Disclaimer: I don't own Harvest Moon.
Author's note: ...
Don't know what happened with this chapter. I knew it was going to take me some time, given what I needed to include, but... really?! I blame school; it's been crazy lately, which goes to show that I should have finished this in the summer. Ah well. Nevermind. :) Thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter and, err, sorry for taking my sweet time with this latest one!
Making People Happy
Gray did not know why Popuri had kissed him. He could neither guess nor presume, and eventually came to the conclusion that he was simply overreacting. Perhaps some girls were just that friendly? The only women he knew well were Ann and Mary - neither of whom were romantically forthcoming.
"She's on the rebound," Ann explained. Without warning, she whacked Gray around the head with the rolling pin she was using. "You leave her alone, okay? I know she's vulnerable and you're desperate, but get some restraint man!"
Gray could only glare; he didn't even know where to begin correcting that statement. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Cliff - who was now tentatively back together with Ann, but still on shaky ground - grinning smugly. "Vulnerable?" he blustered. "Yeah, right. I must have missed the air of fragility in amongst the smiles and laughter and kissing of random men. Oh, and I'm not desperate."
"You really think so?" Ann sniggered. Then, sobering suddenly, she sighed. "Get real, will you, Gray? Since Mary got married you've let your life come to a complete standstill. It has to stop. Now."
Upon the mention of Mary's name, the mood in the kitchen soured instantly. For Gray the knife's twist in his stomach had become akin to a reflex action. But one, he had to admit, that had certainly dulled.
Maybe Ann wasn't that far off the mark, after all.
"So," he summarised, stabbing at another, now lukewarm pancake, "I've got to move on, forget Mary, blah blah blah. How easy! I've just got to forget Mary. Makes you wonder why I never thought of that before, doesn't it?"
Ann met Gray's admittedly childish scowl with one of her own. "There's no need for sarcasm, y'know," she grumbled.
To everyone's shock - including his own - the blacksmith let rip an unchecked guffaw. "No, I don't know," he corrected them. "You two seem to be under the odd impression that I don't want to forget Mary. Well, I do - very much. It not a case of won't forget, it's a case of can't."
As with any unexpected outburst, an awkward silence is sure to follow. Cliff shuffled anxiously on his stool and shot a desperate look at the door, while Ann slapped her hands together, sending up a misty plume of flour. At that moment, Gray was just about ready to bolt, but Ann - as usual - seemed determined to have the last word. She sealed the oven door on her newly crafted pastry and fiddled with the heat settings.
"Can't," he rasped. "Honest to Goddess."
She turned around slowly, just in time for Gray to witness a smile like a mother's - simultaneously soft, sad and gentle - flit across her features. "Try," Ann advised simply. "Try harder, Gray, that's all I'm saying."
Three days into the New Year, Cliff dropped his bombshell.
"Well?" He faltered. "Did you hear me, Gray? What do you think?"
Gray didn't answer at first. He continued to adjust his collar in the mirror; he'd been dressing for work when Cliff burst in with news that threatened to ruin his morning, if not his whole year. "Sorry, Cliff," he said. "I thought for a moment you'd gone crazy and announced you were going to ask Ann to marry you. But obviously I misheard, didn't I?" He tried - and probably failed - not to sound like he was pleading.
But Cliff only chuckled nervously. "Well no, I did say that. And yes, I'm going to propose to Ann."
The reflection in the mirror shook its head emphatically. Pulling down his cap, Gray turned, glowering, to face Cliff. "Tell me you're joking."
When Cliff's expression faded by several degrees, he knew he wouldn't be getting his wish. "What's the problem?"
Where to begin? Gray thought. For starters, marraige wasn't a clue to hold together a turbulent relationship - and no one created more turbulence than Ann and Cliff; it was destined to end in disaster. Secondly, they'd been dating for, what, a matter of weeks? If they'd managed a couple of years without killing each other, then he might be impressed. Thirdly - yes, there was a thirdly - he had his doubts about what Ann's answer would be. To say Cliff would be gutted if she rejected him would be an understatement; hell, he was so sensitive he might even leave town altogether. And however Gray tended to act, he knew that deep down his roomate would leave behind a gaping hole.
