Author's Note: Here's chapter two! The romance seemed a little fast-paced to me, but at least it gets better and more natural further in (at least, I think hope so.. XD). And the troubles for poor Jack are just beginning, I'm afraid. ):
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or any part of Harvest Moon.
Chapter 2 – His Disaster
"Mama! Look who just arrived!" Popuri giggled as she opened the door to the flower shop. Jack followed in after her, and was surprised that little had changed at all since he last stepped into her family's shop.
"Oh, dear… Your father came early this year already. Who else could you be so excited about?" Lilia wondered, obviously not seeing Jack behind her daughter, as she walked out from behind the store counter.
"It's Jack! He's come to live here on the farm with his grandfather," Popuri smiled happily, taking him by the hand and pulling him towards her mother. Jack couldn't help but note how she seemed to glow as she spoke.
"Jack? … Oh! The boy who moved to the city! It's been so long. I must look terribly old compared to how I looked when you were last here," Lilia chuckled, blushing as she held her face gently.
"Old? You're kidding! If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were Popuri's older sister," Jack answered in honesty. Lilia blinked for a moment before smiling wide.
"I know you're just flattering me, Jack, but I appreciate it all the same." Jack bowed as she walked towards them, but she waved a hand. "No need to bow, young man. Any friend of little Popuri's is treated like family. Though I won't offer you any discounts," she added with a wink. He had to bend down a bit for her to give him a hug.
"Sorry Mama, but I must steal Jack away to show off to the rest of the villagers," Popuri sighed, quickly growing tired of her mother getting all the attention from Jack.
"Alright, alright. Well, have fun Jack! Come back and see me again soon, alright? Basil would love to catch up with you, too," Lilia called, waving as the two teenagers walked out of the store. When they were gone, she shook her head, smiling.
As the afternoon went by, Jack followed Popuri to the church, bar, tool and souvenir shop, bakery, library, vineyard, the carpenters, and ended at Green Farm, introducing him to almost every person they saw along the way. He was happy to see his old friends, but was also startled to see so many young children. And he had caught a couple glimpses of four other young women, about Popuri's age, around the town – though he had a feeling his guide didn't want him talking with them.
"Gray!" Jack called, spotting the familiar blue hat resting beside a grazing sheep. A young red head looked up from the animal to see someone running wildly at him. Realizing that the figure wasn't going to stop, he braced himself for the tackle. Moments later, the two were on the ground in a heap of laughter and confusion.
"Oi, Jackie! It's been ages since I last saw you," Gray grinned.
"And since I last heard someone call me Jackie," Jack added, scratching his head. Nobody had ever been that casual and friendly around him in the city. Gray opened his mouth to respond when he spotted Popuri running towards them. He fell silent and his face immediately flushed a light pink color.
"Heya Gray," Popuri winked before wrapping her arms around Jack's neck. "Hasn't Jack changed so much?"
"… Yeah. Hardly recognized him."
There was a sudden tone of anger hidden in Gray's voice, though Popuri didn't pick up on it. Jack, however, felt very uneasy – yet, at the same time, extremely giddy – about Popuri hanging on him in front of someone else. There was a moment of awkward silence before the voice of another young woman interrupted and all three heads turned towards it.
"Hey Gray! Popuri! And… Who's that?" Gray's younger sister stood near the fence, having just returned from grocery shopping, as she peered curiously at the new boy she didn't recognize.
"Oh! U-Um, Ann!" Popuri faltered for a moment, looking between the two boys on the ground and the red-headed girl before she quickly rushed over to her friend and aided her with her bags. She began pushing her towards the building with the sign "Green Ranch" hanging above the door, and shared a hushed conversation as they went inside. Jack and Gray sat in silence and bewilderment as they watched. After a minute or so, the silence was broken as Gray pushed himself back onto his feet.
"I should have known."
Jack turned to look up at the other boy, felt his anger, and in nervousness, fumbled around trying to get himself off the grass as well.
"W-What do you mean?" he asked when he'd finally gotten himself up.
"That there was someone else."
Without another word, the red head turned and headed towards the large barn, the animals scattered about the field following him quickly. Jack was left watching Gray's back disappear in the barn, the feeling of guilt and, surprisingly, anger filling him. About the same time, Popuri had reemerged from the shop having properly hidden Ann away, and had returned to Jack's side.
"What happened to Gray?"
"I don't know," Jack replied quietly. "Hey… I'm kind of tired. I'll walk you back home before it gets dark." He gently took her hand in his and smiled. She giggled softly, her face glowing more than it had all day, and grasped tightly between his fingers. As they walked, she leaned her head on his arm and closed her eyes. The sun was setting, making the pathway appear golden in color.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yeah… Um... P-Popuri?" he suddenly stuttered. He wanted desperately to say something, anything, to let her know that he really found her beautiful. At dusk, at dawn, or at anytime of day. He'd been walking around with her for a few hours, but he felt so close to her, it was as if he had never left.
"Yes?" she asked eagerly, looking up at him.
"I-I… Um… We're here…" he sighed awkwardly. He inwardly cursed his inability to translate his thoughts into audible words, and he figured he had lost his chance for today. Their hands fell to their sides, and she took a step towards her door.
"Oh. Well, you'd better get back home. After all, we've been out and about for more than a couple of hours. Your grandfather must be awake by now," she said casually, though she did not turn around to look at him. Jack grew frustrated, having no idea what he should say next. As his mind searched for something to say that would satisfy her, his heart began to race.
"Um… Before I go…"
"Yes?" she asked, finally turning around to face him with an eyebrow raised in curiosity. She looked extremely cute when she was trying to seem indifferent, he thought silently. He was still at a loss of what to say, and instead, before he could say anything at all, she pulled him in for a chaste kiss. It was brief, but it was wonderful. When they pulled apart, both of them were blushing deep red.
"Heh… Um… W-Well…" they stuttered in unison.
"Good night!" Popuri finally managed to spit out, though she said it a bit too loud to sound as calm as she had wanted. She rushed inside the Flower Shop, leaving a red faced Jack to stare happily at the door. He grinned wide as he turned to head back home.
Back at the farm…
"Grandpa, I'm hooome," Jack hollered happily, still grinning, but he was silenced by the emptiness of the small room. The old man was not in bed, watching TV, or wandering around the dining table, and Jack quickly grew worried. Rushing outside, he was followed by Duncan after waking from his nap. "Heya boy. Do you know where Grandpa is?" he asked in a panicked voice. The dog rushed off towards town, Jack following close behind.
As they approached the pathway towards town, the dog took a sharp turn towards Moon Mountain, nearly tripping the boy as he tried to keep up. They ran for what felt like hours, but was surely no more than a couple of minutes. They stopped at the top of the mountain, and he saw, in the bright light of the full moon, Jack's grandfather turning to smile happily at them.
"There you are... You shouldn't... be out so late," Jack panted. Once he caught his breath, he walked up beside his grandfather and followed the old man's gaze to the evening sky.
"I just wanted to see the moon. It's awfully big tonight, wouldn't you say?" Jack raised an eyebrow, but nodded. His grandfather had always been a stubborn man, and he figured this occasion was nothing special. However, he missed the slowly shrinking smile on the old man's face as they both continued staring at the moon. After a couple more minutes of silence, he let out a sigh.
"It's nice that I get to see it one more time..."
Startled at the strange comment, Jack turned to face his grandfather, only to see that the old man had collapsed.