Author's Note: Sorry for the late update. Feel free to makeany suggestions on how to improvethe story:)
Lifting her hand to shade her eyes from the glaring sun, Jill scanned her surroundings. Not a cloud was in the sky today. The calming blue sky stretched perpetually in all directions. In front of her, the ocean lapped tamely at the beach. A sense of calmness momentary swept through Jill.
Turning around, Jill calmly surveyed the beach. It appeared as if the entire village had come to watch the Beach Festival. A rainbow of beach towels were laid over the beach with large picnic baskets placed on top for later use.
Light footsteps approached her from behind, stopping beside her. Her expression hardened as she remembered her task.
"Did you find out who is entering the competition?" Jill questioned, working on keeping her expression calm. No matter how hard she tried to push the thought of losing away, the notion always resurfaced. If she were to lose… what would they do? Perhaps it was because of that, that Jill found herself unable to look at Jamie. A light breeze tugged playfully at her white blouse, which covered her simple black swimsuit.
She must not lose. She could not lose.
Her hand trembled slightly as she repeated these words to herself. She had to win this competition. She couldn't afford to lose. Jill breathed in deeply, moving her hand up to clutch onto the front of her blouse.
"Since I'm not entering this year, the only person you need to worry about is Ray."
Jamie frowned as he stared out at the ocean. He too, knew how much was a stake in this competition. Losing couldn't be an option in this situation. His icy blue eyes flickered to Jill for a moment before returning to look at the perpetual body of water.
"Use your surroundings to your advantage."
Jamie nodded curtly before turning around and walking away.
An empty feeling seemed to fill Jill's heart as she turned and watched Jamie's retreating back. For a moment, the farmer wanted to call him back but the words died in her lips. There was nothing Jamie could do for her. Asking him to stay with her would waste valuable time that could be spent researching other notes.
The farmer exhaled and calmly started to stretch. Her swimming was still not yet ideal. Her key to victory was in the currents. The only problem was the unpredictability of the ocean. She would have to make the best of it, though relying on luck to win the competition wasn't something she felt would be a good idea. Being prepared definitely helped. Jill straightened, her eyes landing on Ray, standing a few metres away from her.
"Good afternoon Ray," Jill greeted with a smile on her face as she walked over to the brown-haired fisherman.
The fisherman jumped.
"H- hey, Jill," Ray greeted, a hint of pink touching upon his cheeks.
"How have you been lately?" inquired the farmer, her hands behind her back. Ray still appeared slightly flustered but appeared to have recovered.
"Fishing has still been poor, but I'm managing."
"That's good to know," Jill replied. The farmer tilted her head to her side as she examined Ray. The fisherman had bags under his eyes and was thinner than Jill last remembered.
"I haven't seen you around lately," Ray commented after a brief silence. "Perhaps we could go fishing some time, that is, if Jamie would permit it."
"I've been busy, but I'm sure we can get together," Jill nodded, taking her eyes away from Ray. "Actually, why don't you come over for dinner after the festival?"
Ray blushed once again but nodded.
The farmer took a step back and stared up at the sky. Ray's difficulties were an advantage to her but wasn't something to cheer about. Jill hoped that things would return to normal after collecting all the notes.
A warm breeze fluttered past the two, making Jill wonder if the village truly had changed that much. She still remembered clearly chatting happily with the shy fisherman during last year's festival. If it weren't for the ominous aura hanging over the village, Jill would have believed that nothing had changed at all.
"Who do you think would most likely win this competition?" Jill asked light-heartedly, pushing her thoughts aside.
Ray ran his hand through his hair as he pondered the question.
"Though Alex is a good swimmer, his stamina isn't as good as the other three competitors. Basil has good stamina, but judging from what I had seen last year, his strengths do not lay in swimming," Ray nodded as he listed off the swimmers, a look of concentration on his face. "Your stamina is quite good, but…"
Jill smiled expectantly.
"I, um, understand that swimming isn't one of your strengths either."
"So you think you'll win?" Jill asked, glad that Ray had underestimated her swimming abilities. It was another advantage for her.
