All right, so! I've been something of a hobbyist writer for a while now, and as I've been playing SV I've found that it makes for some fantastic fanwriting inspiration. So after reading a few lovely "farmer's story" fanfics on this site, I thought I'd try and take a stab at my own... with a bit of a twist. See, when coming up with ideas for what's going on with the farmer I consider my "main" farmer character, Lanie, I tend to think of her less in terms of one long, coherent story and more in terms of smaller stories and scenes from her life in Stardew Valley. This project is going to reflect that -- instead of one long fanfic, I'm going to use this thread to post several closely-related oneshots and minifics based on that save game. (Think of it as like a TV series, with episodes that can often stand more-or-less alone but may still reference back to one another and dip into different story/character arcs.) This setup allows me to write without worrying too much about a bigger narrative to tie together or leaving you guys hanging between "chapters," since most of these should technically work as stand-alone stories. As for format, my plan is to write whichever stories whenever the inspiration strikes, albeit in a somewhat chronological order (meaning significant events like marriage will be written before stories that involve that significant change, but a completely random story might take place after an unrelated story that hasn't yet been written). They'll be posted as they're written, and then added to this first post in a fully chronological order to keep everything organized. The first two entries here can be considered a sort of "prologue" and "first chapter" of Lanie's overall arc. The very first is a bit of a character exercise/introduction set up like an excerpt from that news article you get featured in early in the game, while the second is basically Lanie's introductory story/first day as a farmer. I was pretty rusty when I wrote them, so they're really not my best work, but it was still a good exercise to get back into the writing groove again! Earlier you said that you inherited the farm from a family member. Care to elaborate? Yes, that’s right. I got it from my grandfather, Edmund Granger. He owned this farm when my father and uncle were growing up, but he retired and followed them a few years after they moved to the city. He always had stories about the farm and the valley, though – I could tell that he loved this place. I could sit for hours listening to those stories, and he taught me things like how to fish and find wildflowers as well. *laughs* I guess it would have been nice to learn farming from him too, but I think I’m managing all right on my own. I’m a quick learner. …I guess that’s why he left it to me, really. Not because of the learning thing, but because he could tell I was interested in what he was teaching me. He knew I would be as much at home in the valley as he had been. It was still a pretty big surprise to open that letter, though – I’d always kind of assumed he had just sold the farm when he retired! Oh? He left it to you though a letter? What made you decide to drop everything and become a farmer, rather than sell the land or simply move out here to continue your previous work? Ah. Well… That one’s a little complicated. My parents had suggested I go into business like they had, and it seemed like a good idea at first – I like working with people well enough, and it seemed like a… stable? Kind of job, I suppose. But… I don’t know if it was the place I started out in, or if I’m just really not cut out for business, or what, but it just wasn’t working out for me. I wasn’t getting any sense of fulfillment out of it, and I just couldn’t seem to connect with anyone, and I ended up in a rut. A chance to start fresh, in a small town where I could get to know everyone, doing work that I could be passionate about… it just seemed right. And it was! I really am coming to love it here. Lanie jolted awake at the sound of her blaring alarm clock. With a groan, she turned first toward the too-low sunlight streaming through the window and then to the offending timekeeper. “Six A.M.” she muttered aloud, reaching out to shut off the alarm. “Way to set the bar high right after a long trip, Lanie. A plus.” Still, she sat up with a yawn and attempted to stretch the exhaustion out of her. It was sorely tempting to sleep in – it was just her first day, after all, and it wasn’t like she had much to plant just yet. But she remembered the state of dear old Grandad’s farm, and she would need time to clear out a bit of space before she could plant much of anything. An hour or so, a quick shower and breakfast and a blessed cup of coffee later saw Lanie feeling much more like her usual self. Hefting the basic tools she’d bought on her move to the valley, she set to work breaking up rocks and clearing out the weeds and bushes near the front of her new home. It was long and grueling work for someone who’d grown accustomed to a desk job in the city, especially with the two (thankfully small) trees she had to fell on top of that. But overall, it was not so bad as she’d feared it could be. After a few more hours, Lanie found herself with aching shoulders and just enough land cleared for a modest first harvest. It didn’t take her long to plant and water the parsnip seeds Lewis had gifted her to start out with, and as she surveyed her work she decided that she had both the clear space and the money to add just a bit more to her budding farm. It was time to check out Pelican Town. The short walk to town was uneventful, but Lanie did get a chance to greet Mayor Lewis again and make a few brief introductions before finding her way to the general store. Pierre’s, as it was called, was easy to find, and despite the lingering chill from the recent winter, it was a relief to head indoors and get out of the bright sunlight after so much time spent outside. The interior of the shop was small and welcoming, and it didn’t take Lanie very long to find a section dedicated to seeds and a few simple gardening supplies. A small, thoughtful frown crossed her features as she looked over the spring collection. “Excuse me?” she called out to the middle-aged man behind the register. “Do you have any seed recommendations for a new farmer? Something that will grow kind of quickly, maybe?” The man perked up at the unusual query. “New farmer, you say?” he asked, stepping around the counter to approach the gardening section. “Hmm… Well, for quick growth, potatoes and parsnips are good. And green beans grow continuously, so you might want to plant a starter for those now too.” Lanie nodded and thanked him as he pointed out the appropriate seeds. It took her a few more minutes to pick out what she wanted, as well as some groceries to complement what little food she’d brought from her old home. When she brought everything to the counter, the man looked her over in curiosity. “You know, when I heard the new farmer was coming from one of the inland cities, I expected that you’d be heading straight for the Joja Mart,” he said, and then grinned. “It’s good to see that you have a better sense of quality than