Disclaimer: Harvest Moon isn't mine.

Author's note: I had this idea ages ago, but somehow it took me forever to write it up. And it turned out a lot longer than I expected. Oh well. I'm reasonably happy with the result, anyway, so that's good. Reviews would certainly be appreciated if you've got the time to type them! Enjoy it!

Hopeless Romantic

Jill was brimming with excitement as she made breakfast on Sunday morning. It wasn't just any old Sunday either, she reminded herself gleefully, whisking the eggs. They crackled merrily when she poured on a drop of oil.

Juliet the farm cat wound around Jill's legs, while she brushed her long, chesnut hair into a ponytail. Almost as if she understood, the young feline purred incessantly - though that may have been because of her rather empty food dish.

Either way, Jill didn't really care. All she could see was that this day was utterly perfect. And that was surely a very good sign of things to come.

They were currently right in the middle of a scorching summer in Forget-Me-Not Valley and sunlight streamed through the tiny kitchen window. With her eggs now cooked, Jill retired to the dining table to eat. From there, she was in full view of the television and flicked it on eagerly. It was the weather channel. In the background was a picture of dark, ominous clouds and the weather girl babbled about an approaching storm -

Click. Jill switched it off carelessly.

She was too over-excited to complete her farmwork, really, but she had hours to kill and little to do, so it was really the best option. Personally, Jill felt she should be allowed one bubbly day after being so very patient for such an incredibly long time. Ever since arriving in the Valley a good three years ago, she sat back and simply watched life drift by. Well, in a romantic sense anyway; it wasn't as she hadn't worked! No, instead Jill had calmly observed as her friends paired up, all the while biding her time carefully.

First to marry were her down-to-earth best friend Celia and the eternally grumpy Marlin. They were then followed swiftly by a much more surprising match. This came in the form of the pretty, youthful and undoubtedly rich Miss Lumina, and her partying lover - the irrepressible Rock. Or, as Jill secretly liked to call him, 'her bit of rough'. It was a phrase saved for her catty meetings with Celia and Karen on the latter's days off from the supermarket.

Those weren't the only couples either. Composer Gustafa was reputed to be wooing the mysterious Nami, while it was rumoured that Griffin's relationship with his barmaid Muffy went beyond that of the normal employer. And, though Jill didn't know them very well, Carter and Flora had always looked decidedly cosy when she saw them at the dig site.

It had been pointed out to Jill - on more than one occasion - that her lax attitude may come back to bite her on the nose in the furture, when everybody else was married off. She wasn't at all worried, though. After all, she did have a boyfriend. He simply didn't live here. And dating someone who only visited once a week was bound to take longer, right?

Trying to not squeal in the struggle of containing her frothing anticipation, Jill practically skipped across the farmyard. She came to a standstill by the paddock that contained her pony Clover and the few sheep she owned. Stalking in and out of the gentle, fluffy creatures, was her small, poorly trained dog, Romeo. When his mistress gave a piercing whistle, he looked up, his sharp teeth mere inches away from a sheep's leg - then carried on the minor attack regardless.

Jill sighed wearily, though her mind was definitely elsewhere today. She shooed away a barking Romeo, who easily vaulted the fence and bowled towards the chicken coop with new vigour. Minutes later a plume of white feathers exploded into the air from the chicken's pen... Another exasperated sigh.

Despite her rather 'eventfull' ranch life, Jill seemed oddly reassured. She felt content in the knowledge that after today, she wouldn't have to muddle through this alone. She'd have someone to laugh about it with, seven days a week and four seasons a year. And perhaps it was only matter of time before a young child would be seen toddling around her farm...

A quick glance at her watch send a shiver through Jill. It was nearly time. The cool shelter of her farmhouse beckoned, and she slipped inside with a mysterious, highly secretive grin plastered across her face. No one knew the reason for her ecstasy, expect, figuratively, the house which shared her secret so well. She fell to the floor near her bed, her pontytail bouncing manically, and reached underneath. After a moment of groping around the dust and cobbwebs, she emerged with a little wooden box clasped between her hands.

Shaking, as her excitement bubbled to the surface, Jill flicked the lid open. For a moment, she simply sat in reflective silence. The only sounds to be heard throughtout the house were Juliet's light paws against the hardwood floor and the quiet, mechanical whir of the refridgerator. Slowly, and with a fresh reverence, Jill stretched out a finger to gently stroke the feather than sat before her.

It was a deep, shiny blue - a colour that seemed rather odd for a feather, and yet seemed to suit it perfectly at the same time. As she touched it, Jill felt only silky smoothness beneath her fingers, reminiscent of an elegant evening gown or wedding dress.

