Note: I'm supposed to be NaNoWriMo-ing, I know. But she made me do it! (points at HmGirly) Haha, I can't help it; when someone asks for more of a pairing they love, I start brewing ideas, and next thing I know, I'm typing. So much for reaching this week's word count for NaNo, right? But it'll be worth it, 'cause I really do love doing this for you, Girly. :D
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Not Harvest Moon, not Stephen Stills, not this computer—wait. I actually own that last one. xD
Lips Like Wine
It's not like you're ever too old to fall in love. It's got no time limit, no expiration date. I know that, mostly. I reckon she knows it, too. What seems to be escaping both our minds, though, is just how foolish the whole idea is.
Youth lights up a room with vitality, with energy. The world is new, but new things are only new for so long. "Seize it while you can," folks like me will tell you. "It gets old far too fast." Sometimes I look at the men around here—Rock, Gustafa, that Marlin kid—and I want to scream it in their ear. A valley like this is for men like me; our time has passed, and all we want is to enjoy what little we've got left. Ah, I'm not too old, I guess; forty-six ain't so bad. That's young enough to live a little, and old enough to have already lived a lot.
Hell, have I lived.
"Play us another song! Hey, Griffin, don't be shy about it, eh?"
I roll my eyes and let out a deep, rumbling laugh. "You'll have a better chance getting Muffy to sing ya a few bars, boys. I'm not in the mood tonight."
"You're never in the mood," Rock accuses me, and it's almost true. There's something about the bar atmosphere that makes me shrug off the idea of playing my guitar; it seems too different from my old life, too strange to merge with my current one.
I pour Rock another round of Blue Punch to shut the boy up and shout to Muffy, "We're gonna need some more glasses up front. Running low, and it's not even busy hours."
"Will do!" the barmaid's cheerful voice calls from inside. I hear a clattering of pans and a quick little yelp, and I sigh, knowing she's bumped her head on the cupboard again. Muffy is usually very capable, of course; why else would I trust her with the Blue Bar? However, whenever she's in the middle of the 'honeymoon stage' of her latest relationship, I reckon she ought to get that pretty head of hers out of the clouds and concentrating on the customers. That's my dream, anyway.
"Hey, Griffin! Give us another round!"
Bartenders get to know a side of village life that most people don't exactly get to see—heck, most people wouldn't know to look for it. We're secret-keepers, and we do a mighty good job of listening when we're spoken to, entertaining when we're needed to, and giving exactly what the doctor ordered to make the pain go away. Now, I don't pretend it does anymore than give a fella a good night of laughs and smiles, but sometimes that's enough, ain't it?
Ah, well. What do I know, anyway? Not like I went to college, got a degree, or what have you. Many of my friends did, and oh, they're living mighty fine in their nice houses with their educated wives, and telling me all about their kids and the times they've had. Who'd have thought good old Doug would have settled down—Inn keeping, of all things!—when he had drum hands I've never seen an equal of? Got a daughter, too. Pretty little thing. Said her name was Ann, I think. How old's she now—twenty-one, twenty?
Only three years younger than her. Good Goddess, I must be going mad.
"Griffin! What's the special today?"
I pretend I haven't noticed her, even though I could tell you exactly when she entered the room with her faded denim overalls and perky grin. I don't let my eyes leave her face, because everything below it reminds just how damn long it's been—decades, almost—since I've held such a young body in my arms. "Moon Trip," I answer, and I tell myself I didn't say so just because I know it's her favorite.
"Hey, Jill, the bartender won't play us any music tonight," Rock whines, and she turns to me, eyebrows raised. "He'll listen to you, though. Please make him? Please?"
"Ain't manly to beg, boy," I mutter, and Jill giggles.
"Okay, maybe it's not for Rock, but I kind of want to hear you play." She cocks her head at me, tilted at an angle. "I don't think I've ever heard your guitar, actually. I didn't even know you'd—"
"Jill, your order's up!" Muffy shouts, and I thank the spirits above that the girl's got such impeccable timing. "Got it frothing good tonight."
