Friendship or Love?

A/N: -Dramatic entrance with blinking lights and a lot of smoke- I'm back!! For real this time! And with a reeeaallly long chapter let me tell you. Whew my fingers are tired.

The reason that I was gone so long? Bascially just emotional problems. School, friends, stuff like that was the kind of stuff I was dealing with. I didn't really want to come back until I got it all sorted out and stood strong on my own two feet so I took a little-long-break to sort things out. I'm okay now, still kind of down with other matters but I'm slowly getting better.

Just the regular drama everyone faces every once and a while.

Now so I don't ramble on any longer,

On with the story! (You all missed that didn't you?)

Poultry Farm; Popuri's P.O.V

"RIIIIIIIIIICCCKKK!" I shrieked, slamming the refrigerator door shut behind me as I pivoted on my heels and stomped angrily towards the living room, where said criminal master mind was supposedly relaxing.

A sprig of wild orange hair was trying in vain to hide behind the couch as I marched into the room, unintentionally giving him away when a layer of dust rose up on him and caused him to sneeze. Humph. Serves him right. It's his own fault for not dusting the living room yet. And he calls me lazy.

"Rick," I hissed, grabbing the nearest object, which happened to be a pillow from the recliner, and sprinting over to his oh-so original hiding place. Please! He always hid there when we were five and playing hide-and-seek. Can't that idiot use his brain for more than chicken care?

Oh wait… What brain?

"Rick, get up!"

"Uh…Hey Popuri," the moron said, his voice muffled because half of his head was hidden underneath the sofa flap. "Uh… Just dusting…" Not even pausing to look at me, Rick tried to hide more of his body underneath the sofa, safe from whatever assault he had coming.

Too bad my stupid brother was now almost twice the size of the limited space available to him as a shelter.

"You're dusting with your hair?"

"Yes with my hair! Is there a problem with that? We all have our way of doing things! Now if you'll excuse me…"

I rolled my eyes. Idiot, idiot, idiot. How was I related to someone like this? "That wasn't even a nice try, Rick! Now get up!"

"Why?"

"You know why!"

"No. No, I don't."

"You're really pushing it Rick! So help me, if you don't come out from under the couch in five seconds I will call Karen and trust me, the end result will not be pretty." I even had my future sister-in-law on speed dial.

"….Y-You don't have the guts."

"Watch me." Let's see who was faster; Rick booking a jet plane to Hawaii or Karen sprinting a block to pulverize Rick. My gold's on Karen.

A brief moment of silence passed between us as I took a few steps back, ready to leap for the phone if he even thought about running to that door.

Just as the click of me getting the phone of the hinge echoed across the empty room, I heard a sigh emit from the older brother. "All right, all right."

A triumphant smile blossomed across my lips as I watched Rick ungracefully pull his head out from the space below; banging his head on the low boards in the process and earning a laugh from me. Hands on my hips, I observed him with one eye as he desperately tried to wipe off the layers of dust bunnies coating his glasses with the edge of his non-too-clean sweater, only succeeding in smearing the grime.

"Serve's you right," I chided, playing the phone back on the receiver and taking up the pillow I had set down on the floor to hold the phone. "Now…" I narrowed my eyes at him. "Where are my pineapple slices?"

"What pineapple slices?" Rick questioned, feigning innocence…or at least trying.

"You know what pineapple slices! The pineapple slices I had spent weeks trying to find and then storing them all winter season!"

"The ones you constantly spent every hour of your day making sure they were as fresh as possible?" He quirked an eyebrow and wobbly got to his feet, hair still a disheveled mess.

"Yes! Where are they?"

"The ones you said were for Kai?"

"Stop beating around the bush, Rick!" I scolded, holding my pillow threateningly. "Where are they?"

The idiot held his hands up in defense. "What makes you think I even touched them? Those things were decorated with warning symbols like skulls and crossbones along with sayings like "Do not touch or die!" or "Property of Popuri," and even "For Kai-e-poo."" Rick grimaced at the last label.

Kudos to him for actually reading the warnings. "Exactly. Rick, you're the only one who lives here besides me. They were in the fridge, safe and sound last night." I pointed to the kitchen to emphasis my point. "Today, they're gone. What did you do with them?"

"I didn't touch them."

"Rick-!"

"Maybe a chicken got to them!" my older brother proposed, eyes wide with hope as he made a few steps towards the door. "I'll just go and see if I can spot any clues in the chicken coop…"

I slapped my forehead with frustration as he bolted out the door. "I'm calling Karen!" I warned, picking up the phone once again. That outta get to him.

