Disclaimer: Harvest Moon isn't mine. Sadly.
Author's note: I honestly don't know where this idea came from. I've never given the Jack x Mary pairing much thought before, but somehow I found a possible conversation between them forming in my head and this oneshot was born. Also, apologies for the length, or lack of! It really didn't want to be any longer, though, and actually I think it's better short. :)
His first words to her are suitably baffling.
Mary's not used to having conversations with her patrons; she is not used to patrons, period. Gray the blacksmith pops by most days, presumably to escape his grandfather and Doctor Tim visits on Wednesdays, his head firmly rooted in fact not fiction; neither, however, have very much to say for themselves.
That's why Mary is so shocked, to say the least, when Jack Mason, a relative stranger, decides to buck the trend.
"E-Excuse me?" she stammers, certain she has misheard.
She's wrong: "How did you bust your eyes?" Jack repeats, strangely, genuinely interested.
Mary hitches her glasses further up her nose and wonders. How is it that she can analyse Shakespeare, yet fail to work out the mild-mannered farmer sitting before her? Why did he choose those particular words? You can bust your arm or your leg or even a gut, so she's heard; but surely busting your eyes is a colloquialism too far?
"I - I - " Her stutters spiral into a messy web of silence that's all too familiar.
But, somehow, Jack knows how to side-step the awkwardness and fill in the gaps she leaves behind. And, most staggering of all, he manages to make it look perfectly natural. "Well, I've got this cousin," he says, propping an elbow on the page of a book he's studying, "who ruined his eyes by reading late into the night, every night - by flashlight, you know." He turns his own, honey-brown eyes on Mary. "Just seems like the sort of thing you'd do, that's all."
Mary feels the blood rush to her cheeks, feels her skin ignite. Luckily, she is quickly able to locate her inner bookworm. "Actually, I don't think it quite works like that. The shape of your eyes change as you grow and sometimes that results in distant objects focusing in front of the retinal surface, not on it. That's what causes shortsightedness." She catches her breath. "But then, I'm no optician."
Slowly, Jack smiles. "That's me told. So did you do it?"
"Did I do what?"
"Read," Jack clarifies. "At night, when you were probably supposed to be sleeping."
"Oh!" Immediately, Mary's head fills with memories of bedclothes pulled over her head like a tent and her mother's repeated scoldings about - of all things - damaging her eyes. "Yes, of course. D-Did you?"
There is a long, uncomfortable pause, in which she wonders if the question is a mistake. Jack's face falls slightly but visibly, and he looks away, towards the library window. Outside, the sun is setting beneath a pink, early autumn evening.
"Mmm," Jack murmurs eventually, leaving Mary ever more confused. His answer isn't a yes or a no, or anything really.
It reveals one thing, though: she is not alone in her nervousness. Because it's all too easy, when you're as shy as she is, to overlook the fact that you're not the only one. Silence falls again, as if Jack had actually never asked about her eyes. He turns the pages of his book and Mary counts to ten. She does this over and over, telling herself each time that when she reaches her goal she'll tell Jack, sorry, but the library is closing for the day; it should have shut half an hour ago.
Outside, a streetlamp splutters into life. Mary sighs, stands and pulls her keys out of her pocket.
"Sorry." She steps up to Jack's desk. "It's time - I've really got to - "
But before she ties herself into knots trying to explain, he spots the sliver gleam of the key clasped in her hand. "Ah, okay. Time for me to be chucked out, huh?"
"Exactly," Mary answers crisply. "And I'm afraid you'll have to leave that here. It's a silly rule, but no one's allowed to borrow the books." Unconsciously, her fingers fly to her face and twine through her dark fringe. "But... of course, you can always come back and continue from where you left off. If you want to."
Her hesitancy stems from the fact that the people of Mineral Town have not, thus far, proven themselves to be big readers. A thousand tales of heroes, heartbreak and happy endings lie wedged inside these walls, but no one, it appears, wants to discover them.
"I'll definitely come back," Jack promises, and in one swift motion he sweeps the book closed. "What can I say? I'm gripped. See you, Mary."
"See you," she echoes, and though she tells herself not to, Mary finds herself at the window watching him wind his way back to Redson Farm - named after the previous ranch owner. Soon, as Jack is obscured by darkness, her doubts reform like sudden cracks in an otherwise perfect road. Will he really be back?
Mary wants to believe him, but finds that she can't. Not quite. Not... yet. And in spite of this odd afternoon spent in each other's company, she still doesn't understand Jack Mason. The problem is further compounded when she picks up the book he left behind, intending to set it aside as if this one careful act alone will lure him back.
"'A Farmer's Guide To Gardening: Shrub or Snapdragon?'" she reads aloud, staring at the faded cover. The book is ancient, so ancient in fact that the age softened pages feel as though they're crumbling beneath her touch. "Gripped, huh?" Mary finds herself suppressing a giggle. Still she doesn't know what to make of Jack Mason, but this has certainly heightened her curiosity.
Perhaps he does find gardening gripping, or perhaps he has some other agenda. And against her better judgement, Mary hopes for the latter.
Smiling to herself, she safely stows the book on a corner of her desk. Then, after one last breath of musty, bookish air, she flips the light switch and fumbles for the door handle.
Has she found a fellow bookworm?
She may just have found a friend.