Note: For anyone who's ever let one person convince them that they're not beautiful: you never know how lovely you are until you tear yourself away from a mirror and realize that one opinion can't possibly account for all the others out there.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harvest Moon. (Just my obsession with cutesy pairings like Gray x Mary.)
I'd never had a true, substantial, relationship with anyone until Gray.
To be honest, I was the only who'd thought it odd. It wasn't as if the other men had gone out of their way to avoid me; as far as I knew, the bachelors of Mineral Town liked being with me and liked talking to me. The doctor had pleasant conversations with me at my monthly check-ups, Rick stopped by sometimes to talk about the latest books we'd read, Kai waved a cheerful hello every summer, and Cliff smiled at me when I sat by him in church.
Good friends, we'd been. Decent friends, at least. But never lovers.
And for some reason I couldn't fathom, that bothered me.
The joyful news came too furious, too fast: Cliff and Ann had suddenly become an item. Popuri planned to run off with Kai next summer. Doctor Tim and Elli spent time outside of the Clinic together, hand-in-hand. Rick and Karen--well, it was no surprise what happened to them.
Of course, I was happy for them. Thrilled, even. Yet deep down, a tiny voice sighed in disappointment that even one of them didn't harbor a small, nagging, crush on me. After all, every one of my friends had found their special someone, and I…well, I hadn't even had an ex, much less a steady boyfriend.
By the time Gray entered my life, I'd stopped expecting anything of the sort.
Until, that is, he asked me to the Full Moon festival, and my expectations soared, one by one. So high it was only a matter of time before they crashed.
"She's ugly, huh? So ugly. Why does he even bother with her?"
I shut my eyes and buried my head into my pillow, my hair piling about me like a thick black shield. Rolling over, I stared out the window, and squinted at the blurry light blinding me. Glasses. I needed to put on my glasses.
"I mean, honestly, she barely says anything. And she doesn't even do the town any good—she just locks herself in that stupid library."
The world became clear as lines distinguished themselves; grabbing a comb, I detangled the strands of my hair one by one. Twisting the ebony locks in place, I fumbled to keep it in a perfect braid. After two failed attempts, I succeeded.
"Seriously, we all know why no one asked her out beforehand. Duh! She's a freak. He just feels sorry for her. That's all."
I pulled my nightgown off over my head, and to my horror, a trail of frizz appeared in its wake. Oh dear, another braid ruined. Buttoning down my blouse and throwing my frock over it, I let down my hair and braided it. Again.
"It won't last."
Finished, I opened the door, and left my doubts behind.
"She was drunk, Mary."
Gray sat across from the counter, his eyes fixed upon me. His forehead had that crease to it that always appeared whenever something upset him: Saibara, work, weather, or me. Right then, I guess I was the culprit, ignoring him as I sat reading my book intently.
"It doesn't bother me, Gray. Nothing she said did. Drunk or not."
"But you know it's stupid, don't you?" he added, a low growl creeping into his tone. "Everything she said—it was all stupid. I'm with you because I want to be, not because of whatever Claire thinks. Mary, I can't see myself with anyone but you."
"I know." I smiled weakly. "I like being with you, too."
And it wasn't a lie. Something within me just leaped whenever he walked in through that library door, just sang when he held my hand in his, threatened to burst when he said my name. I loved it. I loved every second of it.
"It won't last."
He leaned back, the crease upon his brow only deepening. He rubbed his temples, groaning, and I watched in polite silence, unsure how my words could have provoked him.
"Mary…don't you ever get mad at people? Because when people walk all over you, it's all I can do to stop myself from hammering their faces into the ground."
I couldn't help it; I giggled, and he smacked me on the head with a book disapprovingly.
"I'm serious! You're too nice. You need to stick up for yourself every once in a while, put Claire in her place," Gray admonished me.
I raised an eyebrow. "You want me to stop being a nice little librarian?"
"I want you…to defend yourself." He took in a deep breath. "I want to know that what Claire says can't bother you, that you can do something to fight her back."
"But her words don't bother me at all," I argued, adjusting the book on my lap. "I'm perfectly fine. Everyone gets insulted once in a while; it's normal."