"Well… most likely," he replied bashfully, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I see," Jill replied thoughtfully. Her eyes were calculating as she thought over what Ray had just told her. Ray's statements were based on what he had seen last year, thus they couldn't be entirely reliable. She knew that Alex's stamina had not improved so the doctor wasn't a swimmer she needed to worry about. Basil on the other hand… The farmer shook her head. Jamie told her that the only person she needed to worry about was Ray. Jamie did not make unfounded assumptions, so she had to trust him.
"Jill, I couldn't help but notice that you've changed," Ray suddenly announced.
The farmer raised an eyebrow, tilting her head to the side.
Ray furrowed his brow.
"For one thing, your eyes are more calculating," Ray pointed out as he counted his points on his fingers. "You didn't use to hide your thoughts behind that smile –you were more honest with your feelings. In fact, if I had said that I haven't seen you around lately, you would be critical because we had passed each other yesterday… Is there something wrong between you and Jamie?"
Jill forced a smile on her face.
"No, nothing is wrong Ray," Jill replied brightly, though she was slightly irritated that her interaction with Ray had backfired on her. Still, she had gained some information.
Jill dashed forward, creating an explosion of water droplets and reaching towards the blue buoy floating a few metres in front of her. The entire field was marked in her mind. The green buoy drifted further ahead while the red buoy was on her left and the yellow buoy lay diagonally ahead to her left.
Her cold fingers clumsily pushed against the blue buoy. The farmer hesitated for a moment, deciding upon the direction she should go. Suddenly, a current flowing forwards appeared in front of Jill and the farmer chose the green buoy as her next target. Jill kicked her feet, dashing forwards into the current. Like a strong arm, the farmer found herself being helplessly towed away by the ocean. Jill breathed in deeply as she let go of all her control as she let the current guide her. Luck. It all came down to that now. Her speed almost doubled as the current smoothly carried her forwards. Half way across the field, the current stopped, leaving Jill to struggle to keep up with the other faster and more experienced swimmers.
Jill concentrated, making sure that her legs were straight and her strokes quick and precise. The water slid past her like a cool snake. In less than a thirty seconds, Jill had her hand on the green buoy. The farmer quickly sped off towards the yellow buoy to her left, creating a big splash of water behind her.
Concentrating on her movements and surroundings, Jill moved forward at a steady pace while carefully avoiding currents that flowed against her path. Time seemed to slow with each stroke. She had only crossed one-third of the distance. There was still two-thirds to go. Jill kicked harder, pushing against the water.
Her muscles, burning like fire, were starting to protest but Jill pushed the protests aside. She couldn't waste any time. Each second was crucial.
The farmer's eyes widened as she spotted the friendly dolphin that always could be found around the pier splashing along beside her. The creature chirped cheerful and Jill smoothly slid onto it's back like she had done so many times before. With a gasp, Jill found herself being dragged forwards. Cold air and water droplets flashed behind her, leaving her completely breathless during the short time the dolphin carried her.
A smile escaped Jill's lips as she slipped off the dolphin and touched the third buoy. The other swimmers had only just left their second buoy. She was going to win.
Jill sped off to her last target, kicking hard against the water. The liquid rushed past her face, spraying millions of droplets in the air. Seven metres. Five metres. Three metres. The farmer's heart felt as if it would jump out of her chest. Jill reached forward with her hand.
Suddenly, the rancher felt a tug on her leg. A whirlpool had started to form around her. Panic rose in Jill's chest as the water tugged at her. Droplets sprayed her as she was pulled around in a circle. The farmer kicked hard against the water, trying to escape. However, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't pull herself out of her situation. She would have to waste precious time waiting for the whirlpool to fade away. Her heart beat wildly in her chest. She couldn't lose. The farmer breathed in deeply, trying to calm herself down.
A jolt of pain suddenly traveled up her leg. Jill winced, finding that she wasn't able to move her right leg. Instantly, Jill began to sink. The farmer gasped as she splashed about, trying to keep afloat. Water continued to roar around her. Jill tilted her head upwards as she struggled to keep her head above the water.