"Fine, fine, fine!" he yelled, coming back in the house through the still swinging door with his hands up in defeat.

Dang, he didn't get far.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, he took a step back from my no doubt frightening appearance before continuing. "…I-I gave them to Doug."

A beat was all the safe time he had left.

"YOU WHAT?!" I shrieked, chucking the pillow at his head. How could he?! Those were for Kai! Two seasons of intensive care and patience exploding right in my face! What a great brother he is! "YOU IDIOT!!"

Diving behind the coffee table and barely managing to avoid the thrown projectile, he peeked out at me. "G-Geez, Popuri! Calm down! They were just pieces of fruit! Doug needed them to prepare a beverage for the Goddess Festival. …I didn't think you would mind. Besides," he continued, going into his 'Kai-lecture' mode. "Kai has enough money to buy himself a pineapple dish from the Inn. You don't need to waste your time making him a dish or even chasing after him for that matter. I'm sure there's a perfectly acceptable guy somewhere-."

I cut him off with a growl. This time, he had taken it way too far. I take back what I said, screamed, earlier. He's not just an idiot; he's a moronic idiot. "THAT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!! YOU CAN'T CONTROL WHO I LOVE!! AND THOSE PINEAPPLE SLICES WERE FOR KAI!!" In a blind frenzy, I grabbed the other pillow and hurled it at his head. "I WAS GOING TO SURPRISE HIM WITH HIS FAVORITE DISH!!" I gritted my teeth, a bad habit I did whenever I was extremely pissed off. "AND NOW I CAN'T!! AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!! YOU'RE THE WORST BROTHER EVER!!"

A groan sounded from behind the table as the pillow made contact with his forehead. "You can buy more, you know!"

"BUT THEY WON'T BE SPECIAL!! THEY'LL JUST BE REGULAR PINEAPPLES!" I screeched, picking up another pillow from the couch. I admit, maybe I was going a bit overboard, but right now, I didn't care. I didn't care if my brother thought I was crazy and I sure as hell didn't care what kind of cause they went to.

The point was…they were gone.

Hastily, I tucked a strand of my puffy hair behind my ear and prepared to throw the next pillow.

"Wait, wait, wait!" Rick yelled, waving his hands above his head as he saw my movements. "Doug said he wasn't going to make the beverage until a day before the Festival. I'm sure if you ask him, you can at least get some back."

I paused, considering the option. The least I could do was try. ...Maybe he wasn't a moronic idiot after all; just an idiot.

Huffily crossing my arms over my chest, pillow still in hand, I continued to glare at him. "Fine. You got lucky this time."

Fed up with the world, I crossed the room and fingered Mom's old pink shawl that hung on the coat hanger right by the door, considering putting it on. This was my tradition now, walking to the door, briefly touching Mom's shawl and each time thinking about what it would look like wrapped around my shoulders.

Mom always said I would look just like her with it on.

Eyebrows furrowing, I let my hand drop and composed myself. She was gone. Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone. It just seemed so hard to believe that I wouldn't wake up one day and see her standing behind the kitchen counter, smiling and laughing as she fixed her famous omelets for me and Rick for breakfast.

It was strange how fast I could remember Mom and just suddenly feel this emptiness inside of me, letting it eat away at me. Mom always said I could have the strangest mood swings.

We all die eventually but…why do some have to go so soon? Can't the Goddess tell that we still need them down here? If so…then why take them?

"Uh… Popuri?" Rick's voice suddenly shattered my fantasy vision and brought me back. Back into the cold, hard reality of hurt.

But somewhere inside of me a little voice rang out, You're not the only one hurt. A glance back at Rick's head that was peeking out from behind the couch told me that I was not alone. I wasn't alone with my rage towards whoever decided it was her time and I wasn't alone with the fake smiles I gave everyone, telling them I was fine and that I would survive.

Rick was going through the exact same thing; phony grins and all.

But somehow my heart wouldn't except it. Somewhere, I still thought I was alone. Still too soon I guess. Maybe someday…

I gave a small shake of my head to bring me out of my depression. I was angry at Rick… Had to stay angry at Rick.

Putting on my best annoyed expression, I threw my brother a false death glare and made the 'I'm-watching-you-sign' before turning back to the wooden entrance, trying to wipe away the quivering tears behind my eyelashes that were just waiting to fall.

Had to stay strong. For Mom at least…

Regaining my self-control, I finally managed to bring back the boiling fury that was directed at the geek behind me. I yanked open the door and let the sunlight pour in as I slipped on my shoes that were on the small floor mat. noticing that I still had the pillow in one hand. An evil smirk suddenly crossed my lips.

