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Not All About You

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Emily walks in with a letter with a familiar scrawl. “Mom and Dad said they can’t make it again, but they wished you happy early birthday.”

Haley scoffs from her doorway. “Yeah, right. If they really cared, they would come.”

Emily doesn’t respond. She places the letter on the table near Haley, and when Haley doesn’t move to take it, she sighs and heads to her room. While she’s gone, Haley reaches out and tears up the letter without reading it, tossing the pieces into the trash bin under the sink before settling down in the living room.

Emily returns shortly afterwards, dressed in her work clothes—a red skirt and shirt that clashes deliberately with her hair. “What do you think of the new farmer?” She asks as she briefly does her makeup in the living room mirror. “She just moved in today.”

“I ran into her.” Haley hums, lounging on the couch. “She’s really pretty.”

A pause. Emily glances at her. “You think she’s pretty?”

“I told her so.” A wicked smile curves around Haley’s mouth, and Emily spots it, frowning.

“What did you actually say to her?”

Haley giggles, “I just mentioned that if it weren’t for her horrendous clothing, she might be really pretty. Then, I said never mind.”

Emily sighs, “Seriously, Haley?”

“What?” Haley lifts herself slightly from the couch. “It was funny.”

“Maybe in high school and, even then, not really.” Emily goes her hair up and adjusts her skirt and shirt. At least she has some sort of fashion sense to match with her hair. “You’re going to have to grow up one day. Mom and Dad aren’t here anymore.”

Haley frowns. “It was a joke, Emily! You’re starting to be as unfunny as that farmer is unfashionable.”

“When are you going to realize…” Emily checks the time and quickly grabs her keys. “...that not everything is about you, and words can come back to bite you?”

Her sister gives her a peck on the cheek before darting out the door as Haley sits there, frown deepening. It was just a joke. Why does Emily have to be serious about everything?

She huffs and buries herself back into the couch, sinking further down. About half an hour after Emily leaves, she calls Haley, still lounging, and begs her sister to bring her work shoes, the ugly, closed-toed flats that could choke a camel. After much flattery and cajoling, Haley sighs and magnanimously agrees to help, rolling her eyes. She snatches the shoes from Emily’s floor and stuffs them inside a dark bag, so no one sees her with them.

She strides towards the bar, holding them as far away from her as possible as if the beige colouring could wound her. The bar is hardly a ten minute walk away, the brick building distinct under the soft lights overhead with its genteel look, almost welcoming and rustic. If it weren’t so fat and squat, the building might make a good background for a photo.

The door swings open easily as Haley shoves her way through, eyes and ears adjusting to the brighter lights and friendly chatter around her. Someone catches her eyes, and after a few seconds of thought, Haley realizes it is that new farmer that she insulted.

She spots her across the bar, laughing at something Emily said, head tossed back with sleek, black hair gleaming. She brings a hand to brush back the strands from her eyes, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips, and in that moment, her gaze darts across the room to meet with Haley’s—eyes a dark blue like the ocean just after the sun sinks down below the horizon. For a moment, Haley doesn’t see her clothes, just the fine curve of the farmer’s cheek, the outline of her jaw, her neck. She’s suddenly struck with the observation that the farmer has magnificent bone structure, elegantly carved as if descended from a line of models, and she feels something pick up in pace in her chest. The large, serious eyes and thick, dark hair cascading down her back might have something to do with it too as the farmer’s smile slowly slips off her face, and Haley notices that even when she’s unhappy, the farmer’s still quite pretty.

The woman’s expression cools until it looks frosty, and she nods as Haley’s face burns. Haley stalks forward past surprised patrons and shoves her sister’s shoes into a startled Gus’ hands and storms off, huffing at the disinterested face of the farmer and even madder at herself for not knowing why.

She storms through her room and throws herself into bed, stewing still at the ill-dressed farmer who gives her such a disinterested look. “She’s the one who dresses like she thinks she’s a cabbage.” Haley sniffs, blonde hair strewn over her pillows. “Why am I the one that feels bad?”

Haley doesn’t get an answer as she tosses and turns at night. She snaps at Emily in the morning and stomps her way up to her usual spot by the fountain, fuming and unable to pinpoint why the farmer’s cool expression had flustered her so.

She spots the farmer heading up towards the mountain trail and manages to ignore her for a good four minutes before the farmer offers her a daffodil, a flower that Haley nearly squeals upon accepting. The farmer nods and walks away while Haley remembers to be mad at her after she leaves.

She glances down at her daffodil and concludes that perhaps the other girl has some taste in pretty things.

After a week or so of the farmer giving her gifts, Haley finally deigns to speak with her. “You’re lucky to be here with me, you know?”

The farmer tucks her hands into her pockets. She raises an eyebrow.

Sighing, Haley tosses her hair back with a practiced gesture. “I’m the most beautiful woman in town.”

The farmer’s expression doesn’t change. “Seriously?”

Haley scoffs, “Don’t deny it. I’ve seen the other girls here! I’ve checked them out!”

The farmer tilts her head slowly, the movement flustering Haley, though she doesn’t know why. “Do you make it a habit to check out other women?”

“I didn’t say that!” Haley sputters.

“Funny. Sounds like you just did.” The farmer checks her watch, nods, and waves. She heads off towards the mines while Haley is still fumbling over her words.

“Well, sounds like you did too!” Haley shouts after her, red-faced, as the farmer almost disappears behind a tree. The farmer pauses and looks back. She smiles slightly before continuing up the path. Haley has no idea what that means.

She storms home and rants at Emily. “That farmer girl is so rude! I hate her!”

“For the record, she’s actually quite friendly.” Emily finishes applying her lipstick and leans out of the washroom. “And for someone you hate, you sure talk a lot about her.”

“That’s what you do with someone you hate!” Haley stomps into her room and throws herself on the bed. She fusses and grumbles, hearing Emily call out a goodbye as her sister heads to work. The farmer shouldn’t have this kind of effect on her. It’s dumb. Haley is a grown woman with a hot prospective boyfriend in tow as well as the title of most beautiful woman in town. There’s no way someone like her would ever want the audience of a person with dirt stains on their knees.

