A/N: My secret gift to therainydaykids! Sorry I'm a little late with it, I tried to challenge myself with the pairing. I'm a little rusty with Animal Parade, but I hope you like it! Have a wonderful new year! I apologize for any grammar issues.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harvest Moon, or the song that the title comes from. They are owned by Marvelous and Counting Crows, respectively.
Better Than The Last
The Brass Bar was packed that night, full of residents and tourists waiting to ring in the new year. Kathy watched from a bar stool while fiddling with the sleeve of her sweater. She had decided against wearing her usual shirt, and instead opted to wear a white wool sweater, but the material felt odd against her skin. It didn't help that she was impatiently waiting on one particular person.
Almost everyone in the room was enjoying themselves. Almost.
Candace was sitting at one of the corner tables, shrinking into her chair and into the wall in an effort to quell her obvious anxiety. Kathy felt bad for the poor girl, knowing she came out tonight to be with Julius; who had left her nearly alone at the table while he went around mingling, well, bothering, many of the other party-goers. He only periodically returned to attempt to get her out of her chair, or offer her another drink. Each time she shook her head and seemed to cling tighter to the same drink she had been sipping on all night.
"He means well," Kathy thought, "but he really should have known better."
They were so opposite that it was amazing that they could stand being around the other at times, but when they were in a private enough place, it was plain to see that they did love each other. Maybe they even balanced each other out. This was just not an ideal setting for the mousy girl.
It seems the only solace Candace had was her sister, or as close to solace as she could get. Luna was splitting her time between talking to Gill and complaining about Gill to her sister. Candace would only nod her head and offer a few encouraging words to the younger girl. Unfortunately, Luna was not as shy or mellow as her sister, and the advice was backfiring. Kathy let out a small laugh at the scene. Luna was practically demanding Gill's attention by following him around and loudly commenting on everything he said. Kathy could tell that Gill was getting annoyed, and the younger seamstress would not take the hint. For someone who was usually so boastful of knowing about relationships, it was obvious she had no concrete experience.
Kathy couldn't make fun of her too much for that, though. Resting her head on her hand, she remembered when she herself was oblivious to her own situation.
A year ago, she was sitting in the same spot, in a very different situation.
It was after close and Kathy was sitting at the bar, tracing the rim of her drinking glass, watching the swirls in her grape cocktail. Three empty glasses were clustered to her right.
Chase was standing behind the bar, cleaning glasses. He was humming a random tune, but not any actual song that Kathy could recognize.
"Why are you in such a good mood?" she asked the chef. Usually this time of night he was sighing heavily, and nearly slamming the glasses into their spot.
"Well," he stopped what he was doing and looked right at her, "I made a killing in tips. While you were moping in the back room, I played waiter and cook. The tourists were so happy to finally order their drinks that most gave me at least thirty percent."
"With that attitude?"
"Yours isn't much better right now, Kathy."
Kathy scoffed, "You know damn well what's wrong, Chase."
Chase sighed, and put the dish towel off to the side. He turned towards her, placing both elbows on the counter and crossing his arms, momentarily breaking his sardonic exterior, "You had to know something was going on. They've been inseparable since the end of summer."
"She's friendly with everyone, how was I supposed to know that it was different with him?"
"You never made a move yourself, you can't be too mad."
She was beginning to hate how right he was.
"But I can be upset," she told him, taking a large sip of her drink. Too large, and she was barely able to swallow before starting to cough.
"Easy there. It's not something to kill yourself over," he was just poking fun, but it felt like a punch to the gut.
"I just don't want to be alone for my whole life," she was beginning to feel the alcohol, and her filter was starting to disappear.
"Don't make this a pity party, you're not going to be alone for your whole life," Chase went back to wiping the glasses, his usual demeanor fading back in.
"That's so easy for you to say, since you have a girl who would marry you in a heartbeat if you just stopped being such an ass," she told him, venom beginning to coat her words. In her mood, the last thing she needed was to feel patronized by someone who didn't have to be alone if he didn't want to.
