Disclaimer: I do not own Harvest Moon or anything associated with it.
Author's Note: This story is my experiment with an AU! I don't want to give too much away for now, but this will be a high school setting and a bit more slice of life than my usual fics and the rival villages will become rivals of a different sort. If an AU isn't your style you probably won't like this haha, and that's totally fine with me! I've been interested in trying my hand at an AU for a while now, though, so I thought I'd give it a shot, and to those of you interested, I hope you enjoy!
The rustic building held a familiar sort of charm akin to the town Lillian had finally returned to, complete with brick walls and peeling paint. Ash described it as "old enough for Social Security," but the seventeen-year-old girl grew to love the school from the moment she saw it simply for being so absurdly different from her previous high school.
Of course, its charm likely came from its inhabitants. Seeing Ash for the first time in four years had been the highlight of her entire high school life. She had wasted no time in launching herself at him, catching him in an embrace she hoped conveyed the years of built up yearning for the friend she had known since kindergarten. Not to mention their other best friend was somewhere in that maze of buildings, those Ash didn't speak much about him.
Ash had promised to find her as soon as he could, but had been forced to prioritize escorting Cheryl to her elementary school. She craned her neck in search of any familiar landmarks he had described to her that would help her find her homeroom class, but was left blankly gazing at the mass of students swarming in and out of the building. For a high school on the outskirts of the lonely town she resided in, it seemed a lot of kids were there. Ash had explained that there were many sparse towns scattered throughout the mountain paths, and all of those kids were then bussed to this ancient building. It fascinated Lillian, who had gone to a private school in the city her parents had taken her too. Returning to the public halls was a welcome and exciting notion.
Still, as the bell rang and students began to pour in and out of doors, rushing past her with unfamiliar purpose, she began to wonder if she'd ever find her way. She was stumbling through the hallways when two students landed on either side of her, both wearing grins.
"Cam!" she exclaimed, looking excitedly at the now very handsome boy she had befriended years ago, and then turned to the blonde on her other side and cried out, "And Laney! You two are my heroes."
"Ash told us about your schedule, so we knew you had the same homeroom as us," Laney explained, grinning and looping her arm through Lillian's. She tugged her through the hallways with expert knowledge – it seemed her previous three years had turned her into a professional at progressing through the busy halls.
"We've been looking for you for a pretty long time," Cam exclaimed, tugging his hat down in the familiar nervous manner Lillian still remembered. "How do you like the school so far?"
"I love it!" Lillian blurted out excitedly, allowing Laney to tug her into a classroom students were still milling about in. "It's so different from my old school."
Laney placed her in the back row between them, offering a small, knowing smile. "Well, I'm sure that will wear off soon enough. The school is nice and all, but…the students aren't as easy to get along with. You'll see. It's ridiculous."
Cam nodded in agreement, making a face that surprised Lillian. Laney and Cam had been rather mild-mannered children, and she found herself curiously looking back and forth between them, searching for changes. She had earlier noticed that Cam had become rather handsome, but that was true of Ash as well, so it didn't come as too much of a shock. Laney too had grown to be as beautiful as she had been as a child. Lillian lifted a nervous hand to her hair, wondering if she had grown to look anymore attractive. Aside from looks, it seemed they were still the same – Cam slightly shy, but kind and honest; Laney friendly as ever, and easy to talk to. So what was it in their tired faces that struck Lillian as so different? She wanted to ponder it for a moment longer, but the teacher came barreling in at that point, looking frantically towards the clock.
The class erupted in laughter, save Lillian, who thought it was exceedingly rude to make fun at a teacher's expense. It was something her previous school had been very strictly against. The man looked around the room until his roving eyes had passed over every student. Lillian prepared to be brought before the class to introduce herself like all new students had done on the first day at her old school, but that time never came. The teacher carried on, detailing the events scheduled for the first week of school without a hint that he even knew she existed besides occasionally passing over her in his frequent eye scans.
The last thing he said silenced the room full of whispers and teasing, much to Lillian's surprise. The bell rang, students leapt to their feet, and he murmured, still facing the board, "And you get to choose clubs on Friday."
Students stared at him and then broke out into excited discussion. It's already Wednesday, Lillian noted. So two more days until we get to choose clubs! She had been an avid member of her art club and wondered if there was one in this high school as well. It sounded like a great deal of fun, and she couldn't wait to choose.
Laney and Cam, however, did not look so excited. "Seniors get forced into choosing a club," Laney explained. "If they haven't already picked one out their first three years of high schools, they have to choose one of the two."
"There's only two?" Lillian asked, stunned. "Is there an art club?"
"No," Cam answered, looking especially miserable. "But just forget about it. Don't let it bother you until you talk to Ash about it. I'm sure you two will want to join the same club. Clubs do practically everything together. Anyways, it's just you and Laney in your next class. I'll meet up with you guys later."
Lillian was puzzled by this and murmured in agreement. He asserted how nice it was to see her again before disappearing in the crowd of students storming the second floor. Cam had always been rather tight-lipped, but never in a manner that left such an ominous feeling. Lillian was not given a chance to ponder the situation anymore than that, however – Laney seized her arm once more and tugged her down the hall, glancing at her schedule as they went.
