Why did she refuse me?
When I listed the bright sides of every dark view she said, why did she ignore me? Why did she reject my offer, my help? Why wouldn't she let me save her?
"Haven't you heard?" she answered. "You can only save yourself."
Footsteps in the Sand
Water ran down the stream, falling from the top and melting away as it hit the bottom. It rippled for a split second as more rushed down, down. There was so much water that it could never be individually measured. Just like people, they would multiply and multiply until faces turned into names into numbers. So many numbers, numbers that people couldn't even count. Numbers too large to give a name to.
Ironic, how we are all the ones who make up those numbers. It's ironic how if one of us left, the world would move on like a herd of buffalo in which every beast looked the same. Ironic, how we live under the comfort that "if everyone was gone no one would be left."
Left. Left, right, up, down. Everywhere I turn I see people. People with long hair, people with black eyes, people who don't even look back at me.
And then I see her. She could have had a future, could have existed in our memory as a face, not a number. She could have focused on creating her future instead of fearing it, and living the present instead of running away from it.
She could have been. So, so many things that "could have been." Why is it that so little things end in "had been"?
She was always so cold, so distant; so different from the small-town residents of Forget-Me-Not Valley. When you walked by her she would not return that "good morning"; no, she would not even look at you. She would never tell you what she was thinking about, she would tell you to stop asking her. She would never tell you she liked your hair, your shirt, she'd make a terrible grunt and glare. And when you asked her how she felt, she never said anything at all.
She was a real mystery. Arriving at the doorstep of the local inn with barely a sack on her back and a look that matched no other coldness, she just kind of walked into our lives with no warning. She didn't try to get to know all the other friendly townsfolk or join in on the festivals we held—we all thought she was unusually antisocial. We misjudged her because she was different from us. Not different in general, but just different…from everyone around her.
She never told anyone about her personal life, she barely talked to anyone at all. It was clear, who these general bits of information comprised. It was obvious what her very appearance portrayed. It's kind of funny—in a way absolutely unbelievable how I was so fascinated in her and just how unlike she was than everyone else, when at the same time we didn't even know each other. She didn't know where I lived, my occupation, or what I thought of her. She didn't even know my name, and it was long after she'd arrived until I learned hers.
Nami. What a memorable and unusual name. Ours were all kind of old-school: Grant, Carter, Griffin. Like her image, her persona, she stood out. She was the flaming bonfire in a room of tiny lit-candles. She was the beautiful peacock in the flocks of grey, city pigeons.
I was so jealous of her. It wasn't even the catty kind of green-eyed envy—I wasn't even the same gender as her—I was just jealous that she was so unique. That she could choose her own path but still stick with the one she had. That she could get up and move on, while money and personal life forced me to stay here.
We all know that everything started the day we took our first breaths; that something already happened by the time she arrived in town but the changes were so subtle and small that I didn't bother to point them out. But moments and memories are remembered, not the gradual changes of time, and so it was on the memorable night of the Fireworks festival that things began in real time. The familiar summer heat had weakened a little due to the fact that the season was coming to an end. It was kind of like a goodbye, this festival—bidding farewell to the well-remembered days spent under the burning sun. In a way, it was kind of sad.
Being a farmer, summer was a rather important time of the year for me. I had a big stock of pineapples and corn stalks that I could sell for a large profit. The pumpkin seeds hadn't granted me equal fortune; even though they sold for more, they didn't re-grow like the corn seeds, which were bought at the same price. I had my small patch of tomatoes, and I rarely even bothered with onions, unless they were upon request by the other Valley inhabitants…
"Can't wait 'til the fireworks start, eh, Jack?"
The peaceful state of mind I had been swept into, the cloud I had been dreaming on was sliced in half. I turned to see Flora looking at me, grinning. "Oh, hey," I murmured.
Without invitation, she stood by my side and scanned my face, trying to find something to start a conversation about. "What's wrong?" Her voice was long and prying—like a child's whine.
"Nothing," I answered flatly.
There was a pause, and the fact that she was staring at me grew unnerving. I brushed my eyes against hers to see if she would break her gaze, but she held it there tightly. "Oh, I know what's up. I know. Are you getting caught up with work again, hm, Jack? I don't see how you live with all that farmwork."
