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Saving You Saved Me

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Shane

 

It had been three years since the accident. Three years to the day since Shane’s life had shattered. Three years since he had started wanting to kill himself, and three years since he had been given a reason to not be able to.

That was life’s cruel irony.

Certainly Shane’s life hadn’t been perfect before the accident. He had still been kind of a loser. He had still worked a dead end job, and he had still been broke. But he hadn’t minded as much. He had things to live for, people to love, and people who loved him. He had felt happiness back then. He couldn’t remember it at all now.

He had been 23 when he finally moved out of his parents’ house and into his first apartment. It was spectacularly cheap and crappy, but it was his. Most of his friends from high school had moved out of their childhood homes ages ago, and Shane was finally happy to have some independence. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his parents – on the contrary, he loved them dearly, and he was thankful they had let him stay with them for so long while he struggled to make ends meet. He’d never been stupid but he certainly wouldn’t consider himself smart, and he couldn’t focus long enough for most high school courses, let alone college. It hadn’t been the path for him. So he considered his parents to be saints for letting him stay there before he made enough money to get his own place.

Around that same time, he had found out that his older sister was pregnant. He thought life couldn’t get any better. He had never understood people who had rocky relationships with their siblings. After all, Shane had absolutely adored Nancy growing up. She was three years older than him and he was certain the moon had been hung in the sky by her. When Nancy met Paul, Shane couldn’t be happier. Paul became a brother to him – helping him get his first job, helping him find an apartment, helping him to just grow up and be a man. If Nancy hung the moon, Paul placed all the stars in the sky. So when Nancy and Paul became pregnant, well, Shane knew that baby would be the absolute sun in his life. Nancy and Paul were sure, too. So sure that they made Shane the baby’s godfather.

And the sun she was.

They named her Jasmine and it had been Shane who had christened her Jas early in life. It was Shane who cried when she was born. It was Shane who volunteered to babysit and change diapers and feed her. It was Shane who saw her first steps. And Jas’s first word was “sane,” which, everyone agreed, was a mispronunciation of her favorite uncle’s name.

And then a year later, when he was certain life couldn’t get any better, Shane met Lydia. She was beautiful, smart, funny, amazing, and way out of Shane’s league. But for some reason he never understood, she chose him. It didn’t take a full two dates for Shane to decide he was in love with her. He would lay next to her every night and breathe in her scent, falling asleep to dream about the life they would have together and the babies who would be Jas’s best friends.

But nothing gold can stay.

After two years with the love of his life, Lydia left. And with her, the light from Shane’s eyes.

And so it was Shane who had declined his mother’s invitation to family dinner one week. Instead he had sat in his apartment staring at his own hands and wondering what they had done, what they had possibly done to make Lydia leave. When he heard a knock on the door later that night, a hopeful portion of his brain actually thought it was her, coming back to him to declare her love. But it wasn’t. And whatever hope and happiness Shane had left inside him died with his mother, father, sister, and brother-in-law in the car that night. As the police officer explained to him that his whole world had just faded away, Shane found himself staring at his own hands again, this time wondering how he could use them to end his life. They could hold a gun to his head and pull the trigger. They could hold a knife to his wrist and slit the skin. They could open a pill bottle and dump them down his throat. So he wasn’t listening to the police officer until he heard one word that caught his attention.

“Jasmine is your goddaughter, correct?”

Shane’s eyes had lifted slowly from his hands to the police officer’s face, terrified of whatever was coming next.

“She was the only survivor. She’s in the hospital, but she’s not injured badly. As her guardian, you’ll need to pick her up and take custody of her.”

So Shane put his hands back in his pockets, resigned to the fact that, for now, they could only be used to take care of Jas.

But money was tight and the city was expensive and who was supposed to take care of Jas while Shane slaved away at the Joja Mart down the block? And so Shane gave up the last bit of joy in his life – his independence. He took Jasmine and moved in with his mother’s sister, Marnie, in Stardew Valley. He’d been there every summer as a kid and had loved going to the beach with Nancy, or playing in the forest with Nancy, or buying ice cream by the river with Nancy. But with Nancy gone, the whole valley made him nauseous.

He was thankful for Marnie, really he was, but he couldn’t let himself show it. He couldn’t let himself care about her. He couldn’t curse her with the awful fate of being loved by Shane Mansfield. He got a job at Joja Mart and let his job consume his life. He would’ve worked every second of every day if he could, if only to avoid Marnie’s house and the memories of spending the summers there with his sister. But he couldn’t avoid it forever and the painful memories flooded his mind, opening the gates for memories of Paul, and his mom, and dad, and Lydia. And eventually there were only two things that could quiet his thoughts – alcohol, and the old Douglas farm.

Old man Douglas had died when Shane was just a kid, and the farm adjacent to his aunt’s ranch had been abandoned since then. As teenagers, he and Nancy would sneak onto the farm during the day and pretend they were early settlers finding a new world. They would explore every tree, every bush, the house, the lake, the greenhouse. He had avoided the Douglas farm when he first moved to Stardew because he was sure it, too, would only serve to dredge up the explosive memories from his childhood. But he had stumbled up there in a drunken stupor one night and fallen asleep. When he awoke, he was surprised to find that the farm placed in him an immense sense of calm. It was as if finally, there was something in this world that made sense. Finally, there was somewhere he belonged.

He found himself going there more and more frequently, and drinking less and less each time. He knew he was bordering on alcoholism, but the farm seemed to keep the darkness at the edges of his mind, never letting it take over fully. He would sit on the dilapidated porch of the old run-down farmhouse and stare at his hands, dreaming of the day they would make him enough money to buy this old farm and make it his own. He would raise Jas there, and the two of them together would find some small amount of joy in this sad world. Joja Mart didn’t pay much, but he was certain he could make his dream come true. For Jas.

He worked for almost two full years at Joja Mart before he saved up what he assumed would be enough to buy the farm. Happily, he had marched into Mayor Lewis’s house after work one night and thrust the bills in his face.

“I want to buy the Douglas Farm!” he had proclaimed. Lewis had stared at him then for a long time – too long – long enough to make Shane feel like an absolute fool.

“Shane, I’m sorry,” Lewis said. “But the Douglas Farm isn’t for sale.”

Of course it wasn’t for sale. Shane felt like an idiot for even thinking he could buy it. There was no for sale sign anywhere. No indication of how much it would cost. No reason for him to believe that someone like him could ever hope to live somewhere so perfect. Perfect things were for other people. Better people.

He still went to the Douglas Farm most nights to sit on the porch, but now the sense of peace was replaced with a sense of resolve. Resolve to kill himself. He would stare at his hands and again imagine all the ways he could use them to finally put an end to all the pain and misery he felt day in and day out but his mind would always wander to Jas, sweet Jas, and he would be wracked with guilt. And so to silence the thoughts of death and occupy his hands, he fell quickly into the darkness of alcoholism which now consumed him.

It was with an angry bitterness that he learned the Douglas farm could no longer be his refuge or his prison. It couldn’t be his anything, because old man Douglas’s granddaughter had decided to move back from the city and take over the farm. With his personal hiding spot now occupied, Shane found himself working more, drinking more, and staying locked in his room more.

His nightly routine became drinking at the Stardrop Saloon. He certainly wasn’t one to be social, but it kept Jas from seeing him drink. And it kept him from seeing the disappointed look on Marnie’s face.

So on the three year anniversary of the accident, he just couldn’t handle it when he saw her there in his saloon. The granddaughter of old man Douglas. The woman who had stolen his farm. And he felt downright angry when she started walking over to him, and smiled her evil snake smile and held up her stupid hand in a mocking wave and looked at him with her devil eyes.

“Hey,” she said. Shane took a sip of his beer before answering, forcing himself to not spit on her face. He swallowed deeply and stared at her for a moment, watching her squirm uncomfortably in his gaze.

“Do I know you?” She had perked up slightly at his seeming interest.

“Not yet, I just moved in – “ Shane cut her off before she could finish whatever she was going to say.

“Then don’t talk to me.”

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Dana awoke with her alarm at 6 am, just like every day. Groaning, she reached over and hit the snooze button, wondering for the millionth time what on earth had possessed her to take up farming.

She’d been in Stardew Valley for half a season already, but it didn’t seem to be getting much easier. Every day her arms and legs ached with the soreness of hoeing and plowing and weeding and chopping and breaking up the dozens of rocks that somehow grew back day after day on her farm. It was never ending.

Yes, her job at Joja Corporation in the city had been soul sucking. But this – farming – was exhausting. And there was never a day off. The crops needed to be watered every single day, unless it rained. The trees needed pruning, the weeds needed weeding. It all didn’t take a break, and so neither could she.

She laid in bed with her arm draped over her eyes for a moment, savoring the stillness of the morning. As hard as farming was, she couldn’t deny that it was rewarding. That was the main difference between farming and her work at Joja. She had never seen the point in that. She had never felt like she was making a difference in anyone’s life, including her own. But with farming she could help her crops grow and she could cultivate beautiful fruits and vegetables. She could watch the farm slowly go from a dilapidated and overgrown mess to an organized, professional-looking field. She could earn money, all by her own hard work and labor.

With renewed determination she got out of bed and braided her long brown hair, still damp from her shower the night before, and threw on jeans and a black t-shirt. She hobbled downstairs, her legs still sore from waking up, and grabbed a banana for breakfast on her way out to the shipping box. The previous day’s harvest had been quite plentiful and she had started to master the art of fishing too, according to Willy, the town fisherman, and had sold quite a few fish. She checked the box and almost gasped aloud. Over 1000 gold! She couldn’t contain a mini happy dance as she spun in a circle, stopping short when she noticed something in front of her broken old greenhouse that she had missed in her tired state. Robin, the local carpenter, had finished the coop! Dana ran over to the beautiful wooden building sitting next to her silo and wanted to cheer out loud. She had earned this coop! She looked down at the money in her hands and almost ran the whole way to Marnie’s ranch, deciding the crops could be watered when she returned.

The door jingled a friendly tone as she swung it open, a little too hard due to excitement.

“Need to buy supplies?” Marnie asked, smiling at her.

Dana was sure Marnie was an angel sent from heaven by her grandfather to help her get the farm up and running. Without her and Robin, Dana was certain she would’ve given up on Day 2 of living in the valley.

“Actually, I’m here to buy my first chickens! Robin finally finished my coop!” Dana exclaimed, unable to fully mask her excitement. She was thankful that Marnie mirrored the emotion, clapping and jumping up and down a little bit at the news.

“Oh Dana, I’m so happy for you!” she said. “You’re going to love taking care of the little chickens and watching them grow. You think cultivating crops is rewarding, just wait until your chicken lays eggs!” Dana beamed at the thought.

“I’m excited, but I’ll probably be by a lot more asking for help,” she admitted. “I don’t want to do anything to accidentally harm my animals.” Marnie smiled a comforting smile at her.

“Of course honey,” she said. “I’m always happy to help. Would you like one or two chicks?”

“Two, please,” Dana said. “I’m worried if I get just one, she’ll be lonely – “

Dana was cut off by the sound of a door slamming in the kitchen. She jumped and looked to her right to see Shane emerging through the doorway, hands shoved in the pocket of his Joja hoodie, head downtrodden, eyes heavy. Her cheeks flushed slightly at the memory of their awkward encounter the previous week when he had brushed her off at the bar.

For all its quirks, one thing Dana could safely say about Stardew Valley was that there was a higher percentage of genuinely nice people here than in the city. Almost everyone she talked to had been more than welcoming, and she had realized her usual shell of shyness had faded a lot quicker here than it ever had in the city. There were only three people Dana didn’t think liked her: Haley, who was just a bitch, Sebastian, who seemed to have social anxiety worse than Dana, and Shane. Shane who Dana just couldn’t figure out.

He always looked so damn sad. More than sad, really. He looked like the weight of his own existence was pushing down on his shoulders so hard that he might crack under the pressure. Dana was no stranger to depression, and seeing the signs of it written so plainly on Shane’s face made her chest hurt. She remembered the days when the weight of life threatened to push down too hard on her, and how it felt like no one cared. And as she watched Shane trudge through town day after day, she couldn’t really help but think no one really cared about him, either. So she had pushed down her own social anxiety enough to walk into the bar the previous week, bound and determined to put a smile on that sad man’s face. But he had completely shut her down before she could even get a full sentence out. She had been so taken aback and embarrassed at the time that she had just turned around and left the bar, tears of embarrassment stinging her eyes, and had decided that Shane wasn’t depressed, he was just a jerk.

But seeing him now, trudging out of his kitchen, she realized she was wrong. Shane wasn’t a jerk. His attitude was a product of his own mental health issues. And everyone had abandoned him because of it.

“Hey, Shane,” she said finally. He lifted his eyes up to her and jumped slightly, as if just noticing she was there. He scoffed but said nothing as he left Marnie’s house.

“Sorry about my nephew,” Marnie said. Dana spun around – she had been so engrossed in her thoughts about Shane, she had completely forgotten Marnie’s presence.

“Oh, it’s okay,” Dana said. “He seems so sad. I just wish there was something I could do to make him happy. I know that sounds ridiculous, I don’t even know him.” She shook her head to try to mask the blush that had spread over her whole face at what felt like a confession. Marnie shrugged.

“Me too, but I can’t figure out how to help him,” she said. “Some days I feel like he’s a lost cause. Most days I just feel like a bad aunt.” Dana smiled reassuringly at her.

“You’re not a bad aunt,” she said. “I’m sure you’re doing more for him than you can possibly know.” Marnie blinked heavily to try to rid herself of the tears Dana had noticed welling up.

“Well, anyway," Marnie said. "What would you like to name your new chicks?”

Chapter Text

Shane

 

The hum of the florescent lights sounded deafening as Shane cut open yet another cardboard box and started emptying its contents onto the shelf of Joja Mart. He often wondered why the store made no attempt to play any sort of music or anything to try to mask the oppressive buzzing of the lights. He usually concluded it was because they just didn’t care. Customers would come regardless, so what was the point?

Shane sighed. He wished he didn’t have to work for Joja Mart. He wished he didn’t even have to shop at Joja Mart. It wasn’t a very friendly company, and it didn’t pay employees near enough. Shane couldn’t afford to shop anywhere else. He could barely afford to pay rent to Marnie each month.

Well, if you didn’t waste so much of your income on your disgusting addiction, maybe you could afford nice things, he thought to himself, remembering his nightly visits to the saloon. Too bad you’re useless and pathetic and can’t quit drinking.