that.” There was a Joja Mart in town? Lanie hadn’t seen it yet, but she couldn’t say she was surprised. She shrugged. “Ah, I kind of had a bad experience with them before moving here, and I like this place. It’s nice.” She thought back to the name of the store and gave the man a curious look of her own. “My name’s Lanie, by the way. I’m guessing you’re Pierre?” The man smiled again and nodded, but his reply was cut off by the sound of the back door opening. “Hey Dad, I’m gonna go see Sebastian for a bit, so – oh! You must be that new farmer, right?” Lanie turned to see a young woman about her age with a shock of vibrant purple hair. She smiled. “That’s me!” she chirped, grabbing her purchases and storing them in her pack. “My name’s Lanie. I just moved in yesterday.” The other woman nodded, and the two fell into step as they headed for the exit. “Very cool. I’m Abigail.” Lanie pushed open the door to the outside, and Abigail hummed in thought. “You know, it’s actually kind of a shame that you moved in there.” Lanie blinked. “Huh?” “Oh! Not like that, I mean –” Abigail made a vague gesture as she tried to backtrack. “Just that someone’s actually using that old farm now. I always liked exploring the overgrown fields, you know?” Lanie thought back to all the land she still had left to clear and let out a short chuckle. “Well, I think there’s going to be plenty left to explore for a while. I’m only using a little bit of the land right now.” Abigail grinned. After a moment, her gaze flickered beyond Lanie and the grin broadened. She raised a hand to wave down the road. “Hey, Sam! Get over here for a sec!” Lanie followed her new acquaintance’s gaze to see a young man breaking into a short jog in their direction. He had a friendly air about him, much as she had found in Abigail so far, but she was briefly distracted by his rather impressive hairstyle and in wondering just how the headphones currently resting around his neck managed to fit over it. “Sam, this is Lanie. She’s the new farmer,” Abigail said by way of introduction. “She’s pretty cool.” Lanie’s face flushed a little at the compliment, but she laughed. “I’m starting to think ‘the new farmer’ is going to be my nickname from here on out.” Sam laughed as well. “Nah, just until you’ve been here a few seasons. Then you can just be ‘the farmer.’” Lanie let out a playful huff. “That’s even more boring. Maybe I should have moved out here to become a writer or something instead. Something interesting.” Abigail shrugged. “A writer? I think we’ve already got one of those.” Lanie blinked. “Really?” Before she could question further, though, Sam let out a chuckle. “Well, I’d love to stay and hang out, but I gotta get to work or Morris will kill me.” Abigail pouted, but her eyes held a glint of mischief. “Aww, don’t you want to at least say hi to my dad first? You know he loves that uniform.” “Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’d rather not get banned from your dad’s store.” It was only then that Lanie noticed the Joja logo on Sam’s outfit. A Joja Mart employee? Oh, that poor soul. Abigail smirked. “Eh, I need to go bug Seb anyway. See you guys later!” she chirped, peeling away from the group with a wave. Sam cackled. “Make sure to bug him double for me!” he called after her, turning to head off as well. “Bye Lanie, it was nice meeting you!” Lanie waved the two off, but lingered by the storefront for a moment longer. A part of her wanted to explore town more, maybe meet some new people, and she even thought she saw an enclosure for a dog around the corner… …But she had groceries to put away and more seeds to plant, and between her early morning and all the outdoor work she’d done, she was getting both hungry and exhausted. She would have to come back soon, but for now, the farmhouse beckoned her. It was still so bizarre to think that – the farmhouse, the farm itself, was hers now. This place was going to be her home. And despite all the hard work it would be, it was shaping up to be quite a home indeed. Lanie took another look at her map and let out an exhausted sigh. The carpenter’s shop was farther out than she’d expected, and a ways uphill to boot. The map seemed to indicate a quicker way here from the farm, but as she was still getting used to navigating the area, heading up from town would have to do for now. Finally, the shop came into view. Like most of its kind back in town, it seemed to double as a house, with a garage out front and a small side yard. The surrounding area was breathtaking – trees scattered all around, a clear lake peeking out from nearby, and the largest of the area’s mountains reaching skywards in the distance. It was easy to imagine why Robin had chosen such a place for her home. Lanie gave the door an experimental nudge and opened it cautiously, suddenly self-conscious of the fact that she was basically entering a house. There was a counter just inside, and the carpenter herself stationed right behind it. Lanie let the door swing fully open, and Robin looked up with a warm smile at the sound. “Lanie! It’s good to see you again. How’s the farm holding up so far? You making any new friends?” Lanie couldn’t help but smile as well – Robin’s enthusiasm was infectious, she found. “I’m getting there. Just about everyone I’ve met is pretty nice, but I’m still getting settled in with… well, everything.” Robin nodded. “That’s good. You know, Sebby’s friends have mentioned you – oh, that reminds me! Have you met Sebastian or Maru yet?” She craned her neck to peer down the hall. “They’re right around your age, and they should be around here somewhere…” Lanie put up a hand to halt the carpenter’s derailing train of thought. “Uh, actually, before we get to that I was hoping to look at some of the plans you had for farm buildings.” Robin raised an impressed brow. “Really? So soon?” “Just to give myself ideas,” Lanie explained. “I’d like to start raising some chickens once I have money for a coop, but I need to see how much that will be and how much room I’ll need first.” Robin nodded. “All right. Let me see what I’ve got.” She turned and started shuffling through some files as she added, “Your grandfather was the last farmer in this area until now as far as I know, and he left not long after I moved into town, but I’ve done jobs for both Marnie’s ranch and a few of the farms farther out in the valley. I think I’ve still got some coop designs somewhere around – ah! Here they are.” Returning to the table, she laid out a small set of plans. Pointing them out one by one, she said, “These smaller coops are designed to be built upon, so you can begin small if you don’t have much space or money at the beginning and then expand later if you want. The larger ones have special accommodations for ducks and rabbits as well as the chickens. You can also offset part of the cost by providing me with some of the materials, if you’d prefer.” Lanie nodded absently as she pored over the sheets. She liked the sound of ducks and rabbits, but even the smallest coop was going to take some serious saving up. Then again, Yoba knew she had plenty of lumber and stone on the farm. That option might be worth looking into. While she was thinking