Disclaimer: Harvest Moon does not belong to me.
Author's Note: You know,I feel like I've been writing this oneshot for ever, but it's finally finished! Yay! I'm so relieved... phew... Anyway, this is my entry for the Village Square's latest Writing Contest, with the theme this time being 'Music'...
If she thought hard enough, Mary was sure she could fill the church walls around her with long lists of all the things she could be doing instead of this.
As Aja's voice climbed higher and higher, accompanied by the ethereal tones of the organ, Mary's mind drifted back towards the comfort of her sweet, little library just down the road. She could be reading right now. Although... as far as she was concerned, she could always be reading. Or, of course, re-reading.
Mary loved re-reading. The feel of soft, worn pages beneath her fingers and the greeting of characters akin to old friends. It was like slipping into a warm bath or pulling on your favourite scarf on that first, frosty day of winter. The latter was beginning to seem rather appealing, actually, what with the notorious chill that invaded Mineral Town's tiny church at this end of the year. Even the bright autumn sunlight pouring, multi-coloured, through the stained glass window behind Aja, could not prevent her teeth from chattering incessantly.
Her mother, Anna, twisted around from the pew in front to send her daughter a warning glare. "Quiet, Mary," she hissed, before turning back to Sasha and resuming their hushed but audible, girlish gossip.
"...I know, I know... Just terrible..."
"...Only last week she was in my shop... Looked perfectly heathly..."
"...Took a turn for the worse, I suppose..."
"...Those poor children... I don't know how they'll cope with their mother so ill..."
There was something oddly uncomfortable about hearing your close friends discussed so intimately about something so tragic - however honourable your mother's intentions. Thankfully, Karen, who was sat on Mary's left, provided a welcome if slightly painful distraction by nudging her friend sharply in the ribs.
"She's not much good, is she?" Karen whispered, nodding towards the front, before Mary could so much as, "Ooof".
The young librarian felt her eyebrows knot together in a frown and she hitched her glasses further up her nose to get a better look at Aja. Was Karen hearing something she wasn't? Aja's voice was practically angelic, if a little screechy when she hit the high notes. With the sunshine bouncing off her back at just the right angle, she looked a little like an angel, too - albeit one with poker-straight black hair and a severe fringe. "I wouldn't let Manna hear you saying that," she answered in a quiet undertone their mothers couldn't seem to manage.
Karen's eyes flitted across to Manna, who was bouncing on her heels as she proudly watched her daughter, and back to Mary in an instant. She shook her head. "No, no. Not Aja, I meant her."
"Oh!" They both focused on the girl sat at the organ - even Ann, who was hunched over on Mary's right, glanced up from polishing her flute.
As she watched Joanna Sanders clumsily keeping pace on the organ, Mary felt a sudden swell of sympathy for the girl. Like Ann beside her, Joanna had no mother in Mineral Town, though unlike Ann, her's was not dead. Merely... away. No one really knew for sure, and Mary, personally, felt that that was every bit, if not more, devastating. At least Ann, who lost her mom at the age of six, could draw some small comfort from the knowledge that her mother was simply physically unable to be with her.
What, if anything, was stopping Joanna's?
"She's only playing 'cause her and Aja are joined at hip," Karen continued, before Mary could utter a word in defence of Joanna's lacklustre display. "And as you said Mary, Aja's no revelation herself."
"I didn't - "
But Ann interrupted loudly: "Why don't you get up and sing then, Karen? If you're that great."
It was at that moment that Mary began to wish she wasn't sandwiched so tightly between the two. Unfortunately, Ann also seemed to be beyond the art of whispering, while Karen could be just as bad if ever she lost her temper. This happened to be one of those dreaded occasions.
"Actually," Karen retorted, "I bet I've been singing just as long as - "
"Girls!" Her mother and Sasha whipped around to scold them in perfect unison, their faces equally withering. "Quiet," Anna repeated, shaking her head (rather unfairly, Mary thought) in the direction of her daughter.
In that same second, Aja's voice finally faded away to a trickle, the organ playing clunked to an abrupt end and applause erupted across the room - mainly Manna's doing, with polite contributions from Anna, Sasha and Pastor Carter, who was overseeing the rehearsal. Karen, Mary noticed, kept her arms firmly folded. It was blatantly obvious to even the most unobservant of people that Karen simply did not get on with Aja Greene. Mary didn't much either, but - as with anything she considered to be even slightly controversial - she was a lot less vocal about it.
