Stardew Valley is an okay place to live, Shane figures.
Aunt Marnie had been the one to invite him a few years after he’d started T, when even his shitty manager at his old JojaMart had started calling him Shane, but only because everyone else did. There’s a JojaMart in Stardew Valley, too, which is what makes it easy. He puts in for a transfer, and there’s two interviews before they approve him.
Loading up shelves, unpacking trucks, taking in customer returns -- none of it is ever anything like fun. Of course it isn’t. Shane gets that work isn’t meant to be fun. But other people probably hate their jobs less than he does. But Marnie doesn't charge him much for rent, so he's saving a little money, even though Joja doens't pay much.
Jas calls him Uncle Shane, which is pretty cool, even though it makes him feel kinda old.
There's nothing to do in town besides fish and play the dumb arcade games at the Saloon. There's not even anything in the museum since someone stole everything out of it. Everyone in town is either a little older or a little younger than him, so the only person he really hangs out with is Sam, and that's just 'cause they can both complain about JojaMart together.
It's whatever. Shane gets used to it.
Somebody new moving to the valley is always a big deal, so the news someone's moving into the old abandoned farm north of Marnie's place is pretty much the only thing people gossip about for a week. The new guy is named Hal, and he's the grandson of the guy who used to own the farm before he died. At the Saloon, Sam even comes by to point Hal out before going back to his arcade games with his goth friends.
Hal is getting a drink with the mayor, who's trying to introduce Hal to everyone he can. Shane does his best to stay invisible.
Hal is tall and narrow-shouldered. He has floppy red hair that looks a little too long, like he meant to get a haircut last month and forgot. He actually looks Shane's age, too, and even from across the room, the guy looks kind of annoyed to be at the center of so much attention.
For a moment, Shane kinda wants to go introduce himself. And then he wants to have another three drinks immediately because he's not that kind of person. He'll probably say something stupid. Shane is really good at trying things and having them go horribly wrong. So instead he chugs the rest of his beer and sneaks out before the mayor can try to introduce them to each other.
The first time Hal tries to introduce himself, Shane is a dick about it because of course he is. It’s outside Gus’s saloon. Hal juts out his hand and says “Hi. I’m Hal, new here.”
Shane has just finished a twelve-hour shift, and his binder is making him short of breath. He has a headache, and literally the only thing he wants is a drink and for no one to talk to him. He squares his shoulders, and he says, "I hardly know you. Why are you talking to me?"
Hal raises both eyebrows, looking a little startled. He has brown eyes, and he looks exhausted, and Shane actually feels a little bad. But Hal just shrugs and says, "Yeah, that's fair."
Hal goes into the Saloon first, and Shane follows awkwardly. A few drinks later he hears a loud burst of laughter, and when he glances up, Hal is with Sam and Abigail and Sebastian, and they are all very pointedly not looking at him.
Whatever. Shane doesn't care.
The next time Shane sees Hal, it’s at Harvey’s. Shane's come in to pick up his T, and when Shane is leaving, there’s Hal wandering in.
Hal doesn’t say anything; he just nods, pushes back his red hair, steps past where Shane is and starts talking to Maru, who greets him like a friend.
So, oh, Hal’s good with people. Even if he looked tired at the Saloon, he's good with people. That's annoying.
Shane isn't. He doesn't want to be. Right?
Hal settles into town pretty fast. He's friendly enough with Sam that sometimes during their lunch break, Sam will mention him -- "Oh, Hal told me when he worked for Joja in the city," stuff like that. Hal's spring crop is more strawberries than Shane has ever seen in one place, and places third at the Stardew Valley Fair.
Whenever they run into each other, Hal waves and says hi. Nothing more pushy than that, but Shane might admit it's kind of nice. No one else in town does that.
One Saturday Shane wakes up hungover. It's raining, which Shane kind of likes as long as he doesn't have to walk to work in it. When he stumbles into the kitchen, Marnie is already there. She looks pleased to see him which is a bad sign. Marnie is usually pleased to see him when she wants to ask him to do something.