I gritted my teeth, trying to ignore the nagging sound of her voice. It hadn't always been like this—Flora and I used to be good friends, maybe even a bit more at some moments. But my financial issues were slowly swallowing my entire life, and my relationships with her and many other people faltered.
"I've been in the exact same situation as you," she was saying. "Well, not exactly the same but you know what I mean. I have the perfect solution…let's just say sometimes it's nice to just relax and kick back and…"
I extracted myself from her presence irritably. Was I that easy to read? "I have to go," I told her shortly, and only caught a short glimpse of her abrupt frown before walking to the far end of the beach.
I stopped and settled down when I was a far distance away from all the other villagers. I wasn't normally antisocial; I just wasn't in the mood. Profits and sales had been going down lately, and sometimes I worried I wouldn't be able to continue living here at the rate I was going at. I had moved all the way here to restart life on a crisp, new, blank page.
But ink was everywhere now, and it was obvious the page I had written my life on was running out of space for words.
I stepped back when I realized the tide was coming in. Little bits of sediment stuck to my shoe, which was caked with dry mud from the farm. The instant my foot moved, the water swallowed the imprint it made in the soft, smooth sand.
The stars out that night were amazing. Twinkling would be an understatement for them—they were blazing bright. The sheen of each individual, yellow star was so brilliant that only a glittering gold could do them justice. They were like the sediment in the shore, the tiny jewels scattered about like paint on a canvas. The contrast between the dark blue waves and the brightened sky was breathtaking.
I let out a long breath, one that had been withheld as I measured the beauty in the distance, when I sensed something. I know it sounds rather stupid and cliché—and I might have just heard the slightest noise between the crashing intervals of the tide—but I just knew someone was there. My neck turned and I saw her.
Up to that point, I'd only ever heard her name. I hadn't had one decent conversation with her. It wasn't that I didn't know how to start one—I was just too prideful to. The majestic, cold and permanent look on her face would only dishonour me if anything ended in rejection. And in stressful times like this, the last thing I needed was mind games. She was just too much for me to handle.
So I was obviously shocked when she walked up beside me and said, in a voice too casual for her exterior, "Pretty, hm?"
I had to give her a quick glance before responding. Her face was so gentle, so relaxed in comparison to what I saw with my quick glimpses at her as I traversed through the village. Her ice-blue eyes looked darker and more inviting in the evening light.
"Sure," I grunted.
The silence produced would have been comfortable for any two other villagers in Forget-Me-Not Valley. The quiet atmosphere would have been appeasing if only it could be shared with two other people in the entire universe.
But now it was just me…me and Nami, and it was the most uncomfortable thing in the universe.
"I wonder when the fireworks are about to…" A great crackle in the sky interrupted her and a bright light beamed into the sky, like a fire shooting up from the sparks. "Oh, there they are," she murmured matter-of-factly.
I could use so many more words, big and small, to describe what the fireworks display looked like. But honestly, I couldn't care less about them—I was barely watching.
Nami read me like words on a projector. "You don't look very pleased to be here. You should have just stayed at home."
Even in the present time, I still think about the way she spoke. She didn't ask questions, she just kind of indirectly suggested things. And she didn't have to think to know the right answer—she was always right.
No, not always. Never always. No one is always correct.
"Home?" I repeated as another burst of light exploded up ahead. Faint cheering was heard far along the shore.
"You know…that prismatic wooden thing I assume you live in," she inputted. Her attention seemed to be parted into three: a third to me, a third to the fireworks…a third all to herself in her own little world.
I cleared my throat when the big bang of the fireworks prevailed over the sound of my voice. "House doesn't exactly feel like home right now," I explained simply.
Instead of answering, prying, or giving off any indication of sympathy, Nami continued to stare at the sky. "Well, obviously," she said after a full minute. "It can't be home without you."
I glanced at her a bit fervently and for the first time, she looked back. "In general," she hissed in explanation. "I mean…what's a home without the people who live there? …Don't answer that."
The rest of the night I spent dwelling on the few words she said to me. I thought about her dry sense of humour—that prismatic wooden thing I assume you live in—and even the tone of her voice as she spoke. She was confident, but relaxed. Comfortable, but sharp. Settling but intimidating.
