A Tussle in the Hay
Summary: Walking in the rain while wearing glasses is like trying to see through a fishbowl. Louis and Gina learn this lesson the hard way on an ill-conceived walk through a summer storm, and find themselves with too much time to spare in a kindly neighbour's hayloft. Mild cutesy Louis/Gina shippage.
Every time she came here, Gina became more and more convinced that there was nothing more absolutely peaceful than an afternoon at the Junk Shop.
Whether it was thanks to Michael's quiet, kindly laugh and gentle eyes, or to Ann's friendly, laughing sincerity, she wasn't entirely sure. But from the first time she had come with Martha in the interest of giving Dia some time alone to read, she had loved the warm, rustic building with its constant smell of burning wood and motor oil, and its strange gadgets and curios lined up along the walls and shelves.
Even more peaceful was a rainy afternoon at the Junk Shop.
It had been one such afternoon, a Wednesday, which had released her from all other obligation when even Dia ordered her out of the Sanitarium to enjoy herself before she got a book thrown at her head. She had nearly skipped through the warm summer shower, toward the Junk Shop, heart light and cheeks flushed with delight.
It was a rare chance to see Ann and Michael, after all, since the girl rarely got sick and never injured despite her pastime of making things explode, and Michael had enough knowledge of holistic healing that he almost never made use of the Clinic. And since Ann had been Gina's first real friend in Flowerbud Village (that she hadn't brought with her, at least), and Michael came to regard her as another daughter a little more ach day, the prospect of a whole day to spend with them was enough to have the little blue-haired nurse smiling until passers-by grinned, wondering if that handsome doctor had finally said something about his feelings for her.
Despite her smiles and laughter through the cloudy summer morning, Gina remained perhaps the only person in Flowerbud Village unaware of Alex's intentions of following in his father's footsteps and marrying his pretty young nurse, but could scarcely have been gladder if she had known.
When she had reached the Junk Shop, she had found Ann and that quiet boy, Louis, with dark hair and glasses like hers, already deeply engrossed in the latest of Ann's inventions, and had readily accepted Michael's plea that she go up and help them before someone got hurt.
In all truthfulness, she very much enjoyed tinkering with machines and such, and had sometimes thought that, if she hadn't gone through several years of schooling already toward the goal of qualified nurse, she might have taken some mechanics courses and seen about getting a job in an auto garage somewhere.
But as much as she loved tinkering, and as much as she liked Ann, it didn't even occur to her to be annoyed or despondent that Ann apparently had a new right-hand man in Louis. He was such a nice person, so kind and quiet, and brilliant when Ann could coax him to share his ideas.
And he was nice-looking, too; once or twice, Gina had felt his gaze on her, looked up, and blushed hotly at his admiring smile, eyes crinkling a bit at the corners and lighting up so beautifully, as he watched her deftly reconnect a circuit just the way Ann showed her, or bandage someone's cut or bump.
On this particular night, so engrossed had all three been in their work that, when the rain had grown heavier and turned into a storm, which had, in turn, become a hurricane, none of them had noticed in the slightest.
Until, that is, Louis had looked away from the burned wrist, caused by a flying bit of red-hot metal, that Gina was industriously bandaging, and out the window, into the torrential downpour.
"What time is it?" he finally ventured timidly.
The top of a flaming red head and a pair of bright blue eyes emerged from underneath the table.
"Seven-thirty," Ann called after a quick peek at her special, super-duper customized clock, with its wildly bobbing springs, tiny chipmunk figurines, and built-in ice crusher.
"Oh, dear," Gina sighed. "I ought to be going. Dia's going to make herself sick worrying."
"You can't walk home alone!" Ann protested, scrambling out from under the table. "Louis will walk you home. Louis, go walk her home."
"Yes, Ann," he sighed.
"Thanks for all your help, Gina!" Ann called with a huge, charming grin. "This was a lot easier with three sets of hands."
"And I felt safer, knowing that one of those sets could patch us right back up again if something exploded," Louis added, with a teasing smile that took the sting out of his words.
Ann snarled just as playfully.
"Watch it, four-eyes, or the next explosion'll take off your head!"
Louis laughed, and Gina smiled a little, despite a tiny shudder of horror as an over-active imagination set about painting vividly what the reality might be like if it had.
The sickly scent of charred flesh...a lump unrecognizable as a head lying several feet from Louis's body...Ann huddling, hysterical, in the corner, asking through sobs why Louis isn't moving...herself trying to check Louis's pulse in a panic-induced robotic state, deterred by the fact that she can't find his wrist...