“Can you keep an eye on the shop for just a little bit?” Marnie is bundling up in her raincoat and already has her boots on. “I need to check the barns for leaks, shouldn’t take long.”
Shane looks down at what he’s wearing — he changed into jeans before falling asleep, but he’s still in his JojaMart hoodie. “Sure.” He grabs a JojaCola from the fridge just to have something to wake him up. “You expecting anyone?”
“Not in particular, but you never know.” Marnie pulls her hood up, though not all of her hair can fit underneath it.
“It’s early. And raining.”
“Farmers are early risers,” Marnie says.
That’s true. Shane does have to avoid a lot of people when he walks to work on weekdays. Marnie marches out into the rain, and Shane sits behind the front desk, fully expecting to zone out for the short time it'll take Marnie to check all the leaks they fixed after the last big storm stayed fixed.
There’s a knock, and the door swings open. And of all the villagers it’s gotta be, of course it’s Hal.
Hal is wearing a rain jacket, but it’s thin, and he looks soaked.
“Oh. Hal.” Shane waves awkwardly. “Hi.”
“I didn’t realize you worked here,” Hal says. He looks genuinely surprised. “Don’t you do something at…” He pokes at his own chest, where the JojaMart logo is on Shane’s hoodie.
“I just watch the door while Marnie’s out sometimes,” Shane says. He wiggles the tab of his JojaCola until it breaks. And then he’s stuck holding it and has no idea what to do with it. “Marnie’s checking the barns for leaks.”
“It’s coming down pretty hard,” Hal says agreeably.
Why is Hal so agreeable? It’s kind of annoying. “Yeah, you look soaked. You should get better rain gear.”
Hal grins and scrubs one hand through his hair instead of taking offense. “Yeah. Back in the city, this was more than enough! Funny what you realize you need after moving out some place like this.”
Shane chugs the last of his JojaCola. He has no idea what to say to that.
Even soaked to the bone, Hal looks good. His hair is wet and darker than usual. It's grown long enough he could probably stick it in a ponytail if he wanted, and he looks a little flushed, like he’s cold. Well, he probably is cold. It's fall, and he just got stuck in the rain. If Marnie was here, she’d offer him a hot drink or something.
Hal looks awkward now, shifting from foot to foot. “Uh, when will Marnie be back?”
“Probably fifteen minutes or so.”
“I can go check if you want.”
Hal nods. “Just came to ask about a heater, order some hay.”
Shane has to lean past Hal to get his own rain jacket off the hook by the door, but he doesn’t bother putting on his boots. He’s not going to be mucking around the muddy fields. He looks and sees Hal does have good boots, at least, beat-up and sturdy.
He finds Marnie in the coops, checking the ceiling. She’s humming to herself like she’s in a really good mood. “Hal came by,” Shane says.
“Oh, Farmer Hal! He’s a nice young man.”
There’s a crack of thunder, and one of the younger chickens startles. The older hens are puffed up and looking content. Shane finds Charlie to pet since she’s holding still. “Wants to order hay and talk about a heater.”
“Oh, good. It’s getting colder, and his coop needs one.”
Shane holds the door for Marnie, and she and Hal greet each other kinda the same way Hal and Maru do, like they genuinely get along. It's kind of funny; Marnie's never that glad to see him. But he is the burnout who drinks too much beer in her spare room, so maybe that's fair.
They chatter about a heater for the coup and some of Hal's chickens being fussy. "Shane, you should check out Farmer Hal's coup sometime," Marnie says, as she's ringing Hal up.
Shane is rummaging in the fridge for a second cola drink.
Hal starts, sounding kind of panicked, "I'm sure Shane has better things to do that--"
"Sure, I guess," Shane says, just to see if Hal will look surprised.
"Shane is very good with chickens. You'd never guess it."
Hal looks a little more contemplative at that, which Shane interprets as a great time for him to leave and wait for his hangover to go away in his room.