"I have to go now." For the shortest second in the world, I thought she hesitated before she pulled away.
I had an urge to call after her, and that urge got the better of me. "Wait."
She didn't stop. "What?" she called, not looking back as her feet led her away from where she just stood.
I took a pathetic step forward. I didn't know what to say, I didn't know what I wanted to say, but I knew I had to say something if I ever wanted a chance to talk to her again. That was what it was about…what I wanted. "Where are you going?"
She looked over her shoulder at me and that was the first time I saw her smile. "Home," she answered.
I didn't know if she meant to do it, but her reply made me think. Home. It made me wonder if I still belonged here. I was a miserable, depressing figure in a pleasant and simple town. I wished for exaggerated and greedy things a city boy would want and the rest of the villagers, who had been born and raised here, were content with the clothes on their backs and expected nothing more than food on their tables.
About ten minutes after Nami left, when the festival wasn't even over yet, I decided to take my leave. I began to head back to the main area of the beach and walk back to my farm from there, following my lone set of footsteps for guidance. I realized my pair was the only one in sight and I wondered where Nami's was. Then I looked down at the sleek, glossy, darkened sand near the tide and assumed Nami had walked there. Maybe she didn't want to leave any footsteps…maybe she didn't want me following her.
It may be hard to believe, but after that I didn't see Nami for a very long time. Summer rolled to an end and fall blew into our faces, breezy as the winds it delivered. Fall was the most important season for harvest—and the season that could save my skin. If I took advantage of it, using my fields to their fullest ability and cultivating and planting and selling like it was the most important thing in my life, I would be able to keep on living here for at least another estimated year.
And that was exactly what I did. My farm was like a cave, one that many others feared to visit. I was so hard at work that whenever anyone would stop by for a hello or light conversation I couldn't even act civil enough to raise my head and smile at them. Each day, sweat imprisoned me and turned me into a wet, hot beast. The days were long, with not a minute wasted. Fear and greed and ignorance, all the ugly emotions, piled up and forced me to do their bidding.
Then winter tumbled in and I had to stop farming. It was a tough season, emotionally. I couldn't forage, couldn't farm, I could rarely fish. A small piece of consciousness came back to me and I repaired a few of my friendships with some people in the Valley. Some people, like Flora, openly welcomed back my presence and acted like nothing had ever happened. But others, people I had never gotten to know well at all, like Marlin, treated me like stone. He ignored me when I walked by him. He didn't smile when I waved hello. I realized he was just a mirror image of myself in the fall and for that, I grew depressed.
For two more weeks, I was an antisocial and unhappy soul. But the calendar was catching up with me, and another festival was just around the corner. God, I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to one of those.
It was the night of the Starry Festival that would be quickly approaching. It was a romantic festival, spent in the company of another person in a house. I didn't understand it. If it was a night to gaze at beautiful stars, my secret passion, then why spend it inside? For the first time in almost two seasons, I was determined to stay outside and make bonds with my old self. I wanted to make this night in particular a good one.
Funny how everything starts, and ends, in desire.
The night just before the festival, none other than Flora approached me. For once she didn't look bratty or excited. Now she looked nervous…almost shy. "Hey, Jack," she said quietly as I met paths with her.
Things still weren't fully patched up between us, so I could understand why she was feeling a bit awkward. However, it was only until she spoke that I realized she was feeling shy for another reason.
"Tomorrow's the Starry Night festival…" she brought up casually, fiddling with a lock of blonde hair.
"…Yeah," I grunted. I knew where this was going and I mentally pleaded against it.
"Um…" The second I thought she would bail she pounced. "How about we do something?"
I hesitated before responding, and she took this in and panicked. I could tell. "You know, just as, um, friends. We can go to my place…but Carter will be there…so how about yours? Like, if you're not doing anything. Me and you, you know? Just like…old times." I thought I saw a ghost of a tear trail down her cheek and cracked.
I needed this. I needed a reality check. I needed someone to confirm that I still existed as a human being. "Okay," I finally agreed, and she gave me the biggest smile I'd received in a lifetime.
"Great! Well, I guess we could meet up somewhere. Um…how about the Blue Bar? I know we're suppose to spend it at someone's house but we're just spending it together as friends, so it doesn't really matter as much…I guess you can pick me up at six? Or I could just meet up with you or something." She stopped suddenly. "Um, I have to go now. I'll see you tomorrow."
