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The Hard Year

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Sakura narrowed her mouth in frustration as she thrust a gold clip into her hair, doing her best to keep just the right amount of fringe over her forehead so as to not accentuate its large rectangular shape. For two hours she had meticulously looped the strands of her dainty locs through the curling iron, producing large, pinkish-red spirals that resembled something like strawberry licorice. She stared at herself in the mirror then combed her fingers through her curls, letting them neatly cascade over her shoulders. As pretty as the hairstyle was it didn’t seem to fit the look she was going for; so she threw open the bathroom drawer and searched for more bobby pins. Maybe it was best to style her hair into an updo.

Sakura found it very odd that she and her husband were celebrating New Year’s a week after the holiday, but she couldn’t complain. They were in Europe after all; Germany to be more specific, in a quaint little town called Meissen. Sasuke had bought a house on one of the large hills that surrounded the city giving them the most exquisite view of the river, the small shops, and the famous Meissen Castle. Sakura’s husband owned several vacation homes due to the success of his agency, and it was common for Sasuke to retreat to these spaces when he had to travel overseas for business. Sakura never accompanied Sasuke on work-related trips; so being in a foreign home proved to be a new and interesting experience. She couldn't Remember the last time she and her husband went on a vacation. Even though they had been married for almost 20 years she could count on her hands how many times they actually traveled for leisure. And she could count on one hand how many times they traveled for leisure alone. Sakura reached for the hairspray by the sink and doused her hair in the mist that spurted out of the can. Maybe this trip and tonight’s dinner was the result of some new important deal that Sasuke wanted to celebrate because she doubted he brought her overseas just for the heck of it.

Sakura twisted her head in several directions while keeping her eyes glued to the mirror. A perfectly round bun was the most modish thing she knew she could do in the short amount of time she had left to get ready. She turned and grabbed her dress off the door and slipped it over her slim frame. At 43 years old she had made it her duty to take care of her physique and while she wasn’t as perky as she was in her early twenties she still had a body she knew most husbands would brag about. Unfortunately, Sasuke wasn’t good with words so Sakura doubted he ever bragged about her to anyone, but Sasuke seemed to appreciate her attempts at looking flawless with grunts and nods and the occasional smirk. She smoothed her hands over the bottom of her dress pressing out one or two wrinkles. The dress was from one of the boutiques across the river. It was a simple Lagerfeld piece; a cap sleeve V-neck dress made with a beautiful rose gold silk that complemented her reddish-blonde hair. It had cost a pretty penny, but it was nothing Sasuke couldn't afford. What he lacked in words and affection was often compensated with expensive gifts. Sakura resisted the urge to sulk over the thought. She had met Sasuke her freshman year of college and knew from the moment he spoke that he was stoicism personified. But In spite of his difficult personality, Sakura pursued a friendship with Sasuke relentlessly, determined to make him acknowledge her. She was convinced his cold demeanor was a front, and being an overly optimistic romantic, Sakura had hoped her influence would melt the impenetrable wall of ice that surrounded his heart.

For four years she immersed herself in Sasuke’s world, forging a spot into his social circle, joining his RSO’s, taking interest in his hobbies. At one point she had even considered switching her major over to business administration so she could have the same classes as Sasuke. But by their junior year, he started to grow accustomed to her presence and eventually let his guard down around her. Instead of scoffing or ignoring her abrasive remarks he would smirk or chuckle. He started inviting her to study groups and His RSO events. After a few of her breakups, he would give her relationship advice. By their Senior year, they were close friends. They would go out for coffee once a week and talk for hours. Looking back on it, Sakura knew she had been borderline obsessed with the man, but it had all paid off. After graduation, Sasuke asked her on an official date and proposed the idea of starting a relationship. They dated for about a year before getting engaged, and now years later here they were successful and …..content.

