Hello, folks! I know it's been forever and a day since I was up and posting…and I am sorry! I haven't been able to type in an age. A combination of school, newfound friends and (can you believe it?) a guy has put me out of commission, but I decided to go ahead and give you this to chew on. There will be…six of these oneshots…and they are about my favorite non-canon pairings.
Maybe you'll think they are absolutely nuts, but hey, try 'em out and see if they don't work! Enjoy and please review!
CHAPTER ONE: Flower
As much as he liked his job, there was something about the smell of grapes and wine that didn't agree with Cliff. The smell of wine was cloying, too sweet and…well…like something rotten. That made sense. Rotten grapes made wine. Who first decided to drink squeezed rotten grapes? There were worse things out there to drink. Imagine tequila. Tequila was the alcohol of fermented cacti. Cliff would never have tried fermenting a cactus--then deciding to drink what came of it. He'd never even smelled tequila, let alone a cactus itself.
Lots of interesting smells wafted around the Aja Winery. It was located right beside the Inn, so the scents of whatever dish Doug or Ann was cooking floated all around the property. This was a good thing when Doug made chocolate cake or cheese fondue--besides the effect of Cliff's mouth watering all evening. It was a bad thing when Ann invited Karen over for supper. Karen made happy eggplant and forgot to turn the timer on. An hour and a half later, Cliff stumbled, choking, into the Inn to inquire politely as to what the unholy stink permeating the air was. The dark blonde beauty, Karen, laughed and offered him a bit of the dish. He refused.
Today the air smelled of wine. Stinky old wine. Cliff knelt to examine the soil around a vine for mole tunnels. He was running through a list of ways to exterminate the pesky rodents when a breeze laced with an angelic scent gently blew over his face. The shaggy brunette leaned his head back, enjoying it. He then peeked around the arbor to locate the source of the smell. It was coming from a youthful girl with pink hair who was skipping up the steps to the Winery main house.
Cliff knew her by face, but he couldn't place the name. He'd only come to the town two and a half seasons ago as an out-of-work hobo who spent most of his time sulking in the town's church. The girl whose name he couldn't remember worked at a chicken farm. She had a brother with glasses and long hair…like Cliff's own, actually. But her name…? He hid behind the arbor as the pink haired girl exited the Winery. Girls always made him nervous. What if he offended her? What if she got mad? What if she cried? Unfortunately for him, Manna and Duke had come outside with her. They were talking about a 'cute little wineryhand' which meant…crud. They were looking for him. He instantly assumed a busy stance, examining a leaf on a grapevine. When he was located, Manna hauled him to his feet, forcing him to abandon his attempts at looking hard-working.
"Here he is!" She trumpeted. "Isn't he a hunk?"
Duke cleared his throat enviously. "Yes, yes, yes. Cliff, this is Popuri. I'm not sure you two have met, but I felt that you ought to know that she's the one that found you this job. So now credit is where credit is due and all…"
Popuri smiled, embarrassed. "I never would have told you. Sorry about all the fuss…do you like your job?"
"Er…yeah…I do. Uh…Mr. Carter told me that it was a sign that I was meant to stay in Mineral Town. You know, since I was broke and all. Thanks a lot." Cliff was babbling. Oh, bebother women! Manna pulled Duke away knowingly. "So…how are your chickens?"
"They're doing fabulously! We had three extra eggs today. I was taking them to Ellen." She grinned.
Cliff began to sweat. "I bet she'll love them. I feel bad for detaining you…"
"It's fine, really! I've enjoyed our conversation. So I'll see you around sometime?"
"Ooh…yes. Definitely. Thank you again for the job."
Popuri curtseyed and turned to leave, sending her heavenly perfume at the perspiring boy. He smiled shyly at her back and felt braver somehow. He had talked to a girl. He had talked to a pretty girl who smelled like…something in Cliff's memory…but he didn't know what.
Manna snagged the girl when she thought they were out of Cliff's earshot. "What'd you think?" She whispered eagerly.
"He's so steady. I like that. I was nervous…I hope I didn't mumble…" She chewed a fingernail. "I think he needs someone to be a good friend to him."
Manna clapped her hands delightedly. "So tell me…now that summer is beginning, have you planted the seeds I gave you?"
Popuri nodded brightly. "Yes! They've already bloomed. I love the look of honeysuckle in the midst of petunias. Thank you. I'll bring you a bouquet sometime!" She hugged Manna and left the property, sneaking one lighting glance toward the area where she hoped Cliff was watching.
Of course he was watching. Honeysuckle. That's it. The smell of honeysuckle reminded him of days when he and his sister, Gloria, used to sit in the shade and play checkers.
"So, Cliff…tell me something." Manna was back to antagonize him further. "Isn't Popuri a doll?"
Cliff smiled shyly again. "…Yes, Ma'am."
Manna chuckled and lowered her voice. "Listen here, boy, and take full advantage of what I'm about to offer you."
"That girl ordered some grape juice. It'll be ready by tomorrow if I hurry. Now listen. Every single time I've delivered grape juice to their house after six o'clock I've been invited to stay for supper. Do you…'have time' to deliver it for me tomorrow--around six thirty? Brush your hair before coming to work."
Every time Cliff had cursed Manna's nosiness was immediately nullified. He could have hugged her.