"Don't start," he warned, his hands now frozen, staring at her from the corner of his eye.
"Come on! She's been begging you to go to the New Year's festival with her. You know she's had a thing for you since you moved to town."
"Yeah, since she was fourteen. Don't you think that's a little weird? Or – oh, goddess – don't tell me you think it's romantic," his voice was dripping with disgust.
"Well, she's not fourteen years old, anymore!"
"Yeah, but she's still eleven years younger than me."
Kathy stared at him for a moment. Looking at his plum colored eyes, his baby orange hair, his porcelain skin, the gears in her mind turned slowly as she added up his comment, and the math.
"You are not thirty!" She yelled, pointing a finger at him.
"I will be in the spring. Now drop it," he told her. He picked up the empty glasses near her elbow and placed them in the sink to be washed.
She finished her drink and stood up to make herself another, "You'll come around, I think."
Chase grabbed her arm the minute she made it around the bar counter; his touch was rough for someone with such slender fingers and thin build.
"And oddly electric," she would later recall.
He pulled her toward him, away from the mixes, "I'm cutting you off, I don't care if this is your dad's bar."
She was wrong; he never felt anything for Maya.
Still waiting, Kathy began sipping on a new grape cocktail, her second, while her eyes darted from the crowded room to the door to the back room. Her father had told her to enjoy the party, and not worry about work, but not being allowed to go in the back was killing her.
She was usually a social butterfly. "I really should be talking to people," she thought, grabbing her glass and standing up, "But who?"
Kathy looked around the room.
Julius had finally realized that he had been neglecting Candace, who had been coaxed in to coming at all. She was now nuzzled into his neck and collarbone, her hair falling in her face. His ruby eyes were soft as he looked down at her, and she seemed so be drifting off into a trance as Julius' drink-free hand played with loose strands of her hair and brushed her fringe out of her face. They were so content in each other.
Kathy smiled and decided not to disturb such a beautiful thing. Her eyes looked around the room for someone else, but Luna had seen her first.
"Kathy! Can you believe Gill?" She was yelling, causing the table of tourists to look over at the pair.
Kathy smiled awkwardly at them, and pulled Luna over to one of the side tables, "Quiet down, you're not even drunk."
"No! But I'm mad! He's not paying any attention to me. Candace said to make conversation, or comment on it, but now he's walking away from me," Luna's soft blue eyes became watery in an instant, "why doesn't he like me?"
Kathy sighed. It had been no secret that Luna had some deep feelings for the mayor's son. Luna had no filter, ever. She would always tell everyone what she thought about every thing that went on, but when it came to Gill, she became childish. Instead of telling him her feelings, she became obnoxious, and that definitely didn't melt his icy exterior.
She put her hand on Luna's shoulder, "Maybe you just need to leave him alone for awhile. Just stay here and cool down, I'll go talk to him."
Luna nodded, and began sipping on her drink.
Kathy felt bad for Luna, it's just so hard when you don't know where you stand.
She had overheard him talking to Owen and Luke through an open window the following summer. The three men had been leaning against the front of the Brass Bar smoking cigarettes, talking about the women in town.
"Man, Selena is just so awesome. I really want to ask her out, but every time I try I just say something so stupid! She probably hates my guts at this point," Luke groaned.
"I feel pretty lucky, Angela's pretty mellow. I don't feel like I have to be someone else," Owen's voice was calm and even toned, like he was basking in his thoughts.
A season ago, that would have broken Kathy's heart even more, but though the spring she had mostly gotten over him.
"Yeah, that's great and all, but I have to deal with Kathy. You left her moping around for a half a season, and now she's trying to play match-maker for the whole damn town!" Chase's tone was sharp.
She had been trying to play matchmaker, setting everyone up when they came to the bar for food or a drink. She had been trying really hard to get Luke with Selena, but she was relieved to know that his screwing up wasn't on purpose; she was beginning to think that he was messing with her.
"Hey, you think she could set me up with Selena?" Luke asked, as if this was completely new information to him.
