A/N: Um, hi there! I'm completely new to this fandom and to writing for it! So... please go easy on me! (And please, Princess Tutu fans, don't hurt me. I know I have tons of unfinished PT projects.) Anyway, I have been inspired to explore the relationship between Chase and Molly/Hikari in HM: Animal Parade. And thus I'm going to make my attempt at it! I hope you will enjoy, especially if you are a fan of them.
Summary: Molly has always felt a little intimidated by Chase, but once her farm wears thin in the winter season, she finds herself taking advice to look for extra work. And little does she know that a part-time job at the Brass Bar might just change everything. CxM
Notes: I'm taking this from the point of Year 1, Winter season, with 4 bells rung (red, yellow, blue, and green), minus Edge's purple bell.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harvest Moon: Animal Parade or any of its characters or locations or basic plot. They belong to Natsume and all the game's creators.
Burnt Around the Edges
Chapter 1: Opportunity Strikes
The winter season on Castanet Island settled in with the grace and subtlety of an avalanche. It took only one night before the lands were completely covered in a downfall of frigid snow that fell over the island like a white blanket. How quickly the change took place was almost a marvel.
The new rancher, Molly, peered out of the frosted window of her small and rundown home just off the edge of Harmonica Town with worry swimming in the depths of her golden-brown eyes. From what she could see into the farm yard and plot beyond the house, the last of her autumn crops were frozen solid - stalks and stems stiff and snow-laden, swaying rigidly with the cold wind.
She had not been prepared for this.
Yes, seasonal changes were definitely something that farmers had to be aware of, but the brunette newcomer thought she still had time. And she hadn't expected the change to happen so quickly!
'Mom said you weren't ready', her mind seemed to taunt her. 'Angela didn't think so, either. And now look at what you've gotten yourself into.'
Nibbling on her bottom lip, she let her gaze travel over to the barn and the coop off to the left, the feeling of anxious unease spreading inside of her like a balloon. Would the livestock be alright? She hadn't made enough money in her first three seasons to afford remodeling at all - and everything on the ranch needed carpentry work.
Getting outdoors and tending to the animals came first, though. She could worry about the roof of her house and the barn and the faulty door on the chicken coop later. Hungry animals should never be kept waiting! They would be almost her sole source of income now for the winter season.
And besides... Luci and Seffie were her friends!
Pulling back from the window with a small sigh, Molly cast her dresser drawers a woeful glance. She wasn't exactly ready for winter in terms of clothes, either. There was one outfit she had been able to purchase from Sonata Tailoring for the autumn season, though. And it would definitely keep her warmer than her typical bright ensemble for spring and summer. If only she'd thought to save up for one of those knit caps...
In her first few seasons of new life as a rancher, she had done poorly. Molly didn't like to dwell on it - keep your head up and think positive! There's nothing that hard work won't pay off for in the end! - but it was a fact, nonetheless. She wasn't in any hurry to write to her mother and older sister to report her poor sales and failure to get many crops to grow. They would worry about her and likely try to urge her to come straight back home and wait a little longer to follow her dreams.
However, Molly just wasn't willing to put her life on standstill. She might have been the younger sister and didn't have the influence of a father growing up, but that didn't mean that she was weak, either. And she was here to prove that, wasn't she? Her mother had enough to worry about and Angela was saving up for college - schooling further was out of the question for the both of them, but she wanted her sister to be able to receive and afford the training she needed to become a nurse.
At home, Molly felt like a burden. Getting a job in the city hadn't worked out very well and just helping her mother with daily household chores and things didn't feel like enough.
If she became a great farmer, then she could easily spare cash and goods and send them home and be an asset to the family, instead of just being underfoot and relatively useless. That's what Molly wanted more than anything - to help and support her family. And independence was a new world in itself - it was exciting, too. She had already made it this far, and after this season, it would be her first full year as a rancher, even if she didn't have a lot to show for it.
Everyone had to start somewhere, though, and the brunette reminded herself of that to pump her motivation up a notch or two. So winter came in with blast, so what? Her farm survived the hurricane in summer - now was just another test of her endurance!