Personally, she felt Aja had a spoilt, petulant side to her - the result, no doubt, of Manna's constant fussing and often overbearing presence. Sometimes, a look of raw desperation crossed the Winery owner's delicate features, when she watched her daughter. Manna doted on her only child far too much; the afore-mentioned Winery was even named after her. Mary believed Manna's relationship with her daughter bordered on dependence, yet it seemed as though Aja had desires beyond sleepy Mineral Town.
Aja shot the three girls a black-ice glare, before turning to a smiling Joanna and shaking her head. Beside Mary, Karen practically growled. "I'm not saying I want to take over the whole damn concert, but she could at least share!" she muttered, feline-green eyes narrowed, as Aja prepared to run through her next song. "Hell to tradition; this town needs livening up."
"Does it?" Mary asked, her voice laced with trepidation. She huffed a anxious laugh, more hopeful than certain that Karen was joking. Though judging by the ominous emerald flames starting to leap up behind her eyes, she wasn't.
"You know, I wouldn't have even bothered turning up," Ann grumbled, her flute now gleaming like a shard of diamond, "if I'd known we'd just be sittin' round. And how'd Elli manage to get out of it?" she asked of her fellow flutist.
"I don't know. It must be something to do with looking after her sick grandmother and baby brother," Mary dryly suggested, while Ann scowled.
It didn't take long before the girls were once again being shushed. As soon as Sasha and Anna's attention was back on the performance (or, more likely, the latest gossip), Karen beckoned the others closer, murmuring so softly they almost needed to lip read. Mary fervently wished against being drawn in, but as she was stuck in the middle it was near impossible.
"Have you seen the new guy?"
The new guy? Oh! She'd heard of a new boy soon to be moving into the town, but hadn't actually seen him yet. He hadn't visited the library, but then no one really tended to, so that was no concrete basis for confirming his existence.
"No." She shook her head, but felt Ann nodding eagerly behind her.
"Yes!" she squeaked. "Saibara's grandson?"
"Saibara has a grandson?" This was what Mary opened her mouth to inquire, but she was immediately overrode by an oddly excitable Karen.
"He popped into the supermarket a few days ago," she enthused.
"And he visited the Inn," Ann added, nodding, "so he could sort out lodgings, you know, for when he moves in permanently."
"I hear it'll be before the Fall Concert," Karen chipped in.
"So he might come and watch, then."
As this 'riveting' rolled past her and Aja's performance faded into background noise, two distinct thoughts ran through Mary's mind. One, they must also have scrutinized her like this when she was the new girl in town; and two, did they even realise just how much they sounded like the catty housewives in front?
Before she was even aware of it, a small sigh escaped Mary. An audible one if the startled look her friends sent her was anything to go by. "So," she said, admitting defeat and dropping her voice beneath the wail of the organ; a deep, strangely melancholy drone about bountiful harvests that echoed off the stone walls. "What's his name?"
"Gray," the girls answered as one.
"Gray." Mary repeated it slowly, not as a question. She mulled over that single syllable in her head, wondering who it represented; and how accurately. Not that names alone meant very much. For all she knew, Gray was bold, bright, vivid - not as dreary as his name first suggested.
Okay, there was now no point in pretending otherwise: Mary's curiousity had hit full stride. "And what does he look like?" she prompted.
There was pause in which the hymn seemed to swell in volume, then Ann piped up, "Like me."
"Like you...?" Mary couldn't help the puzzlement creeping into her words. Honestly, she couldn't properly envision anyone looking at all similar to Ann, who was small, skinny and pale to the extreme. Her hair was shot through with copper, from roots to tips, and her electric-blue eyes were always widened.
Currently, her normally pallid skin had flooded scarlet, setting her whole head alight. "He's got red hair and blue eyes," she explained hastily. "But no freckles... and he's not as thin as me... "
"It's a darker red, too," Karen put in, as though this was highly important, need-to-know imfornation. "Seriously, Mary," she added, when a lack of reaction was deemed unsatisfactory, "he really is something."