her options over, she happened to glance at Robin’s hand where it rested on the countertop. “Oh, is that your wedding ring?” she asked, pointing out the bit of jewelry. “It looks nice. Very unique.” Robin blinked. “Hmm?” She glanced down at her finger and chuckled. “Oh, I guess you could call it that. It’s my mermaid pendant – or at least, the partner to my husband’s mermaid pendant.” Lanie’s face lit up in recognition. “Oh, I’ve heard of those!” she exclaimed. “I should have known you’d use them out here, being on the coast and all, but…” She trailed off, taking a closer look at what she now recognized as a small orange-and-yellow shell set into the ring. Robin moved her hand closer so she could get a better view. “I thought they were supposed to be actual pendants? For around the neck?” she asked. Robin shrugged. “Sure, at the wedding. But afterwards, it’s kind of up to the couple what they want to do with them. Most of us still wear them in some way, but it varies.” Slipping the ring off to inspect it herself, the carpenter shot Lanie a sly look. “You know, if you plan on staying here long term you should probably know how these things work. For example, the actual mermaid’s pendant is bought when you’re ready to propose, and It’s only sold by a particular person on the beach. Also, it’s said that no two of them are alike.” Lanie was leaning on the counter now, listening with rapt attention, so Robin moved on. “When someone accepts a pendant, they then have to make a matching partner for it to give to the proposer on their wedding day. There’s a whole mini-ceremony for it for it and everything, like with the rings you use inland. It doesn’t matter how the partner is made, so long as it’s made to last and matches the original. That’s what this is – my husband Demetrius actually went out and tracked down a good seashell that looked just like the pendant I gave him. I don’t know how he managed it, but –” “Uh, Mom?” The new voice startled Lanie back to the present, and she looked over to see two new faces. From the names Robin had given earlier, she guessed that they must be Maru and Demetrius. Probably-Maru was giving her mother a slightly bewildered look. “You’re not planning to set the new farmer up with someone or something, are you?” Lanie couldn’t help but chuckle. “Nah, I just saw her ring and got curious about local customs,” she replied. Offering a hand and a warm smile, she added, “I’m Lanie. It’s nice to meet you both.” “You too. I’m Maru, and this is my dad Demetrius,” definitely-Maru replied, shaking her hand. “I’m actually kind of surprised we haven’t run into each other yet, in such a small town.” “Have you been busy getting the farm set up?” Demetrius asked. “I’d imagine it takes some time to get a new set of crops growing.” While Lanie was making small-talk with the father and daughter, Robin excused herself and disappeared down a nearby set of stairs. The farmer didn’t think much of it until she returned a few minutes later, practically dragging a rather resigned-looking young man behind her. “Sebby, this is Lanie! Lanie, this is my son Sebastian. And now you’ve met the whole family!” Robin cheered. Sebastian raised a hand in a half-hearted wave. “Hi.” Lanie’s eyes narrowed in thought for a moment, and then they lit up in recognition. “Oh, so you’re Seb! Your friends keep mentioning you.” She’d run into Sam and Abigail a couple more times since her original meeting with them a few days before, but she couldn’t remember much of what they’d said about their mutual friend. Sebastian shrugged. “Yeah, sounds like them,” he replied simply. “They’ve talked a little about you, too. You’re the new farmer, right?” Lanie opened her mouth to reply, but then shut it and let out a little huff as the words ‘new farmer’ came up yet again. “Okay, now they’re just doing that on purpose,” she grumbled. “…Somehow.” A tiny smirk graced the corner of Sebastian’s lips. “That definitely sounds like them.” For a moment after that, he just stood there awkwardly, reaching up a hand to rub the back of his neck. Finally he said, “I need to get back to work.” Maru let out a tiny sigh as Sebastian vanished back down the stairs. “Don’t mind him, he gets kind of…” She held her hand in a wavering sort of gesture. “Awkward around new people.” Lanie shrugged. “It’s all right, I can understand being shy.” The farmer glanced out the window then, trying to discern the rough time. She had been planning on clearing out more of the seemingly endless overgrowth on her farm today, and she’d rather get that done earlier than later. “Actually, I should probably head out too,” she said, turning for the door. “It was nice meeting you all!” Robin smiled and waved good-bye. “Feel free to come over anytime! And don’t forget to let me know when you’re ready for that coop!” Lanie returned both the expression and the gesture. “I’ll make sure of it.” It was a typical morning routine for her. Wake up, get dressed, breakfast, then out the door before most of the town was up for the morning chores. It was hard work, but something she’d gotten used to over time – living in a place like this, early mornings were a daily necessity. That suited Marnie just fine. She loved every last one of the animals on her ranch, and for her, getting to check on and take care of them was its own reward. On top of the usual feeding and cleaning, there were eggs to collect, cows and goats to milk, rabbits to groom, and it seemed the sheep would need shearing soon. She had a handful of chicken eggs in the incubators as well, but Shane had all but taken over that aspect of the ranch work. By the time she had finished most of her morning chores, Jas had come out to greet all the animals and help bring their goodies inside. Jas really was a sweet kid. A little shy, maybe, but that was all right for someone her age. Marnie was just happy that she’d come to find her place out here on the ranch. Maybe that was why she wasn’t too concerned when the little girl suddenly perked up and ran to the fence that bordered the ranch’s property. “Aunt Marnie, can you hear that?” she called back. “It sounds like a puppy!” Marnie put on a thoughtful frown and set down her pail of milk so she could join Jas. Her hearing wasn’t quite as strong as the girl’s, but after a few moments of listening in the relative quiet of the morning, she managed to catch the faint sound of a sharp bark. Is that Dusty? There weren’t any other dogs in town, but Marnie couldn’t imagine that the old boy would wander very far even if he had managed to slip out of his pen. Marnie hummed in thought and glanced back at the buckets of milk. She should really bring those into the house before they spilled… but she didn’t want to lose that dog. What if it was hurt? “Jas, please take the milk inside,” she finally said, unlatching the gate. Jas pouted. “Aww, but I want to find the puppy!” Marnie shook her head. “No ‘buts,’ little missy. That dog might accidentally hurt you if it’s scared and confused, and the chores still need to get done.” She offered a warm smile and added, “I’ll let you see the pup later if it’s safe, okay?” Jas let out a little huff, but nodded and said “Okay,” before trudging