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This month, I’ve posted an excerpt from my last WiP, entitled Promise of the Plum Blossom. This is in the middle of the book (the beginning needs A LOT of work). It takes place in 1890 in Tokyo and the small town of Kakunodate, Japan (where this chapter segment is set).My MC, 21-year-old Naomi Rochester, is of Japanese and American heritage, in a time and place that being mixed wasn’t accepted. Her father, an unknown (to her) powerful Japanese businessman, had her sent to live with a friend of the family shortly after her mother’s death for her protection. Naomi has no clue that members of the underworld are looking for her in order to use her as a blackmail against her father.
This chapter occurs a few days after she’s arrived in her new home. She hasn’t been allowed to leave just yet, as Yasuhide, the head of the family, wants to make sure she blends in as well as possible and not cause too much attention to herself (and with her mixed looks and Western apparel, she most certainly would!). She has no “proper” clothing so she must remain within the family grounds. Anyway, this is one of the few scenes where she and Ryuji, an apprentice to the family (and her main “guardian”) are arguing.
Kakunodate, Japan, 1890
“Oh, curse it!” Naomi tossed the embroidery she was working on across the room. She’d knotted her threads yet again.Well, she had no patience for such a calm activity when a storm of emotions raged within her.
She’d been left alone in the house all afternoon, the hours passing at an agonizing pace. Noriko, Fumie and Saori went on their excursion to town shortly after the incident between her and Ryuji occurred and it took every ounce of self control within her to not beg Yasuhide to go with them. It seemed as if Ryuji’s anger was a palpable and oppressive presence following her wherever she went.
Yasuhide said to give him time before she confronted him with an apology, but as each minute passed, she wondered if she even had it in her to approach him at all. Her emotions cycled between affirmation, remorse and shame, a rotation that repeated itself every few moments.
Naomi got up from her position on the floor and went to pick up her disheveled embroidery on the other side of the room. She needed an escape, something to take her mind off her current circumstances. If she couldn’t leave the grounds physically, perhaps she could escape through fiction.
Naomi headed back to her room, her embroidery and sewing box in hand. She put them on the floor in the corner and headed to her yet unpacked carpet bag for one of her books.
She quickly spotted her well worn copy of book that she’d read dozens of times. The Scarlet Letter. It wasn’t the most lighthearted of reading material but it was a strange source of comfort for her. Hester’s life as an outcast among society mirrored her mother’s—and by extension, her own—so closely that she felt as if she were reading her own story.
Except of course, Hester hadn’t been taken by strangers to live a completely different life under a false name.
Naomi pushed the unwanted thoughts from her head and grabbed her shawl and headed towards the front where her shoes were located. She may not be able to leave the grounds but she could at least leave the confines of the house. Perhaps that would help her frame of mind.
She put her shoes on and walked outside. The afternoon sun had warmed the early spring air, giving it a pleasant, refreshing feeling. Naomi walked around the house and quickly came upon an area that was certainly manicured as a garden. The area was shaded by a few small trees. Large stones were placed strategically to emphasize the simplicity and asymmetry of the space. Azalea shrubs winded their way together, tiny blossoms appearing at the end of their winter-worn branches. They would soon be an entire mass of color that would brighten the landscape. She wondered who spent their time out here in the garden, for it was well cared for.
Naomi made her way to the other side of the house where the drooping branches of two cherry trees created a canopy. In a few short weeks, the branches would be laden with the heady scent of cherry blossoms.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, picturing the trees in full bloom, with their bright pink blossoms. She could almost smell the delicate flowers now…
“What are you doing?”
Naomi let out a startled gasp and jumped, tossing her book in her startled reaction.
Nearly simultaneously she heard a muffled grunt.
“You seem to have talent for causing me physical pain today,” Ryuji said, picking up the book that she had practically thrown at him.
“I..I’m sorry,” she said as tried to calm her breathing and her accelerated heart rate. “But, in all fairness, you did come up behind me.”
“It wouldn’t have been hard to startle you from whichever direction I came from,” he said. “Your eyes were closed.” He looked at her and arched an eyebrow. “What were you doing exactly?”
Naomi sighed. “Imagining the cherry blossoms.”
“Because I can,” Naomi said, her patience waning. So much for a peaceful afternoon. “Now, can you please hand me back my book?”
He extended it out to her and as she reached for it, he pulled it back quickly. “I’ll give this back to you on one condition.”
Naomi fought the urge to stamp her foot down in irritation. “What condition?”
“Promise me that you’ll stop inflicting pain upon me.” A hint of a smile crossed his face.
Her mouth fell open for a moment at the blunt nature and tone of voice. She closed her mouth as she realized she probably looked incredibly silly and considered an answer.
“I promise,” she said. “Only if you consider something on my part.”
“And what would that be?” He still held the book close to him.
“Stop trying to agitate me.”
His semblance of a smile disappeared. “That’s impossible,” he said. “Everything gets your temper flared up.”
“That is certainly not true,” Naomi said. “It’s only everything you say. Not once in this past month has Yasuhide-san ever gotten me to react in the ways that you do.”
“Yasuhide-san is a man known for his patience. I am sure most other men would have as little tolerance for you and your demanding behavior as I do.”
“Ah yes, here is the Ryuji I’ve come to know,” Naomi said. “I wondered for a moment where he went beneath that lighthearted façade.”
“Here,” Ryuji tossed the book on the ground at her feet. “I have no patience for this anymore.”
“And I have no patience for you,” Naomi said. The anger was threatening to take over again but she was determined not to let him get the best of her this time.
“I can’t say I didn’t try to be civil to you. But you are impossible.”
“That was civility? You certainly didn’t put forth much of an effort.”
“And you put forth none.” He turned away from her and headed towards the front of the house.
The simple weight of the comment had pierced right through her heart.
He was right.
Naomi bent over and picked up her book, now muddy at the corners from being thrown into the ground.
He had every right to be angry with her this time. He extended a peace offering to her, however subtle and hidden it was, and she rejected it without so much as a thought.
Maybe it hadn’t been only him the entire month. Maybe she was just as at fault as he was. But she didn’t want to admit it.
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