"Hey," Louis called, quiet and tentative and concerned, as he waved a cheerful goodnight to Michael, assured him that he'd stay at the Sanitarium overnight if the weather got worse on the way, and started across the main room of the shop. "Is something wrong?"
Gina gave her head a quick shake to rid herself of the gory images, and forced a smile, choking back absurd tears.
"No, nothing. I'm fine."
It was only to be about fifteen minutes before the young woman was beginning to rethink that assessment of life in general.
As it turned out, walking through a heavy rain while wearing glasses really was just like trying to see something clearly through a fishbowl.
And, although the general concept behind Ann's idea of sending someone with a girl wearing glasses to help her find her way home was a good one, the specific choice of sending a boy also with glasses was not quite as sound in logic.
She clung desperately to his hand, drenched and as icy as hers, and squinted in the direction that felt most the way she had come.
"Is that the road to the Sanitarium?" she shouted to Louis above the storm, pointing to what appeared, through thick lenses dripping with heavy rain, a wavy and blurry approxiation of a dirt path.
Louis peered even more closely, hoping that Gina would get the impression that reaching the Sanitarium was his first priority.
Very early on into this trip, he had realized it was a bad idea. Unfortunately, early on had seen them far enough from the Junk Shop that finding it again was as much of a crapshoot as finding anything else.
Their best hope now was to make for the nearest building, and pound at the door and hope for someone to let them in until the rain stopped.
"I think so!" he shouted back to the girl gripping his hand tightly. "We should be there soon!"
In reply to which, Gina gave an exclamation of joy, held tighter to his arm and dragged him over a few feet, until she could easily press his palm to the side of a building.
Louis laughed sheepishly, and then set about the task of hunting up the door.
Eventually, between two barely-twenties working entirely on a sense of touch as their completely blurred sight was little help, they managed to locate the entrance – a wide double door decorated with cross-beams.
"It's a barn," Gina noted, slightly breathless from the adventure, and surprised as she nearly tripped over a fluffy white little lamb.
"Yeah," Louis agreed absently, taking in their surroundings. "I think we found Jack's place."
"Will Jack mind if we wait here for the storm to end?"
"He'll have to deal with it," Louis grunted, dragging the doors closed while Gina shooed a few curious cows that had come to greet the visitors, out of the way, "because we can't go out again in that."
"So, this is his barn, is it?"
"I guess so," Louis shrugged, glancing absently around the building. "I've never actually seen it; I'm not much of an animal guy."
"I've never seen it, either," she confessed, unwrapping the soaked wrappings from his burned wrist and blotting it dry as best she could with her equally drenched apron, before wrapping it back up again. He sneezed. She looked up, startled, and then hurried to pull a horse blanket down from the wall and draped it over the shivering young man, ignoring his mildly disgusted expression at the smell of the thing. "I like small animals, but I'm a little afraid of anything that could crush me if it got too excited."
"Then let's go up to the hayloft."
"Is that safe?" Gina asked, gazing anxiously up at the rickety ladder and the slightly sagging loft.
"I think so," Louis replied thoughtfully, also scrutinizing the loft. "And it's the softest place to sleep." When she didn't look convinced by his gentle reasoning, he laughed. "I could probably catch you if you started to fall a lot easier than I could fight off a herd of insane cows, Gina."
With a little laugh, blushing slightly at the implication that it would be his duty to protect her, she hopped lighly onto the first rung and scrambled up the ladder.
Louis, a few rungs behind, blushed as his eyes lit on the curve of her backside, shown to terrific advantage by layers of soaked fabric clinging to her. She fumbled to shake out her skirts when they began to hamper her progress, and he blushed more brightly as he caught a peek of something white and lacy.
Cut it out, he ordered his lower half sternly as it urged him to catch up and take a closer look. She's got a boyfriend, and the town doctor isn't the best person to alienate when you get sick a lot.
"Are you alright, Louis?" she asked, alarmed, as he reached the top of the ladder and climbed into the loft. "You look feverish!"
"I'm okay," he assured her cheerfully. "I'm just really out of shape. Climbing the ladder was my exercise for the week."
She laughed softly again.
"You should start an exercise program. I've been meaning to get one going for myself, so why don't you come with me sometime to see the doctor, and he can help us put something together?"
