Thank you reviewers, one and all for encouraging me in this little experiment.

We'll try to get this up to where Haven is now, then keep them in sync afterwards.

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Karen's Diary

Chapter 3

2 Spring

morning - Well, floating on Cloud 9 with my dear Richard last night was too good to last. The mail today brought me back down to the ground hard. There was a beautiful New Years' greeting (sarcasm sarcasm) from the dry goods wholesaler. Simple and direct - either we pay them the 4700G we owe them by Friday, or not only won't they sell to us on credit anymore, they won't sell to us period. No more cloth and paper products at the store, unless we pay 20% more for trashy goods to one of those crooked outfits in Liberty City. And they'll all want gold on the nail. You know that Mom just went ballistic when she read it. She's been at Dad all morning to get some of our 'problem children' to pay down their bills. When I left, he was just sitting at the table clutching his stomach and saying nothing. He'd rather have his teeth pulled without painkiller than actually ask someone to pay what they owe us.

We *can* net 4700G in a week. If everyone would just pay cash this one week, we could make it. A practical reason to miss the old guy at Erehwon; he'd be in today to stock up on spring seeds and he *always* paid cash.

I think I might just go and do a little bill collecting myself this week - starting with our number one deadbeat. I'm not going to mention his name, but his initials are D-U-K-E. Yeah, that's who to start with. He's old school enough so that he doesn't know how to deal with a loud obnoxious woman, especially a young and pretty one like (ahem) yours truly. Get him softened up with a little creative abuse and then threaten to tell Manna what his tab is now. He knows she'd then take up where I left off. He'll cough up then. Yeah, a little blackmail sounds like just the right way to handle that guy.

noon - I was really tired of all the trouble at the store, so I went up to the hot springs hill to do a little dance practice. First, talked with Rick by the mailbox like every morning and it's not worth writing about. It's like the last two nights of sweetness never happened, he was back to grumping about the same old garbage. I didn't want to hear anymore, so I just told him, "Enough already, good bye!" and left. Passing by Erehwon was amazing - the place is completely overgrown with weeds, boulders and stumps. Now how the hell did that happen, it looked so orderly last fall. Jack was nowhere to be seen. If he had been working in the fields, it would've been easy to miss him among all that junk. Or he could have been just goofing off somewhere.

I ran into Ann and Popuri coming down from the hill. They were giggling like maniacs, saying that Jack must be a loony. They said that when they passed by the farm earlier, he was screaming at the fields. Well, if I had to clear them, I guess I'd be screaming with frustration also.

Ah, it felt so good to forget about balances and accounts receivable for awhile. I had the hill all to myself, so I started off practicing for the Goddess festival. Didn't have to do much as I've got that dance down cold. I should; I've done it seven times before. Thinking of having to do it an eighth time rather than join the married couples watching did not improve my mood *at all.* Rick and his "let's wait a little while longer until mom is better and the farm is under control!" I worked out my frustrations (and my leg muscle kinks) with some interpretive free style. It's been a long time since I dreamed of going off to dance school and *really* learning how to do this, but it was all coming back to me this morning. Shouldn't the dreams of a fifteen year-old seem silly when you're 24? They sure seem attractive today!

Back home now. Gotta grab lunch quick because Mom's just about finished washing the clothes and it's going to be a Mom and daughter heart-to-heart while ironing afternoon.

early evening - Oh, my, my, my! If first impressions are lasting, I just *know* that Jack is going to be all right in my book. I am *very* impressed with that earnest young man. Let me write this down in order - as the town's unofficial historian should (yes, today I want to be one again.)

Mom and I had started in on the ironing after lunch when the parade of moochers started. Doctor led off with Dad not even objecting to the "I'll take care of it later" routine. We heard it all from the kitchen but Mom went into the store too late to catch him. So Dad caught it from her instead. Just great; she's been snapping at him all day, so soon he'll reach his limit and start talking back. Then they'll go back and forth for awhile until they decide to make up. I just want to die of embarrassment when they do that billing and cooing act of theirs right in front of me!

I was really working the creases of one of Dad's white shirts when Duke came in. I was rushing to finish so I could go out and gently give him my opinion of his behavior, when I heard a voice I didn't recognize telling him that he should pay for what he took! Well, that got my attention, so I dropped everything and went into the store.

When I went in, there was Jack looking him right in the eye with this really serious look. Duke was laughing in his face telling him, "it's OK with Jeff, so don't concern yourself." It was *not* OK with me, however, and I went right up to him and blessed him out until he not only paid for today, but the last few days also. Poor Jack, he was standing there staring at my performance with his eyes about to bug out of his head. Duke slinked out the door muttering something about Jack -I knew all along he didn't have the nerve to stand up to me.

Well, after that, I just had to go up to Jack, introduce myself and thank him. He's not a bad looking guy. Maybe ten centimeters taller than me, sorta average build, pale like you'd expect from someone whose been working indoors, and shaggy brown hair that was having trouble deciding which way to go (sticking out from under a really silly looking baseball cap.) He was wearing some overalls that would have made him look like a real farmer if they hadn't been so new. Once I turned on the charm with him, he got this really amusing (and totally sweet) combination of an earnest expression and a half-smile on his face. And, yes, those blue eyes of his are very, very nice indeed when he's not at a funeral trying hard not to cry. They twinkle at you even when the rest of his face is saying 'serious business here.'

Just for fun, I did a few pirouettes in front of him, and darn if he doesn't start praising me like I was the lead at the National Ballet. Keep going, boy, flattery *will* get you somewhere. So I let him know that his presence at the Goddess Festival would be greatly appreciated, and I'm glad I did as he didn't realize he could come and dance with us lovely ladies (cough.) With Gray (*if* he'll come) and now him, we'll almost have enough guys to go around this year.

We were hitting it off pretty well, so I figured I'd find out his sign. A Libra (Fall 8, and he's 23;) now why am I not surprised there? Yes, Aquarian Mary! Leonine Ann - maybe yes, maybe no. So sorry, Cancerian Popuri! I thought he'd get a laugh at my expense there, being a techie, but darn if he didn't say that he'd studied the stars in college. Sometimes I find out I don't really know that much about the outside world at all - I thought you learned astrology from wizards who live in caves on the mountaintops or something like that.

I still had a lot of ironing to do, so I excused myself reminding him to show up at the festival. I threw in a little advertisement for Mary there too. She could use a guy being nice to her other than that depressing Gray whose started hanging around her too much. I hope he's as mature as he seems and can see behind a plain face and that please-don't-notice-me pose of hers to see what a wonderful person she is. After I went back, I heard him buying some seeds and plunking coins down on the counter. Oh, yes - this new guy is *just fine.*

Got back to it with Mom - she heard the whole thing and was all smiles the rest of the afternoon. 'One swallow a spring does not make," she pointed out, but Jack seems to be off to a good start. Now, we just have to see if he can learn to farm. Our mood got even better when Dad closed up and counted out nearly 2000G from the register. We keep that up for the rest of the week and Friday's settlement with the wholesaler will be a pleasant piece of business.

So, let's total up the Jack account.

Credits:

1) He defended my Dad against Duke (but was he really brave there or just too ignorant to know to be scared of him?)

2) He's got good taste - he appreciates my dancing and singing.

3) He certainly acts mature and respectful, and seems very bright (well, he *is* a rocket scientist.)

4) That sweet smile and those way too cute blue eyes.

5) He didn't laugh or call me a superstitious donkey when I asked what his sign was.

6) He paid cash for what he bought.

Debits:

1) He seems a little wishy-washy. Could be he's just sizing up people before he takes a stand on them - just what you'd expect out of a Libra.

2) He's out of shape. He could use to lose five kilos and get a little darker. A few weeks in the fields should put that right.

3) He should lose that stupid cap of his. And why does he wear it backwards? I thought only kiddies and defectives did that.

Mom's right - he's off to a good start but he's got a lot of work ahead before he's proven himself. Remember how excited we were when Gray first came here, and how he didn't even try to fit into life here?

We'll just have to see what Jack is made of.

But what the hell *is* my moon sign? Maybe he can tell me.

late evening - Thought about going to the Inn but since I'm halfway on the wagon, didn't see the point. When Rick's grumpy in the morning, he's usually all grown in on himself when drinking in the evening. I'd just match him glass for glass and grunt for grunt and I'd be back to being just as sloppy as last winter in no time. I'm going to limit myself to two nights a week. If Rick wants to see me other evenings, he knows where to find me.

I'll take another of those long brooding walks on the beach. Looking on the horizon for that enchanted isle where life is perfect even if I know there's no such thing. Popuri's still innocent enough to think that there's an ideal life waiting for her outside the village, but I know you carry your own problems with you wherever you go.