Withered Petals
By: Aisaki Sumi

Disclaimer: CCS does not belong to me, nor do the historical facts I have obtained from the book Memoirs of a Geisha. As well, the first chapter might appear to be similar to the book itself, but, it's actually not if you look at the characterization and how things came about carefully. Also, at the time, many families sold their daughter to geisha houses to get by their living, because that was how everything was back in the 1800s and 1900s. If you have read the book, Memoirs of a Geisha, you should be able to tell the difference between my plot and the book's plot, as well as how the characters were portrayed.

Summary: In a world where women are trained to beguile the most powerful men; where love is scorned as a mere illusion; Sakura, a renowned geisha is taught to only entertain and charm men but never to love them. Trained to be as obedient as a kitten, she never dares to question life, until she met a man as irresistible as him, opening her view to another path she has never seen before – a rebellious, liberal life, enabling her to take destiny into her own hands. A tale of two people finding their places in society, their purpose of existence, and surviving in a world where freedom is limited by gender difference, cultural difference; yet their love crosses all boundaries, binding them together with invisible strings.

A/N: This story is NOT based on the book, Memoirs of a Geisha, written by the talented writer, Arthur Golden. The geisha idea is INSPIRED by it, but the plot does not follow the book's. Please don't jump into the conclusion and think that simply because this story has geishas in there, it is going to be just like Memoirs of a Geisha. There are many published novels out there that are about Geishas, and does that necessarily mean they all got the idea from Memoirs?


Chapter 1 the Deceptive World

A wrong turn or following a wrong trail may cause one to lose their direction and become lost in the unknown, unfamiliar world surrounding them. It might be temporarily, or permanently. I had to learn my lesson through the hard way. The realization came to me slower than it should have, considering at the time, I didn't even know that I was being sold to a geisha house, far away in Kyoto, and by my very own parents. The people I trusted my whole life. I might have been a young girl at the time, and might have not understood the reason behind their actions, but one thing I was sure of – I was unwanted; unwanted by the world, my parents, my family. I didn't lose my track; I wasn't lost because of my foolishness. I was more abandoned than lost.

Born as the youngest child of my family, I knew at a young age that my family wasn't wealthy, in fact, it was impoverished. My father was a local farmer. Like his father, he inherited the land from the past generation and became a strawberry farmer, following the footsteps of my grandfather, and my great grandfather. He said it was an honor to carry on our family's business. During the day, he would work on the fields with my mother and my sister and older brother, protecting the strawberries from the wanted invaders – weeds and other plants that would be competing with the baby strawberries – as I'd like to call them – for food and water.

Mother said they must go there daily to get ride of these weeds in order for the baby strawberries to grow. I offered helped a number of times, but mother patted my head caringly, stroking the soft strands of auburn hair and would whisper to me "You're still young Sakura-chan. When you're a bit older, we'll let you help out." I loved her tone of voice, so quiet and velvety, filled with feminine richness. I couldn't help but feel dazed under her loving caress. Her hands were roughened by the years of work, but her caress was just as gentle as summer breeze.

"When you grow older, you'll be able to see the world. You'll go to school, learn the things we've never learned before and become educated." In those days, after a hard day of work, she would sit beside me, lay my head onto her lap and we would watch the sun set. Dusk was beautiful, far more elegant and enchanting than anything I've ever seen before, probably because I lived in a small and poor village and rarely got to see anything exciting.

The way the dying sun would throw such glorious embers of hope, and how the world became embraced by the ethereal light – fascinated me. The clouds scattered, and like countless unfolded sheets of white, were tinged slightly orange and violet. The beautiful landscape of our small village; the little crocked muddy, meandering road that looked as if it would lead us directly to the sun on the horizon. At a time like this, mother would murmur softly to me of the possibilities laid ahead of me and the brightness of my future. She had always said that I was the cleverest one of the family, because I had rather large head, which was an indication of intelligence at the time.