Water splashed into her nose and her mouth, leaving her throat burning from the salty taste. A large wave crashed over her head, sending the farmer plunging underneath the water. Her eyes stung as she spun around underneath the ocean water, trying to find the direction of the surface. Raising her head, Jill frantically flapped her arms, trying to reach the sparkling light above her. Her lungs burned from lack of oxygen. Her strokes were weak and clumsy. Jill reached her hand forward, expecting to find light but was only enveloped in darkness.
Pain racked her chest as the farmer coughed, spewing out water. Cool air rushed into her lungs as Jill breathed in deeply. More coughs erupted in her chest, choking her. Once the coughs ceased, the farmer blinked away the tears in her eyes to find a pair of dark eyes gazing back at her.
"Jill, are you alright?" Alex questioned, his face inches away from hers. His warm hands were placed gently on her shoulders.
The farmer blinked sluggishly at the doctor, trying to piece together what was happening. Her body was felt like it had been dumped into a pool of ice and then trampled over by a herd of cows (most likely belonging to Jamie). Jill focused her attention on Alex, wondering what had happened.
"I'm… I'm fine," Jill croaked. Her surroundings slowly stopped spinning and the farmer realized the other two swimmers and various villagers surrounded her.
Swimming… she had been swimming?
"That's a relief!"
The farmer closed her eyes as she processed the information in her head. She didn't lose the contest did she? No she couldn't have. Not when she was only a few feet away from the last buoy.
"Alex, the contest—"
"Jill, you shouldn't be worrying about the contest when you nearly drowned."
"Did I lose?" Jill pressed, completely ignoring Alex's words.
The doctor's grip on Jill's shoulders tightened.
"Well… you didn't win."
At that moment, the world seemed to crash down on Jill. She had lost the contest? No… Alex must be mistaken. The farmer closed her eyes. She had never managed to touch the last buoy though. She had lost. The statement fell heavily on her. Her fingers dug into the wet sand.
"What happened?" Alex questioned.
"My… leg cramped up," Jill whispered, her heart clenching painfully as she accepted the fact that she had failed. She had lost because of a simple thing like that. She had been so close to the last buoy. She could have reached it. If only she had reached a little farther.
"Thank goodness you're alright."
Jill bit her lip as tears formed in her eyes. No, she wasn't fine. What was she going to do now? What was going to happen to the village? Her eyes stung. She shouldn't have lost.
"Jill, are you alright?" the doctor questioned, his grip on her shoulders tightening slightly. Uncharacteristic worry was laced into his voice and Jill was reminded of the time they were both trapped in the mines. She didn't deserve his worry though. "Please, calm down and tell me what's wrong."
The farmer shook her head as tears trickled down her face. What could she tell him? That she had completely doomed the village? Tiny sobs escaped her lips as the farmer trembled underneath Alex. Worried whispers surrounded Jill.
"I'll take care of the rest."
Before she knew it, Alex's gentle touched was removed and Jill was roughly lifted off the ground. The familiar scent of berries mixed with wool tickled her nose as Jill clung desperately onto Jamie's poncho while sobs raked her body.
"No Ray, I do not want your help," the man growled as he started heading off the beach. The hushed whispers of the villagers slowly faded away and the familiar sound of woodland animals filled the air.
The rancher was silent as he carried Jill back home. Jill could feel displeasure radiating off Jamie. Jill bit down hard on her lips as the tears continued to tumble down her cheeks, anticipating the worse once they returned to Jamie's home. He didn't need to shout at her, for she understood on her own the full meaning of her failure. Entering his house, Jamie silently picked up Jill's bag of clothes and continued upstairs to his bedroom.
"Stop crying like it's the end of the world," Jamie commanded harshly as he dropped the farmer unceremoniously onto his bed.
For a moment, Jill was confused at the lack of insults coming from Jamie, but slowly recovered.
"It is though," Jill replied, furiously wiping away her tears. Without a hundred notes, they could never defeat the Shadow Goddess! Jill could feel the strength of the Shadow Goddess growing each day. It wouldn't take long before another disaster occurred. When that happened, it would be her fault.
"We could hold the Shadow Goddess off for another year," Jamie replied nonchalantly. He wrinkled his nose in disgust as he gazed down at Jill.
