Author's Note: I wish the Mineral Town games would've involved characters like Aja and Joanna more into the game. This was going to be an intro into another long fic, but I decided to keep it as a one-shot. Rated T for some subtle violence and sparse naughty words. Enjoy!
"Hello? Harris? Oh, of course you can let his call through... Harris, is that you? Yes, good to hear from you again, too..."
The single apartment echoed with her light airy voice while she spoke on the phone. Spinning the cord around her finger as she paced the tiny kitchen floor, she chatted casually with the familiar chap on the other line. He was a childhood friend from her quiet hometown tucked away along the sea shore in the country. How long had it been since she spoke with him? She couldn't even remember the last word she'd gotten from him.
"Well.. I don't know... I have to work over the holidays, so I can't really say when I'll be home. I'm really sorry, Harris. If I get some time off, I'll be sure to tell you."
A tea kettle resting on the double burner stove began to whistle, but she simply poured herself a cup without pausing the conversation. She was rather tall, yet she moved with graceful steps and gestures. Her delicate hands settled on the handle though she knew she could have to wait for the tea to cool. She had a notorious cat's tongue past her satin pink lips.
"You have to be going so soon? Oh, you're on your break? Okay, I understand. Yes, please call again sometime. Have a nice day, Harris."
Coming to sit at her fold-down kitchen table, she gazed out the petite window onto the freshly falling snow. Winter had come quickly this year, and here she was still without a car to keep her out of the elements. She'd have to take the bus again as she did for the past four years. If only her boyfriend would be kind enough to give her a lift every now and again.
"No, that's no good," she sighed remembering he had started working midnights at the factory. Why couldn't he have held onto that job at the coffee shop? Sure he didn't make much, but at least then he could spend some time with her. She glanced at the clock, only to let out another heavy sigh. It was already time to head off to the restaurant. Disapprovingly she dumped her tea down the drain and set the cup on the counter to be washed after dinner.
Slipping into her long, fur-fringed coat, the young woman grabbed her clutch purse and locked the door behind her. All she could do was wait for the bus to come to her stop, but luckily it wouldn't be a long wait. Snowflakes drifted onto her raven-black waves, weighing them down around her shoulders with a damp heaviness. Her lavender eyes were distant as she stood all alone. "A woman my age shouldn't have to ride the bus any more," she thought quietly to herself.
As soon as she arrived at work, the other waitresses were all plastering on their fake smiles on for the night, and she practiced hers on them coming through the back door. Abigail and Leeanne were gossiping about the new head cook while Daisy lit herself another cigarette, two others since the young woman had came in. She found her locker and spun the combination.
"Evening, Daisy," she replied simply.
Though the woman was rather sullen, she seemed to take an interest in talking with Aja, not that she minded. The blonde may have been busty, yet she was no airhead. Her attitude was coarse although she treated Aja well enough. She just didn't go out of her way to make friends. If she liked your company, she would give you her recognition. It was easy to know where you stood with her.
"Did you hear?"
"What?" She mumbled at the mirror as she pulled back her locks into a messy bun, holding a hairpin in her mouth.
"The boss is thinking of expanding the restaurant."
"Really? When he decide that?" Now to tie her apron, gathering her notebook and pens.
"At the last meeting. I know you were on the floor at the time, but John let me sit in on it," she explained releasing a billow of smoke.
"Did Allen say why he was going to add-on? We barely fill all the tables during the weekend as it is."
"That's why he's adding a bar to bring more customers."
Aja spun on her high-heeled boots, her eyes wide. "You're kidding," she breathed desperately.
"Nope. That's why I thought I should tell you, given how much you hate the stuff."
"I-I can't work around those drunks..."
"You could always work mornings and afternoons," Daisy offered calmly. Aja could only shake her head. There was no way she could ignore the implications those bottles gave away. The arguments, the anger, the hurt... It would come into memory again and again and again until she fell apart. She'd have to find another job, or she'd be more than just hampered by riding a bus as her standard transport.
