Last chapter, my dears. Thanks so much for reading. I really, honestly appreciate it. Every time I see a review, it makes my heart beat a little faster.
I heart Supaa Panda (what a cool name!!) xOxAzureFlameGodxOx, Kelley28 (all of us fanfiction writers are smoking SOMETHING, right?) Cloud Link Zero, The Scarlet Sky (Thank you so much, Scarlet. I actually put a lot of work into smoothing out periods of time…phew!) and HarvestMoonGlows. (HMG, if you want more evidence of Rick's wonderfulness--have you read Season of Love and Gag Me With a Corncob?)
Thanks again. Oh, and this story is based on something that happened to me very recently. Except I didn't have the happy ending. I guess I'm fanfictioning my life. Heh.
CHAPTER SIX: Dazzle
Jack Syre Jr. was, by all means, an incredible person. An incredible, hard-working, intelligent, responsible, and good-natured person. Gray couldn't think of one person he admired more. Certainly not Saibara, that was for sure! Saibara. All Gray's grandfather did was fuss and grumble and strut around the Smithy like some rooster in a coop. He valued responsibility, dedication, charm, and manliness. Jack Syre Jr. had every one of those qualities and oh-so-much more. That was why Saibara was forever comparing Gray to Jack and finding even the smallest reasons to complain about why the former wasn't like the latter. Every time the old man found another reason to brag about him, Gray became more and more jealous…yet more and more admiring.
Gray might have befriended the farmer if it hadn't been for Mary. He and Mary had been best friends since he moved to Mineral Town as a teenager. When two people start to spend enough time together, at least one of them is going to develop feelings for the other. It's natural, normal, and expected. When they were seventeen, the entire town thought they'd get married for sure…but Gray was just too shy and nervous to ever make a move on the intelligent librarian. Over time they became farther apart, but nothing could break the friendship between them. He knew she had expected to be married by now. He didn't know how much it hurt her that he never told her how he felt, though.
When Jack came, he must have seemed like a knight in shining armor to timid Mary. He would have been a hero to any girl; his messy cocoa hair peeping out from beneath a worn ballcap, and those stupid gloves the girls described as 'sexy'. He had the confidant walk, the charming and sincere talk, and even animals that Mary had always wished to study. Naturally when Jack started going to the library to read up on plants, he and Mary clicked together like a hook and eye. She even fit up against him well. Her black-braided head fit right on his shoulder while his arms could wrap snugly around her curves. They looked…adorable.
And there was Gray…alone.
And then he met Claire.
Jack had never mentioned his cousin to the town, so they were all surprised when she stepped off the boat and onto the dock; slim, blonde, and smiling. She was Jack in female form, only more hyper and bouncy. As soon as she came into the farm, she changed from her city dress into rumpled jean overalls over a multicolored-checked button-down shirt with cactus-blossom buttons. The day she first stepped into the Smithy was first day Gray was actually glad that Jack had claimed Mary.
What a woman. Claire flew around the town as if shod in Hermes' winged sandals, delivering things for her cousin, visiting, and being a general ray of sunshine to Mineral Town. Quickly she formed close friendships with Ann and Mary. She also took an interest in the young apprentice at the Smithy. When the sweet potatoes were harvested at the farm, Claire made sure to bring a basketful to Gray, freshly picked. "Ahh, I love yams. But they're best with honey and cinnamon," she told him, licking honey off her finger. She'd taken the liberty of roasting a yam in the coals of the Smithy furnace, and fixing it up with her own recipe.
Gray grinned nervously and snagged a bite. "This is fantastic. Tell me; do you…do you always carry spice shakers around with you?"
"Hmm? Oh," Claire chuckled, "well, you never know when you're going to need some cinnamon sugar or rosemary…"
"What did you do before you came here?"
"Real estate, baby! I sold homes to people with financial issues. Really, it's a rewarding job…"
"I bet! So how long are you staying here?"
"Just until the drought is over. I couldn't stand the water regulations. It made it impossible for me to raise my mums like I wanted to. Don't you hate that?"
Gray tried to remember what mums looked like, "Umm…"
"Don't you know what mums are?"
"I don't think they grow in Mineral Town and I haven't been away since I was fourteen. Sorry," Gray said, feeling like a failure at life.
Claire looked delighted. "No problem! I'll bring you some when I get my garden back after this durned drought ends!"
Every day she came to talk to him was a new adventure for Gray. She taught him all about what he had missed while in Mineral Town, and oh the perfume she wore was amazing! It made him dream of windswept days in a city bustling with energy…where life was never still, and always moving forward. It smelled like something radiant and shining. Like something crystalline and special. Something dazzling. Something like Claire.
A season passed, but the time seemed so much shorter to starstruck Gray. He began to wonder…if Claire was spending so much time at the Smithy with him, didn't it mean that she felt something about him like he felt about her? Girls didn't just spend their time willy-nilly…or did they? Were girls somewhat like guys? Did they think all the time about the person they liked? Did every smile mean something? Claire always smiled around Gray.
Finally the apprentice got the courage to go talk to Claire's cousin, Jack. "Claire? Oh, yeah, she's a great girl, isn't she?"
"Haha we used to play together when we were kids. She dated this one guy at school a lot though. It used to drive me nuts."
Gray swallowed harder than usual. "Really? What was so bad about that one guy?"
"His name was Chris. He was stupid. Honestly. He was the most ignorant guy I've ever seen in my life!"
"What do you mean?"
Jack laughed and patted one of his cows on the rump to move her out of the way so he could milk the next one. "I mean the guy was just plain stupid. And he was jealous to beat the band. Barely anyone liked him except Claire."