Those were Gray's official reasons, at least. There was one more that he didn't like to entertain too much, if he could help it; one that made him seem selfish and bitter and single-minded.
His eventual conclusion was a rather flat, "Doesn't seem like a good idea, that's all," which of course, wasn't really an answer at all.
Cliff snorted incredulously.
"You know," Gray continued, gathering steam, "I don't think you've ever had a worse idea!"
"Is that the jealousy rearing its ugly head again?"
"Shut up, Cliff." As usual, Gray hadn't taken long to reach the end of his tether. "I'm going to work."
He was almost at the door when Cliff called him back. "I've got the feather," he said simply, halting the blacksmith in his tracks.
A feather... that changed everything. A blue feather meant business. There were many things Gray wanted to ask - where did you get it? How much did it cost? - but what he actually asked was a surprise to both of them. "Can I - can I see it?"
Cliff was silent for a moment, calculating Gray's motives. Slowly, he leaned across and whipped open the top drawer of his bedside cabinet. There was nothing in it, strangely - except for a long, rectangular box. Cliff dropped it on his bed and beckoned Gray over: "Here... look... ". And with that, he lifted the lid.
Gray wasn't sure what exactly he had been expecting - some aura, some mystical glow, something worthy of his excitement - but feather itself was decidedly ordinary. It was a deep, ocean blue and utterly pristine, with fluffy, electric tufts around the quill. All the same, it wasn't as though Gray had never seen an artificially coloured feather before. What was the big deal?
Cliff stroked the feather with a nervous reverence. "It cost me a few weeks wages," he admitted. "Worth it, obviously."
But it wouldn't be, would it, Gray mused darkly, if Ann said 'no'. He decided not to voice that possibility; knowing Cliff, he was already dwelling on it.
Against his will, Gray found himself envisioning the precise moment of Jack and Mary's engagement. He proposed at the peak of Mother's Hill - or so said Manna, who knew all. Gray wouldn't have. He preferred the library, considered it their place, and knew that Mary would've agreed. It was her place, before it was anyone else's, so accepting a marriage proposal there would be like the first step towards letting someone new into her world. Besides, she hated heights.
Anyway, Jack's choice had its merits too, Gray supposed. And, well, it'd achieved the right result, hadn't it? Gray's knowledge of the proposal was limited to its location, but he could imagine the events well enough. Jack would be suave, as he always was. He would be sure of himself and he would say the right things. He wouldn't be surly or stutter; it would be, in a word, perfect...
At that moment, something struck Gray. If that day on Mother's Hill was perfection for Mary and he begrudged it, what did that make him? Suddenly, Jack's face fell away, leaving Mary's, bathed in the bluish glow of engagement.
"Do you honestly think I'm making a mistake?" Cliff asked. Clearly, he needed Gray's approval more than he cared to admit.
"No," said Gray, fighting off a sigh. "Sometimes I think it pays to be impulsive." - A lesson he should have learned a long time ago, before it was too late.
"If you want to go for it," he continued, "and clearly you do, then I'm not going to stop you. But I'll, you know... be there to console or congratulate, whatever happens." Apparently, Cliff couldn't summon up an answer for that, while Gray was seized by the sudden urge to leave the room.
As he walked down the hall, the blacksmith mused on the fact that Ann was, at heart, a sensible woman; if she deemed the proposal ill-timed - and perhaps she had a damn good point - she'd simply say so, rather than throw away a perfectly good relationship.
And Gray felt surprisingly content to realise that his thoughts of Mary had ellicited no other thoughts. No happiness, but no real pain, either.
Things stayed that way. Gray hardly saw Mary as her pregnancy wore on throughtout the spring and into the very first days of summer. He supposed he should return her copy of Roses and Thorns, but he was still winding his way through it and somehow the idea never occured to him.
His days of 'pining' - as Ann often called them - were over. Recently, his mind had been occupied elsewhere.
Gray woke up on the seventh day of summer, as people tend to on the strangest of days, expecting nothing out of the ordinary. It was a Wednesday, but the Smithy was doing a slow trade, so he wasn't working, and it was only while aimlessly wandering the path towards North Mineral Town that he collided with Karen and everything changed.