"But I can't do it," she whispered, trying to hold herself to stop the shaking.
"Are you gonna leave then?"
"I have to, Daisy... I just..."
"Don't do it now. You've got all winter before they even start construction," her friend advised. "Then you'll be employed until you find another job."
"Remember to tell your beau; otherwise I might have to wait on him. Honestly, how do you put up with that ass?"
Gordon wasn't that bad really. Sure, he had some negatives, but at least he was a good-looking guy with a Bachelor's Degree in Employee Management. Aja could tolerate a few rude comments, and he would always send her a gift when he stood her up on a date or forgot to contact her for a week. She was happy being his girlfriend although there were times she overheard she wasn't the only one who got to feel that way.
"So you're thinking of quitting?"
"I don't have much of a choice," she whimpered, curling up against his side. He didn't bother to wrap his arm around her shoulder, and instead he started flipping channels.
"You could get over it."
Aja sighed, wishing that for once he could be sympathetic. She thought about the phone call she'd gotten a few weeks ago and how the voice on the other end sounded so pleasant. Harris never spoke harshly to her. When she first became afraid of that hateful thing her family drew their income from, he hadn't told her she was being a fool. If her parents had an argument, he was there to comfort her. No one was as nice to her or as understanding.
"The Winter Thanksgiving Festival is coming up soon," he'd said through the receiver, his voice warm.
"Unfortunately people in this city don't celebrate it," she complained, dipping her tea bag absent-mindedly into the hot water.
"It was always your favorite holiday," he had reminded her, chuckling at the memory. "I gave you chocolates every year."
"Yes, that's right," she giggled sweetly. He blushed and stuttered every year, too. "Do you remember how upset Joanna would get?"
"How could I forget?" he said with a laugh. "Speaking of Joanna, did you hear that she had a daughter?"
"No, I didn't! How old-"
"Babe, I'm gonna go out for a bit. You wanna come?"
Snapped out of the past conversation, Aja sat up with a start. "Huh? Oh, um, I'll stay here, I guess..."
"Fine... I might not come back afterwards, though," he warned.
"Oh, okay... Good night. I love you."
"Whatever," Gordon answered, giving her a half-hearted wave as he shut the door behind him.
After hearing the car squeal out of the driveway and onto the street, she slumped back into the old couch. She needed to do something, just to get her mind off everything. She could call the Inn. It wasn't too late, and Harris had told her Doug would go fetch him if she ever needed to talk. Wearily, Aja stumbled somewhat dazed into the kitchen. Into the receiver, she cooed, "Operator? Good evening, could you reach the Mineral Town Inn for me? Thank you."
A few rings later, Doug picked up with a hearty, "Hello, this is Doug speaking."
"Oh, Aja! Duke's already here if you want to talk to him."
"No... He doesn't make much sense when he's been drinking..." she replied grudgingly. Her father was rarely sober even this early in the evening on a Saturday. With a bar being built at the restaurant, she didn't need to recognize why it terrified her in the first place.
"He hasn't been drinking at all today," the innkeeper assured her. "Cliff and your mother are having dinner with him at the moment."
Cliff? Who on earth could that be? "Well, actually I was wondering if Harris was around?"
"Harris? Oh, yes, he's here on break. You'd like to talk with him, I take it? I'll call him over."
"If you would please?"
Given a few moments, she heard the phone being passed with some minor clatter. "Hello? Harris speaking..."
"Oh, Aja, how are you?" He sounded rather pleased to hear her, she thought with a smile. "I'm surprised you called... not that it's a bad thing by any means.."
She never thought she could be so happy in such a short amount of time. They must have talked for two hours at least before there came a rather loud knocking at her door. "Just hold on a second, someone's at the door," she told him in a chipper voice. It didn't even occur to her how dark it had become outside. "Hello?" she asked, opening the door.
Gordon was in the entryway, leaning on the doorframe. At first she smiled, happy to see he actually bothered to come back. However, something was off about him... There was a smell she hadn't experience for a very long time, yet it doesn't take much to recall something that influential in one's life. She gasped, trying to shut the door, but he pushed a heavy hand against it.