"You're really fine?"
I stiffened at the doubt laced in his voice. "Absolutely."
"Huh. Then why," he asked, reaching for my book, "are you pretending to read Jane Eyre upside-down?"
I bit my lip as he waved it in front of me smugly, my bluff called. "You," I muttered, "just don't know how to appreciate culture."
Standing up for myself didn't prove to be an easy task. The first time I passed by Claire in the Supermarket, I sort of expected an apology…perhaps a quick explanation, at the least. But instead, I was greeted by a cold, contemptuous glare, as she called out, "Karen, do you mind if I make my purchases now?"
She shoved ahead of me in line, and I did nothing.
Though that didn't matter, I assured myself. I had a few minutes to spare.
Then when I'd stopped by to say hello to Elli, Claire was being examined by the doctor. The blonde scowled at me, and asked, "What's wrong with her?"
"Nothing," Elli had assured her, eyebrows knitted in confusion.
"Then why," Claire snapped, "is she here?"
And sensing a fight brewing, I muttered an apology and left.
I wasn't used to being hated. Actually, I wasn't used to having any kind of enemy or rival at all. It felt strange…but not a good strange, like falling in love with Gray had been. This type of strange nagged me when I tried to sleep at night. "Why does she hate me?" I'd think to myself. "What did I ever do?"
"She's ugly, huh?"
I touched my face gingerly, tentatively feeling my features. Straight, normal nose. Ordinary chin. No frown lines. Clear skin. Big eyes.Thick hair, but soft hair, framing my face in a tornado of black curls. Gray had loved to run my hair between his fingers. "It's so soft," he'd whisper. "Like silk. God, you're beautiful, Mary."
The word grated on me, and I shuddered, forcing myself to sleep. Gray loved me. Gray loved me, and all was as it should be. My friends supported me. My family cared for me. Everything in my life should have soothed me.
"Duh! She's a freak. He just feels sorry for her. That's all."
But, silly me, I let a stranger's words echo in my slumber, slurring Gray's words until "beautiful" rang deaf in my ears.
"Claire's pretty…isn't she?"
Gray shrugged, his stride not slowing. "I guess. If you're into that kind of girl." It was Monday, and Monday's tradition of walking to Mother's Hill hadn't been broken since Gray and I had officially been crowned a couple. We'd race, sometimes, just to have an excuse for him to chase me and for me to laugh until my sides hurt. Now, though, I dragged my feet on the ground, chin down as a frown crossed my lips.
"Yes, I suppose…I suppose it makes sense." I swallowed. "Make-up, and hair products, and acne cream must all be nice."
"Waste of money, if you ask me," Gray commented. "Why imitate, if you've got the real thing right here?"
He put his arm around me, and I tried to smile. Tried, at least.
You know, come to think of it, this made no sense. No sense at all, that a man like Gray would concern himself with me. That he'd call me beautiful, when I clearly lacked the basic essentials.
"He just feels sorry for her. That's all."
"Did you ever think it was strange?"
Gray paused mid-step, puzzlement clouding his features. "What's strange?"
"That no one asked me out until you came," I replied. That no one had cared enough to tell me everything he had, to tell me I was beautiful and whole. "Isn't it a little odd?"
His grip on me tightened. "So I'm not your first choice, then?"
"No, that's not what I mean at all, Gray! Not at all." I sighed; somehow, explaining your thoughts to someone else is harder than voicing them in your mind. "It's just…what if Claire's right? What if no asked me out before because I was--?"
"Don't say that. Don't you dare say that." He turned to me, eyes flashing, and gripped me firmly by the shoulder. I shivered, his nails digging into my sleeve. "I won't have anyone telling lies about my girlfriend. Especially you, Mary. I don't want you believing garbage like that."
"But…why?" I whispered. "Why, then, didn't anyone come to me until you?"
Gray stopped, and as his blue eyes widened, I could see how beautifully chiseled his features were, how when the wind was blowing like this and his hat was threatening to fly away, he looked so much less intimidating—I wanted to throw his hat into the breeze and race after it, for no reason at all but to hear him exclaim in surprise and scream that he'd get me back for it.
