A/N: My first attempt at a fic. Castanet Island was too perfect, too… creepily happy. So I simply had to mess it up. Rated T for language.
Disclaimer: I own not a notion.
The shower was the best place for epiphanies, Hikari decided glumly. She stretched her aching muscles under the steaming water and turned this new thought over in her mind. She liked Chase. No, that wasn't it; she'd known she liked him from the moment they met. This… this was not your everyday "like." This was… admiration, possibly? Infatuation? She only hoped to the freaking tree-goddess it wasn't love.
Hikari rushed to the stable ground, graciously thanking the man who'd driven her from the airport to her new abode in his rickety hay cart. She warmly waved to him as he drove away from her little plot. As soon as Cain was out of eyesight, though, the smiling façade slipped cleanly from the girl's face and was quickly replaced with a scowl. Thanks for making farming a hell of a lot more difficult, Cain, she spat at him, silently rubbing the newly-formed bruises on her back.
As she turned to face her new ranch, her jaw fell agape. Karma's a bitch. She mentally scolded herself for doing whatever awful deed she must have done in order to receive such a monstrosity. Honestly, it would take 20,000 G and God-only-knows how much lumber and stone to raise this decrepit shack to the "Fixer Upper" status. She trudged into her "house"—if you could even call it that—and flopped onto the bed.
She pulled her face back, sputtering. Her new mattress was filled with hay. Hay that just so happened to be poking out of the thin mattress cover. She felt a migraine coming. It's going to be a long year.
She collapsed onto the barstool and laid her head down on the counter after a tiring week of introductions.
"I want the strongest stuff you've got." Her voice was barely audible, seeing as her mouth was pressed against the countertop.
A male's dry voice laughed joylessly. "That'd be a virgin grape cocktail. Hamilton's had alcohol banned for decades. Says it's a vile drug of the city."
Hikari lifted her head to scan the cook for any traces of jest upon his face. The man looked to be about her age, with peach hair and violet eyes. Honestly, why did all of the locals look like they'd fallen into dye vats when they were toddlers? Upon deciding that he wasn't just playing some cruel practical joke on her, she allowed her head to crash back to its previous position. The man picked her head off the countertop.
"Let's not get concussed, now," he said, rolling his eyes. The cook started to ask her a question—for the bar was devoid of anyone else to talk to besides Selena—when she interrupted him.
"If you say anything about that stupid freaking tree, I'm going to punch you in the face. Just telling you right off the bat," she mumbled letting her head droop in her hands.
"Thanks for the warning," he muttered dryly, picking up a glass to wipe down with his gray and worn bar rag.
A few beats of silence later—after he'd weighed his chances of getting a physical injury against his curiosity—he inquired, "You've heard about the Goddess Tree dying?"
She twitched in annoyance. "Yeah, because that's all anyone will freaking talk about around here. It's not 'Oh, where are you from?' It's 'Help us, help us! Our cult-tree is almost dead!' Well, guess what? I couldn't care less about your ridiculous belief that a tree is causing nature to hate your island. Hire a freaking gardener; I'm not wasting my time."
He held up his hands in a mock-surrender. "I'm with you. Any god that may exist sure as hell isn't going to be living in some tree on an island with a population of less than 40," he paused. "But before I start ranting on you about modern-day religion, I'm Chase."
Hikari took a closer look at the man. She shook his out-stretched hand. "Hikari."
"Hikari? Wow. Unique."
She leaned closer to him, lowering her voice to a whisper. "Well, between you and me, I was born Molly. Molly Jones. Honestly, how plain can you get?" she whispered, propping her head up on her hands.
"I like Hikari. It suits you." He swiftly glanced up as Selena left the bar with Gill. "Wait here. I think I've got something you'll like."
He placed a martini glass full of clear liquid in front of her and raised his own glass of the drink. "To being rebellious."
Hikari clinked his glass and took a sip of the transparent stuff. She looked at him incredulously. "Vodka?" She raised an eyebrow. "But you said—"
He smiled deviously, cutting her off. "I did say. I neglected to mention, however, that I grew up on the streets, and people who go through that know how to get around the law."
"I'll drink to that," the girl said, relieved to discard that bubbly mask she perpetually wore, if only for a while.
A season went by. The two met every night and talked over their unlawful alcohol. Hikari actually was herself around him, rebellious and cynical, instead of the optimistic, naïve front she showed to the rest of the residents of Castanet Island. When Renee asked her why she chose to farm, for instance, Hikari batted her eyelashes and gushed, "Oh, I've always loved growing things!" but when Chase asked, she actually told him the truth.
"I'm studying to become a sociologist at NYU. For my Master's, I'm doing my thesis on people's general happiness and conflicts in small towns versus big cities. When this position opened up, people just presumed I wouldn't take it, because 'Girls don't make good farmers.' I figured I could prove the sexist assholes wrong and get more data for my thesis at the same time." She let a proud smile slip, one which nearly never saw the light of day. She looked up at her companion. "I'm still taking my courses over the internet, but my college is treating this kind of like a Study Abroad program," she admitted.
He smiled sadly at her. "My parents abandoned me as an infant, so I ended up in this hell-hole of an orphanage. Lived there 'til I ran away at 13. Then, I was homeless and living off the streets until my 18th birthday, when I could finally buy boat tickets without a parent's signature. And this lovely island is as far as my cash would take me." He smiled bitterly.