She breathlessly explained that Mary had gone into labour behind her desk, and would he mind holding her hand until she could fetch Dr Tim who was off collecting herbs?
Gray's stomach churned at the very thought, but he hadn't time to question the practicality of the idea, before Karen was haring off towards Mother's Hill screaming, "Thanks", over her shoulder.
Mary barely glanced up when Gray slipped quietly into the library. "Where's... Jack?" she puffed.
Gray wanted to laugh, but found his throat blocked. "I was about to ask you the same question," he returned. "Why isn't he here?"
Mary grimaced painfully, gripping the edge of her desk with all the determination and ferocity of a bird of prey. Her knuckles were chalk-white. "He's away... on business... in Forget-Me-Not Valley. This - the baby - it's not supposed to happen yet. I need Jack."
Strangely, Gray felt as if he needed him, too. This was a situation for a husband, not someone who'd bumbled in unprepared, at the last moment. Jack had probably been anticipating this moment since the day Mary returned from the Clinic on that autumn morning, which seemed so long ago. It seemed unjust, almost, that he was about to miss it. "I'm sure he'll get here," Gray mumbled, seeking to reassure himself more than her.
"How can he if we've no way of contacting him?!"
Mmm, good point, that.
Gray half-shrugged, feeling more helpless by the second. "Well. It'll all be fine in the end, I'm sure." That was the second time Gray had claimed to be 'sure' of something; unfortunately, repeating it didn't make it any less of a lie.
He skirted around the desk and took her hand, as Karen had instructed, without waiting for the invitation. Surprise, if nothing else, appeared to distract Mary from her pain. She smiled, and whispered as lightly as possible, "Thank you, Gray. Thank you for being here."
He didn't answer.
"It's Thursday tomorrow," Mary commented, grimacing a little as she squeezed his fingers. "Remember how you would always pop by on a Thursday, your day off? Seems like another life entirely..."
"Well," Gray swallowed, "You're married and you've got a kid... almost. Things change. I'm busy on Thursday's now and - you know - "
Something that the blacksmith couldn't quite unravel shifted in Mary's grey eyes. "I'm glad things are going so well for you," she said.
"Well..." Whatever makes you happy, Gray thought. "...Things are good." He concentrated on her fingers, still twined with his own. "Now I think of it, I've still got your manuscript. You want it back?"
"Oh!" Was it his imagination or did Mary look as though she had forgotten the whole thing? "Oh, I'm actually not writing that anymore. It became obvious to me that it wasn't working. A bit too self-indulgent, I think."
Gray struggled around for an answer. Did liking it make him a know-nothing hack? When he opened his mouth to argue, Mary mirrored him. The only explanation she was able to offer, unfortunately, was an agonised gasp; so agonised actually that Gray reeled backwards and prayed that he wouldn't end up delivering this baby.
He was saved from that dubious honour by Elli, who chose that moment to bustle into the library and take charge of the situation. In the time it would've taken Gray to form a sentence, Mary had been pacified, helped along to the Clinic and was now enthusiastically dicussing names. Feeling very stupid, Gray sloped off to the canary-yellow, waiting room chairs. He had been relugated and felt both relieved and insulted.
After that, it all happened very quickly - though probably not in Mary's opinion. Karen soon returned with the doctor, while Jack staggered in only moments before little Austin's birth. According to Elli it was an unusually short labour for a first baby. Even so, it hadn't been quick enough for Gray, either, who felt like a third wheel. A fleeting glance at Karen (the fourth wheel?) told him she felt just as awkward.
It was a feeling that only intensified when Mary asked him to be Austin's godfather.
"I have a million reasons, Gray, that I'm far too tired to explain right now. Can't you just say 'yes' and make me happy?"
Of course he wanted to make her happy, but...
Karen winked at him. "I'm down to be godmother," she whispered.
"Well... erm... " Gray mumbled, not as easily convinced. He peered apprehensively at his proposed godson as he lay in his mother's arms. It seemed impossible to think that this child with a shock of fuzzy, dark hair - his mother's - and brown eyes - from his father - could have been the cause of so much anxiety.