"How many villagers would die by then? Tell me!" Jill yelled pushing herself up into a sitting position. She gripped tightly onto Jamie's poncho, twisting the once smooth and unwrinkled fabric.
Jamie turned around coldly.
"How could you guarantee that no one would die?" Jill questioned angrily, yelling at Jamie's back. She knew that Jamie could not guarantee that no one would die. In fact, if a villager died, she doubted that he would feel anything.
"Because I say so," he growled as he threw a towel and some dry clothes into her face. Jill swept them aside, standing up and glaring angrily at Jamie.
"How could you say that? You don't even care about the villagers!"
"Oh, you appeared to have thought differently yesterday," Jamie replied scathingly, his icy eyes cold. "You sure do change your mind quickly."
Jill's usually calm façade shattered in a millisecond.
"Get out now!" the farmer shouted as she pushed against Jamie's chest, shoving him out of his room. "I don't want to see you! I don't want to hear you!"
Slamming the door shut, Jill shoved a trunk in front of the entrance. Angry shouts could be heard from the other side of the door but the farmer filtered it out. Breathing deeply, Jill slumped against the wooden trunk, hugging her legs to her chest. It was over.
Jamie's shouts eventually receded. The sunlight slowly faded away, leaving the room in cold and darkness. Jill sat silently against the trunk, hugging her knees while trying not to shiver from the cold. Her ice-cold swimming suit still clung to her skin as her water droplets dripped down from her tresses.
What was she going to do now?
Jamie scowled as he swung the front door open, instantly becoming bathed in golden light from the setting sun.
"Yes?" Jamie questioned coldly, while squinting from the sun.
The village's doctor smiled pleasantly as he greeted Jamie. Despite it being a holiday, his hair was ruffled and his lab coat smudged. Alex was always diligent but Jamie could tell the reason for his disheveled appearance was because of Jill.
"Good evening Jamie. Ah, I was wondering if Jill was alright."
Jamie crossed his arms over his chest. It appeared as if his assumption was correct. The doctor was still as foolish as ever whenever something concerning Jill occurred.
"Could I see her then?" Alex inquired politely, his hands behind his back.
Snorting, Jamie shut the door but was stopped hastily by Alex.
"Jamie, I just want to see if she is alright."
"I told you –she is perfectly fine," Jamie growled in irritation. The two glared at each other. The doctor was the first to give in.
Alex sighed, rubbing the back of his neck as he gazed curiously at Jamie. Reaching into his pocket, the doctor drew out a potion.
"Could you give this to her then?"
"If you would go away," Jamie grumbled as he accepted the warm bottle. The palm of his hand tingled slightly as he wrapped his fingers around the slender neck of the bottle.
"I promised Jill I wouldn't dig too much into your situation, but… please take good care of her. Even though she had made some mistakes, she is really a good person."
Smiling pleasantly, Alex nodded his thanks and turned around to head back to his clinic.
"Easy for you to say," the rancher grumbled as he pocketed the potion. Closing the door, Jamie strode over to the kitchen and pulled back a wooden chair, dropping disgustedly into it. Life wasn't going as planned –as usual.
The rancher pushed against the edge of the kitchen table, balancing on the chair's two hind legs. Tilting his head back, Jamie stared contemplatively at the ceiling. Losing the note was a setback, but he was sure that it wasn't possible to get all the remaining 50 notes within a year.
They should be focusing on finding the next note, which he believed was at the sheep festival near the end of summer. Looking at the current state of Jill's sheep, he could tell that she couldn't win against Blue Sky Ranch. Not that Jill mistreated her sheep –Blue and Ellen just had more experience than Jill.
His eyes drifted towards the stairs, wondering when Jill would finally come to her senses and come out of his room. Stupid. She can't accomplish anything by locking herself up –especially in his bedroom! Her time was better spent trying to find a solution.
Just when he believed that he couldn't think any worse of humankind, someone just had to prove him wrong… again. The villagers must all be in a "Do things to prove Jamie wrong" club. Jill was probably the founder of said club. The thought left a bitter taste in Jamie's mouth. Grumbling, the rancher leaned forward and sighed. Great, what was he going to do now? He was not going to be locked out of his own room.
