On Regret, Repentance, and Redemption
Part of The Village Square forum's 2009 Secret Santa Project.
This story is for: The awesome newcomer, Honeyprose. I hope that you enjoy it!
"I don't care! You're just a stupid, selfish moron, and I hope I never see you ever again!"
And with that, I knew it was time to go. It would be quite a while before I'd be welcome in Mineral Town again...
Of course, that was nearly a year and a half ago, at the end of summer. Since then, I've spent my time losing my job, alienating most of my friends, and learning the hard way just how much it hurts to hit rock bottom.
Currently, it's winter; and I'm hiding out in Forget-Me-Not Valley. It's not too far from Mineral Town, but it's far enough that I'm not constantly running into people from the area.
People who may or may not think very well of me.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not perfect. I'm human, and like everyone else I've made mistakes. Lately, I've felt like I've made more than my fair share. But a man in love is a fool, and a fool I have been of late.
Perhaps I'd better start at the beginning...
Her name is Mary, and I met her in a blacksmith's shop. I'll admit, I never expected her to be the kind of girl I'd fall for... she's a dedicated bookworm, a romantic fantasizer, and almost always lost in her own world. In contrast, I tend more towards outdoor living, oft-harsh practicality, and as much of the real world as I've ever been able to find of it. I've lived a pretty interesting life at times, but I've never really thought about telling stories about it. It just isn't my style.
And yet... we seemed to run into each other all the time. At first, it was just in passing. I work on the beach, and her library is just off the beach, so maybe that much was normal.
I don't think it was so normal when I was finding myself chatting with her in the library though... or when she came by for a limeade well after I'd closed up shop for the day... or when I found myself invited over to her house for dinner...
Honestly? I thought we had it pretty good. Even when I'd gone off after that first summer, we'd send each other letters, and when I came back... it was almost as if I'd never left.
Unfortunately, I was just dumb enough to screw it all up.
Now, let me tell you about a man named Jack...
Jack's a farmer in Mineral Town; a stand-up guy, really. Honest, hard-working, and tougher than I could ever hope to be. From what I heard after he moved in, he took on that old farm on his own, and pushed himself to the limit to revive it.
He was still getting started when I first met him, but even then I could tell that he'd succeed. Jack had plans, dreams, and all the drive he needed to make them a reality.
And maybe if he hadn't asked me whether Mary was cute or not, we could've been really good friends.
I don't want to dwell on exactly what I said or did after that, but in the weeks following that innocuous question, I pretty much made an ass of myself. It doesn't take a genius to see it, but it took a certain cute librarian acting unusually fierce towards me to shut me down at last.
"You're just a stupid, selfish moron, and I hope I never see you ever again!"
Those were the last words she said to me, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive myself for the actions that led to her saying them.
From there, things took a sharp turn for the worse. It took me a long time to get out of the hole I'd dug myself into, and after a while I just hit rock bottom.
But you know what? Once you hit rock bottom, the only way left to go is up. I never used to believe that, but maybe it's just something you have to learn from experience.
Ob la di, Ob la da, life goes on. And after a year and a half, I'm finally back to a point where I can be proud of who I am again. I've got a decent job for decent people, and I'm saving up to open a new version of my Snack Shack on the local beach. I can talk, think, and act without constantly worrying about making an ass of myself, and the people around here are good folk who accept me for who I am.
But sometimes, I'll admit... I still miss her. And right now, I'm missing her more than usual.
I guess the holidays have that effect on everyone...
"Kai, I'm not going to make you work on the Starry Night Festival, you know!"
I tried to talk Ruby out of it, telling her that I had nothing better to do tonight anyway, but she wouldn't hear it.
"I know you're working hard to rebuild that little business of yours, but you deserve a break!"
I wanted to tell her that the last thing I wanted was time off right now, but she still wouldn't listen, instead picking up a rather ornate envelope from my dresser.
"Lumina seemed rather insistent when she gave you this invitation, too..."
I simply shook my head. The only thing worse than spending tonight alone would've been spending it at Romana's Starry Night party; being surrounded by half the couples in town like that could only leave me feeling depressed.
"If it's alright with you, Ruby, I'd rather just spend tonight on my own."
My caretaker, employer, and investor sighed, but didn't press the matter any further. And so, I spent my Starry Night in the company of a bottle, a ceremonial mask from who-knows-where, and my regrets.
When I finally drifted off, I hoped that next year would be a little better.
The next morning, it was my turn to do lunch. For me, lunch was a fun time to work, mostly because Ruby let me play with the menu a little when I'm working that shift.
