Note: This is an FOMT one-shot. I got to wondering, what must it be like for Cliff if you don't get him to work at the winery? And this appeared in my head. Please enjoy! (And as always, reviews are appreciated.)
Cliff gazed at the expanse of sea before him and let out a resigned sigh. He had known this day would come. He'd known it every day at the Inn as his savings slowly disappeared with each payment. Day by day, he'd searched fervently for a job. The only person willing to hire him was Carter, but the preacher couldn't afford to pay him much and Cliff found he couldn't even pay a month's rent with the salary. The truth of the matter was certainly depressing, but Cliff knew he'd just have to deal with it. It wasn't like this sort of situation hadn't happened to him before.
Except this time, Ann was involved.
"You're leaving?" she had exclaimed incredulously. "But, why?" He had explained it to her as best he could; how his job wouldn't pay enough and he couldn't pay the rent. Ann had insisted that her father would extend the time he had before he had to pay the rent, but Cliff had only smiled and told her not to worry. "How can you say that!" Ann had shouted. "Of course I'm worried! You're leaving and going who-knows-where, and I'll never see you again! Is that okay? Should I be alright with that? I don't think so, Cliff!" For the next half-hour, he was unable to leave the room while the grief-stricken girl alternatively cried in his arms and hit him angrily with a dish-rag. "How," she had repeated over and over, "how can you do this to me?"
He had told her he was leaving Sunday afternoon. Today was Saturday morning.
Cliff slung his small bag of possessions over his shoulder and started up the ramp to the boat. Zack smiled at him apologetically as the traveler boarded.
"It's too bad you couldn't stay," the shipper offered. That had to the understatement of the century. Cliff simply nodded and sat himself down in the boat. The sea spray tickled his nose, and Cliff's short ponytail swayed in the breeze's playful touch. His eyes flickered up to gaze at the clear blue sky lit up by the shining sun. A flock of sea gulls circled overhead and dove down to catch the fish in the water. Cliff closed his eyes. The morning seemed too perfect for his downcast mood.
"Are you ready for departure?" Zack asked, and Cliff nodded again. The muscular man began to untie the boat from the dock. Cliff situated himself in his seat and his hand grasped the rail of the boat anxiously. He was afraid his emotions would get the better of him and he'd jump overboard to get back to land. He was an adult; he had to be mature and accept his fate.
"Hey, Zack! Cliff! Wait!" a voice called. The speaker, a man in farmer garb, ran up to the dock breathlessly.
"Jack?" Cliff exclaimed in surprise. He was disappointed: he had been hoping for Ann.
"I'm so glad I could catch up with you before you left," Jack began, smiling broadly. Cliff wondered why Jack was so intent on talking to him. The farmer had hardly noticed him before.
"Is there something wrong?" Cliff questioned, glancing at Zack to see if he was ready to leave yet.
"Well, I just needed to tell you something," Jack insisted. "You see, I found you a job."
Cliff's disinterest disappeared instantly.
"You did that?" Cliff gasped. "Do you have any idea what this means to me?" The miracle seemed so surreal. He could get a second chance at Ann, he could keep meeting with Mr. Carter, he could finally settle down with an honest job in a village he could call home! Cliff would have hugged the farmer if he hadn't already boarded the boat.
"Yeah, well, here's the thing," Jack started again, a strange glint appearing in his eyes. "I said I found you a job. I never said I would give it to you."
That one sentence killed all the hopes that Cliff had just brought back to life. This man smiling before him, did he just say what Cliff thought he said?
"…You're kidding," Cliff stated. This made Jack laugh.
"Is it really so unbelievable? Cliff, you're really simple, you know that?" Jack's comment made Cliff burn with rage, but he managed to keep a tight lid on it. This man had the power to make Cliff's dream come true, and Cliff wasn't going to lose the opportunity.
"Do you mind explaining that?" Cliff replied carefully, trying not to offend the farmer.
"That you're simple?"
"No, why you won't give me the job."
"Ah, that." Jack scratched his head in thought. "Well, I'm not stupid. I can see that you have a more-than-friendly relationship with Ann."
"And what of it?" Cliff defended himself, not liking where the conversation was going.
"Let's put this in your terms: I'm planning to make Ann my wife. And quite frankly, you're in the way. Once you're out of the picture, Ann will need a shoulder to cry on and a man to love. And that man," he bragged, "will be me. Not you."
Cliff's hands itched to strangle the man, but he somehow kept his cool. But how, how could such a dirt-bag fall in love with someone as free-spirited and caring as Ann? She was everything that made Cliff smile: beautiful, independent, and outspoken. Her outbursts, funny laugh, and open conversations filled him with more joy and inner peace than he had thought humanly possible. In his heart, Cliff knew Ann would never fall in love with someone as despicable as Jack.
Or at least, that's what he wanted to think.
"…What do you see in her?" Cliff asked.
"I see a woman stupid enough to do as I say and work without being hard on the eyes," Jack shrugged. "I was thinking Popouri, but she couldn't work on a farm. And at least Ann can cook…"
"Someone like you doesn't deserve a woman like Ann," Cliff growled.
"Well, aren't we judgmental?" Jack exclaimed. "Hanging around that boring preacher must have helped you become that way, I suppose. If I were you, I'd remember the fact that I hold the key to your future in my hands…"
"You're not going to give me the job no matter what I say," Cliff realized aloud.
"So why did you tell me?" Cliff practically shouted, sobs escaping his throat. "Why did you have to tell me I was so close to staying here? Why did you have to crush me like this?"
"Because. It was the only way to fully enjoy the fruits of my labor. What's the use of ruining someone's life if they don't know you were the one who did it?" he smirked.
Cliff was too furious to respond. His hands closed into fists so tight that he could feel his nails digging into the skin. But it was all he could do to avoid knocking the daylights out of the farmer. Jack's face remained confident and smiling, sneering at the helpless Cliff before him.
The tension was broken by Zack: "We're ready to go, Cliff! Let's set sail!"
"Yes, Cliff," Jack agreed. "I think it's time you set sail."
Cliff could only watch the shore steadily get further and further away, until Jack and Mineral Town became tiny dots in the distance. And even then, those dots later disappeared into the yawning mouth of the sea. Cliff covered his face in shame and sobbed hoarsely, for Ann, for his bleak future, for the life he could have had but was stolen from him. And it was all because of Jack, that blasted farmer. If it hadn't been for Jack, everything could have been so perfect. He could have truly loved his life.
At that moment, the boat smacked against a rough wave, causing it to sway to the left a little. A "Whoa!" sounded from Zack, who was driving, and Cliff reached for his bag that had fallen on the floor. As he picked it up, he noticed an envelope that had fallen out of it. Curious, he opened it clumsily and read its contents:
If you're reading this and I haven't said good-bye, then that means two things: I will never forgive you and you're a terrible liar. I can't believe you're leaving, I guess I always assumed you'd be by my side. Remember when you first came here? It took forever for me to make you smile! And now you're wasting all my hard work by leaving. You officially suck. But even though you're leaving Mineral Town and I probably haven't been able to see you off, I want to make sure you hear three words that I've never said (or written, as it is) to anyone else in the world. So here they are: I love you. So you'd better find a job somewhere and come back, Cliff. Or I might have to come after you myself.
A true, genuine smile lit up Cliff's face as he folded the letter in half. Suddenly, Jack's threats seemed empty. Putting the letter back into his pocket, Cliff let out a little chuckle to himself.
Ann was right. He was a terrible liar.