Note: Haven't written a serious oneshot in awhile, eh? This one's about Muffy, and it's not exactly a feel-good fic. It combined about five ideas spinning through my plot-filled brain. (For the first time in ages, I've been able to finish something in one sitting and be pleased with the end result. Woot!)

PS: I wrote the crummy song. So unfortunately, it's mine. Yay.

Disclaimer: I don't own Harvest Moon. And they're probably glad I don't.

Only Then

I don't think about it.

I don't think about it in the morning as my fingers wrestle with curlers, while I attempt to turn the ghastly pale face in the mirror into something resembling a rosy-cheeked young wife, happy with the world and with herself.

I don't think about it as I cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an often absent husband and child, hoping that I won't have to hold the dying conversation with nothing but the support of my smile.

I only let myself think about it when it's me alone in the blankets of his bed, when I can smell the lingering scent of an expensive perfume that I've never owned clinging to the sheets and to the very pillow I'm crying into.

I don't think about it. Only then, but then only.

"Mommy, what's your favorite color?"

I blink as I turn from the TV to the young boy lying on the carpet, wielding a six-pack of crayons suspended over a very wrinkled sheet of paper. "Oh, baby, I don't know," I smile, glancing once more at the cheerful weatherman assuring me tomorrow's weather would be sunny and splendid. "I suppose pink."

"How about red? I don't have a pink crayon," my son explains, already pulling out the cherry-colored item from his box. I nod, and he instantly begins scribbling on the paper, biting his lip in concentration as he draws thick lines across the page. "I'm gonna draw a picture of you, Mommy. And then you can put it on the refrigerator right next to the one I made for Daddy—would you like that?"

"I'd love that," I tell him, bending down to kiss his head of blonde hair. He scowls—big boys aren't kissed by their mothers—but I can tell that deep down, there's a smile tucked beneath the frown, and that's enough to reassure me that he's still my little boy and six years old is still an innocent age.

Trent had been a surprise in an otherwise predictable life—when Dr. Hardy had explained my fatigue was due to pregnancy and not the new chores associated with farmwork, Jack and I had been stunned into a shocked, but somehow pleased, silence. There'd been the worry that maybe we couldn't afford such a surprise—that maybe it was more a curse than a blessing, with our marriage only just consummated—but when we first gazed into his innocent doe eyes, the worry vanished, and determination replaced it. It could work. We could make this work.

The small bed that had been Jack's during his brief year as a bachelor was shoved beside our own, a chair added to the kitchen high enough for small hands to reach a cup of milk, and a toy box tucked beside the television. Things could only improve from then on, I had told myself; things could only become more wonderful with a husband, a child, a perfect home.

Then this happens.

"Hey, buddy, do you mind if Mommy goes for a walk? Mr. Takakura will be here if you need anything," I say as I don my blue jacket and open the door outside. He rolls his eyes—don't I know he can handle himself?—and nods.

I know the paths of Forget-Me-Not well. My trusty stiletto heels have traveled them for years on end, from the dirt paths to the beach to the cobblestone path to Romana's mansion to the wooden bridge leading to Vesta's farm. I must be the only woman dumb enough to wear six inch heels while doing so.

Lately, my heels have been taking me down to the beach, swerving ever so slightly to the small thicket of trees adjacent to a murky little pond. Quiet music drifts through the canopy of trees, and I let a smile steal across my lips as I let the melody change my mood from pensive to lightless.

"And have I told you lately

How badly I've missed those nights,

Your breath against my cheek,

The way you smile when you sleep?"

The slow strum of a guitar intensifies, gaining speed as he hums along to the melody, oblivious to my presence. His sweet voice echoes through the forest, playing for no one but nature and myself. But we remain quiet, nature and I, refusing to interrupt this blissful sound.

"And did you ever wonder

How long is too long?

Too long to remember,

But not enough to regret?"

His hat slides over his eyes, a flash of green covering his dark shades and casting a shadow over his smiling face. They're fading now, the quick fierce notes—fading into a slow, drawn out tune.

"Mmm, and did you know?

So long ago, long ago,

Did you ever know, my darling,

That I love you?"