Eyes set with determination, she changed into her autumn attire and donned her trusty work gloves, ready to brave the cold and-
"MOLLY MOLLY MOLLY MOLLLLLLLLLLLYYYYYYY!"
With a shout of surprise from the sudden shrill voice right in her face, she fell backward onto her bottom, wide eyes looking back up at the floating form of the little Harvest Sprite she had come to know as Finn.
"W-What's the matter, Finn?"
"Molly! Molly! Everything's frozen! We should hurry to the Harvest Goddess and make sure-"
"Calm down, Finn!" the female interrupted swiftly. "I-I still have more chores and I have to take care of the animals and - and I already know what we need to do next! Edge told us, right?"
The fairy-like being was still hovering apprehensively, his little orange hat bobbing with his apparent worry. "Yeah... but it's never gotten this cold before, Molly! And - and so fast! We have to hurry and restore the purple bell so the island can hear its melody and we can summon the Harvest God!"
Molly felt a small stab of guilt with his words. To be honest, though she had gotten the other four bells rung as quickly as she could manage, the last bell...
Gathering people's wishes was not exactly an easy task. It might have sounded simple to the ears, but no one confided their deepest heart's desires to someone who was almost a stranger. That meant that she needed to befriend the townspeople just as the Harvest Goddess said, but... it really was easier said than done.
Angela was the outgoing one of the two sisters. Molly couldn't say that she was terribly gifted with making friends. Her sister said that she was too much of a doormat and had to stand up for herself and express her opinions more, but it was just easier for her to nod and listen than it was to take active part in conversations.
That wasn't to say that Castanet was full of anti-social people, though. On the contrary, Molly liked to believe that she was on good terms with a number of people in Harmonica Town, Flute Fields, and the Garmon Mine district. She was always careful to be as polite as possible when purchasing goods and the like.
How to deepen connections, however... that was a mystery to her. Growing up, she had more or less stuck to Angela like glue. If she was bullied or picked on, it was the older sister who would step in and tell off the bullies. And it was Angela's friends that Molly would play with, too.
"MOLLYYYY! YOU'RE NOT LISTENING TO ME AGAIN!"
Snapping out of her thoughts, the young woman smiled apologetically at her flailing sprite friend. "I'm sorry, Finn. I was just thinking... thinking about ways to hear more wishes!"
Well, that was sort of true, anyway...
"Really?" That seemed to cheer Finn up, as he was quickly back to his grinning self. "Great! We'll have Edge's bell rung in no time!"
"R-right," Molly agreed, with not quite as much enthusiasm. She quickly formed a wider smile, hoping to keep the little guy from spazzing out again. "So don't worry, okay? I won't forget about it. I know how important it is to get the bells rung."
"That's the spirit, Molly! The Harvest Goddess - and the whole island's future - is counting on you!"
It was a struggle for her not to wince at that. Responsibility... how did Angela deal with so much of it growing up? The pressure was pretty suffocating.
She wouldn't let that get her down, though. Deciding she had wasted enough time with her head in the clouds already, Molly offered the sprite a determined nod before she hopped back up to her feet. Working on a farm really gave her much-needed strength in her body, which she was more than glad for. Jumping up like that took a lot less stamina than it used to.
Just before reaching the door, she turned back to look at the sprite from over her shoulder. "I'm going to go out to the barn and the coop, Finn. And then I'm going to take a trip into town. Keep an eye on things here, okay?"
"I sure will!" Finn readily responded, pumping a tiny fist into the air. "You can count on me!"
Molly had to stifle a giggle. Giving him some kind of guard duty was better than the alternative, anyway. Finn didn't fancy helping to tend to the animals or hanging around them - not since Seffie swatted him with her tail once and knocked him clean out of the air. He'd complained about being dizzy for the rest of the day.
Shaking that (admittedly amusing) thought from her head, she finally pushed the front door open, exerting a bit of extra force to push the snow back that had accumulated in front of the wood outside. And the instant the cold air touched her, she had to suppress a shiver. Man, was it ever chilly! She really hoped Finn hadn't been right about the abrupt temperature change being linked to the bells and the island's health...
Befriending the townsfolk enough to hear their wishes wasn't going to happen overnight - and especially not when she had to make treks out in this kind of weather.
