Chapter One

Rod scratched his cheek as he glanced over at the beaming farmer who was chattering away with Dunhill and Kosaboro. As always, Rio was animated –perhaps more so today after winning the festival— waving her arms dramatically while talking despite the chilly air that made most of the villagers keep their hands in their pockets. He could see Dunhill laughing, pride or a similar emotion shining in his eyes. Rod could feel a smile of his own form on his lips. As a friend, he couldn't help but feel happy for her. Well, he supposed that it could be that he had the tendency to mimic the emotions others around him felt but he believed that he was drawn to Rio in particular. Maybe it was because she radiated positivity, her smiles seemingly promising things will continue to get better. He wouldn't mind seeing her smile like that for him every day but… The blond glanced over at the bespectacled stylist standing across from him –pride, and another emotion Rod couldn't distinguish reflected in his eyes as he discussed the results of the festival with Neil. Her heart didn't belong to him.

Initially, coming to terms with the two being a pair left him with emotions that he was ashamed to have felt. One was a person he had looked up to while growing up and the other, a person who had earned his respect and admiration after he moved into Echo Village. When placed in the position he was in, he could only make himself feel happy for both of his closest friends. That he was still mulling over this revealed he hadn't let go but he could only shove those thoughts aside. They were the perfect pair and that was that. The male clasped his hands behind his head and grinned over at the blond animal dealer standing beside him. As usual, it appeared that the animal dealer was brooding over something unpleasant. "Hey, Neil, what's with that look? Don't you feel even slightly excited that it's now back-to-back wins in the advanced class?"

"Hmph, I'm just glad that she's taking good care of her animals," the animal dealer replied as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his dark red jacket. His lack of reaction was disappointing but Rod suspected that Neil was happy for Rio as well because the animal dealer cared enough to chat with Rio after each competitive festival, sometimes giving her pointers (if it was an animal festival) and other times encouraging her to do better in his weird, grumpy way. Seeing the knowing smile on Rod's face, Neil closed his garnet eyes and grumbled, "Ugh… stop that."

Rod's smile only grew wider but the pet shop owner didn't voice his thoughts. Neil had always reminded him of a dog that had been mistreated in the past: he would snap at anyone that tried to approach him even if they meant well. However, unlike most dogs, he largely acted the same way towards those that have earned his trust. It made things complicated but he hoped that Neil would be able to interact with others in a friendlier manner some day. The blond snapped out of his thoughts when a certain farmer came bounding up to the group. "Hey, congratulations, Rio!" Rod enthusiastically greeted her. Beside him, Neil muttered his own congratulations.

"Thanks," the blonde responded, clasping her hands behind her back. She turned to her boyfriend, her smile becoming slightly shyer. Though instead of the smile everyone was expecting to see on Allen's face, the stylist expression was one of disapproval.

Arms crossed over his chest, the redhead said, "Hey. Stop grinning so happily just because you won. Other guys are watching you." The stylist's voice wasn't harsh, the words sounding more like an irritated reminder but Allen seldom spoke harshly unless he was really angry; he was a person that was able to convey his meaning well enough without needing to raise his voice.

The pet shop owner averted his gaze from the couple, hoping that the stylist wasn't referring to him specifically when he mentioned other guys watching. It wasn't that weird, was it? Rio had won after all so naturally, attention would be focused on her. However, an embarrassed flush rose to his cheeks as he realized that he had been smiling goofily at Rio when Allen was standing across from him the entire time. He didn't mean it like that… at least… not really. He still liked Rio, yes, but those feelings didn't just disappear overnight. Gaze straying back to the couple, he watched the farmer smile at Allen while asking if he was jealous.

The stylist's frown deepened. "Jealous? Who, me? Don't be silly. You're my girlfriend so be quiet and do as I say, got it? What do you have to say?"

Rod was taken aback by the words, both eyebrows arched in surprise. He watched as Rio lowered her head to hide her faltering smile while her brows were knit in confusion. Admittedly, Rod didn't know what to think as well. Allen may be insensitive and condescending at times but this… this was different from how he usually was. And he was saying this to Rio too –the farmer that had nearly singlehandedly rebuilt this town. There was no way that such a capable and independent woman would bow down and obey an order to not smile happily after winning a festival. He was half-expecting Rio to snap angrily back at Allen but he also knew her kind nature wouldn't allow her to do so. Then, to Rod's surprise, the blonde raised her head to meet Allen's gaze and nodded.

Allen's usual satisfied smile returned, illuminating his graceful features. "… Good. Good girl. I should be the only one you smile at that way."

An unsettling feeling nipped at Rod, momentarily breaking his focus on the conversation. It felt as if he had eaten something sour, causing his insides to tingle unpleasantly. Was he feeling jealousy again or was there something else that was nagging at him? Rod turned to look at Neil. Judging by the deeper than usual frown on the animal dealer's face as his gaze followed Rio's retreating form, Rod was not the only person that thought something was off with what had just occurred.

Author's Note: It's been a while since I've written a long story but I was inspired after playing A New Beginning. The first three chapters will be on the short side because I think it works better that way. Just bear with it for a bit.

Also, for those of you wondering, Allen's words in the story is actual in-game dialogue if the player is dating him and wins an animal or crop festival in the advanced class. There are a few variations, with slight word changes in each of them, but this is one of them.