The morning at the hospital had been pure hell. A plague of clumsiness had taken over the village, and it had seemed the whole population had spilled into the waiting room with injuries ranging from a paper cut to broken limbs. I take one day off, and this is what I get the following day. Ridiculous.
By the time I managed to escape for a break, it was mid-afternoon and every part of my body ached including my eyebrows. I was hungry, but I just wasn’t in the mood to go somewhere and wait in line or sit at a table for food, so I decided I’d grab something from the hospital later. I needed to find a place to just relax and let the tension ebb from my body.
I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going, but a short while later, I found myself in a patch of woods not far from my workplace, and heaved a sigh, shoved off my shoes impatiently, and collapsed onto the ground. At first, I closed my eyes and relaxed as the familiar sound of the outdoors filled the humid air – the wind, the trees, the rustle of hidden wildlife. The sun was bright against my closed eyelids despite the peppering of shade provided by the high-reaching leaves.
It was a habit of mine to loose myself in the enveloping presence of nature whenever life became particularly stifling. I was somehow able to blot out my worries, my fears, my expectations, allowing my mind to become wonderfully blank. To not think, to not have the heavy press of everyday life’s nuisances on my shoulders helped to make everything more bearable in the long run. It was unfortunate, however, that my problems didn’t just evaporate into the air.
I opened my eyes and stared at the various rays of sunlight peeking through the crisscross of green leaves. There were days when it was harder to escape and empty my mind, like today, and I always ended up mulling over whatever was causing such an upheaval in my life.
Naruto’s face suddenly materialized in my mind, a picture of carefree lightheartedness, his blue eyes hooded with amusement, his lips slightly curved, his hair tousled as if he’d run his hands through it several times. I was mortified to feel to feel my heart stutter nervously in my chest, and my cheeks burn with an impromptu flush. With a jolt, I sat up, buried my face into my hands, and groaned.
Here I was, sitting in the woods, mooning over some man. But, not just any man. Naruto. Naruto, for heaven’s sake. I grimaced suddenly as I wondered what Ino would say about my newfound feelings for my best friend. For my former teammate. For the Hokage of Konoha. I groaned again, but louder this time.
“You sound like you’re dying. Please tell me it isn’t so, because I’m no good at your medic nin stuff,” I heard over my shoulder.
Slowly, I lifted my head and turned toward the familiar voice, and stared in horror at my petite, blond friend. “Ino,” I choked out. God, I sounded retarded even to my own ears.
She scrunched her nose in confusion and stared down at me with her hands placed on her hips. “Did your cat die or something? You look and sound horrible, Sakura.”
I suddenly thought of my obese orange-haired cat at home and mentally grimaced. Damn. I forgot to feed him this morning. He’s going to use my legs as scratching posts tonight when I get home.
Ino raised her eyebrows at my drawn-out pause, and I managed to find my voice in time to say, “Uh, no. Live. I mean he’s live. Living. He’s still living.” I wondered how many more ways I could tell her that my cat was still alive. By the look on her face, she obviously thought I’d fallen and whacked my head on a rock.
Ino settled down on the grass slowly, her eyes never leaving my face. She frowned for a moment before telling me, “I think we need to talk about whatever’s bothering you.”
I resisted the urge to run off in the other direction, and gave Ino a forced smile. “You shouldn’t worry. Nothing’s wrong. I’m just having a difficult day at the hospital.”
She quirked an eyebrow and leaned back. “So you’re just going to lie to me?” She waited a beat for me to respond, but when I remained mute, she sighed. “You’re too secretive for your own good, you know that? It’s healthy to get troubling issues off your chest and out in the open. Are you afraid I’ll make fun of you?”
It wasn’t that, really. I know she’d be amused, she’d laugh and perhaps crack a joke or two or twenty, and then find every opportunity to shamelessly embarrass me in front of Naruto. But, it really boiled down to the same reason that I hadn’t confided to my mother the previous day. I had barely wrapped my mind around the idea of such a heavy, deep emotion for Naruto. I needed to understand what was going on in my mind before sharing such private, delicate thoughts with others – even those closest to me. I know a time will come when she’ll find out, but it won’t be today. Or tomorrow. Or probably the day after. And what made me suddenly smile as I watched Ino dust dirt off her leg was that she wouldn’t be hurt by my silence. Despite being fully aware that she would badger and make my life hell, I know that she’ll understand. She always has.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” I responded adamantly, my chin upraised as I stared at her.
She raised her eyes heavenward for a moment, and shook her head slightly. “Well, as long as you’re going to remain a stubborn, ridiculous mute,” she started sardonically, “you might as well come with me to get some food. I’m starving.”
I sighed. I would get no more peaceful solitude in this patch of forest for the rest of the day. Might as well do something productive before I had to report back to work. “What do you have in mind?” I replied as I shoved my bare feet into my shoes.
“Not ramen,” she immediately retorted with a shudder. “Maybe some odango.”
I couldn’t help but grin as I stood and walked away from the trees.