I watched her scurry away. I watched her smile go into a full-watt beam and I felt crappy. Was this leading her on? She clearly didn't want to go as "just friends"—and I didn't want to go at all. This was only supposed to go as proof that I wasn't as selfish as I seemed. As long as I made no indication that I was interested in her, nothing would go wrong.
The next night, I played it a bit dressy. I put on a crisp pair of blue jeans and mostly de-wrinkled black shirt. I took the lonely trek to Flora's tent in the dig site to see her standing at the entrance, looking years younger and eternities brighter than I did.
"Hi, wow, you look great!" she complimented me. I tried to find artifice in her words but she just seemed too happy to lie. Her hair was curled and pulled up and she was clad in a tight-fitting black dress. Her outfit was simple…but deceiving.
I could tell she was disappointed that I didn't make any body contact with her as we walked to the Blue Bar together. She talked to fill the silences I forced upon us.
When we entered, the bar went silent for a few seconds and then erupted into whistles and low cheers. "Looking good," Muffy called, to both of us. I felt uncomfortable as we edged through the crowds of people, which were larger than I predicted. Some elbowed me lightly as I walked by. "I always knew you two would end up together"—"You're a lucky one"—"You look fantastic"—"Cute outfit, Flora."
I thought I would collapse, but we finally made it to the counter. We squeezed into two seats and ordered Stone Oils. Then we sat in silence, drinking in the conversation tidbits thrown across the room. Flora drummed her fingers across the table but I made no attempt to act. I sat there.
"Hey…I'm gonna use the restroom. Don't run away…" she teased as she suddenly got up. I could tell she was joking, but for some reason her words were rather tempting. You're trying to be nice here. Act the part. I was obedient and stayed in place.
That's when I heard her voice. Not Flora's. But the cool, collected, and unique voice of none other than Nami.
I couldn't mask my shock. "Hi…Nami. What are you doing here?" I couldn't remember the last time I felt this piqued…this lively. "Do you know what today is? Are you with anyone? You aren't, are you?"
She slipped into Flora's empty seat and looked up at me. Her eyes looked dull, and her face washed out. "Drinking…yes, and no," she answered me shortly. She took a sip of a dark liquid and then put the glass back down heavily. "You?"
"Flora." I don't know why, but I expected her to look surprised. I thought she would be jealous, even—at least a small part of me hoped she would be.
But all Nami did was sip her glass with a nonchalant look on her face. "Oh, cool. Figures," she said tentatively.
I wondered what she could have meant. The answer came to me briefly, but I pushed it out of existence.
The clock ticked on, and I worried that Flora would come back any second. I didn't want to waste any second with Nami. For the first time in a long time, I didn't even think about the farm or expenses or anything. I just thought about…her. It was Nami and I in a bubble, separated from the rest of the world.
"You know, I'm thinking of leaving soon."
It took me a few seconds to take in her words. When I did, I got the urge to scream out, "WHAT?" but this time I knew better. I held in my temptations and did nothing more than twitch. When two glasses of Stone Oil were placed on the counter I swirled my drink around, took a long sip, and set it back down. It was unbelievably sour. How did people drink this stuff?
"I don't think I fit in with the rest of the people in this town. I don't think I fit in…with this town."
I looked over at Nami, who seemed undoubtedly miserable. I couldn't in a lifetime understand why. I barely ever saw her, and I'd only ever seen her smile once. She didn't look happy to be here, so why did she seem upset about leaving?
"You're pretty much the only person here who's been willing to talk to me, you know. Well, you and another person." She was playing with her drink now, which was mostly gone despite the fact that she looked completely sober.
"Who's that?" I asked, the initial shock preventing any emotion in my voice.
I stopped playing with my drink. My hand stilled at an angle and a small portion of Stone Oil dripped out and slithered down the length of my hand.
Nami went on like everything was normal. "She's a good person, really. You just have to get to know her. I feel sorry for her…some people treat her like a child. It's sad…kind of cruel, if you think about it."
Every word outside the ones Nami spoke were muted. I digested her words, I read her words; I repeated her words in my mind. She was talking about me to my face. She knew I could tell; she was too clever.