But I contained myself and awaited his answer, his lips pursed in thought.
"You really want to know, Mary? Is it that important to you?"
I nodded. "Yes."
"Well." His grip relaxed, and sitting down on the grassy ground, he motioned for me to join him. "That I can do."
"Did you have any idea how scared I was to ask you out?"
I started; I hadn't expected any questions to be a part of his explanation. "You were scared?"
"Terrified," Gray admitted, taking my hand. "It's not easy for a guy to ask a girl out, Mary. Takes a lot of courage. Especially when…well, when the girl's you."
"I'm terrifying?" I repeated, amused. "Librarians aren't known to be a cruel species, Gray. Not to my knowledge, anyway."
Gray chuckled to himself. "You have no idea," he sighed. "No freakin' idea at all." He paused for a moment before continuing, squeezing my hand gently. "Did you know," he began again, "that Kai had a crush on you?"
My stupefied silence answered him far better than I ever could.
"Yeah, he said you were different than the other girls." Gray smiled at my stunned expression and held me close reassuringly. "In fact, he said you were the one girl he'd probably feel guilty about dating."
"But…but why?" I squeaked, enraptured by this new knowledge. "I wouldn't have been mean, or…"
"Funny thing was, Kai gave up on you just as soon as he thought he might like you," Gray continued, interrupting my nonsensical reply. "He figured you were too good for him: smarter than him, more forgiving than him, and far too happy for him to steal your heart before he left you alone for three seasons." I felt his fingers thread through my hair, and he added, "Popuri was strong enough to do that. Kai didn't want to hurt you, so he didn't give it a chance."
My heart fluttered, and I snuggled closer to him, eyes wide. "I…I had no idea. I mean, I always thought I was the one girl Kai didn't flirt with…"
"And then there's Cliff."
More mind-boggling news? "Cliff?"
"When I moved here, Cliff told me that you were the nicest girl in the entire town," Gray explained. "You prayed with him at Church, and smiled at him whenever he stopped by the library, and would wave at him when walking by on the path. Poor guy didn't have the courage to ask you out." A grin tugged at his lips. "I heard he debated asking you out to a festival for a good two hours…all while standing in front of your house, pacing."
I stared. "No…really?"
"Really. And that's why he and Ann are together: she had the assertiveness to make the first move."
Memories of Kai and Cliff sped through my mind at light-speed, each one trying to convince me these stories were true, and not about some pretty blonde girl from the city juggling between boyfriends. "This is…I mean…unbelievable," I breathed.
"Then we have the doctor."
Now Gray was doubling over in laughter. "God, Mary, your face is priceless right now! Wish I had a mirror or a camera or something to show you."
I pouted. "This isn't funny. It's…um…unexpected."
"Is it really? When the doctor opened his clinic, don't you remember what you did?"
My mind drew a blank. "I have no idea what I did."
"You went for your first check-up, and when he asked what your eating habits were, you said spinach was your absolute favorite food."
Now I was giggling. "He liked me for my spinach?"
"And then apparently you went on a little spiel about how important it was to be healthy, and how you couldn't understand why so many people preferred chocolate over a nice leaf of spinach. Your words, not mine," he protested at my glare.
"So, then, why didn't the doctor ask me out?" I accused.
"He tried. But you spent all your time in the library, and he spent all his time in the Clinic, and the doctor never got to know you well enough to feel comfortable asking. Plus," he added, "the doctor isn't the best at starting conversations, and you weren't exactly a little chatterbox."
"—was perfect for him. He got to know her while working by her side, and she always had something pleasant to say to everyone. So you've had every guy except Rick under your thumb at some point." Gray leaned back and grinned at me in amusement. "Face it, Mary. You're a little heartbreaker."
"N-no, I—I'm not—I mean—" I stumbled over my words, a new outlook on myself and my behavior taking shape. Who knew? Who had any idea that being my nice, ordinary self, was actually being extremely attractive? Never in my wildest dreams had I seen myself as anything but…me. And even then, I'd never known how beautiful I was: glasses and all.
