With the Stars and Us - Chapter One

Weddings in Mineral Town were always simple and to the point. The entire town would pour itself into the church like it was the Music Festival in the fall. Nearly everyone was packed on the old, splintering pews that creaked threateningly under all the weight and their only solace was the fact that a few of the girls were at the front of the church performing. Mary was on the organ. Ann and a reluctant Popuri’s, formerly Elli who had left about a year and a half ago but the performances desperately needed that second wood instrument, slim fingers glided across their respective flutes. Claire, the not-so-new farmer, had joined the group with her ocarina and her amateur yet earnest melody harmonized with Karen’s hauntingly beautiful voice that filled the church.

Like the music festival, Mary was always asked to play the organ during church, whether it was for the regular services or for one of the rare weddings. She had no idea what would happen the day she’d get married. The thought of her sitting on the small wooden bench while dressed to the absolute nines made her laugh. How ridiculous would that be? Right when the doors were to swing open and she’d begin her walk down the aisle… Carter would pull her aside and sheepishly ask if she’d mind getting on the organ again. Her daydream would cut to her sitting on that tiny little seat, the ivory silk of her skirt spilling over the sides and onto the floor, her back hunched over as she pushed her cola bottle glasses up her nose to get a clearer view of the sheet music in front of her.

Of course, she could always just say no in the extremely unlikely chance that Mineral Town really had no one else to play at her wedding, whenever that day came.

As Mary sat on the bench, she tried to calm the storm inside her chest. It was as if there was a tendril, thick, oily and prickly, worming its way through her; weaving between the gaps of her rib cage and her guts. Frustration, despair and other oh-so-pleasant feelings twisted her guts into knots as she sucked in shaky, desperate breaths. White-hot tears pricked at her eyes and threatened to roll down her cheeks in fat globs. She took off her now foggy glasses with shaky hands to wipe her eyes with the sleeve of her nicest Sunday dress. A heavy sigh escaped her.

It was very possible that she would never get married.

She slipped her glasses back on and looked around the church. She took in the sight of the crowd in the pews. The only people missing were the tiny wedding party, who stood at the altar with the groom and bride, who was still getting ready as far as she knew. A knife twisted itself in her gut as her eyes finally fell upon the altar.

There stood Gray with his perfectly pressed tux and a nervous smile on his lips. The sight of him all dressed up and his golden hair perfectly swept back and tucked under a new baseball cap would have been funny. As would the sight of him without his cap, if only because of how naked he could look without it. It should have been funny but it wasn’t.

The fact that he was marrying someone else sucked out every ounce of humour from the occasion.

Mary sucked in another shaky breath.

Her hands continued to quake as pure emotion rolled and crashed inside her like a tidal wave.

Mary should be happy. Weddings were a day of joy, not only for the bride and groom but for the whole town. Everyone would be full of laughter and good food in a few hours. The town had plenty of festivals that they all went out for despite how simple the weddings could be. Mineral Town simply loved to celebrate everything.

Mary should be happy. Her best friend was going to be married. Yes, it wasn’t to her, like she had dreamt for years, but he was getting married. Gray found someone. He struggled so much when he first began his apprenticeship with his grandfather. It wasn’t the first time he had come here. She’d see him every now and then during the summer with the occasional winter season visit with his parents, most likely for the New Years festivals, growing up. They hadn’t spoken then. Part of her regretted not approaching him when they were younger. Maybe they could have been friends sooner, with him finding a bit of solace sooner when he first moved into town to learn Saibara’s trade. Maybe, those first few visits he made to the library would have been less awkward. Maybe, they could have been more than friends. Maybe, just maybe, it would be her marrying today.

She swallowed.

The doors began to open. The sound of everyone standing up to get a look at the bride echoed in the hall. Mary felt ice water rush down her back and pulse through her veins. She took yet another deep breath to try to stop the trembling. The hushed mutters and whispers of the crowd filled the chilly air. Finally, she began to play.

The ‘Bridal Chorus’ quickly drowned out any sound, both judgemental and concerned, that the town made. Whether or not people gasped and cooed at the sight of the bride walking down the aisle was a mystery that Mary never wanted to be solved. She hunched over the keys even further to avoid looking. Still, the bride still managed to make her way into Mary’s peripherals. The sight of white flowers peeking out of her golden locks and white silk trailing behind her made Mary gasp softly. Finally, she gave a proper look at the aisle.

There was Claire with love sparkling in her big blue eyes as her gaze met Gray’s. Mary imagined that Gray looked at his bride with the same amount of reverie.

The librarian tore her gaze away from the sight as she finished the song, trying her best to sync with Claire’s steps. Her hands shook with each note but she tried her best. As heart-wrenching as this whole day was, Mary couldn’t be the one to ruin things for them.

It wasn’t Claire’s fault that Gray fell in love… Well, no, it was. In a sense. Still. It wasn’t their fault that they had a connection. One born from constant encouragement and baked corn under the summer stars, if the stories that Gray told Mary in the library were to be believed.

