Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. They are the creations of Naoko Takeuchi, based entirely on her manga.
Rei knew it was spring when she found a cherry blossom petal in her tea. The next morning, when she stepped off of her shrine steps, she saw the ancient trees that lined the sidewalk outside the Hikawa Jinja laddened with blossoms. The flowers nodded at her in the still brisk breeze, weighing down the branches. They were heavy and grey in the pre-dawn, a time before the sun could peak out over the rooftops of her neighbors' houses. It looked like they were drained of all vibrancy and life though Rei still took a tentative whiff of the closest blooms. She blinked, discovering the smell sharper than the dull colors that greeted her, something the absence of light could not take away.
Minako had been bugging her to join the rest of the girls for a picnic when they had the chance but Rei was reluctant to agree. Hanami had been her mother's favorite time of year and Rei liked to spend the first day alone to visit her mother's grave. It wasn't obligatory for her to do so, but it had been awhile since she could spare the time and this year was less busy than the last. For once she wasn't bogged down by shrine duties, school work or senshi battles to miss it. It had been awhile since she had been able to leave a blossom on her mother's grave and, as much as she knew how excited Minako was about the whole thing, Rei wanted the time for something too morbid to share with her friends.
They would worry, Rei thought. They wouldn't understand.
At least, Minako and Usagi wouldn't. But Ami might, and she thought it might bring up sad memories for Makoto. Rei didn't want anyone's pity or sympathy, she didn't want to dredge up more ghosts than her own. She just wanted a gift for her mother.
Grandpa had been his usual cheerful self, much to her annoyance. He speculated she was sneaking off on a date when she was leaving the shrine that evening, after dropping off her sachel and homework. The perverted old man then started turning red and sputtering things that were altogether too embarrassing for her to linger on. She had eventually given up correcting him, since he didn't look like he was going to (or even wanted to) believe her anyway. She had told him instead that she was going out, and he could believe whatever he wished, but she wasn't going to stick around to listen to him. She hoped her brusque tone would end the subject but suspected that she would be hearing leery hints and dirty jokes for some time to come. Since Grandpa was the last person she wanted to explain her visits to her mother's grave to, she thought she would bear it just so she could see that ruddy smile on his face, undiminished by the memories that haunted her foot steps and the visage she wore.
She took the train and by the time she got to her destination, the sky had already darkened and paper latterns lit her way to the cemetery. She walked and watched them sway in the balmy breeze, though the wind still had the slight linger of surprising chill. Rei sighed and watched her white breath melt into the darkness before heading onwards, leaving behind couples and gatherings of friends, the crowded onlookers and admirers of the flower festival. In her hands she held the branch she had snagged earlier from a sakura tree she passed by, pulling it out when she was relatively alone.
She startled to a stop when she came upon the grave stone and saw what waited for her there. White lilies, her favorite, were laid there rather innocently, as if fate had accidentally dropped them onto the grave. Rei knew better and looked around suspiciously, hope and anxiety choking her up. Not even a shadow moved and she let out her breath, unsure if she was relieved or disappointed. Father? She wondered. No, he wouldn't dare, but who else...
She shook her head again and set hers down beside the casablancas. Maybe a friend mother knew brought the flowers, though she had never met any of her mother's friends. Surely there had been others who had loved her mother as much as she had and missed her still after all these years. Rei clapped her hands together, dispelling her unease and prayed. When she was done she looked down a bit embarrassed. "It's been a while, mother. I'm sorry I wasn't able to come earlier," she apologized softly to the grave stone. "School's fine, and you don't have to worry about me being alone anymore," Rei smiled weakly at her own words. "I met many people this year, friends and enemies, but mostly friends. I wanted to tell you about them and... and let you know to not worry about me anymore."
Rei clutched her hands together nervously and her smile turned wistful. "Mother, sometimes, I still feel like I can sense you. You always seemed so sad before. But I'm alright now, on my own. I came to tell you that I have friends who I have known longer than this life time, ones who love me and care for me as I am. Grandpa takes care of me too, even though sometimes I don't know how you handled him the way he is! But, I know he loves me too, so much that sometimes it's painful... I can feel it, once in awhile it's so palpable it makes me remember you. I wish... I wish you could be here to see him, to see me grow up. I really hope that I'm--" Rei broke off, surprising herself at the gushing of words that spilled forth, at confessions she had not the courage to even face when she was alone, and when she felt the moisture on her cheek, wind cooling the trails they left behind, she was surprised she could still cry over gravestones. She rubbed her eyes a bit, feeling rather childish and silly. She thought she was too old for tears now, tears that were empty and useless. She hadn't even cried at her mother's funeral, not for years afterwards, but the pain of the loss seem more poignant as the years passed. Before she had only had room for anger and disappointment at her father's actions, but now it was different. Even if there was no one to see them being shed, Rei found that she had finally found enough room in herself to really grieve for and miss the woman who had gone on into the other world, the woman who shared her face but had laughed with more joy than Rei had ever felt in all of her life until now.
Perhaps it was the joy, friendships she would never have believed in until she found them, that brought her here.
"Mother," Rei said softly when she had better control of her faculties. "This year the flowers, I could finally hear them laughing. You always told me I was a horrible listener, but this year, I think I heard them. It sounded just like you told me it would." Rei squatted down and touched her cold hands to the colder stone. "I miss you," she confessed at last, after years of never knowing what that really meant. "I don't think I can ever stop now that I've started."
She looked up to the sky and couldn't see any stars, not with the lights of the city so close. This year, she heard the cherry trees laughing in the breeze, and it was as surprising as it had been when she first found the lost kitten in the park, hiding from the shadows and wanting to return to a home it couldn't remember. It was like hearing something leading her along, a memory or an instinct or a song, she was never sure which it really was. She had always been good at finding things, though her mother told her she wasn't so great at hearing what they had to say when she did find them. But she was learning, and in learning, she thought she was closer to her mother than ever before, even when she had told herself that all the anger in the world she felt for her father was because of the woman who was no longer there.
The flowers, they had been so artlessly cheerful, unlike the still and lifeless objects wanting to be rediscovered nor like dreams wishing to be found. "Mother," she whispered to the dark, wishing for that far away voice to call her name once more. "I think I'm happy." There was no reply but the wind through the trees, it rustled the floating lanterns until all she could hear in the darkness was the swaying red paper on the branches while the flowers laughed and sung as they fell the ground.
For sm-monthly LJ community challenge, theme 9: Hanami
http : // lemon-lime . deviantart . com / art / Hanami - 91943883