"Hey, you okay?" The warm touch of his arms around me woke me from my thoughts, and I gazed straight into his eyes. "You're not regretting being stuck with me, are you?"
"Of course not, no!" I protested, my cheeks reddening. "I—I'm very happy with you, Gray. This is just…I had no idea. How could anyone have known—?" Then a light-bulb clicked, and suddenly I was giving Gray a very suspicious look.
"How do you know all this?" I accused. I pushed my glasses to the tip of my nose and looked over them, wary. "You hadn't moved in yet when any of this happened, Mr. Gray Smith. You, sir, have some more explaining to do."
"Geez, you're being inquisitive today," he teased. That answer didn't cut it, though, and so once he got sick of seeing me staring above the rim of my glasses, he caved in. "Okay, so I'd done a little…asking around…when I moved in."
"…You asked about me?"
He shrugged. "A little. Like your name. Where you worked. Whether or not you were single or if your boyfriend was a wuss."
If I was blushing before, I was absolutely red as a tomato now. "So…what do you think made you ask me? When no one else would," I murmured. "You have to have a reason."
"It's not a very good one."
"Tell me anyway," I ordered.
He sighed. "I'm impatient."
"Is that all?" I laughed. "What kind of a cliché, romantic reply is that?"
"…An honest one?"
I pulled his hat over his eyes teasingly. "You're lucky you have a girlfriend with lousy pick-up lines like those," I whispered into his ear, giggling.
"You know what? I am lucky to have a beautiful girl who puts up with me and all my crap." He tipped his hat away from his eyes and smiled. "Would you please tell my girlfriend that? Because she, for some stupid God-knows-what reason, doesn't believe me. And I can't for the life of me understand why."
"What are you doing here?"
Claire's question was completely logical and appropriate; it wasn't every day I stood outside her door and asked to speak with her. In fact, it wasn't every day I went out of my way to speak with her, period. Normally, I made the opposite endeavor and ran away in the opposite direction. But today, I held my chin up high, and reminded myself of my original purpose.
"I believe it was last year, on Fall the twenty-third, that you stopped by my library, Miss Claire," I began, my voice clear and my words precise. "In fact, you asked a favor of me then."
"I did?" she deadpanned. The fog of sleep still clouded her, having woken up probably just minutes before I knocked on her door, and her words slurred together. "I don't remember that."
"Well, I do." I held up a small slip of paper, and held it close for her to examine. "Remember this?"
Her once-sleepy eyes snapped awake, and her jaw dropped in a way I'd only thought possible on Saturday morning cartoons. "W-wait, this is…!"
"If that paper hasn't refreshed your memory, Miss Claire, you asked to borrow something on that Fall day." I narrowed my eyes. "Something by the name of Little Women."
Panic shook her; her knees trembled, and her voice wavered as she tried to protest. "But I had that—I know I did, it's just—I mean, now I don't—are you serious?!"
"Yes, I am quite serious," I assured her, nodding. "This book of mine has been overdue for a good five-and-a-half seasons. You, Miss Claire, owe the library of Mineral Town fifteen-thousand gold in overdue fees, a total adding approximately ninety gold by the day."
"This is nothing personal, Miss Claire. As librarian, I just simply cannot let my visitors walk all over me, you understand? I expect that you will pay this amount soon, and I look forward to seeing you in the library. Good day, Miss Claire."
I walked away with my frizzy hair thickening in the spring humidity, my glasses fogging in the early morning dew, my ink-stained frock pulled over my worn-out blouse, and I knew—for a complete and total fact—that I'm beautiful, that I'm loved, and that nothing anyone can say or do will ever change that.
No, absolutely nothing at all.
End Note: Seriously, who decided that Mary was the plain, ugly, unloved one? Ha! She's a total playa'. You know it. ;) And I owe the ending of this to a suggestion made on my forum by Jean Cooper, I believe. Charging Claire a bundle of overdue fees to stand up for herself...it was an idea that totally needed to be written, and I hope you don't mind that I snuck it in there last minute. XD