"Wow, I was just going to do some sit-ups and go for more walks," Louis admitted, slightly floored.
"It's easier to stick to it if you feel accountable to someone," she said mildly.
He made a face.
"I don't really like either of those things. I get enough exercise at the shop, helping Ann, anyway."
"I can see how. I should come over more often."
"It sounds like you're already on the go all day helping the doctor."
"I make enough terrible blunders in a day that I should get plenty of exercise from running around, trying to fix them." Then, with a forced little smile, she continued. "I'm sorry, Louis. You probably want to sleep."
The sound of hay scratching against wet cloth as she turned over to face away from him was impossibly loud in the suddenly uncomfortable silence of the loft, filled only by the occasional bleat from a still-awake sheep. He fidgeted uncomfortably. He'd never seen someone go from cheerful and faintly teasing to miserable over her own failings so quickly.
Now would be a good time to be like Michael. For someone so quiet, he sure had an amazing ability to say the right thing when someone was upset.
Heck, he'd settle for being like Ann, terrible with this kind of stuff, but with such an innate gift of humour that she'd be able to joke the pretty blue-haired girl next to him out of her despondency.
Finally, at a loss, he just shifted closer and patted her shoulder awkwardly.
"Everyone makes mistakes. I think you're a good nurse. You're...comforting."
She turned over onto her back and sent him a grateful look.
"I'm glad you think so. I'm just so clumsy sometimes. I'm so afraid I'm going to badly injure someone if it doesn't get better soon."
"You're only clumsy when you try to do ten things at once, and everyone's clumsy then."
She chuckled softly.
"Thank-you, Louis. I'm sorry about this.
"It's okay," he said frankly, giving her shoulder a comforting squeeze. "You just need to stop beating yourself up so much."
Her warm, tranquil smile turned mischeivous.
"From what Ann tells me, you're one to talk about that. Aren't you the same person who refused to suggest any more modifications to her motorized potato masher after the first one didn't work?"
"That's different," Louis protested hotly. "I don't want Ann to get hurt because of me."
Gina blinked puzzled honey-brown eyes behind her glasses at him.
"You know...Ann doesn't worry about it. She's had plenty of mishaps, even before you came to town, and she just keeps trying again."
"I know," Louis said, shaking his head fondly. "She's really amazing that way. Part of me wishes I could be the same, but..."
"The rest of you knows that the Junk Shop would never survive if you were both fearless inventors?" she suggested, mouth quirking slightly.
"Yeah, something like that," he agreed with a grin. "She's just like this crazy little sister that you want to protect, even though you know she's way smarter and way more talented than you, just because she's young and...well, crazy."
"I know what you mean," Gina laughed softly. "I know that Dia must hate it when I try to take care of her and protect her all the time, and when she has a better day, I'll feel ridiculous for doing it, but as soon as she starts coughing, I always seem to panic."
"I don't know if I'd call it panicking," he objected, recalling the calm, soothing, level-headed way that she'd gone about taking care of an attack that had sent her best friend gasping to the ground during the Fireworks Festival that the doctor had bowed out of. "What is it that she has, anyway?" He internally kicked himself as she looked at him strangely. "Uh, I mean, unless you think she wouldn't like you talking about it..."
"No, Dia doesn't mind. It's very severe asthma. It's gotten better since we moved, but none of us thought about all the smoke in the air from the fireworks that night. It's the only attack she's had since we left the city. At least, the only one that bad."
"Wow, athsma. And she's dating a woodsman!" he laughed. "Sawdust everywhere!"
Gina smiled, just short of a grin.
"She's surprisingly willing to go through the extra check-ups and medication, and always keep her inhaler with her, in order to see him more often. And he's promised quite happily never to come straight from work."
"I guess that's love," Louis sighed dramatically.
"I have to admit, I'm a little envious," Gina said wistfully. "I have no idea what that must feel like."
"But what about the doctor? I thought you two were pretty close."
Luck was on Louis's side, and Gina shifted to face away from him again, apparently without noticing that he had suddenly become very attentive to her answer.
"I—Alex is like a dear older brother to me. I like him very much. He's trusted me with so much and he's been so kind to both Dia and me. Dia thinks I'm just being silly, dismissing everything that doesn't fit my storybook ideal of true love, because it feels a little bit different for everyone. But--" She blushed brightly. "I think that if I did love Alex that way, I would know."
"I think he likes you a lot..."
