written by Bluemaple (for the Mamaa Saiz Show)

Sometimes, she liked to go on walks. Just to quiet the noise in her head that always became unbearably loud after nightfall. It was especially bad on that night, the end of her first year without him. She walked down the summer-swept streets, nothing but streetlights to light her way. The warm breeze reminded her of her home back in Japan, of the wind chimes gracing the eaves of her childhood home, the cherry blossoms that were her namesake falling from the trees in a slow dance, the festivals that she had spent with Ren.

No. She shook her head and tried to clear her mind. She came here to get a new start on her life, far from the people that had stolen Ren from her. She pulled up her hood and passed into the abandoned subway that had become her own special place since moving to America. It was always so quiet, so she was a bit confused when she could hear simple guitar chords floating up from below the stairs.

She followed the sound down the stairs and a ways into the poorly lit subway to a bench. On the bench sat a man with deft fingers and the air of a man lost in his own mind.

“Excuse me, but who are you?” she asked.

He started, and the music stopped. Looking up, he replied, “Who’s asking?” It was flippant, but she couldn’t bring herself to be annoyed.

“My name is Sakura. I have never seen you here before.”

“I could say the same to you,” he said, putting aside his guitar and extending his hand. “Name’s Ryan.”

Sakura hesitated slightly before taking Ryan’s hand. When she did, he smiled. It was a lopsided expression, and familiar, though Sakura had never seen it before. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. She nodded and he continued. “So, Sakura. What brings you to the old abandoned subway?”

“I walk here,” she said. She didn’t say why. Didn’t say she went here to forget Ren, to forget the gunshots and the hospital and the funeral and the endless months of grief pressing in on her and suffocating her. Instead, she said, “Why are you here?”

Ryan smiled, his mouth slanting in that way it did. “I used to come here all the time, before I left for the war. I just got back, so I decided to come over here again. The loneliness helps clear my mind… But I don’t mind you being here!” he added when Sakura made a move to leave. “Here, sit down.” Ryan patted the space on the bench next to him and pulled his guitar back onto his lap.

As the first few chords echoed across the train tracks and off of the far wall, Sakura could feel herself letting go of all of her worries. She watched his fingers move across the strings like magic, a haunting melody filling the air. She looked at his face, the crinkles at the corners of his eyes and the way he pursed his lips just so made her feel a strange bliss, like something she hadn’t felt for the longest time. Not since Ren… Wait. Sakura blinked. She and Ryan had somehow gotten much closer. She could feel his soft exhales on her cheek and she quickly opened up the distance once more. She knew why this stranger was so familiar and alluring: he reminded her of Ren. He may not have looked like him, but Ryan was like Ren in all the ways that mattered; the way he moved, the casually friendly way he talked, the way he squinted when he concentrated. It was all Ren, and that was why she liked Ryan so much.

“What’s wrong?” asked Ryan, noticing their sudden distance. The guitar stopped playing.

“I can’t,” Sakura said, getting up to leave. “I can’t.” It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair to Ren that she would fall in love again so soon after his death, wasn’t fair to Ryan because all she saw in him was Ren, wasn’t fair to her because she needed time to heal. She stood up to leave, but Ryan caught her hand.

“Sakura, please tell me what’s wrong.” He opened his arms slightly and Sakura walked into the hug, if only for a moment.

“Wasurenaide…” she whispered into the embrace, so softly Ryan almost couldn’t hear, before she broke away from his arms and began to walk towards the stairs.

As she walked, she heard Ryan pick up his guitar again and play a chord or two. And then he began to sing. And Sakura stopped. And Sakura listened.