A few more strums of the guitar, then an all-consuming silence hangs over the forest like a heavy sigh. He's putting down the guitar now, finally moving that hat out of his eyes and noticing, belatedly, that he'd had an audience.

"Not exactly going to win a Grammy, is it?" he grins, standing up and brushing the dirt from his pants. It's hard not to mirror his smile, I realize, as my ruby red lips stretch themselves upward in a goofy grin.

"I thought it was really sweet," I admit, putting my hands behind my back and bouncing forwards and backwards on my heels. "Did you write that?"

"Unfortunately, yes." He chuckles, scratching the nape of his neck in embarrassment. "Gah, I'm awful at lyrics…but I do love writing music. It's the notes I can figure out, though, not the words. I guess one day, if I try long enough, I'll come up with something that isn't totally cliché and overdone."

I laugh at that, and reply, "Well, who knows? Maybe someday will come sooner than you think."

"A guy can only hope, right?"

I trace a circle in the dirt with my shoe, and subconsciously hum the tune somewhat. "It's catchy," I comment, gazing skyward. "I bet you get inspired in all kinds of ways, in a place like this."

He takes a moment to reply, following my gaze towards the clouds as well. We stare at them for a while as they glide effortlessly across a blue background—Trent would have started naming all the shapes, saying that fat one looked like a cow, that the tiny one was a potato.

But if it were Jack here…

"People can be inspiring, as well." Jolted out of my thoughts, I turn to see Gustafa, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. "Expressions, voices, emotions, actions: there's so much to be said about people. Nature—well, there are only so many ways to describe a leaf or an ocean. A leaf will always be a leaf, but people aren't always what they appear to be." His face turns towards my own, and more softly, he adds, "Are they, Muffy?"

I squeeze my eyes shut, mascara clumping against my lashes. I'm laughing now—a quiet, yet somehow maddened laughter—and I can't stop.

Empty rooms. Treacherous scents. The too-often washing of sheets. The long trips to the spa he had treated me with so often lately. The false smiles, the false laughter, the cold numbing touch of his skin against my own. What do you see when you look at them, hear them, sense them? Cows, potatos?

Nothing? Or everything?

I want to know what she sees. What she hears. What she senses. What she thinks late at night, when she's the one in his arms, and she knows—she knows, she knows, she has to know—that the ring on his finger is a joke, a mockery, a circle of lies. When she knows the bed they're in is mine, as well. That the bed across from them belongs to my son—our son.

What does he whisper in her ear? Does he promise her the world, heaven, and hell? Does he promise her he'll never leave, that he'll be her faithful soldier, her guardian angel?

Does she believe him, as I had?

I don't think about it. I don't think about it: not now, not ever, only sometimes. Only when no one can see me cry, only when no one can see those ugly emotions of jealousy, of hurt, of anger, of betrayal.

Only then, but then only.

"You know, I've always wanted someone to write me a love song," I begin, my voice cracking. "I've always thought it would be so incredibly romantic…for someone, anyone, to care enough to write me a piece of music. But that's only in the movies, huh? Whoever you wrote that for must be—well, she must be pretty special."

She must be so lucky. So, so lucky. To have someone willing to prove their love in a physical sense, in a tangible form, and know it's created for you alone. To know there was no way he could hide it in the darkness and give it away to someone else, that no sheets could wrap it into a gift for another.

That it could capture the way he felt about her in that moment—that single, perfect moment—and make it last forever.

"You don't think that everyone's special, Muffy?"

"I think that after awhile…everyone becomes the same," I answer quietly. "That after awhile, it's not a question of whether or not you're special, but of whether or not someone's willing to say you are."

Jack had said it. He'd said it so many times, so many nights—he'd made so many promises to me, and I'd wanted to hear them all. I didn't think about how impossible they all seemed, because I didn't want to think about that. I only thought about then, about that moment, about that instant of pure bliss.

But it's over now, isn't it? All moments end.

"But that means everyone's special." He runs his fingers through his hair, tipping his hat slightly in the process. "If all it takes is a word or two to know that, then that means everyone's beauty is just hidden from their own faces. We need other people to point it out to us." I cast him a dubious look, and he returns it with one equally serious. "You're special too, Muffy. In case no one's told you lately, you are."