Haley scoffs. That’s right. She doesn’t need her. She’s totally not going to pay attention any longer.

Stupid farmer.

The farmer walks with a lazy-looking stride and nonchalant expression, but her eyes are sharp, observant. She either sweeps her dark hair behind her or ties it up in a careless ponytail that looks unfairly attractive for the two seconds of work she puts in. Her frame is lean, muscle starting to fill out along her arms, shoulders, and back while the beginning of her tan can be seen on her face, the sparse freckles darkening along her nose. When she smiles, it almost looks contained. Even when she’s happy, she still seems cautious. Not that Haley notices whenever the farmer visits her and Emily or anything.

Despite her already forgotten promise, Haley can’t help but note that the farmer would look really good in a photo. In the spring, every time Haley raises her camera to her surroundings, she thinks about what the pictures would look like if the farmer acted as a model, if she gives that enigmatic smile just as twilight touches the ocean. Haley thinks it would be an amazing photo.

She tries to express the idea to Emily, but her sister completely misunderstands. Emily grins and gives her a nudge to the ribs. “Is that the only reason you want her around?”

“Yes! Geez, Emily. Not everything has to be weird all the time.” Haley scoffs, her thoughts slipping into scenes where she lifts her camera in front of a sunset with the farmer smiling slightly. She groans, “Ugh, just tell me about your day.”

Haley continues trying to dismiss the farmer as much as possible, but when Marnie, of all people, comes fiercely to the woman’s defence, Haley couldn’t help her curiosity.

“You take that back!” Marnie is red-faced, having run into George on one of his regular visits to the doctor. “She is very kind, hard-working, and she is a good friend!”

“I will take it back when she proves it!” George snorts. “She’s just a stranger to us all. She’ll be gone before the end of the year.”

“You don’t know her! I do, and I will be here to watch you eat your words when she’s here next year!” Marnie crosses her arms, scowling. The other villagers stare at her in surprise, and there’s a flush across Marnie’s cheeks but she refuses to budge. Haley glances at the scene before making her way to the fountain as always, briefly wondering what that was all about.

The new farmer was a pretty popular topic when she first moved in, but after a few weeks, the interest had dwindled until her arrival only came up occasionally in conversations. However, people are already starting to ask after her in other ways from her dating status to guesses about how the farm is doing. The thing that surprises Haley is the strength by which some people sincerely like her. Even Alex seems impressed by that woman as he rambles about her interests.

“The new farmer is pretty cool. She was asking me about my gridball history and what I do to keep in shape.” A grin spreads across his face. “She even tossed the ball around with me a few times. Her arm isn’t bad, but it could definitely use some work. It was fun having someone else to play with though.”

Haley rolls her eyes. “She’s just pretending to be interested, so you’d like her.” It’s what Haley does. “Besides, she’s impossible to talk to—being all cool and giving people smiles that they don’t get.”

“What are you talking about? She’s really easygoing.” Alex actually looks hurt. “And she genuinely wants to know. I think I could see her being a friend.”

“Is that all you want from her?” Haley jams her hands onto her hips. “What if she asks for more?”

Alex shrugs. “Well, you’d have to be blind to turn that down.”

Haley punches him in the arm, doing very little damage other than a hurt thumb on her part. She might be holding her fist wrong. “What is wrong with you guys? Always chasing after pretty faces rather than looking at the girls you got!”

“Hey, don’t blame me! A real man has eyes, and that new farmer—“ He meets her eyes. “—you tell me that she doesn’t hold your gaze too.”

“Ugh, that’s weird! Why would I stare after some cabbage-dressed weirdo anyway?”

“You be nice to her.” Alex gives her stern look before walking away. “She’s starting to grow on me. Maybe you too.”

Haley scoffs but looks away. She contemplates how often the farmer stops to check in and give her things she likes. After a while, Haley asked the new girl why she did those things.

The farmer went quiet for a while. “I was raised to be kind to people even when they are unkind to me.” She turned and left without further explanation, leaving Haley speechless.

Haley brushed off the words, but something about them lingers inside her head, like the last notes of a bell. The farmer did resolve that fight between Emily and her sister about the couch chore. It would not be surprising if she did things for others as well, even for people like George, miserable old grouch that he is.

Chewing on her lip, she pushes the memory away and heads back to her place, a voice in the back of her mind questioning if she is one of those unkind people herself. Haley doesn’t answer it.

—-

One rainy day, Haley curses at the stuck jar, having run the lid under hot water multiple times. She just wants pasta sauce. Why does it have to be a battle?

There’s a knock at the door before it swings open and quickly closes. The farmer stands there with soaked clothing and wet hair, shaking the drops from her face. She glances across the house to see Haley and frowns, approaching her. “Where’s Emily?”

“I don’t know. At work or something.” Haley glances at the jar in her hands and then at the farmer, eyeing her lean frame. “Oh, I know! You’re strong, right? Could you open this for me….” Haley scans her brain for a name and comes up empty. “...please?”

The farmer looks annoyed but takes the jar. She pops it open with one twist.

Haley grins at the open jar, the beautiful red of pasta sauce and the tangy scent of tomatoes. “Wow, you’re way stronger than you look!” She glances up and notices how the farmer’s dark hair has been slicked back with wet fingers, scattered strands across one side of her face that illuminate her blue eyes brightly, and she looks… almost dangerous in a strangely attractive way.

The farmer tilts her head, and Haley’s heartbeat races in her chest, surprise making her flush. “Caitlyn.”

“Huh?”

“My name is Caitlyn.” The farmer smiles with a beautiful curve of her mouth. “You’re welcome for the jar.”

Haley is still clutching it when the farmer leaves, waving with two fingers before departing into the rain. Emily comes home to partially burnt spaghetti, because Haley stares at the wall in a daze for most of the cooking.

“You okay, sis?” Emily calls out as she puts her coat away. “You seem to be thinking hard about something.”

“What? I’m not thinking about anyone!” Haley starts, jolting away from the stove.

“I didn’t say you were.” Emily raises an eyebrow. “Were you?”

“No,” Haley snaps. “Just go eat your lunch.”