"Sakura, when you grow up, you will be a successful woman, much more successful than any of your siblings will ever be. You'll be the first one to move into a large city, and live a luxurious life." She would say those words with great certainties and leaned forward and smile at me. The orangey rays of the sun, illuminating her face, casing a soft glow over her aged, yet still elegant face. And when she opened her eyes again, the emerald colored orbs would come into view, sparkling majestically under the luminous radiance. Mother had an oval face, slightly pointy around the chin, and a delicate nose. Her lips were the colors of the strawberries, full and very attractive to look at. But her eyes, were the most captive part of her face, they were the color of emerald, like mine. There were lines – which I later on learned to be wrinkles, something most women detested – but I thought they further enhanced the maturity of her face. They were the symbols of wisdom.

Part of mother's predictions did come true however, I did get to live in a large city, a partially luxurious life as a geisha, but I didn't think she wanted any of that for me. She probably wanted me to become a high class woman by marrying a rich man with a much higher status than us. But I was young at the time, and dreamed away, and believing in mother's words whole-heartedly, as if I really was going to become something more than I am now. During the day, when mother wasn't around, I would sit on the porch outside of our little house, and stare up at the vast blueness above me, and the far horizon that seemingly, represented my future, since mother always stared at that when she talked about my future.

I was only eight at the time. A child with great dreams and hopes for the future, but little did I know that everything was going to be shattered into tiny pieces. It happened the day our local doctor came over to our house and announced the dreadful news of mother being very sick. He said it was some sort of cancer. I didn't understand the meaning of that word back then, since I had very limited knowledge of biology. I thought it was just some sort of disease, like a cold, that would soon go away after plenty of rest and water. But I was wrong…

"'kaasan." I called out softly, as quiet as possible. I didn't want to wake up my sister who was sleeping on the futon beside mother. I tiptoed across the room, like a cat, I made no noises whatsoever, not even the slightest creak. After hearing a painful grunt from mother, I suspected she was awake. Crawling on the cold wooden floor, I made my way toward her futon and seated myself beside her and gazed at her face. Mother looked so fragile and pale, her lips loosing their usual redness. Her face grew pointier than before, and her closed eyes seemed to have sunk back into her skull. There were dark, grey bags under her eyes, and her cheeks were the color of a sheet of white paper.

"'kaasan." I whispered again, bending myself down so my lips were centimeters away from her ears. But mother made no reply, she shifted uncomfortably, eyebrows furrowing slightly as she grunted painfully again. I thought mother was mad at me because there was a deep frown on her face. My eyes saddened as I bent down to plant a butterfly-light kiss on her cold, grey cheek. "Please get better soon 'kaasan." With that, I left the room, soundlessly; like a ghost of the night, disappeared without any traces.

……

Ever since mother got sick, an uncomfortable, almost sickening atmosphere seemed to have settled in our little house permanently. Father had never smiled again after the devastating news of mother being very sick with leukemia. He seemed quieter than usual and kept everything to himself and seemed to be spending more time on the farm than at home. Oniichan said this was father's way of expressing his sadness and grieving over the dreadful news that mother might not be with us for long. I asked him childishly if mother was going to go anywhere, but oniichan didn't reply. I saw crystal-like droplets forming in the corner of his eyes, shimmering under the dim candle fire.

As the days passed mother grew wearier and paler than before. She was losing weight rapidly. I could hardly recognize her. Her body was like a skeleton, wrapped in a layer of grayish skin. Sometimes I would take a peek at her when my sister was helping her get dressed, and I could see the shape of her ribcage, and her skinny, bony shoulder and hips. My mind denied the fact that it was actually my mother that I was seeing, not a skeleton. She was perfectly healthy a few months ago, and we even watched dusk together, but now…she seemed like a ghost, someone else who I barely knew. Mother spent most of her time sleeping in her room, grunting painfully, and I rarely got to see her around the house or on the farm or on the porch anymore.

But what I didn't know was she would soon vanish from my life forever. The goodbye came all too sudden, and before I could even get a sense of what was going on, I saw people coming over to my house, wearing all black and paying their last respect to my mother. My father looked much older than he usually was, his eyes were hallow and dark, my sister and brother were weeping, especially my sister. There were streams of tears rushing down her cheeks, washing away one trail but only to leave another. The sky, I recalled, was mournfully gray that day, as if it was weeping with the rest of us. But I was confused, lost, why were all the people here? Why were my brother and sister crying? Where was mother? Was she still sleeping in her room?