"So we have math together! Are you any good in math?"
"No," Lillian admitted, nervously avoiding the blonde's eyes.
Laney laughed, shrugging. "Neither am I. Oh well! We'll get some help from Cam if we ever need it. He's good at pretty much every school subject."
Classes continued like that for the next few blocks, with Laney trading off with Cam for the last class before lunch. She spent her ten minute break with the blonde as well, discussing topics Lillian didn't find interesting and having things she was intrigued by answered with the vaguest answers possible. She was intensely curious about these clubs but received no answer, and another question regarding the relationship between Laney and Cam was also met with heavy resistance. When she finally strode away from her English class with Cam at her side, she was exhausted with having her questions ignored and being generally overlooked by the rest of the school population.
"Not such a good first day?" Cam asked when lunch began, grinning at the drained expression on her face as she stumbled through the halls after him. When she sighed in agreement he grabbed her arm and heaved her past two girls who had been adamant about not excusing her and tugged her along next to him. "Don't worry. It'll get better."
"I hope so," Lillian mumbled. His eyes had already drifted, however, to a certain blonde who was saving a table for them. Much to Lillian's excitement another familiar face was already seated at the table – Georgia waved excitedly when they met each others eyes and instantly launched into a bout of whining when the pair reached the table.
"I can't believe I don't have classes with any of you guys," she pouted. "Me and Ash are the recluses of the school. I don't know what classes he goes to, but they must be as rare as mine. The only class I have with any of you guys is going to be the club block…right? Lillian is game to join our club, right?"
"It's your club," Cam muttered, folding his arms and looking away. Lillian glanced at him in surprise and noticed that Laney elbowed him when Georgia wasn't looking. The redhead turned a miffed frown towards him until he tacked on, "You already know Laney and I are going to join up with you. As for Lillian, it depends on what Ash is going to do."
Georgia sighed, folding her arms in her lap and leaning far back in her chair. Lillian watched it teeter on the brink of falling backwards nervously. "Yeah, figures. I wonder where that guy is, anyways. Have you seen him at all today, Lillian?"
"No," she mumbled. Even her old friends were acting like she was old news before she had even become new news. She gave them the benefit of the doubt, however; it seemed this club issue was weighing heavily on everyone's minds. She took the seat Georgia offered to her at the head of the table and pulled her lunch from her bag.
"Do you like it here?" Georgia asked curiously, smiling. Cam looked up from where he was sitting besides Laney, likely wondering how much of the truth Georgia would receive.
Lillian didn't want to disappoint her and put on her best smile, exclaiming, "Yeah! Everyone has made me feel really welcome!" She hated to admit that she had been expecting to be some sort of pivotal bit of information. At her old school every student was treated as an important individual meant to be cherished. Here she was just another face in the class picture, and that was a hard fact to swallow.
Georgia grinned, halving the apricot in her hand. She tossed one half towards Lillian, who struggled to catch it. "I'm glad," the girl replied, her face taking on a surprisingly peaceful expression for a moment. "It's been a long time since we've seen each other, but I want to make sure you still know that we're your friends. We know practically everything about how you've been, since Ash has kept us tuned in on the contents of every letter, every phone call, every visit…I'm glad you're back."
"Same here," Cam tacked on.
"Me too!" Laney echoed cheerfully.
Hands landed on Lillian's shoulders, and she looked up and into Ash's eyes with a smile. He grinned back down at her and murmured, "I'm glad you're back too."
"Stop it, you're grossing us all out," Georgia told him, wrinkling her nose and looking away. "It's bad enough we've had to listen to your lovesick whinin' for the past four years."
Lillian was surprised at the harshness in Georgia's words, but Ash just smirked and pulled a chair up between the girls. He met Cam's eyes, and Lillian noted that both boys were wearing the same knowing expression. "Whatever you say, Georgia," Ash answered, taking one of Lillian's raisins and popping it into his mouth. "Be a downer all you want."
Georgia spun to snap at him, but Laney leaned forward, talking over her. "Georgia is really interested in whether or not you'll be joining her club with Lillian. Everyone agreed that you two should stick to the same club, but she's worried you'll join the other one."
Lillian turned excitedly towards Ash, hopeful she would finally learn something interesting about this club matter, but Ash's expression hardened into frustration. "Yeah, we'll be in your club," he mumbled. "But it's not like either of us want to. You know what I think about the club situation. But of course we'll be in yours. Right, Lil?"
"Of course! I want to stay in a club with my friends!" Lillian declared, nodding towards Georgia.
The redhead beamed at this, looking even more radiant than usual. It was easiest to see the changes in Georgia, who had been a docile child and was now very outgoing and brash. Still, when she smiled in such a joyous manner it was easy to see the easily excited girl still inside of her. Lillian smiled and popped a raisin into her mouth as well, hope rising in her chest that she would really be able to simply reintegrate into her group of friends as though no time had passed between them. The way Georgia had put it gave her a lot of encouragement, and she noted that everyone seemed to get along well with her.
I'll act like no time has passed too, Lillian decided. Just like them.