Spring passes, and Haley doubles down on her “relationship” with Alex, hanging out around his ice cream stand as summer sets in the valley, the villagers transitioning to lighter clothing and shorts. Alex works the stand with his t-shirt sleeves rolled up, exposing the bulk of his biceps and shoulders. Haley sometimes forgets to eat her own ice cream when he leans over to clean the counter, and he smirks when he catches her doing so. The expression slips into a real smile when the farmer walks by, frequently heading to the museum conveniently located by Alex’s stand.

Caitlyn grins back, a gorgeous expression that lights up everything on her face from her eyes to her lips and makes Haley take a step back, nearly dropping her treat. She looks like a different person when she smiles—happier, glowing. The farmer’s gaze shifts to Haley, and the smile dims, growing more reserved like a candle going out. Caitlyn nods to her before heading off, and Haley wants to hit Alex for the dopey look on his face. She wouldn’t have looked so stupid if she was the one who received the greeting.

“Why are you so mad?” Alex wipes at the counter again. “She was just being friendly. Maybe you’re just upset she didn’t smile at you.”

“She did!” Somewhat. “And that’s not the point. We… haven’t been spending time together, because of your job.” Haley sniffs.

“Oh.” Alex scratches at his chin. “Well, I’m free tomorrow. Wanna go to the beach?”

Buff Alex in a swimsuit? Oh Yoba, yes.

However, the farmer seems to follow her everywhere, even on a date.

The next day, Haley saunters onto the beach in a blue bikini that matches her eyes. She smirks as she spots Alex looking at the sea in his green swim shorts, gridball in hand. He stares out into the horizon while Haley approaches him, admiring the explosion of muscles lining his back.

When she nears, she calls out, “Hey, Alex—“

Alex whips around and hurls the gridball at her. “Catch!”

She does, but only after it knocks her over as Haley clutches onto the ball, screaming angrily.

“Oh, I thought you were someone else.” Alex blushes as he jogs over and helps her up. “Sorry.” He does a once-over. “You looked good.”

“Thanks,” Haley huffs, the wind punched out of her. She shoves the ball into Alex’s chest and stomps away, sinking into the sand with each step, which defuses her dramatic moment. She whips around, already planning on how Alex could make it up to her when she sees him distracted and waving to someone with dark hair passing by to the other side of the beach. He hails them down and gestures for them to come over and, after a pause, they oblige.

When she sees who it is, Haley nearly goes livid.

The farmer opts for a light grey tank top in the hot summer heat that compliments her tanning skin and torn jeans, her underarms blissfully shaved and Haley stiffly nods in approval at the clean armpits. She likes a woman with sense.

Caitlyn approaches them with a raised brow, rucksack partially open on her back, Haley’s eyes caught on the casual swing of her hips. “Yes?”

Alex points to Haley excitedly. “Check it out. She’s pretty hot, right?”

Haley scoffs until the farmer turns her gaze on her, doing a long, slow sweep from head to toe and back that has Haley flushing and feeling confusing things in regions that should not feel them. The farmer raises her eyes to Haley’s, who heats up further at the deliberating, intense expression in them.

The farmer nods before turning to Alex. “Yeah, she’s hot.” She shrugs and trots off to the other side of the beach. “I’ll leave you guys on your date then.”

Haley gets a good long look at the lean muscles adorning the farmer’s frame, making her look lithe and agile. She bites down on her thumbnail as her eyes examine the indentation of muscles in her shoulders, the flattering curve of her figure, the athletic shape of her legs. Add to that thick, dark hair and cutting eyes like sapphires, and it’s a wonder how the boys in the town aren’t fighting over her. Maybe Haley isn’t the only beautiful woman on the beach.

She wonders what the farmer would look like in a bikini of her own.

Alex grins after the farmer, a shrinking dark speck in the distance. “She’s pretty hot too. And classy. The kind you’d want to bring home to your mom.”

“What? And I’m not?” Haley stamps her foot, sinking into the sand. “You wouldn’t take me home to see your grandparents?”

“They already know you, and you’re—“ Alex hesitates. He fiddled with his gridball. “Come on. We should enjoy the sun while it’s there.”

“That’s not an answer! It’s like we’re not even dating!”

Alex frowns. “I mean, we’re not...“

Oh.

Haley goes silent while Alex stands there awkwardly. He tosses his ball around. “It’d made sense if we did, yeah? We’re the best-looking couple in town.” He paces for a bit, chewing on his lip. “So, do you want to?”

Behind him, Haley spots the farmer returning from the other end of the beach, her hand sweeping away her hair from her face, her expression intense. Before she leaves, she glances up to meet Haley’s eyes, the blonde’s breath catching at the sight. “No,” she says, surprising herself. “I think I’m going through a phase.”

“Emily,” Haley hesitates, “how do you date someone?”

Emily whirls from her sewing machine, eyes wide. She spits out the pins in her mouth. “Are you and Alex finally sweethearts?”

“No, not that lug!” Haley hisses, shoving herself up from the couch. “I meant in general!”

Emily studies her, and Haley squirms under her sister’s gaze. “You’re thinking about someone else.” A corner of her mouth quirks. “And I might know who.”

“You know nothing!” Haley launches a pillow at Emily, who neatly ducks it. “This isn’t even a thing! I was just curious!”

“So much denial.” Emily rests her chin on her palm. “If you’re not serious about her, I might try myself. The farmer’s pretty cute.”

“Ew, no!” Haley bolts to her feet, hissing. “You don’t even like girls!”

Emily shrugs. “Love is love.” She turns back to her machine. “I didn’t think you did either.”

Haley opens and closes her mouth. “I just notice pretty girls. It’s easy.” The words dribble out as Haley realizes they are a poor defence. “I mean, everyone appreciates beautiful women.” Haley tosses her hair back. “They’re on the covers of magazines.”

“Yeah, but I think we’re talking about a different kind of appreciation. One that I think you’re starting to understand.” Emily gazes at her. “Do you want to talk about—“

“No.”

“As your big sister—“

“NO.” Haley jumps up from the couch. “I do not like her like that! She’s just beautiful and mysterious and a pain in the butt!”