"Oh, thanks." The farmer takes it and drinks steadily, all the while giving me a we're-not-done-with-this-conversation look. I almost laugh; I've seen many of my friends' wives use that very same expression. Women must be born with it.
Before you go off on me being some lonely old man pining after young and beautiful girls, don't you tell me that I went looking for this. No sir, I haven't looked at a woman since…well, I can't rightly say, but it must have been some time after the band broke up, and my girl realized I'd never make it big. That didn't go too well, I'd say, and that's when I had my epiphany of sorts. At some point, women cease being this gorgeous mystery, and suddenly all you want is someone who makes even the smallest apartment feel like home.
Ain't many of those, that's certain. And even if Jill is one, she's…well, she could be my daughter, and that isn't something to take lightly. No sir.
"So…why won't you play your guitar?" Her fingers dance around the rim of the glass, and music resounds from its depths: a ringing sound.
"I don't like to play much anymore," I reply curtly. "It's become more of a hobby than a regular practice, you could say. 'Sides, there's no reason for me to."
"I'm not a reason?" She pouts.
I chuckle; no matter how many years go by, women always say the same lines to catch you off-guard. You'd think, at my age, I'd know better than to let myself fall for that. "Don't tease me, Jill."
"But I'm not teasing you."
I know better than this. I know I do.
Muffy jabs me in the ribs, and I think I can hear her mumbling something sounding like, "Ease up on the girl, for Goddess's sake. She's trying to be nice, and you're just being a grump. Loosen up."
"I'm not being a grump," I mutter.
"See? You're doing it again. Now be nice or I'm pulling you back into the kitchen with me." She shakes her head and leaves, all the while watching me to make sure I'm behaving as a gentleman should in front of Jill. Which is…hang it, I'm not sure how a gentleman acts in front of a lady. I've never really taken the time to learn to be one, have I?
"Come off it, Jill; I haven't heard lines like that since I was Rock's age," I say with a light-hearted laugh. "You're a sweet gal, but even you couldn't convince me to play music tonight."
A mischievous glint sparkles in her eyes. "Is that a dare?"
"Dare?" Oh, Goddess, this is not what I'm intending at all. "Jill, you've got me all wrong here—"
"I think it is a dare," Jill concludes, and Rock lifts his hands and leads the bar-goers in a mighty chorus: "Dare! Dare! Dare! Dare!"
"Now, hold on. I'm not gonna let anarchy rule in my bar!" I shout, but I've been told by Muffy that I'm about as intimidating as a teddy bear, and the crowd barely lowers the noise. "Nobody's daring nobody."
"Which means somebody will be daring somebody," Nami concludes from the corner; English major, no doubt.
The brunette stands up and crosses her arms, the din of the bar raising her confidence with its volume. "I'll take you on, Griffin. I'll make you play tonight, don't you worry about that."
"And if you don't?"
"Why, then—" Jill pauses, tapping her chin in intense thought. "Then I'll sing instead. I'll sing loud enough to wake the dead, standing on the countertop and deflating my lungs as best as I know how."
Rock and the others cheer, pumping their fists in the air. "Now, I wouldn't mind a little music," I concede with a grin. "For all I know, Jill, you've got a nice voice."
"So you won't play?" she states.
I hesitate. "No, I won't."
"You asked for it, then." She opens her mouth, and the men begin to scream, to beg, to laugh as hard as their sides can let them. Her boots stand upon my polished, wooden counter, and such awful, earsplitting noise reaches my ears—the musical massacre of Stephen Stills to the fullest extent:
"If you're down and confused,
and you don't remember who you're talking to.
'Cause your baby is so far away."
My Lord, I have never heard such vocal murder. All around me, the boys are chuckling and even Muffy is getting a giggle as Jill waves for us to join her in the chorus:
"Well, there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love,
Honey, love the one you're with."
