This is an alternative development of _Haven from the Storm_ and is a very dark and tragic story. Only read this if you can handle such tales. I owe a special debt here to Farmer Jen, who demonstrated in her brilliant collection of short stories _Betrayal_ that Harvest Moon fan fictions can be plausible tragedies. Of course, she is not responsible in any way for the contents of this story.

The story picks up towards the end of _Haven_ chapter 12. To recapitulate, against his better judgment Jack had been induced to take Popuri to the Goddess Festival. Although Jack has an intense physical attraction towards Popuri, he finds her otherwise annoying and unsuitable as a partner. Beforehand, he had been befriending Mary, who had fallen in love with him and became heartbroken once Jack and Popuri seemed to become a couple. Karen, best friend to both Jack and Mary, has been trying to repair the damage, with little success. At the festival, in an ill-advised attempt to relieve stress and depression, Jack, Karen, and Mary became drunk. Mary, unaccustomed to liquor, assaulted Popuri, who became hysterical as a result. The festival nearly degenerated into a general brawl, which was averted by the Mayor (advised by Karen) ending the festival early.

My apologies to those who object to repeated dialog in related stories. I did recycle some from _Haven_ at the start in an attempt to preserve continuity. This ends after about ten paragraphs as the stories radically diverge.


Heart Fades to Black

Chapter 1 - Love on the Beach

Once Thomas ended the festival, in couples and individually, people slowly left Rose Square to return home. There was much hushed conversation as they left, some people giving unpleasant looks to me, Popuri or Mary; depending on where their sympathies lay.

Popuri looked at me and said, "Jack, I'm not ready to go home yet. Could we go somewhere together for awhile?"

It sounded like a good idea. She looked fragile to me; and could have resumed her hysterics at any time. I decided to spend some time calming her before returning her home. I said, "Anywhere you want."

"Let's go walk on the beach. It's so peaceful there in the evening."

"Sure, lets go."

It was just past five when we got to the beach. We walked along the shore holding hands, not saying much - just looking at the water. It was twilight, the time when things were just starting to lose their edges and look indistinct. The sound of the waves breaking was calming. We stopped and Popuri looked at me.

"Jack, the day started so beautiful and then everything turned so horrible. Why? Why did Mary call me that name and hit me? I wasn't doing anything. What is wrong with her? We've always liked each other, why does she hate me now?

"Oh, Jack, I wanted us to have such a lovely time and now it's all spoiled. What's happening in this village? Everything's going wrong."

She started crying again and we hugged; I whispered soothing words in her ear. She looked so miserable, and yet still so beautiful that I couldn't help myself. Really, I couldn't. I kissed her on the lips.

I just wanted to forget about Mary, Anna, Duke, Karen, Rick, farming, the depression, my lost career - all of it! Just forget about the whole wretched world and find comfort in the arms of this kind and lovely girl. I held Popuri as if she was the only thing in the world, and she held me the same way. Our kisses grew longer and deeper, our breathing heavier, our hands exploring each other.

Popuri whispered in my ear, "Jack, do you want to go somewhere more private? Anyone could see us out here, you know."

A voice of caution in my head tried to warn me that being in a secluded place with her was a particularly bad idea, with our passions inflamed as they were. I shook off all thoughts of prudence. Something was leading me on against my will. At the time, I would have said it was merely lust. Only much later would I understand that it was nothing as innocent as that.

I whispered back, "Yes, let's go. Do you have somewhere in mind?"

"Follow me." She took me by the hand and led me over some sand dunes overgrown with dried out sea oats. We ended up on a flat depression completely surrounded by the dunes, covered with a low dense grass. From there, you could see nothing except the dunes and the darkening sky, and nobody could see us without climbing on top of the dunes. The sound of the breaking of the waves, the salty smell of the surf and Popuri's flowery scent had me totally mesmerized.

Popuri whispered to me, "Isn't this a romantic spot? I always thought it would be the perfect meeting place for a loving couple." She put her arms around my neck, and mine went around her waist.

I told her, "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but here with you now. You're so beautiful." She said nothing, but resumed kissing me.

It was so natural for us to lie on the grass caressing each other. Without thought or effort we loosened, then cast aside our clothes. Popuri looked into my eyes with a pleading expression.