Hikari winced, "Sorry 'bout that, Chase. At least things worked out for you pretty well here."
"You mean me working two jobs, because Jake won't let the goddamn rent slip for one month even though I work at his freaking inn? Yeah, it's just peachy," Chase brooded, "He acts like I'm this… this burden that he's forced to deal with." He shook his head. "Did I tell you that just yesterday he wouldn't quit hassling me until I stopped preparing breakfast to teach his daughter to make a freaking cake? Then, of course, I get yelled at some more for not getting breakfast done on time. I can't win with him."
She patted him consolingly on the arm as her only pal—the only person on the entire island who genuinely knew her—complained about the current state of the government, economy, media, and more into the wee hours of the morning.
Maya couldn't deal with it. This was so not how any of her romance novels said things were supposed to be going. She'd gone over it in her head so many times that she could probably write the novel of her and Chase's love—once she got her happy ending in real life, that is. A bit of extra money never hurt anyone, now did it? She closed her eyes, and she ran the plotline through her idle mind. The gorgeous girl tries her hardest to make her life as a decent cook, but just can't make anything to save her life. The dreamy chef with the cold exterior and husky voice helps her tirelessly until her skills are impeccable. And somewhere, during the late-night cooking lessons and secret flirty flour fights, her grace, charm, and sharp wit thaw his icy demeanor. Then, they fall in love, get married, and have beautiful twin boys named Chris and Darren.
Maya sighed, breaking out of her daydream. She was currently stuck at the "thaw his icy demeanor" part of the plan. She'd been batting her eyelashes, and playing with her hair, and once she even "accidentally" flicked flour in his face. Unfortunately, all of her attempts either end in him being angry at her or ignoring her completely.
Well, she figured, if she was going to get married before she was 22, she'd best get her plan moving along. Chase's birthday was in two days, and if he was going to fall deeply and madly in love with her, that would be the perfect time. So, with all of her favorite stories—her own soon to be one of them—drifting through her mind, she'd slaved away in the kitchen over a recipe for Orange Cake the second he left the inn. Now, this romance stuff was hard work, for baking a cake was quite arduous for Maya, and she almost threw in the towel when she felt perspiration condensing on her brow. At least I have the "can't make anything to save my life" part of the plan down pat, she thought glumly. But, she, being the strong woman that she was, preserved and turned out a cake that Chase surely wouldn't turn away. She began frosting the darned thing, when, unbeknownst to Maya, her father walked in and fondly watched her work.
He realized what she was doing, as only a father well-practiced in the romantic arts would. He also knew that he wouldn't give her the time of day. He'd seen Chase's stony obliviousness crush Maya's advances day in and day out, and even though he adored his daughter, Jake knew she was nowhere near as talented a cook as Chase. He couldn't foresee a chain of events that didn't end in heartbreak for his poor girl. Chase would look down in disgust at her cake, no matter how much time and effort she put into the damned thing, and declare it awful or dreadful or pitiful. Then, Maya would nod to him silently, like she always did, and go into her room and sob. She thought no one knew, but it wasn't that hard for him to see. He wasn't about to let his little girl be crushed again. Maybe if Chase couldn't make the right decision when left to his own devices, he could give the boy a swift kick in the right direction for his little Mayakins…
"Because it's your birthday tomorrow, I've brought you, Chase, two oranges," Hikari announced. "It was a bitch to get those, too. No one sells oranges in the spring around here."
He seemed a bit distracted when he thanked her and mixed the orange into their drinks. Hikari complained about humanity in general, and once she finished most of her glass, he said suddenly, "Hikari, I love you."
She answered with a slightly slurred, "Ummm, what was that?"
"I think I love you."
Chase did a double take. "Well, shit?" he said, anger evident in his voice. "That's all you have to say?"
Hikari started to fidget uncomfortably. "I just always saw us as friends. Nothing more."
"You never saw anything more than friendship," he repeated.
"No. I didn't." There was a long silence, the usual ease of their meeting shattered.
"Well, Jake told me that he wants me to start taking an interest in Maya. He said he'd give us the Inn as a wedding present, so I could be my own boss, not have to pay rent, drop the second job…" Chase muttered.
Hikari exploded, "Seriously? You're planning on marrying some girl for financial stability? You don't love Maya!"
"And you don't love me," he said icily. There was another long silence. There'd never been any uncomfortable silences before this. How Hikari wished to have just one last night of philosophies and star gazing with him.
"It'll never be the same, now, will it?" the girl realized, too late.
He turned his back to her. "Sorry to inconvenience you with my thoughts." He spoke as if he were talking to Mayor Hamilton not Hikari, his whatevertheywere.
"Sorry to inconvenience you with mine." She stood and walked to the door, slamming it with all of her might. And with that she was gone, her exit destroying their effortlessly constructed relationship forever.
Before she slumped into bed, she dragged herself to the shower, and that's where her epiphany hit her. She could pray to the dead tree all she wanted, but she loved Chase. And she'd just ruined any semblance of a friendship they may have had.
A/N: So, there you have it. I'd appreciate reviews. I'm thinking about making this into a series of one shots each revolving around a certain character, adding more and more chaos to Castanet. No place can be that happy all the time. So drop a name of a character, you'd like to read about, and I'll see what I can do.