Emily sits back. “Wow, this is more serious than I thought.” She shrugs. “If you don’t want to talk about it, fine. At least, figure out what you’re feeling for yourself. You’ll be more clear about what you want.”

Haley huffs. “It’s not like that.” She goes silent for a while. “I just don’t get how she’s so cool with me and friendly with everyone else. Does she hate me?”

“I don’t think she hates anybody. Why do you think she dislikes you?”

“Ugh, she’s always smiling at other people, and when she looks at me, it disappears. She gets so cold, she could freeze a chili pepper by being around it.”

“That doesn’t sound like her. Is she a little awkward too?”

“No,” Haley huffs. Just undeniably beautiful and cold like the freezer section at JoJa Mart.

Emily studies her. “How do you respond to her now when she says hi?”

Haley rolls her eyes. “Hi.”

“I mean it,” Emily insists. “The last thing you told me you said to her was that she would be pretty if it weren’t for her horrendous clothing, followed by a ‘Oh, never mind!’”

Haley frowns and chews her lower lip. “You think that’s why she doesn’t open up to me?”

“I think—“ Emily pauses, considering her words. “—that it can be difficult to like someone who made such an unkind comment.”

Haley flinches, the phrase echoing the farmer’s words from a while ago. “You think I’m not nice?”

“Does what you said sound like it to you?”

“I am nice.” When Emily doesn’t respond, Haley repeats herself. “I am! I don’t need to prove it to anyone.”

“No, but you won’t have friends either or the attention you want.” Emily shakes her head. “It’s not kind to be so careless with other people’s feelings.”

“Like people care about mine.”

Emily lifts her eyes. “Are you speaking about the townspeople or Mom and Dad?”

Hakey freezes before she responds, her tone icy. “Who cares about them?” She gets up and heads to her room. “I’m going to my room.”

“Haley, I’m serious.” Emily calls from the living room. “It’s not all about you. I just wish Mom and Dad showed it better.”

Haley doesn’t answer.

When the anniversary of great-grandma’s death rolls around, the household is silent. Emily does not work on her sewing machine or on any chores, merely sitting quietly at the kitchen table and scribbling her thoughts in a journal with a velvet cover she made. Haley rummages through her dresser drawer, picking out an older-looking bracelet with a golden clasp. It’s beautifully hand-woven made of some kind of animal hair, gold, and black and white enamel—a creation of her great-grandma that sparked Emily’s interests in designing clothing.

Great-grandma had bestowed it upon Haley one day when she was five and digging through her great-grandma’s jewelry collection. Instead of reprimanding her, great-grandma reached into the golden chest to pull out the bracelet. She slipped it on her great-granddaughter’s wrist where it hung loosely, far too big for a young girl like her.

“This is a gift I made for an old paramour of mine. They died before I met your great-grandpa, but the care is still there, the love that never faded.” She presses a kiss to Haley’s forehead, smelling of lilies and Haley loves her. “When you are old enough, it will lead you to love of your own. I pray that you will be wise enough to accept what comes, unlike me.”

Haley doesn’t really understand, but great grandma merely smiled at her and took her hand, leading her inside her home—filled with antiques and memories—for cookies. Four months later, she died.

Shaking her head and dislodging the memories, Haley slips the bracelet on and turns to leave the house.

Emily calls after her, “Be careful with that. The clasp is weak after all these years.”

Haley waves to show she heard and continues on.

The beach is bare, but Haley doesn’t mind. Not today. She reaches the edge of the beach just beyond where high tide would sweep in and sits down on the sand, musing about her life since her great-grandmother died.

Her family had moved into great-grandma’s house once she died to take care of the home she loved so much. Her father had shown her how to shoot pictures from his old DSLR camera and how to develop them in a makeshift darkroom. Her mother had shown her how to capture pictures—the value of composition, lines, shapes, and colours; how to bring out the best expressions in models; how to always ask herself how she could improve in her skills.

“The biggest waste of talent is complacency. Remember that, Haley,” her mother said one day while scouring a map for the next place she wanted to visit. “You have so much life left to grow.”

A year after her mother mentioned that to her, she and Haley’s father left to travel the world—a dream they put off to raise their girls until they were old enough. It’s been years since they departed, and though, they sent letters, cards, and gifts from time to time, they never came back.

Meanwhile, Haley chafes under the growing monotony of Pelican Town—a place that was safe to raise children but void of stimulation for a young girl to grow, void of an absent parent’s love and care. Why does she stay? Is it her attachment to great-grandma’s house, her bond with her sister, or because she has nowhere else to go? Her directionless life may be relaxing for some, but it chokes Haley.

She strolls up and down the beach, gazing at the scene from new angles like her mother showed her to see new perspectives, but nothing seems to fit, to fill the relentless need inside her. What is she looking for, and why, Haley doesn’t know. She just understands that the only things she likes in town is this beach and her sister. She wishes there is something more.

Sighing, Haley makes her way back to her original spot and prepares to sit again when her left wrist catches her eyes.

There’s no bracelet.

Panicking, Haley glances around and scrabbles at the sand, feeling the grains get caught under her nails, the snap of one of her fake one almost painful. But she keeps digging frantically, huge handfuls of sand flying to the side as she retraces her steps over and over on the beach. When the sun begins to set below the sea, Haley sinks to her knees on the beach, not caring if someone sees the ruined mascara running down her cheeks. Her left wrist feels naked and bare, and it’s her fault.

A familiar voice calls out to her. “Are you all right?”

Haley turns her head, and of course, it’s the farmer who kneels close to her, looking very concerned. “I lost it. One of the few things that meant anything to me.” She closes her eyes. “Oh, Great-Grandma, I’m so sorry.”

“Hey, tell me what you lost.” Caitlyn’s voice comes out low, gentle. “I might be able to find it.”

Haley briefly describes the bracelet, but she doesn’t move from her spot as the farmer nods and heads off to comb the area near Elliot’s hut. Haley stares into the ocean, wondering what is left for her in Pelican Town anymore.

After a while, she sighs and gets up, knowing that no amount of moping would bring it back or make things better. Brushing herself off, she hears footsteps approaching her, and she glances around to see Caitlyn holding a familiar woven bracelet with a golden clasp. “Is this it?”