Just like Mary, Claire encouraged him to keep at his smithery. Saibara could be a harsh man and an even harsher mentor. His words beat Gray’s will down like a sledgehammer on a rock. Mary gently pushed the blond to continue his training. If he really loved blacksmithing, he’d find a way to become the best with his heart driving him forward. He showed her his work every now and then. Misshapen rings and brooches with aquamarines or moonstones that slowly evolved into sparkling works of art that she thought could be sold in the most elegant boutiques in the city and slightly warped tools that evolved into strong, sturdy and sharp ones that surely made quick work of the chores at the various farms in town. Mary watched that growth with her own eyes.

And so did Claire.

The day Mary saw Claire walk into the library with a moonstone brooch on her overalls, she knew she had lost. She wasn’t sure if that was actually true or not. She just knew that she didn’t feel right ‘pursuing’ Gray anymore. Even as he continued to go to the library and asked about her book, wonder shining in his corn blue eyes as he flipped through the latest pages of her newest draft, Mary couldn’t. Even when he poured over textbooks and guides about the herbs on Mother Hill and old recipes then brought her a large pouch of Relax Tea leaves on her birthday and it all clicked for her, she couldn’t bring herself to try.

Had she really tried to begin with?

Mary bit her lip as the last note of the song bounced in the large hall.

Carter began the ceremony. His words drifted in and out of Mary and most likely everyone else’s mind. She was sure that everyone was thinking about the party afterwards, how beautiful the couple looked, or maybe a few people wishing that they were at home instead of listening to Carter drone on about the Goddess blessing Claire and Gray. Mary sat there on the bench. The maelstrom of emotions crashed through her heart as if it were made of glass.

The memory of running into Claire that day in autumn played in the brunette’s mind. It was so vivid. She remembered the flush of the blonde’s cheeks and how intensely the local fauna stained those denim overalls she wore. Word about her engagement to Gray spread throughout the town two weeks ago but they hadn’t officially announced it yet. Mary was gathering herbs and Magic Grass for her father.

“That’s really nice of you, Mary,” Claire said airly, tucking a lock of gold behind her ear. “Make sure you don’t burn out and get sick, though. There was a girl in our office when I lived in the city… You kinda remind me of her.” It was then she stopped. Her hands flung up in front of her chest as she waved them back and forth in a panic. “I mean, make sure to take time to do stuff for you too. Your dad probably worries about you too.”

Mary knew then that she was just trying to be nice but it was impossible for her to ignore the bile rising in her throat. “Thank you but this is something I do all the time,” she managed to get out without too much acid dripping from her lips.

“Yeah, I know. I’m just… Hm, never mind. Do you need help finding things? I don’t mind...”

“You may exchange your rings.”

Those words brought Mary back to the present, a day in mid-winter in that old, creaky church where she was playing at her ‘rival’s’ wedding. The sight of the two blondes stepping closer to each other and sliding rings onto each other’s fingers greeted her. She wondered if Gray had made their rings himself or if it was his grandfather.

“Claire, let’s… forge a beautiful and bright future together. I love you and we’ll be together forever.”

“I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

Cheers filled the church as the two leant in for a kiss. Claire threw her arms around her husband and dipped him down, earning her hoots and hollers from the townsfolk. Mary felt the corner of her lip twitch into a small smile despite her feelings.

The reception was a simple but loud affair at the inn. Wine and juice from Aja, along with a few bottles from Waffle Island that were unearthed from the cellar, was poured freely, perhaps a little too freely in Karen’s case. The brunette had spilt some onto her best friend’s gown and forced everything to pause… Only for Claire to laugh once the initial shock wore off after a second. Mary felt like she never wanted to hear the word ‘congratulations’ ever again after tonight as she watched everyone either pull the couple aside or walk up to their table to share their thoughts.

At the same time, Mary began to feel… content. Maybe it was just the buzz from the wine starting to kick in or a strange coping mechanism kicking into overdrive at that second.

Gray was married.

Maybe she could have done more for them but she didn’t. Sometimes you didn’t get a happy ending because someone else turned out to be the main heroine and you were just the supporting role. She loved Gray but he wasn’t hers. Maybe he could have been at one point if she had tried harder and didn’t bury her nose further into her books, praying that he would take the first proper step like the hero of her novel. They were friends, maybe more than friends at one point but definitely less than lovers.

She took a long and hard gulp of her wine and settled it on the table. She wasn’t happy but what more could she do but wish the newlyweds the best? She simply wasn’t the kind of woman to try to split up a marriage, not even in her wildest of dreams that she wasn’t capable of having. Hell, she stopped quietly pursuing Gray the moment his interest in Claire became apparent. A deep sigh escaped her.

Oh well.’

With a faint smile, she watched as the tables were cleared and pushed to the sides of the room. Soon, people spilt onto the floor to dance the best that they could to that old, staticky boombox on the counter. Mary continued to hug the wall, watching as Popuri pushed her brother towards Karen, loudly declaring that she was ‘tired of their will-they-won’t-they’ and causing the crowd to let out a roar of laughter.

