Oreos and a single jug of apple cider.
It wasn't, perhaps, the most inspired snack; when it was Koharu's turn to bring the refreshments, she always went above and beyond the call of duty, whipping up some fancy, foreign concoction with too many syllables for Chiyo to bother herself about. If Chiyo was being perfectly honest with herself, she'd rather have Oreos than panko-crusted shrimp with pear crostini any day.
But that afternoon, when it came time to prepare her snack for Weeping Widows, Chiyo had snatched an opened box of Oreos from her cupboard and the half-drunk cider jug and decided that was more than sufficient.
Every Tuesday evening, from 6 to 8 pm, Chiyo dragged her tired, bitter self to the free clinic on the outskirts of town. Every sixth Tuesday, it was her job to supply the refreshments, a task she found annoying and unnecessary. She'd joined the damn group for some support, not to have a bimonthly obligation to feed and fatten a flock of quibbling old seagulls.
You're getting cynical, old girl, she thought, climbing the stairs of Konoha Clinic, stubbornly refusing the elevator as always, even when Atsuko M. offered to hold the door for her. She may be old, but while her legs still functioned, she would continue to make use of them.
She hadn't missed Atsuko M.'s disappointed expression when she'd glimpsed the unexciting snack in Chiyo's withered arms, either. Nor could she be bothered to care.
As she reached the third floor, slightly out of breath, and shuffled her way down the thin-carpeted hallway to the meeting room, Chiyo couldn't help but wonder why she still came to these things.
She wasn't particularly fond of the other women who attended Weeping Widows – or Working Widows, as it was officially known, but Chiyo had her own nickname for the two hours of wailing and caterwauling that happened on the third floor of the clinic. She hated, hated the doctor who'd begun the group to begin with – a vain, arrogant woman who'd dragged Chiyo kicking and screaming from the throes of grief when her husband passed away, and forced her to start down the path of acceptance and recovery. She doubted she was getting much of anything out of the experience anymore, now that her grief had been dealt with, two years had passed, and while she missed her husband as much as ever, his memory brought more smiles than tears these days.
She couldn't explain why she still showed up, faithfully, for two hours out of her week, and once every few months with an underwhelming snack.
Maybe, she thought dryly, shifting the juice and cookies in her arms so she could open the door, this is just what happens to old ladies. Life shrivels up around you, stops being fun. And going to group therapy just becomes what we do for recreation.
The thought was miserable.
"'Evening, ladies," Chiyo said gruffly to the women already gathered in the room. She was greeted by all of them in turn – Hitomi H., whose husband had passed away after a brief, brutal battle with stage four pancreatic cancer earlier that spring, Masami K., who had lost her husband to a heart attack a few months later, Yuri A., whose husband Dondou had succumbed to Alzheimer's on Christmas Eve, and Koharu, the only woman in group who'd been attending for even longer than Chiyo had; her husband had passed in his sleep five years ago.
Just looking at them all depressed her.
"How was the drive?" Hitomi asked, smiling so that her eyes nearly disappeared into the crinkling folds of her skin.
"A mess. Construction on the bypass."
"I took the back roads," Masami chimed in. She reached out a gnarled, withered hand and snatched a Oreo from the package in Chiyo's arms. "Though this rain we've been having's got everything damn near washed out anyway."
Atsuko M. joined them moments later – Chiyo was smug to note that she'd made it up the stairs before the elevator – and they dissolved into idle chatter, as they always did while they awaited the doctor's arrival. Chiyo knew nearly everything about these women, having spent so much time with them, having listened to their stories. She knew that Hitomi's grandson had just been accepted to his first choice college; she knew that Masami struggled with accepting her daughter's sexuality and had been making a conscious effort to invite her daughter's girlfriend to family events; she knew that Yuri brought a thermos from home filled to the brim with sauvignon blanc and smoked Cubans under the fire escape at her retirement home.
But none of them knew each other's last names. Anonymity, the good doctor had said, was what many people who came to group therapy relied on.
Chiyo never understood that, but she assumed it was merely Dr. Tsunade making things up to screw with everyone.
As if her thoughts could summon the devil, the door swung wide again, and Chiyo rolled her eyes. Tsunade did always love to make an entrance.
"Good evening, everyone," she said loudly, cutting across the little old ladies' chatter like a sonic boom. "Nice to see you all."
No one, in Chiyo's opinion, had ever looked less like a doctor, especially one of Tsunade's reputation. She had long blonde hair, seemed to only own low-cut tops that showed off her ample cleavage, and lipstick the precise shade of blood. Just looking at the doctor's lips made her think of death.
Tsunade seemed fully aware that she had Chiyo's aggressive dislike – as well as her grudging respect, and Chiyo felt the younger woman was smugly satisfied with herself because of it, which made her hate her all the more. Tsunade had been Chiyo's physician for years, constantly nagging her about starting an aspirin regimen and getting more regular exercise. Chiyo had resented the implication that she couldn't take care of herself after 70 years of having done exactly that, and made no secret her opinion of Tsunade's low character.
Then, her husband had died, leaving her perfectly alone in the world. She'd felt so lost, like a rudderless ship, set adrift at sea and sailing aimlessly, no destination in mind and no port to return to.
And the damn doctor had quite literally dragged her to her own proctored support group, Working Widows, and to Chiyo's shock – and internal fury – the damn program had worked.
She'd seen the light again, after her dear husband's passing. She missed him every day, but she started eating again. Made an effort to see her children more frequently, made plans with friends. She even agreed to an aspirin regimen, something she hid from Dr. Tsunade, because Chiyo still had her pride.
"Why, Chiyo," Tsunade said dryly, observing the Oreos on the desk in the front of the room. "Thanks so much for bringing snack this week. Wherever did you find the time?"
Chiyo wondered if knocking some of Tsunade's pretty white teeth out of her mouth was worth the stint she'd have to do in prison, and decided to just shoot the doctor a glare of purest loathing. Tsunade merely smiled wider.
"Have a seat, everyone," she said, gesturing widely to the circle of chairs she had set up in the center of the room. "And we'll get started just as soon as…ah, that must be her now. Come on in, honey."
A timid knock had sounded at the door, and Chiyo settled into her preferred seat directly opposite Tsunade, so she could keep glaring hatefully at her throughout the meeting. She barely looked up at the newcomer, figuring it to be another new recruit to this unlucky club.
Instead, Chiyo was surprised to find a young woman standing in the threshold, looking unsure. She was beautiful, maybe even more so than Tsunade, with long pink hair tied into a messy braid over her shoulder, and catlike green eyes that took in the wizened old faces around her with uncertainty.
"Hello, Sakura," said Tsunade serenely. "Everyone, this is Sakura U., and she is my protégé at the hospital."
"Hello, dear," said Hitomi sweetly. "Will you be observing us today? Are you a medical student?"
"Uh, no, actually." Sakura's voice was soft, almost frightened; Chiyo had the impression that if she sneezed too hard on the girl, she'd fall over. "I'm a doctor. But I'm not here for observation."
Tsunade gestured towards the empty red chair between Hitomi and Chiyo, and Sakura nodded, taking a seat and setting her purse in her lap, clutching the straps so hard her knuckles bleached.
"I've invited Sakura to join our group therapy sessions," Tsunade explained. "Like all of you, she too has recently lost her husband."
The sympathetic coos and clucks from the other women weren't quite loud enough to drown out Sakura's quiet, miserable, "It's nice to meet you all."
note.. short little prologue here, but i'm kind of excited for this one. it's gonna be a little different than other things i've written (yes i know i have a lot of unfinished stories still, please don't remind me) and i hope you stick with me. you guys are great.