Wine glasses are waved like glowsticks, and Gustafa whips out his guitar, accompanying Jill's God-awful voice with an aptness I've long lost myself. She's trying so hard not to laugh, and her cheeks are the brightest shade of red imaginable. "Go, join her!" Muffy shouts from behind, and suddenly hands are pushing me right and left until I'm standing in front of her, flustered and speechless. "Sing! Sing!" they cry, and Jill blushes all the harder, shrugging helplessly as she hops down beside me. What else can we do but comply?
"Don't be angry, don't be sad,
and don't sit crying over good times you had.
There's a girl right next to you,
and she's just waiting for something to do."
Then a roar completes the refrain once more, and Jill squeezes my hand; it's a warm, strangely reassuring feeling. Then I realize we're not just holding hands—we're dancing. It's not modern dancing, but I wouldn't call it my generation's style either. We're spinning, round and round, until all I can see is her smile and laughing eyes. "And if you can't be with the one you love, honey—!" Our feet threaten to tangle in each other's steps, and the drunken chorus smushes us closer, cheering, "Love the one you're with! Love the one you're with! Love the one you're with!"
The mantra plays over and over again, and I wonder when exactly I stopped seeing Jill as a child, but as a woman. I wonder if, maybe, there's nothing so awfully wrong about falling for a girl about half your age if she can't sing a note to save her life.
Since when did feelings have to be right, anyway?
"Wow, what a mess."
Jill whistles and I shrug, the aftermath of our karaoke session expected by now. Wine stains are on the wood; stools are tipped over; a few broken glasses are scattered here and there. It's nothing any bartender hasn't seen before, but Jill is shaking her head, aghast.
"I didn't think they'd go this crazy. I mean—oh, gosh, this is all my fault."
"Not really," I grunt. I'm already clearing the counter and—good Lord, where did Muffy put that broom of ours, anyhow? I can't see it in this light, not at all.
"But it was my idea. Singing, I mean." The brunette kicks a loose floorboard and sighs. "I thought you'd give in by the second verse, at least. I didn't get voted 'Most Likely to be a Broadway Reject' in high school for nothing."
I chuckle at that. "No kidding? Didn't know that was an option."
"Let's just say I made it one." The farmer watches me a little longer before pointing to my left. "The broom's that way, you know."
I swerve about to see it propped up against the wall, pretty as you please. "For all you know, girly, I was looking for a dishcloth," I reply with a grin.
"Fine, then it's over by the sink. And if you want to know where the sponge, the dustpan, and the mop are, I'd be glad to assist you."
"Don't you smart-talk your elders," I retort. All the same, I pick up the broom and laugh. "It's a sad day when a farmer knows the bar better than the bartender, eh?"
"Muffy's been showing me around," Jill explains, bouncing on the heels of her feet. "And come on, Griffin. You're not that old."
At that, I raise an eyebrow. "How old is 'that old'?"
"Oh, you know. Old." She dismisses the question with a wave of her hand. "What, you're not like my grandpa or anything. I think a man of your years is…very…"
"Very what?" I challenge. Her cheeks color.
"Very mature," Jill answers softly.
Mature. This is coming from the girl who just led me in a performance of "Love the One You're With" instead of letting me manage my bar like a normal human being. Muffy, I have no doubt, would have begun needling me with her insistence that I say something "sweet" back, or "flirt a little, loosen up." Some days I wonder if hiring Muffy was really hiring a barmaid, or my own personal matchmaker from hell. Heck, I'd love the little demon anyway.
"I could tell you about guys a lot more mature than me." I lean against the broom, and I fix my eyes on this woman as I hear myself speak in a calm, steady voice. "You want mature, I could tell you about doctors, about businessmen, about accountants even. I'm not any of that, you know. Nowhere near." I can already see it in her eyes: but I know that. No, Jill. You don't. "I dropped out of high school. Joined a band and did everything a band could do short of getting famous. Never got properly educated. Never learned more than beer and band music. I'm a forty-six year old bachelor without a bachelor degree, and my guess is maturity left my doorstep years ago. To be honest, I've never really thought to go looking for it, anyway."