reluctantly back to the barn. So that was settled, then. Marnie closed the gate behind her and made her way into the forest, following the intermittent barks as she went. Before long, she found herself in front of the faded sign marking the southern entrance to Brightdew Farm. This part of the farm hadn’t yet been cleared out beyond a very rough path that Lanie had hacked through the encroaching overgrowth to reach the forest proper, and the trees and bushes grew thick in the land’s rich soil as if in defiance of its new human inhabitant. Still, Marnie hesitated – she didn’t want to startle Lanie if she was busy clearing land nearby, and she wasn’t sure if the girl was even used to the open-door habits of folks around town yet. A heavy rustling and a low whine made up her mind for her. It came from just inside the property, and as she turned to look she caught a sandy-colored flash of movement. She stepped closer, cautiously as to not startle or provoke the animal, and leaned down to get a better look. It wasn’t Dusty, that was for sure. The dog seemed young enough – not quite a puppy as Jas had declared, but perhaps just a few years old. Marnie could see now that the pooch was female, and though she wasn’t quite an expert on dog breeds, she thought that this might be some kind of retriever mix. And she was filthy and thin. The dog seemed to have been sniffing around in the undergrowth, but now she froze and stared up at Marnie. Her posture was slightly apprehensive at the sight of the stranger, but there was no real fear or aggression to it. That was good – it seemed this dog was simply a lost pet or stray, and would be much safer and easier to care for than if she were feral. Marnie knelt slowly, extending a hand in greeting, and after a moment the dog wriggled her way through the underbrush to sniff it. “There’s a good girl,” Marnie said in her most soothing voice, reaching around to stroke the animal. “Why don’t we get you someplace with a warm bed and good food, okay?” * * * * * For the next week, Marnie asked around Pelican Town and the nearby settlements for anyone who might have lost their pet, and even contacted the Zuzu City animal shelter to report finding the dog in case she had somehow made her way all the way down from the city. Nobody had come forward to claim the animal yet, and in the meantime, she had gotten the poor girl cleaned up and well-fed in the ranch house. The dog was snoozing behind the main room desk while Marnie worked when the front door opened. The rancher looked up to see Lanie walking in, knapsack slung over her shoulder and a watering can still absently dangling from one hand. “Good morning, Lanie!” Marnie chirped with her best shopkeeper smile. “Is Brightdew Farm ready for a few more chickens?” The farmer let out an uneasy chuckle. “Um, not quite yet,” she replied. “Cucco and Chickadee are real sweeties, but I’m not sure I’m feeding them right. I was hoping you could help me figure that out.” She gave Marnie a bashful look and reached up to rub at her neck, only to finally notice the watering can in her hand. She reached around and hooked it to her backpack with a light huff. Marnie nodded. Lanie had gotten herself a coop and those first two chicks just recently, so it was understandable that she was still figuring things out. “All right then, why don’t you come with me out to my coops and I’ll show you how I do it,” she offered, moving to step away from the counter. The dog stirred awake as she shuffled past, and stood up to stretch and yawn. Lanie gasped as the dog poked her head around the counter. “Aww, is that the lost dog I’ve been hearing about?” She knelt down to get a closer look, a giddy smile on her face. Marnie glanced back and held off a sigh. “Sure is. I’ve just been calling her Pup in case her real owner shows up, but no luck so far. I think the poor girl must be a stray.” Lanie held out a hand and clicked her tongue, and Pup wandered over to sniff out the new human, tail wagging. After giving her a moment, Lanie reached up to scratch behind the sleepy dog’s ear. Marnie chuckled at the sight. “You know, I found her wandering around just inside your farm,” she thought out loud. “She seemed to really like that place. Lots of room to explore, and once she’s really awake you’ll see that she loves exploring outside.” She frowned thoughtfully. Lanie giggled as Pup practically attacked her with a faceful of doggy kisses, sputtering as she stood up with one last affectionate pat to the dog’s head. “She must really like it here on the ranch, then.” Marnie didn’t hold back her sigh this time. “She does, but with the shop to run on top of all my animals, I don’t think I have time to care for such an energetic dog. No matter how much Jas wants to.” She gave Lanie another thoughtful look. “It seems like you have a little more free time than me, though. And I can tell you really care about the animals on your farm.” She smiled. “If nobody comes to claim her, would you like to take her in? I think the farm could use a good dog.” Lanie’s face lit up. “You mean it? I’d love to have her!” She bent down again, rubbing Pup down until the dog flopped over on her back, panting. “Oh, you are such a sweet and pretty girl, aren’t you?” Lanie cooed. “I think I’ll call you Goldie if you end up coming home. Would you like that, girl?” The tentatively-to-be-renamed “Goldie” simply let out a pleased whine and wriggle in response. Marnie took that as a ‘yes.’ “All right, ladies,” the rancher said with another chuckle. “Let’s go and see about those chickens. We may as well bring the dog along – if she ends up going home with you, she’ll need to get used to behaving around the birds.” Lanie nodded, and soon they had the dog on a leash and chicken feed in hand. As the three of them made their way to the coops, Marnie decided privately that she would be pleased with whatever outcome awaited “Pup.” That sweet dog had people who cared about her and a good home waiting, and that was enough for her. Lanie was on her way home from Cindersap Forest when a voice called out to her. She’d been scrounging around for wildflowers and edible plants – one of the tricks her grandfather had taught her ages ago, and one she’d found especially useful out here in the valley. The Spring forage didn’t sell very well or make for the best gifts, but an extra bite to eat was always welcome while she was saving up to get her tiny farm going, and the flowers… Well, she supposed gathering wildflowers was simply soothing, in a way. But now it had grown too dark to forage easily, and Lanie had taken that as a sign that it was time to head in. As she rounded the big lake in the center of the forest, she caught a glimpse of a figure on the docks, but she barely registered it. She’d seen Leah out there sketching, once or twice. Nothing unusual. Except that the voice that shouted out then wasn’t Leah’s. Lanie turned, startled, to find a man beckoning to her. He was alone, but had a can of something in one hand. Lanie frowned. She had passed by this guy a few times before, but he’d always brushed off her greetings and told her to leave him alone. He worked at the local Joja Mart with Sam, who said he was like that with pretty much everybody. Why he suddenly wanted to talk now was beyond her. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to see what he wanted. Back in the city, approaching an unruly stranger alone wouldn’t have been considered the best of ideas… But then, this wasn’t the city and this man wasn’t precisely a stranger. Lanie turned and made her way to the dock. “It’s nice to see you,” she offered by way of greeting. With a hopefully-disarming smile, she added, “I thought you didn’t want to talk to me.” The man shrugged, his drink sloshing in its can. “Eh, misery loves company I guess,” he replied simply. Shane. That was his name. He lived with Marnie on the ranch, if she recalled correctly. Shane sat down at the end of the dock, dangling his feet over the edge. He smelled faintly of beer, and as Lanie moved to join him he offered her a can of the same. “Here. Have a cold one.” Lanie hesitated for a second before accepting the beer with a murmured thanks. She popped the tab and took a long swig of the beverage – and immediately stopped to let out a cough. She really wasn’t the best with alcohol. Shane gave a short chuckle, but said nothing more as he stared out over the darkened lake. He just sat there, taking swigs of his own beer, and after a few confused moments, Lanie followed his gaze and took another small sip of hers. After a couple minutes of this, Shane broke the silence with a low sigh. “Buh. Life.” Lanie gave him a quizzical look, and he continued. “You ever feel like… no matter what you do, you’re gonna fail? Like you’re stuck in some miserable abyss and you’re so deep you can’t even see the light of day?” That really threw Lanie off. She felt her throat constrict as she stared out ahead, clutching tight to her can of beer with both hands as not-so-distant memories trickled back to her. “I…” She bit her lip. “…Yeah, kind of. Once.” Shane started at the answer and turned to stare at her, as though surprised that she had replied, or perhaps even that she was really there in the first place. He didn’t say anything, though, and she figured that meant she should continue. She let out a short, humorless laugh. “It’s kind of silly, I guess, looking back. Failure wasn’t really the issue… I had loving parents who supported me, and a decent – well, decently paying, at least – job. But I’d lost contact with all my friends from college, and I just couldn’t connect with any of my coworkers. And I wasn’t really enjoying any of what I was doing, but I didn’t know what else to do. I felt… stuck. Alone.” She bit her lip, but then let out another tiny chuckle. “That was when I opened my grandfather’s letter. Found out I’d inherited a farm.” Shane’s gaze rested on her for a moment longer, then returned to the lake and the forest beyond. “Huh. Some people have all the luck.” Lanie cast him a concerned glance. “You feel that way now?” It didn’t really require asking, considering he’d brought all this up in the first place, but… Still. He looked like he needed someone to talk to. Shane offered her a noncommittal shrug. After a few moments of silence, he replied, “It just feels like… No matter how hard I try, I’m not strong enough to climb out of that hole.” Lanie stared down at her can for several long moments. She wanted to comfort him, to offer him words of encouragement and solace, but what could she say? She hardly knew this man. “I’m… sorry,” she finally managed. “That you have to deal with that. I –” Shane cut her off with a snort. “You’re too nice for your own good. You know that?” He stood up with a low grunt. “I’ll probably forget half this conversation by tomorrow anyway. Try not to drink too much of that stuff, got it? You still have a future ahead of you.” And with those words, he took off for the ranch, leaving Lanie alone on the dock with little more than her thoughts and a tepid can of beer. * * * * * It was Friday evening, and Lanie had arrived at the Stardrop Saloon early. She had been invited once again to join her friends for saloon night, an event which seemed to be rapidly headed for a weekly norm. But she’d overestimated the time, and now she planned to grab a seat at the bar and order something small while she waited for the others. As she was perusing the drink menu, she spotted Shane out of the corner of her eye. He was huddled in a corner by himself, as per usual, nursing a drink of his own. Lanie bit her lip, thinking. It had only been a couple days since their little chat on the lake, and the conversation was still fresh on her mind. She had the sense that Shane’s bout of… friendliness? Openness? Whatever it was, it didn’t mean he would be any more interested in talking to her on a normal day than he had before. Even so, she couldn’t just leave him to wallow in misery alone. Not after what they’d shared about themselves the other night. She briefly considered buying him a beer, but that seemed kind of redundant when he already had one. After giving it a moment’s thought, she called Emily over. “Know what you’re gonna order?” the waitress asked cheerfully. Lanie hesitated a moment, reaching up to rub the back of her neck. “Um, not exactly,” she replied, keeping her voice low so no one else would hear. “This is kind of a weird question, but… Do you have any idea what Shane likes to eat?” Emily blinked, surprised for an instant, and then her face split into a wide grin as she realized where this was going. “Aww, that’s sweet of you!” She glanced back at the man in question, and then lowered her voice as well. “If it’s an appetizer you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with pepper poppers. He loves those.” Lanie returned the smile. Pepper poppers were one of her favorites as well. “That sounds perfect. I’d like an order of those, please.” As soon as her order arrived, Lanie grabbed her plate and carried it to the end of the bar. She hesitated only a moment before taking the seat next to Shane’s and placing the food down between them. He cast her a sideways glance, but said nothing. Lanie cleared her throat. “I, uh, thought we could share,” she offered. “You looked lonely, and Emily said you liked these.” Shane rolled his eyes. “Of course. I should have known Emily would put you up to this. She always wanted me to get out more, so I guess it was only a matter of time before she started trying to shove friendship in my face.” Lanie frowned. “She didn’t. I just wanted to... I dunno, keep you company for a few minutes.” It sounded corny when she said it out loud, she realized, but there it was. Shane actually turned toward her this time, studying her for a moment with a small frown. Finally, he let his gaze drop to the pepper poppers. He shrugged. “If you say so,” he said, grabbing a pepper. “I’m not about to just pass up on good food.” Lanie allowed a tiny smile to tug at the corner of her mouth as she reached for a pepper as well. His answer might not have been much, but she figured that, for him, it was as good a start as any. Lanie swung open the front door of the little blue house with only a hint of trepidation. She was still getting used to this town’s custom of allowing visitors to drop by unannounced, but she found that