Haley jolts before diving forward, picking up the bracelet and staring with a smile blossoming across her face. “It is! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

She’s so happy, she throws herself at Caitlyn without a second thought. Haley embraces the farmer, feeling her stiffen in shock, but it doesn’t matter. She wants to give the farmer a hug. She doesn’t need one in return.

The farmer hesitates before slowly wrapping her arms around Haley’s back and returning the hug. Haley sighs happily as she snuggles up to her neck, smelling freshly cut grass and something sweet underneath, the warmth of the woman sending her heartbeat in a frenzy and—

The light catches on the golden clasp of her great-grandmother’s bracelet as her words from long ago come back.

Ah.

That’s what it is.

Haley lets go with a flush blossoming across her face. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure.” Caitlyn nods as if in a daze. “Keep it in a safe spot.”

Haley clutches her great-grandmother’s bracelet to her chest. “It means more to me than you’ll ever know.”

Caitlyn’s eyes soften. “I believe you.” She hesitates before reaching out to softly squeeze Haley’s arm, and Haley’s heartbeat soars like a songbird. “See you around.”

The farmer lingers before shaking her head. She heads back towards the wooden bridge leading to town while Haley presses the bracelet to her lips, thanking her great-grandma one last time.

Her sister figures it out within seconds of Haley stepping into the house.

Emily closes her book, shrugging. “It took you long enough.”

Haley exhales, sagging against the wall. “She’s amazing. So kind.”

“I know.” Her sister can’t hide her smile. “So, what are you planning to do about it?” At Haley’s startled look, she elaborates, “I mean, you aren’t the only one in town who noticed her. The other day at the bar, I saw Leah laugh and lean real close to her—“

“Leah,” Haley hisses. “Ugh, I have nothing against her personally, but I just found out I like someone. For real. Can she just lay off and leave me with my feelings for two seconds?”

“Haley, other people have already known about their own feelings for ages. You can’t stop them from wanting to be closer too.”

Haley sighs and sinks into a seat at the kitchen table. She drops her forehead to the wood. “Why is life complicated? I just want it to be simple!” She straightens up, rubbing her head. “So, how do I get her to like me? Really like me?”

Emily shrugs. “Why not figure out what she’s interested in? What her life is like, so you can relate.”

“Why?”

“I told you before, Haley.” Emily glances at the clock before getting up to leave for work. “It’s not all about you.”

After that conversation, Haley thinks very hard for two days, wondering about what kind of things a farmer would be interested in. She ends up with a notebook full of doodles of turnips, hoes, and cows. Her attention gravitates back to the animals scrawled across the pages, and she remembers that Marnie sells livestock and Caitlyn is friends with her. Maybe going to look at the farm would help.

On the next sunny day, Haley takes her camera and treks out to Marnie’s farm. The instant she sees the cows snuffling at each other’s ears behind the fence, she falls in love.

“Come here!” She leans on the fence, holding out a hand while the cows placidly look at her, chewing on the grass below them. “No, I want to pet you!”

“What are you doing?”

Haley spins around and spots the farmer staring at her with a raised brow. “I wanted to know what it’s like being a farmer.” She blushes when she hears what she said. She continues, “It’s a way of life I never thought about....until now, and I was curious what it’s like being outdoors at all times.”

Caitlyn’s expression doesn’t change. “And you are trying to lure in Marnie’s cows because…?”

“They’re so cute.” Haley turns to her. “Could you help me approach one? Oh! You could help me take a picture with them!”

Caitlyn crosses her arms before sighing, “I’ll go ask Marnie if we can play with them.” She trudges off to the red brick building behind them while Haley sets up her camera and tripod, checking the aperture and making sure the lighting is good. She sets up the timer just as Caitlyn returns and nods at her, opening a gate and gesturing for Haley to follow her in.

“Did you know that cows have best friends?” Caitlyn leads her to a pair grazing in front of the barn, the mud squelching under her boots. “They feel more relaxed and panic when separated. They even get smarter when they’re together. That’s why I always buy in pairs, so the cows don’t have to be alone.”

Haley gazes at the side of the farmer’s face. “I get that. I don’t like to be alone either.”

Caitlyn whispers to her as they approach the cows, telling her to keep her movements slow and her voice soft and low. “I have fed Marnie’s cows before, so they know me. They don’t know you though, so be cautious. You don’t want to spook them.”

The cows perk at Caitlyn’s arrival, searching her hands for treats as Caitlyn pulls them out of her pockets. One of them wanders off when she realizes the farmer would not give them any more food while the other stays close, gazing at them curiously. Caitlyn slips a handful of apple slices into Haley’s hands and instructs her to start her timer.

Haley happily complies, squealing with delight when the cow eagerly rushes to her, nibbling at the slices in her hands. She barely manages to hold her excitement when the cow allows her to pet her, and Haley manages to get the farmer to help her up on the cow.

“I have no idea how you convinced me this was a good idea,” Caitlyn mutters. “Must be your charm.”

“Look up!” Haley points towards the camera, grinning as the cow turns in the direction of the device. “It’s going to be a beautiful picture.”

Caitlyn frowns. “Is it on flash? That might startle her and—”

The flash goes off, and the cow starts. She bolts forward, and Haley tumbles off of her back, landing in the mud, eagle-spread and wide-eyed.

“Are you okay?” Caitlyn rushes forth, pulling her up and examining her carefully. “Are you hurt?”

Haley snorts and giggles as she wipes mud from her face. “That was so fun! I’ve never done that before.” She gazes softly at the farmer, and for a moment, she thinks she spots a slight flush on Caitlyn’s cheeks. “My parents never took Emily and I out here or let us touch the animals. They always thought it was too dangerous.”

They look at each other before Caitlyn lets go, turning away and rubbing the back of her neck. “We should....we should check your photos.”

The pictures turn out way better than Haley expects. “I’m going to show these to Emily once I develop them.” She grins at the farmer and squeezes her hand, and Caitlyn lets her despite the mud still coating her fingers. “Thank you for everything. I’m going to go home and take a shower now.”