"But they broke
"Oh, yeah! A long time ago. They're still in contact, but I don't think they talk that much." The farmer paused to look at Gray with a new kind of respect. "Why? D'you like her or somethin'?"
Gray turned red. "No."
"No, no, seriously! Do you like her?"
It was useless to deny it. "Yeah. Don't tell her."
Jack laughed long and delightedly. "Don't worry; I won't! That's awesome! You know, I've heard her talking about you."
"Yeah. Here, I'll ask her about you tonight. I'll be casual."
The redheaded blacksmith apprentice could have died smiling. "O-ok. Thanks! Really! Thanks!"
Of course the next day Gray hurried down to the farm as soon as he could. Jack was waiting, arms crossed, and a grin on his face. "She said she likes you. Congratulations, buddy!"
When Gray talked to Mary about it, she pulled her braid and shivered with excitement. "Awwwww! You two look so cute together! I mean, you're both blonde and kind of short and so spirited…wow. That's amazing. Really. Mazel tov!" Things were looking great. The town started to talk about Claire and Gray as a couple. Claire couldn't have not known how he felt about her…it oozed out of every pore on his body.
She seemed to return it. They took walks on the beach almost every night, besides hanging out in the daytime. Ann told Gray that she had said that she really liked him. Every day the boy got more and more excited when he saw her face. Finally one day he knew that he was ready to ask her out.
But before he could ask her, she told him that she was returning to the city. "The drought is over. I'm going back."
"When?" Gray asked, horrified.
"Next week. It'll be great…I'll be able to grow you those mums like I said I would!"
"B-but…well, Claire…I'm going to miss you…"
Claire smiled at him sadly. "I know. Well…here." She unhooked her daisy necklace from around her neck and put it in his big hand. "Keep it."
"Umm…because I stole your watch the other day. It reminded me of you…I'm sorry!"
Gray was amazed. "You took my watch because it made you think of me?"
"Yes. But I'm not giving it back, so you better enjoy that necklace!"
If that wasn't the icing on the cake, there never would be any. But you know what they say about something that seems to good to be true.
The day before Gray was ready to ask Claire out, Jack came down and visited the Smithy. His face was grave. "Hey, Gray."
"Hey, Jack! Haha, it's a great day, isn't it? Look--I put a Goddess Drop in my buttonhole for Claire! I know she loves them."
Jack's face grew even darker. "Um, yeah. Listen. There's something I need to tell you."
Gray kept smiling. This news was probably about something Saibara had said about him. Wouldn't have been the first time. "What?"
"I'm sorry, man. Man, I'm real, real sorry. Claire is dating Chris."
Gray laughed: "…what?"
"Claire and Chris have been dating for almost a month now…I'm so sorry. I found out from one of her friends on the mainland…and she wrote about it in her diary." The farmer put his hand on Gray's shoulder and closed his eyes.
"B-but…but you said…Ann said…I thought…"
"I thought so, too. But Claire's always been a cryptic one. I'm sorry." He gave Gray's shoulder a final pat and left him alone.
Claire went back to the mainland without another word to Gray. It was like a beautiful dream popped but not forgotten when the dreamer woke up. The pain…the feeling of betrayal…was more real to Gray than he'd ever known. But she never called. It was over. It was over.
Two seasons passed and Gray returned to his usual self--or so it seemed to the town. He talked like he used to, he walked like he used to, he made stupid jokes sometimes like he used to…he was the same Gray…to everyone but Mary. She could see beneath his armor. She could see how hurt he still was…but there was nothing she could do about it. It was a pathetic feeling. Actually, there was one more person who had watched the whole scene and knew how he felt. Someone who Gray had never even talked to.
He was sitting outside the Spring Mine one day, fingering a piece of copper ore and feeling dark. The ore had a dirty spot on it, so he crawled over to the pond to wash it. It came off easily, but a twitch of his fingers sent the ore to the bottom of the pond. "Darn it," he muttered. "isn't that just perfect?"
Suddenly a pair of cool, slender fingers wound themselves around his wrist. They belonged to a small, pale hand which led down a sweetly muscled arm. A head emerged from the water, followed by a toned body. The head was adorned with green braids dotted with flowers. The woman smiled at him and flashed brilliant blue eyes that were so much deeper than Claire's. She hoisted herself out of the water beside him. Even though she just came from the pond, she wasn't the least bit wet. Her filmy, silky, navel-bearing dress was just as dry as if she'd never been in the water. "Hello, boy," the Goddess said with a voice as filmy as her gown.
"Hi," Gray said, slightly taken aback.
"Ah…so withdrawn," she whispered, staring hypnotically into his eyes. "and so quiet. Why?"
The boy shook his head, confused. "What do you mean?"
"I've been watching you ever since before that girl came to town. Still thinking about her?"
"Well…I don't know."
"You don't know? It hurt, didn't it?"
"It's just…she told all those people she liked me…and Jack said that Chris guy was such a loser…what does that make me?" It was so easy to talk to her.
The Goddess sighed and stroked Gray's hair, pushing back his cap. "It makes you just another heartbroken boy. Are you lonely?"
Gray shrugged. "No."
"Well, I am. Come visit me sometimes; will you?"
Slowly, Jack began to realize that Gray was passing back and forth through his farm a few times a week. Then it increased to every day. He wasn't mining…he wasn't foraging…what was he doing up there? Then one day he didn't come back.
Jack ran up to the forest and looked around. The boy was nowhere to be found. Gotz hadn't seen him. He went into the Goddess Pond area and snooped around the Hot Springs. Nothing. Then he went to the pond and stopped.
Gray's hat lay beside the Goddess Pond, but the waters were as still and dazzling as ever.