“Psst, Shane.” A hushed voice broke Shane’s reveries and he turned to see Sam standing behind him with a mop. He and Sam weren’t what he’d consider ‘friends,’ but Sam had a part time job at Joja Mart and was friendly with just about everyone he knew. Shane was no exception.

“We’re working, Sam,” Shane said. He wasn’t trying to be rude. The manager of Shane’s Joja Mart was known to be somewhat of a slave driver, yelling at employees if they chatted for even a minute.

“Check out my mixtape,” Sam said anyway, handing Shane a homemade CD. Shane could think of nothing in this world he would like less than to check out Sam’s mixtape, but he took the disk from the blonde anyway and shoved it into his pocket.

“Sure, man,” he said.

“Hey! Get back to work!” The manager, Morris, had spotted them. Shane quickly turned around and started putting boxes on the shelf as Sam walked away quickly, mopping the floor. Shane glanced up to see Morris staring at him, arms crossed, and he prayed to whatever god would listen that he didn’t get another write up. That was all he needed right now – to lose his job.

After a few minutes, Morris finally walked away, and Shane let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. With the threat of being fired gone, Shane suddenly found himself angry. Why was Joja Mart so awful? Why should he be punished for a 30 second conversation with a coworker? Not to mention, Joja Mart really needed him. They’d be hard pressed to find another stock boy in this joke of a town. Then who’d stock the shelves, Morris? Shane almost laughed aloud at the thought of that pudgy man doing anything resembling manual labor. Shane wasn’t exactly fit anymore either due to his drinking habit, but he had played football in high school and still retained his impressive upper body strength.

“Hey, Shane.”

Shane looked up at the sound of his name and was immediately filled with annoyance. Granddaughter Douglas was standing over him.

“I didn’t know you worked here,” she continued, oblivious to his anger.

“Well I do, and I am right now,” he spat. “So I can’t chat.”

“Maybe you can help me,” the farmer pressed on, ignoring his tone. “As a stocker, you’re probably a lot more familiar with the layout of this store than I am.”

“Are you trying to make fun of me?” Shane said, indignant. “It’s just a job, okay. Everyone has one.” The farmer girl took a step back in surprise.

“N…no! I wasn’t making fun of you,” she said, waving her hands in front of herself. Shane scoffed in disbelief. “I just don’t know where to find mac and cheese.” Shane looked up at her with one eyebrow raised.

“Mac and cheese?” he repeated, noticing the farmer’s cheeks turn red.

“I was really craving some, and Pierre’s doesn’t seem to sell it,” she said sheepishly. “I went up and down the aisles here, but I didn’t see it. Do you know where it is?” Shane stared up at the desperation reflecting in her big blue eyes and sighed. As much as he wanted to hate her for stealing his farm, she was a customer of Joja Mart and, as an employee, he was somewhat obligated to help her.

“Should be on aisle 7,” he said finally. Farmer girl smiled.

“Thanks,” she said.

“Shane! Stop harassing our customers and get back to work!”

Shane turned to see Morris stomping towards him, red-faced. Shane dropped back down to his knees to continue unloading the cardboard box.

“Oh, he wasn’t harassing me,” the farmer said. “I had asked him for help finding an item. He was being helpful and very courteous.” Shane looked up at her in surprise. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had actually said something nice about him, let alone in context of sticking up for him.

“Is that so,” Morris said, sounding annoyed. “Well, if you have any other questions you can ask me, as I’m manager of this store. Shane’s just a stock boy.” Farmer girl just hummed in response before walking towards aisle 7. Morris turned to give him a dirty look before marching off towards his office.

“Asshole,” Shane muttered under his breath. He picked up the cardboard box and carried it towards the back room, noticing the farmer scanning the wrong section of aisle 7. He glanced over at his manager before walking up to the farmer and dropping the box on the ground, pretending to unload the boxes onto the shelf next to her.

“Down at the end of the aisle,” he whispered.

“Thanks,” she whispered, walking towards the mac and cheese. Shane picked up the stock box and walked past her to get to the back room.

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Dana fidgeted with her hands as she stood on the stoop to the Stardrop Saloon. She had decided hours ago that she would come back here today and talk to Shane no matter what he said to her, but her resolve had faded as she finally reached the restaurant.

She bit her bottom lip as she struggled internally with the desire to run away back to her farm, her hand hovering over the door handle. Maybe she shouldn’t talk to him. Maybe pestering him would only send him further into depression. Maybe his depression was different than hers. Maybe he just genuinely didn’t like her. Maybe no one really liked her.

She shook her head as she realized she had spiraled out of control with her anxiety. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the toxic thoughts away.

People do like you, Dana, she thought to herself. And you can help Shane. She finally gripped onto the door handle and pulled it open.

The sound of plucky piano music sang out from the jukebox and mixed warmly with the mingling of voices and clattering of dishes. The Stardrop was so unlike any bar or club that Dana had visited in the city – those felt cold and stressful, the Stardrop felt warm and welcoming.

“Dana! Glad to see you!” Dana looked up to see Gus, the owner, waving at her from behind the bar. She waved and walked up to him.

“Hey Gus, how’s it going?” she asked. He shrugged and looked around at the people in his bar.

“Can’t complain,” he said. “Let me or Emily know if you want to order anything.” She smiled as she turned around and rested her elbows on the bar to survey the crowd. It was Friday, so the bar was more packed than usual. The sound of pool balls clacking together caught her attention and she looked over to see Sebastian, Abigail, and Sam hanging out in the game room. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Shane standing in his usual spot between the bar and the fireplace, drinking a beer. She quickly glanced away and felt her resolve crumbling again. Sighing, she got up and walked into the game room to prevent herself from walking out the door and leaving.

“Dana!!” Abigail jumped off the couch when she saw her and ran over. Dana chuckled as the purple-haired girl threw her arms around her in a hug. Abigail was one of the nicest people Dana had met in Stardew Valley and they had become fast friends.

“What’s up?” Dana said as she and Abigail sat down on the couch together.

“Oh you know, the usual,” Abigail responded. “Sam sucks at pool and Sebastian continues to brutally beat him.”

“Dude, shut up!” Sam barked. Dana laughed. Sam was notoriously horrible at pool but for some reason he played every single Friday night.

“Sam is nothing if not persistent,” Dana said. Sam stood up from the pool table and turned around to look at her.

“Thank you, Dana,” he said dramatically. “Thank you. Did you hear that, Abigail? Sebastian? At least someone appreciates my strengths.”

“We like to view your persistence as a weakness,” Sebastian said, hitting the cue ball deftly and sending two of the solid colored balls into the pockets of the pool table. Dana glanced over her shoulder and saw that Shane was still standing by the fireplace.

“What are you looking at?” Abigail asked. Dana whipped her head back around.

“Oh, nothing,” she stammered. “I, uh… forgot I need to ask Shane something about… Marnie’s… uh, thing.” Abigail looked at her incredulously.

“Marnie’s thing?” she asked, but Dana was already standing up.

“I’ll be right back,” she said.

Walking over towards Shane, she mentally cursed herself for placing herself in this trap. Now she had to talk to Shane, or else Abigail would call her fib. She felt her heart pounding as she walked up to him. He stared at her over the top of his beer mug.

“Hey, do you have a minute?” she asked, immediately regretting her choice of words. Real smooth, Dana, she thought. It sounds like you’re going to ask him if he’s found Jesus.

“No, I don’t have time to chat with you,” he replied hotly. Dana felt her cheeks get hot and fought back the urge to run away.

“What’s up?” she asked. Shane scoffed and took a sip of his beer.

“Today’s Shane’s birthday!” Dana turned to see the blue-haired barmaid, Emily, leaning on the counter to talk to them.

“Emily, be quiet,” Shane hissed at her.

“Oh, I didn’t know,” Dana said. “Happy birthday.” Shane took another sip of his beer and looked at her over the top of the mug.

“Thanks,” he said. Dana tried to force down a smile that was threatening to take over her face as she thought of a quick plan for Operation Make Shane Happy.

“Here, let me pay for your beer,” she said. “You know, as a birthday gift.” Shane’s eyebrows almost hit his hairline in surprise.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” he mumbled. Dana shrugged.

“Yeah, but I want to,” she said, fishing money from her pocket and handing it to a grinning Emily, who then walked away to put the money in the register.

“Oh, okay,” Shane said. “Uh… thanks for the birthday gift.” Dana noticed the tips of his ears turn red and reveled in her small success.

“Yeah, no problem,” she said. The two of them stood there in silence for a moment, awkwardly. “Well,” Dana said finally. “I’ll see you around. Happy birthday.”

“Yeah, you too,” Shane said. He turned red. “I mean, I’ll see you around too. Not happy birthday to you too. Unless it’s your birthday.” Dana stifled a chuckle.

“It’s not,” she said. “But thanks.” She turned and started to walk back to the game room.

“Hey!” Shane called out to her. She turned back around, surprised. “Uh, I should probably already know this. But what was your name again?” Dana laughed.

“It’s Dana.”  

Chapter Text

Shane

 

It had been a week since Shane had last run into Dana, and he couldn’t quite figure out why he knew that. Why was he thinking of her? Why did he care how many days passed before he saw her again? This was the woman who had stolen his farm, after all. Really, he should be thankful he hadn’t seen her in a week.

The door to the saloon opened and Shane found himself jerking his head up, hoping to see Dana walk through the door but found Doc Harvey entering instead. He shook his head to try to rid himself of the feeling of disappointment that had sprung up.

“You know, she’s probably just busy on the farm,” Emily said, unprovoked. Shane tried to muster up his most unimpressed expression.

“Who?” he said. Emily laughed.

“You can’t hide anything from me, Shaney,” she said. “Who knows, maybe she’ll come by tonight. And if she doesn’t, you could always go see her.” Shane rolled his eyes but considered Emily’s words. He had made no attempt to go see Dana at all. She had come up to him in the saloon twice and once at work. He had never even attempted to reciprocate. But would that be weird? He didn’t want to be weird.

The door opened again and Shane felt his heart stop beating as Dana entered the bar. Before he could stop himself he shot Emily a desperate look, who laughed before waving at the newcomer.

“Hey, Dana!” Emily called. Shane couldn’t decide if he wanted to hit or hug Emily for getting Dana’s attention. As she approached, Shane’s heart suddenly learned how to start beating again and seemed to be going faster to make up for lost time.

“Hey, Emily,” Dana said. “What’s up?” Emily shrugged.

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” she said, glancing at Shane. Dana sighed, clearly exasperated.

“I know,” she said. “It’s the last week of Spring, and I’ve been just killing myself trying to get the farm ready for Summer. Owning a farm is a lot of work.” Emily smiled sympathetically before looking at Shane and tilting her head in a look that screamed ‘talk to her!’

“Hi Dana,” he said, feeling like an absolute putz. She smiled at him – how did he ever think she had a snake smile?

“Hey, Shane” she said. “How you been?” He shrugged.

“Been alright,” he lied. “What about you? Oh, you just said you’ve been busy. My bad.” He felt his face get red as she laughed.

“That’s okay,” she said.

Surely she can hear my heart beating right now, he thought to himself.

“Uh, you want a drink?” he asked. Oh shit, too forward.

“Yeah, that sounds nice,” she said. Okay, not too forward. “Can I get a rum and coke, Emily?”

“Sure thing,” Emily said, turning to make the drink. Dana leaned her arm back on the bar and sighed, closing her eyes.

“You tired?” Shane asked. Dana hummed affirmatively. “Then why are you here?” Dana opened her eyes and looked at him, taken aback. Shane wanted to punch himself for being so klutzy with words.

“Just wanted a break from being on the farm I guess,” she said, her face softening as she seemed to realize Shane wasn’t trying to be rude. “It’s my work and home, so it can feel like I’m a prisoner there sometimes.”

“Here you go, Dana,” Emily said from behind the bar, pushing the drink towards her. Dana smiled in thanks.

“I used to want to be a farmer,” Shane said suddenly, surprised by his own willingness to talk. “But it never worked out.” Dana took a sip of her drink and smiled warmly.

“There’s still time,” she said. “You never know what can happen. Life can be pretty unexpected.” Shane scoffed.

“Yeah, but for me it’s all unexpectedly bad,” he said. He looked up at her face to find her staring off into the distance, seemingly lost in her thoughts.

“Well, something good is bound to happen eventually,” she said finally. “It can’t rain all the time.” Shane shrugged and took a sip of his beer.

“Wait,” he said suddenly, pulling the drink away from his lips. “Did you just quote ‘The Crow?’” he asked. Dana threw her head back and laughed.

“Dang it, you caught me,” she said in mock frustration. “I was trying to sound poetic.” Shane tried to hide his chuckle by taking a sip of his beer.

“You sounded very poetic,” he said. “In fact, I’m not convinced ‘The Crow’ didn’t steal that line from you.” He caught Dana’s eyes as they both smiled softly.

“Well, I should get going,” Dana said, finishing her drink. Shane tried to fight back the disappointment at her leaving. “Have to get up early to take care of the farm.” She turned around to wave Emily over to pay for her drink.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Shane said. “I’ll get it.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Dana said. Shane shrugged.

“I owe you for the beer last week,” he said. Dana smirked at him.

“That was a birthday present,” she said. “You can’t owe someone for a birthday present.” Shane felt the corners of his mouth turn up slightly.

“Then I owe you for…” he tried desperately to think of something but came up empty. “Just cause I want to.” Did I say that out loud, he thought. What the fuck is wrong with me.

“Well, I won’t argue with that,” Dana said. “Thanks.”

“Thank you,” Shane said, immediately realizing how stupid he sounded. “…for, you know, chatting.”

“Well I like chatting with you,” Dana said. “I’ll see you around.” He waved at her as she left the bar, and then immediately sighed and put his face in his hands as the door shut behind her.

“Emily, how bad was that,” he asked his blue-haired friend as soon as Dana had left the saloon. Emily laughed.

“Not bad at all!” she said. “It was perfect.”

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Dana woke up on Sunday morning at six as usual and went down the stairs, grabbing a banana on her way to the shipping crate. It was the first day of the summer, and the weather had changed so suddenly that the last of her springtime crops had died from the heat. She checked the mailbox out of habit, and was shocked to find there was actually a letter inside. She retrieved it carefully and tried to decipher the handwriting on the front but it was completely unfamiliar. She tore open the envelope and couldn’t help but smile as she read the note.

Hey Dana,

I thought it would be fun to send you a letter. I don’t really know what to write though. Here, I’ve enclosed a treat for you. Don’t tell anyone, but I snagged this from the back room of Joja Mart ages ago.

