A little more than a year later, Nabiki helped her mother unpack and unwrap the red and gold fabric. There was no younger sister lingering to watch her transformation, only the girl behind her eyes, the girl she still felt she was. Even as she was swathed in fabric, she didn’t see anything but a girl. Once her makeup was applied, she looked different, too pale, but not a woman. Finally her hair was gathered and pinned, making her look like her mother and sisters, but she felt like a girl wearing her mother’s dress and shoes, clunking around pretending to be grown up. She thought someone would object, make fun of her for trying to be a woman when she wasn’t.
She had started bleeding, that had happened shortly after the leaves fell last year. According to her mother and sisters, that was all that set a girl apart from a woman, but Nabiki didn’t feel different. She hadn’t acquired whatever quality it was that had changed Sakura a year ago.
It was Sakura, not Yukiko, who reminded them that father was waiting. She had chosen pink, but it was paired with green and brown, the leaves and bark of the cherry tree. Her smile for Nabiki was gentle, welcoming. “You look perfect,” she said.
Nabiki wished she felt perfect, not like a fraud. She rose carefully, feeling the fabric tighten in places she didn’t expect. She shifted to ease it down, worried about pulling at the stitches. She was taller than either her mother or her sisters and the kimono seemed almost too small. It definitely held in the breasts that had swelled in the past year. Taking small steps, she shuffled to the door. Her sisters and mother each wore tall geta, elevating them several centimeters, but Nabiki wore her old, short ones. Any taller and the wooden sandals would poke out. Continuing her slow shuffling pace, she followed the others.
Arriving at the beach, Nabiki inhaled the salty sea breeze, her smile wide and her eyes closed. She had always loved the ocean and the waves she was named for. Every summer she came and swam, sometimes walking on the ocean floor, feeling one with the water. None of that could happen today, but she would be back.
Startled, she opened her eyes and stared at her sisters, guiding her away from their parents.
“Here, Nabiki,” Yukiko said to her. “Enter this booth.” Sakura began giggling as soon as she and Yukiko had stopped.
“Why?” she asked, curious at their response.
“Because you’re a woman now.”