Author's Note: Well, Valentine's Day is finally here, but since I already have a story (poorly written as it is) concerning the Thanksgiving Festivals, I decided to write this instead. Some parts are probably rushed or confusing, yet I like this story far better than the other.
Although I don't have anyone special this year to celebrate with, this is my Valentine's gift to all of you, so please enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Harvest Moon or its characters as if you didn't know that already. ;)
"Oh, this'll never do!" a young woman cried out as she threw open yet another cupboard. All throughout the tiny kitchen, drawers were ajar, doors were spread wide, and papers were scattered about on the floor. She'd been at this for what seemed like hours, but her search had still come up empty. However, she was as earnest as ever to find whatever it was she'd been looking for. "Why is it that when I need it, I always, always lose it?"
Isn't that the usual way? A person knows exactly where something is only until they're able to make good use of it, and then it disappears completely. Still, she didn't seem to be encouraged to know this by any means which wasn't all the surprising. She'd spent nearly all day preparing, but now the most important aspect was going to be missing.
"And it was his favorite, too..." she mumbled as she slumped in her chair beside the kitchen table beneath the tiny window. She absentmindedly ran her nimble fingers through her short, raven hair, but it did little to reassure her. She had wanted things to be special for him when he arrived, after all... especially because it'd been so long since she'd seen him last.
"Should we really be out here?" the young man asked uncertainly. She'd only laughed at his overly cautious nature, though, as she made her way through the forest's underbrush. She knew there was nothing to be afraid of here, but her companion was never too sure of that. He preferred the comfort of civilization while she felt right at home in the woods, surrounded by nature. She loved the comforting feeling of the breeze as it snaked its way through the tree, and she'd always dreamed of having a place of her own nestled in the shade of the leafy canopy. However, her friend was having enough trouble as it was without knowing about any of that.
"Why shouldn't we?" she countered with a laugh. He blinked at first, gazing at her with those dull gray eyes of his as if he was searching for something, but once he realized she was staring back, he blushed and turned away. It was always like this... and she secretly enjoyed every moment of it. She wouldn't tell him so, of course, since that clearly wouldn't be any fun.
"You're so..." he paused, fighting with himself for a moment. "Dammit, why do you have to be difficult with me?"
"Because I like seeing you make that face," she explained with a snicker. Then she jutted out her lower jaw and furrowed her brow to try and imitate him which made him make the very same expression in annoyance. "That's exactly it!" she cheered, clapping her hands together with glee. He only continued to frown, but his face warmed all the same.
"Do you enjoy making a fool of me or something?" he challenged, blowing his dark bangs out of his face. When she nodded with a big grin on her face, he only sighed in defeat. After all, he couldn't do much else... Her power over him was too strong although he hated to admit it, yet he knew it was clear as day to anyone who glanced their way. He'd known her since he was practically still in diapers, and everyone in town always said they'd probably be together. That's just how things worked in a sleepy, little place like this...
Or, at the very very least, that's what he was hoping for.
"I wonder if I should even bother with it," she muttered as she began gathering up various ingredients. Flour, sugar, milk, butter, and eggs were laid out on the counter while she rummaged for some vanilla extract. She laughed when she thought back on how she'd convinced her friend to take a taste of the stuff. It really wasn't his fault that he was so gullible, and besides, the scent was deceiving to anyone before they had experienced its... unique flavor. However, he probably should've been more wary since he'd tried baker's chocolate on the very same day...
"There it is!" she cried, running ahead of him through the brush. Her quilted skirt snagged on the branches and twigs, but she didn't even seem to notice. She was far too excited to worry about something so trivial, and although she knew she'd catch hell from her mother for her carelessness, she didn't concern herself with any of it. After all, these things could easily be mended with a needle and thread.
Even so, it seemed her companion was having a bit more trouble since his black slacks continued to become entangled in the shrubbery, and he had to keep working to free himself. If it wasn't for his current line of work, he might've been sporting a more practical pair of jeans. With that thought, he scolded himself for letting himself get distracted by this enticing, young woman once again. It wasn't as if he'd be fired for taking this romp through the forest, but he still felt responsible for leaving his post. Right about now he should be at the inn instead of finding himself being the victim of stumbling over roots and scratching himself on thorns.
"Are you coming or not?" she called out behind her with a laugh. How she could remain so energetic on such a hot, summer's day, he'd never know. She had always told him that winter was her favorite season, and with her fair skin and light violet eyes, he could understand how she might feel that way. Even so, right now she was more like a giddy child during summer vacation than a beautiful, young woman. Still, she wanted him to come, so of course he came to join her. After all, he secretly enjoyed this just as much as she did though for different reasons.