Okay, see you soon.

-Shane

She reached further into the mailbox and pulled out a box of frozen Joja brand pepper poppers.

Dana laughed as she tried to imagine Shane sitting down and writing the letter. It seemed pretty out of character for him, and she finally decided that Emily had probably played a large part in the suggestion. Dana had played dumb, but she had noticed the way Emily had encouraged Shane to talk to her at the bar the other night. Either way, she was happy to have made progress in Operation Make Shane Happy.

She went inside to put the pepper poppers in the freezer, then headed back outside to plow her fields to make room for the new summer plants. It was difficult work to dig up all the old dead spring plants, and it was several hours later that she finally was able to head into town to buy seeds from Pierre’s.

After checking the town calendar and help wanted board, she entered the shop to find her purple-haired friend leaning against the counter. She often forgot that Abigail was actually Pierre’s daughter, as they seemed like complete opposites.

“Hey Dana!” she said. “What’s up?”

“Nothing much, buying summer seeds,” she said. Abigail made a raspberry noise with her mouth and a thumbs down.

“Boring,” she said. “I hate summer.” Dana laughed.

"You pretty much hate everything," she said, chuckling. Abigail gasped in mock hurt.

"How dare you call me out like that!" she said facetiously. Dana shook her head.

“Hey, I had a weird thing happen this morning,” she said suddenly, remembering the events of the morning. “You’ll never guess who sent me a letter.”

“Michael Bolton,” Abigail said without missing a beat. Dana shook her head in surprise.

“No, what? Why would you even think that?” Abigail shrugged.

“I tried to think of the absolute last person I would think of,” she said simply. Dana laughed.

“Well I’ll do you one better than Michael Bolton,” she said. “It was Shane.” Abigail gasped.

“Shane Mansfield?!” she exclaimed. Dana nodded. “Okay, Michael Bolton would’ve been less surprising.” Dana laughed.

“I know!” she said, surprised to feel her face growing warm. “But it was sweet. Shane’s really nice.” Abigail scoffed.

“If you say so,” she said, rolling her eyes. Dana smirked at her.

“I do say so,” she said. “And if you’ll excuse me, I need to do farmer things.” She turned to Pierre and bought a variety of summer seeds before waving goodbye to him and Abigail and leaving the shop. She started walking through the town square towards her farm when she noticed distinctive blue hair on the girl walking towards the saloon.

“Hey Emily,” she called. Emily looked up and, upon noticing Dana, waved and grinned widely.

“Hey Dana!” she said. “What’s up?”

“Oh, not much,” Dana said. “Buying seeds for summer.”

“What did you get?” Emily asked. Dana took the seeds out of the bag and looked at them.

“Let’s see here, I got some blueberries, corn, hops, melons, radishes, and red peppers,” she said, throwing each packet back in the bag as she read it off.

“Wow, sounds like a lot of planting,” Emily said. Dana nodded and sighed.

"No kidding," she said. "It's going to be a busy day for me when I get home." Emily chuckled.

“Red pepper, huh?” she said with a twinkle in her eyes. “You know, I can’t think of red peppers without thinking of Shane. He absolutely loves the things!” Dana lowered her eyes at Emily.

“Really, he does?” she asked. Emily nodded enthusiastically. “Interesting. You know, speaking of Shane... I received a nice letter from him this morning. Would you have had anything to do with that?” Emily raised her eyebrows in an attempt to look innocent, which only sealed Dana’s conclusion that she was involved.

“I don’t know why you’d think that,” she said in a sing-songey voice. Dana looked at her skeptically for a moment before they both burst out laughing. “But in all seriousness, Shane is nice and he has good ideas. Sometimes he just needs some encouragement to actually implement those ideas.” Dana smiled.

“Well, he’s lucky to have a friend like you,” Dana said. Emily smiled.

“I should probably get to work, but I’ll see you around, Dana!” Emily said. Dana waved as Emily turned and walked into the saloon. Dana stood in the town square for a second, wrangling with herself on what to do. Finally she turned and went back into Pierre’s shop. He looked up at the sound of the door opening and raised his eyebrows.

“Back so soon, Farmer Dana?” he asked. She walked up to the counter.

“Yeah, uh, could I get a few more packets of red pepper seeds?”

Chapter Text

Shane

 

Shane threw a pebble into the lake and watched as the ripples fanned out, getting weaker and weaker until he wouldn’t have noticed them at all if he didn’t know they were there.

He supposed that’s how he was, too. He felt weaker every day, and lord knows everyone in the valley had forgotten he was there. No one noticed him anymore. No one except Dana. What was her deal anyway?

He threw another pebble into the lake and watched as the water splashed up, rippling wildly, impossible not to notice.

That must be it, he thought. She’s just new. I haven’t had time to fade out of her thoughts yet.

He sighed. It was getting dark and he would normally be at the saloon right now, but Emily had spent the last several days pestering him about Dana, and he needed a mental break to figure out how he actually felt. Emily would have him believe he was in love with the farmer, but Shane didn’t want to go that far. After all, he was friends with Emily, too. The only other person in this town who still cared about him. And he knew he wasn’t romantically interested in her at all. Dana was just as nice as Emily, so there was no reason to assume he’d be romantically interested in her, either.

Sure, she was pretty. In a simple, farmer-girl kind of way. But if he waited long enough, he was certain her friendliness would fade away, just like everyone else in this town. In the world. Plus he was a loser who worked at Joja Mart. Why on earth would she waste time with him? She’d probably be into successful guys like Harvey. And really, she had stolen his farm! So he didn’t know why he was thinking about her as anything other than an obstacle in his life’s dream.

Besides, he had no intention of getting romantically involved with anyone ever again if he could help it. Not after…

“Hey Shane.”

Shane jumped and dropped the rock he had been about to toss into the water onto the dock beside him. He looked up to see Dana standing behind him. He blinked a few times to determine if she was an alcohol-fueled hallucination before deciding she was in fact real.

“Up late, huh?” he said, hoping his voice didn’t somehow alert her to the fact that she had been dominating his thoughts. She shrugged and sat down on the dock next to him.

“Guess so,” she said. “Just heading back to my farm from town actually, and I thought I heard something plop into the water.” Shane took a sip of his beer to hide his growing smile and desperately wished that her presence didn’t make him feel so… alive.

“Here, have a cold one,” he said, taking a beer out of the 6-pack he had brought and handing it to her. She cleaned the top off with the hem of her shirt before popping the tab open.

She took a sip and they sat in silence for a moment, staring out over the dark water of the pond. The sun had set all the way and Shane looked up at the stars and the moon, reminded suddenly of Nancy and Paul.

“Buh,” he sighed. “Life.”

He threw the pebble he had dropped on the dock into the water and glanced over at Dana. She watched the water splashed but said nothing. Shane took another sip of his beer and felt words bubbling to the surface of his mouth before he could stop them.

“You ever feel like, no matter what you do you’re gonna fail?” he said. “Like you’re stuck in some miserable abyss and you’re so deep you can’t even see the light of day? I just feel like no matter how hard I try, I’m not strong enough to climb out of that hole.” He glanced over at Dana and saw that her expression had shifted from contentment to sadness.

“Actually, yeah,” she said quietly. “I really do.” She glanced over at him and smiled sadly, and he found himself incapable of doing anything other than staring at her wordlessly, fixated on how the moon reflected brightly in her blue eyes. “But who knows,” she continued. “Maybe we’ll both get out of that pit one day. Maybe the way out is to help someone else who’s stuck.”

Despite the darkness, Shane was sure he saw a blush on her face before she proceeded to chug her entire beer. He chuckled, his spell broken when she closed her eyes.

“Fast drinker, huh?” he said. “You’re a woman after my own heart. Just don’t make it a habit, you still have a future ahead of you.” Dana smirked at him and raised one eyebrow.

“And you don’t?” she asked. He exhaled sharply.

“Nope, my future died a long time ago,” he said. “There’s nothing left for me now but death.” He heard Dana gasp slightly beside him.

“Surely there’s more than that,” she said. He glanced over at her, unable to hide how pained he felt.

“Like what,” he croaked out, pissed off at himself for seeming weak in front of her. She shrugged.

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But that’s the beauty of life. If you knew everything that was coming, good or bad, there’d be no point in living.”

He stared down at the blackness of the water and wished he could jump in and just become one with the night sky. Surely there was some truth to what she was saying, but was it enough to make his life worth it? Everything that had come for him in the last three years had been bad. He couldn’t think of a single surprise event that had occurred that hadn’t left him wishing for death.

What about Dana, he thought suddenly. He glanced up at her, shocked by his own revelation. She was unexpected, and she was good.

“Well, my liver’s begging me to stop,” he said, forcing himself to stop the conversation before he said something really stupid. “Better call it a night. See you around, Dana.” He stood up and walked quickly towards Marnie’s ranch without looking back at Dana, feeling the adrenaline pump through his veins.

What was this? What was this feeling? Why did Dana have this effect on him? Why was he always such a stupid idiot around her?

He walked into the house and made a beeline for his room, thankful that he didn’t run into Marnie or Jas on the way. He had barely shut the door to his room when he sat on the floor and leaned his head back against the door.

I can’t do this to her, he thought. I can’t care about her. I can’t let her be another victim of my fucked up life.

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Day by day and little by little, Dana was finally starting to feel like farming was becoming easier. Or maybe she was just getting used to the hard physical labor. As she walked through her field watering each plant with care, she remembered how sore her legs and arms had been just half a season ago from doing the same work. Now, she was able to water all her crops in about three quarters of the time it used to take and still have time left over to feed the chickens, who had finally laid their first eggs.

Marnie was right. Cultivating her crops was rewarding, but it was nothing compared to the joy of raising a living breathing chicken. Dana had really taken a liking to the chickens and felt they liked her too, in their own chicken way. They clucked happily every time she entered the coop and even seemed to snuggle up against her if she picked them up.

But as much as she loved her chicks, she couldn’t neglect her plants. They were her money makers right now, after all. She couldn’t survive on the eggs of just two chickens. So she walked plant by plant, watering them mindlessly as she felt her thoughts stray to the dark-haired subject of her personal mission in life.

Shane was still just as confusing as ever. After the night at the pond, she had walked back to her farmhouse feeling baffled by his actions. He had really opened up to her and had started to explain his feelings and had all but broken her heart with his story. She tried her best to show that she understood, to help him see the point of staying alive, the possibility of joy in life. But then he suddenly clammed up, stopped talking, and walked back to his ranch.

She had spent the last several days trying to identify what she had said to set him off like that and was coming up blank. She had really felt like they were making progress and now… she just didn’t know.

Her confusion had only been made more pronounced a couple nights after that when she had gone to the Stardrop Saloon to say hi to Shane. She expected they were past the phase of him shutting her down, but she was taken aback when he had simply scoffed and said “Why are you bothering me? I want to be left alone.”

She had shrugged and told him it was okay, they all had days they wanted to be alone, she understood. But she had left the bar with a heavy heart, wishing she could figure out what she had done wrong.

A bright red spot on one of her plants caught her attention, breaking through her thoughts. She knelt down and inspected it carefully – a ripe red pepper! She looked around and noticed several ripe peppers. They had come in so fast! She carefully picked the reddest ones, making sure to not disturb the ones still growing on the plants, and carried them over to her shipping crate. She lifted the lid and was about to dump them all inside when she thought of Emily’s words from the other week.

“I can’t think of red peppers without thinking of Shane. He loves the things!”

Yes, Shane was confusing, but perhaps the way to understand him was just to be persistent. With that in mind, she set aside a few of the best looking peppers before depositing the remaining ones into her shipping crate. The sound of a dog barking got her attention and she turned to see the short-haired brown mutt she had adopted running over to her happily.

“Hey, Pookie,” she said, petting the dog on the head. “What do you think, these look like good peppers?”

She held the reserved peppers out to the dog’s nose and he sniffed them for a moment before licking her arm. She laughed.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” she said, petting the dog one last time before going into her farmhouse. She washed each pepper carefully and placed them in a small Tupperware before heading back outside to finish watering her remaining crops.

After a long day of working in the field and fishing in the mountains, Dana returned to her house later that night and filled up a glass with water from the kitchen sink, leaning back against the counter to drink it and relax. Her elbow bumped up against something and she turned to see the container of peppers sitting on the counter.

“Oh yeah!” she said aloud to herself. She splashed her face with water from the sink to remove some of the dirt and grime and tried to pat the frizz away from her hair before grabbing the pepper box and leaving the house to walk to town. It was already pretty late and the path that led by the bus stop was almost completely dark, making the stars and Milky Way extremely visible. She glanced up as she walked, appreciating the beauty of the night sky that was shrouded by the constant light in the city.

By the time she made it to the saloon, most of the regular customers had left. But Shane was still there, standing by the fireplace and chatting idly with Emily. Dana took a deep breath, mustered up every ounce of courage she had, and marched over to him. He raised one eyebrow when he noticed her approaching.

“I’m surprised you’re still trying to be friends with me,” he said once she was in earshot. “Haven’t I been rude enough to you yet?” Dana felt a pang of embarrassment at his words.

“Shane! That was not nice,” Emily scolded. Without a word Dana thrust the container of peppers towards Shane.

“What’s this?” he asked, taking the box and opening it to reveal the freshly harvested peppers. “Did you grow these?” The look of annoyance on his face had been replaced with a look of eagerness. In fact, he looked almost impressed.

“Yeah, I just harvested them this morning,” she said.

“Why are you giving them to me?” he asked. His tone wasn’t accusatory; he sounded genuinely curious. Dana shrugged.

“They’ve got a fiery taste and you’ve got a fiery attitude, so I thought you might like them,” she said. Emily gasped slightly at Dana’s words and looked at Shane, and for a moment, Dana was worried she had actually pissed him off. But she was relieved when Shane burst out laughing – a genuine laugh that seemed to come from deep within him, causing a wide smile to spread across his face.

Dana had never seen Shane smile – not really, anyway. He had turned up the corners of his lips a couple times, but this was different. Dana stared at him as he laughed, suddenly noticing how his 5 o’clock shadow highlighted his sharp jaw line and how his hair bounced gently with each laugh. She felt a flush spread over her face as she realized smiling looked damn good on him.

“Well, you’re right about that,” he said. “I do like them. Thanks.” She felt herself smiling.

“No problem,” she said. “I have a ton of them on the farm so if you want any… just let me know or whatever.” He had stopped laughing and the smile had faded from his face, but the sparkle remained in his emerald eyes and Dana felt her heart skip a beat as he seemed to stare into her very soul.