My thoughts were interrupted by a strong grasp on my shoulder. I looked up and saw my father standing behind me. "Sakura-chan…okaasan has left us and went to a better place, she wants you to know that she'll watch over you and us from that place." Father's voice was quivering, hoarse. His shoulder was shaking uncontrollably, but I could not see his face that well, it was shadowed.

"Is she going to come back and visit us?" I asked naively, the thought of mother leaving us stirred this anxious feeling in my heart. Did I do something wrong to mother? Did she get mad at me for disturbing her the other day when she was asleep? These thoughts scared me, but the thought of mother leaving because of me made me feel even worse. It twisted my guts and I felt like throwing up.

Father shook his head lightly, sniffled lightly and said nothing afterwards. The deafening silence echoed in our small house, and I was more horrified than ever. I could not imagine my life without mother. She had always been there for me, but now, she had left, abandoned me because I made her mad. I didn't even get a chance to apologize to her and beg her to stay. Crystal tears began to roll down my cheeks as I broke free from father's grasp and dashed to mother's room. When I got there, the room was neatly organized, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. I slid the closet door open and found mother's section empty. She really did leave, I concluded in despair.

Days after mother's funeral, which I assumed at the time – a goodbye party for my mother, I began to isolate myself and grieving in the corner of our small house. No one really paid much attention to me at the time since it had only been a few days since my mother had passed away. They were all lost in their own overwhelming sorrows. Just when I thought things could not possibly be worse than this, the worst thing in my life happened to me.

On that day, only sister and I were home, cleaning the floor, doing our usual chores, then somebody knocked hard on the door. My sister wept her wet hands on the greasy apron she was wearing and headed for the door, only to be greeted by a bunch of strangers wearing expensive kimonos. "Is Kinomoto-san home?" Inquired one of the men standing by the door, he had his hair pulled into a pony-tail sort of thing, popular at the time among the men.

"My father is not at home right now. It will take him a while to get back from the field, is there anything I can do for you?" My sister asked with great formality, one of her hands holding firmly onto the door knob. I poked my head out of the kitchen to steal a glance at the stranger who was talking to my sister.

"I'm afraid I must talk to your father about this, as you can see, it is very complex. It'd be better if you call your father back to the house so we can have a chat." The stranger replied coldly but keeping the politeness while his eyes revealing his unfriendly intentions. My sister paused for a moment, to sort through her thoughts and then turned around to face me. "Go get father." Her instruction was simple yet very demanding. Before I could open my mouth and ask her 'what for', she narrowed her eyes at me. It was the sign of 'leave now'. Without any further questioning, I dashed for the backdoor of our little house which would eventually lead me to father's strawberry land.

After I have reached father's strawberry land, I looked around, and only saw a field of green. "'tousan!" I called out, my eyes traveling across the vast expanse of green and stopped and focused on the object that was moving. "TOUSAN!" I increased the volume of my voice and saw father's head poking out of the sea of green leaves. I gestured him to come over and he did. "Tou-san, some people I don't know are talking to neechan right now, and they said they want to talk to you." Father's expression darkened as I finished my sentence. Without a word, he brushed pass me and strode off to our house.

I scratched my head a bit, confused of what was going on but decided to follow him anyway. The trip back to our house was spent in pure silence, father seemed to be in hurry yet his movements revealed great reluctance. It looked to me as if his body was moving but his mind was refusing to move. The way his walk looked was so unnatural and nearly brought out my laughter, but I thought better of it and continued to follow him.

Arriving our little house, father slowed down his pace and eventually coming to a stop a few meters away from the strangers. "Arai-san." Father bowed slightly, indicating that he had acknowledged the other's presence. The stranger in the middle, whose stomach reminded me of a ball sticking out underneath his kimono, turned around with great difficulties. His small eyes squinted at me and my father as his lips curved into a sneer. His fat hands cupped together and the palms rubbing against each other conspiratorially.

"Ah Kimonoto-san." The round man named Arai spoke, sounding as if he was a friend of my father's who was here on vocation. "About the loan, today is the last day to repay it. I have already extended the dates and I cannot postpone it any longer. You see, I'm in a very difficult position as well, and the money I lent out to you would really help me out of this tough situation."

Money? My ears picked up the sound of that word. Everything we had that was valuable was exchanged into cash to buy the expensive herbs that could release some of my mother's pain. Our house was nearly empty, the only thing we had that was valuable was the 7 acres of strawberry land that was passed down from generations to generations. I studied father's stoic expression, and saw glimpse of anger seeping through his dark eyes, but he kept his composure.