The rancher eyed the small blue bowl sitting across from him and pushed back his chair. Grabbing the bowl of salad, Jamie stamped up the stairs and knocked loudly on his bedroom door.
His knocks echoed around the house. Other than the echoes and the sound of Jill's annoying pig squealing at something, there was no reply. Jamie frowned.
"How long are you planning on staying in there?"
Jill made no reply. Jamie rapped loudly on the door again, a large scowl plastered on his face.
"Do you think crying is going to do anything? I thought you were smarter than that. Apparently, I was wrong."
Jill bit her lip as she leaned forward, pressing her forehead against her knees. The farmer twitched as a couple strands of hair insistently poked at her eyes. She had enough problems without Jamie banging on the door demanding things from her. She didn't feel like listening to Jamie at the moment but the logical side of her reminded her that Jamie was right. Crying wasn't going to change anything. She was more resourceful than that.
Jill sighed, shifting her head so that her cheek was pressed against her knee. She should be spending all the time she had in trying to find the next note. As long as she was still capable of finding notes, she should be working to save the village. The farmer breathed in deeply, slowly gathering her thoughts together.
"Just take your time answering me. I have all the time in the world," Jamie grumbled sarcastically.
"Just let me think for a while," Jill replied.
"You can think, but not in my room! Unlike you, I need sleep."
Jill couldn't help but smirk slightly.
"You could sleep on the couch… you know, like I always do," she said. "It's actually not that bad. Of course, a bed is definitely better, but…"
The farmer could imagine Jamie fuming on the other side of the door. Of course, she understood that this wasn't improving the relationship between the two of them but at the moment Jill needed a laugh or at least revenge for making her sleep on the couch everyday. Jill actually didn't mind sleeping on the couch though. She still got a good night's rest and that was all that mattered to her. Still… she wouldn't mind taking Jamie's room for one night.
"In that case, you don't get dinner," Jamie replied evenly as he leaned against the railing, eyeing the bowl of salad in his hand. "I'm sure you're hungry… after all, you haven't eaten since breakfast."
Jill glared at the floor as she felt her stomach rumble.
"I had made such a healthy salad too… you sure you don't want it?"
Jamie smirked as the door clicked open.
"This better be the best salad I've ever tasted," Jill grumbled, holding her hand out.
The first rays of the morning sun trickled through the crack between Jamie's thick curtains, landing on the glass tabletop. Already awake, Jill was silently studying Jamie's suggestions on methods to find the rest of the musical notes they needed.
"Sheep festival…" Jill murmured quietly to herself. Jamie had won last year. With his help, she was confident that victory was assured. However… there was always the chance that Ellen and Blue could win.
The farmer sighed as she stared thoughtfully at the piece of paper. She couldn't leave anything to chance this time. Were there any methods to increase the chances of them getting the note fairly?
Jamie… if only he could receive notes. Jill furrowed her brow. He, unlike the villagers, was capable of finding notes –he just couldn't receive them. The only reason he couldn't receive notes was because he didn't care about the village. Perhaps she could change that.
Jill straightened in her seat. She had to change that in order to increase the chances of them getting the note.
"You're up early."
Jill raised her head and smiled politely.
"I'm just making up for the time I wasted yesterday."
"Hmph. You could have saved me a lot of trouble if you realized the stupidity of it before you broke down in the middle of the beach," Jamie grumbled as he sat across from her. Despite it being early, Jamie was awake and working hard on keeping his mask on.
Despite Jamie's comment, Jill maintained a smile on her face.
"You should relax a little," Jill suggested. The farmer leaned forward and tapped the piece of paper lying in front of her. "I found a method to increase our chances of getting the next note."
"How?" Jamie questioned, his frown still plastered on his face.
"You said you cared about the villagers correct?"
"No, you said that."
"But you do, don't you?" Jill pressed.
Jamie frowned as he gazed up at the ceiling.
"Some of them… to some degree."
"We'll try to find a method for you to get notes yourself."
Jamie appeared doubtful as he stared at Jill.
"There is no way you could convince me to care for every single idiotic human in this village."
"We'll start with a few… non-idiotic ones then."
Jamie turned away, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"You're just wasting your time."