Being content wasn't a negative thing it was just a way to express how basic things had become. How routine her lifestyle seemed to be. Sasuke right out of college started working on an idea he and his best friend had been talking about the last few months of their senior year: A private company that developed special agents to rescue people out of illegal services and organizations. It took Sasuke and his friend all of 3 years to get the company up and rolling as an independent sub-governmental agency. Their big break with the feds got them involved in national affairs; like infiltrating gang organizations on the west coast. Today they were working international liaisons, collecting intel on terrorist groups and saving girls from the sex trade.

Sasuke was hardly ever around. Even after their first child was born he was expected to go to all different parts of the world to recruit agents, save lives, and be anything an everything but a husband and a father. It was hard, and so many times Sakura had wanted to quit their marriage, but Sasuke would always say he married her because he believed out of every female he ever met she would be the one to stick around when things got difficult. And Sasuke was right. Sakura did stay because that’s what her parents had modeled for her with their marriage. It’s what she believed in. No matter how hard things got a family stayed together.

It took several Years of Sasuke being in an out the door before she finally accepted it, and when she did life became less full of heartache and more complacent. Right out the womb, Sakura’s daughter experienced life without her father being around and she grew up with low expectations of men. Sakura couldn't deny the resentment she saw in her daughter’s eyes when Sasuke would come home, but at least they were all still together. That's what mattered to Sakura the most. She felt it was her duty to give Sasuke stability, considering his life on the job was anything but stable. She was aware that their marriage lacked essential elements like...passion, (Sasuke wasn’t keen on physical displays of affection. Their sex life seemed frustratingly scheduled) but overall, when she considered her circumstances, she knew she had a good life, and not only that but a beautiful daughter, and a wonderful house in the states. The proof of Sasuke’s love was in the easy and comfortable life he had provided for her; so every day she would push herself to be a good wife and not complain.

After applying a modest amount of makeup Sakura left the restroom and made her way to the kitchen. She grabbed the oven mitts off the counter and opened the oven. “This shit better be done,” she cursed as she pulled the pan forward. She lifted the dish and gently placed it on the stove. The aroma of the food filled the atmosphere in seconds. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, allowing the savory smell to fill up her lungs.

“What have you prepared for our guests tonight?”

Sakura looked up to find her husband standing near the Island in the middle of the Kitchen. “Pot roast,” she answered picking a potato out of the gravy and popping it into her mouth.

“Good choice,” he smirked as he walked over to the row of cabinets by the refrigerator. He opened one up and started collecting porcelain plates and wine glasses.

Sakura grabbed a knife near the sink and sliced a narrow line down the middle of the roast. “Hmm, I think I’m gonna have to leave this in the oven till it’s time to eat. It looks a little rare; too rare for comfort.” She looked over to where her husband was reaching above the icebox and her eyes trailed down his back, noticing how his muscles contracted and expanded under his white dress shirt. Her gaze continued to drop past Sasuke’s waist and over his firm backside which his navy-blue, dress pants hugged very nicely. Desire started to stir up within her, but she quickly repressed it. She knew he would reject her advances even if all she wanted was a quick and reserved make out session. Instead, she complimented his attire which he responded with a nod and then proceeded to compliment her back.

Somehow she still felt disappointed.

Suddenly the sound of something vibrating caught Sasuke’s attention and he pulled his cell phone out of his back pocket. He glanced down at the screen. “It’s our guests. They should be here in a few minutes.”

Sakura’s eyebrows seemed to float to the top of her head. “And who exactly are our visitors tonight?”

“You’ll see when they get here,” Sasuke replied as he started setting dishes on the dining room table.

Sakura eyed him suspiciously, it wasn't like Sasuke to keep something so trivial a secret.

“What,” Sasuke’s dark eyes were transfixed on sakura’s hands which were on her hips.

“It’s nothing I think.” She lifted her arms across her chest and rested her back on the left side of the dining room entryway. “I’m just curious as to why the identity of our guests is a mystery. I hope we’re not having dinner with like a pimp or a mafioso boss or something sketch like that.”

“No,” Sasuke chuckled. He lifted his face to meet sakura’s, and for a moment she felt he looked sad, but before she could question if something was wrong a stoic line formed across his mouth and he said “I would never introduce you to someone like that. the last thing I need is every nefarious person on the globe knowing who the mother of my child is.”

