading over Jack's face. "So I can stay?" he asked, like a little kid not quite believing the presents under the Christmas tree are for him.
His father nodded. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
Suddenly, unexpectedly, father and son threw their arms around each other and embraced. I watched, probably almost as surprised as they were, and felt a grin coming across my own face, too. We were going to stay.
When they released each other, I could've sworn I saw the glint of tears in their eyes. "I'll try to come and see you more often, son," said my father-in-law. "I'd like to get to know my daughter and my grandson better." He smiled at us, and I found myself smiling back.
"You're staying the night, right?" Jack asked.
His father shook his head. "I can't. The last ferry is waiting for me."
They stood. "I'll walk you to the beach," Jack said.
Jack returned a few minutes later, coming to join me and Adam where we were standing on the porch.
"So I guess it worked out," he said.
"He was proud of you in the end. You did it, Jack. You earned his respect. Just like you always said," I replied.
"I couldn't have done it without your help." He put an arm around my waist, pulling me closer. "I love you," he whispered into my ear.
"I love you too," I whispered back, leaning my head against his shoulder.
We've been standing like that for a long time now, just listening to the sounds of a summer night and each other's breath and watching the stars. In my arms, Adam is cooing happily.
"Jack?" I ask finally.
"Yes?" he says, turning to look at me.
"Did you ever figure out what your grandfather's last words were?"
He doesn't speak for a moment, only looks at me. I can see the starlight reflected in his eyes.
"Yes," he says finally.
I don't ask. I don't have to ask. Sometimes you don't need words.
Grandma knew that.
And we stand there, the three of us, on the first of a lifetime of nights to come, waiting to greet the dawn.