It's the second day of spring when he meets her for the second time.
The day starts like any other Tuesday, some work at the blacksmith shop followed by a stroll to the library. Gray silently wonders what book to read next as each step he takes brings him closer to his destination. It's been a few years since he's moved to the town and he finds it incredibly stifling. Every day is the same and nothing ever changes.
While his thoughts of boredom consume him, a flash of blond hair catches his eye and he immediately freezes in his tracks like a deer in the headlights. He thinks to himself, there's no way it can be her, but when he turns his head to the right he sees her pass him by with a faint smell of lavender and she doesn't notice how she makes him sweat.
the beginning after the end
It isn't until the Spring Goddess Festival six days later when they get a chance to converse. At exactly twenty after ten she enters the town square, apologizing to Mayor Thomas for being late. The middle-aged man merely smiles and dismisses her polite behavior. She walks around introducing herself to the other townsfolk before choosing to stand right beside Gray. She turns to him slowly and gives him one of her brilliant smiles he knows she's capable of.
"Hi there!" She says without missing a beat. She then waits for a reply.
He stares back at her nervously not knowing what to say. Part of him is crushed that she doesn't remember him, but the other part of him is strangely relieved. Instead of introducing himself, he grabs a hold of the bill of his UMA baseball cap and pulls it down ever so slightly.
"Uh...hey." Is the best he can muster on such short notice and he wishes he had something better to say. His response makes her tilt her head in confusion, but she's politer than he remembers because she overlooks his strange behavior.
When it's time for the girls to dance he's reminded how energetic she is and in some strange way it's like she never left in the first place.
Claire runs as fast as her little legs can carry her towards the blacksmith shop. She carelessly swings the door open and interrupts the important lesson Saibara is giving. Gray doesn't mind this at all. Seeing this, Claire excuses herself but Saibara understands and excuses Gray for the day. Once they're outside she finally asks, "Gray! Are you going to the Spring Goddess Festival tomorrow?"
He thinks for a moment. "Huh? Oh that...I don't know, are you going?"
"Yeah!" She says without hesitation. "I've been looking forward to it all year! Mom said the girls get to wear dresses and dance around. I want to dance too!"
He finds her excitement is refreshing, but he'll never let her know. Instead he looks at her with a dead-pan expression and breaks the news to her. "I think only grown-ups get to dance..."
"Aww! Well then I want to be grown up!" She says, pouting her cheeks. "I don't want to be a kid..."
"What are you talking about?" He asks, looking at her quizzically. "Being a kid is great."
She shakes her head violently causing her short blond locks to swing from side to side. "Nu uh! If you're a grown up you get to do lots of things! Like eat ice cream whenever you want and-and stay up really late. You don't have to worry about school and you can get married."
"What's so great about being married?" He sighs. "You have to worry about grown up problems like cleanin' and cookin'..."
"But if you're married you get to spend your whole life with your best friend!" She says, beaming. "I hope you're still my best friend when we grow up!"
He opens his mouth to retaliate, but then his mind starts to wander too far. He has trouble looking at her when his face turns beet red and he realizes that he wishes he was grown up too so just maybe he could spend his life with her.
The Thanksgiving Festival is spent solemnly. Gray leaves the shop only once to catch a breath of air and upon stepping out, he glances towards her farm and stretches innocently. The stretch is followed by a walk to the supermarket and the chocolate in the store tugs on his heartstrings. As much as he wants to give Claire something—anything, he can't. She doesn't remember him and that's that. Hell, he didn't even tell her his name.
Then he realizes without the history between them, he's just some creep sending her chocolate days after meeting.
She visits him at the blacksmith shop for the one hundred and twelfth time four days later. When the door swings open, he accidentally drops the hammer he was working on, causing his grandpa to yell at him. His focus isn't on the ear-splitting lecture he's getting, but instead the girl that he's been in love with since he can remember.
She's about to introduce herself to his grandpa but he soon interjects explaining that she doesn't need one and how he remembers who she is. Gray begins to sweat again and he's sure she just might remember who he is, but when his grandpa goes on giving his condolences about her parents he figures that's not going to happen. During the small pleasantries Saibara manages to use a clever segue to start talking about the weather they've been having and all those other trivial things people talk about when they don't know what to say.
Even though he should be more worried about the toe he possibly smashed, he can't tear his eyes away from her.
Gray looks to the clock on the wall and thinks to himself, 'it's almost time'. Exactly like clockwork the inn bell jingles and he thinks to himself, 'she's here'.
"Hi Gray!" Claire shouts loudly. Her bright and cheery voice sounds like music to his ears.
He tilts his head downwards, wishing he had some sort of hat to hide behind. "Hi..."
"Grandpa Saibara! Can Gray come out and play today?"
Saibara looks at her with a small smile. "Only after he eats his lunch."
She smiles wide, exposing the empty space a tooth is supposed to occupy. "Okay!" She then turns to leave, but is stopped by a question.
"Did you want to join us?"
Gray is somewhat surprised his grandpa invites her to eat with him. He tries to act cool as he watches her from the corner of his eye but when she pulls out a chair to join him he loses face. His heart starts beating in his chest and it's an odd feeling that he doesn't really like. He watches as she rocks from one side of the chair to another, happily sipping her chocolate milk through a bendy straw. She tells him stories about how she watched her parents go fishing off the pier and how she got to pet a cow at old man Barley's farm.
