Dad’s been out of the hospital for a week and eases into work at the mill.
Shibasaki-chan continues to sneak in treatments. Now we’re up to it lasting a week. Everyone’s noticed my lack of stuttering. Pretending to ignore each other beyond the sessions is how we protect our friendship since her parents wouldn’t approve. In today’s therapy, she admits this is the only time she’s disagreed so strongly that she’s willing to go against their wishes.
Tanaka returns for the holiday and phones the gang. We all look forward to our stay at the hot spring.
In the afternoon we perform the annual Obon cleaning of the family gravestone to welcome home the spirits of the dead. Despite the heat of the day, the cemetery is close so my parents and I walk. As we hike, I hear Shibasaki-chan’s voice. “Yasu-san!”
Stopping in my tracks, I suck in a breath and hiss. What is she doing? Her parents are right there. Mom prods, “Are you going to answer?”
Waving and jogging, I meet Yukiko in the middle. She asks, “Would you talk with my family? Specifically, with my grandmother.”
“The dead one?” is all I can manage.
She stifles her giggle since Obon is normally a somber occasion and laughter would be rude to the other families here. “That one.”
In a daze, I drift behind her. Why would her grandmother want to talk with me? Does she want the recipe for our balm?
In the incense’s smoke, a kind, elderly woman greets me. “Ohno Yasu-san, correct?”
With the regal bearing of a queen, she declares “He’s the one to help her through the task. His magic isn’t as strong as hers, but they complement each other. And the blending of knowledge would be beneficial to all.”
Seeing my wide eyes, Shibasaki-chan nudges. “She approves of you. I told my parents she would.”
Her parents’ brows furrow, but they acquiesce to the old woman’s wishes. “Would you consider an omiai?”
“Me?” My heart tries to beat its way out of my chest as the cicadas sing in the trees highlighting the pause.
Giving a Cheshire grin, Yukiko’s unable to hide it behind her hand. “Everyone else here is a close relative.”
I gulp but square my shoulders. “It would be an honor.”
When her family approaches mine, Mom drops her cleaning bucket, and Dad questions their sincerity.
The gang pesters me about my confidence and clear speech during our onsen stay. When Yukiko-chan serves us dinner, she leaves me a note. All eyes flick to me as she sashays from the room. Drumming his fingers on the table, Minowa demands, “Fess up. What was that about?”
Tanaka’s tea spews all over me. Minowa sputters, “Come again?” and the others laugh in disbelief.
Wiping off my face with my yukata sleeve, I state, “It’s true.”
Several of them ask at once, “Love at first sight?”
“You know better. Interest, yes. But her grandmother tied a red string around our fingers during the Coming of Age Day incident. It was destiny. So, let me fill you guys in.”