“You want a drink, Dana?” Emily asked. Dana and Shane both jumped, having forgotten where they were.

“Uh, no that’s okay,” Dana said. “It’s pretty late. I just came by to give those to Shane. I’m actually going to head out now.” Emily smiled and nodded.

“Okay, I’ll see you around,” she said. Dana waved at her before glancing back at Shane, who had resumed drinking his beer and pouting with his usual look of disinterest.

“Yeah, see you around, Dana,” he said. She waved at him and quickly left the saloon, not trusting herself to speak. Instead she practically ran back towards her farmhouse, denying the sudden fluttering in her stomach and adrenaline in her chest.

By the time she made it back to the path by the old bus stop, her heart rate had returned to normal and her brain was able to produce logical thoughts. The feeling that had washed over her when Shane laughed was nothing more than pride, she determined. She was proud at her success in making him a little less downtrodden than he usually was.

Yes, Operation Make Shane Happy was coming along nicely, and that’s all it was.

Chapter Text

Shane

 

As soon as the clock hit 5 pm, Shane dropped his Joja apron off in the employee room and left work. It had been another excruciatingly long day unloading boxes and stocking shelves and Shane was ready for the slight comfort he knew the Stardrop Saloon would bring him.

The air was hot and humid as he walked through town, and his Joja hoodie was sticking to his arms uncomfortably. He pushed one sleeve up to his elbow as he walked allowing a slight breath of a cool breeze to grace his forearm before the sleeve slid back down to his wrist. The hoodie was so old that the elastic had all but gone from the sleeve ends. He had gotten the hoodie six years ago when he first started working at the Joja Mart in the city, back when he had been grateful to have a job at all. At the time he had felt like Joja Mart was his savior, his ticket to freedom and independence. But six years of grueling work days and low pay had left him jaded.

He wasn’t even sure why he continued to wear the jacket after all this time, especially during the summer. He supposed it was really just a constant reminder of his failures in life – a tattered and torn dream of a bright future that would never be.

When he finally arrived at the saloon, he was surprised to see Dana already there chatting with Emily. He stopped in the entrance when he saw her, spellbound by the way her smile spread all the way to her eyes, making them crinkle as she laughed at whatever Emily had said. Her long braid was draped over her shoulder as she fingered the loose end mindlessly, then suddenly she swung the whole braid behind her to lay flat.

He looked up and realized she had tossed her braid aside to look at him as he stood rooted to the doorway. Blushing, he made a show of wiping his feet on the entrance mat, despite it not having rained for days, in hopes she would buy it as a legitimate excuse for his lingering.

“Hey,” Dana said as Shane walked over to his usual spot.

“Hey,” he replied. Emily handed him a large mug of his favorite beer before he had to order it and he took a sip, careful not to stare too long at Dana.

“How you been?” Dana asked, apparently not as worried about seeming aloof as he was. He shrugged.

“Same old, same old,” he said. “Work, work, and more work.”

“Work, work, and beer!” Emily corrected from her spot behind the bar before whisking away to help another customer. Shane chuckled softly as he took another sip.

“Won’t deny that,” he said. “You been busy on your farm?” he asked Dana, consciously trying to force himself to sound as casual as possible, yet somehow feeling like his efforts made him seem less casual. She shrugged.

“Yeah,” she said. “My summer crops seem to be doing well. And of course my chickens are a handful.” Shane raised one eyebrow.

“Chickens?” he asked. Dana nodded.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “I love my chickens. They’re like my little feathered babies. Is that weird?” She laughed awkwardly at herself, prompting Shane to chuckle at the faint blush on her cheeks.

“No, it’s not,” he said. “Marnie has all kinds of animals, but I’ve always liked her chickens the best. Maybe I should spend more time with them if they’re that great.” Dana nodded vigorously.

“Oh, definitely!” she said. “Or if you ever want to hang out with my chickens, you can. To get away from home.” Shane tried not to read too far into that statement and instead focused on slowing his racing heart.

“Yeah, that would be cool,” he said. Dana shrugged.

“Yeah, just text me if you ever want to come see them or whatever,” she said, the blush on her face no longer deniable, and Shane couldn’t help but wonder what she was so embarrassed about. “Actually, do you have my number?” she asked. It was Shane’s turn to turn red.

“No, don’t think I do actually,” he said, pulling his phone out of his pocket and pretending to scroll though his contacts, knowing full well Dana’s number wasn’t among them.

“Yeah, I don’t think I have yours either,” Dana said, tapping at the screen of her own phone. “Wh…what’s your number?”

It’s just a phone number, Shane, he thought to himself in a futile attempt to silence the alarm bells that had started blaring in his mind. You have everyone else’s number in town. It’s not a big deal.

He finally blurted the number out too fast, watching her struggle to type fast enough to keep up with him. She tapped a few more times on her phone.

“Got it,” she said. Shane’s phone dinged in his hand. “Just sent you a text so you have mine too,” she said.

Shane opened the text message from the unsaved number to find only one word in the body of the message.

                               Dana

He saved her contact information before sliding his phone back into his pocket.

“Got it,” he said. Dana downed the last few sips of her drink before standing up.

“Cool,” she said. “Like I said, just text me if you want to see the chickens. Or whatever.” Shane couldn’t hide the disappointed look on his face.

“Heading out?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “I need to drop some stuff off at the community center before I head home.” Shane cocked his head in confusion.

“The old, run down community center? The abandoned community center?” Dana’s eyes crinkled again as she smiled.

“That’s the one,” she said. “Well, I’ll see you.” Shane shook away his curiosity as to her purpose at the community center. It wasn’t any of his business anyway.

“Yeah, see you,” he said.

As soon as she left he took his phone back out of his pocket and unlocked it to stare at the last received text message, feeling his mind swirl at the possibilities and implications of its presence.

                                Dana

His fingers hovered over the keys, itching to reply, but he locked the screen and tossed the phone back in his pocket, not wanting to seem too desperate by texting her so soon.

Instead he finished his beer before waving to Emily and starting the trek back to the ranch. The air was still thick and warm thanks to the humidity, despite it being dark. The moon was shining brightly and Shane looked up at it, sighing as he thought of his sister.

“Nance, what am I doing,” he whispered aloud to the moon. “I can’t go down this road again.”

Shane knew what his sister would say to him if she were alive. She would scold him for being so stupid, she would remind him that there’s more than one road, and that the events of the past don’t dictate the events of the future. She would probably really like Dana, in fact, and would encourage Shane to purse it.

He sighed as he pushed open the door to the ranch and trudged into his room. Marnie and Jas were both already asleep and the house was pitch black, but he made it to his room without flipping on a single light. Once inside his room he flopped down onto his bed, kicking his shoes off and letting them fall onto the floor. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and stared at the last received message.

                                Dana

Shane groaned as he realized how much turmoil he was causing for himself. How did this happen? How did he fall for the girl who had stolen his farm?! Of all people, it had to be her. It would be so much easier to just go through life hating her and not spending any more time thinking about her.

Stupid, Shane. Stupid, stupid, stupid…

He closed his eyes and thought of Nancy again. When she had first met Paul she had been a giggling mess. He remembered her practically skipping and twirling everywhere she went, always looking as though her head was in the clouds. It wasn’t unlike how Shane acted when he first met Lydia. Things had been so much more simple back then.

His eyes shot open. Why where things more simple then? Why couldn’t they be simple now, too? He stared at his phone screen, filled with a sudden burst of courage and determination that was very unlike him. Before he could stop himself, he typed out a message.

     You going to the luau tomorrow?

His phone chirped as the message sent.

Immediately, he regretted his actions.

He tossed his phone away and covered his face in his hands as he heard it clatter to the floor.

“Fuck, Shane!” he said aloud. “You fucking idiot!”

He laid in silence for a minute, hating himself for hoping to hear the distinctive ding that would indicate a reply. When it didn’t come, he smacked his hands against his face.

“Fuuuuuuuck.”

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Dana’s alarm sang its cheery tune at 6 am the next morning, waking her from a dreamless sleep. She reached over and pressed the snooze button, draping her arm over her eyes to block out the rays of sun that were peeking around the curtains. After a few minutes of unsuccessful sleep she groaned and picked up her phone to turn the alarm all the way off. The text bubble icon at the top of the screen caught her eye, and she opened the messaging app to find a text message from Shane waiting there.

                                You going to the luau tomorrow?

She sat up straight, suddenly wide awake. Her wildly beating heart betrayed the emotions she had been trying to deny for days now.

When did Operation Make Shane Happy turn into this? When had she fallen for him? She certainly hadn’t come to the valley with the intention of finding a boyfriend, and she was annoyed with herself for falling so easily.

She stared at the text again. She had forgotten the luau was today, and didn’t want to miss another town event. Lewis hadn’t been very happy with her when she missed the Flower Dance, even when she tried to explain that she hadn’t meant any offense, she just didn’t like dancing and didn’t have a dance partner. A luau would be much safer than that though, right? Or would Lewis expect her to dance the hula.

The phone on her screen turned black from lack of use and she unlocked it again, reminded about the text message that was waiting on her reply. She tried not to think too hard about it as she typed and sent a message.

                                                                Yeah, I’m planning on going.

                                                                It’s just a potluck, right?

She looked at the sent timestamp and realized he had texted her at almost 11 the night before, and decided he probably wasn’t awake yet to reply. She quickly got up and got dressed before heading downstairs to grab her daily banana, then went outside to tend to her chickens and crops. When she got back inside over an hour later, she was surprised to see her phone screen lighting up from a received message on the kitchen table. She looked down to see that Shane had replied.

                                Yah but not a normal one

Not a normal one? What on earth could make a potluck “not normal?” He replied as if reading her mind.

                                Everyone just brings one thing for a giant pot of soup

Okay, that would definitely make a potluck abnormal. She had been planning on bringing homemade salsa with some chips, but now she wasn’t so sure. But she didn’t want to show up with one stupid tomato or something if Shane was pulling her leg.

                                                                …really? That sounds kind of weird.

                                                                Are you just messing with me lmao

                                Nope

                                Dead serious

Dana groaned as she realized she was going to have to quickly re-plan for the potluck, which began in less than two hours.

                                                                Damn, I might be late then. Gotta find something to bring.

                                                                But I will be there :)

                                                                Will you?

She sent the last message with trepidation, realizing that his first text message wasn’t necessarily indicative of Shane’s planned attendance at the luau. Maybe he had been asking her if she was going because he wasn’t, and he wanted to come by and see the chickens while she was gone.

                                Yah

Dana let out the breath she realized she had been holding and shook her head at herself for caring so much. Stuffing her phone into her back pocket she stood up and started looking through her fridge and cabinets, hoping to stumble across something that would be good in a community soup. Nothing stood out to her as appropriate and she sat back down at her table, defeated.

Suddenly she remembered the cave at the north of her property that Demetrius, the local scientist, had set up to grow mushrooms. She had all but forgotten about it after he left, even though he had told her she was welcome to take and sell the mushrooms. She practically ran there from her house and entered cautiously to find six bins with mushrooms growing on top. Five of the bins had tiny brown mushrooms, but one of the bins had a giant purple mushroom.

She picked up the purple one and inspected it. It was certainly large enough to bring as a respectable soup item. The brown ones were all pretty tiny and might look kind of half assed if she brought them. But purple wasn’t a good sign – it was probably poisonous. She pulled out her phone and swiped up to access the search engine, typing in her query.

Purple mushroom

She hit the “Search” button and waited as the webpage slowly loaded. One benefit of living in the city was fast data and wifi. Out here in the valley, it took forever to load anything.

Finally the page loaded and she clicked on the first link, which led to Wikipedia. She tapped her foot anxiously as that webpage took even longer to load, checking the time on her phone and noticing it was already past 9 am.

When the page finally loaded she scanned quickly to determine if the mushroom was poisonous.

“…grows in caves… closely related to the red mushroom… earthy flavor… good in soup…”

Dana stopped reading. If Wikipedia said it was good in soup, that was good enough for her. She ran out of the cave, abandoning the tiny brown mushrooms for now, and started down the path to the south of her farm, past Marnie’s ranch and Leah’s cabin, into town, across the river, and onto the beach where all of the other residents of the valley were already gathered.

She walked passed Lewis and waved to make sure he noticed her presence, before realizing he was standing next to a ridiculous looking man with a purple suit and handlebar mustache. Feeling awkward she continued onto the beach and was thankful to see that Shane was standing at a nearby table.

“Hey,” she said breathlessly as she walked up to him. He turned and smiled softly at her.

“Hey, you made it,” he said. “You look at a little frazzled.” Dana felt her cheeks get hot as she tried to pat the frizz from her hair.

“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I was in a bit of a panic trying to find something for the soup. You really saved my butt. I was planning on bringing chips and salsa.” He shrugged.

“Glad I could be of help, then,” he said, taking a bite of what Dana was only just now noticing seemed to be regular potluck food. “Man, this is good. You don’t get hot pepper chutney like this in the city.”

“Should I have brought the soup ingredient and the salsa?” she asked hesitantly. Shane shook his head.

“No, it’s not a big deal,” he said with a mouth full of chutney. “I think only Marnie, Caroline, Robin, and Jodi ever bring anything else. Well, and Granny’s cookies of course.” Dana wasn’t sure she felt better about the food situation, but she decided it was too late to do anything about it now.

“Who’s the guy with Lewis? He looks kind of stuffy,” she said. Shane chuckled.

“That’s the governor,” he explained. “And he’s very stuffy. He comes by once a year and Lewis makes us all go crazy to make this damn soup for him. But I do like getting free food.” Dana laughed.

“Speaking of, where should I bring this?” She held up the purple mushroom. Shane finished chewing and swallowing another bite of chutney before answering.

“Give it to Marnie,” he said, pointing to his aunt standing by a ginormous soup pot. “She makes the soup.” Dana smiled at him before walking over to Marnie, who was using a giant wooden spoon to stir the soup.

“Hey there, Dana,” Marnie said with a warm smile. “Did you bring something for the soup? Just climb on up and drop it in if so!”

 Dana turned and saw that the soup pot was indeed so large that there was a little step ladder next to it to aide in the cooking process. She climbed up and looked down at the bubbling grey slop which, frankly, looked disgusting. She tossed in her purple mushroom, wondering how on earth anyone would be able to eat such a nasty mess.

“Well, there’s that,” Dana said to Marnie. “Hope it’s good.” Marnie smiled.

“It always is!” she said. “I’m surprised you knew to bring a soup ingredient. First timers usually bring a casserole or something.”