Normally he would be annoyed that someone could talk this much in one breath, but when she asks if he'd like to go play at the beach he of course says yes. As soon as the last bite is taken, they rush out of the inn and head straight to the beach. Gray walks out of the inn and she tags behind him closely. Upon reaching the town square, Gray stops short. In front of him is a boy with short orange hair and a green shirt. His pants are dirty with bird feed and there are some noticeable feathers stuck on his clothes.
"Look who it is! Claire and Gray, sitting in a tree!" He sings mockingly.
"Cut it out, Rick! Or else—" Gray shouts angrily.
Rick ignores the potential threat. "K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"
Almost instantly, Gray runs after him and pushes him. To his dismay this barely moves him and only causes Rick to stumble slightly. Rick retaliates by pushing him back and this creates some sort of shoving war. While amongst the chaos, Popuri peeks over her brother's shoulder and walks toward Claire. "Say Claire, do you like Gray?" She asks curiously.
Gray's attention instantly shoots towards the pink-haired girl. "I said leave her alone!"
Amongst all the shoving still going on his eyes land on Claire and sees her staring back. He waits for her to say something, but the flush in her cheeks says enough.
This gets him especially angry and he can hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears, so he grabs her hand in hers and pulls her along.
The end of summer fireworks display is fast approaching and Gray still hasn't worked up the courage to invite her. He paces back and forth in front of her farm and when the clock strikes fourteen he decides it's now or never.
When he enters he sees her tending to some plants. She doesn't seem to notice him, so he watches in silence as she finishes watering a patch of tomatoes then turns to the Pink Cat flowers in the next patch over. She carefully tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and leans in. The watering can she's holding is light pink with a large daisy on it and he realizes everything about the scene is terribly girly.
He approaches her slowly and when she catches sight of him she smiles wide and greets him. His heart is racing a mile a minute and it feels like everything is getting fuzzy. Gray manages to push past this and finally ask her if she'd like to watch the display with him.
She smiles and nods her head.
The fireworks display was never one of Gray's favorite festivals since moving to Mineral Town, but with Claire by his side he feels like everything's alright.
The moment the sky begins to light up with colors he turns his attention to her and watches as her eyes light up with amazement. He doesn't know what to talk about so instead he goes on about how the fireworks are set up so they display properly.
Polite as always, Claire says she's impressed by his knowledge and smiles. It's this precise moment that Gray chooses to lean his head in. At first her eyes are wide and curious, as she wonders if he's really going to do what she thinks he is. Then as the last firework explosion sounds, she closes her eyes and waits. And when everything is so simple and easy...
He doesn't contemplate telling her who he actually is until the leaves start falling. The air is always chilly in the morning but he likes how it feels when he takes deep breaths. After some deep contemplation he decides he should tell her who he is before he falls completely in love with her, even though he knows it's way too late for that.
He invites her out on the first Friday of the season to watch some fireflies in the field behind the church. He watches her stare in awe at the bright lights dancing around them and when he catches her smile he's taken back to a time years ago when they stood in the same exact spot.
"It's so pretty!" She shouts louder than she should, but Gray doesn't mind this and in fact it's one of the things he likes about her.
Having more than her fill of it, Claire turns to him with a smile that gives him butterflies. He can't tell if it's been seconds or hours but it's getting dark outside so he figures they should get going. She looks at him before she protests, but sees the pink and orange sky and agrees. More moments pass and when the trees start to look the same he gets a bit worried.
"Are we lost?" She asks. Her hands are clasping her thin arms and it's apparent to Gray she's getting colder as each moment passes.
He doesn't want to give in and admit he's wrong, so he tries to stay strong. "Nah. I know my way around here."
Before he knows it the sky is purple and they're nowhere near home. It's getting really cold now and she's starting to lag behind. She wants to rest, but he's afraid they'll never get back home.
Flash-forward and it's nowadays again. Claire looks at him with her bright blue eyes and a piece of him gets lost in her.
He contemplates taking her hand in his for a brief moment, but the moment passes and he's surprised when he feels her palm and her fingers link around his. His mind instantly goes blank and he feels nothing but the burning of his own cheeks. He opens his mouth to say something clever, but the smile on her face speaks for him. Her eyelashes flutter down as his face approaches hers and the light of fireflies she looks like a goddess.
The kiss is magical to say the least and everything just clicks when their lips touch. It's like for once in his life everything is perfect and nothing is wrong. His heart beat thuds rapidly and the tingling feeling in his stomach is new and unexpected. He figures he doesn't really like it cause it's discerning and makes him curl his toes, but the way she breathes into him reassures him otherwise.
Once the kiss ends he figures now is a good time as any to tell her who he is, so he lets go of her hand and looks her straight in the eye.
"Uh...Claire. Actually, I remember who you are." When she doesn't respond in the slightest he decides to continue speaking. "Before I moved here I used to visit with my parents...Then I remember one year I met you."
And all she does hold his hand tighter, smile and say, "I remember you too."