Caitlyn nods mutely, watching Haley depart until the farmer becomes a distant speck amidst woodland. Haley waves, not caring if she can’t see it, and after a pause, the tiny figure raises her hand and waves back.

Once showered, Haley takes her roll back to her vanity table to drop it off before returning to the living room and noticing Emily stepping into the house.

“Hey, you’re back. How’d it go?” Emily spots the expression on her sister’s face and grins. “Something good happened. Wanna tell me about it?”

At the end of Haley’s recollection, Emily’s grin widens. “So, the farmer...maybe there’s something there.”

“You think?” Haley leans forward.

“Yeah! The only thing that might make her stop is—” Emily hesitates. “—this probably isn’t the right time. Nevermind.”

“What? Tell me!” Haley slaps the couch’s edge.

Emily shakes her head. “Just go get to know her better. I’ll tell you later.”

She refuses to explain herself to Haley even after much cajoling and whining on the latter’s part. “No one ever died from wanting to know something badly, Haley.” Emily barely manages not to roll her eyes. “Why don’t you ask her out to the fair coming up or Spirit’s Eve?”

Haley does no such thing as the fair rolls into town, and she’s nearly bitten off her own nails from nervousness whenever the farmer passes by. She hovers around Alex, who’s pumped about hitting the highest score in town in some hammer stone thing while the farmer stands with her arms crossed in front of the orange and green wheel.

Excusing herself, she makes her way over, and the farmer glances at her sidelong. “Are you trying to win?”

The farmer sighs. “Trying. I’m hoping to get up to 2,000 Star Tokens by the end of day.” She gestures for the operator to spin the wheel again, and they watch as the arrow skids past the green border into orange. “But it’s been back and forth for a while,” she grumbles as she hands over half of her tokens. The farmer sighs and runs a hand through her hair, dark strands caught between her fingers that look as shiny as silk. “I just have to figure out the pattern.”

Haley watches the farmer go through a few rounds, studying the wheel meticulously with her brows furrowed, a slight frown on her face. She glances at the spinning wheel and comes to a conclusion of her own. “It lands on green, like most of the time. Why don’t you just bet on it, and, eventually, you’ll get there?”

The farmer glances at her, surprised, but she turns back to the operator and places her bet solely on green. Within a dozen spins, the farmer’s up to her elbows in tokens, and she’s grinning widely as she pulls Haley into a side-hug. “You’re a genius!”

“That’s the first time anyone’s said that to me.” Haley watches as the farmer stride towards the prize booth, and she follows at a quick trot. Her jaw drops as Caitlyn cashes in her tokens for what looks like— “You wanted a star-shaped fruit?”

“This is a special one.” The farmer takes a bite of her prize. “It raises stamina.”

Haley eyes the gleaming purple fruit. “Uh-huh.” She watches her finish it off with a grin, and she relaxes. “You’re cute when you’re happy.”

“What?” Caitlyn blinks.

“Huh?” Haley takes a step back, regaining her thoughts. “What?”

“You said I was cute…”

“Yeah,” Haley flushes, “When you smile. I don’t see it a lot.”

The farmer grows serious. “I don’t do it enough around you?” She huffs, seeming frustrated with herself. “Sorry. It’s not how I meant to come across.”

“It’s okay?” Haley is confused. “Like, it’s not a big deal. You just don’t like me as much as the others.”

“You seriously think that?” The farmer goes quiet. “That’s not true, you know. I do like you.” She glances away, a red tinge across her cheeks. “A lot.”

Mayor Lewis’ voice rings out from the square. “The judging will begin. Could all the participants return to their booths?”

Caitlyn nods, tucking her hands inside her pockets. “I better get going.” She brushes by Haley, pausing. “There’s a lot to like about you, and not all of it is about your looks.”

Haley stares at her and her cryptic remark. Emily seems unusually pleased when Haley tells her what happened later that night. “You’re totally on track. Did you ask her out to Spirit’s Eve?”

Spirit’s Eve comes, and Haley remains tongue-tied whenever the pretty farmer passes by. She shivers at the entrance to the hedge maze as a bunch of the other villagers venture in, including Alex. When Caitlyn passes by on her way in, she raises an eyebrow at Haley hugging a corner of Pierre’s stall.

“I’m too scared!” Haley wraps her arms around herself.

Caitlyn smiles, a soft and gentle one. “It’s all right if you don’t want to go in. I’m going ahead.”

“Aren’t you terrified?”

“Of what?” The farmer shrugs. “Nothing here is worse than anything I’ve seen in the mines.”

Haley makes a note to never, ever go to the mines as she watches the farmer disappear between the hedges. About half an hour later, she reappears with a grin on her face that looks familiar.

“What? Did you find another star-shaped fruit?” Haley huffs.

“Close.” There’s a box tucked under her arm, and the farmer gestures for Haley to come see.

Haley nearly rushes in, brushing up against Caitlyn’s back, and she swears she hears her inhale sharply at the contact. “Oh, it’s a golden pumpkin.” She forgets what else to say as the warmth from the other woman seeps through her front.

Caitlyn nods, closing the box. “I’m not sure what it’s for, but it’s probably got its uses.”

“Maybe…” Haley takes a breath. “Maybe you should give it to a pretty girl who’s caught your eye.”

Caitlyn looks at her, and Haley meets her gaze, her own cheeks heating up as an interesting flush spreads across the farmer’s face, starting at the tip of her nose and blossoming across her skin. They stare at each other in silence until Marnie’s voice surprises them from behind, and they quickly step away from each other, gazes averted.

“I know you want to stay, Jas, but it’s past your bedtime—oh!” Marnie appears, holding her niece’s hand. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“No, not at all.” Caitlyn coughs and turns around, holding out the box to Haley, who takes it in confusion. “I was just leaving.”

She quickly strides off, leaving behind a befuddled Haley, Marnie, and Jas. They bid each other good night while Haley heads home with a golden pumpkin tucked under her arm.

She places it on the kitchen table and puzzles over it when Emily comes home, squealing at the sight of the pumpkin sitting on their table.