I guess Mom was right after all when she said I had crazy mood swings. From angry to sad to as wicked as the devil…or Stu with a fake snake.

Whirling around on my heels, I spotted my victim lounging on the couch, sighing in relief at being "off the hook". His eyes were closed and I was sure that he was pleasantly unaware of what was about to hit him. Oooh, this was just too good to pass up! Let's see what happens when you mess with Popuri!

I brought my arm back and made sure to aim exactly for his face. Here's where all those pitching lessons I took in the city pay off.

Chucking the pillow just like I was taught with a baseball, I watched in delight as the blue projectile silently sailed through air, heading straight for his face. Go baby, GO!

THAWCK! Home run! And the crowd goes wild!! Popuri: 100,000; Rick: 0! Somebody shut up the referee; that was not a foul by any means!

"Stay away from my stuff!" I concluded, unable to hide the smile at the pillow that had just landed perfectly in his surprised, dust covered face. Revenge was sooo sweet!

Not waiting for a response, I slammed the door shut behind me and took off down the porch. Leaping off the last step and onto the dirt path, I clutched the shawl to me as I started my sprint towards the inn, giving a goodbye wave to the chickens that were out in the pen.

Maybe it was the chickens or, oh I don't know, hitting Rick in the face with a pillow for taking my special ingredient, but I left in a much better mood than I was in two minutes ago.

Local Supermarket; Karen's P.O.V…

"O light beyond the holy light. Please deliver us from this smite. Send us wings and golden harps to carry us to the holy ground. Don't let us fall on our trip and please keep the gates open. Watch us land on heavenly clouds and please send eternal bliss," I sang, letting my voice carry through the empty basement, the unpacked boxes being my only audience.

Tucking a strand of dirty blonde hair behind my ear, I wiped a used dust rag over another box hidden in the corner, a cloud of dirt collecting at the bottom before I pulled it in front of me. The last note of the song came and I tried yet again to achieve that high octave. "And please send us eternal…" Huge gulp of air for the elongated whole note. "…Bllliiii-."

I cut off suddenly, my voice cracking once again at the very end and making the note sound horrible. "Damn it," I cursed, dropping the bags of flour that I was unloading on the cement floor and turning to the sheet of music I had set out by the stairs which, thankfully, I was sitting next to. "Okay… ending, ending, ending… Ah! Here we go. …Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la ti, high do, high re, high mi… high fa! That's the note I need to hit! Not high sol! Stupid." I delivered a light smack to my head as I resumed my task.

I had almost cursed the Mayor to oblivion when he had sprung on me that I would be singing a solo at the Goddess Festival but I kept a controlled temper since I was sober at the time. Now whatever happens after I had thirteen glasses of cherry wine would be an entirely different story and I would make sure that nobody would be able to prove anything. Be afraid, Mayor; be very afraid.

So, instead of going to see Ann and Elli's progress on Claire's dress, I was stuck down in the basement learning this stupid song and helping out my absent parents. As far as I was concerned, they had gone to see the Doctor about something and had left me alone to tend to today's shipment. I swear, sometimes it seems like I'm more responsible than them! Goddess knows what they'll do when I move out…or at least what my Dad will do without someone here to harass people who say to just "put it on their tabs." Load of crap if you ask me.

Sometimes, I even question why they got married. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my parents dearly put they're just so different. Mom being serious, strict, and elegant while Dad's…for lack of a better word, (forgive me) a wuss. It just seems like Mom wouldn't even cast him a sideway's glance in their younger days. Maybe it was that whole compatibility blood type craze that was going around back then. Supposedly, people could only marry someone who had a compatible blood type with theirs. Mom's type A positive which is associated with a calm, composed, and serious person. Right on the dot there. But in the blood compatibility thing though, it means that she could only marry a type AB person to match up perfectly.

An AB blood type person is supposed to be cool, controlled, and rational. …Dad's supposed to be an AB blood type. Seeing the math mistake here? I would've taken Dad for a B negative blood type but not an AB. Evidently that's the grounds that their marriage was based on, but I'm not entirely sure. Mom did mention something about being childhood friends and I found some of Dad's old love letters so it could've been just for love.

At least, that's what I like to think.

Hurling the empty box over to the pile in the dusty right hand corner of the room, I grabbed my clipboard off the ground with the checklist attached, black markings signifying the rest of the checked supplies. "18 bags of flour…check." I patted the heavy and sandy bags before scanning the room for the next item. I knew it was in a pile somewhere.