"Is he really that oblivious?" she wondered as she buried her face in her hands.
"You can't hate her that much," it was Owen's voice, "You talk to her a lot."
"We work together."
"Do you think she's going to clean her own glasses?"
"Then why are you getting so red, man?"
Kathy chuckled, and then stopped suddenly, "What?"
The door slammed open and Chase walked in to the room. Kathy knew she was staring at him wide eyed, but couldn't react quickly enough.
He looked at her, and quickly walked to the backroom, his face much darker than his hair.
The next few days were unavoidably weird. Chase was trying to pretend he wasn't called out, and Kathy was pretending that she hadn't heard anything. It was futile, though.
Every order reminded them of their close quarters. Inadvertent grazes of the hands, thighs, arms. They couldn't even look each other in the eye.
"Are you two fighting?" her father had asked her after a night of painfully awkward silence.
"No," she wasn't lying.
"Then what is going on out there?"
She didn't know. She wished she did. Every time she looked at him she could feel her heart begin to race and her face heat up. Sometimes she would turn to look at him, and he would be looking at her, and he would quickly look away. It always put her stomach in a knot. It would be so out of character for him to behave like that. It wasn't the Chase she knew. Was she imagining it?
"Why am I acting like this anyway?" she muttered under her breath while taking food to a table. She was afraid she was making something out of nothing in her perceived loneliness. Was her matchmaking making her believe someone could possibly fancy her?
"This is ridiculous, Kath," he told her, one night after close in the beginning of the fall. "I know you heard me talking to those two, and you know that I know that."
She was fidgeting with the sleeve of her blouse, his eyes were piercing in to her, and she wasn't sure of what to say.
"This is childish," he sighed, leaning on the counter, "We're both being childish."
Kathy looked at him, and sat down at the bar, "Both of us? Oh, please continue," she said without thinking.
He smiled weakly, but not at her, "That's not much better, but it's better than that goddamn squeak you've been doing when you run in to me."
She could feel her face beginning to heat up. She had been hoping he hadn't noticed that.
"I like you better when you can throw insults back at me. I really hate when you act like a high school girl. You're better than that"
"You haven't been acting much better yourself. You won't even talk to me," Kathy sighed, her eyes downcast at the counter top.
"What would you have said back?"
Kathy looked up at him. He was now resting his head in his hands.
"Yeah, I wasn't much better," he paused, "but you knew, and I'm not sure whether your reaction is good or bad."
"He had been right again, always right," Kathy mused. She had known he might have been harboring some feelings for her, but she ran away. Was she surprised? Embarrassed? Avoiding the situation to avoid rejecting him? He didn't know, because she was acting childish, but so was he.
Kathy squirmed her way through the growing amount of people inside the bar, but Gill was nowhere to be found. She made her way back to the bar stool she had been sitting at earlier, only to see that Gill was talking to Luna himself. She wasn't sure if he went up himself, or someone else had said something, but it was good to see finally see a smile on Luna's face, after a night of scowling.
She made herself comfy in her bar stool, only to realize she had lost her drink along the way. She sighed, standing up to get herself a new one, only she was stopped from moving forward by a pair of svelte arms wrapping around her waist.
He always smelled like oranges, even in the winter.
"Hey, you're really late, it's almost midnight!" She told him, turning around to face a pair of shining purple eyes.
Behind them, everyone began counting down.
"I was told, by you, that I had to shower after cooking for this party. There's snow on the ground, and I live all the way in the fields," he told her, rolling his eyes.
"Well, you made it for the most important part," she told him, wrapping her arms around his neck.
He smiled at her and put his hand on the small of her back.
A year ago she was complaining to him about another man, and tonight they were here together.
"Happy New" she began, but was silenced by her boyfriend's mouth.
This year will be better than the last one.
A/N: Thank you for reading, I hope the characterization isn't too far off, as I have never romanced Chase.
Edit: I fixed 90% of the spelling and grammar mistakes after posting, sorry, everyone! OTL