the practice came much more naturally with those residents she had come to consider friends. It certainly helped to be met with an affable head-of-household. Jodi popped her head through the kitchen entryway when she heard the door open, and greeted her visitor with a warm smile as the latter stepped in. “Hello, Lanie!” she called out cheerfully. “If you’re looking for Sam, he’s in his room practicing his music with Sebastian.” The matriarch let out a small giggle. “Although you probably already guessed that. Don’t worry about interrupting them, they’re just playing around.” Indeed, Lanie had heard a muted strain of electronic music before she’d even entered the house. She thanked Jodi with a smile before turning and making her way to the room that the sound was coming from. She hesitated for a moment at the door – letting herself into a house was one thing, but bedrooms were even more private affairs – and finally shook her head and raised a hand to knock. It took several loud raps for the guys on the other side to hear her, but then the music petered out and, after a few more seconds, the door opened. Sam’s face lit up when he saw her. “Hey, farmer!” he greeted her with an enthusiasm that surpassed even his mother’s. “What brings you around here?” Lanie rolled her eyes, but let a teasing smile twitch at the corner of her mouth. “Sam, I don’t think calling me ‘farmer’ like that all the time really counts as a joke,” she said, crossing her arms. Sam’s own smile turned into a playful smirk as he leaned against the doorframe. “It does if it annoys you, so based on that look you’re giving me right now, I’d say it’s working just fine.” Lanie just stuck her tongue out at him. To be honest, she was surprised at how quickly they’d reached this level of casual banter. She hadn’t even been in town for a season, but she just felt… comfortable around Sam. He was welcoming, and friendly, and easy to get along with. “Anyway,” she said, “to answer your question, I just had a little free time and thought I’d drop by. That all right?” Sam nodded. “Sure. C’mon in.” Lanie looked around as she followed him into his room. It was decorated simply enough, with posters of what she guessed were his favorite bands on the walls and a couple instruments set up in an area just around a short corner. Sebastian was there too, and he glanced up at her as he fiddled with something on a keyboard. “Hey, Lanie,” he said, before going back to whatever he was doing. Lanie waved. “Hey.” She gave the setup another once-over. “Sam mentioned that he played guitar, but I didn’t know you did music too. Are you guys in a band or something?” Sebastian snorted. “He wishes.” Sam grinned. “We mostly just do jam sessions like this one, but I’ve been learning more about writing music and we’re actually thinking of starting one up,” he elaborated. He walked over to sit on the edge of his bed. “We’re having a hard time picking a style to focus on, though.” Sebastian snorted again and rolled his eyes, and Sam shot him a look. “Hey, that’s as much on you as it is on me and you know it.” Lanie cocked her head. “So, wait, you mean you can’t decide what kind of music to play?” Sam laughed. “Yeah, not the worst problem to have. There’s so many choices, though!” He leaned over and plucked his guitar from where it rested on its stand, and absently strummed a few chords as he continued. “We like to experiment normally, and that’s good for variety and all, but for an official group it’s better to have some kind of basis to work from. Know what I mean?” Lanie hummed in thought. She didn’t know much about setting up a band, but that seemed to make sense. Out of nowhere, Sam jolted upright as his eyes lit up. “Hey, I have an idea! What kind of music do you like, Lanie?” Sebastian cocked an eyebrow at him. “You’re not seriously suggesting…” Sam turned to him and shrugged. “Sure, why not?” he asked. “We could use a third opinion, and I bet she’s got an awesome taste in music!” He looked back to the woman in question. “Whaddaya say, Lane?” Lanie blinked in surprise, and hoped dearly that the sudden heat in her face from the unexpected compliment wasn’t visible. “Uhh…” She looked back and forth between the two guys and the instruments they had on hand, and hummed thoughtfully. “For you guys? I’m gonna say… Experimental noise rock.” Sebastian smirked playfully. “That is a very specific genre,” he said. “You picky about your music or something?” Lanie shrugged. “Nah, I like most kinds of rock. But you guys said you liked to experiment, and I think it suits you.” Sam chuckled. “Can’t argue with that logic,” he agreed. With a thoughtful frown, he plucked a few more notes out on the guitar. “Hmm… Noise rock, huh? I really like the sound of that. What do you think, Seb?” Sebastian shrugged. “Sounds fine to me.” Sam’s grin returned. “Great! Aw man, this band is gonna be sick!” He paused for a moment, and gave Lanie a curious look. “Hey, you don’t happen to play drums, do you? We kind of still need a drummer.” Lanie couldn’t hold back her blush this time. “Wait, me? Ah, no I don’t, sorry. I’d probably be too busy with the farm to do all the practices and everything anyway.” She hesitated briefly, and then offered the guys a small smile. “Buuuut if you ever need an extra instrument for a song or two, I can play a mean harp.” Sam returned her expression. “I’ll keep that in mind.” * * * * * Lanie hung around for a little while after that, chatting with the guys and listening as they continued with their musical improv. The jam session ended up a little more organized than normal – now that Sam had a better idea of where this band would be coming from, he was better able to pick out the vague ideas of melody and rhythm floating in his head and spin them into the beginnings of a workable tune or two. He didn’t feel entirely comfortable writing out full songs with an incomplete band, but it was at least a start. Finally, they decided to call it a day. Lanie said she had to head out and bid the guys farewell, and Sam and Sebastian began the process of packing everything up. Sam was organizing the notes he’d jotted down for later when he felt Sebastian’s eyes on him. “So,” the keyboardist piped up, “I take it you’ve got your Flower Dance partner for this year.” Sam froze, utterly baffled by the sudden comment. He looked over at Sebastian. “Where did that come from?” Seb simply jerked his head in the direction of the bedroom doorway, through which their third guest had exited just a minute or two prior. Sam looked over at the doorway, and then back at his friend. “Lanie? I dunno… She’s great and all, but the Flower Dance is supposed to be special and I’m still kind of getting to know her. I was actually planning to dance with Penny this year.” Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Yeah, don’t give me that crap. You just based our entire musical style off of her opinion and then asked her to join the band.” His face split into a wide, mischievous grin. “You want her.” Sam fumbled at the accusation and promptly dropped all his notes. “I… What?!” He felt his face heat up as he started sputtering. “I… You… I already told you, we needed an outside opinion and…” he snorted. “We have to find somebody to play drums.” If it was even possible, Sebastian’s grin managed to simultaneously get even wider and develop into a kind of smirk. “Mm-hmm. And your first choice wasn’t someone you know better like Penny or Abigail?” Sam let out a huff as he knelt to pick up his notes. “I’m pretty sure Abigail doesn’t play drums, and I know Penny doesn’t.” Sebastian snickered. “Whatever you say. I’m telling Abby you want her, though. I bet she’d approve.” Sam glared daggers at him. “You wouldn’t dare.” “Mmm, maybe, maybe not.” “Don’t you dare.” “You know that the more you react like that, the more fun this is, right?” “I… Shut up.” It was by pure coincidence that Lanie had stumbled upon her first saloon night. A Friday evening had seemed like a good time to treat herself to dinner at the local restaurant, and from all the bustle at the Stardrop Saloon it looked like much of the town felt the same way. Lanie had wandered into the game room while searching for a seat, and then Sam and Abigail had spotted her, and… that was pretty much that. It turned out that the two of them and Sebastian went to the Saloon for game night most Fridays, and while Lanie’s inclusion had probably been something of an on-the-whim invite at first, she was quickly finding herself drawn to the trio. Thus it was that, several weeks into her budding farm life and only a couple Fridays away from the end of Spring, she found herself once again staring down the screen of what had to be the most infuriating arcade machine of all time. “Zombies are stupid. Everything is stupid. This game is stupid and why can’t I stop playing it?!” Abigail patted her on the shoulder. “I’m pretty sure they’re orcs, Lane. And don’t worry about it, that game does that to everyone.” Gently pulling her friend away from the Journey of the Prairie King cabinet, she added, “I’ve got a console version at home, and I still can’t beat the first level. We should try co-op mode sometime and see if that helps.” Lanie let out a dramatic sigh, but nevertheless allowed herself to be led away. She glanced at the pool table. “Are they still going at it?” Abigail followed her gaze and smirked. “Looks like they’re about to start a new game already,” she observed aloud. “Did Sam really lose that quickly?” The player in question paused in setting up the pool table to stick his tongue out at the girls. Sebastian snickered. “I’d have better luck if it was one of you guys playing,” Sam offered. “Seb’s a friggin demon at this game.” Abigail plopped down on the couch. “No thanks!” she chirped. “I just want to watch.” Lanie cast her a befuddled look. “You really prefer just watching?” Come to think of it, she’d only seen Abigail play the game maybe once since she’d started attending saloon night. The pool games seemed like a highlight of the evening for her, to the point where she referred to them as a Friday “tradition,” and yet… Abigail shrugged. “Sure. Playing’s fun too, but I guess I just enjoy the… inevitability of watching the guys. It might get old for some people, but not me,” she said with a cackle. Sam huffed, but a tiny smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he lined up the que ball. “Yeah, I’ll show you inevitability.” Sebastian leaned against his cue and shot back, “You wish.” Abigail rolled her eyes at Lanie’s continued uncertainty and grabbed her wrist, pulling her down onto the couch as well. “Come on, just give it a shot. You’re always running around – you should stop and relax for once, girl!” Lanie frowned. “But I am relaxing. I’m here with you guys.” “But you’re not relaxing enough!” With that entirely vague and unhelpful statement, Abigail stood up again. “I’m gonna go order us some food real quick. Just stop bouncing from game to game and chill for a little bit, ‘kay?” * * * * * “I… I can’t look away.” “I know, right?” “It’s just… every time. They’re so unmatched. Has he ever actually won before?” “Mmm, nope, I don’t think so.” Abigail grinned. “Maybe that’s the real reason I like watching them. I want to see if the impossible is ever accomplished.” Lanie frowned. “I dunno, I’m starting to feel kind of sorry for him.” Abigail scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Don’t. If he really cared that much he wouldn’t keep playing every week. He’s fine.” The two sat together on the couch, remains from the group’s meal balanced on a nearby table. One round of pool had somehow turned into three, and Sam had long since given up on bantering with the girls to focus on his game. It hadn’t helped very much. As Sebastian pocketed the last of his pool balls, Sam put his cue aside and let out a sigh. “Welp, if people are starting to feel sorry for me, I think that means it’s time to call it a night.” His gaze drifted towards the side table. “Is there any pizza left?” Lanie glanced over. “Yeah, I think there’s a slice or two.” Sam nodded and made his way to the food, and she scooted over so he’d have a place to sit. Abigail and Sebastian had both wandered off to play other games, so it was just the two of them for now. As Sam settled in with his pizza slice, Lanie regarded him curiously. “If you don’t mind me asking,” she queried, “why do you play against Seb so much if he only ever beats you? I feel like most people would have given up by now.” Sam smirked. “Dunno. Why do you keep playing Journey of the Prairie King?” Lanie blinked. “Okay, fair point.” Sam chuckled and then leaned back, gazing up at the ceiling in thought. “Short answer? It’s fun. Kinda frustrating, sure, but eh. I’ll beat him one of these days.” Lanie chuckled as well, curling up on the cushions. “You seem awfully sure of yourself.” Sam grinned at her, his eyes gleaming. “I will, and it will be awesome. That’s the upside of picking out a hard goal, ya know? It’s more exciting that way.” Lanie offered him a knowing smile. “You mean like putting together a rock band?” “Yeah. Or like dropping everything and moving to the country to run a farm.” Lanie was taken aback by that. To be honest, she had never really thought about it that way… It was true that farming was hard work and a whole lot to learn, but she’d always seen it as something that she just sort of had to do. Now that she thought of it, though, he was probably right – that first harvest of parsnips, small as it was, had given her a sense of accomplishment like nothing she’d felt in a long time. Sam caught her surprised expression and smiled though a mouthful of pizza. After taking a moment to swallow, he said, “I’m serious. What you’re doing is amazing, and I don’t think a lot of people could manage it. I know I couldn’t.” Lanie glanced downward, hoping her friend couldn’t see the color rising in her cheeks. “I… Thank you.” She looked back up and beamed at him. “I guess we both have a lot to look forward to then, huh?” Sam laughed. “Yeah.” He stood up and set his half-finished plate aside, then offered a hand to Lanie. “Come on, let’s see if Gus has finally gotten Junimo Kart fixed up.” Lanie snorted as she let herself be helped to her feet. “I doubt it. No harm in trying, though.” “Watch out, I’m coming for yoooouuu.” “Was that directed at me or Seb?” “Both of you.” “If