It was extremely hard finding anything in this dark, slightly damp hole that my parent's call an unfinished basements. Dark cobblestones made up the walls along with frequent spider webs serving as oh-so pleasant decorations. The only light that entered the room was from the store above and the small, grim covered light bulb swaying precariously on its metal chain; the creaks that it was making creeping me out to no end.

"Aha!" I exclaimed, pointing my pencil to a small bundle in the northeast corner. "Sixteen bundles of dumpling powder…check." I tapped my chin with the eraser end of the pencil, shifting my curled up knees from the floor to a wooden stair board. "Now all I gotta do is find that curry powder and I'll be good to go-." I mumbled to myself, suddenly stopping when I saw that there was page two to the checklist.

Inwardly groaning, I flipped the front page over and read the one item printed on the crisp white paper.

My mouth literally hit the polluted floor.

"A blue feather?!" I questioned, checking the letters to make sure I was reading it right and then looking about the room. I would surely remember seeing a blue feather in one of boxes I had unpacked and as far as I was concerned there were no other boxes with any items in them.

I stared at the list again, running my pencil along the item and drawing a large circle around it. Maybe I had missed it. Or maybe it was on a special shipping schedule, being equivalent to an engagement ring or something.

The important fact wasn't where it was; it was who had ordered it.

Trent and Elli were still in the dating phase last time I checked and Ann and Cliff certainly weren't tying the knot soon, having not been on one date and all. Rick and I… No. Just no. We were only friends, no matter what Manna babbled about.

That left Popuri, Claire, and Mary as the possible bride-to-be's.

Kai wasn't even coming until summer so that left him and Popuri out of the possible loop…. Then, who was left for Mary or Claire?

It suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks being pounded on me by the Harvest Goddess.

Gray was the only bachelor left. That meant…that he….and Claire or Mary….would be….

Dear Goddess.

"Don't go jumping to conclusions now, Karen old girl," I mentally warned myself. "You've never even seen Gray with Claire and he and Mary are just friends, like you and Rick. It couldn't be….possible…"

The sudden chiming of the bell from upstairs signaled a customer and the end of my musing. Reluctantly, I put down the list and bitten pencil, not aware that I had been chewing on the end for some time. Curse my bad habits.

As I slowly ascended the stairs, my mind still thick with thoughts of the blue feather (like, "Kai could have ordered it last year" or "Maybe one of the older guys finally found a girl" and "Dad could have ordered it just in case") I gradually noticed that numerous dust bunnies caked my body. Damn it.

Dang filthy basement, I silently cursed, brushing and picking at the dirt cloaking me. This is not how I want to serve a customer! Especially when money is this tight! Would it kill my parents to actually clean up down there? 

I was still furiously flicking at almost invisible dust bunnies in my hair when I took up position behind the register, probably looking like an idiot/freak to whoever was watching. "Welcome to–ugh-Mineral Town Supermarket,-agh-how may I-ugh-help you?" I questioned, pulling some of my gorgeous hair out in the process of trying to get the dirt out and leading to broken sentences. I still hadn't looked up to see who it was.

"…Uh… Did I come at a bad time?" spoke a rugged male voice before me.

My head snapped up in response, stray locks of dirty blonde hair falling into my sharp green gaze and obscuring the purple and black image from my sight.

I knew that voice. I knew that voice all too well.

Blowing the hair out of face, I held it back with my hands and gazed in disbelief. No… It wasn't Summer! Or was it? I couldn't tell how much time had passed in the basement.

"Kai?!"

Winery; Claire's P.O.V…

Mitzi? No. …Sally? No, too old. …Hmm… Holly? …Too Christmassy. …Twitters? Maybe for a bird, but for a cow…no. Pinky? …She's not pink you moron! Olivia? ….Now where the heck did I pull that name from? Kiki? …I could already see the jokes. Eloise? Heck no, reminds me of a movie or something like that. Lucky? …Used too much.

How 'bout…Ann Jr.? She does tend to run into the door a lot.

I looked up with narrowed eyes from my slumped over position by the window at my so-called friend who was taking a running leap at the door again. Cliff was by her side trying to convince her that if the door didn't break down the twenty times she ran into it before, the twenty first would not make a difference.

"A-Ann you're going get yourself h-hurt," he stuttered. "The door won't give."

"Then I'll make it give," she countered, whipping her head around to face him, braid slapping at her face. "Ann Keeper will not let herself be beaten by a door."

Too late for that.