"Oh?" A very short and plump man with silver hair (curled rather ridiculously at the top) looked up from his desk in Town Hall as the sound reached his ears. "Come in, come in!"
The door popped open, bringing with it a frigid breeze from outside, and in walked a snow-dusted Molly, forming a smile in greeting through her chattering teeth. "H-Hello-o, Mayor Hamilton! I'm sorry to b-bother you, b-but..."
"Nonsense, nonsense!" The jovial older man waved off her concerns and beckoned her in. "Don't stand out in the cold, Miss Molly. It's much warmer in here."
Her smile widened a smidgen in gratitude as she stepped further inside and swiftly moved to close the door behind her. Mayor Hamilton walked (or perhaps waddled, was more accurate) out from behind his desk to approach the young woman, smiling from ear to ear.
"What brings you here today?"
"A-Actually, I was hoping you could give some... advice," the brunette spoke meekly, pressing two fingers together. "If you have the time, that is. I know you've helped me out a lot since I started the ranch, but..."
As she trailed off again, the mayor interjected, "And I'm always glad to be of help, I assure you! Now, what would you like to ask? Is it about festivals this month? Do you have a question about something you read in one of the books I left with you?"
"Oh, no. It's nothing like that!" she chuckled a little sheepishly. "You see, I'm not sure what to do for the winter season. I didn't um... do so well the last few seasons and there's not much that grows in winter, right?" He nodded once before she continued. "The animals are doing okay, but I really need to find another way to make some money. There's lots of repairs and things I need to do, but I just don't have enough."
Mayor Hamilton was quiet for a moment after she confessed her predicament, reaching up to scratch his chin thoughtfully. "That is a problem, isn't it... Well, I would return you the money you gave me to pay off your ranch, but I'm afraid I have already invested it."
"Oh! That's okay - that's not necessary!" Molly near-exclaimed. "I really owed it to you and I'm lucky you waited so long for me to pay it in the first place."
"Hm, have you considered looking for other work?"
Golden-brown eyes blinked once. "Eh? Other work? Aside from the farm?"
He nodded encouragingly. "Yes, yes. I'm sure there's someone out in Flute fields or right here in Harmonica Town that would be more than happy to have some extra help!"
Molly's eyes slowly widened in realization, cheekbones lifting into an energized smile. "You're right! I didn't even think of that. That's a great idea! Thanks, Mr. Hamilton!"
And she wasn't just saying that to be polite - it really was a good one! She'd been fretting so much over her farm that she didn't even consider finding work elsewhere nearby to at least hold her over for the season. And even more on fortune's side - this would definitely help with getting to know people better, too! She was sure to develop some closer relationships through co-working for and with others.
The mayor himself seemed quite pleased that his suggestion was so well-taken, the grin never fading from his own features. "You're quite welcome! If you'd like somewhere to start, why don't you try the Brass Bar? I hear that lovely Miss Kathy has been a bit stressed with waitress duties as of late. Glad though she and her father are for Miss Selena's new entertainment to add to the business, they can't convince her to help out with anything else."
And Molly could picture that, herself. Selena was very stubborn, from what little she learned about the exotic young woman through the fight with her mother on Toucan Island. If all she wanted to do was dance for the customers, no one was going to convince her to do anything else.
And if help was specifically needed at the bar, then maybe she should go straight there instead of checking around town first. The thought of stopping by Sonata Tailoring had crossed her mind, as well, but Shelley already had her two grand-daughters to assist her and as far as Molly knew, business was going well there.
...Her "farmer's hands" probably weren't cut out for delicate work with wool and thread, anyway.
Reaching both gloved hands down, Molly took one of the mayor's hands into both of hers. "I really am grateful for your help, Mr. Hamilton. I don't know where I would be without it."
The little man's cheeks tinted pink. "Ah, come off it. You'll make this old man blush. As the mayor, I'm only glad to be of service, Miss Molly. Come by any time you have questions and I'll do my best!"
Releasing his hands and standing up straight again, the brunette nodded with a cheerful smile, her mood having lifted considerably since she arose this morning. Things were definitely looking up. "I will, Mr. Hamilton! And... if there's anything I can do for you, I'd be more than happy to!"
