Disclaimer: I don't have the rights to these characters or Harvest Moon.
I had stood at the edge of the dock, my bare toes curled over the last plank of wood before I would plummet into the ocean. If it weren't for the warm yellow bundle I held in my arms, I may have made the plunge. I'm certain of that as I look back on it now. As I cradled the small being, I tried to keep it from the winter air's chill and the violent wind's bite, and one entire tiny hand wrapped itself around my finger in thanks.
"Do you want to see him, too, Lance?" I asked quietly, refusing to look at him. My eyes remained fixated on the horizon, straight ahead.
Lance, a name which means 'land...' I suppose it was just another sign of my bitterness, yet I had been so cruel as to bring my contempt for the father upon my own child, our child. I prayed to the Goddess he would never have know the meaning of his name, and even that was a selfish wish which I had added to so many others like it. The blame was always being placed on someone else while I chose to remain illusional. It was how I kept myself safe on the inside, in my heart.
"Claire!" a familiar voice called out to me from shore. I turned on my bare heel to see a young man coming towards me from the grounded edge of the dock. His shoulder length, strawberry-blonde hair wasn't cut short or rich brown, and his blue-green eyes were trapped behind thick lenses, not open pools of chocolate. He wore a sullied blue apron over a green sweater and brown slacks which meant he had never worn a brown jacket and a thin white shirt with jeans. He was another man. This man was the opposite of the one I waited for.
"You shouldn't be out here with the baby," he scolded, his teeth chattering. He looked me over quickly, and when he realized all I was wearing was a frail hospital gown, he added with obvious dismay, "In fact, you shouldn't be out here at all... Didn't the doctor tell you to stay at the clinic for a couple more days?" I kept my blank expression, and he let out an exasperated sigh, "Let's get you back to the farm..."
As soon as he suggested it, I lurched back, nearly tumbling into the ocean spray with my newborn. However, the man caught me just as I was about to fall. "Rick... don't..."
He looked down at me over his glasses which had slid down his nose, his eyes filled with understanding and concern, and then he tried to feign a small smile. I knew what flickered there, though... It was pity for me, a single mother with no husband to cherish or help care for the child. Our child... who would grow to be a bitter young man with no father to guide him. I hated that gaze in the eyes of the man who held his arm around me because I knew I'd see it time and time again in others as I made my way through the streets of Mineral Town. I couldn't bear to see it any longer as it was.
"Don't look at me like that, Claire..." he mumbled. "I just don't think it's good for you or the baby to be out in this weather." He glanced at me once again and gave another heavy sigh. "Here, you can come home with me if you're not ready to go back to Golden Acres just yet..."
I nodded slowly and let Rick take my free hand to guide me to his family's poultry farm. I merely plodded along behind him while my infant cried in my arms. The babe didn't want to leave the harbor, either, it seemed although he couldn't have possibly known his connection to it. It would remain that way, too, if I had my way. I didn't need to burden him with my troubles. My heart was tethered to that dock, and no force of nature or man could free me of it. I would bob in the waters whether they were stilled or raging because I had chosen to remain there.
My hope, for him to return to me, would wait there. That had been my decision from the very moment he had left me so alone because there simply appeared to be no other choice. I needed that resolve; otherwise I may have destroyed myself long before my child had been so much as a possibility. It was the baby which had saved me though I doubted it had any understanding of such a thing.
My wayward husband didn't even realize he had a son, for he hadn't known about the pregnancy before he parted from me. I wondered vaguely if he would have stayed knowing he would've been a father...
"Oh, Claire! Rick, bring her inside. Quickly now!"
"Popuri, can you fetch us a blanket, please?"
Lillia ushered us in from the winter cold as Popuri gathered up a quilt to drape over my narrow shoulders. Both mother and daughter were peculiar beauties, for their curls appeared to have been a creation of some child's dream as they were pink as the summer blossoms. I flinched as I remembered the retched season as it remained a yearly reminder of what I had lost. My grip on the bundle in my arms tightened slightly which sent my poor child into another bout of cries.
"May I hold him, dear?" the older woman asked tenderly, extending her arms out to me. Although I held my baby closer at first, I soon relented, knowing she could care better for him than me right then. I shivered when the tiny body moved away from my own, but Rick only brought the warm blanket closer around me. In the beginning, I would've tried to pull away from the man, yet by that point, I had come to realize I needed him to hold me together.
"Rick never told us what you named him," Lillia explained, waiting for me to introduce the little boy she held in her arms. She looked so at peace holding him, and I felt a tinge of jealousy seeing her cradle him so tenderly. That was meant to my duty as his mother, yet I couldn't bring myself to ask for him back. I wanted to bring him close just as I wanted to push him away. I was both soothed and burned when his warmth touched my skin.
"Wow," Popuri cooed, looking over her mother's shoulder. "He looks just like..."
"Popuri!" her brother nearly shouted, causing the girl to flinch. She pouted for a moment, but after she glanced at me with her ruby eyes, her cheeks flushed a light pink. He relaxed again and squeezed my shoulder reassuringly. His gaze was full of that sickening pity as he whispered, "I'm sorry, Claire..."
"His name is Lance," I continued, trying to appear unfazed. I didn't want to consider who the child looked like right then which was exactly why... I had refused to see him in the first place. That's right... From the moment he was first born and Elli offered for me to look at my newborn, I flew into a blind panic from the terror of seeing him.