"I don't think he really knows what he wants. He has things confused in his own mind, about what constitutes being grateful to a girl for helping him, and what constitutes being in love. There—there's someone that I think he might feel far more strongly about." She laughed softly as images of short, glossy brown hair and a bright, sparkling smile, drawn most likely by one of the animals she was currently watching nervously from the hayloft, danced through her head. "I don't know that he even knows yet, just how much he lights up every time he sees Ellen, but it's obvious to the rest of us. And even if I did care for him that way, I wouldn't want to risk harming something like that."
Louis chuckled gently, with some difficulty keeping a tight reign on a sudden rush of exultation at her words.
"I guess I know how you feel. There's someone I've liked for a while. Kind of since I met her. But she had this great boyfriend, and I'm just...I'm just Louis, so I didn't want to do anything about it."
"Ohh...I didn't know that Lyla was seeing someone," Gina said sadly, eyes filled with warm golden-brown sympathy, one hand resting at his arm, valiantly resisting the desire to soothingly stroke that lovely, longish, mussed dark-brown hair of his instead.
He blinked, surprised.
"Oh. Uh, right."
"I suppose, come to think of it, I did hear some things about her and Jack. I'm sorry, Louis. You really liked her, didn't you?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess," he agreed hesitantly, eyes darting away from her gaze and cheeks growing brightly red. "But, um, there was kind of someone else. We share a lot of interests, and--"
"Oh! Ann!" she guessed, forcing a lot of very manufactured enthusiasm into her voice.
"No, it's not Ann," he said, a tiny note of irritation creeping into his voice. "It's this other girl, Ann's friend. She's, uh, a lot quieter than Ann, and I guess I kind of like that. And she's a nurse. A really good one, too, and I would know, since people have a way of getting injured when Ann and I are inventing."
He finished this statement with a grin that dared her to mistake his meaning this time, and it grew wider as her face turned suddenly and brilliantly red, a tiny smile creeping over soft pale pink lips.
He laughed, the sound uncharacteristically loud and slightly hysterical.
"Uh, you're welcome."
"I...I think I might feel the same way."
Shyly, very hesitantly, she pulled him into a hug, and sighed contentedly when his arm wrapped awkwardly around her waist.
"Do you want to come to Duke's with me for dinner some night?" he asked after a long, peaceful moment during which only their breathing broke the muggy silence of the barn.
She pulled back sightly and nodded, shy little perma-smile still firmly in place.
"That would be nice." Summoning up all her courage, she snuggled a little against his chest. "Do you think Ann will be mad?"
"I don't think so," he replied, carefully stroking her hair and trying not to disrupt any of its braids or bows. "She says she saw this coming."
"I would never have thought of Ann as a matchmaker," Gina noted, muffling a yawn.
He peeked down at the top of her head
"Try to get some sleep."
She nodded obediently, then looked up.
"I think the rain has stopped."
He listened very carefully.
"Yeah, I think you're right."
She wrapped her arms more tightly around him.
"We could probably go now."
He rested his cheek at the top of her head.
Moments passed, and after approximately ten of them, a soft snore drifted down from the hayloft.
"What the hell is this!"
Gina sat bolt upright, her first thought that Dia must be very angry, because this didn't even sound like her voice.
As her eyes lit on a familiar strange hat, shaggy purple hair, and a distinctly scowling expression, she winced.
"Oh...um, good morning, Jamie."
"Jamie!" Louis echoed, horrified, scrambling to a sitting position. "I thought this was Jack's barn!"
"Jack's barn doesn't have a hayloft," Jamie informed him icily.
"We—neither of us have ever actually seen it," Gina admitted. "We were caught in the storm, and we got lost, so we decided to take shelter in the first place we could find."
"Which was my barn," the purple-haired young woman finished, arms crossed, valiantly fighting a tiny quirk tugging at the corners of her lips. "Lucky me."
"Look, we're really sorry about this," Louis spoke up, one hand instinctively clutching Gina's. "We'll just get out of your way now."
"I won't argue with that," Jamie muttered, even as the pair scrambled down the ladder and out of the barn, the girl giving a little yelp of terror as a cow wandered over to say hello, its expression apparently seeming, to her early-morning drowsiness, too hostile for comfort.
As the their carefully quiet chatter grew louder the second they got out of the barn, and then softer again as they hurried away, Jamie flopped back in the hay and sighed.
"This town gets weirder by the day..."
End Notes: Nerd-love! Nerd-love! It's cute to me. :D