CHERRY blossoms were always our favorite. They were a symbol of life and its delicate, fleeting existence. More than that, for me, they were keepers of past memories. They were a constant reminder that she’d been here. Her body was gone, but her spirit remained by way of silky pink petals. We’d sit for hours at the riverbank and watch the sakura petals fall to the earth, be gathered up by the river, and float off to a new existence. We’d take turns making up life stories for the petals. Mother insisted that each and every one had their own story, and that one day we’d be able to finish that story for every last petal that fell. Alas, we never got to continue our own tale. She became one of the fallen.
Today was the anniversary of her death, so naturally I had to be here, by the river. Only I wasn’t alone. That was how I met him, in my mourning. He was just sitting there, alone, the cool beauty. He looked like he was posing for a clothing or cologne ad, lounging among the cherry blossoms falling all around him. The sight was serene, and yet he looked so terribly sad. Perhaps he was mourning too—his expression bore the type of pain I understood. He’d lost something important to him. What? I wondered. I knew then that I had to talk to him. I had to know him. I wanted to know why someone so gorgeous looked so miserable sitting in the most spectacular place on the earth.
“Beautiful place, huh?” I asked. He said nothing. I rocked back on my heels, hands deep in my pockets as I watched the river. “Yeah, this is my favorite place. I love it here.” He remained silent. I was determined to get him to say something.
“Ne,” I said cheerily, leaning down to see his face. Up close he was even more gorgeous: soft features, high cheekbones, and a perfect bow mouth. His beauty was darkened, though, by that sad expression. I wanted to see him smile. “Can I sit with you?”
He looked up slowly. His hair was long and damp, parted to the side. Dark eyes were half-lidded and cynical. The cold stare he was giving me made me nervous, but I refused to let that chase away my smile. I had to be happy. She’d be sad if I couldn’t smile.
Finally he looked away and answered dryly, “Do as you please.”
I nodded and sat down next to him, pulling my knees up to my chest. We were silent for a long time, watching the Mochizuki River. It was mid-April, but the day was cool, making me wish I had worn something warmer. Still, I was content. At peace. This was my place of mourning, memories, and happier times.
“I’m Kobayashi Haru. Haru as in the character for springtime.”
“Sakurai Aki.” He never bothered looking at me. “Aki for autumn.”
We were opposites, it seemed. I smiled to myself, looking at Sakurai with my cheek pressed to my knees. He really was a cool beauty, the silent strong type, and yet as delicate as the cherry blossoms his surname represented. He stared off at nothing, like I wasn’t there. My presence didn’t bother him and that was a start—perhaps we could be friends. This made my smile broaden into a toothy grin. “Pleased to meet you, Sakurai-san.”
“Ee,” he agreed softly.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in comfortable silence, save for the occasional word here and there. Sakurai, I realized, was a man of very few words. But I liked that about him—I found a sort of nobility and pride in the type of person who only spoke when it really mattered. There were no needless words exchanged.
We sat among the spring grass and the fragrant blossoms until the sky darkened. Then we parted, just like that, with nothing more to say to one another except for a very brief conversation where we exchanged numbers—which I of course started. But, he agreed. He wanted to talk to me again, and I couldn’t have been any happier. It was one of the most peaceful days I’d had in a very long time. Sadly, one of the last for even longer. I should have walked away the moment I laid eyes on Sakurai Aki that day.