Note: You know you love this pairing. Admit it. My biggest issue with this is it seemed a tad too angsty in the beginning, but I'd like to think it ended the way I wanted it to.
Disclaimer: Scarlet has not, will not, and does not own Harvest Moon. Silly readers, how could you think otherwise?
"I've never been to confession before."
I bit my lip, that first little truth paving the way for the painful few more ahead. Goddess, I was scared. The lights shone dimly in the tiny room, casting shadows on the panel separating my face and the priest's from view. I was thankful for the plank of wood—thankful that there was something anonymous about this mortifying experience.
Not that I was afraid of what I had to say. The opposite, actually. I was terrified of how eager I was to let it all out.
"I've…never really thought about it, you know? People used to say I should go after my mom's death—that going to the Church would help ease my mind." I cleared my throat, my voice raspy. "I never really understood that. My mom loved Church, or so Dad says. He likes it when I go, but he doesn't come with me. Too painful, I guess. He can work around the Inn just fine, but as soon as he steps through these big oak doors, he gets all funny—he won't speak that much, and when he does it's hushed, reverent. Like we're in a sacred place." A pause. "No, more like a cemetery."
My confidante remained silent on the other end—a small blessing, probably, seeing as I wasn't sure I wanted to hear what he had to say. Not yet, anyway. I propped my arms on the kneeler, and resting my chin on them, sighed.
"This isn't really about my mom. But I bet you already know that, huh? If she'd been what's bothering me, I think I'd have come to you long before now. Nah, it's something more. More about…me." I sighed. "I'm so confused, and I'm not really sure how you're supposed to go through with this kind of religious spiritual thing, so I'm just going to apologize for messing up in advance. Right now, I just need to talk someone's ear off, and Cliff says you're a good listener. Carter, I hope for your sake you are. Or else you're in for one hell of a headache."
Through the tiny holes in the paneling, I could see the silhouette of a nod. So he was listening after all. Huh, and here I thought I had bored him to sleep.
"I hate having no control. I'm the biggest control freak I know. I can't have a messy Inn, I can't have a burnt meal, and I can't have a depressed dad. You know, I'm actually pretty good at that. Keeping my dad happy, I mean." I grinned despite myself. "He says I look just like my mom, that I remind him so much of her. I guess that's part of the reason it's so easy for me to make him smile."
"You said this wasn't about your mother though, correct?"
His gentle deep voice startled me momentarily; I hadn't been expecting a response so soon. Nor had I expected it to be such a considerate reply. "No, it's not," I agreed, closing my eyes. Stuffy and hot, I could feel the heat of the cramped room seeping into me, and somehow not looking at the light fixtures overhead gave me the false sense of calm cool darkness. "My dad cares a lot about me, being his only child and all… He's always pushing me to date, to find a husband, to settle down. I thought it was weird, actually. Mary's dad was a freaking guard-dog the first time Gray asked her out. Daddy, though, said that he wanted to see me happy with someone. But I figured it out recently. If someday something happens to him, he doesn't want me to be alone, you know? 'Cause my mom won't be there, and neither will he."
Sweat glistened on my skin, and I could feel the drops of moisture dripping down my brow. My eyes flitted towards the shelf nearby, and I frowned. Candles. That was the culprit.
"You know Cliff, right? Stupid question. Of course you know Cliff." My gaze turned from the candles to the plain white ceiling, aged cracks attracting my attention. "So we hung out around the Inn a lot. I worked, and he…lived, I guess. I thought he was kinda boring at first. Always mumbling—I never had any clue what the guy was saying—so polite, shy, and clingy. So clingy. He wasn't working at the Winery yet, and when the Church wasn't open, he'd just…follow me. Everywhere. God, I didn't think I could be more annoyed with anyone in my life."
I rubbed my temples, holding in a deep breath before releasing it slowly. My hand strayed from my forehead to my bangs, and running through them, I muttered, "Then things got…complicated. I mean, really complicated. I just woke up one morning, and there was this stuttering guy at my door, asking whether I had any plans to go the festival that night. And half-asleep, thinking that maybe I was still dreaming, I groaned yes. I didn't see why not. I didn't really care if I went to the festival or not. It just…didn't matter to me."
"And that frustrated you?"
"Not really," I admitted, shaking my head. "Part of me was flattered that Cliff was wasting his time with me. Another part of me hated having a second shadow. But hey, I had nothing else to do, so it wasn't like I was missing out on anything. Apparently, the two of us were dating? That's what Karen says, anyway. I have no freaking clue."
"What do you want to think?"
"I want to think that nothing happened. Because if nothing happened, then I couldn't have lost anything, right?" The final syllable bounced off the walls, unconvincingly echoing my futile attempt at self-denial.
"Ann," and here his voice became sterner, "what exactly are you afraid you've lost?"
"Dignity. Pride. Some sense of independence. I can't completely explain it," I sighed, shrugging. "It didn't feel like that at first, of course—nah, I didn't think about it too much. Then a few festivals went by, and things…changed. Like, really changed."
I folded my hands across my lap, and I could see the shadow through the wood paneling waiting patiently for my explanation. "She came. That girl. Claire. She waltzed in with her blonde hair, her smile, her oh-so-feminine looks and laugh and—gah, I don't know why it bothered me so much. But it did, you know?"
"You didn't like Claire?"
