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Chapter 1

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Twenty-six years ago: January 15

First, we attend the official Coming of Age ceremony at the hotel. My family visits the shrine to pray for health and success. Then they throw a small party before my crew zips off to bar hop.

The footing in the snow with my slick-bottomed formal zori sandals is iffy. Thin white tabi split-toe socks do nothing to keep my feet warm or dry. But I shuffle along at the head of my friends. Everyone young is out tonight--more twenty-year-olds than I thought existed here.

At the corner with the Lawson combini store, a girl in the group ahead slips. All I see is her vibrant pink and red, flowered kimono. The tips of the long sleeves avoid touching the ground when my oversized fist grasps her elbow to steady her. A dab of ki energy escapes my fingers, to keep both of us upright, instead of landing in a pile. Bright silk flowers contrasting with her dark hair fly as she spins to discover who helped. Despite her immediate bow, the instant etched her features in my mind.

“Thank you.” The words race out of her mouth.

Did she shrink in on herself from shyness or the cold? Dusting the snow off the bauble, I bob, returning it to her. How did we become the only two on this corner? Mute, we stand frozen after she accepts the hair bouquet.

When giggling friends wave hands in front of her face, the moment evaporates. Her comrades drag her in one direction and mine haul me in another. Teasing, Tanaka thumps my shoulder. Unable to focus, I glance behind to find the girl doing the same. Then she holds up her wrist with a question on her face.

Minowa’s palm shoves my ear. “Hey Yasu, big lug, are you even listening?”

“W-who is she?” The words dribble out.

“He heard nothing.” Tanaka laughs, and the ridiculousness causes us all to join in. As I run a hand through my hair, he puts an arm around my shoulder. “Let's get inside the pub before we freeze.”

That night as we weave our way home, Tanaka tells me who the girl is. She’s Shibasaki Yukiko a rich onsen owner’s daughter. He didn’t want to embarrass me in front of the others. The insinuation, her family’s money will keep her out of reach since I'm only a logger’s son who’s not smart enough to enter college.

 

March 3

Tanaka says his second cousin has an omiai, a marriage prospects meeting, with the girl I helped a few weeks ago. I shrug it off. Nothing to do with me.

Despite my hesitation, Minowa convinces me to visit the renowned onsen with the crew next weekend. I’ll just avoid her. Not a problem.

 

March 11

Better judgment kicks in. What the heck will I do if I see her? Attempting to back out of the trip fails. My friends insist I come and promise to help if she’s sighted. They’ve not let me down before.


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