But even if she didn't, the regular menu's full of things I've tried and liked on my own travels. Ruby has some really good taste for cuisine.
I saw to the usuals of course; Griffin, Muffy, Rock... but when I took their orders, I found someone else waiting at the counter.
Someone I once knew quite well.
"I'd like a strawberry-kiwi limeade, an order of red curry, and an explanation for why you ignored my invitation last night," Mary said, with a finality I'd learned to fear from her.
"The order I can deal with now," I replied, "but the explanation will have to wait until the end of my shift."
Mary folded her arms, nodded, and I went off to prepare her order.
Something tells me that the lunch shift is just going to drag on today...
"Starry Night with Jim Beam, huh? Real classy, Kai."
A loud crash sounded as Mary threw my friend of the evening before back into the trash can. As the bottle shattered, I felt myself wince.
"It's not something I'm proud of," I replied.
"I should hope not. Now," she sat down, and glared at me again, "could you please tell me why you refused the invitation I asked Lumina to send you?"
I sat down on the bed, took a deep breath, and gave her the full answer.
"I didn't want to be the only single person there. I thought that spending my evening locked in my room and getting drunk would be marginally more tolerable, so that's exactly what I did."
Mary nodded, and moved over to sit next to me on the bed.
"Oddly enough, it was more-or-less the same thing that had me spending the night at Romana's. Everyone else in Mineral Town has someone special this time of year, and I didn't want to be stuck looking for a haven from the 'happy relationship glow.'"
I chuckled bitterly.
"Fat lot of good that did, huh?"
"Yeah. I'll admit, you weren't the only one hiding somewhere with a bottle last night. Sebastian makes some very good wassail, though. Much better than my mother's..."
I sighed, and decided to go for it. Nowhere to go but up, right?
"I missed you yesterday."
She leaned against me, and said she'd missed me too.
"I was a real jerk to Jack."
"It's alright, he's forgiven you for it."
Mary nodded, her hair nuzzling against my cheek as she did so.
"Apparently he had a similar problem before he'd shown up in Mineral Town. He doesn't like to talk about it much, but I get the feeling that Popuri's helped him learn to forgive himself for it."
I laughed, in spite of myself.
"Jack, the guy who built a successful farm from absolutely nothing-"
"-Is just as human as you are, Kai. In some ways, more so. Besides, you've seen things he'd never imagine! You've faced off against pirates-"
"-who robbed me blind at gunpoint..."
"You've been to a dozen different countries-"
"-in most cases, never leaving the boat."
Mary put her finger against my lips, effectively telling me to be silent.
"And you've blown into a young small-town girl's life, swept her off her feet, and spoiled her for anyone else. And don't even try to argue that point, Kai, because I've missed you, damn it! Your cheap jokes, your easy-going demeanor... hell, I've missed those silly limeades of yours! So will you please just stop worrying about apologies and kiss me?"
For a few moments, I just sat there, stunned by my friend's tirade. Then I smirked, and found myself right where I'd been a year and a half ago; before the mess that had ended it.
"You know, I've only heard you curse twice now..."
A reflection of my smile appeared on Mary's face as she came up with her own reply.
"What can I say? You bring out the worst in me."
"I'm kind of hurt to lose out to my strawberry-kiwi limeades..."
"Don't worry; your fate will be far more pleasant."
And with that, she tackled me; and before I know it, we're demonstrating exactly how much we've missed each other...
I proposed to Mary on New Year's, and we were married shortly afterwards. There are still a few people who've never quite forgiven me for that summer, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much of Mineral Town was willing to accept my redemption.
It's summer now. I'll still go back to work at the Inner Inn during the winter, but for now I've managed to get my Snack Shack back up and running. In fact, I'm currently planning on turning it into a franchise; and I'm rather overwhelmed by the old friends who want to help me out with that.
Guess I didn't alienate them after all...
You know, I used to take a pretty harsh view on making mistakes. People were unforgiving, untrusting, and unwilling to understand in my eyes. Once I'd screwed up, I thought, that was it. The only honorable option that remained was to disappear.
But as I sit down in my wife's library, watching her struggle between which publisher she wants to send her newly completed story to, what her next story's going to be about, and what color we should paint the nursery in our new house... I begin to see just how wrong I was.
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has their failings. But as long as they're willing to try, as long as they truly wish to improve themselves... then it's never too late.
Regrets lead to repentance, and repentance leads to redemption. Listen to my story, and try not to forget the lesson it imparts.
And to whoever gave me the chance to try again, thank you.