"I didn't like the way he acted around Claire," I corrected him, quickly shoving the priest's question to the side. "She started doing things I couldn't—like she was some miracle worker: finding him a job, saving him in the snow, and just…I don't know. It just bothered me. He started changing, changing in ways I didn't think possible--he stopped stuttering. Did you notice? Cliff stopped stuttering."
The silence on the other end of the room gave way to a quiet, "I did notice."
"That's her doing. Claire did this—I have no idea how, but she did. And I—why couldn't I?" My voice started gaining a higher pitch, fading into a sob. A sob. No, I couldn't be crying—I couldn't be. Not over this.
"It's not fair!" I snapped, wiping the tears glistening in my eyes away determinedly. "I knew him first, didn't I? How could she just pop up out of nowhere and do all this—fix everything, like it was so easy? Like anyone could have done it all along? Like I was some sort of idiot who couldn't—who couldn't—dammit!"
Stupid tears. Stupid, stupid tears slid down my cheeks, and no matter how furiously I tried to brush them away, my actions betrayed me through the screen, and Carter whispered, "It's okay to cry, Ann. It's fine. The Goddess understands."
"Does the Goddess understand what it's like to feel like shit?" I shouted back, no longer caring that I was here to find inner peace, to reconcile all these painful thoughts. At the moment, I all I wanted to do was hurt someone—anyone—as much as Cliff had hurt me. "No, she doesn't! She just knows what it's like to have people chuck stuff into her pond every other day! The Goddess knows nothing, okay?"
Silence penetrated the confessional for a long, agonizing minute, as I realized I'd just screamed heresy in a church. Hell, I'd just cussed in a church, and in front of a priest, no less.
I squirmed a bit in the kneeler, mumbling, "Yes, Carter?" humbly. Did people go to hell for things like this? For saying things like this in church, for thinking such angry thoughts? For blasphemy? Did Dante have a circle in hell for people like me?
"You're human." I blinked as he continued, "You're supposed to feel hurt. You're supposed to feel angry. No one's saying you shouldn't."
"But I don't want to," I protested feebly, rubbing my eyes red. "I want it all to go away—I mean, what am I doing, crying like this? It's stupid. I didn't fall apart like this when my mother died, so why am I doing it now?"
"Only you can answer that question, Ann. After all," he smiled--I could swear he was smiling behind that screen--"the Goddess doesn't know everything, does she?"
I laughed at that and wiped the tears from my cheeks. "Does everyone go around blaspheming in confession, or am I just good like that?"
He chuckled (something I had yet to hear Carter do before in my life) and replied, "I must say this confession was a tad unique in many aspects. For example, Cliff doesn't cuss nearly as much as you do."
"He's missing out," I grinned. "What's a good confession without a bit of profanity?"
It was amazing how great it felt to just let everything out, to just have my little angst-fest and then laugh it off. What had I been crying about, anyway—Cliff? A guy? Pfft. So I'd liked him, and he'd liked me, but I could move on, right? It was kinda pathetic to think that I had to go scream at a priest about it, but…well, it'd worked, right? Besides, I wasn't entirely sure I was here because I'd liked him at all—no, it was more that girl's smirk, her attitude, everything oh-so-perfect about her that irked me. Jealousy was my sin, but I guess even that was silly in the end.
"Well, for your penance, I'm going to recommend coming to church for the next few Sundays," Carter announced. "And if you ever need to shout at anyone again, give me a call. I don't get shouted at nearly enough."
I tapped my chin in thought. "Tell you what," I decided, "how about for my penance, I cook you a meal for the next few Sundays instead?"
"Hm, a meal…"
"I can cook a mean apple pie," I added, waiting as he deliberated. "Or if you want, I could whip up some stir-fry, or perhaps some fish, or—"
"Do you have any idea how long it's been since I've had a homemade meal?" he interrupted me.
I paused. "About as long as it's been since someone's shouted at you besides me?"
"That'd be about right," the priest laughed. "That penance sounds pretty good to me. But…it'd be nice if you came to church, too."
"So that the Goddess doesn't smite me?" I remarked dryly.
I could see the shadow of his head shaking no behind the screen. "I just think it'd be nice to see you outside of a confessional. It's sort of hard to talk to someone when you can't see them face-to-face, and blasphemy or not, you are a pleasant person to talk to."
Really? I was pleasant to talk to? I think my face was heating up or something, because when he said that, I could feel my cheeks reddening. "Well, in that case, Carter, you've got yourself a deal." I stood up. "See you next Sunday."
"I look forward to it," he nodded, undoubtedly smiling just as brightly as I was.
Back at home, Cliff and Claire were going at it on an all-out flirt fest. She was giggling, he was whispering in her ear, and they were both so lovey-dovey that I honestly have no idea why I was so jealous of them in the first place. Is that what I really wanted? Someone cooing to me that I was gorgeous, giving me nicknames like "Claire bear" (or in my case, something like "Annie-boo"…which sounds a heck of a lot stupider and embarrassing). Nah, I thought to myself as I walked to the kitchen, there was more to life than that. There were things way more important to be thinking about.
For example, does Carter like his meat medium, rare, or well-done?
End Note: Kinda weird to write, seeing as it was hard to balance the original purpose of this (Carter x Ann) with where the plot started me off with (Cliff x Ann angst). It felt kinda disconnected, but hopefully it wasn't too odd. Thanks for reading!