“Yeah, to be honest I just found out this morning,” she said. “Your nephew texted me to let me in on the secret.” Marnie stopped stirring and looked up at her with a shocked expression.

My nephew? Shane?” she asked. Dana nodded. “Well, color me surprised.” Dana laughed.

“Shane’s been really nice to me since I moved here,” she said, watching Marnie’s expression shift between surprise and skepticism.

“I’m glad to hear that,” she said finally with a tone that led Dana to believe she wasn’t fully convinced.

“Hey Dana!”

Dana looked over to find Abigail waving at her.

“Guess I’ll see you later, Marnie,” she said. Marnie smiled as she began stirring the giant pot of soup again. Dana walked over to where Abigail was standing with Sebastian and Sam.

“Hey guys, what’s up?” she asked.

“We’re hiding from the Mayor,” Abigail said, laughing. “He still hasn’t forgiven Sam for putting a bunch of anchovies in the soup a few years ago.” Dana laughed.

“Sam! You really did such a thing?” she mock scolded. “How could you?” Sam flashed her a toothy grin.

“Hey, that governor guy deserved it,” he said. “Plus it was fucking hilarious to see him try to keep it down!” He, Sebastian, and Abigail burst out laughing at the memory.

“You’re awful,” Dana joked, chuckling. “But I might be awful too. I didn’t know it wasn’t a regular potluck until this morning, so I just grabbed one giant purple mushroom on the way here. I don’t even know what it tastes like.” Sam laughed.

“Yes!!” he exclaimed. “I hope it’s terrible.” Before Dana could speak up and defend herself, Mayor Lewis started calling for everyone to move closer.

“Gather round, everyone,” he said. “Who’s ready for the Annual Potluck Soup Tasting?!” The residents all clapped and cheered.

Dana looked around for Shane, and saw him still standing by the hot pepper chutney. He looked away from her quickly as her gaze landed on him.

“Alright Governor, if you would do us the honor,” the mayor continued. The stuffy violet-suited man stepped forward and grabbed a large spoonful of the colorless slop. Dana couldn’t help but make a disgusted face as he brought the spoon to his lips and slurped up the soup. She glanced up at Shane again and saw him chuckling softly at her expression.

“Oh my,” the governor said after savoring the soup for a small moment. “I think this is the best soup I’ve ever tasted!” The crowd burst out in applause.

“Hey, nice job!” Sam said, clapping her on the shoulder. “I’ll bet it was that purple mushroom that made it so delicious.” Dana laughed.

“Maybe,” she said. “Or just the lack of anchovies.” Sam laughed and jabbed her in the side playfully.

Dana looked back up to make eye contact with Shane, but he was missing from his spot. She scanned the crowd quickly but saw no sign of him.

Finally, she noticed a flash of purple-black hair out of the corner of her eye and saw him walking quickly down the path that led back to town. He seemed to be in a hurry, and Dana wondered if he had fallen ill.

Maybe I should go check on him, she thought to herself. She was about to follow him when she stopped herself – were they really close enough for her to be taking care of him if he was sick? And maybe he wasn’t sick at all. Maybe he forgot something at home, or maybe he was just going to the bathroom. It would look pretty weird for her to follow him to his house only to find him doing something very mundane and normal.

Her decision was finalized by Abigail calling for her.

“Hey Dana!” Abigail said. “Come on, we’re all going to try the soup!”

Feeling confident that Shane would return shortly, Dana followed Abigail to the soup pot.

Chapter Text

Shane

 

Shane tried to hold his expression together as he stomped off the beach towards town, but felt his face deteriorating quickly into a scowl. He had no right to be upset, a fact which only made him more upset at himself for being upset. But how could he not be? He really felt like he had put himself out there, he had made an attempt to be friendly to Dana, he had texted her, he really thought something was happening there. But clearly the only thing happening with Dana was Sam.

Shane felt his blood get hot as the scene of Sam playfully poking Dana’s side replayed in his mind over and over. Not to mention the way he rested his hand on her shoulder. And she hadn’t fought him off or looked uncomfortable, so she must have been into him too.

He cursed himself for ever moving past his hatred of that evil woman who stole his farm.

Pelican Town was deserted as he trudged across the bridge and turned down the lane that led out of town. He couldn’t resist spitting at Sam’s house as he walked by, despite the knowledge that he was acting like a child, and continued stomping out of town to Marnie’s ranch. 

With the luau still in full swing he had no fear of running into Marnie or Jas on his way to his bedroom. It had been a few weeks since he had felt the need to drink anywhere but the saloon, but his personal mini fridge was still fully stocked. He grabbed a beer, popped the tab, and chugged the whole thing as fast as possible, then threw the empty beer can at the wall so hard it left a dent.

“FUCK!” he yelled, glad that Jas was nowhere in earshot. He had hoped stupidly that the beer would somehow make him feel better, but he wasn’t surprised to find it only made him feel even worse about himself. He slid down onto the floor by his bed and put his face in his hands.

He wanted to blame Dana and Sam for the way he felt but he couldn’t push away the notion that the only person to blame was himself. He had allowed himself to care about Dana, even though he knew it would end up being a mistake. He had thought there was even a small chance that something positive would happen in his life, even though the last three years had proven that to be a ridiculous dream. He had been foolish enough to think that Dana would even consider someone like him.

Not to mention, he was a stupid loser who was too afraid of his feelings to admit them to Dana. Sam had probably declared his love for her in some grandiose manner. Shane had purposefully been an asshole to her for weeks and had to take a Prozac after sending her one text. One text that wasn’t even romantic. In fact, nothing he had said or done with Dana had been romantic. He was just the weird guy at the bar who alternated between being a jerk and being nice.

At that realization, Shane popped open another can of beer. Of course Dana was seeing Sam or anyone else, because she didn’t think there was anything happening between her and Shane. Because there wasn’t anything happening between her and Shane – it was all just in his mind. He had created this elaborate scenario where Dana might want to be with him, but in reality there was no evidence to support that claim.

By the time he finished his third beer, his thoughts had shifted to Lydia. It had been a while since he thought about her, but it was clear he should’ve taken the lesson to heart. That relationship had been all in his mind, too. He had thought she loved him as much as he loved her, but she clearly did not or else she wouldn’t have left. If he had just taken that lesson and applied it to the rest of his life, he would never have fallen for Dana and wouldn’t be feeling so shitty right now.

Three beers became five, became seven, became how many did he already drink? He prayed with each new beer that it would be the one to either kill his thoughts of Lydia or himself, he was fine with either outcome. But the alcohol wasn’t strong enough to drown out the way he felt. It only amplified the feelings of self-loathing and anger.

His intoxicated mind swam through various thoughts of his sister and parents, and finally landed on one sentence that he repeated to himself over and over again: why couldn’t it have been me in that car three years ago.

He closed his eyes and felt himself spinning, spinning, spinning out of consciousness, and hoped to god that he would never wake up.

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Dana awoke to the sound of her alarm the next morning and immediately sat straight up to check her phone for texts. There was one from Abigail – a silly meme about their favorite anime – but she sighed as she realized there still wasn’t one from Shane.

She had waited at the luau for him to return after he disappeared - she figured he had just left to go to the bathroom or something. But as minutes turned into hours, she realized he wasn’t planning on coming back. By the time she left the luau it was dark. She had stopped by Gus’s place and was dismayed to see that Shane wasn’t there either. When she finally arrived back home to her farm she had sent him a text before going to bed.

                                                                You okay?

The lack of a reply this morning made Dana’s stomach twist in uncomfortable knots. She wasn’t sure what had happened to make Shane leave so suddenly, but if he wasn’t texting back, it probably meant that he either was sick or injured, or he was upset with her for some reason.

She wracked her brain as she tried to think of a reason he would be upset with her before realizing she was acting a little narcissistic. Why would Shane’s actions have anything at all to do with her? The world didn’t revolve around her.

She got out of bed and dressed quickly, deciding to finish her farm chores as soon as possible so she could go to Marnie’s ranch and find out for herself if everything was okay with Shane. She grabbed a banana for breakfast on her way to the chicken coop, reminded of Shane again as her two chicks clucked happily upon her entrance.

He had seemed so eager to be friends just a few days ago. He was genuinely interested in her chickens, and he had even texted her about the luau. What could have possibly changed so quickly?

After gathering up the eggs from the coop and watering her crops, Dana started the familiar trek to the south end of her property towards Marnie’s ranch. It was an extremely muggy day and Dana looked up to the sky to see ominous dark grey clouds hanging off towards the west. The summer storms in the valley were no joke – they often produced torrential rain and dangerous lightning.

She pushed open the door to Marnie’s ranch to the familiar jingling noise of the bell.

“Howdy, Dana,” Marnie said from behind the counter. “How can I help you?” Dana felt her throat constrict as she realized the awkward conversation that was likely about to ensue.

“Oh, uh… is Shane home?” she asked. Marnie raised one eyebrow, making Dana’s heart pump faster. “I was looking for him because, uh… well, I was worried about him.” Dana usually appreciated Marnie’s honesty through expression but right now could’ve done without the head tilt and confused look.

“Well, I haven’t seen him since the luau, but that’s not too unusual,” she said slowly. “He often sneaks into his room without me seeing. Let’s go see if he’s there.” Dana’s first instinct was to decline the trip back to Shane’s room out of a mixed sense of politeness and anxiety. But she realized if she was truly concerned for his safety, it was just as likely for him to be sick or hurt in his bedroom as anywhere else.

Dana followed Marnie through her kitchen to a door by the fridge.

“Shane?” Marnie said, knocking gently. “You in there?” They waited in silence. Marnie knocked again. “Shane? You’ve got company.”

Marnie tried to doorknob and found it unlocked, and slowly pushed the door open a crack.

“Shane!” she exclaimed, pushing the door open the rest of the way and rushing inside. Dana followed behind her to find Shane passed out on the floor surrounded by an ungodly number of beer cans. Marnie knelt down next to him and tapped his face with her palm.

“Shane, wake up!” she said, concern growing in her tone. “He won’t wake up. Dana, do something!” Dana stared wide-eyed at the woman pleading for her help. She suddenly remembered she still had her backpack on, as she had come to Marnie’s directly from her farm duties, and there was a large bottle of water inside that she used to refill her watering can. She took it out of her backpack and unscrewed the lid, and proceeded to dump a fair bit of the water on Shane’s face. He gasped and sat up suddenly, wiping the water from his eyes.

“What the hell?” he said. “Marnie, what are you doing in my room?” Marnie put her hands on his hips and let out an exasperated sigh.

“I was worried about you, that’s what!” she said. “You’re in here passed out, all you do anymore is drink… you need to get yourself together!” Shane scoffed.

“What do you care if I drink all the time?” he said. “As long as I pay you my rent, you shouldn’t give a shit what I do or don’t do!”

“Shane, I care about you,” Marnie said, her voice softer than before. Dana began to feel very much like she was intruding on something she shouldn’t be privy to. “You can’t keep down this path! How are you planning on getting out of here? What’s your plan for the future?!” Shane let out a laugh that sounded like a strangled cry.

“The future?!” he croaked. “Hopefully I won’t be around long enough to need a plan!” Dana felt her heart break at Shane’s words but she was distracted by a cry in the hallway. She, Marnie, and Shane all looked behind her to see Jas running away, having clearly overhead the incident.

“Look what you’ve done now,” Marnie scolded. “Don’t you care about anyone but yourself!?” Before he could answer, Marnie was out the door, running after Jas.

“Jas,” Shane whispered to himself, covering his face with his hands. “I’m sorry.” Dana stared at him for a moment longer, but he stared out the door as if she wasn’t there.

“Shane, I don’t know what happened, but I…” she started. Shane jerked his head around to look at her as if only just now noticing her presence at all.

“What the fuck are you doing here?!” he snapped. Dana took a step back in surprise. “Get the fuck out of my room, you stupid bitch!”

Dana turned on her heels as quickly as she could so that Shane wouldn’t see the look on her face, but as she practically ran through Marnie’s kitchen and out the front door, she couldn’t stop the tears from spilling onto her cheeks.

Chapter Text

Shane

 

Shane grabbed a six pack of beer and left Marnie’s house shortly after Dana had, not wanting to see Marnie’s looks of disappointment or hear Jas’s cries. He knew he was being selfish, but he just didn’t have the mental energy to care.

The cry from Jas after his outburst had been enough to make Shane feel horrible, but the look on Dana’s face immediately afterwards had pushed him over the edge. Marnie and Jas were already disappointed by him. And now he had gone and ruined whatever he might have had with the last person in this town who cared about him.

His own words played in his mind on repeat as he walked south from Marnie’s ranch to the cliffs that overlooked the ocean. Had he really called her a “stupid bitch?” His stomach twisted impossibly tight as he recalled how much of a jerk he had been.

He had already determined the night before that her actions at the luau were his fault, not hers. But it had taken him so off guard to see her there in his room, and he was so mad at himself for hurting Jas – the words had tumbled out of his mouth before he even knew what was happening.

He sighed as he sat down on the ground by the cliffs and looked over the edge. Below him the waves crashed menacingly against the jagged rocks that littered the ocean floor. It had always shocked him how different the ocean could be between the beach and these cliffs, despite their close proximity. At the beach, the waves lapped lazily against fine sandy shores. Here, the water looked ready to kill at a moment’s notice.

If I jumped, everyone would be so much better off.

The thought crept in his mind like a parasite, and he was too tired to fight it back. Instead, he popped open a beer and started drinking as the first heavy droplets of rain landed on his face.

He wondered idly what would happen if he died.

Marnie would get her guest room back. Jas would grow up without an alcoholic disappointment for a guardian. Literally no one else would care. Maybe Emily – but she’d get a new regular customer.

Maybe Dana.

He closed his eyes and popped open a second beer as the name crept into his thoughts. Would Dana care if he died? Would she really, after the way he had treated her that morning? She had looked so fucking hurt by his words – would she look that same way if he died?

His thoughts wandered to his family. Would he be with Nancy again if he died? Probably not, he concluded. She had been the best kind of person. If there truly was a heaven and hell, there’s no way Shane could hope to end up at the same destination as her. And while he considered himself to be an atheist, he couldn’t deny as he looked down at the blood thirsty sea below that the thought of hell scared him.

The sprinkling of rain turned into a downpour but Shane remained rooted to his spot, drinking beer after beer, absently hoping that a stray bolt of lightning would take care of the outcome that he was too afraid to initiate himself.