“Did you get it from the festival?” Her sister rushes over. “I could make a fantastic witch’s hat from this!”

“The farmer gave it to me,” Haley says, slowly, as if still trying to comprehend what happened. “I think she might like me. Like how I like her.”

Emily whoops. “Proud of you for figuring it out!” She wraps Haley in a hug. “There’s only...well, you know the rumours going around town about you and Alex right?”

“What rumours?”

“The ones about you guys dating?” Emily raises an eyebrow. “He used to come over here a lot, you know.”

Haley slaps the table beside them. “That’s dumb! He hasn’t come over in ages.” Something dawns on her, and her mouth drops open. “You don’t think Caitlyn believes them, do you?”

Emily shrugs. “You’d have to ask her.”

Haley spends the next day searching for the farmer. She curses when she finds the farm empty despite trekking over there in the early morning, and she searches the mountains and beach in the afternoon, finding neither hide nor hair of the elusive woman.

It’s only after 4 pm that Haley finally finds the farmer, spotting her coming out of Pierre’s store with a bulging rucksack. She sprints after her as Caitlyn heads back home, flats slapping against cobblestones, and she wonders why she doesn’t have more sensible shoes.

Caitlyn turns to look back just before she reaches the crossroads, frowning as Haley catches up to her. “Everything all right?”

“We’re not dating!” Haley blurts as Caitlyn stares. “Alex and I.” Her hands clench. “We’re not.”

“Why tell me this?” The farmer raises a perfect eyebrow.

“I...I just want to be clear.” Haley swallows. “So, you don’t get the wrong idea.”

Caitlyn hums. “I appreciate that.” She glances sidelong at Haley. “So, what’s wrong with Alex? Not muscular enough for you?”

“No, he’s…” Haley meets her eyes, and the farmer seems to sense something since she turns to face her. “...he’s not my type.”

“And what is?” One corner of Caitlyn’s mouth curls up, and Haley badly wants to kiss it. “Should I guess?”

“Girls,” Haley blurts. “I like girls.”

Caitlyn’s eyebrows shoot towards her hairline. “Okay, I was not expecting something that blunt.” She hesitates, expression growing nervous for some reason. “Is there a particular kind you like?”

“Why...why do you ask?”

“Curiosity,” Caitlyn quickly responds. “Simple curiosity.” After a moment, she swears under her breath and drops her rucksack, opening it to pull out a beautiful bouquet. “Actually, I was told that this is the procedure here for...courtship, as Mayor Lewis puts it.”

“Oh! Is that—?” Haley stares when Caitlyn holds it out to her. “Who is it for?” She raises her eyes to meet Caitlyn’s, who flushes. It probably matches the heat in Haley’s cheeks. When the farmer doesn’t respond, she realizes the answer.

Oh.

“Me? You want to get to know each other better? I was… definitely thinking the same thing.” She takes the bouquet, feeling Caitlyn’s hands tremble as their fingers brush. “I would love that.”

“Good.” Caitlyn smiles nervously, looking more shaken than Haley has ever seen her. “I’m glad to find out that you liked girls first.”

Haley laughs, squeezing the bouquet to her chest like someone welcoming her home. “I didn’t even know you thought of me that way.”

Caitlyn frowns. “It wasn’t obvious? I always came by and gave you gifts.”

“Yeah, but you do that with everyone.” Haley furrows her brows.

“I was really awkward around you.”

Haley’s eyebrows shoot up. “You’re not like that naturally?”

Caitlyn just looks at her.

Haley giggles, covering her mouth with a hand. “Well, there’s just more of you to get to know then.”

Caitlyn’s stance and expression softens. “I look forward to it.” She laughs briefly before running her fingers through her hair. “I don’t fool around. I heard from Mayor Lewis that the villagers take courtship seriously.” She swallows, slowly turning to look at Haley, hands trembling. “I’m not looking to date someone I’m not planning to marry.”

Haley’s heart soars into her ears, a wonderful warmth spreading throughout her body at the words. “Me either.”

Caitlyn looks surprised before a pleased flush spreads across her face. “That’s good.” She doesn’t seem to know what else to say as a grin takes over, and Haley nearly whoops in joy at finally seeing that beautiful smile aimed at her. “I got farm things to do. I should—” She jerks her thumb down the road and nearly stumbles over her feet.

Haley giggles, feeling her heartbeat in her ears, her own face as heated as the summer sun. “See you tomorrow.”

Caitlyn nods jerkily before sharply turning about and heading down the path at a fast pace. Haley carries the bouquet home like she’s captured the rarest picture of the outdoors. Emily throws a small celebration for her when she finds out the news.

“Congratulations!” Her sister yanks her into a tight hug. She lets go, smiling but there’s something sad about her eyes. “You got her!” Her voice goes quiet. “You got the farmer.”

Haley starts at her sister’s face. “Emily…”

“It’s nothing.” The expression disappears as a sly one replaces it. “So, is she a good kisser?”

Haley shrieks and throws a pillow at Emily in response. They spend the rest of the evening in a pillow fight, and Haley nearly goes red all over when the farmer shows up at her door in the morning, asking if she would like to go for a walk, skin nearly as flushed as Haley’s.

Caitlyn comes over the next day and the next, and Haley is blown away by much she enjoys a simple walk through the town she’s grown up in her entire life. Having a companion with a different perspective seems to make all the difference. Moreover, it’s the clear attention and focus that the farmer gives her that Haley looks forward to the most—the concentrated look in her eyes when Haley’s speaking as if she’s trying to understand what Haley’s not saying, the way Caitlyn is able to paraphrase Haley’s words better than she could put them together herself. And by Yoba, is it wonderful to be with someone who wants to be with Haley, because she genuinely likes her, not just because she’s pretty.

“So, when did you realize you liked me?” Haley asks as they stroll onto the beach, the setting sun casting the sand in shades of gold and amber.

The farmer coughs and glances off to the side. “I might have done so for a while. I only recognized it after the cow incident.”

Haley frowns. “Why?”

Caitlyn stops and turns to look at her. “It was the first time you had shown that you were genuinely trying to understand me and my life.” She raises an eyebrow. “No offence, but a sudden interest in farming from you is very surprising. I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s more I should know about.”