She smiled. Hah! she thought victoriously. A wedding dress - how apt.

As carefully as she could, so as not to crumple the treasured item, Jill lifted the feather and slid it swiftly into her back pocket. Another brief glance at her watch told her she was in danger of running late.

"Wish me luck, Jules," she crowed, swinging the relucant black and white feline into her arms. Juliet merely gave her a distinterested look and appeared very relieved when she was returned to solid ground seconds later. "Not that I'm likely to need it," Jill added softly to herself, as she shut the front door with a snap.

The day seemed even hotter now, if that were possible. A suffocating heat bore down upon Jill as she crossed her land and began the journey into the village. It was a quick one, with the Valley highstreet sat just around the corner from her farm.

She rushed down the path, scanned her surroundings carefully and... jumped as she felt a tiny jolt in her navel. He was here.

Stood beneath the dark shade of the Inner Inn, was Rick. As always, he was exactly where he said he'd be and perfectly punctual. Everything, Jill reflected contently, was just how she expected it to be. And that pretty much summed up her boyfriend, really.

"Hey Rick!" she called, giving a customary wave. He spun on the spot and smiled when he noticed her, his thick glasses glinting through the hazy summer air. "Hey," Jill said again, more breathlessly this time as she'd just darted across the road in one fluid movement.

Rick gave her a concerned glance. "You okay?"

"Sure," Jill answered breezily, though her stomach was doing somersaults. She didn't know why; she was actually feeling totally confident about the proposal. And, in fact, seeing Rick right here before her, had only intensified that feeling.

The couple set off on their usual route around the village of Forget-Me-Not. They slowly wandered towards the wooden bridge that led to Vesta's farm. As they did, Rick informed Jill of everything that had happened in Mineral Town over the past week. It ranged from the tiny, irrelevant details that she still loved to hear about, to the more significant events, such as festivals and his ailing mother's progress.

"I think she's doing a little better," Rick concluded, frowning into the depths of the water as they came to a standstill on the bridge. Jill nodded silently; it was hard for her to comment sensitively when her own mother was alive and healthy and sending weekly, novel length letters.

"How's Popuri?" Jill asked, steering the conversation in a new direction.

Next to her, Rick shrugged. "Oh... okay," he said slowly. The frown stayed fixed on his face. "It's just... you know Kai, right? Visits the Valley some summers and Mineral Town the others?" Jill nodded again, sensing where this was going already. "Well, he's been hanging around back home lately, around Popuri specifically..."

"I understand," Jill replied quietly, squeezing her boyfriend's hand. She knew he cared about his little sister and respected him for it. "Want to go to the beach?" she suggested suddenly. The way Rick's blond fringe was sticking to his forehead illustrated just how hot the weather had become, and so he keenly agreed.

The beach felt special to Jill. It was not the first place she met Rick - that pleasure belonged to the Inner Inn - but it was the scene of their first kiss. And it was summer, last summer in fact. Jill had been waiting for something to happen for ages. She liked Rick - a lot. And he liked her - a lot. In theory, it sounded perfect. But, somehow, the perfect moment simply evaded them. There was that one occasion, when they were saying goodbye outside the Inn, Rick got nervous, moved at the wrong time and Jill ended up planting a quick kiss on his glasses instead. Needless to say, the romance dried up pretty fast in that situation and both rushed home with only an awkward handshake to show for their day.

That wasn't the worst of it, either. Rick's shy approach to romantic situations led to many embarrassing, and later comical, results. They'd bumped teeth, bumped noses, trampled each others feet in misguided haste and once he'd even kissed her ear accidently.

Everything finally went right for the pair on the 7th of Summer. That was the day of the chicken festival and amazingly Jill's young hen Coco had won. The elation that followed this victory was apparently enough to dissolve any lingering awkwardness and Rick managed to pull her into a brief, but undoubtedly successful kiss. It was far from perfect - how many movie heroines are pictured with chicken feathers sticking to their hair? - but Jill couldn't have cared less. She'd finally experienced what her friends had been gossiping and giggling about for so long. Even back then her best friend, Celia, was married woman!

Hand in hand, Jill and Rick strolled down to the shore. Should she do it now? Jill wondered, her heart thumping manically in her excitement. The beach was surprisingly empty for such a scorching summer's afternoon, so they wouldn't be interrupted. It was the perfect opportunity. Almost too good to be true, you might say...

As they stood listening to the waves, Jill felt anything, but calm. She struggled to relax into the kiss, although, unusually, Rick had been the one to initiate it. The Blue Feather tucked into her back pocket seemed to be burning a hole through the demin material.

Do it now...