But when she looked around the table once more, she noted that Ash's jaw was clenched and he was glaring towards the floor, mechanically reaching over for one of her raisins every few seconds. Laney and Cam were wrapped in quiet discussion and Georgia was scratching words furiously into her notebook, staring intently into its pages. She realized what was missing and turned to voice that, but before she could finish another figure sat at the table, gently setting his violin down first and then plopping down into a seat himself.
"Oh!" he exclaimed cheerfully when he saw Lillian at the other end of the table, across from him. "You must be Lillian. I've heard much about you from Ash."
Lillian turned to Ash, who looked away with a grimace. "I didn't talk about her that much," he mumbled.
"This is Mikhail," Georgia told her, gesturing to the boy with a grin. "He moved here two years ago and he's been hanging out with us ever since. And obviously you know who Lillian is – she moved away from here four years ago, after seventh grade, and she's finally back."
"I noticed you were in a couple of my classes," Mikhail replied, his voice rising and falling with an impressing melody.
"Really?" Laney asked, leaning forward with a guilty expression on her face. "I'm sorry, Mikhail, if we had noticed we would have-"
"It's quite alright," he countered, laughing. "Don't worry about it, Laney. It's lovely to meet you, Lillian."
Ash elbowed Lillian, who was watching the boy curiously. Her previous feelings towards her group shifted once more. How much had they changed without her? How much had they not changed without her? She had not expected them to stay still and wait for her to catch up. In fact, she had expected them to surge forward; she had expected to struggle to befriend them all over again. But here she found herself hanging in a strange limbo, unsure who these people were to her but certain they were friends.
"It's nice to meet you too, Mikhail," she replied, bowing her head politely.
"Club block is a free block for the first two days," Ash explained. "It comes right after this last class – the only class nobody has you in. So I'll walk you to the door, okay?"
Lillian nodded, looking around anxiously as Ash attempted to show her the way towards the only room she'd have to face alone. The nerve-wracking thought of finding him after the class ended was horrific enough, but now she was also forced to deal with this. No Ash, no Cam, no Laney, no Georgia, and not even Mikhail. It was naïve to expect to have at least one friend in every single one of her classes, but that certainly hadn't stopped her from clutching to that belief. "Right," she told Ash, shooting a confident smile he knew was faked in an instant. "Thanks for walking me here!"
Ash grinned, gently pushing his shoulder towards hers until she leaned against the wall with him. "You'll be fine," he murmured, nudging her shoe with his. "Don't be so nervous. I don't have anyone I know in any of my classes except math, which I have with Cam – thank Goddess, since I'm horrible at math. I just have to make new friends. You too. I'm sure there will be someone who grows to like you. I hear girls flock together."
"I think someone has been giving you a bad perception of girls," Lillian replied. "We don't hang out together just because! After all, for most of my life I only hung out with you and-"
"I've got to go," Ash interrupted, looking away. "I'll meet up with you at the front of school, alright? Just ask a teacher to point you in the right direction if you get lost."
"Huh? Wait, Ash!" Lillian grabbed onto his sleeve, hauling him back towards her. "Now that I've mentioned him, I have some questions I want to ask, and you can't just blow me off like you did in the letters. Tell me-"
The bell drowned out her last few words and Ash shook her free, winking. "You know what they say – saved by the bell. I'll meet up with you after class!"
He dashed through the hall after that, swallowed up by a horde of students who moved towards their class in the most disorderly fashion possible. Lillian stamped her foot in frustration, fully aware how childish it was. When she turned back around it was too face a classroom that held only one inhabitant – the teacher, who looked at her as though she had flown in. Averting her eyes from his she chose a seat off towards the window, following the rules Laney had suggested – second row, against the wall or the window, try to smile as people pass by. She forced a smile onto her lips, but it soon became clear that it was futile – people strolled past her without a second look, choosing the seats beside the friends they had known for years. Soon there was only one seat left – the one right in front of Lillian. She leaned her head against the window, staring out towards the schoolyard front. At least she knew where to go when this class ended. Once the club block started…then she'd have a whole new dilemma.
And then, much to her amazement, a backpack was dropped onto the desk before her and someone slid into the seat. Lillian perked up, looking hopefully towards the boy. He was cloaked in a mauve outfit, snatching the hat from his head to reveal pale brown hair only a shade darker than hers. The teacher began to stroll down the aisles, forcing students to write their names and seal their yearlong seating choices.
The boy turned to the girl next to him with a grin, observing the people he'd be surrounded with. Try to look appealing, Laney had said. Lillian wore her smile, but then remembered another piece of advice Cam had thrown in: But don't look desperate. The smile slid from her face and she turned to gaze out the window. But Georgia had told her, Be friendly!
So Lillian turned to face the boy at the same moment he turned around and faced her, and shock shot through her body.
"Well, looks like we're already got your names settled!" The teacher said cheerfully beside them, scratching their names down onto the chart. "And you two will have plenty of time to talk later, since you'll be in these seats for the rest of the year!"
Violet eyes met green, and Lillian felt a smile come onto her face.
Four years had passed, and they had finally been reunited.