"Damn it..." he muttered as he winced in pain from a nettle's sting. She immediately glanced back to see him biting his tongue to keep from complaining, but she knew all to well what her friend's trouble was.
"Found some nettles again, hmm?" the young woman teased while clucking her tongue. "You're a hopeless idiot sometimes, did you know that?" she laughed, shaking her head in dismay. She didn't even wait for a reply before going to work on the growing rash on his leg. "Now, remember this," she began, ripping off a leaf from the very sam plant. "I told you that sometimes you have to go back to the dog that bit you," she said with smirk. As if to exaggerate her point, she pressed the leaf against the distinct red mark on his leg. At first, he flinched when she pressed the nettle against his wound, but soon enough the sting was practically gone.
She had never taken and medical courses, but the young woman had clearly learned a thing or two from the husband of her mother's friend. The two women had never paid the man much attention, but likewise, she wasn't one for their gossiping ways, either. He had more interesting things to talk about anyway.
"I really should've called Anna," she mused as she shoved a cake pan into the oven. "She'd give it to me if I asked, I think..." However, it was too late for any of that she reasoned especially since it was ready to bake. She'd just have to apologize, and the next time she saw him, she'd make it right. There was no time for doubts, though, because she knew he'd be there any minute now. She could only swallow her pride and make the best of it. He probably wouldn't laugh at her mistake...
"You really didn't have to go to the trouble of taking care of it, you know," the young man muttered, blushing furiously. His childhood friend was usually the one to come to his rescue when it came to these matters. He couldn't figure out how she knew these things, but he didn't consider any of her knowledge to be trivial. Sure, it couldn't always be brought up in an everyday conversation although there seemed to be very little he could talk about in those days. The problem was actually very simple... Every time he tried to say something, it was as if his mind went blank.
"Do you think you could've handled it yourself?" his companion replied. He glanced up expecting to see her smiling in that sly way of hers, but to his surprise, she was completely void of any expression other than maybe some mild curiosity. His face warmed even more to have her gazing at him like that.
"No..." he admitted, looking away. She didn't laugh, though, and instead she continued on her way without a single, scathing remark. However, he didn't doubt she might be thinking something rather cruel.
The little lark had a nasty streak in her, after all... although she didn't show it all that often.
"Maybe he won't notice..." she whispered, rummaging through the refrigerator. Even while she was thinking this, she knew the truth of the matter was that he would notice, and that's what troubled her the most. She rarely ever made a mistake, so it wounded her pride to admit to it, of course... He would probably laugh at her, too. She could just imagine that smile as if it was right in front of her at that very moment. Yes, that's exactly what he'd do if he could see her like that, wouldn't he?
She couldn't believe it herself, though, since she knew as well as anyone else that he wasn't like that. He was very kind and considerate towards all the local townspeople, and when she thought about it, she realized that he was especially so towards her.
Just thinking about the matter made her blush furiously which was why she shot down the thought entirely. Of course there was nothing going on between the two of them; they were nothing more than friends. That's all they had ever been, and, as far as she knew, that's all they would ever be. Them being any different over the years would be silly, she decided before finding what she'd been looking for.
"Why are we out here anyway?" he asked with a heavy sigh. She turned to face him, but she only laughed at his disgust concerning the whole adventure. Was he really that simpleminded?
"You forgot didn't you," she replied. Her smile was somewhat sad, though, when he continued to stare blankly up at her in wonder, and although he couldn't explain why, he felt a pang of guilt for not remembering. She looked so hurt by his question that he actually began trying to remember as much as he could about the place. He'd been here before, that much he knew, but as to why he'd come there, he couldn't quite recall. However, she was more than happy to remind him.
"Blackberries are your favorite, aren't they?" she said calmly. Brushing aside a large branch, he could see a mess of tangled vines and vicious thorns, but what caught his eye were clusters of large, black, ripe berries next to their bright red, companions. "I found them the other day, and I know you haven't had any since your mom was still alive." While he continued to gape, she giggled and a faint blush crept across her cheeks. "I just thought you might like to pick some with me..." the young woman explained quietly, staring at her shoes. "And maybe... we'll have enough for some jam, too..."
"Hello! Is anyone home?" a voice called out and made her jump right out of her daydream. Her violet eyes immediately shot up to the clock which read five o'clock, and although she nearly sent the chair toppling over onto the floor in her mad dash, she managed to keep herself together more or less. As she ran over to the oven to retrieve the neglected cake, she was relieved to find she hadn't let it burn.