"I will repay it as soon as I've sold all the strawberries." My father replied, his broken voice gave away his despair and anxiety. "Give me a few more days, Onegai shimasu Arai-san." Pushing aside his pride and dignity, father pleaded. It was the first time I've seen him like this. I felt an extra weight on my heart that was nearly crushing it. However, Arai was delighted at this sight, his cruel smile enlarged as he let out a rough, heartless laugh.

"Isn't that what you said a few days ago? As soon as you can sell all your strawberries, you'll pay back the debt." His eyes glinted harshly as he glared at my father, then to me. "The pests are eating away your strawberries, and it's highly unlikely anyone's going to buy those rotten berries! Just give me your goddamn land. It might be worthless, but it can still pay back half of your debt. As for the other half, you can give me your son and he will work as a slave at my factory for the rest of his life."

Horror flashed in my father's eyes as he heard those words. "No not the land and my son!" Before he could even realize what he was saying, the anxious words already came out and it was too late to take them back. It earned my father another cold laugh from Arai.

"I knew you would say that." Arai then snorted, his tiny eyes then settled upon my face. "Ohhh come here you pretty one!" He waved his hand at me to gesture me to come forward. I felt my body frozen on the spot, unable to move. "Come here!" The order came out very harsh and impatient, and snapped me back to reality. I was startled and on the verge of crying as I walked toward him slowly.

He picked up my chin and turned my head to the right side then left, inspecting my face as if I was some kind of meat he was picking up in the grocery store. His fat finger held my chin so tightly that caused me to yelp in pain, but he paid no attention to that. "Hmm, pretty nose, nice lips, and oh my, such brilliant eyes." Exclaimed Arai as he gazed into my eyes with astonishment. His tiny black orbs glinted mischievously as he let go of my chin and turned to face my father again.

"Old kinomoto, you've got such a pretty girl up in your sleeves huh? How's this, you give her to me and train her as a geisha to pay off your debts?" Arai offered, extending out his arms. I looked at father anxiously, hoping he would say no. I didn't really understand what a geisha was at that time, but something was certain, the round man was going to take me away from my family.

My father was silent for a moment, his head lowered, strands of gray hair falling onto his eyes, masking his face, making it unreadable. The silent moment seemed to have lasted forever, until my father broke it with a soft whisper. "I'm sorry Sakura." Arai-san's expression brightened up as he enclosed the distance between him and father and placed a hand on my father's shoulder. "Maa, it's better than selling the only thing valuable in your family. Just think about it kinomoto. You're no longer young, and if you sell your land to me, how are you going to live? Surely your eldest son and daughter can go work as slaves, but just think about the outcome of that. They'll die from the hellish work load, leaving you and your little daughter starving to death. If she becomes a geisha, she'll make a lot of money and you can still stay here and work on your land."

That was how my father and Arai-san came to their agreement and sold me off to an okiya in Kyoto, where my geisha training began. The night before my departure, father sat in the corner of our dimly lit living room which was used as a dining room, kitchen at the same time. I didn't know if he didn't want to look at me or did not have the courage to look at me. Oniichan and Oneechan strongly opposed the idea of sending me away, but after hearing father's reasons, they seemed to have quieted down.

Father pulled me to the side and held me in his arms, whispering the same thing over and over again. "Gomen nasai Sakura-chan. Gomen nasai." He stroked my hair softly but I refused to cry on his shoulder. How could he do this to me? How could he send me away like this? What if mother wants to see me again when she comes back for a visit? "You must understand, I never wanted any of this to happen. Please forgive me Sakura-Chan." He continued, but in my heart, I felt I was deceived, unwanted, I felt after my mother had left, my world started to turn upside down. And now this…my very own father was going to give me away to the mean-looking round man named Arai…

I vowed silently to myself, as an abandoned child, that I will never love and trust again.

This vow stayed with me throughout most of my geisha years…until I met him, a man as irresistible as him; a pair of amber eyes as passionate as his; torn down the ice walls I built around myself, exposing me to the world. He taught me how to love, how to believe again, how to take my destiny into my own hands…

And his name is…Li Syaoran.

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