She perched her hand on the counter and looked at me, arching an eyebrow. "You know she's madly in love with you, eh?"
For some reason, this hurt. It hurt so bad. It was all a set-up—a lie, in a way. Flora wasn't really at the restroom. In fact, she was probably somewhere in the crowd listening. This was a complete set-up.
And I didn't know why it felt like my heart was crashing, because I barely knew Nami. I wasn't even sure if she knew my name, and I wasn't even sure at that point if my emotions were real or temporary or if I was just desperate. I couldn't predict what would become of this rare emotion, and I couldn't tell what had sparked it or where anything had really begun or why it did and who set it up and what could have happened if it had gone somewhere.
I was in love with Nami.
"I gotta go home," I told her shakily, my head pounding. "I…don't feel so well."
She suddenly frowned, dropping the whole subject. "Do you want me to come with you?"
"No." I didn't think I'd ever see her shocked or hurt, and I never, ever thought I'd be the cause of it, but she was. Her face distorted and she looked at me like a lost lamb. "Um…bye."
"Wait," she exclaimed as I started off, but I couldn't bear going back.
I heard footsteps as I closed in on the bar exit, and Nami's rushed breaths. "There's something I want to tell you…"
My hand was on the door handle now. I stepped outside. I could close it right now and just leave if I wanted to—leave Forget-Me-Not Valley forever. Forget everything. Forget it all.
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
I stopped in my tracks. My mind went white.
She pushed me outside and stepped out after me, slamming the door over the commotion. When I looked into her eyes, I realized the aqua reflection wasn't natural—they were soaking wet.
"I don't know why I'm telling you this," she was saying. "In fact, I don't even know why I care about you at all. Your name's Jack, isn't it? Flora told me. Look…um…tomorrow morning I'll never see you again. I'm just too attached to this place, if you're looking for a reason, because I know we all hate open-ended endings…oh, redundant much. I know it may not seem like I really like it here, but I do. I honestly do. And I'm not supposed to. Because I can't…stay here."
I heard her voice break out along her words, like disconnected, snapping wires. Maybe it was just my mind going hazy—I didn't know.
"Damn it. Why am I crying?" She had been swiping harshly at her eyes a few times, but now she was scrubbing at them with her fists. "I'm not a crier. Okay? And…I don't even know you. I've met so many people and I couldn't give a damn about any of them. I…" She let out a long, painful-sounding sob. "It's because of Flora, okay? She loves you so much…she was my only friend here…the only light that would make me feel happy each day. I didn't want to lose her. But she was just temporary happiness. I was so greedy."
I couldn't take this. "Nami…"
"No. Shut up." She shoved her sweaty hand in my face and pressed it against my forehead before pulling back. "Let me finish, okay? You're making it harder."
I nodded slowly and unsurely. Emotions rushed to my head—I could've sworn I was swelling at her touch.
"I knew that there was only one thing getting in the way of our friendship…you. Yeah, you. Asshole. I don't even know why I would like you. I've had, what, one conversation with you? But…you're different, you know? And so am I. I can relate. I'm too suffocated here. I can't stand it."
She broke down crying again, and I felt I had no choice but to take her in my arms. I wrapped around her and she complied for a short moment, but then she pushed me away, looking not angry and sad—but confused and lost.
"No. Stop! You're making things harder. What did I just say?" Hot, lava tears poured from her eyes. "I'm leaving tomorrow. I'm never going to see you again. Okay? Okay. So stop. Just stop…"
"Nami…" I took a deep breath. "Let me come with you."
I expected her to stop and gasp and then take me in her arms and smile. There were so many things I expected. I suppose I just compared people to others; I just couldn't understand that everyone had different reactions to everything.
Nami's mouth fell open. "No. That's not going to work. It's not happening," she said flatly.
I stepped forward angrily. "But you just said…you said you loved me. If you loved me you'd let me come with you."
She advanced as well, so our breaths met. Hers smelled of alcohol and sweet apples. "Don't you dare test me!" she spat, but a small part of her was holding back. "I don't love you. I mean, I do. But I can't. It isn't right. In a few years I'm going to fall in love with someone else and forget about you. Why? Because we don't have enough memories together. So I can't."