“Excuse you. Perhaps, I was merely wondering about a new way of life.” Haley sniffs playfully. “Not everything’s about you, you know.”

A slow smile spreads across the farmer’s face, and Haley’s heartbeat stutters. “Indeed. My apologies. I suppose it was a coincidence you said yes when I asked you out.”

“A big one. You were just lucky that time I chased you halfway across town.”

The farmer laughs. “You are something else.” She smiles affectionately, and Haley doesn’t want to be anywhere else but near her.

Alex passes by her one day and does a double take. “Hey, haven’t seen you in a while.” He squints. “You look different.”

“I’m happy.” Haley tosses her hair back and laughs—a genuine one like the bright peal of a bell. “I finally found something else I like about Pelican Town besides the beach and Emily.”

“Oh?” Alex’s fuzzy brows furrow together. “What is it? Or who?”

Haley smiles. She studies his sharp jaw and neatly spiked hair, and she’s amazed that they no longer hold the allure that they once had. “Farming.”

“Wha-what?” Alex looks baffled as Haley walks away, still grinning. “Does this have something to do with why Caitlyn is smiling all the time?”

She doesn’t answer him.

Her courtship with the farmer goes right through the winter, and on the last day before the season’s end, she invites her to the darkroom, stomach twisting with nerves.

“The lights are off on purpose, because the photos are light-sensitive at this point. If exposed, they could become completely black.” Haley carefully opens the door a crack, just enough for the two of them to slip by beige immediately closing. “I lost a few that way when I was younger until my dad explained why.”

Caitlyn blinks, eyes adjusting to the darkness. “I don’t think I met your parents.”

“No.” Haley tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. “They’re not around anymore.” When Caitlyn sharply looks at her, she elaborates. “Travelling.”

“Oh. You must miss them.”

Haley exhales, reaching out for the warmth of the farmer’s hand. “Not as much anymore.” She gestures to the entire room. “What do you think of my brand new darkroom?”

Caitlyn smiles. “It’s amazing. You really ran with your photography.”

“Thank you! I figured I needed more hobbies than just looking pretty.” Inhaling quickly, Haley lets go and faces the farmer. “So...what do you want to do?” She glances up at Caitlyn who freezes before letting out a long breath.

“Please let this be the right call,” Caitlyn mutters before leaning and brushing her lips against Haley’s.

“I’ve been waiting forever for you to do that,” Haley sighs dreamily while Caitlyn grins and takes a step closer. “Wait.” She reaches out to completely switch off the lights before turning back the farmer, feeling the curve of her shoulders with her hands before Haley shoves the farmer back against the table.

Startled, the farmer slaps her hand on the tabletop while Haley takes a hold of Caitlyn’s face, her mouth hot and sweet against her own. A fire coils tightly in her belly, between her legs as the farmer inhales sharply and grips the edge of the table behind her.

Haley disengages, panting slightly, fingers trailing up the side of Caitlyn’s face. “I never wanted a woman so much before.”

Caitlyn laughs. “Me either.” She grips a handful of Haley’s hair, and Haley moans from the possessiveness of it. “I...didn’t think a sound like that would do what it’s doing to me now.”

“Can I…?” Haley fiddles with the buckle of the farmer’s belt, and Caitlyn stares before nodding jerkily. She quickly undoes the belt and slips her hand down, feeling her heartbeat thump in her throat while Caitlyn holds her breath.

The first touch isn’t what Haley expects—all slick warmth and silky textures. Caitlyn groans, a high, sweet note while her hands tighten on the table’s edge. Haley’s barely touching her, and Caitlyn is losing it.

“Haley,” Caitlyn grunts. “In. Go in.”

“What?” Haley glances up, only to feel Caitlyn tremble underneath her. “Oh.”

She eagerly obliges.

When they leave the darkroom, both of them sport blushes across their faces, clothing slightly rumpled. Haley can’t stop her smile. “That was wonderful.”

Caitlyn glances at her feet. “I didn’t come here for that, though it was nice.” She reaches out into her pocket to pull out a mermaid pendant, blue and gleaming under Haley’s bedroom lights. “I figured it was time to ask.” She looks up to meet Haley’s eyes. “Will you marry me?”

Three days later, Haley stands in front of the entire town as the first days of spring stretch over them, dressed in a beautiful white gown frantically made by Emily. She sees nothing but the farmer who shyly glances at her sidelong as if in disbelief that this is happening. Haley barely hears what Mayor Lewis says, throwing herself at her new bride when the mayor finally allows them to kiss.

Caitlyn and Haley spend an hour soaking in congratulations, and Haley notices a few of the young women and men are almost in tears when they wish the young couple well—more than a couple cast wistful glances at the farmer. Emily and Alex send their best wishes, though Alex looks a little jealous, of whom she could not say.

The farmer eventually excuses them from the celebration, beer and wine flowing freely from a generous Gus, and helps Haley onto her horse Gypsy before leading them down towards the farm, the lights of the town behind them like fleeting fireflies in the night. They arrive at her new home, the stakes already neatly planted into the fields, the animal barns standing in the distance beyond the house. Haley breathes in the scent of freshly mowed grass, the scent of earth, and something sweet off the back of her wife like fresh lilacs in the morning. Caitlyn gracefully dismounts from her horse and holds out a hand to Haley, who takes it, blushing profusely as the farmer leads them into the house and to the bed.

A week after her wedding, Haley receives a letter from her parents congratulating her on her marriage and sending their condolences that they couldn’t come. She purses her lips, wondering if she should throw this one away before she sighs and picks up a pen to reply, understanding that they are doing their best to connect. She manages to get the first scrawl of letters down when her wife walks in the door, dark hair tied up in a french braid Haley did for her while sweat shimmers on her skin.

Caitlyn smiles, a slight tilt to it that drives Haley crazy. “I cleared out a bunch of trees to the south. Just going to take a shower now.” She heads to their bedroom, already peeling off her shirt to reveal smooth skin and the indent of muscles along her back, and Haley’s mouth goes dry. She puts aside her letter and follows her wife to the bedroom.

She can write them a response later.