Relax, Jill thought firmly, just relax. She focused on Rick and the stunning cerulean sky instead.

...This is your chance...

Try as she might, Jill simply couldn't concentrate on anything, but the feather in her pocket. Her stomach seemed to have vanished completely and her mind was whirling, yet, deep down, she knew this was the right moment. The chances of a better one coming along were slim.

...Do. It. Now.

"Jill...? What is it?" Rick asked worriedly. He looked rather alarmed as his girlfriend wrenched away suddenly. Jill didn't have a single sensible answer to give. She hadn't expected it to be this hard, hadn't expected her nerves to be in tatters.

All she had to do was ask a simple question. Just a handful of short words, that was all. And how difficult could that be? She asked questions like that everyday. Will you... sell me some chicken feed? Will you... help me carry these crops, please? Will you... marry me? And, if anything, the latter was much easier - less syllables, which was always a plus.

"What is it, Jill?" Rick persisted, typically concerned. "You seem a little on edge."

The farm girl shook her head, so that her ponytail wobbled dangerously. Instead of giving him a proper answer, she stretched out an arm and gently took Rick's hand. Despite looking quite confused, he followed Jill along the shore line. "The thing, Rick, is that I'm fine," she admitted. "Better than fine, actually. Which - which is kind of the point, I guess. And the reason's you. Y'know how much I love you, right?"

Rick's face broke into a relieved grin. "Of course," he assured her. "And I love you." He went to lean forward, towards her lips, but Jill jerked back at the last moment. It was a struggle to do so; she had to remind herself that there would be plenty of time for that later. A whole lifetime, in fact.

With that wonderful thought in mind, spurring her on, Jill reached tentatively into her back pocket. She took a deep breath to steady herself and pulled out that one solitary feather in the blink of an eye. Rick's curious expression melted away into one that was utterly unreadable.

"R - Rick, will you ma - mar - " Jill cursed herself, as her voice caught at the most awkward moment. " - marry me?"

Her boyfriend's baby blue eyes flickered from Jill's hopeful face to the precious feather that lay on her palm. He said simply, "Oh, Jill."

At those two small words, Jill felt as though her world was crashing down around her. And not without good reason. For it wasn't what Rick had said to her, it was how he said it. It wasn't an ectastic, dizzying sort of, "Oh, Jill!". She didn't get the impression that he was about sweep her into his arms, or kiss her rather than giving a verbal answer. No, his tone said it all. It was so quiet for someone who'd just been proposed to... too quiet. Rick's voice oozed sympathy, Jill realised with belated horror, pity even. She dropped his hand as though it was white hot.

"So?" she asked again, her voice a mere squeak. "Will you?"

It was a while before Rick managed to form a decent reply; his eyes kept darting out across the sea instead. Meanwhile, Jill could feel her cheeks burning a telling scarlet shade as she waited. She'd have given anything for the sand beneath her feet to just swallow her up. "Please Rick... " she whispered. "Just say something. Anything. Please..."

Rick nodded, then shrugged and finally ran a hand through his floppy, blond hair. "Jill I - I just..."

"Forget it!" Jill interrupted angrily. She let out a derisive snort and turned on her heel, wishing that her voice hadn't betrayed her fragile inner emotions quite so much. "If you need that much time to think... if it's not - if it's not instant... If you don't know like that, like how I feel, then - then - "

She didn't get far, before Rick's hand flew out and gripped her arm tightly. In spite of her furious protests, he pulled Jill around to face him. "Look, Jill I do know, okay?" he said quietly, calmly, so calmly in fact that Jill could have screamed. "I know that I love you. More than anyone I've ever met."

And just like that her spirit seemed to soar. Rick's earlier hesitation, which should have sent the warning bells clanging, paled into insignificance as her heart lept. He loved her. More than she could have ever dreamed. All the plotting and planning and six days a week without him, was suddenly all very worth it. In a fit of ecstasy, she leant hungrily towards Rick - only it was him who pulled away this time.

Jill blinked. As she did so, that one blissful moment of euphoria melted back into normality. Rick was stood in front of her looking more torn than ever, as realization hit in a whirl of pain. He wasn't going to say yes. He wasn't, he wasn't...

"Oh Jill, please don't cry," Rick pleaded. He dabbed awkwardly at her face with his sleeve. If anything, though, this made Jill feel worse.

"I'm not!" she insisted fiercely, as her nose streamed and fat tears rolled down her cheeks. She sniffed heartily, fixing Rick with her best possible glare in the circumstances. "And I don't need your pity!"

Even now, seeing Rick wince like an injured rabbit caused a stab of anguish to rip through Jill's chest. Ordinarily, she'd have confronted the idiot who caused her boyfriend such pain. But this time she couldn't. She was the cause, and, found to her discontent, that she couldn't summon up even the slightest shred of sympathy.