Sakura blushed and cleared her throat. “Well um, that’s good to know.”
The fair-haired woman smiled genuinely and rubbed the side of her arm

“You really do look lovely tonight Sakura.” Sasuke’s face was uncharacteristically soft, and she noticed it again; the glint of sorrow deep within his piercing black eyes.

“Is everything alright Sasuke?” she asked and took a step forward. “I’ll just be honest and say that this trip, this dinner- surprise visitors; it all seems a little out of the ordinary, and I feel as though there’s something more to all of this; like there’s a catch to the large amount of quality time we’ve been spending together.” She watched as Sasuke pulled out a chair and took a seat. “I mean, you can correct me if I’m wrong.” She started to think that maybe her suspicions were rude. It wasn't that far-fetched that Sasuke was trying to be close to her. Or was it? She honestly didn't know.

Sasuke held out his hand to her and she looked at it as if it were some kind of abstract sculpture you’d find in a modern art museum. Slowly she took another step towards him and wrapped her fingers around his wrist. He pulled her closer until she was standing between his legs then dropped both of his hands to hold her small manicured ones. Sakura was so bewildered by the contact her knees almost buckled. Sasuke noticed and moved a hand to her waist to hold her steady. “Sakura,” he spoke softly. “I need you to know that I think you are the most remarkable woman I have ever known. You’re beautiful, intelligent, funny, and an amazing mother. Being with you all these years I’ve come to realize that my choice to marry you was one of the best decisions I ever made. And I don’t regret the life we’ve had together. You’ve given me stability; you’ve given me offspring. You’ve given me comfort and a peace that I wouldn't have found in anyone else. You are more than what I ever deserved.”

Sakura stared into her husband’s face. She was speechless and so completely overwhelmed that she didn't notice the lone tear that rolled down the surface of her cheek. How she longed to have a moment like this with Sasuke; a moment where he expressed his appreciation and adoration. For so long she felt as if Sasuke had married her to play the role of his wife not actually be his wife, his life partner, his soulmate. Why Sasuke had been compelled to speak these words was beyond her, but she accepted them and found that a light in her heart was flickering on, reminding her that she was in fact in love with the man before her. Sasuke stood to wipe the single tear away from her cheek and replace it with a chaste kiss.

“I know I haven’t said these things to you, and I wish I could go back and express to you how much I truly appreciate you and everything that you do and have done.” Sakura noticed that Sasuke’s tone had become slightly strained with a hint of panic. She squeezed his arm and his eyes started to look over her face as if memorizing every detail of her soft features. Suddenly it dawned on Sakura that Sasuke was very worried about something. He blinked then sighed, making an effort to return to his more natural, stoic demeanor. To most outsiders the changes in Sasuke’s persona would have been borderline impossible to catch, however, Sakura, who had been married to Sasuke for about 20 years, had caught onto Sasuke’s ridiculous ability to poker face his way from anyone trying to pry into his actual thoughts and feelings.

“Is there something we need to talk about Sasuke?” Sakura asked. His eyes widened briefly, but he didn’t answer. “Sasuke?” she asked again. Was he in trouble with some dangerous people. His line of work made him an enemy to a lot of wicked criminals. Maybe someone was threatening to harm him or her; which would make sense why Sasuke would suddenly want to tell Sakura how much he appreciated her. Maybe he was genuinely afraid that he would lose his family. This made Sakura think whoever Sasuke might be in trouble with was a very dangerous person.

“Sakura I…” Sasuke began but was cut off by the sound of the doorbell ringing.

The pink haired woman looked back towards the door then back at her husband. “Of course, this would happen now,” she shook her head with a small grin.

“Yeah,” Sasuke sighed and raked a hand through his dark hair.

“How about we save this conversation for later,” she said and Sasuke nodded. “Now let’s go see who these mystery visitors are.” She squeezed Sasuke’s hand as she led him to the door. When she opened it she gasped with delight then laughed to see none other than her husband’s best friend Naruto Uzumaki and his wife Hinata.