Cherry Tree Branches Over the Sun Roof
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“Beautiful day today,”

She was right. It was a beautiful day.

One pink, semi-translucent petal floated down through the open sunroof, white around the edges from the sunlight. As Sanjana caught it between her fingers, she noticed the browning rip at its corner. She never would have spotted that with the sky behind it.

The worst part was the empty familiarity of the silence. Like your childhood home hollowed out before your parents finally move. She wished for tension. Or noise. Or something, something other than the mocking quiet. A ritual so familiar, so comfortable and calming, shifted just enough to become a dulled parody of itself.

God, it was so quiet.

Sanjana couldn’t bring herself to turn her head toward her girlfriend, lying back in the fully-reclined driver’s seat. So instead, she reached back for any memory that might trigger the same flash of something bright and glorious that they used to have, before Cindy’s reassignment.

The paperwork, the recommendation letters, the sheer number of hoops the two of them had jumped through to secure Officer Cindy Nash a new position on something nearby, something that wouldn’t physically tear her away from Sanjana. In the end, their work paid off. But in the end, it wouldn’t matter. Sanjana wasn’t allowed to know which one Cindy was guarding, but that wouldn’t matter either.

Sanjana examined the petal between her fingers. It was soft, except at the torn edge, where it was dry and a little crunchy. Atrophied, she thought. “Scabbed” might have been a better word, but that wasn’t the one that came to mind.

It was so quiet.

The worst part was that Sanjana thought this would help, somehow. Three years ago they had started doing this, parking Cindy’s car under one of the cherry trees on a back road a few minutes’ drive from the site, tipping the seats all the way back, opening up the sunroof and all the doors and letting spring and summer and fall invade the cabin. Letting the branches drop their petals down through the sunroof. When they first found each other it was a special, sacred escape; a place they’d run off to when work gave them a second of free time.

It was the silence that Sanjana liked best. The lack of need for conversation. The two of them never wanted for small talk and idle chatter. Just one another’s presence, the open doors, the pink and white cherry tree branches above the sunroof.

Now they drove to the cherry trees and opened all the car doors almost every weekend, because maybe with enough petals in the backseat, maybe with enough twigs stuck under the windshield wipers, maybe things could go back to the way they were.

They wouldn’t, though.

It wasn’t trauma. Or if it was, Cindy did an impeccable job hiding it. But Sanjana didn’t think so. She’d seen fellow researchers pack up the emotions accumulated by what they’d seen, and this wasn’t like that. And she knew Cindy. She knew Cindy wouldn’t keep that from her. Even after it all, she knew Cindy so well.

The Foundation changed people, though. People grew, and they grew into the world and rank and position that molded them, for better or worse. Often for worse. Sometimes for neither. Maybe most times for neither? Most times people just… changed, in ways that weren’t noticeably bad or good. Just different. Just different enough not to fit into their old molds.

You could anticipate it all you wanted. You could journal and track and brace for it, but the growing pains always hurt. It didn’t matter if you were ready or not.

Sanjana, not knowing what else to do with her hands, and too paralyzed to take Cindy’s, began surgically cutting around the brown, ripped piece of the cherry blossom petal with her fingernail. The whole thing could be pink and soft if she could remove the torn bit.

The worst part was the lack of anyone Sanjana could blame. Herself, for working so hard to have Cindy assigned close to her? How could she have known? Cindy, for letting whatever she had experienced change her? That wasn’t her fault. The both of them, for joining the Foundation in the first place? Their careers were what brought them together. The Foundation, for reshaping them both into different people? Maybe as much as she could blame time for making her childhood so short.

The worst part was there hadn’t been a fight. There hadn’t even been an argument. Just civil, open communication between two adults in a supportive, loving, dying relationship. Communication that grew shorter and quieter with the dawning realization that whatever they had before had already faded and the obligations of comfort and routine were the only thing keeping them together.

Sanjana wished it hurt less.

She wished it hurt more.

Her fingernail slipped and cut the petal right down the middle.

It was okay. It was just one petal, after all.

The worst part was the quiet.

“Yeah. It’s beautiful today.”

And she was right. It was a beautiful day.

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