He wasn’t sure how many hours passed until his case of beer was empty and the only option left for him was to jump to the rocks below. He looked over again, his vision spinning slightly from intoxication, and felt an intense almost primal fear grip his heart, rendering him incapable of jumping.

Just do it¸ he thought to himself. It’s what you deserve.

He closed his eyes and focused on gathering every ounce of courage left within him to push himself over the ledge.

“Oh my god, Shane?!”

The familiar voice cut through his thoughts and he looked up to see what he initially assumed was an alcohol-fueled hallucination. But Dana’s soft hand on his cheek ensured him she was real.

“Are you hurt?” she asked. He almost laughed at her concern. Here he was trying to kill himself, and she was worried about him. And after everything he had said to her that morning.

“Dana,” he whispered. “I’m sorry…” He wanted to apologize for calling her a bitch, for yelling at her, for snubbing her for the last season and a half since she had moved to town… but he couldn’t find the words. “My life is such a pathetic joke,” was all he could muster.

“Shane, it’s not,” Dana started, but Shane cut her off.

“Just look at me!” he yelled, hating himself even more for the way she winced back at his tone. “God, why do I even try…”

“Shane…” Dana breathed. The sound of his name felt wrong in her voice. It didn’t feel dirty enough to belong to him.

“I’ve been coming down here a lot lately, to these cliffs,” he said. “When I look down I think ‘here’s a chance to finally take control of my own life.’ But I’m too scared to do it, too anxious of the result.” Dana ran her fingers through his hair gently, most likely trying to soothe him. It felt too gentle, too intimate to be given to hm. He didn’t deserve it.

“Why?” she said finally, so quiet he wasn’t sure if it was actually her or a trick of the wind.

“Because,” he said. “All I do is work, sleep, and drink to dull the feelings of self-hatred. Why shouldn’t I jump? Why should I go on? Tell me why I shouldn’t roll off this cliff right now.”

Dana and Shane sat silently for a long time then, with only the sound of the rain and thunder to prove he was still alive. He was starting to think that she couldn’t come up with a good reason when she finally spoke.

“Shane,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you what to do. But I… I care about you. Just know that I’m here for you.”

Shane could hardly believe what he was hearing. Certainly he didn’t deserve her concern. But here she was… concerned about him.

He started to think more closely about what would happen if he died. Marnie would be heartbroken – she would blame herself for letting her sister’s son spiral into despair. Jas wouldn’t understand why her favorite uncle had left her all alone. Emily would spend days crying. And Dana… Dana would care.

“Thank you,” he said dumbly. “I… I appreciate that.”

He tried to sit up and realized he was completely incapable of moving.

“Dana…” he said. “I think you should take me to the hospital.”

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Dana had hardly slept that night after dropping Shane off at the clinic. Doc Harvey had pumped his stomach and put him on fluids and said that physically, he’d be fine. But like Harvey, Dana was more concerned about his mental health.

Sure, she had been royally pissed and severely hurt when he had lashed out at her in his room. But the events of the day had made it clear that he wasn’t really in control of his actions at the time, and she could hardly blame someone for having a mental breakdown.

When her phone dinged, she thought at first that it was her alarm finally going off. But she realized that it was a little too early for that, and that the noise was actually an incoming text message. She picked up her phone and blinked several times to adjust to the brightness of her screen.

                                Text me when your awake

It was from Shane.

She stared at the screen for a long time, unsure how to feel. Part of her felt like crying – he was alive, he was conscious. Another part of her felt the familiar flurry in her stomach – he was texting her. She typed out a reply.

                                                                I’m already awake.

She decided not to elaborate on the reason for her insomnia, hoping that he would think she normally woke up at 5 in the morning to work on the farm. Her phone dinged to alert her to an incoming reply.

                                Can I come over?

                                Want to talk to you real quick

Dana’s eyes widened as the read the messages over and over. What did he want to talk about? Was he going to be pissed at her for bringing him to the hospital? Or was he going to apologize? Or did he want to see the chickens?

                                                                Yeah, of course

It was probably the chicken thing, she concluded. She laid in bed for a second longer before realizing he was probably coming over right now and she was still wearing pajamas and not looking very cute at all.

She quickly got up and got dressed, braided her hair, and brushed her teeth. Against her better judgement, she found herself swiping on some mascara and tinted lip gloss before heading downstairs to start the coffee maker. Just as she pressed the brew button, she heard a knock at the door. She walked over and opened it to find Shane standing on her porch, scratching his head and looking at the ground.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey,” he replied. They stood in the doorway in silence before Dana realized she was being exceptionally rude.

“Do you want to come in?” she said finally. “I’m making coffee.”

“Sure,” he said. They went inside and Dana gestured for Shane to sit at the kitchen table as she took out two coffee mugs from the cabinet.

“Cream and sugar?” she asked. He shrugged.

“Black is fine,” he said. She poured the coffee and sat down across from Shane, handing him a mug. He took a sip before speaking. “I’m sorry for coming by so early in the morning.” Dana waved her hand in front of her.

“It’s no problem, really,” she said. Shane sighed and took another large sip of coffee.

“I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to start seeing a counselor in Zuzu City,” he said. “Harvey recommended someone and I have my first appointment later this week.”

“Shane, that’s so good to hear,” Dana said. She herself had seen a therapist in the city for a long time, and it had worked wonders to keep her depression at a manageable level. They sat in silence for a moment drinking their coffee, Dana not wanting to say something for fear of scaring Shane off.

“And also…” Shane said finally, gripping his coffee mug as if it was the very source of his courage. “I wanted to apologize for last night. And yesterday morning. And… the last season and a half I guess.” Dana smiled at him.

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m really happy you’re still here.” Shane blinked and sucked his teeth.

“Wow, it was that bad?” he said. “I still don’t really remember. All I do remember… is you.” Before she knew what she was doing, Dana reached across the table and grabbed Shane’s hand. He looked up at her with surprise in his green eyes.

“I meant what I said,” she said. “I care about you, and I’m here for you.” Shane stared at her wordlessly, looking very much like he was trying not to cry. “Hey, do you want to go see my chickens?” Dana said, releasing Shane’s hand and smiling. Shane returned her smile.

“Yeah, definitely,” he said. They stood up and walked outside. “You know, I’ve always loved this farm,” Shane said as they walked. Dana hummed in response. “I actually tried to buy it once.” He laughed awkwardly as Dana shot him a surprised look.

“Really?!” she exclaimed. “I had no idea!”

“Yeah,” he said. “But it wasn’t for sale.”

“Well you’re more than welcome to come by as often and as much as you like,” Dana said as they entered the coop to the sound of happy clucks. “Me, Beakers, and Clucky would love to have you.” Shane laughed.

“Beakers and Clucky?” he asked. Dana smiled awkwardly as she picked up one of the chickens.

“I’m not very good at coming up with names,” she admitted.

“They’re good names,” Shane said, picking up the other chicken. It clucked happily. A wide grin broke out across Shane’s face. “I think he likes me!”

“That’s Beakers,” Dana said. “And I think you’re right. She looks happy.” Shane’s grin widened.

“Hey Beakers,” he said in a sing-song voice. “You’re cute.” Dana chuckled.

“Now you have to come by more often,” she said. “Otherwise you might break Beakers’ heart.” Shane looked up at her.

“Well we can’t have that,” he said jokingly. “Guess you better get used to seeing me around.” Dana smiled at him.

“Guess so.”

Chapter Text

Marnie’s expression of incredulity was making Shane wish he could sink into the floor. All he had done was ask a simple question - a genuine question - but she was looking at him like he’d requested to take the next flight to Timbuktu.

“Have you been drinking, Shane?” she asked finally. Shane felt a surge of annoyance at her words, but tried to calm down when he realized he had never really given her a reason to trust him before.

“No, Marnie, I gave up drinking. I’m getting clean,” he said. “I’m serious. I want to raise chickens. Can I please buy a few chickens from you?” Marnie pursed her lips.

“Are you sure you can take care of them?” she asked. “I’m not trying to put you down, Shane. I just… want to make sure you know what you’re getting into.” He sighed.

“I understand your concerns,” he said, prompting Marnie to raise her eyebrows in surprise. “But I’ve been helping Dana with her chickens a little so I understand what is involved, and I’m ready to take on a few of my own.” Marnie’s lips turned up in a smile.

“You’ve been working with Dana?” she asked, clasping her hands together under her chin. “Isn’t she just a dear? I’m so happy she moved here to the valley. She’s such a great addition to our little community.” Before he could help it, Shane found his face turning redder and redder. Ever since his suicide attempt, he’d been spending more time with Dana and her chickens, and he’d learned that she was not, in fact, seeing Sam. They were just friends through Abigail. Armed with that knowledge, Shane had fallen headfirst back into his crush, and was currently at a state where he blushed just at the mention of her name.

“Yeah, she’s alright,” he said, trying to remain nonchalant. Marnie’s expression made him think she saw through his ruse.

“Well, if Dana’s the one who showed you how to take care of chickens, I trust you to take care of your own,” she said. “Let’s go pick out some chickens.” She walked out from behind the counter and Shane followed her out to the barnyard. “See one that suits your fancy?” she asked.

Dozens of chickens were walking around clucking, and Shane started to feel overwhelmed. One chicken was just as good as another, right?

“Uh, I guess I’m fine with any of these…” Just as he spoke, he noticed a white chicken pecking at his foot. “Hey there, bud.” Shane leaned down and picked up the chicken. It pecked playfully at his ear and almost seemed to smirk at Shane. “I like you. Can I buy this one, Marnie?”

“Of course!” Marnie said. Shane smiled. “You got a name picked out?” Shane hummed in consideration and looked at the chicken, who seemed to be waiting anxiously for the name it was going to be granted.

“I think… Charlie,” Shane said. The chicken clucked. “Yep, it’s perfect. Charlie.” Marnie beamed.

“It’s a wonderful name,” she said. “Do you want to stick to one chicken for now or you want another?” Shane looked around. He remembered Dana telling him she’d gotten Beakers and Clucky at the same time because she didn’t want either one of them to be lonely, and Shane felt the same about Charlie. His eyes rested on a young chick – it was mostly yellow like the other chicks, but had a strange dark spot on its side. It looked almost… blue.

“What’s with that one?” he asked Marnie. She looked at the chicken and shrugged.

“I noticed him the other day,” she said. “He’s just a newborn, and I think it’s just a defect. I’m not sure if he’ll grow out of it or not.” Shane felt his heart tug towards the little defective chicken. Shane had always kind of felt like he, too, was defective, though granted not in an outward capacity like this chick.

“I’ll take him too, if that’s okay,” Shane said. Marnie smiled.

“Sure thing, dear,” she said. Shane picked up the defective chick in his free hand and held it close to Charlie.

“What do you think, Charlie? Do you like Blue?” he asked. The white chicken nuzzled its head against the baby chick. Shane couldn’t help but grin. “Looks like it’s perfect.” Marnie beamed.

“Looks like it’s perfect indeed,” she said.

Shane followed Marnie back into the house and paid her for the chickens, refusing to accept her offer of a family discount, and then made his way into the connected garage that Marnie had gifted Shane when he moved in. For the last three years it had remained vacant and untouched, but Shane decided it would work well enough as a coop and had spent the previous weekend setting it up. He had even added a little chicken-door that led out to the barnyard so his chicks could go outside.

Shane set his two new chicks down onto the floor, overflowing with pride and happiness that he hadn’t felt in god knows how long, and suddenly he realized Dana was one piece of that happiness. She had saved his life during his suicide attempt but it was also so much more than that. She had accepted him as a friend in a way no one had in years. She persisted through his being a complete asshole to her. She was… amazing.

Filled with sudden courage from his good mood, Shane took out his phone and snapped a photo of the two chickens on the ground and sent it to Dana. He picked up Charlie and flipped the camera to be front facing and took a selfie of him smiling next to Charlie. Before he could change his mind, he texted the selfie to Dana as well. Within seconds, his phone dinged with a response.

                                You got chickens!!!!!

                                Love it! That chicken looks almost as sassy as you ;)

Shane laughed. Charlie really did have a permanent smirk plastered on his little beak. He typed out his reply to Dana.

                                                                         Yah he’s a little bastard

                                                                         I love him already

Shane looked down at Charlie.

“Yeah I called you a bastard, what are you going to do about it?” he said to the bird. Charlie pecked at his foot. “Ow! Damn, okay. You win.” Shane’s phone dinged.

                               Hahahahahahahahaha

He grinned at Dana’s reply, picturing her smile in his mind and the way her braid bobbed up and down a little when she laughed. And he realized he felt happier than he could remember being since the accident.

He had Charlie and Blue and Dana, and he was happy.

Chapter Text

Dana

 

Dana was in a good mood. Summer was in full swing, her crops were making money hand over fist, and she had earned enough to have Robin start building a barn on her property. Pretty soon she’d be able to get cows and pigs in addition to her chickens.

Chickens. She smiled at the thought of Clucky and Beakers and the way they reminded her of Shane. It seemed that Operation Make Shane Happy was a complete success, based on the smiling selfie he had sent her the day before with his very own chicken. But even now that her personal mission in life was over, she couldn’t deny that she still wanted to spend time with him.

With that in mind, Dana decided to go to the bar. Shane had given up drinking, but still went there every night to hang out and get away from home. Gus – being the complete sweetheart he was – had started stocking sparkling water, just to help Shane stay sober.

About half an hour later, Dana walked into the Stardrop Saloon. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the spot by the fireplace where she knew Shane would be standing and she was pleased to see him there, drinking sparkling water from a beer mug and laughing at something. He looked over at the door and waved when he saw her entering.

For a moment she was struck by how different he was now from when she first moved to town. Then, he had been all scowls and rude remarks. Now, she hardly ever saw him without a grin on his face and he looked so much more confident, too. Dana thought about how he had been planning to see a therapist in Zuzu City – clearly he had followed through on that promise, and it was really paying off.

She walked over and leaned against the bar next to him, smiling up at him.

“Hey, chicken boy,” she said.

“Is that my nickname now?” he asked, chuckling. Dana shrugged.

“We’ll have to see if it sticks,” she said.

“You want a drink, Dana?” Dana turned to see Emily talking to her from across the bar.

“Oh, sure Emily,” she said. “Just a coke, please.” She was trying to make an effort to not drink alcohol in front of Shane now, since he was so serious about getting sober. She turned back to Shane to see him scrolling through his phone before turning it around and showing her the screen.

“Look, it’s Charlie and Blue,” he said, showing her a new photo of his two chickens. Dana grinned at the thought of Shane out in his coop every day taking photo after photo of his two chickens.

