By Joseph Palmer
The wind chime softly tinged, the clapper just barely touching the roughed edge. Akane noticed it in spite of the noise of dinner. Part of her was there with the others, another part was watching like a stranger, noticing now the little things she had become so used to.
It hadn’t been that warm this spring, and for the first time in the year the Tendous and Soutomes were having dinner with the doors open. It seemed like a festive occasion somehow. Kasumi had really outdone herself, not that there as any special dish on the table, it was just that each one was presented perfectly. The table looked like a picture from some fancy cookbook.
Akane sat on her heels next to Ranma occasionally stealing glances when he wasn’t looking. She listened to his voice for a while, he was saying something about some new training technique and his father was answering back in his deep rumble. Sometimes Ranma talked from way back in his mouth, with his lips barely moving. He usually reserved this for when he was avoiding an answer, she had heard that tone of voice before.
I’m happy, she thought. Just happy. Ranma has been quite bearable lately, they hadn’t had a real argument in months, and she actually enjoyed the minor banters between them. She suspected that Ranma did too, he sure joined in with great enthusiasm.
Akane’s introspection was broken when Kasumi asked “Akane, will you help clear the dishes?”
“Hai” she responded, and got up and began to stack dishes. One by one the others excused themselves, the fathers to another game of shogi, Nabiki upstairs, and Ranma thanked Kasumi and went out in the yard.
When they reached the kitchen Kasumi called out in surprise, “I forgot the desert!”
Akane followed her gaze to a stack of small pinkish purple boxes.
“I got them special for today. I suppose I can bring them out when we’re done with the dishes.” Kasumi filled the washtub while Akane put away the sauces and spices.
Akane watched as her sister carefully washed the dishes, she seemed so absorbed in the activity, so fluid yet precise, like Ranma when he does his warm up exercises. Quickly the kitchen was cleaned, and everything was back in its place. Akane always loved the kitchen like this, it smelled clean and looked clean and inviting.
“We’re really lucky to have such a big kitchen!” Kasumi said. “Some of my friends have such tiny apartments and even tinnier kitchens.”
“How big is the kitchen at Tofu’s clinic?” Akane asked.
“It’s big too, they used to have many patients staying there so they built a big kitchen to feed them, these days hardly anyone ever needs to stay overnight.”
Kasumi filled a large kettle and set it on the burner and took out a large tray, and placed some small dishes on it, and 4 of the boxes.
“That ought to be enough for everyone,” she said. “I’ll go get Nabiki, you find Ranma.”
Akane left the Kitchen by the back door, seeking Ranma in the dojo. He wasn’t there, nor on top of the birdhouse, nor fighting with his father. She found the others already around the table, Kasumi pouring tea, and opening boxes.
“Ranma wa?” she asked.
“He’s not upstairs.” Nabiki replied.
“I haven’t seen him since dinner,” Soun replied, “It’s not like him to miss a treat like this, is it Soutome-kun?”
“No Tendou-kun, and if he won’t show up I think I’ll have his share.” Genma reached for the last unopened box.
“Mine are in there too,” Akane protested. She deftly rescued the box.
“Kire” Kasumi said out of nowhere. “What a beautiful sunset!”.
Akane looked out at the sky for a moment, then it hit her. She jumped up from the table with her box still in hand and headed for the kitchen.
“Akane, aren’t you going to eat with us?” Kasumi asked.
“Um, I think I know where Ranma is.”
Once in the kitchen, Akane took a small bed tray and teapot from the cupboard and slowly and carefully made tea. She was quite proud of her ability to make tea, and of late the others couldn’t even tell her tea from Kasumi’s. She placed the box, a pair of teacups and a small pot of tea on the tray and headed upstairs. She passed Ranma’s room, her sisters rooms and her own and went out onto the laundry porch. She carefully worked her way onto the roof, but not without scraping her wrist a bit and nearly dropping the whole tray twice.
Ranma was lying in his usual place with his head cradled in his hands.
“Pretty sunset.” Akane said, placing the tray on the ridge and sitting down next to it.
“Mmm” Ranma said, and finally looking up at her. “What’s that?”
“Sakura Mochi! made fresh today!”
Ranma suddenly got a cautious look on his face, and every muscle seemed to tighten.
“Kasumi bought them....”
“From this old Chinese guy...”
Ranma relaxed again. “Jeez, don’t scare me like that!”
Akane poured tea, broke open the box, and took out two of the leaf wrapped bundles. She handed one to Ranma. Instead of immediately bolting it down, he eyed the leaf a while, then inhaled its fragrance. The complex bouquet assailed his senses, triggering a flood of memories. He looked up at Akane who was staring at him. He’d seen that look before.
“I thought you said Kasumi bought these.” he said.
“Yea, she did.”
“Then why are you looking for an ‘X'?”
“An X?” Akane looked puzzled, “Oh it's not that, you just had a happy look on your face. Why was that?”
“The Cherry Leaf, I love that scent!”
Akane cautiously sniffed her leaf, it smelled like other Sakura leaves, and something else, very familiar, but she couldn’t bring it to mind.
“Yea, its nice” she said, “But it reminds me of something else.”
“Me too, I think it’s a little like pipe tobacco.”
“Yeah, like that, but not that stuff Ji-san smokes.”
“And it reminds me of some of the mountain trails pop and I took on training trips. In the spring some of the plants smell like this.”
Akane pealed the leaf from the top, but left the leaf on the bottom to keep her fingers from touching the sticky rice cake. She wondered about the second leaf for a moment, home made ones don’t have a top leaf. It must be there to keep them from sticking to the box, she thought. She bit through the sticky soft rice outside and into the sweet bean paste inside. A faint taste of cherry came through with the bean cake, or maybe it was just the scent of the leaves.