"It's not that I don't love you," Rick explained, holding his girlfriend tightly to stop her from slipping through his fingers. His voice was hardly audible, though they were completely alone on the beach. "But you'd want me to move here, wouldn't you?"

"Of course! What kind of marriage would that be otherwise?"

Rick nodded eagerly at her words. "Exactly," he agreed. "But don't you see? I can't. I can't leave them. My dad's been away for ages - you know that - and who's to say when he's coming back. Mom needs me. Poppy needs me, too - she won't admit it, but she does. And I can't leave her alone with that - that Kai - "

A shriek of hysterical laughter burst from Jill's mouth. "So this is about your jealousy!?"

"Don't be stupid," Rick retorted furiously - though, still, he refused to relinquish his grip on Jill. "It's nothing like that. Look, you'd never leave the Valley for me, would you? I couldn't expect you to leave the farm you'd worked so hard to build up..."

For a moment, Jill allowed her mind to wander away from this beach and her crushing heartache. Her thoughts simplified into something truly wonderful as her mind's eye roved over the ranch she'd been working on for so long. She thought of her fields and barns, her chickens and their cosy wooden coop, Clover and Juliet, and even naughty Romeo... Okay, so her turnips wouldn't win any prizes and her hens didn't lay golden eggs, but it was home. And, most of all, it was absolutely, one hundred percent hers.

"You're right," Jill murmured, her voice nought, but a whisper. "I could never leave." Her dark, shining eyes met Rick's daringly. "That's why you have to. Come on, Rick! You love me and I love you - nothing could be more perfect, right? Please. We can't throw this away... please, Rick... please... "

Still, that fairytale answer evaded the hopeful young farmer. Rick gave his head small, uncertain shake. He, too, was crying now. "Jill - I can't - I'm - " But she refused to listen to anymore. With an almost animal like howl, Jill pulled herself free of Rick, staggering backwards with the effort. Automatically, he reached out to help, but Jill, blinded by her pain and bitter disappointment, flung out her arm, catching Rick hard on the chest.

Rick bravely held onto her. "Why can't things stay the same, Jill?" he begged into her soft hair; it seemed to be glinting russet in the bright sunlight. "I don't want to lose you... " he added very quietly. "I don't want this to end."

Neither do I, Jill answered - but only mentally. Those were the words her heart was screaming out, over and over, telling her clearly what it wanted. Her head was telling her different - he can't give you marriage. Not today; maybe not ever. You want it, and he can't give it. Move on.

Slowly, Jill untangled her arms from Rick's and took a step backwards. A step out of his reach. This was without a doubt the hardest thing she'd ever done. Nothing would have pleased Jill more than to have melted back into the warmth and comfort of Rick's arms. She wanted to tell him she would anything to stay together. She'd say she'd wait with him just in case someday, maybe, he'd change his answer to 'yes'...

Instead, however, Jill said only, "I don't think we should see each anymore, Rick," and turned away abruptly. This time he didn't reach out to stop her. This time she was allowed to walk away.

Jill was nothing. She didn't feel the sand turn to grass beneath her feet or hear Rick's yells or see the flash of lightning that lit up the sky suddenly. It was only when a sharp crackle of thunder sounded overhead, that she was brought crashing back to earth. The farmer stopped dead near the Turtle Swamp, blinking dazedly around. How was it... raining? She glanced at the stormy, grey sky, wondering where on earth the gorgeous summer's day had gone.

Then it hit her. As though recalling a distant memory from a past life, she vaguely remembered watching the Valley weather report. There was a storm heading in and this was obviously it. The irony sunk over Jill, as she herself sunk to the grassy floor. Her hands covered her face, while the falling rain got steadily heavier and heavier. A nagging thought in the back of her mind told her to go home and get the animals inside... but she simply couldn't. The aching loneliness weighed down on her, rooting her to the soaking ground. It couldn't end like this... it just couldn't...

Jill wished her life was some romantic comedy or novel or something where it all ends happily ever after. She longed for that. If it were true, Rick would almost certainly come back for her. Their reconciliation would form the final scene. He would sweep her up, just like every other movie hero, and claim he'd been simply crazy to turn down her proposal. And it would all work out, somehow... just like it always did.

A cry of distress escaped Jill's lips, but she refused to budge from the sodden grass. Rick would come back, she told herself desperately, he had to; she was owed it. Deep down, she knew she was a fool for waiting. A fool for pinning all her hopes on one elusive moment that would simply never arrive. But Jill didn't care.

All she wanted was her happy ending.