"What kind of argument is that? If I come with you, we can make memories. Don't you want that?" I was sweating now. Sweating out of my eyes. "You can live with me. I have enough money to survive for the next year…we can split the costs. Then we can move out together. Don't you want that?" I asked again.
I shattered inside when Nami stopped crying and just started slowly shaking her head. No, no, no, each shake said. She didn't stop once. "I'm sorry. I can't take this anymore. It won't work. Goodbye, Jack."
"No, Nami…no..." I took her by the shoulders and tried to resist from shaking her. "I'm saving you here. I'm saving your life. Please, let me."
She tore away from me and then all her sadness, all her despair, it all just ended. Her lips broke into a shaky and uneven grin. "Haven't you heard?" she answered, a crack sounding in her voice. "You can only save yourself."
She kissed me on the cheek and walked away.
She walked out of my life, like a one-way train. However, she'd made a short stop…get off here, break Jack's heart, get back on…I couldn't ever remember feeling this broken.
However, this wasn't the past anymore.
"Nami, you've come back. You had me worried."
"Oh, sorry. I was out."
At this particular moment, at this exact time, I'm crouching over by the stream. Why was it that I always thought about her? She left years ago—many years ago. Life's changed. Economy hasn't stopped changing. Some things shifted, I sold my share of crops, which are now worth a lot more, and now I'm rich. For a farmer, anyway. Suffice to say money wasn't a problem anymore.
There are so many "what if" adlibs I could list off in my life. Most of them pertain to Nami. Some other ones go along the lines of, "What would happen if I really was in love with Flora?" Answer: then I wouldn't have loved Nami, and I wouldn't care about her today, besides the slight tinge of guilt I'd get.
Ironic how I'm married to Flora today. I know, I can't believe it either—I can't say that I want to believe it. I won't lie and say I love her. But it seems like I have no choice if I want to continue on in life. Almost everyone else has married. I don't want to be left behind…and something's holding me back from leaving the Valley.
Maybe it's hope that Nami will return one day, and even though I've been sealed from her love, I'll still be able to see her again. She was like a drug—I'd taken her (for granted), I'd lost her, and now I was hanging off the edge, waiting for her so I could take her again.
But the second part was in fear that I'd see her im-promptly. What if I saw her on the streets in the city while I was going to the bus stop and I saw a girl with flaming red hair and crystalline blue eyes? What if she was with another man, and she looked happier than I could remember her ever being? What if they had…they had…
Those were my past fears. And this is the present.
"Hey, hey! Look what I found!"
I looked down. "Nami!" I exclaimed. "You found an old coin!"
"Yeah, I did. Isn't it cool? Am I allowed to keep it?"
I ruffled her straight, strawberry-blonde hair. "Of course you can."
I crouched down so she could give me a kiss on the cheek and run back into the house. Then I stood up, touched the side of my face, and looked back into the river.
"I've made condolences and compromises with myself, Nami," I whispered. "If you're happy, than I am, too. I hope life's good for you…wherever you are, I mean. We may not see each other anymore, but we still see each other in memory…the few memories we have. I made a promise that…that I'll stop thinking about you. You probably have, too. You're a smart one."
I closed my eyes, held my breath, and then let it back out.
"I know you hate sad endings, Nami. You never told me…but you never had to." A single teardrop slid down my cheek and fell into the water. "Plus I know you weren't the most…outwardly romantic person ever. So this is probably the sappiest, crappiest thing ever. But you know what? I was right. I kept my word. Because I still…"
"Daddy! Daddy, come quick! Mommy has some good news for you!"
I paused and stared at the river; I didn't feel like moving. I didn't want to.
"Daddy? I said come on! Hurry up!!"
"Coming," I grunted. I took a short look back as I began to walk away. I looked far into the distance, into the ocean.
"I love you."
I turned to go to my wife and daughter; I walked away. But unlike Nami, I left my footsteps behind.
That took…hours…to write. I think the writing bug has finally bitten me again. And yes, I know this is a big contrast in comparison to last thing I wrote.
I don't know where this inspiration came from. Probably the book Lucas. I don't read much, but I highly recommend it.
Apologies for the longness. I hope you liked it.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harvest Moon.