I can understand, maybe, if she'd had a small little crush on me. Kid crushes are so small in the scheme of things; you blink, and they're gone. Jill's eyes fill with something bright and wet, and she replies, "So what?"
"I should think a bright girl like you could figure it out."
"But so what? So you didn't go to college. So you dropped out of high school. So you run a bar and happen to be older than most single guys. So what, Griffin? So what?" Her hands go to her hips, and all her words become more infuriated, more heated by my silence. "Have you looked around you? C'mon, Griffin, you own this bar; you know what I'm talking about. Look at Patrick; look at Kassey. Look at Gustafa; look at Rock. Griffin, look at me."
And I do. I force myself to gaze into those passionate eyes, to notice the way her chocolate hair hangs in her eyes, and to see the figure barely noticeable under those baggy work-girl's overalls. "What do you want me to see?" I say quietly.
"I want you to see, Griffin," Jill answers, "that your standards for yourself are way too high. I mean, if everyone here considered your little maturity checklist to be the end-all be-all of life, nobody here would pass. Not a one. Look at this place. You've got pyro-technicians who are running on what's probably just a high school chemistry class' worth of learning, musicians and artists who couldn't care what a college professor would say about their work, and farmers who dropped out of law school for some stupid plot of land that nobody else wanted claim to!" She sucks in a deep breath at the finish and frowns. "Don't you get it? We're all equal here."
"Law school, eh? Must have been some mighty fine young men there." My mind can hear Muffy mouthing me off for that bitter statement all-too-well, but I ignore it; it's her own fault for leaving early to visit her new boyfriend what's-his-name. She can't play Cupid today.
"If by nice, you mean competitive and full of themselves, then sure, they were great." With a little laugh, she sits herself down on a stool and swings left to right, her ponytail bouncing. "Guys are more than just a wallet, you know? You need…reliability, trust, and familiarity. Love, too, if you're lucky."
"Most people are looking for that, aren't they?"
"Not enough like you." Her big brown eyes are waiting, expecting something I'm not too sure I can give. Oh, Lord, here it is. Temptation at its best. I'm being tested as this innocent girl intertwines her fingers with mine, her warm pulse matching my own.
"Come on, Jill," I warn. "Don't be teasing me, now."
"Griffin, can't you give me more credit than that?" Now both of her hands are upon my own, and those warm eyes have captured mine in way I'd promised myself they wouldn't. "I'm not trying to hurt you. If anything, saying that is, well, hurting me." Heat flushed in her cheeks and she stammered, adding, "I—I think you're too hard on yourself. I really do. Why couldn't we try something between us? Is it just so hard for you to believe that maybe, just maybe, this could work out?"
"I could be your father," I remind her gently.
"But you're not. And I'm a big girl, Griffin." She puffs herself up, and I smile at her resolve. "Why, next year I'll be twenty-eight."
"Twenty-eight? Huh, I could've sworn you were just—"
"See? See? You're assuming." Jill puts a hand to my cheek, and I flinch despite myself. "I could make you happy, and I know you could make me happy. What's so terrible about that? Why is that so hard to admit?"
I jerk away immediately, and she pulls back on the broom, unable to let me go so easily. "Jill—"
"Say it. Say you don't like me, out loud," she demands. "I won't believe you unless you admit it, now, without a single doubt in your mind. I can deal with not being liked in return, Griffin. I can't deal with being pushed away because of—because of—God, because of an age I can't control."
Rubbing my chin in thought, I let the stubble prick my hands and consider all the ways I could possibly lie to this beautiful face. I could say so many things to crush her hopes; I could say nothing and crush her trust instead. Yet the truth…? What baggage did the truth carry? "No, I don't," I whisper, and she recoils, slapped.