“They’re cute,” Dana said. Shane turned the phone back to look at the photo, beaming.

“Thanks,” he said. Emily returned with Dana’s drink, sliding it across the bar. “Hey Em, did I show you this one?” He turned the photo around to show her the photo of the chickens.

“Aww, they’re so cute!!” Emily exclaimed. Dana felt a strange, unexpected pang of jealousy. Shane had called Emily ‘Em.’ Emily knew Shane really well, and she was so much nicer and more bubbly than Dana. Dana had never been bubbly. Maybe Shane liked bubbly.

“They really are,” he said, chuckling. “Charlie’s favorite thing is to peck at my feet. He’s such a little jerk of a chicken.” Emily laughed. Dana found herself comparing his response to her and his response to Emily. All he had said to her was ‘thanks,’ whereas Emily got a much more detailed response. Before she could stop herself, she began spiraling into a pit of anxiety.

Shane must be into Emily. It was so simple, so clear now that Dana realized it that she felt stupid for not noticing before. I mean, he was a recovering alcoholic who continued to go to the bar every single night not to drink alcohol, but to hang out with the bartender. They seemed to know everything about each other. Maybe they were already dating, and there was no chance for her and Shane.

Dana cursed herself for falling for Shane to begin with. She had moved to the valley to get away from her problems, all of them, not to find more problems here. That’s all men were – a problem. Just like her ex.

No one else will ever love you, he had told her so many times. If you leave me, you’ll die alone.

Dana had believed him every time he said those words for years and she had stuck by his side no matter what he did. No matter how loud he yelled at her. No matter how hard he hit her.

But he finally went too far one day and she left. Whether anyone else would ever love her or not was irrelevant – because it was clear he didn’t. She had expected to feel relief after leaving him, but the breakup sent her into a deep depression. With the added misery of her horrible job at Joja Corporation, Dana had started floundering. She couldn’t understand the point of life – what was the point of living if she was working at a miserable dead end job with no one who loved her?

Just before her thoughts turned really dark, though, her friend had recommended that she see a therapist. With the help of the therapist, Dana was able to climb out of the dark pit of despair and make the decision to quit her job and move to the valley.

But it had been stupid for Dana to fall for Shane. Her ex was right. No one else would ever love her.

“Dana, you okay?”

Dana shook her head back to the present to find Shane waving his hand in front of her face and looking at her with concern.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, realizing she had been ignoring him and Emily while she delved into her own thoughts about her past. “Guess I zoned out.”

“You feeling alright?” he asked. Dana shrugged.

“I thought I was,” she said. “Maybe I’m more tired than I thought.”

“Let me walk you home,” he said. Dana glanced over at Emily expecting to see her protesting against the situation – after all, if she was dating Shane she likely wouldn’t want him to be alone with Dana – but was surprised to see her nodding and looking very worried. “Emily, put my drink and Dana’s on my tab. I’ll pay you tomorrow.”

“Sure thing, Shaney,” she said. The pang of jealousy in Dana’s gut flared up again at Emily’s use of a pet name for Shane. Dana put her half full cup on the counter and felt her heart flutter as Shane gingerly placed his hand on her shoulder to guide her out of the bar.

“You and Emily know each other really well,” Dana said as they started walking back to her house, unable to fully suppress her snarky tone. Shane shrugged.

“Guess so,” he said. “I come here pretty often. And Emily is one of the only people in this town who’s still nice to me. Other than you.”

They continued walking to the farm in silence, Dana letting her thoughts get the best of her. She felt so supremely stupid falling for a man who so clearly was in a committed relationship, and didn’t trust herself to say anything for fear of making a fool of herself. But Shane must have picked up on her anxiety anyway, because he kept glancing over at her in a way that made it look like he wanted to say something.

“You know, Emily and I aren’t a thing,” he said suddenly, as soon as they left town and started down the dirt path by the old bus stop. “She’s a friend, but we aren’t like, together.” Dana glanced over at Shane in surprise to find him blushing furiously and refusing to make eye contact with her. She fought back a grin at how adorable he looked embarrassed.

“Oh, okay,” she said. Suddenly she was struck by how silly she was acting. If she told her therapist about this, she would chuckle and say ‘why don’t you just ask him instead of creating such an intricate scenario in your mind?’ That’s exactly what she had done – dreamed up a relationship between Shane and Emily, and then gotten depressed over it. “Sorry for acting weird.”

“It’s cool,” Shane answered. “Happens to the best of us.”

They crossed over her property line and walked up the porch steps to her house.

“Thanks for walking me home,” she said.

“No problem,” he replied. “Uh, have a good night.” Dana smiled.

“You too,” she said, turning to enter her house.

“Hey, Dana?” Shane said. She turned back around to find him looking at the ground and ruffling his hair anxiously. “Um… do you want to maybe… get dinner or hang out sometime? Or whatever.” Dana couldn’t stop herself from smiling.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” she said. Shane looked up at her and smiled.

“Yeah?” he said. “Cool. Well, I’ll see you around then. Good night!”

“Good night,” she said, stepping into her house and shutting the door.

As soon as she got inside, a wide grin broke across her whole face. Shane wanted to go out with her. He wasn’t seeing Emily. Maybe there was a chance after all. Maybe her ex was wrong – maybe there was still hope for a better future.

With a grin on her face, Dana went upstairs to go to bed, in a very good mood.

Chapter Text

Shane

 

Shane wasn’t sure this really qualified as a date, but he was happy Dana had agreed to help him anyway. Jas’s birthday had come and gone without a gift from Shane, and he was determined to make it right. But even though Shane was Jas’s legal guardian he was by no means a father, and he hadn’t the slightest clue what kind of gift a seven-year-old girl would like. Dana had made it clear she “wasn’t good with kids” (which Shane found hard to believe), but she agreed to help Shane pick out a gift anyway. She had been a seven-year-old girl once, so surely she had more insight than Shane.

It wasn’t until they arrived at the mall in Zuzu City that Shane had started to realize this might qualify as a “date,” and, if it did, he had really screwed up by making his and Dana’s first date a trip to the mall like a pair of 16-year-olds. But he was pleased that the thought hadn’t dissuaded Dana from coming.

“Sorry I’m not much help,” Dana said as they exited the third toy shop empty-handed. “I really don’t know anything about kids. I guess I was kind of a weird kid.” Shane chuckled.

“You know more than me,” he said. “I would’ve bought that little princess toy aimed for a three-year-old if you hadn’t been here to stop me.” Dana laughed.

“Guess we’re both pretty hopeless in the kid department,” she said. They walked into the fourth and final toy store in the mall and began browsing. Shane picked up a toy lightsaber and accidentally pressed the button on the hilt, filling with embarrassment when the toy lit up and made deafening laser noises.

“Oh my god how do I turn this thing off,” he said, mashing the hilt button. The laser noises suddenly increased in volume and Shane looked up to see Dana standing in a fighting stance with her own lightsaber.

“Have you come here to fight me, Darth Shane-ius?” she said. Shane couldn’t help but laugh.

“Why am I the Sith?” he joked. “You don’t think I have heroic Jedi qualities?”

“You grabbed a red lightsaber, dork,” Dana said. Shane chuckled and held his lightsaber up at the ready.

“Fine, Obi-Wan Dana-bi,” he said. “I’ll fight you.” Dana scoffed.

“Obi-Wan? Really?” she said. “His lightsaber was blue. I’m more like Luke Skywalker or Qui-Gon Jinn.” Shane dropped the lightsaber to his side with an incredulous expression on his face.

“Holy shit, you’re such a nerd,” he said. Dana shrugged.

“Guilty as charged,” she said. “You should hear me rant about the Mandalorian War.” Shane laughed.

“Maybe I’ll just have to take you up on that one day,” he said. “Seeing as how Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favorite games so I might actually keep up with that conversation.” Dana laughed and then suddenly lunged at Shane with the lightsaber. He blocked the hit with his own lightsaber, and they both burst into fits of laughter when the two lightsabers colliding produced a recorded laser screeching noise.

“Hey guys, not in the store!” The bored looking employee hollered at them from the counter, causing them to laugh even harder before putting their lightsabers back on the rack.

“You think Jas would like one of these?” Dana asked. Shane shook his head.

“Unfortunately, I do not,” he said. “She’s never even seen Star Wars.” Dana sighed.

“Too bad,” she said. “We might just have to settle for a Barbie.” Shane groaned.

“I hate Barbies though,” he said. “It’s such a cliché and thoughtless gift. I wanted to get her something really special. I’m already several weeks late for her birthday, the least I can do is get her something better than a stupid Barbie.” Dana put her hand reassuringly on Shane’s arm.

“We’ll find something,” she said. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. Maybe we shouldn’t be looking in toy stores at all.” Shane shook his head.

“She’s seven. Where should I be looking, Zales?!” Dana laughed.

“Well, it’s true that diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” she said. “However, I was thinking more like a kids clothing store.” Shane considered Dana’s suggestion. As a kid, he had hated receiving clothes as a gift. But Jas was very different than Shane. She loved little dresses and hairbows and stuff. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” he said. “See, this is why I needed you to come with me. I would never have thought of that on my own.” They exited the toy shop and walked across the hallway to a kids clothing store. Shane began to feel overwhelmed as they stepped inside amid the racks and racks of tiny sweaters and dresses. What size did Jas even wear? What kind of clothes did she like anymore? Before the accident, Shane was a pro in picking out gifts for Jas. The fact that he no longer knew what to get her made him feel extremely guilty.

“I always see her wearing a dress,” Dana said. “She likes dresses?” Shane nodded.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “I don’t really know. I’m not a very good dad.” Dana looked at him sympathetically.

“You’re a great dad,” she said. “You’re here in the mall, arguably the worst place in the world, because you want to find something to make her happy. If that doesn’t make you a good dad, I don’t know what does.” Shane found himself smiling at her words. Even if he had screwed the last several years up, there was still time to make up for it.

“Thanks,” he said. They started walking up and down the rows of clothes, touching items here and there.

“So… I hope it’s not too forward of me to ask,” Dana started. “But how did you come to have Jas? I know she’s not your biological daughter. I heard her call you Uncle Shane.” Shane sighed. He knew this conversation was inevitable from the moment he had invited Dana on this shopping trip, but he had hoped against hope that somehow it wouldn’t come up. Dana seemed to sense his hesitation. “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.”

“No, it’s okay,” Shane said. “Jas is my sister’s daughter. She and my brother-in-law died in a car crash a few years ago. Actually, my mom and dad also died in that car crash. I’m Jas’s godfather, so I became her legal guardian. That’s why I moved out to the valley, actually. I was completely unequipped to take care of a three year old, and Marnie let me move in with her. Marnie never had any kids of her own, but she was willing to figure out how to raise Jas just to help me. And, I guess, to help her sister – my mom.” He looked up to see Dana listening to his story with a mix of shock and sadness on her face.

“Shane, I’m so sorry,” she said. He shrugged.

“It is what it is,” he said, absentmindedly messing with some shirts folded on a table to avoid eye contact with Dana. “That crash is what sent me into a downward spiral. I’d argue it’s the direct cause of my… well, what I attempted the other week when you found me by the cliffs.” Dana put her hand on Shane’s, pulling him from his thoughts. He looked up at her and smiled. “But hey, it can’t rain all the time, right?” Dana chuckled at their inside joke.

“Right,” she said. They continued looking through the store in silence, and Shane was surprised how relieved he felt after telling Dana about the crash. He had really been avoiding the subject for so long, and it was surprisingly cathartic to tell someone his story. Although, he wasn’t too happy that the story had put a damper on the good mood they had been sharing.

“Sorry for being such a downer,” he said, chuckling awkwardly. Dana smiled.

“You’re not,” she said, then she suddenly gasped. “Shane! This is it.” Shane jumped and turned around to look at her.

“What?! What’s what?!” he cried. Dana was holding up a pair of sparkly purple shoes. “What the hell are those?!”

“Bunny jewel slippers, Shane,” she said, very serious. “I’m telling you, Jas will love these.” Shane took the shoes and inspected them skeptically.

“You sure?” he asked. “They’re a little gaudy.” Dana nodded.

“I’m positive.”

***

About an hour later, Shane and Dana were back in Stardew Valley, standing on the porch of her farmhouse. Shane had walked her home from the bus stop, and now was finding that he really didn’t want to leave.

“Well, thanks again for helping me today,” he said for the fiftieth time. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.” Dana smiled.

“No problem,” she said. “I hope Jas loves her gift.”

“She will,” Shane said. “You picked it out.” Dana smiled at Shane. He stood in silence, staring at Dana, stuck in the void between two decisions. On the one hand, he really needed to leave and go home and give Jas the bunny slippers. On the other hand, though, his brain was screaming at him to close the distance between himself and Dana and kiss her. But were they to that point? They’d either had zero dates or one very awkward date, and Shane didn’t want to come off as a pervert. But they’d spent so much time together recently. And it honestly just felt so right –

“See you around, chicken boy,” she said, opening the door to her house, making Shane’s decision for him. He smiled.

“Yeah, see you.”

He turned and started walking to the south end of her property, towards Marnie’s ranch. Even though he had botched the kiss, Shane felt like he was walking on clouds. Maybe he hadn’t really botched it. Maybe taking it slow was the exact right thing to do. Shane laughed at himself as he realized that, for the first time in a very long time, he was giving himself the benefit of having made the right decision instead of assuming he’d made the wrong one. He was still chucking when he entered the ranch to find Marnie leaning against the counter.

“Hey Shane, you look like you’re in a good mood,” she said.

“I am,” he said. “I haven’t felt this light since I was a kid.” Marnie scoffed.

“Why, did Gus have a sale on canned beer?” she asked. Shane suddenly felt like he had crashed through the clouds and slammed into the ground.

“No, Marnie,” he said. “I told you I quit drinking, remember? I’ve been drinking sparkling water. I’m really just feeling good.” Marnie stood up and smiled.

“Shane, that’s wonderful,” she said. “I’m really happy for you.” Shane smiled. A noise in the kitchen distracted him, and he remembered he had a gift to give to Jas. He walked into the kitchen.

“Hey Jas,” he said. “I have a present for you.” She stood up from where she had been sitting on the floor to play with her dolls and ran over to him.

“A present?” she said. “What is it?” He pulled the shoe box out from behind his back and handed it to her, laughing as she ripped it open with no hesitation. He took her ear-splitting squeal of delight to be proof that Dana was correct in her assertion that the shoes were a good gift.

“These are real Bunny Jewel Slippers!!!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around Shane in a hug. Shane felt his heart bursting with happiness. “But… aren’t these really expensive? How did you afford it?”

