Turning her head side to side, it still felt awkward to feel the ends of her hair skimming against her neck.
Passing all of the stalls, the noise of the busy festival sounded far away, as if she dunked her head under water.
The feeling was constant. Having Sasuke out of sight made it feel like her chest was collapsing in on itself and the air was thinning.
She was scared.
She couldn’t shake the feeling that if she took her eyes off of him for a moment that he would disappear.
Sakura paused in the middle of the street and turned. Naruto slowed down as he took his last steps to stand right next to her.
“I’ve been calling after you for a while now!”
Naruto’s face twisted into an ugly pout and Sakura sighed. She had told him she wasn’t going to attend the festival when he had tried to ask her on a date. She hoped he wouldn’t ask her about why she was out.
“I thought you were staying home tonight?”
There was a brief pause where Sakura didn’t know how to respond. If they still had the same relationship they did when they were Academy students she would have told him off and stormed away with a toss of her hair. But he was her teammate now and could be considered a friend despite his bratty attitude.
“Well now that you’re out we can at least watch the fireworks!”
Sakura smiled softly. Leave it to Naruto to stay upbeat.
But she didn’t want to see the fireworks with Naruto. She originally planned for Team Seven to go to the festival together so that even if it wasn’t a date, she could still be with Sasuke on a day that celebrated lovers.
Sasuke was in the hospital so there was no chance of a pseudo-romantic evening. She went to hang up her wish for his good health and was going to head home.
“I’m just going to head home, Naruto.”
“Let me walk you home!”
Already feeling defeated, Sakura made her way back down the road not caring if Naruto fell in step besides her. She didn’t mind the company, only hoped it didn’t encourage him.
They were friends but nothing was going to go further than that. Her feelings were elsewhere. With someone else.
“Hey! What are you doing here?”
Naruto’s voice snapped her out of her reverie and lifting her head, right across from her front door, Sasuke was leaning against the wall.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in the hospital?”
Sasuke clucked his tongue at him and sent him a glare before stepping away from the wall. His gaze drifted to Sakura and then he nodded his head in the direction of the street. He walked ahead expecting them to follow.
Sakura’s mood perked up instantly. She grabbed Naruto by his sleeve and took off after Sasuke.
Sasuke didn’t like crowds. He always got antsy when they were in an area with a lot of noise and too many chakra signatures. As someone who was always on alert, crowds caused sensory overload. He drew them away from the buzz of the festival and to the riverside where no one would be.
The sky lit up with colorful sparks and the sound of whistling and booming claps.
Sidling up to Sasuke, Sakura timidly pressed her arm to his. Feeling giddy after he didn’t react, Sakura leaned against him more. She enjoyed the feel of his skin touching hers until a forced pushed itself against her on her left.
Naruto, not wanting to be left out, had attached himself to her left arm and pushed against her to get even closer in contact than she was with Sasuke. At that, Sasuke reached his limit on physical contact and shoved the two of them away.
He always gets in my way!
Sakura knocked her knuckles on the top of Naruto’s head.
Next year I’m definitely coming with Sasuke alone!
But Sasuke left a few weeks later.
And it rained every Tanabata since.
Sakura sighed as the rain pattered down her window. The sky had been so clear during the day. The rain came out of nowhere as the sun was falling. It picked up and the steady torrent was getting stronger.
She was sure to find her wish scattered on the ground with the other wet tanzaku with how forceful the rains were.
It rained again, Sakura grumbled inwardly playing with the ends of her hair. It had grown down to her lower back again.
She liked it long but growing it back hadn’t been intentional. She had gotten too caught up with training and teaching Ino medical ninjutsu and simply didn’t notice the strands of hair until they got in the way when she was working.
I’ll get Ino to cut it tomorrow…
Sakura peered out her bedroom window, searching fruitlessly for the moon through the gaps of smoky gray clouds against the black pitch of sky.
She took down the little white dolls hanging in a row on her window and crushed them to her chest.
Praying for good weather wasn’t going to bring Sasuke back home.
“What are you doing?”
Sakura looked up from her satchel and grinned shyly before showing off her little white doll. Sasuke rolled his eyes but fingered the white cloth. It was left over from the fabric Sakura had used to make more kamon for their clothing.
For more uchiwa to grace their backs.
“The sky is overcast. It’s likely to rain when we reach the village. Are you sure you want to go to the festival? It does add another fifty miles to our trip.”
“The storm will roll right on by.”
Sakura clucked her tongue and patted her doll. She was going to remain positive even if testing the direction of the wind assured her more that the storm was heading away from the village than a little monk having power to grant her wish.
“Are you sure you want to go to the festival?”
Sakura recalled a time when he purposely stayed away from large crowds of people. He still was antsy, being alert never changed. He told her about how he had always been that way but that when his older brother was with him, the buzzing inside him would settle.
It helped to have someone he loved with him.
“The falls can wait,” he replied, pulling her hood over her head. “They’re not going anywhere.”
But tanabata only happened once a year.
Sakura drew a face on the doll the next day and they sent him down the river that ran through the village. They watched the doll make his voyage from a bridge similar to the one that stood side by side on as genin.
“Do make tomorrow a sunny day…”
Sarada’s high voice warbled from her seat at the table. She tied a blue ribbon to form the head of her white doll.
“Mama, I’m done. Hang him up!”
Sarada cheered when Sakura hung up her seventh doll on a pole out on the engawa.
“Will Papa be home tomorrow?”
“Not tomorrow Sara-chan.”
Sarada’s small face squished into a pout.
“Then who is going to hang up my wish?”
“I’ll hang it up.”
Sarada raised a single eyebrow, looking up at her mother doubtfully.
“I’ll put it up real high.”
“But Papa would get it up higher…” Sarada pouted. It was the first time he wouldn’t be with them. Who was going to carry her so she could see above the crowds of people?
It didn’t matter in the end. Sakura had an emergency at the hospital and Sarada was left in the care of her grandparents.
Kizashi-jii was taller than Papa and he hung up her wish, right before the first drops of rain began to fall.
Please let Papa come home.
“Why are you so gloomy?” ChouChou shook her head as she munched on takoyaki. “We might not get to see the fireworks because of the rain but at least we hung up our wishes.”
Sarada wiped her glasses with her handkerchief and slipped them back up on her nose. She stared impassively at the festival goers running for cover as the rain fell at a steady stream.
Wishes? Those are just strips of paper.
Sarada sighed and lifted the flap of the stall’s curtain. It was time to go home and bring Mama her sweets from the festival. The crowds made her antsy and she would rather be home with Mama cooking dinner together.
But if you do work, please bring Papa home.
Mama was always pretty but in a yukata she was beautiful. Especially with a pretty flush on her cheeks as she walked side by side with Papa.
“So lucky that the sky’s clear huh, Sarada?” Mama beamed. “We can see Vega and Altair.”
Sarada grinned from ear to ear, eyes squinting from happiness. It had been so long since it hadn’t rained during the festival.
But the happiness she felt was slowly ebbing away to anxiety. There was too much noise and the smells were overwhelming. She was buzzing but she couldn’t go home. Not yet. Not now that Papa was here.
“There’s a place by the river,” Papa’s voice, soft but still clear over the crowd. “It’s a good spot for viewing the fireworks.”
Papa led them away from the crowds down to a grassy bank where the lights glittered on the water’s surface. The noise was far away and Sarada felt her chest lighten. The buzzing was fading away.
“It’s good that they can see each other again, right?” Mama said dreamily, her head tilted to the sky towards the Summer Triangle.
The corners of Sarada’s mouth quirked up and then spread into a soft smile as she watched her father sidle up to her mother.
Yes. It is.