It was bad enough that she hadn't made it right without making a complete disaster of it.
"Coming!" she replied, but not before she'd let the pan clatter on the counter. She almost forgot to grab the pot holders in her sudden frenzy before flipping it over onto the large serving plate she'd set out earlier. There was another knock at the door, and she replied, "Just a minute please!" She'd only managed to grab the small jar she'd taken out of the fridge moments ago and slather the top of the yellow cake with a thick, dark substance, and then she was off and running to greet her guest.
Upon opening the door, she found a young man standing there, and she held back a slight gasp as she caught sight of him. He was an impressively tall fellow although he didn't tower over her by any means, being that her own lofty height was fairly uncommon for a woman. She could see his dark hair was still well trimmed and slicked back as always. His smile, too, was bright and reassuring like the one she so vividly remembered from their childhood together. The only difference was that he was wearing a blue polo and a pair of kakhi trousers instead of his usual, patrol uniform.
Not that she was complaining any.
"Harris!" she laughed, hugging him around the neck. "I'm so happy you actually decided to visit me." How long had it been since she'd seen him last? Four or five years at the very least... not that she'd been counting.
"Well, of course, I came to see you, Aja," he chuckled while patting her back affectionately. "All you had to do was ask. It's not like I had to worry leaving Mineral Town for a week, you know." To tell the truth, he found the place to be rather dull at times although he'd never tell anyone. He took pride in his job whether or not he had to do anything on duty, and as long as things remained peaceful, he was content for it to stay that way, too.
"So how are Mom and Dad?" she asked, ushering him inside and into the kitchen. "I know I should write home more often, but whenever I sit down to, I never know what to write..." she admitted with a faint blush across her cheeks. "Sasha actually called me to talk about it the other day."
"Your mother does worry about you," he agreed although he tried his best not to sound condescending. She was young yet, and besides, he knew it wasn't her fault that she didn't contact her family as often as she should. Being from such a small village... he could only imagine it was hard for her to adjust to city life. Although her apartment was near the suburbs, it was nothing compared to the endless fields and forests of their hometown.
As they came into the rather cramped kitchen, he immediately caught a whiff of something undeniably familiar. He only had to glance over to the source of the alluring scent to find a small cake resting there, the top of which was frosted with one of his favorite toppings. However, before he could even mention it to her, the young woman quickly apologized.
"I'm sorry, Harris," she sighed, making her way over to the counter, "but I could find the right recipe... I sort of..." She paused to find the word and then continued apprehensively, "I had to improvise, I guess."
The man just chuckled as he sat down at the small kitchen table to watch her hustle about the tiny space. There was an amused light in his eyes while he did so, but he didn't say anything on the matter. He knew that it would probably be more satisfying if he waited for the perfect moment anyway. She'd most likely be upset with him at first, yet that made it all the more fun for him in the end once he explained himself.
"What's wrong with it?" he asked innocently. Aja simply set his plate down unceremoniously with a loud clatter, and then she pointed at it in annoyance.
"Look at it," she demanded. He did so, but he didn't see anything wrong with it. However, it seemed like she wasn't content to just have him shrug in indifference towards the desert she'd spend the past hour preparing, so instead of simply accepting his reply, she explained further, "I just baked a yellow cake and slapped some blackberry jam on it."
"So?" Harris replied. Before she could get angry with him for not seeing her error, he quickly added, "This is the only way you ever make it, and do you want to know why?" Her wide violet eyes studying him for a moment, but soon enough she raised an eyebrow curiously to coax the answer out him. She was never good at these childish mind games... which was strange being that she used to be the one to tease him in this way.
Time really did have a way of changing people...
"You've always lost the recipe every time you've tried to make it for me," he teased her with a wink which caused her jaw to drop slightly. She'd been hoping he wouldn't have notice, but she knew that at the same time, he would've caught on anyway. "To be honest, I wouldn't know what it was if I tried it the way it's supposed to be!" he laughed heartily.
Although her cheeks were burning a bright red, she couldn't hide the smile once she heard that. He was right, of course, since he was almost always right, not that she would tell him any time soon. Still, as she went to get a piece of cake for herself, she suddenly felt his hand slip into the back of her skirt, and she turned quickly on her heel with a hand ready to slap him across the face. However, she stopped inches from doing so just before making impact.
"Oh, and Aja..." he chuckled, waving a piece of paper in front of her face. "You really should be more careful of where you keep these things." To her horror and embarrassment, across the top of the small card, there were two words written in big, bold ink which simply read: