A.N.: To set a time frame for this story: it is somewhere between eight and ten years before the main story. Micah, Raven, Daria, and Pia have yet to arrive in town, Monica has not been born yet, and Shara's parents (here called Dustin and Lena) are still around.
So, what did happen the time that Blaise "had a glass of wine at a party"?
Sherman's opposite-speak is not in bold. :)
New Year's Eve was always a merry affair in Sharance, especially when spent at Sherman's mansion. The entire town had been treated to a lavish feast, catered, of course, by Blaise. Now, as time shifted into the ten o'clock hour, the children were upstairs in Sofia's room, under the watch of Carmen, the eldest, as they played and tried valiantly to stay awake until the coveted time of midnight. The adults were still in the dining room, enjoying each other's company.
Sherman sat at the head of the table, speaking animatedly with Blaise at his right and Carlos at his left between mouthfuls. Next to Blaise sat Dustin, one arm around his wife, Lena, whose hands stroked her very pregnant belly as she talked to Marjorie, across the table from her, about the medicine the witch had prescribed for her. Shino sat with Marjorie on her right and Hazel on her left, chatting with the other single mother and with Wells, who sat across from the general store owner. Gaius sat at the far end, mostly listening and not offering much addition to any conversation.
The rotund host got to his feet, picking up a large bottle of wine.
"Let us make toasts of bad tidings for the new year!" he said, uncorking the bottle and pouring himself a large glass before passing it to Blaise.
The chef shook his head. "You know me, Sherman," he said, handing the bottle over to Dustin. "I don't drink."
"Oh, come now, Blaise!" Wells said. "It's New Year's, and this is a party. Just this once?"
The others made remarks of encouragement. Dustin held the bottle out towards Blaise, who hesitated, but then smiled and shrugged.
"All right," he said, taking the bottle. "But just this once!"
"There's a bad fellow!" Sherman laughed as Blaise poured the wine into his glass and passed the bottle on.
"I'm not sure which way to agree with you," Blaise replied.
The bottle quickly made its way around the table, and once everyone (except for Lena, who didn't want any possible harm to come to her unborn second child) was served, all raised their glasses high.
"To a year of misfortunes and disgusting dishes!" Sherman began. "And also to my repulsive daughters: Sofia, upstairs, and Evelyn, up to no good in the city!
"To hard work…" Hazel said.
"…and to the fruits of labor," Shino finished for her.
"To the year that I finally catch the King Fish!" Carlos added, drawing laughter from the others.
"To a year of health," said Marjorie, still chuckling.
"To friends, both old and new," said Gaius.
"And to family," Dustin said, with a fond glance at his wife. "To growing families."
"To all of the children," Wells said with a smile. "May they grow to see the Sharance flowers blossom."
Everyone was looking at Blaise now, who had yet to make a toast.
"To all of you," he said, tilting his glass towards each person at the table as he spoke. "To Sherman, for getting me to come here in the first place, and to everyone else. This past year…you've made my kids and me feel so welcome. Thank you."
With that, he tilted his glass towards himself and gulped down the wine. The others did the same.
"There!" said Sherman, setting his glass down on the table and giving Blaise a friendly slap on the back. "That wasn't so good, now was it?"
But a funny look had come across the chef's face, something like a goofy, listless grin, and he leaned back in his chair, staring past Carlos and off into the distance.
"Um, Blaise?" said the fisherman, waving a hand in front of his face. "Hello…?"
There was no response.
"Did he just get smashed after one glass?" Lena whispered to her husband, who shrugged, frowning slightly.
Suddenly, Blaise stood up, knocking his chair over in his haste.
"What a grand affair!" he exclaimed, throwing back his head, tossing his long, dark hair and laughing heartily. "Good tidings for all! Shall we feast until the dawn, aye? Jolly good!"
"Jolly…good?" Hazel muttered. Expressions of varying levels of discomfort and amusement marked the faces up and down the table. Most simply didn't know whether to worry or laugh.
"Now, see here, Blaise," Wells began.
"Enough chatter, lively though it is!" Blaise cut him off, crossing behind Dustin and Lena to clap his hands on the mayor's shoulders. "This is a time for festivity! For fine dining and merriment! For—"
He broke off suddenly, his eyes going wide as he stared across the table.
"Good Lord," he gasped, his voice little more than a whisper now. "It is she!"
Evidently deciding that walking around the table would take too long, he hopped up onto it, kicking used dishes and utensils out of the way as he crossed. Wells, Lena, and Gaius leaned away from errant tableware as Blaise climbed down again, right next to Shino.
"Fair lady…" Blaise whispered, reaching out until his fingertips were inches from her cheek, which was turning a light shade of pink. "Sweet Shinonome… Thy name is the most beautiful sound in all the world…"
"S-Stop it, Blaise!" Shino stammered, reaching up to push his hand away. His fingers wrapped around her wrist, and he pulled her from her seat.
At once, several of the men got up with the intent of coming to the innkeeper's assistance, but Blaise snatched up a knife from the table and backed away, holding Shino close at his side.
"Fear not, my fair maiden!" he proclaimed, brandishing the knife and swinging it about. "I shall protect thee from these infidels. Be seated, good lads!"
The others hesitated, but sat down again. Wells glanced in the direction of the foyer, hoping that none of the children were witness to this turn of events.
"Much better," said Blaise, his voice slurring slightly. "Much…better…"
Shino glanced up, and her eyes met Hazel's. Her friend looked very worried for her. The innkeeper tensed.
Suddenly, Blaise had been flipped up over Shino's back, and she'd grabbed the knife out of his hand before he hit the floor. Shino tossed the knife over to Gaius, who caught it by the handle and set it back down on the table.
Blaise rolled over, trying to get back to his feet and failing. Shino placed her hands under his arms and helped him up, checking to make sure that she hadn't hurt him. Her intent had only been to disarm, and he wasn't in a normal state of mind, regardless…
…and now his deep brown eyes were gazing into her own, and although common sense told her to turn away and maybe try to get him to sit down again or otherwise restrained, she stayed put.
"Shinonome…" Blaise said again. "Can't you see them?"
"See what, Blaise?" the innkeeper asked.
"The stars," Blaise said, pointing towards the ceiling. "There, and there… They shine like no other stars in the sky. Tonight they have come out, to dance in their celestial ballroom."
He reached out towards her once again, and this time she let him stroke her cheek.
"You, my dear, sweet Shinonome, are, too, a star," he said. "A heavenly being of radiance and charm, perfect in every way; even where the light does not shine and gives its way to darkness—where you are seemingly flawed, still you are perfect."
No one else dared to speak. They just watched as he withdrew his hand from her face, which looked like it had permanently acquired its pinkish hue, and held both of his hands out, palms-upward.
"Might my lady join me, and we shall dance among the stars?"
Shino nodded wordlessly. A wide, dreamy smile spread across Blaise's face, and then he placed his left hand on her waist, took her left hand in his right, and began to dance to music that only he could hear. The duo swept around the room; they dipped, they twirled. The clock struck eleven, and still they danced on…
As they passed the dining table once again, several of the observers noticed that Shino, too, was smiling, and a few wondered just how much of her actions were simply for the purpose of humoring the drunken chef.
Gradually, the dancers slowed until they were just standing still and gazing into each other's eyes. Blaise sighed, and then he suddenly fell to the floor.
Shino knelt by his side and placed a hand on his forehead.
"He's asleep," she said. "Out cold."
The innkeeper stood and took a few steps away from the sleeping chef, facing away from the table. There was a long silence.
Carlos stood. "I, uh… I guess I'll take him home, then. I'll be back for Carmen, and midnight."
The others nodded, and the fisherman approached Blaise and lifted him to a leaning position with which to help him outside. Before he left the room, Shino turned around sharply.
"We never speak of this again," she said to the other adults. "Especially not to the children. Is that clear?"
Everyone nodded again, including Carlos, who elbowed the door open and stepped out into the snowy night, dragging Blaise along with him.
"Well, said Sherman. "That was very…normal."
"You can say that again…" Wells muttered.
Marjorie leaned back in her chair. "Happy New Year, all," she chuckled. "Now, I wonder how many of the youngsters are still awake?"
A.N.: What would one call such a pairing, anyway? Blino, or Shaise?