you’re going for stealth, I don’t think that’s how you do it.” A scoff. “I’m not going for stealth, I’m going for intimidation. You boys are gonna get owned.” A smirk. “You’ll have to find me first.” Abigail frowned, eyes narrowing at the game on the screen in front of them. Now that Sebastian had mentioned it, his character had been rather more elusive than she would have liked. “Whatever. I’ll own Sam first, then I’m coming after you.” Another smirk, this time from her other side. “If you’re so confident, let’s you and me have an old-fashioned showdown.” “You’re on. Meet me in the courtyard.” It only took a few moments for Sam and Abigail’s fighters to meet. Abby’s hand twitched lightly over her controller in anticipation – for all her smack talk, she knew the two of them were about evenly matched at this game. She’d need to be careful if she was going to take him out before he did the same to her. “Okay, rules of engagement. No outside help, no leaving the courtyar-ADKSDNAF” Abigail jolted back as light and smoke suddenly filled her part of the screen, mercifully obscuring the grisly fate of her fighter. Sam groaned and hung his head in response to his own character’s similar death, while Sebastian merely cackled softly. Abigail turned toward the culprit, glaring. “We were having a showdown!” Sebastian shrugged. “Hey, I never agreed to it.” Sam quirked an impressed eyebrow at him. “How did you manage to find a grenade on this map anyway?” Seb set his controller down and leaned back on his hands. “That would be my little secret.” Abigail set down her controller as well and stood up to stretch. The three of them had been playing videogames at her house for a few hours now, and even she had to admit she could use a break from it. “I’m gonna take a few minutes and make some popcorn, if you guys are cool with that,” she said. The guys voiced their agreement, and in five minutes’ time she had a big bowl of buttery goodness set among them. Abigail sat back against the wall and popped a handful of kernels into her mouth. “So,” she said as she chewed, “anything new with you guys?” Sebastian shrugged noncommittally. “Not really. Got a new client for a program, but it’s nothing interesting.” Sam cocked his head, thinking for a moment. “Well, I’ve made some pretty good progress on a song for the band.” Abigail blinked and immediately sat upright. That certainly sounded interesting. “What band?” Sam froze with his hand halfway to the popcorn bowl. He looked up at her, surprised. “…We haven’t told you about it?” He glanced over at Sebastian, who raised his hands in an innocent gesture. “You were the one who wanted to keep it a surprise,” he replied. “I figured you would’ve told her by now if you’d wanted to.” Abigail frowned. “What band?” she repeated. Sam looked back at her a bit sheepishly. After a moment, though, he grinned. “Well, see, Seb and I decided to start this experimental rock band. We don’t have a name picked out yet, and it’s still kind of rough overall, but we’re getting there!” He paused for a moment, and his smile waned. “We haven’t been able to find anyone to play drums, though. I’m starting to get kinda worried that we won’t, in such a small town.” That last admission really struck Abigail. What? The sudden mention of this band business had filled her with a mix of emotions, but for a moment her intrigue and excitement fled and left only a confused sense of hurt. She opened her mouth for a moment, closed it, and then finally shook her head and spoke up. “Why didn’t you ask me?” Both guys sat upright immediately at the question, and they shared a surprised look with one another. Finally, Sam cleared his throat. “Because you… don’t… play drums?” Now it was Abigail’s turn to stare at them in bafflement. She quirked an eyebrow. “Uh, yeah I do.” Sebastian blinked. “Since when?” A tiny smirk was starting to twitch at the corner of Abby’s mouth now. This was getting kind of ridiculous, but it was a relief to know that they hadn’t passed her over for some reason. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe since high school? In marching band.” She quirked an eyebrow. “You guys seriously don’t remember that.” Sam frowned, evidently more confused than ever. “I thought you played flute in marching band.” Abigail couldn’t help it – she broke down into a fit of laughter. “Haha – That was for one year! Snk – Marching sucked and I switched to pit so I could focus on playing… I played a drum set literally every year after that… Did you guys go to any gridball games?!” Sebastian’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Show us,” he challenged her. “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Abigail let out one last chuckle and pushed herself off the wall. “Can do. I think Mom still has videos from all the shows I did.” Indeed she did, and it wasn’t long before the three of them were once again sitting in front of Abigail’s television. The drummer herself feigned a casual demeanor as the boys sitting to her right gaped at the band’s front ensemble that her mother’s shaky camera put just a little too much focus on. She’d made sure to pick the show from her senior year, when she’d had the most experience and it really showed in her performance. “Yup, the director thought I was pretty good with the drums and encouraged me to keep going,” she said nonchalantly, as the song just so happened to reach one of her more challenging parts. “Lugging around all that equipment pretty much made up for not marching, but it was fun.” She turned a smug look on her friends. Without turning his eyes from the screen, Sebastian grabbed Sam’s arm. “Sam we need her in the band,” he hissed. Sam started and gave him a bewildered look. “Um, duh?” He let his gaze drift past Sebastian and land on Abigail. “So? What do you say?” Sebastian’s head whipped around to face her as well, and she had to fight down the heat in her face at his intensely hopeful gaze. She also held back a smirk – she should still be able to get a little more fun out of this turn of events. Leaning back, she hummed. “I dunno… Are you guys really serious about this band thing if you didn’t even think to ask me about it?” “That was a stupid oversight that was probably my fault and for that I am deeply sorry,” Sam replied all in a rush. “But we are completely serious about this, and you would be a perfect addition to the band. Please.” Abigail pretended to roll that thought around in her head. “Hmm… Well I do still have my drum set, but Dad doesn’t like me practicing so close to the shop, so I don’t know if –” “Not a problem, we always just practice in Sam’s room anyway,” Sebastian blurted out. Abigail treated them both to a sweet smile. “Then I guess I don’t have anything to complain about. Sure, it sounds like fun.” The guys actually cheered at that, and even shared a high-five as Sam rambled on about how she wasn’t going to regret it and how this would be the best band ever. Abigail snickered at their enthusiasm at first, but it didn’t take her long to be swept up in the excitement as well. She might have been teasing them earlier, but she was both confident and entirely serious about one thing: This was going to be fun.