She couldn't help it then; uncaring of her mother's wrath and the 'look' Aja might send her way, Mary let out an uncontrolled snort of laughter. So he was something, was he? Mary decided to judge that for herself when she'd actually met the boy. And she meant 'met' in the sense of actually getting to know him. She could, of course, ask Karen and Ann what he was like, but somehow doubted that they'd be able to give her a full answer.
It was ironic, too, that the pair seemed so smitten. She might not know it yet, but Karen was almost destined for her childhood friend, Rick. Surely. Call her a hopeless romantic if you wanted; Mary was as certain as she could be. And perhaps she'd read far too many romance novels in her short life, but she never missed the signs, even the tiny ones. Karen frequently referred to Rick as a dork, but woe betide anyone else who tried. And when she thought nobody else was looking? Well, Mary, ever-observant, noticed every single blush.
Ann, on the other hand... Who could tell what she was really thinking? As far as Mary was aware, her best friend still considered boys of any description a mere irritation. Noisy, wild creatures to compete with, not kiss. This Gray could, just possibly, be the one to turn the tide, but somehow Mary didn't believe it. Ann would settle down whenever she was good and ready, and not a moment sooner.
And what about herself? Mary allowed a brief smile to curl around her lips. White knights and fairytale Princes were her only source of male attention and, for as long as she could recall, they always had been. What were the chances that some blacksmith's grandson would change all that?
Karen was wrong. One day in the tranquil wilderness of Mother's Hill, which sat to the south of Mineral Town, was surely enough to convince even the most hardened of 'Townies' that the place did not need 'livening up'.
But if that wasn't enough evidence, you only had to look at the farce yesterday's rehearsal descended into the moment somebody decided to rock the boat. Sure, Karen got her way in the end... but only after upsetting just about everyone in the process.
Her mother, Sasha, nearly burned up in the fiery heat of embarrassment when her daughter leapt upright, demanding her turn at singing. Manna was in absolute floods, of course - though, miraculously, didn't utter a single word thoughout the whole debacle. Aja - providing further evidence of a slightly spoilt attitude - threw a strop as soon as it was suggested to her that Karen deserved a go, too. She swept from the church right there and then, after refusing to share, sweeping Joanna along with her. Evidently, they did come as a pair.
Only Ann outwardly appeared to relish the situation ("He-llo! Do I spy a cat-fight?" she crowed gleefully, as Karen strode towards the pulpit, intent on ruining the party), but there were other, less obvious, examples. Had everybody else simply missed the faint glimmer of relief in Aja's dark eyes as she raced for the exit, apparently furious? Probably, Mary eventually concluded.
Karen's actions had proved problematic for her, too. You see now, though they had effectively swapped one singer for another, they were minus an organist. The sight of Joanna's vaccated stool alone was enough to send a shiver of dread down her spine. Please don't volunteer me, Mother, she had mentally begged, please don't. I can't. While Ann bristled with excitement beside her and Karen stood, red-faced yet defiant at the front, Mary crouched down as far as humanly possible, trying in vain to make herself invisible. The polished, oak pews were merciless - lean too far back and you'd shoot straight onto the floor.
In the end, her mother said nothing at all, perhaps sensing the reluctance radiating from Mary's every pore and taking pity. Or perhaps she was just biding her time, waiting for the moment when her daughter would have no choice but to agree.
"Do keep up girls! I want to be home before nightfall, you know."
Ann exhaled angrily at Mary's elbow. "Your mom would make a great army General," she muttered through tightly gritted teeth, "you know that?"
Mary was forced to fight back a grin. "I know," she breathed. "I did warn you."
"Your dad's fine, granted, but he doesn't say a lot." The two girls arrived at the particular area of the mountain where the rocky path twisted sharply upwards, the final challenge, before emerging as paradise - a vast ocean of petals beneath your feet and the feeling that the top of the world was just within reach. Mary and Ann arrived panting and graceless.
"I don't say a lot," Mary pointed out truthfully, distantly observing her father as he studiously documented the latest variation of a Trick Blue.
"You say what's needed," Ann said, shrugging. "When it's needed."
It was Monday afternoon, the day after Sunday's ill-fated rehearsal and the one day of the week when Mary's Book Tower remained closed to the Mineral Town public. She often wondered if anyone was even aware of that fact. Wouldn't it be ironic if the single day she closed, was the single day a horde of book-mad travellers landed in town? Maybe such a group did pass through, every week without fail. On a Monday.