The fiery redhead waved her hand in a 'Shoo-Fly-Don't-Bother-Me' manner at rest of Cliff's protests and once again crouched down, the staircase to her back. Despite Cliff's objections, Ann took a running leap at the door and leaped into the air when she was mere inches from it.

Overall, it was a very graceful performance. Just the landing needed some work.

A loud THUD rang throughout the tiny shed, jostling several bottles of wine and the various barrels precariously positioned on the shelves, threatening to fall at any moment.

Sliding down from her face plant into the door, Ann landed ungracefully on her bottom, several new scuff marks added to her features along with the old bruises. I had to at least to give her props for trying. She deserved that much.

…Then again, considering she's the reason we're locked in here, maybe a twenty second time wouldn't be so bad to watch.

"Ann? Ann? You okay?" Cliff questioned, sprinting over to the fallen redhead who was currently glaring door, willing it to burst into flames. Her hands were already balled up into fists as she shakily got to her feet.

I had to give that girl credit for never giving up.

"This… This… THING is… is… the devil's servant!" Ann screeched, her fist pounding along the old wooden door that just would not give. "HELP!! FOR THE LOVE OF THE GODDESS!! SOMEONE HELP!! ARE YOU PEOPLE DEAF!?"

No, they're not, but I think me and Cliff are now. Besides, we had already tried screaming between tries seven and eight. Nothing. We even tried all three of us ramming into the door for five times until, at the sixth, me, Cliff, and Ann all tripped over one another and I was sent flying into the dark basement somehow. Thus, leading to a ripped shoulder and sprained ankle, forcing me to sit on the sidelines while holding Cliff's ripped bandanna to my bleeding shoulder while thinking up possible cow names for my newborn calf, none of which were appealing to me. Fun, fun, fun. Oh, it's like I'm in Disneyworld!

"A-Ann!" Cliff shouted, grabbing the enraged female by the shoulders and tearing her away from the door, leading to a blush covering his cheeks. "Y-Y-You're gonna hurt yourself if… if you keep this up! W-We need to thin-think of a plan!"

Ann responded positively (not) to his peace talk by holding up her fist to his face. "Tell that to someone who hasn't been stuck in a shed for-! Claire!" Her irked blue eyes whirled from Cliff's petrified brown ones and landed on me. "How long?"

"Three hours," I answered, glancing at my old watch. Hard to believe I spent most of that time going over cow names and tripping into rat infested basements.

"THREE HOURS!" Angrily throwing her hands down, she began pacing the room in a circle in a much less violent manner. Yelling like that must of blown off some steam.

"There just has to be a way out of here. There just has to be," she murmured, looking from the locked and boarded up window to the cellar down below. Her blue eyes then snapped to Cliff, hands folded behind her back as if restraining them from going back to pounding on the door. "Are you 100 positive that there is no other entrance or exit?"

The brunette male paused a second, rubbing his chin in thought. "…Positive."

"What about a secret tunnel?"

"Not that I know of. And I've been working here for about four years so I would think that I would have found any tunnels or passageways or anything like that by now."

The redhead pivoted on her heels, glaring at the door with furrowed eyebrows before she swung around to face Cliff again. "What about a top-secret, hidden entrance that even Duke and Manna don't know about that sucks you in and deposits you into an underground facility that is secretly trying to take over the world?"

She's lost it. Oh wait… You can't lose what you never had.

"A top-secret, hidden entrance that what?" Cliff said, repeating the first words he had heard before drowning out her babble. His brown eyes were wide as he tried to make sense of the fast spoken question and one of his hands was brought to his head, scratching the side of his slightly messy brown hair.

The innkeeper's daughter responded by twirling on the back of her heels and gripping her forehead in frustration. "Ugh! Never mind… Is there at least an emergency first aid kit in here? Claire's shoulder is still bleeding and if we can't take her to the Clinic pronto, then I at least don't want her to faint from the blood loss."

"Geez, thanks for finally noticing me," I added. It had been around fifteen tries since the two had last acknowledged me and boy had I been bored. Holding a ripped bandanna to my shoulder and watching these two bicker over ways to get out of this hell hole was just slightly amusing. Just slightly. It would be much more like a dinner theater if I had food, no worries, and was drunk on one glass of wine. At least then I would go numb and not be disturbed by the jolts of pain running up my right shoulder whenever I shift positions for my hurting butt.

And, even it wasn't in a positive light and had to do with me dying, at least my friend was finally noticing my discomfort after the last two-and-a-half hours.

