Author's Note: My entry for the Village Square forum's contest theme Bravery. Sorry for the length, but it was kind of a mad dash to get this finished. Not really looking to win with this one, but hey, if it gets me back into my groove, then it's still a win.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harvest Moon nor its characters.

-/-

Under the Mask

"I can't stand nights like this."

He raised an eyebrow as the woman pushed back her stool, the legs digging into the hardwood floor while she did so, but he only shook his head and smiled. She was always impatient when it came to opening up for business, but it was even worse when there were no customers. Not that he could blame them since the weather was so bad. Still, tsunami or not, he would be ready for any passerby that might need shelter from the storm and a drink for comfort.

"Oh?" he chuckled, picking up his rag from the counter and returning to cleaning the shelves. "Well, at least we have time to take care of some things. Can't remember when I last took down these bottles and cleaned under there..."

"Does it really matter?" she sighed. When she started to pout, he couldn't help noticing how it made her bright red lips look all the more full. Not to mention it made them even more inviting. "It's not like anyone's gonna know you cleaned the place."

"Maybe not," he replied, "but at least I'll know I did." The man held the amber bottle to the light, his smile only growing as the glass reflected back onto his face, but he said nothing more about it. He was a modest man if nothing else. Of course he wanted his bar to look its best, but really, when it came right down to it, there was very little he had to do. After all, it was small and most of what was there had never been in the best condition... and that included himself as well.

As always, his dusty brown hair was swept over to the side, and his mustache was brushed down and trimmed neatly beneath his nose. He was wearing his favorite jeans, worn to the point that small holes now littered his legs and even the seat of his pants, and he still wore the same old shirt and boots. He had other clothes as well, of course, but he never thought to wear them.

She, on the other hand, has an ageless glamour. From her ruby stained lips to her black suede pumps and bleach blonde hair, she was the small town's very own starlet. Her satin dress was sultry, the fabric clinging to her every curve, but while the cut was low, she had more than enough class to wear a blue knit shrug over her bare and narrow shoulders. What always caught the most attention, though, were her eyes. Two emeralds set in a porcelain face.

"Hey, Griffin?" He blinked, the bottle in his hand almost slipping out and onto the floor, but his grip remained firm. "Is it okay if I call it a night? Even if anyone shows up, I'd just end up standing here doing nothing."

"It's all right, Muffy," he agreed. "You can go on back if you want to."

The woman simply nodded, a bright smile lighting up her face, but he didn't so much as blush as she planted a kiss on his cheek. After all, it wasn't the first time she had treated him in such a way, and he was sure it wouldn't be the last. Not when she was such an affection person to everyone.

As for him, he never really got all that close to people. It wasn't because he didn't want to, but rather, it seemed he was completely unaware that there was any distance to begin with. He never said more than what was necessary, and he never let them see him as anything more than a simple bartender. Sure, he knew to smile and how to make conversation, but when it came right down to it, there still was a wall between himself and his customers.

It was almost as if he was a secret in and of himself.

With three more hours having past without a single customer to serve and a bar that had been cleaned from top to bottom, Griffin then backed away from the counter and made his way towards the back door. He paused briefly to turn out the light, and then, after glancing towards the guitar beside his bed, he shut the door behind him with a soft click. It was all a part of his routine, yet when he looked to his bed again, he found himself drawn towards the instrument that had been left to lay there.

After pausing for a moment, however, he soon came to reach down and pick up his old, neglected friend. Although it had been left all but forgotten for so long, he was surprised to find that the guitar was warm to the touch. Almost as if someone had held it not too long before. For a brief instant, he glanced up towards the small ladder that lead to the hatch above him, but all he heard was a muffled song being played by a radio. It was soft and sweet, but while he thought it was familiar, he couldn't quite name it. Even so, he was sure he could play along... if only to refresh his memory.

"Griffin? Is that you?" He all but leapt from his bed as the woman poked her head through the narrow opening above him, but he was quick to offer her a reassuring smile. However, the smile was soon gone when he realized what he was seeing. "Did I scare you?"

Even with all their years of having known one another, he was sure he had never seen her as she was right then. She was dressed in nothing more than a silk bathroom which she clutched to her breasts in an attempt to cover herself, and her hair was spun in pink curlers. Not only that, but her face was unusually bare. There was no mascara, no powder, no blush...

There was only Muffy.

"It's me," he assured her with a weak laugh. "You really do have a good ear, you know. I wasn't even playing that loud."

"Yeah, but I still can't sing," she reminded him with a laugh of her own. If he had been surprised at first when he saw her, the feeling was gone. Instead it was replaced by another that Griffin wasn't so sure he could explain. All he knew was that it was warm, and for the time being, that was all he needed to know. "What'cha doing down here? Going to sing me a lullaby?"

"Not exactly," he replied. "Unless you want me to, that is." When she shook her head and giggled, he smiled and plucked out a note. "I was actually thinking about playing tomorrow. You know... at the bar?"

"Really?" He almost laughed again to hear the excitement in her voice, but he decided it was better just to nod. "That's wonderful! Do you know what you're going to play yet?" He only shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, that doesn't matter, I guess. You can play anything."

It was then that he looked up at her, and when he did, he found himself at a loss for words. He had always wondered just why it was that Muffy never left her room without her face on, but looking at her then, he realized that there was no reason for her to. She was even more beautiful without it. Her skin was clear, and her lips a rosy pink. Not only that, but without all the make-up around her eyes, they were even more alluring. Beckoning him like a moth to a jade like flame.

"Is something wrong?" she asked, her brows knitting together slightly over the bridge of her nose. A dainty nose he never noticed before. "Are you not going to play now?"

"No, it isn't that," he assured her. When she questioned him further with her eyes, though, he only continued to offer her a small, almost childish grin. "I was just thinking that I might try and play a love song is all."