"Am I?" I smile wryly.

"Absolutely. Have you looked in the mirror lately, Muffy? You're beautiful, gorgeous, confident. Anyone could see that."

His list does nothing for me; he hasn't seen me early in the morning with curlers matted to my head, my face a blank canvas, my body dressed in a shapeless gown. The beauty is an illusion, the confidence a side-effect of the deception. "But you aren't anyone," I remind him.

"Ah, well, I guess not," he agrees, approaching me. "Then if you won't look into the mirror, look at Trent."

"Trent?" I whisper.

"Smart kid. Good-looking kid. Takes after you—any idiot could tell he's got more of your blood than Jack's," he continues. "If anything, Muffy, I can see your gentleness through him, your kindness, your motherly side. You've done a good job with him, better than many people could have done." He takes my hands, and as his skin brushes up against my own, he whispers, "You're special, Muffy. Whether you believe it or not, you are. And you deserve to be treated that way."

He knows.

That's the thought pounding through me, causing my heart to do leaps and bounds as his eyes stare through my own. I can feel his pulse beating through my palm, and its warmth is causing shivers to run up and down my spine—but I can't be thinking about this.

I don't think about it. I never think about it.

But maybe I should have.

My fingers twist themselves out of his own, and backing away, I try to smile. "Good thing I have Jack, huh?" I say softly. I'm supposed to sound confident, but my voice is weak and hollow, and Gustafa simply nods, his hands falling limply to his sides.

"Yes," he murmurs, avoiding my gaze. "Yes. Jack."

And I wonder if this is what Jack did. If she—whoever this she is—held his hands like that, seemed so certain, so sure, that things could change simply because they wished it to be so.

Had I ever held his hands like that?

"Trent will be worrying about me," I insist, noticing the red hue of sunset starting to bleed against the sky. "He wanted me to see this picture he made me—"

My protest falters, and Gustafa nods once again.

"So it's his way of saying it," he muses. "Drawing you a picture."


"That you're special." Gustafa smiles, and I feel like my legs turn weak at how sincere that smile is—so like Trent's childlike innocence that it startles me for a moment. "See, Muffy? I'm not the only one who thinks so."

I'm starting towards the farm again, but my stilettos aren't so keen on obeying me this time, and they dig themselves deeper into the muddy ground. I want to take a picture of Gustafa right now—the way he's looking at me, the way I've always wanted someone to look at me—so I can remember it always.

"Trent's waiting," I repeat feebly, forcing my legs back further. "I need to go."


His quiet plea arrests me once more, and I turn to him hesitantly, as if afraid he'll do something—anything—to make me regret staying on my path more than I already do.

"You can have the song. The love song. So that you can say they're not just in the movies, or in the books." A smile. "So that you can remember you're special."

The wind steals my answer from my lips, but I'm not sure if I can speak anyway. I can feel my resolve crumbling; I have to fight the urge to run to him and spill out all my heart's fears and longings into his bosom. I have to remember the ring I wear has meaning, that my heart is no longer free to give.

After all, that had been Jack's path, and I wasn't Jack.

I leave with my back turned, no longer daring to look back at him, at his smile, or at the way he seems so honest, so genuine with his words and promises.

Jack had seemed sincere, too, once. Hadn't he?

I arrive at the farm silently, confused thoughts spinning through my mind at a dizzying pace. I can't follow them all, at least not at once. It hurts to consider so much, when it should be easy to just say no.

Then I hear Trent calling to me, and I let all the confusion fade for a precious moment of simplicity—of knowing that for once, the love you feel for another human being isn't wrong as he throws himself into your arms, boneless with faith.

I don't think about it. I don't think about it, not when Gustafa's by my side, not when I hear his voice, not when I imagine his touch.

I don't ever think about it, because thinking alone is wrong, and I can't hide my own shame, even if Jack can.

Because it's too late, isn't it?

"Mmm, and did you know?

So long ago, long ago,

Did you ever know, my darling,

That I love you?"