"Get it away from me!" I screamed, blocking myself as if the nurse had tried to hit me. My blue eyes were wide with a wild fear of the small bundle. "I don't want to look at it! Take it away! Please! I don't..."
"Here, Elli, I'll hold him," a male voice had offered calmly. He clearly wasn't distressed by my frantic episode although concern continued to dwell in his face whenever he glanced my way. I couldn't focus on him, however; I was far too grief-stricken to find much sense of anything. I felt lost in the delivery room, my eyes flickering earnestly for someone who simply wasn't there. Although I desperately needed that man, I couldn't find him anywhere. That frightened me more than anything else ever could.
"But Rick-" she protested with reluctance. The poor young woman looked so uncertain, her brown eyes flitting from me to the baby to the poultry farmer. The doctor had just rushed in to keep me from injuring myself, yet she found she felt helpless. Though she was born into a family of midwives, I'm sure she had never experienced such a scene, nor had she ever heard of one. I must have been just as dreadful to her as that blinding room was to me. We were both trapped there...
"Don't you think it's better not to have her hold him just yet?" he asked, his arms waiting to hold the crying newborn. "At least until we can calm her down?"
Yes, I had come to remember that Rick had been there with me for the entire birth. After all, my water broke right as I was passing his family's poultry farm, and he had been the one to carry me back to the clinic. I had sobbed the entire way there, clinging to his sullied apron, while he tried his best to remain composed enough to get me there safely. I had never seen the man so calm before. It was as if he'd set himself on a mission which brought him right into focus.
Rick still held my hand throughout the heartbreaking ordeal. I'm sure I was calling out for the man who should've been the one at my side which must've pained him terribly, yet he said nothing of the kind as he smoothed my blonde hair away from my agonized brow. His eyes never parted from mine, and in a way, I was grateful for that. I wanted someone to know my pain, if only for those few hours.
People had always imagined what it must've been like for me. To be expecting a child without a husband there to help prepare was a fate no one would wish upon a woman, and as I toiled in my fields and cared for my livestock, I knew they'd pity me. I'd overheard the gossip in the square while I passed by on my way to the clinic. When I'd take a walk through the town, I saw the stares filled with sadness for me and my unborn child. I also found I hated them for it all.
"Can I get you anything, Claire?" Popuri asked sweetly, handing me a hot cup of tea. I took it, but shook my head sorrowfully. She was far too kind to me already, for the only ones who'd genuinely cared for me all this time were those who lived in the house I'd been brought to. While Lillia could only visit on occasion due to the illness that ravaged her frail body, Popuri came to me nearly every day. The young woman wasn't a particularly skilled cook, but she did her best to help me with my household chores when they needed doing. Not only that, but her bubbly personality had a healing power all its own. I had grown found of her company quickly in those first three months and beyond.
Strange how tragedy can bring two rivals in love together.
"Rick, honey, where are you going?" Lillia called. I slowly glanced over towards the young man in the doorway as he pulled on his winter coat.
"I'm going to Claire's," he explained simply on his way out the door. We, of course, all knew what he was planning on doing since he had been oddly determined to do my farm work during my pregnancy. It had begun simply with him caring for the chickens which came as no real surprise given he was a poultry farmer, but then it began to escalate to caring for the cows. Although he had terrible discomfort with sheep, allegedly it was their eyes that troubled him, he eventually started to work with them as well. Soon enough he had gone as far as to take my own hoe from me whenever I tried to plow my fields.
About the only chore I had left by the last few months of my expectancy was watering. Rick had taken over my farm essentially, and in all honesty, I was more than glad to leave him to it at the time. Of course I knew I was only being selfish as the poor man had enough responsibility as it was. With a sickly mother, a poultry farm, and a younger sister to care for, I felt guilty for burdening him further with my sorrows. However, there was one thing about his past that helped me to understand why he would go to all this trouble.
Rick's father had abandoned his wife and children, too.
I suppose I wasn't being fair to Rod. After all, I had never known the man, so I shouldn't have judged him so poorly from the start. Given what I had gathered from Zack, Sasha, Anna, and, of course, Manna, Rick and Popuri's father had left his family to find a fabled cure for Lillia. The remedy was a flower which bloomed once every ten years in a faraway land filled with desert sands and unbearable conditions, and thus, it was more suicide than rescue. Though he had promised to write, his letters had been sent only on rare occasions. The family hadn't received another in over two years. For all intents and purposes, he was dead to all but his ever devoted wife.
Who better then to understand my child's plight than a young man who had been without a father himself?
"Lance..." Lillia said at last once her son was out the door. "What a meaningful name..."
"How is the baby's name meaningful?" her daughter asked innocently, sitting down beside me in front of the fireplace. Right then, I wanted nothing more than to wrap my fingers in her soft pink curls and tear at her as she unwittingly opened the most dreadful feelings inside me. It felt as though it was the worse betrayal she could've done to spite me, but I knew she had meant no harm. She had a naïve, childlike frankness about these things. I only wished it hadn't shown itself on the most heart wrenching subject.
"Because..." I began bitterly, choking back the tears, "it's the opposite..."
"Of what?" she pressed, her ruby eyes burning my heart.
"The opposite of 'the ocean...'" I whispered at first before bursting into a fit of tears. "The opposite of Kai!"
Final Author's Note: Lance means 'the land' in English while Kai means 'the ocean' in Hawaiian.