Ann glanced over her shoulder at me. "You're welcome. Besides, if you die in here, I don't want to be charged with murder and interrogated for three hours. I've been forcibly kept in small rooms enough for one lifetime, thank you very much."

…Somehow the thankful feeling I once had is gone now.

Cliff's brown eyes turned on me, the remains of the blush he had from grabbing Ann still present. "…I think there's a real old one down in the cellar…but I'm not sure if some of the antibiotics in it haven't expired yet."

"That's fine. As long as there are bandages, we'll make do." She twisted her body to face me for a split second, her left hand fishing for the lantern I left on the top most step. "I have enough coopers on my tail already."

"So it was you that robbed that bank!" I sarcastically replied.

Narrowed indigo eyes turned on me. "Har, har. You're a comedian, Claire."

"I try." A sweetly fake smile attached itself to my face.

"You know, I could let you die in here. Me and my dad could throw off a few murder charges with some fake tears. They've worked before," she jokingly responded, beginning her descent down the staircase with Cliff hesitantly following.

"I'd come back and haunt you."

"I'd hire a ghost exterminator."

"I'd-." I paused, going over every comeback I knew but not one seemed to counter hers. "You win this battle!" I yelled after her disappearing form into the blackness below, the little flame from the lantern signaling her movements. "But the war ain't over yet!"

A maniacal laugh echoed from the basement. "Haha! Ann Keeper shall claim her victory, Claire!! Just wait and see!"

With that the teasing battle of words was over and I was left alone by the window…yet again.

I was beginning to think of myself as one of those captured princesses locked in a tower awaiting her dashing prince. Only I sure as hell wasn't any princess and this "tower" was nothing more than a simple wine storage shed with a broken door.

Oh, and I didn't have any Prince Charming waiting to rescue me on horseback. I didn't even have a semi-cute guy riding on a miniature pony…although that would be a pretty funny sight if the guy had long legs that dragged on the ground.

The closest thing I had to a guy was my cute, little puppy-dog, Rover. And like he would come rushing to my rescue. Probably too engrossed in eating his puppy chow for all I care…

Wait. Dog food…

I abruptly slapped my forehead, causing a jolt of pain to travel up my other arm, as the memory of this morning hit me. Did I-? I couldn't have-? Maybe I did but I just couldn't remember. No, I had to help Mary out so I skipped-. It was noon and the animals…

A groan escaped my lips. I was a complete and utter idiot who didn't deserve the name 'Farmer.'"I forgot to feed my animals!"

Well, didn't that just put the icing on the cake.

Basement of the Winery; Ann's P.O.V…

"I forgot to feed my animals!" we heard Claire yell from above, more to herself then to us but causing us to glance up at the bottom's of the old floorboards nonetheless.

Putting one hand on my hip, I slowly shook my head, causing my orange braid to flip from shoulder to shoulder. "Poor, poor girl."

"I-I guess," stuttered Cliff, who was down on his knees next to an old wine rack, looking through each little niche for the first aid kit. I had to applaud him for his patience. By now, I would have just tipped over the whole rack, breaking every bottle of wine no doubt, and then grabbed the kit from the remains.

Thankfully though, I had resorted to holding the lantern over the male's stooped over body so he could see clearly. I had to admit that it was an awkward position for the both of us with my hand resting on his shoulder to keep myself from falling over, but sometimes you just had to suck it up and deal with the situation at hand.

Like I was dealing with the fact that my face was literally the color of tomato and there wasn't a doubt it my mind that Cliff had a paler face by the way he kept fidgeting underneath my fingertips and acting like a stammering fool.

…Although he was cute when he was nervous.

UGH!! There I go again! Thinking he's cute/hot/a stud! When will it end! I like him, okay?! There! I said it in my mind, I am cured! Never again will these thoughts haunt my mind. End of story. It's the past, forget about it. Moving on.

"F-Found anything yet?" I asked, stuttering slightly. Ann Keeper never stuttered. Sigh…looks like I'm not cured. Darn it!

"N-N-No," he answered, almost dropping the wine bottle that he was holding since his hands were trembling so bad.

Poor guy. My hotness must be getting to him. Even I have to admit that I look pretty good for someone my age…which is kept a secret from everyone except my Dad and me so don't even think about it!

Great I'm now subconsciously yelling at people inside my head. I've officially lost it. Been in here waaay too long.

Almost out of blue and because of my great luck (not Remember? I was the one that got us locked in here in the first place) I spied a speck of white almost hidden in the smallest corner hole you could possible imagine. "Cliff," I started, tapping his shoulder lightly to get his attention.