A seemingly slow song started and Gray got up from his spot and held out a hand for Claire to take. They went onto the floor. His hands placed themselves on her hips as she placed hers on his shoulders. Gently, they swayed side to side with an occasional spin… Then the tempo picked up. The drums and bass quickly picked up as a swell of upbeat lyrics that were punctuated with a ‘woo!’ followed. It was a dance-pop song. Claire giggled as Gray tugged down his cap, clearly embarrassed but unable to hide his own laughter.

Mary smiled and let herself go onto the floor. Anxiety bubbled in her stomach and sent needles of ice to prick at her back and neck. Even with the booze fogging her brain, her introversion was still a powerful force to be reckoned with. Her body swayed as she tried to find the beat and struggled with it. She watched as Claire’s mouth curled into a small ‘o’ and Gray’s eyebrows threw themselves up. Embarrassment welled in her chest but she pushed through.

“YEAH! Get it, Mary!” called out Karen.

Mary snickered and got back to dancing.

As the night continued, both children and the elderly began to leave the party, leaving the young adults and a few of the others. Some people were still on the floor, dancing and singing as alcohol either began to wear off or continued to lower their inhibitions. The initial buzz wore off for Mary and melancholy threatened to seep into her pores once again. Part of her wanted to pick up another glass of wine to keep those feelings at bay… but she knew better. She’d just wind up sad and with a terrible headache the next day. It had felt good to let loose for a bit nonetheless. Dark gray eyes wandered towards the newlyweds. A lump formed in her throat as that sadly all too familiar twisting in her stomach returned.

She sucked in a deep breath and walked towards them.

“Hi, I just wanted to say… Congratulations. You guys looked so happy earlier… and still do, of course.”

Gray smiled at her. “Thank you.”

“I’m sorry I… didn’t say so earlier. You two seemed so busy with everyone else.”

Claire reached for Mary’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “We’re never too busy for you, Mary. Thank you so much for being here.”

Mary’s stomach twisted again before she gave a weak squeeze in return. “I wish you two the best,” she said before slipping her hand out of Claire’s grasp. “I better head home now, I’m getting kinda achy.”

Gray nodded as his smile softened. “Take care, Mary. Thank you again.”

As Mary walked back home, she let those hot, fat tears that she was holding back for so long roll down her cheeks in messy trails. She sniffed loudly as her throat burned. Hiccups interrupted every other step. She wanted to scream but didn’t. Even if she was alone on her walk home, it didn’t mean people wouldn’t hear her after all. She was free to let out all those ugly and confusing feelings through tears and other fluids that embarrassingly dripped out of her face when she cried. Thoughts plagued her mind as her loafers clicked on those worn-down brick roads.

Gray was married.

Everyone else around her age was either an item already or on their way to becoming one. Save for the doctor and Elli, who was off on Waffle Island, but they didn’t count. Even if Mary was desperate enough to not be left alone, to fill that Gray shaped hole in her heart, it’d be like shoving a square peg into a circle-shaped hole. Elli liked the Doctor, as oblivious and career-minded as he was, and continued to ask about him in their letters. She wasn’t about to weasel her way into either person’s hearts in that way. Unless a mysterious artist or strange yet beautiful creature were to appear in Mineral Town, Mary would be by herself as everyone was getting married and having children.

She bit her lip as she reached her parents’ home.

Did she even want to be around for that?

In the back of her mind, she knew there was nothing wrong with being alone. Marriage and starting a family was never that big of a priority for her. It wasn’t until that option was sort of taken away from her that it had settled in. Of course, she wanted to watch her peers find happiness and watch as their children grew older. The fear of missing out was clearly getting to her, she knew that. There was nothing wrong with being alone. There was joy and meaning to be found in a life outside of domesticity. She could devote herself to her novel. She could write stories about romances she never had in her little town…

It was like a knife twisted itself further into her heart.

No, she didn’t want to be the only one. She knew she wanted marriage in her heart of hearts. Being around her peers while being the only one without would be torture. She knew her mother and her friends would whisper about her being a poor spinster until they passed away. They did it to Aja who moved away years ago. Was it because of her being single? Mary didn’t know and she knew it wasn’t her business.

As she made her way into her room and dressed down for bed, more and more thoughts swam in her foggy head.

Maybe she didn’t want to be in Mineral Town anymore, at least, not right now. It didn’t have to be permanent like with the mysterious Aja. She didn’t see herself becoming a wanderer like Cliff did before finding work at the winery, she simply wasn’t built for that sort of life. Maybe she could be like Kai, who came for a season and left for home the moment it became cold. Or it could just be a vacation. A long, long vacation. She could come home when the wound on her heart had healed to the point of no longer having a scab, however long that may be.

Mary stared up at her ceiling, tears now running down the sides of her face and getting her black hair wet. She sniffed.

Yeah, that sounded good. It sounded like a plan… one that future her would have to put into motion.