Shane felt like his lungs had constricted. Where had he gone wrong that his seven-year-old daughter was concerned about the price of her gift???

“Jas, don’t worry about that,” he said. “I cut back on a pretty expensive habit, so now I can afford to buy you nice things. I promise things are going to be different now, Jas. Things are going to be better.” Jas threw her arms back around Shane in another hug.

“Thank you Uncle Shane,” she said. “I love you.” Shane was suddenly overcome with emotion and felt tears stinging his eyes.

“I love you too, Jas.”

Chapter Text

The faintest of breezes cutting through the otherwise hot and humid air was the only indication Dana had that Fall was approaching. She was more than ready for it – the summer had been so long and so hot, and Fall in the valley was always so beautiful. The leaves on the trees turned to the deepest of jewel-toned colors, making the whole area look like a dreamworld. Dana could hardly wait.

But the beginning of Fall meant the end of Summer, and Dana realized she had forgotten to ever track down a sweet pea to give to the Junimos at the community center. She had come across dozens of sweet peas during the summer but had given them all away as gifts to other villagers, and never got around to giving one to the Junimos.

So she had left her house early that morning, skipping most of her farm duties since she knew her plants would die in a couple days anyway, and went down to the woods in search of a sweet pea. It didn’t take her long to find one, and she was trekking across town towards the community center when she stumbled upon a strange scene in the town square.

“CUT!!”

Shane was holding a video camera and fussing at Emily and Clint, who was apologizing profusely for something. Dana waved to catch their attention as she walked up.

“Hey Dana!” Emily said, noticing her first. Clint and Shane both turned to wave at her.

“Hey!” Shane said. “Check out my new camera!” He held the video recorder out to her.

“Cool,” she said, a little skeptically. “What… what are you doing out here with it?” Emily chuckled.

“Shane’s going to be a famous director!” she said. Clint sighed.

“Not if he keeps using me as his lead actor…” he bemoaned. Emily smiled at him reassuringly.

“You’re doing fine, Clint!” she said.

“Joja Corporation is having a video advertisement competition,” Shane explained. “The grand prize is 10,000 gold.” Dana whistled.

“Ten thousand?!” she repeated. “That’s a pretty penny.” Shane chuckled.

“No joke,” he said. “Which is why I’m out here filming with Clint and Emily. But I can’t get the feeling quite right – and no, it’s not because of you Clint, stop saying that.” Clint sighed. “Hey! I know what would help. Can you get in this shot? Just walk behind Clint and Emily while they’re talking. I think it’ll really give the scene some added authenticity.” Dana looked down at her clothes – dirty from foraging - and could only imagine what her hair looked like.

“Uh… are you sure, Shane?” she asked. “I’m not really prepared to be in a commercial right now…”

“You look fine, Dana!” Emily said, not fully convincing her.

“Yeah, come on,” Shane said. “Please? You’ll just be in the background, so don’t worry too much about what you’re wearing. Besides, Emily’s right. You look fine.” Dana sighed, defeated. There was really no way to get out of this without being a bitch.

“Fine,” she said. “You just want me to walk by in the background?” She asked. Shane nodded enthusiastically. Dana sighed again but walked over to get in position to film.

“And… ACTION!” she heard Shane yell.

She couldn’t help but smile at his tenacity. She was too far away to really hear what Emily and Clint were saying, but it looked very serious and well thought out. Dana could only imagine how many drafts Shane had written and thrown away before deciding on this one. And now that he was filming, he was taking it so seriously. He had a look of calm determination on his face as he filmed, watching the scene with absolute scrutiny.

Realizing she was about to flub her only part in the commercial, Dana tried to walk casually behind Clint and Emily. There was no path right there, so she found herself trudging through the grass awkwardly, and was suddenly very aware of her legs. How did they normally move when she walked? And where did she normally hold her arms and hands?! Why was walking suddenly so difficult!!??

Somehow she made it all the way out of the scene without tripping and turned around just in time to see Shane waving his arms.

“Cut!” he yelled. “That was perfect!!” Dana walked over to join the trio where they had been filming.

“Great job, guys,” she said. “I had no idea it was so difficult to act, and I didn’t even have a speaking part. I’m really impressed with you two, and of course the creative genius behind this whole thing.” She grinned at Shane.

“Thanks,” he said, laughing. “You did good! I really appreciate your help.”

“No problem,” she said. “I hope you win.” She waved and turned to leave when she felt a hand on her elbow.

“Hey, uh, what are you doing tonight?” Shane asked, glancing at Emily and Clint who seemed to be having their own conversation just out of earshot. Dana shrugged.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “Isn’t tonight one of the town festivals? Lewis gets angry if I don’t go to those.” Shane chuckled.

“Yeah, the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies,” he said. “I was wondering… I don’t know. Just maybe thought you and I… since we’re both going – maybe we could go… together?” Dana felt her cheeks turning red as she smiled.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” she said. Shane let out his breath, seemingly relieved by her answer.

“Cool,” he said. “How about I stop by your farm at 9 to get you?” She nodded.

“Sounds good,” she said. “I’ll see you then.”

Chapter Text

Shane

 

Shane’s closet seemed to have exploded all over his room, if the sheer number of discarded shirts on the floor was any indication. He had never given much thought or care as to his clothes and he was now regretting it, for it seemed he didn’t own a single item worthy of a date with Dana.

He finally decided on a plaid button-down – it was one of the nicer shirts he owned and he questioned if it was perhaps a little too nice for the jelly festival. In previous years he had always just shown up in his usual t-shirt and Joja hoodie. But he figured it was better to be overdressed than underdressed, and Dana deserved the nicest things he could offer.

After dressing he combed his fingers through his hair one last time before leaving his room. He had hoped to avoid running into Marnie or Jas – a hope that was dashed the second he shut his bedroom door behind him.

“Wow, looking nice Shane!” Marnie was standing in the kitchen and had already spotted him.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, unsure why exactly he was so embarrassed. Everyone in town would be at the jelly festival and they would all certainly talk. If he was too embarrassed to face Marnie, how did he expect to last the night?

He had intended for that line of thought to make him more courageous, but it only served to heighten his anxiety about the night. People were definitely going to talk once they noticed him and Dana together. There was no escaping it. How long would it take Dana to realize that? Had she already realized it? Maybe Shane would show up at her house only to have her send him away in embarrassment. Or maybe she had only accepted his offer out of some twisty pity for him.

“I guess I’ll see you at the festival?” Marnie’s question pulled him back to reality and he nodded quickly before leaving the shop.

Normally, the proximity of the farm to Shane’s house was something he was thankful for. Tonight, though, he could’ve used a longer walk to clear his head. He found himself pacing near the pond at the southeastern corner of Dana’s property, the desire to run away back to the safety of his house growing stronger with each passing second.

Running away would probably be a relief to Dana. If she had accepted his invitation out of pity or had come to her senses after accepting, then it would probably be a nice surprise that she didn’t have to turn him down.

But on the off chance that Dana was still waiting for him… well, running away would ruin it. And as much as Shane didn’t want to be embarrassed or rejected, he certainly didn’t want to ruin whatever might be.

He trudged up to the farmhouse and shuffled on the porch for second, taking deep breaths and finally knocking on the door. Footsteps inside grew louder and louder until the door swung open and Shane couldn’t stop himself from letting out a tiny gasp.

He was beyond thankful he had chosen to wear his nice plaid shirt, even though it didn’t begin to compare to what Dana had on. She was wearing a purple dress and sandals. Her hair was free of its usual tight braid and was flowing like water down her back. Honestly, Shane thought Dana looked beautiful in her normal jeans and t-shirt outfit. But the sudden change to such a nice outfit was a nice surprise, and he had to admit that it looked quite stunning on her.

“Hey,” Dana said.

“Hey,” Shane said. “You… you look nice.” Dana’s cheeks gave the tiniest hint of a blush.

“You do too,” she said. “I like the plaid.” They stood in awkward silence for a moment before Shane realized he was supposed to do something other than gape at her.

“Uh… shall we?” he said, gesturing vaguely towards the south. Dana nodded, and they began walking in silence back down the path through her property.

When they finally reached Marnie’s ranch, the feelings of anxiety he had felt before started to return. He could picture the way all the villagers would stare at them when they walked onto the beach – their eyes would all burn through him with judgement. And surely they’d all have the same question on their tongues: Why is Dana wasting her time with someone like him?

Maybe Dana didn’t realize the trap they were talking into. She had only been in town for two seasons, after all. Maybe she wasn’t accustomed to the small-town gossip they’d likely endure.

“Hey,” Shane said suddenly, surprised by his own voice. But the words seemed to have minds of their own, and he couldn’t stop himself from talking. “Just so you know… once we show up to the festival together, people will… talk.” He glanced up at her, but her expression was unreadable.

“Probably,” she said after some hesitation. Shane sighed.

“Are you okay with that?” he asked. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly.

“Yes,” she said. “Are you?” Shane laughed.

“Yeah,” he said. “Of course.”

“Good,” she said.

The silence fell back between them as they crossed over the bridge that led to the beach. It seemed most everyone was already gathered on the docks, and Shane was convinced they all simultaneously turned their heads to stare at the two of them as they entered. He felt his face burn red and became suddenly hyper-aware of his hands. Should he be holding Dana’s? Probably not. He crossed his arms over his chest to make sure their hands wouldn’t bump, then thought perhaps that looked too harsh. He unfolded his arms and let them fall, clasping his hands against his thighs.

“Shane, it’s alright,” Dana said, chuckling.

“How are you so calm?!” he hissed, too nervous to be embarrassed by his forwardness. Dana laughed.

“Well we can’t both be nervous messes,” she said. “But don’t worry. I got all my nerves out earlier by texting Abigail obsessively about what I should wear.” He looked at her in surprise and exhaled sharply.

“Really?” he asked. “You seem so calm and unfazed now.” She shrugged.

“I’m a pro at bottling it all up and pushing it away,” she said. Shane laughed.

“I’ll need lessons in that from you,” he said. “Alright… here goes nothing.” The two of them walked onto the docks, joining the large crowd there.

“Hey Dana!”

Shane looked over to see Abigail waving wildly and practically skipping over to them.

“Hey Abigail,” Dana said.

“Wow, you look nice,” Abigail said. “And so do you, Shane.” Shane was surprised to feel himself blushing. “Can I just say it’s about damn time you two got together?”

“Abigail…” Dana started with a warning tone, but Abigail didn’t seem to hear her.

“You two have been pining over each other for, what, over a season now?” she continued. “I swear I was going to ask her out for you, Shane! Some nights in the saloon, I could’ve sworn you could cut the sexual tension with a kni-“

“Abigail!” Dana yelped, her face almost matching her dress. Shane would’ve felt embarrassed too, if Dana’s reaction hadn’t been so adorable.

“What?” Abigail said. “I only speak the truth.”

“Well speak it somewhere else!” Dana said. Shane chuckled.

“Fine, fine, fine,” Abigail said, rolling her eyes. “I guess I should stop interrupted your date anyway. Have fun!” She said the last part in a sing-songey voice before turning and skipping back over to where Sebastian and Sam were standing.

“So much for bottling it up and pushing it down,” Shane said jokingly. Dana pouted at him for a second before bursting out laughing.

“Well, there goes any change I had at looking calm, cool, and collected,” she said. They walked further out to the docks to get a better vantage point of the jellyfish. “So what is this festival anyway?” Dana asked.

“Oh, I guess this is your first time,” Shane said. “This is one of my favorite festivals all year, although it kind of blows there’s no food. Every year the jellyfish pass by the valley in their migratory patterns and we all come by to watch them go. Since it’s dark out they glow, and I guess it’s pretty or whatever.” Dana chuckled.

“Wow, you’ve definitely sold it to me now,” she said. “But it is nice there’s no forced dancing.” Shane laughed.

“Ah, not a fan of the flower dance?” he asked.

“God no,” Dana said. “I hid in my house this year and I thought Lewis was going to kill me the next day. It was terrifying. In fact, where is that man? I need to make sure he sees me so he doesn’t come hunt me down tomorrow.” They both turned around to find Lewis and were met with the stares of several villagers including Lewis, who all looked away suddenly as soon as they were caught.

“Well, guess he saw you,” Shane said. Dana chuckled.

“Guess so.”

“Hey guys!” Emily had found them and was bounding over to say hello. “I’m so glad to see you here – and together!”

“Yep,” was all Shane could muster. After Abigail’s outburst, he could only pray Emily didn’t humiliate him.

“It’s such a nice night,” she continued. “And I really love your dress, Dana!”

“Oh, thank you,” Dana said, looking down at herself. “It has pockets.”

“What!” Emily said, reaching over to stick her hand in Dana’s pockets. Shane stared with some amount of horror – he had never understood women’s obsession with pockets, and he wasn’t sure if perhaps Emily and Dana were speaking in some kind of girl code right now about how much of a loser Shane was. But that was probably a little far-fetched, right?

“Well that is amazing,” Emily continued. “But oh, I think the jellies are coming! I’ll leave you two alone!” With a wave she twirled back over to where she had been standing before. Shane was about to ask Dana about the significance of the pockets when he noticed a glowing blue jellyfish out in the distance.

“Oh, there’s the first one,” he said, pointing. Dana followed his gaze and then gasped.

“They really glow!” she exclaimed. Shane chuckled. He could see more jellyfish coming into shore but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Dana’s face. She was staring at the water with her mouth open in amazement and her hands folder just under her chin – the wonderment showing on her face was something Shane hadn’t felt in years, until right now. “There’s so many of them,” she said. Shane cleared his throat and forced himself to look out at the water.

“Yeah, it’s hundreds of them every year,” he said as if he knew. They stared out at the glowing waters in silence. Dana unclasped her hands and let them fall to her sides. Shane’s heart rate picked up – this was it. The moment he shouldn’t botch. He should reach over and grab her hand and that would be completely normal and acceptable in this kind of situation. He should just do it. Just… move his hand. But his hands seemed frozen stiff.

Dana’s hand brushed ever so gently against his, which worked to break the spell that had caused him to lose the ability to move his hands. He took hers in his gently, aware of how slimy his sweaty palm must feel, and interlaced their fingers. He glanced down at her out of the corner of his eye to see her smiling out at the jellies.

“You were right,” she said suddenly, causing Shane to jump.

“How so?” he asked.

“The jellies,” she said. “They’re pretty, or whatever.” Shane chuckled.

“Yeah,” he said. “Or whatever.”