"Y-Y-Yeah?" Still stuttering? Dang, I must be looking even better than I thought. Who says blondes are hotter than redheads.

"Look over there. In the bottom right hand little rack thingie." What? I didn't know what to call one of those holes that you put wine into.

Complying with my directions, the brunette's hands abandoned the upper most racks and began digging where I had instructed. A smile graced his lips as his hands made contact with something hard and squarely-shaped. "I think I found it."
Cliff tugged on the item, both of us expecting it to just slide out of the wooden container.

Sadly, with my luck, nothing is ever as expected or as easy as I think it will be.

Nothing came.

Cliff tugged again, this time putting both hands on the kit and pulling backwards.

Nothing, nada, zilch.

"It's stuck," the male before me grumbled, trying again to jostle the item loose. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

"Let me try," I ordered, nudging him to the side and handing him the lantern, the flame still burning bright. Never send a man to do a woman's job.

Kneeling down until my whole body was pressed to the ground, I placed one eye against the opening, ignoring the creepy-crawly feeling of the spiders skittering down the sides of the rack, and tried hard to see the kit with what little light I was given. Why was it that whenever you needed something, it was always in the most uncanny and just plain mucky place? I swear it sometimes felt like my life was controlled by some crazy writer. Weird, huh?

After much squinting and adjusting my head, I finally got a glimpse of the box forcibly jammed between two of the small wooden boards making up the diamond/square. Dang Manna must have been really mad at Duke when she was placing the thing. ..Or maybe it was Duke that was mad at Manna for giving him another lecture. I don't know how he stands her babbling because I would die if I lived with someone who talked my ear off all day. Literally, they would find me dead, on my bed, with two pillows still roughly held against my ears from trying to block out the sound. "What a pitiful end," they would say. "And she was so young."

I would understand why Duke drinks so much then. Things always seem better when you're not completely sober. Things always seem laughable. Like you don't have a care in the world. …And then chickens haunt your dreams with their little yellow beaks and white feathers.

Err… Scratch out that last part. Y'all heard nothing. That was probably a result of me passing out by the Poultry Farm. Yeah…if any of you want to pass out on drinks, make sure the last thing you see is a hot guy and not chickens out the whazoo.

Back to the matter at hand now.

"It's jammed between the two boards," I commented, sitting up and folding my legs beneath me. I swear they must have built the wine rack around it to get the kit to fit…and they might've done that with the door too. I tugged on it to prove my point, a shiver running down my spine at the feel of cobwebs brushing against my skin.

Now I'm not a girly-girl but spiders just creep me out to no end. The way their hairy legs move and their beady little eyes seem to stare at you the moment before you crush 'em… Uhha!

"Here, let me see." Also getting down on his hands and knees while putting the lantern between us (why we didn't think of that before I will never know), Cliff peered into the incredibly small alcove. A few seconds passed of Cliff squinting and adjusting, just as I had done, before he sat up. "You're right."

Well of course I'm right! I am Ann Keeper after all. …And whoever it is, stop laughing in the back row. It is "The Ann Show" inside my head and I can say anything I want while getting five stars from all the critics. You have no right to laugh unless I crack an extremely hilarious joke in which I will press the 'Laugh' button on my little remote, signaling you to laugh…or forcing you. Whichever works.

…Okay, I've officially gone crazy. Ann admits it herself now take me to the funny farm/cuckoo house! No straightjacket please, I want to retain some of my dignity. I wouldn't say no to some hot guard dudes though.

And there I go again; way off topic. I seriously need to get some counseling or something to straighten out my jumping from subject to subject habit.

"No good," Cliff hummed all of a sudden, breaking me out of my deep-as-the-ocean thoughts. He pulled his slightly scarped hand out of the tiny compartment and brushed off the flecks of dirt clinging to his sweaty palms. "I can't manually adjust the boards and there's no way to pull it out without getting it unjammed first." Biting on his lower lip, an adorably cute custom of his, the male scratched his chin, gazing at the rack thoughtfully.

I got down on my knees again and peered at the white box. Claire better be thankful that we're going through all this trouble to get one measly first aid kit. I could say I was returning the favor for the wine by getting the kit. Haha! Kill two birds with one stone. Man, am I good. "What if we unloaded some of the wine bottles from on top of it?" I inquired, looking at the several heavy glasses of liquid weighing down on the supporting wood. "You know, lose some dead weight."

But Cliff, being the pessimist that he is, shook his head in disagreement. "The boards are screwed together with tiny bolts. There's no way we'll be able to jostle something this sturdy with manual strength even without the extra weight. …The only way to get the kit out is to somehow bump it loose."