The mayor gave a hearty chuckle. "Well, you already saved me from my chimney once! But the sentiment is appreciated, my dear."
And after a cheery departing wave to one another, Molly set back off into the cold, her new destination crystal clear now with the help of the mayor's guidance, and her spirits high.
As the door gave a jingle from the small bell above when Molly walked into the bar, she was greeted by a rather strained voice from somewhere in the bustle of activity within, "I'll be with you in just a minute! Please feel free to take a seat!"
The bar was packed.
To be honest, Molly hadn't expected the sight before her. She knew that a number of the miners and carpenters from the Garmon Mines district came here to drink in the evenings after work, but there were many new faces among the locals. From the looks of them, most had just come from work somewhere - they were wearing worn-down, dirty clothes, tough boots, and some were even wearing miner's helmets.
"Okay! So what can I get for-...Molly?"
The young woman in question waved one hand a little awkwardly, the other going behind her head as she assumed an equally awkward posture. "Hi, Kathy. Um... pretty busy tonight, huh?"
The blonde woman sighed dramatically, her long ponytail falling over her shoulder. "Gawd, you're tellin' me! Ever since those boat-loads of miners came in the last few days, we've been swamped - ah!" Realizing what she had said, Kathy raised a hand to her mouth before quickly ushering Molly toward one of the very few available tables. "But that doesn't mean you're not welcome, of course! I didn't mean it like that! I love runnin' this place with dad and-"
"It's okay! Really!" Molly assured quickly as she was escorted (or more or less pushed) to what looked like the only open table in the bar. "I'm not here to eat or drink anything, actually."
Kathy finally let go of her with that, stopping just before the intended destination. Her green eyes blinked in question. "Eh? You just droppin' by to say hi, then?"
"Well, not exactly... I just..."
Nervous habit kicking in, Molly bit down on bottom lip, averting her eyes. Was getting a job here different than it was back in the city? She briefly wondered what sort of "tests" she would have to take.
"Say no more!" Kathy suddenly announced, a mischeivous glint appearing in her eyes. "Girl-talk, right? You came to just the right person!"
"W-Well, no... I actually-"
"HEY DAD!" Kathy called over the bustle of conversation and drunken laughter, Molly wincing from the sheer volume of her voice. "I'M TAKIN' A QUICK BREAK!"
It wasn't Hayden who turned around to answer, however. Instead, from behind the counter and by the stove beyond, a disgruntled young man with unruly strawberry-blonde hair turned to face the two young women, looking every bit as stressed as Kathy was with the rush of people. "There's no time for breaks! Are you blind to the amount of waiting customers?" Scowling, he gestured in plain sight to the amount of people in the bar. "Hurry up and get her order and get back to work!"
Kathy merely rolled her eyes at the cook, hands going to her hips. "Oh, shut up, Chase. I've been doing this for hours. I deserve a break! And Molly ain't here for food or drinking!"
For the first time since she came in, the young man's purple gaze fell on Molly. A little unsure, she raised a hand to wave in greeting. She and Chase had met before, but...
The gesture wasn't returned in the slightest. Chase merely scoffed and turned back to the stove. "Then tell her to get out. This isn't time for chit-chat! We have work to do!"
"Chase!" Kathy admonished shrilly, looking every bit as angry as she sounded. "I'm not going to tell her to leave!"
"If she's not a customer, then she's taking up space for customers with you giving her a damn table," he challenged, crossing his arms - one of which was holding a metal spatula.
Kathy looked ready to raise hell, but Molly quickly grabbed her arm before she could go storming off at the young man, an anxious smile on her lips. "It's okay, Kathy! I'm not here to talk - well, not really! I just wanted to ask something..."
"Well don't listen to Chase, alright? He's been in a sour mood all night. You're welcome here any time you want. I know my dad would say the same. Wonder where he is, anyhow..." Pushing a few of her blonde bangs out of her face, she huffed and turned her attention away from the "bundle of joy" in the back and fully back to Molly, an easy smile coming to her face. "So! What did ya want to ask?"