A week later it's raining again, and Shane grabs a second six-pack and goes to drink by the cliffs because for some reason that seems like a really great idea at the time. Things go a little fuzzy after that.
Shane can’t decide if it’s lucky or unlucky that it was Hal to find him half-passed-out near the cliffs. And Shane also can't decide if he's grateful or not that he barely remembers a thing, just Hal and Harvey's voices in the next room.
He goes to Hal’s farm a few days later just because it feels like the right thing to do. Early, on his way to work. He kinda half-hopes that Hal is still asleep, but instead Hal is already up and in one of his fields.
"I uh, came to say thanks," Shane says, and it sounds extremely awkward and uncool the moment he says it and he instantly regrets it.
Hal shrugs. "Did what anyone else would."
Shane stands there awkwardly for a minute. That's not true, but pointing that out would be weird.
Hal wipes a hand across his forehead. It's barely 7:30am, and he's already exhausted-looking and covered in dirt. “You walking to work?”
“I’m headed to Pierre’s."
Shane shrugs, and that's apparently answer enough, so they walk into town together, mostly in silence.
Kinda nice. After Hal ducks into Pierre's, Shane realizes he actually kind of misses having the company.
Shit. He actually likes Hal.
Realizing that makes him stop in his steps. He's standing on the bridge that leads to the JojaMart, and it's an annoying nice fall morning, and Shane has a stupid crush.
He's not going to think about it. He stomps through the employee entrance in the back, sullenly scans his palm to clock in, and gets to work unpacking a new shipment of JojaCola.
There are a lot of things about Shane's job that really suck. It's physically demanding but really easy. Because it's easy, there's nothing to think about. So he ends up mostly thinking about how long until his next break, or how long until he's off the clock and can go down to the saloon, or how much he hates his life.
Or how Hal is really actually very hot and at least doesn't hate him even though Shane had been really rude the first time they'd met, and then Hal found him passed out drunk in the rain like just a couple days ago.
Thinking about Hal doesn't put him in a better mood than thinking about any of those other things because there's obviously no chance. The only thing that's ever worked out right for Shane is working at Joja. This is probably as good as things get for him, so there's no point hoping.
Fall turns into winter, and Hal starts coming to the saloon every Friday. He's usually already there by the time Shane shows up because Shane's shift doesn't end until like six, and it's a pretty long walk. Hal is always with Sam and Abigail, and sometimes him and Sebastian get into heated conversations about computers.
Shane knows this because Hal always comes by to say hey after Shane shows up. Sometimes they just say hey and then Hal makes his way off, and sometimes there’s another chair at the table or whatever and Hal just sort of invites himself over and they talk for awhile.
For a couple weeks Shane figures it might be pity. For the cliffs thing. Whatever, he'll take it.
One Friday when Shane comes in, Sam and Abigail aren’t there. To his surprise, Hal is, though, sitting alone at Shane’s usual table. It's been snowing all day, and there's not a lot of people, probably because everyone else is holed up at home.
Hal waves. Shane awkwardly waves back. When he sits down, Maru brings over two beers, and Hal orders food.
"Kind of surprised you made the walk from the farm," Shane says, after Maru leaves.
Hal shrugs. He's on his second drink, it looks like. "Not much to during winter besides look after the chickens. Glad spring's nearly here." He talks about a busted-up greenhouse on the farm that he found while clearing trees and maybe setting it up for next year.
Weird to think about Hal maybe still being here next year. That would be cool. Maybe Hal will be sick of him by then, though. "I just meant, like, everyone else who doesn't have to work is home right now." He clears his throat and white-knuckles his glass for courage. "Didn't expect to see you is all."
When he glances up at Hal, Hal looks extremely confused. Shane is trying to figure out if he said something awkward when Hal just shakes his head. "Well, since you were gonna be here, of course I came down."
Oh. That's when Maru comes by with the pepper poppers that Hal ordered, which is convenient, because Shane doesn't trust himself to say anything.
Maru sets the plate between them instead of just in front of Hal. Shane just stares for a second, and Hal nudges the plate. "Help yourself," he says cheerfully. "I can't finish these by myself."