"I don't like you," I say seriously. And then, without warning, I grip her by the shoulders, her whole body stiffening in alarm at my bold move. "I care about you far, far too much for your own good. I count the minutes until you come inside these doors. I prepare your favorite drink even when I know that the special is Stone Oil. I let you bring complete and total chaos into my bar with your crappy karaoke. Sometimes I talk to you, and it's all I can do to remind myself that you deserve better than an old man like me—that you probably don't love me back. Love, Jill. I…I reckon I love you."
There. The truth: black and white, honest and pure. Am I breathing—? Yes, I think I am; the world hasn't crashed, lightning hasn't struck me down. Lord, Jill's face is a complete mystery to me, though…why so pale, so white?
"Griffin…" She pauses, and I remember how she'd been so loud just hours before, belting a song out at the top of her lungs. "Griffin, are….are you teasing me?"
I blink, then burst out in a guffaw at her timid words—my words, my denials. "Never, Jill. Cross my heart and hope to die."
"You better not." Shyly, she stands up on tiptoe and catches my mouth in her own: unexpected and bold, yet unsure. I can smell alcohol on her breath, and I marvel that she hasn't wrinkled her nose at my stubble against her skin or stopped and opened her eyes. I start to realize maybe I'm not the only mature one here, our teeth scraping to find some sort of medium between us, some resting place. It's addicting, strong, potent—the most dangerous flavor of wine. And maybe, in the end, it'll just get better with age.
I've given Muffy the keys for the night. After all these years of letting her go out, I figure it's time she pulled some of my weight and let me have a night or two to myself. "You go have yourself a good time," she'd winked, and it felt strange that she'd be so proud of something as simple as this. Yet it's not that simple, is it? The moon is full, and the stars are shining, but I'm not about to give them a second glance. Who can blame me, with company like mine?
"I don't understand," Jill insists, my hand over her eyes. "Why the secrecy? What kind of date starts with the girl getting blindfolded?"
"Just a little further," I reply instead. The path before us is illuminated by moonlight, and we reach the meadow hand-in-hand. "Keep your eyes closed, alright?"
"I swear, I'm going to die of suspense," Jill sighs. "I hate it when you do this to me."
"You won't." My hands free her, and I stare at her—my girlfriend, my Jill. Ain't it strange, that somehow those words have become real? That this girl, who once threatened me with her shrill singing voice, is now the one I've admitted to—ha! At forty-six, no less!—that I love? Miracles never cease, do they?
"Open your eyes."
I watch as she turns about, floundering, until she sees me and her hand fly to her mouth. "Oh. Oh, Griffin." Delight lights up her eyes as she skips closer, cheeks aglow. "You didn't have to. I know you don't want to."
"But I do," I answer, guitar pick resting over the strings. "For you. I want to show you the best of me."
I haven't played in years. Not since I resigned myself to the life of a bartending bachelor, a life with wine-brewing instead of song-writing and girl-chasing. Yet this feels so natural as the first note pierces the air; I'm not old, I'm not young, I'm music, and I haven't been this free in ages. Jill lies beside me, smiling in rapture, and she whispers, "That's our song, isn't it? I know this song."
"I was kind of hoping," I tell her with a grin, "that you'd sing it for me."
She laughs, hard, and rests her head on my shoulder; her hair is soft, silky on my skin. "Only if you sing along."
And together, young and old, loved and in love, we sing of something time transcends:
"Well, there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love,
Honey, love the one you're with."
What the hell did Stephen Stills know? I've got the one I love right here, right now.
…Even if I've lost my sense of hearing in the balance.
End Note: Fluffy fluff. :D Hope you loved it, Girly, and hope I did a good job with Griffin; he's a new character for me, so I'm anxious to see how he came off to you. Not to mention I never do song-fics, but this was just asking for it. Three cheers for oldies music!