This was what she imagined to amuse herself, each lonely hour spent behind her dusty desk, waiting like a helpless fool.
Monday was also saved for weekly journeys to Mother's Hill with her family. Strictly for botanical reasons, as far as Basil was concerned, but mainly for the purpose of crisp, country air and relaxtion in her and her mother's case. And today, for the first time in four long years of friendship, Ann had been permitted to accompany them.
When her mother first agreed, Mary was speechless with shock ("Too loud," had been the excuse for many occasions. "Too silly."). But within a matter of minutes, her pleasantly suprised feeling had been replaced, not by one of genuine gratitude, but by resignation.
Because she knew, all of a sudden, exactly why her mother had said yes this time. It wasn't an overnight change of heart; Ann was still a tomboy with a wild side, still a bad influence.
Her mother was buttering her up, preparing her. Preparing her for the news that she would in fact play at the Fall Festival, she would save the whole event - if you wanted to be dramatic about it, and Anna so obviously did. And she would do it because it was her duty not to let the others down.
Most of all - the reason Anna wouldn't even think to touch on and the reason Mary already knew her answer - she would do it because she didn't even have to. No one expected it of her; they weren't aware that she could read music, much less let it take her over, heart and mind. She would do it for herself, mainly, because the whole idea of performing terrified her utterly and she couldn't imagine anything more appealing than feeling that kind of alive.
They posed before the waiting crowd like statues, some sitting, some standing - a perfect, well-balanced tableau. Well, perhaps not totally perfect. Unless, of course, the girl poised at the organ was meant to be quivering from head to toe.
That was the only reason, Gray kept telling himself, to explain why his eyes were continually drawn to the dark-haired mystery. Her face was turned away; all he could see was her shiny hair, the colour of coal, tumbling down her back. Nothing spectacular, really.
Gray was sat beside his figeting granfather in a pew near the front of the church, where he was blessed with a clear view of the concert. Annoyingly, the other villagers all had great views, too - of him. His back tingled with the burn of their eyes.
After what must have felt like an eternity, the three-and-a-half statues snapped to life and launched into their first song, filling the room slowly, from the floor to the ceiling, with soft, eerie tones.
The organist, she didn't so much launch herself as relax gracefully into her piece. And she was good. They all were, really, but it was her alone that captured his attention.
It was just so... weird. Why wasn't he captivated by the girl singing solo, for instance? The one who was beautiful in the most obvious sense of the word? No lie.
She stood on a raised platform, slightly higher than the others around her. She was long and lean with the most bewitching green eyes. She was blonde. Beautiful. But not for him. Gray knew this, but not why.
How about the pair of flutists, then? They were polar opposites. One had the brightest ginger hair he'd ever seen and the least suitable outfit imaginable for a church concert - dusty, denim overalls and a pair of faded yellow trainers. But the brunette, on the other hand, was dressed immaculately in a puffy, powder-blue frock. Those were the only words for it. She was the sort of girl Gray automatically pictured when someone said 'rural'. Or 'motherly'.
In spite of all this, in spite of smiling appreciatively at their performances and nodding along to the steady rythmn, Gray's mind was focused totally and utterly on the tiny girl playing up a storm on the organ.
He could understand it with all the coherency that he could explain it.
When the concert finally faded, precisely one agonising hour later, she twisted around and shyly clambered to her feet amid the applause. And in that same moment, Gray felt himself leaning forward, instinctively. He tried not sigh, or grin a shade too widely, or give any clue that his heart was thundering to an inexplicable roar.
The facts: his mystery girl had pewter eyes (the last colour he'd of guessed actually; brown surely?), pale cream skin but flushed cheeks, and gentle features. Oh, and she wore glasses - though Gray scarcely noticed them on first glance. He looked straight through, which given their function, was kind of the whole point.
Don't judge a book by its cover, piped up his pessimistic side. Her's was certainly delightful.
For all Gray knew, though, she was most conceited bitch he was ever likely to meet. Maybe. It was perfectly possible.
But maybe, probably, hopefully not. She was a feeling that refused to leave him alone and a risk he was more than willing to embrace.