"Jack, nobody here treats me as if I were important. Nobody pays any attention to me, the real me. Only you. You treat me as if I were someone special. You're the only one who really understands me. Jack, please love me! I'm so lonely! You can do anything you want with me, just love me like I love you!"

This set to flight the last of my self-control. That evening on that bed of grass under mocking, afflicted stars, Popuri and I first became lovers.

Spent by our exertions, we fell asleep in each other's arms. I woke up an hour later to see Popuri resting on her side, watching me.

"Have you been watching me for long?"

"A little while, darling. You looked so peaceful sleeping, I just couldn't take my eyes off you. Do you know how tense and anxious you look all the time?"

"I can imagine. Pi, what just happened..."

She put her hand over my mouth. "Jack, are you going to do something silly like apologize to me? Don't. There's nothing to apologize for. I wanted to, you know. We must have *no* regrets for loving each other. This is the real start for us. Now we belong to each other, right?"

"You're right, of course."

She *was* right. That sense of intuitive certainty I sometimes had said so. I knew our act had set something irreversible in motion. The stars over our heads jeeringly sparkled in confirmation.

"Pi, it's terribly late. I should take you home now, your mother and Rick must be getting worried about you."

She snapped, "Let them worry! I'm a grown woman now, I can stay out late if I want." Nevertheless, she started picking up her clothes and dressing. I did the same.

Once dressed, we started to climb the dunes, but Popuri stopped and looked in my eyes.

"Jack, you don't have any regrets, do you?"

I lied. "None at all. I love you and I wanted you."

She smiled at me. "That's all we need, then. After all, in love, there is no wrong."

We straightened and brushed off each other's clothes, then climbed the dunes hand in hand. When we got to the top, we saw Karen standing by the ocean's edge, looking out to sea with a sad expression. She heard us, and looked around at us. When she first saw us, her face showed shock and concern. 'She knows,' I thought, 'her face shows it as surely as if she'd spoken.'

Karen's face became sad again as we went to her.

"Karen, what's wrong?"

"Ah...Rick and I just had a terrible fight. My frustrations and that whiskey didn't mix too well. I blew up at him, and when he started shouting back, I hit him and stomped off." She gave us a bitter smile. "Lots of that tonight - drunken women beating on people. Popuri, are you all right?"

"I'm OK. Jack has...uh...been comforting me."

Karen gave us both a skeptical look. "I'm sure he has." She spoke sarcastically. "I hope it wasn't too much of a strain on you, Jack."

Popuri and I exchanged looks at that.

Karen went on. "Oh, don't worry, I'm not going to tell anyone. It's really none of my business what you two were doing. I can't run my own life worth a damn, I'm not going to try and run yours."

"Karen, you want me to talk to my brother? Tell him you're sorry?"

I joined in. "Yes, I'll talk to him also."

She shrugged. "You can try if you want. I expect he'll be mad for a couple of days, then he'll calm down enough to accept a groveling apology. Or perhaps not. You know, being this late and me being so toxic, I don't really care. I will tomorrow. I'm going home to bed now. You two should also - your own beds, that is."

We all walked back to Rose Square together. You could hardly tell that there had been a major festival here just a few hours ago. All the decorations and accessories had been removed. People here didn't litter, either. In the city, discarded food wrappers and bottles would have covered the ground. All I could see here was an occasional flower, crushed into the stones after having fallen off some costume. We and Karen exchanged brief goodbyes and she went on towards the General Store, Popuri and I heading up farm row.

I walked her to the door of her house, then asked pardon for not coming in, pleading weariness. We exchanged endearments and kisses and she went in. As I walked away towards Erehwon, I could hear a typical exchange of sibling affection as expressed at Chicken Lil's.

"Popuri! Where have you been?! What have you been doing?! You know what time it is?!"

"Rick, shut up! I'm a grown-up, I can stay out late on festival nights if I want to!"

Dizzy and nauseous as I was, I didn't want to think about unfinished chores. I'd face them, and a lot of other stuff tomorrow. I went into my shack and threw myself onto the bed without bothering to undress. That critical voice in my head lulled me to sleep with sweet sarcasm.

"Nice work, old man! You did the deed with the *lovely* Popuri. Something to be real proud of. I bet you can guess what that's going to lead to."

"Aw, shut up and let me sleep."