Shane could definitely finish them by himself. "Thanks," he says. "These are my favorite."
And then Shane can't help himself. “I'm surprised that you're still trying to make friends with me,” Shane says. The poppers are hot, but he grabs one anyways. “Haven't I been rude enough to you yet?”
Hal's eyebrows go up in mild surprise, but then he laughs and knocks their shoulders together. “No. Try harder.”
Maybe it’s because Shane’s had two drinks, but he looks away so Hal can’t see his neck flushing. "You’re really persistent, that’s all. I guess I'm just surprised that anyone would be interested in talking to me."
Hal rolls his eyes, but he still looks amused. "It's cool talking to someone who's my age and doesn't mind being blunt."
Blunt is a nice way to say rude, but Shane will take it.
Hal settles back in his chair. "You remind me with some of the guys I used to work with."
That might be good and that might be bad. Shane kinda doesn't want to know which it is. "You used to work at Joja in the city, right?"
Hal nods and talks a little about what he used to do. A bunch of computer stuff. Then they talk about chickens, and then about gridball, which Hal actually follows, and before Shane knows it, Maru is apologetically telling them it's fifteen minutes to close.
"You gotta come look at my coops eventually, man," Hal says, as they're walking out into the night.
"Yeah, okay. Uh." Shane squints up at the moon. "Tomorrow?"
Hal grins. "Perfect. Come by at six?"
Shane watches TV all day to avoid thinking about how he's supposed to go see Hal later, which mostly means he thinks all day about how he's going to see Hal later but in front of the TV. At like five he finally makes himself look presentable before leaving.
The snow makes the walk slow, but it's quiet and pretty, so that's okay. There's probably only a few days before the snow melts. Shane wonders if Hal's going to stop going to the saloon so often once it's spring. Probably.
Hal’s farm, by now, is the biggest in the valley, so Shane can see it from a distance. Hal’s got two whole sets of coops set up, which Shane didn't realize. Hal is sitting on his front steps, and he's wearing clean jeans and a blue sweater Shane hasn't seen before. He looks, like, good, better than you need to look if you're just inspecting a chicken coop.
The first coop is full, and the second just has a few hens, all of them younger. But even if his chickens don't look quite as glossy as Shane and Marnie's, they look happy. Hal watches while Shane looks over all of them, scrutinizes the joints on the coop for places where cold air might creep in.
"So what do you think? Did I do good?"
Hal’s grin is lopsided but still seems uneasy. Shane sinks to his heels, scratches at the side of a hen's neck. “Yeah, as far as I can tell.” The hen bobs her head at him twice before trotting back to settle in front of the barn heater. "They look happy, and the coops are constructed well. There's no cold spots. People forget to check that sometimes. They put the heater in the wrong place, and a bunch of the spots to nest get cold, and the hens don't like that."
"Good to know."
"Uh." Shane has checked the coops. "Did you want me to check anything else?"
Hal is leaning against the entrance to the coop, both eyebrows as close to his hairline as Shane’s ever seen. “Okay. The subtle approach isn't working, so I guess I need to just say that I am interested in dating you,” Hal says. He says it with the same calm discomfort as a JojaMart manager giving a neutral feedback report. “If you’re interested, at least."
"Um," says Shane.
"Yes, I am -- uh. Seriously?"
Hal stares with complete and total disbelief. "We've been getting drinks and dinner every Friday for three months, Shane. Sam thinks we're dating already."
Shane is glad he's sitting down. "Wait. Is this a date?"
"I'd hoped," Hal says.
Oh. That's why Hal's dressed up, and -- oh. Shane stands up and cleans his hands off on the front of his jeans. "I've had a crush on you pretty much since you got here," he blurts out.
Hal manages to look even more disbelieving. "The first thing you ever said to me was basically why are you talking to me."
Shane crosses his arms and scowls at that, and Hal laughs but not in a mean way.
Hal holds out his hand. "Come on. I was going to make dinner."
Shane takes it.