“They’re better than the ones I made.” She said.
“You must have had bad ingredients...” Ranma replied, not really wishing to discuss the subject.
They sat together and watched the sun fall behind the buildings. The sky became deep red, but a few of the high clouds remained in the sun. They finished their cakes and tea in silence while the sky slowly darkened.
Ranma slid down the roof a couple feet and lay back on his hands again. “This is my favorite time of day.” he said.
“Mmm?” Akane looked down at Ranma.
“When pop and I are on summer training trips I like to sneak away at dusk to have a little time to myself. I love it when the first cool breezes of the evening come up.”
Akane closed her eyes. There was a little breeze, the cool air mixing with the heat coming off the roof. Bess was barking at nothing in particular, and other dogs were responding nearby. She could hear the trains and the far off rushing of traffic. A shift in the breeze brought the sweet scent of some night blooming flowers. She stretched her arms over her head and drew in the fragrant air.
“Ah, it’s so nice up here!” she said. As she put her arms down she bumped the corner of the tray. The teapot slid perilously to one side causing the tray to slip off the ridge away from her. Ranma reached out casually with his right hand and stopped the tray. Akane turned to catch the tray, lost her footing and began to slide quickly down the roof.
“Kiyaaaaaaaaa!” she screamed.
Ranma rolled onto his side keeping his right hand on the leg of the tray, and wrapped his left arm around Akane’s waist as she slid by. She came to a stop even with him, her head comfortably cradled on his right arm, which was still occupied with the tray leg.
“Are you ok?” Ranma asked.
“Mmm, yes. Thanks Ranma. Sorry for being so clumsy.”
She lay still for several moments enjoying the the accidental hug she was receiving. She looked at Ranma. He was still breathing hard and his heart was pounding. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. When he turned to her he suddenly noticed that he had his arm around her and quickly removed it and lay back onto the roof.
“Sorry!” he said.
He didn’t need to let go so soon, she thought. Oh well.
They lay silently on the roof together. She thought about how shaken Ranma had been when she slipped. His heart had really been racing, could he have really been that afraid that she would slip off the roof? Or was it something else? He always seemed so panicked anytime they touched, even if they were just sparring. She hadn’t even been scared, Ranma always saved her somehow. She smiled to herself about how many times he had saved her, he really was very protective of her, and she liked it, though he could get a bit jealous at times.
Akane’s mind jumped from one subject to the next. Her friend Sayuri had started dating a boy from 1C, and she was spilling all the details each day at lunch. Akane rarely spoke about Ranma at lunch, her friends had heard enough stories of their fights, and there weren’t many juicy bits of gossip to share.
The breeze picked up the scent of a backyard barbecue reminding her of camping. She thought about Ranma on his training trips with his father. The trips she had been on were not that much fun for her, in fact they were mostly disasters, but at least now she had finally learned how to cook a quite ordinary curry that Ranma would eat.
She took a deep breath and looked at the birds passing over. She was almost startled by the sight, she had completely forgotten that she was outside on the roof. Something about the day winding down made it so easy loose herself in her thoughts. She looked at Ranma, he had his legs crossed, one ankle resting on the other knee, his foot moving from time to time, like a cat’s tail. His eyes were focused off in space. So this is why he comes up here.
“Ne, Ranma, what are you thinking about?”
“Really, what were you thinking about just now?”
“I was thinking about how some of my friends were getting summer jobs. I thought I might try to take some students into the dojo this summer.”
“Um.” Akane looked up the moon rising over the town. “We’ll need a sign for the Soutome school of unlimited martial arts.”
“A sign?” Ranma turned to look at Akane.
“Well, if you’re teaching the school, then we should have a sign so people will know. How about ‘The Soutome School at the Tendou Dojo, Musbettsu Koktou'? That’s a lot like the one dad had when he started teaching here.”
“Hey? I thought this place was always the Tendou Dojo, wasn’t it your grandfathers?”
“And my great grandfathers, but on my mother’s side. When dad first started teaching here it was the Takahashi dojo, they didn’t change the name until daddy married mom and he took over all the teaching.”
“I always wondered how your dad could afford to buy this great place, and raise a family, and still waste all that time with my father. How did your dad meet your mom?”
“It was an arranged marriage.” Akane giggled. “I guess it runs in the family.”
They both sighed. Ranma talked a while about his plans for the dojo, and Akane slipped back into her observational self, not much listening to the words, but listening to his voice and hearing his excitement about taking in students, his concern about what order to teach the skills, when to have the classes, where to find students. He seemed a little worried at times but he would always talk around it until his confidence took over again. She nodded and agreed when cued, but mostly she liked being alone with him, listening to him talk about something he really loved.
Soon the first stars were visible and the sky was nearly blue black. The warm waves off the roof had stopped and there was a bit of a chill in the air. Ranma had finished talking abut his plans, and they’d had some other small talk, then both had lapsed into silence. Akane watched the sky for shooting stars, but none came.
“I think it’s getting to be time to go in.” Ranma broke the silence.
“But it’s so nice up here,” Akane protested.
“It’s like this a lot of evenings, and anyway, could you reach the tray? My arm is asleep.”
Akane turned to the left and for the first time noticed that Ranma was still holding the tray, and that she had been using his arm as a pillow.
“Spring” 1996 Joseph Palmer
Link & Mirror Policy
Thanks for reading, and thank you to those who wrote to me about my first story, Winter. This story came to me after a friend brought me sakura mochi to try fresh from Japan. She said it was only available for a few weeks in the spring, thus the story. Here in California there are trails in the pacific coast range that have plants on them that smell exactly like the leaf used on the sakura mochi, and I'm sure you can guess my favorite time of the day. I'm not sure what I'll put into the next story Summer, but I'm thinking about it.
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