"You-you're drunk," she gasped, her little mouth agape.
"Does it matter?" he asked sluggishly. "You think you're too good fo' a man who drinks?"
"Aja? Is anything wrong?" Harris's voice cracked through the apartment.
"Who's that?" the man in her doorway growled. "Who you talkin' to, bitch?"
In an instant, she was abruptly lifted off the floor by a slap against her face. As she shrieked in surprise, he charged with a terrifying fury. She was frightened, but something inside her mind caused her to throw herself into the kitchen, slamming the door behind her as she dove. A loud crack rammed into the door, and she fumbled towards the phone lying on the floor. Crying into it, she begged, "Harris! What do I do, what do I do, what do I do?!"
"Are you all right? Aja!"
"It's Gordon... Gordon's drunk an' he's trying to get me! I don't know what to do!"
"Who's Gordon?" he asked rather plainly.
She heard the man outside the door try to ram it once again. This time it was the wood that started to splinter.
"Harris!" she screamed desperately into the receiver.
"I'm sorry! Can't you call the police there?"
"N-no Mama, I don't wanna call the police," she sobbed. "I don't want Daddy to go away!" Her conscious mind had shut itself away, and now she was reduced to the child she once was. The shouting was deafening, and she didn't have to watch to see the anger in the home. Duke had wandered in late again, and Manna had come to find the family savings had dwindled without explanation once again. She lay there on the floor, curled up into a protective ball. All she had to do was wait until the yelling stopped. Then she could pretend nothing was wrong with her Mama and Daddy.
"Aja! Aja! That isn't your father out there!" he explained quickly as he tried to get her to clear her senses. Realizing he was panicking her further, he calmly told her, "I may be an officer, but I can't help you there. You have to call the police. Please Aja..."
The gentle voice coaxed her out of the memory. This wasn't her family being torn apart. She could make the call without guilt. No one she loved would have to go, merely a man who she didn't owe a thing. "Okay..." she breathed, flinching as Gordon rushed the door sending more debris towards her. She hung up, calmly dialing 9-1-1 with awesome determination. Though she secretly feared help wouldn't come in time, it arrived just as the wooden door suddenly gave way. She didn't scream, she didn't even cry. Watching his body heave, wild with intoxication, she closed her lavender eyes to shut him out.
When she opened them again, all was quiet. She lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling. Beside her, Daisy sat lighting a cigarette with her long blonde hair seemingly crawling across her face and shoulders. Her green eyes were bloodshot, but she didn't appear to have been crying. "Do you have any idea what time I had to wake up to check on you?"
Aja lifted herself onto her elbow, wincing as she found it was bruised from her dive into the kitchen. "Wh-who called you?"
"Some Harris fella from an Inn. He sounded awfully worried about you."
"Who gave him your number?"
"You did apparently before you passed out. He called you back after the police arrived to take that asshole away, and you told him to call me."
"Really?" she asked, bewildered.
"Be grateful I don't charge for caring..."
It was snowing again that morning when Aja first got herself ready for her new job. She had gotten hired at the local phone company, and she certainly didn't want to blow it. Only a few weeks had transpired since the incident, and already her life appeared to be turning around for the best. She had only just woken up when a knock came at the door. Curiously she answered it, checking the peep-hole as Harris had instructed her before opening up her home to the mailman. He tipped his hat to her, and handed her a package saying, "From a Mr. Harris Jones, Miss."
Shyly she set it beside her tea cup on the kitchen table. Opening it, she found a note tied to the small, heart-shaped box. While she read, she giggled sweetly as she nibbled on a delicious chocolate.
They may not know how to treat a lady in the city, but even a country boy like myself has ways of making things right. Forgive me if the words are quite as pretty, but would you join me this year for the Starry Night?
Looking up at the calender above her head, she smiled. "Winter fourteenth," she noted with a smile. Picking up the phone, she piped, "Operator? I need to make a call..."