"Erm," Gray said again.
Before he could continue, Mary jumped in. "Oh - thank you!"
Perhaps in her delirious state she had mistaken that for the 'yes' she so obviously craved. And perhaps, on some level he hadn't yet discovered, that was exactly what Gray meant.
Ann and Cliff were huddled around a table in the empty bar. Gray's entrance went unnoticed as their latest debate rumbled on; he lifted his eyes to the ceiling and waited. When at last Ann sat back, arms folded and eyebrows raised - indicating victory - he knew it was over.
"So," she said, attention turning to the blacksmith. "How was work?"
"Work? It wasn't on." He could have told them then, of course, but Gray deliberately held tight to the piece of news that was the one thing he held over them.
Ann's face contorted as if the concept of 'no work' was alien to her. "Not on?" she echoed. "Why?"
"And you look pale," Cliff added unhelpfully.
"Work wasn't on because there was no work - no orders. I've been at the Clinic, actually."
"Because you're pale?"
"No, Cliff, because Mary's had her baby - "
Ann was on her feet before he'd even finished his sentence. She fired questions like bullets: "When? How? Boy? Girl?"
"A little boy," Gray answered. "They've called him Austin. You can forget being godmother," he yelled after her, "Karen's already bagged that one."
"We'll see." Ann grinned wickedly and slammed the door behind her. In her absence, Gray could not hope to ignore Cliff's curious stare. Was it his twisted imagination or did couples start to act like each other after so long? Cliff, much like Ann, seemed to be severely lacking in sensitivity. He coughed once and then, when Gray attempted to sneak past, coughed louder.
"...Well?" Cliff prompted.
"Well, what?" Gray snapped. He was in no mood to listen to a man who'd just entered into a argument over wedding flowers. And lost. The corner of Gray's mouth twitched, involuntarily, into the ghost of a grin. "Trick Blues or Pink Cats?" he goaded.
Cliff's own smug smile faded slightly. "Trick Blues," he admitted gloomily. "Ann was pretty forceful; she wouldn't hear of anything pink at her wedding."
Folding his arms, Gray snorted, "She needs to grow up."
"She really does. Anyway," Cliff went on, gesturing at his fiancée's vacated seat, "tell me. What were you doing at the Clinic today? Hey, was there a paternity issue? Was he born wearing a UMA cap and a scowl?"
While Cliff sniggered like a fool, Gray made the decision not to acknowledge that last remark; in any case, his blazing cheeks were doing a fine job of that on their own. "I was simply being there for a friend," he explained, missing out the fact that he had been as good as dragged to the library.
Evidently humbled, Cliff didn't answer at first. He eventually coughed, "Good for you, then, mate." He didn't need to mention how painful the events of today must've been, but it drifted unsaid between the pair. "Why wasn't Jack there?" Cliff asked.
"Oh, he was."
"Okay. That's a bit of an odd mix... "
"Karen was there, too," Gray pointed out.
"I don't know, Cliff. It's been a long day."
"It's only four o'clock."
But Gray wasn't listening anymore. His eyes wandered over the pile of wedding photos that Cliff and Ann had been arguing about. On the final day of summer, at Mineral Town Church, they would be getting married; it seemed incredible. He thought of Mary and Jack, soon to be taking home their first child. He thought of Popuri, lonely no longer: Kai was home and their brief kiss was now a fading memory. He couldn't - didn't like - to think anymore.
Cliff had been tidying away his wedding brochures. "You're quiet," he remarked, as if it were unusual.
"Hmm," Gray grunted. After a short pause, he convinced himself to open up. "Don't take this too personally, Cliff, but... I'm not all that sure I'll be able to make the wedding."
As you'd expect, Cliff looked genuinely taken-aback. Then, misunderstanding, he laughed. "When I said you weren't invited unless you found a date, I was joking."
Gray wasn't. In fact, this sudden determination he felt was empowering. When was the last time he'd been truly, whole-heartedly focused on something? Too long ago. He needed this, and Cliff and Ann and his grandfather were just going to have to adjust.
"I need to get away."