I scanned the dimly lit cellar. There had to be something… My azure eyes landed on the undersized, fur-made pouch that had once been attached to Cliff's belt but now lay discarded on the dusty floor. Aha!

"Hey Cliff." I poked his shoulder to bring of his "thinking" pose. "Do you have anything in your pack that might help?"

His gaze immediately snapped to his bag, the irises of his eyes lighting up in consideration. "…Y-Yeah… Yeah, I think there is a miniature screwdriver in there." Score one for Ann! "Could you go look Ann? I should be in the front pouch."

Without even waiting for my reply, he stooped down again to examine the box and its prison, not once looking up at me to see if I was moving.

It was an understatement to say I was a bit insulted. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't lazy or anything, but it was his bag. Why did I have to get up and look through it? Not to mention all those slams into the door were finally catching up with me and giving my precious head a huge headache. That settled it. After we got out of here, we were going straight to the clinic for some major pain relieving Tylenol.

None the less, really only because he was so hot, I swung my feet out from underneath me and trudged over to the fur-lined bearskin pouch that matched his boots perfectly. Why anyone would wear furry boots in the spring is beyond my comprehension. …And don't even think about cracking a joke at that last statement.

Okay, front pouch, front pouch… How do you get this darn thing open anyways? For a few moments, I flipped the wallet-sized bag over in my hands, looking for some sort of zipper or flap or button; basically whatever would let me in the pouch.

Finally, I spotted a diminutive button, if you could even call something this small a button, that was poking through the coarse fabric. Undoing it, I was met with a jumbled heap of miscellaneous items simply thrown in there with no order whatsoever. Newsflash Cliff: Girls like guys who are organized; not guys who are messy. Ugh, who am I kidding? I'm preaching to the choir.

I began my search by simply pushing the items about with one hand while the other held the bag. The clink and clanks of the various items banging together filled the eerily silent room, Cliff's grunts as he tried to pull the box out being the only thing that broke the sounds.

Let's see…. Winery keys, inn key, trinkets from the city, pictures of family (all of which he's showed me before), extra bandanna, extra ponytail holder, blue feather… Dang it! Where was that screwdrive-?

I abruptly stopped my search, hand hovering over the last item I had found and eyes literally going as wide as saucer plates.

A-A-A b-blue fe-fea-feather?!

Dear Holy Goddess.

That meant that he-! And the symbolism-! Engagement! But how-? Where-? Who-? Claire? Someone else? Old girlfriend? Off limits! Moving out! But Dad-! And the winery-! And me! What about-? And that time-! How could he-? But he's hot!

MARRIAGE?!

Wordlessly caught it my own racing thoughts, I unconsciously picked up the feather in between my two fingers and held it in front of my stunned face. My mouth probably resembled that of a gaping fish by now. The world around me had just seemed to melt away, leaving only me and the blue feather dangling in front of me, almost taunting me with its perfect stance.

I couldn't think straight. I couldn't move. I couldn't see right.

I couldn't even breathe properly, causing my breaths to become ragged.

Therefore, notifying Cliff that something was up with me.

Making him turn around…

And see me kneeling beside his pouch with his blue feather still in my hands.

I was still too shocked to move or even look at him.

And this all lead up to the first angry statement, directed at me, that I ever heard escape Cliff's lips.

"What ARE you doing?"

To be Continued...

A/N: -Insert evil laugh here- Left y'all hanging didn't I? I apologize for any of typos or spelling mistakes. Recently, my beta reader left Fanfiction (everyone cry now!) so I had to beta read this myself at two a.m. in the morning because I couldn't get to sleep. Yeah, really tired now. Now don't worry you GrayXMary fans. Even though I am a GrayXClaire fan, I decided that in the next chapter I will put GrayXMary in the next chapter (and try to bring justice back to Gray's character because after rereading this I thought he was way too out of character in some parts. Forgive me!).

Until then! And all reviewers that have stayed with me this long. -Sniff- THANK YOU!! You all deserve ten thousand chocolate chip cookies or whatever your favorite cookie is!

Note: Updates will be slow because I am working on my own book at this time and have summer homework. Bummer.

Note again: Shout out and apology to JeanCooper who has been patiently waiting for the lazy me to do her KaiXClaire request! I am so sorry! I have the beginning writen and am currently working on it and promise-cross-my-heart-hope-to-die have it done by the end of this month. Everyone give a big thank you to her (and read her awesome stories that I haven't gotten the time to review ((promise I will)) for waiting so patiently!!