"Um, I was talking to the mayor..." Kathy nodded, silently urging her to continue after the pause. "And he said that if I was looking for a job, I should probably come by here and ask if you need any hel-"
"MOLLY!" Kathy all but shrieked, throwing herself onto the brunette in glee, who squeaked out in surprise at the sudden onslaught. A few of the bar's patrons turned to them with amused faces. "YOU - ARE - A - LIFE - SAVER!"
"I-I-I am?" Though she heard from Mayor Hamilton that help was needed, she didn't think the reception to her asking about a job would be quite this enthusiastic. "Do I - I need to fill out an application and arrange and interview? I'd like to-"
"Can you start as early as tomorrow? We don't need that extra mumbo-jumbo! I know my dad'll be thrilled, too!" The blonde woman finally released her, but her grin didn't fade in the slightest. She was nearly hopping up and down with barely-contained energy. "I've been going nuts trying to handle all these tables myself. Selena only wants to dance. And Chase is extra grumpy 'cause he's got all the cooking and kitchen duty-"
"I'm fine," came the vehement protest from behind the bar, but Kathy ignored him.
"-and we can't go askin' the folks at the Ocarina Inn to spare anyone, since they're up to their necks in business with all the miners too, but we could really use the help!"
"I'd be glad to help," Molly said with a sincere smile. "I've never worked at a bar before and all I've really done is farming, but I'll do my best! ...Are you sure I don't need to have an interview or anything first?"
"You should really see if she's competent enough to-"
"There's no need for that at all!" Kathy cut the stern cook's words off sharply, earning a glare that she pointedly ignored as she gave a pat to Molly's shoulder. "I'm sure you'll do fine! I'll show you the ropes tomorrow! How does that sound?"
Unable to resist that excited grin, Molly nodded. "That sounds great. What time would you like me to come?"
Kathy paused to consider it briefly, shifting her weight from one foot to the other, serving tray resting against her hip. "Hm, well, the bar opens at four p.m., so how about you come by around two? That should be plenty of time!"
"Two? Alright, I can do that!" And honestly, she was already feeling a little bit excited, herself. Landing a job never happened this easily back at home. Maybe she would have money for repairs earlier than she thought!
"Great!" Kathy grinned. "Is that all, then? Can I interest you in a cocktail or some tea or somethin'? On the house, of course!"
"Well, I really should be-" Molly looked past the other woman for a moment, her eyes briefly connecting with the amethyst-colored ones across the bar. It was almost as if that stare was daring her stick around. Swiftly, she looked away. "-going."
"Aw, really?" Kathy formed a pout. "Be careful on your way home, then! It's really cold out there tonight."
"I know," Molly sent her a reassuring smile. "Thank you. I hope the rest of the night won't be too hard on you."
There was a loud clearing of the throat from across the room. Chase stood at the counter with two steaming plates of food in front of him. "I said - table seven is up!" Kathy gave him a bored glance before offering a parting wave to Molly. "I'll survive! See you tomorrow, Molly!"
"Bye," the brunette responded with a wave of her own, turning on heel to head back into the cold night.
The bustle of the bar was drowned out considerably once she closed the door behind her and took a deep breath of the frigid air. Despite the cold and the dismal feelings that plagued her this morning, she felt lighter than she had in weeks.
And at the very least, Molly was sure that she and Kathy would become good friends. She would have ample opportunity to talk more with Selena and Kathy's father Hayden, who also worked there, as well. And she spotted Owen and Ramsey from the mines at the corner table, who looked to be regulars.
As for Chase... well, perhaps she wouldn't count on hearing his wish any time soon - if at all.
A/N: That's it for the first/introductory chapter! I hope you're enjoying it so far. I really am new to this and I haven't played a lot of Harvest Moon games yet, but Animal Parade has by far been my favorite of those that I have. So I hope I will do it - and its wonderful cast of characters - justice!
I'd love if you could spare the time for a review. I'm a bit nervous of stepping into this fandom, but I do want to create a story that will hopefully be entertaining and interesting to readers. An no, obviously the romance and stuff isn't going to start from the get-go. Just imagine that Chase has zero hearts right now. XD That's how I'm approaching this. It'll work up from there!
Anyway, hope to see you next chapter!
Thank you for taking the time to read!