Before she even left the fair, Nabiki began assembling her own kimono. One booth had a white sash that seemed made of sea foam. It didn’t take long to find a gown in sea green with the impression of waves in its drifting pattern. She was proud to wear it to the snow festival, where Yukiko shone of the three. This year was different, though. Yukiko seemed to glow even brighter than usual, her face flush despite the makeup she wore.
“She seems well, better than well.” Indeed Yukiko seemed to float through the festival in spite of her lifted geta that made walking treacherous. She made her way past ice sculptures, booths selling trinkets, and food vendors, ignoring all as she approached the center of the square where an ice castle, clear as glass, stood. Lifting a hand, Yukiko placed her palm on the smooth, clear surface. She opened her mouth and a cloud of steam flowed out, curling along the ice. It was too bright, too obvious. The tiny puffs from Nabiki’s mouth and nose disappeared immediately, but this vapor lingered, settling onto, and into the ice. The sculpture seemed to smoke, the clear surface now cloudy. Yukiko sighed and rested her forehead on the ice. The glow that had seemed unnatural before, faded to a normal flush, as though she had run all the way here. The smile on her face was triumphant when she turned and gazed dreamily at her sisters. She pushed off the sculpture and took one step toward them, but as she did, a man collided with her.
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized, helping her regain her balance. One hand held hers and the other her hip. It was more familiar than proper, but Yukiko didn’t complain. Instead she rested her free hand on his chest.
She whispered something, neither sister could hear. The man took both her hands and bowed dramatically. Then he turned and strode past the pair, approaching their father and mother.
“Sir, I am Hitoshi, and I would ask your permission to marry your daughter.”
“What?” Nabiki cried.
Yukiko tapped her on the shoulder, hard enough to quiet Nabiki. Then she passed and lowered her head to their parents.
“I wish this as well,” she told them.
Their father turned red, something Nabiki had never seen before. Their mother tugged on his arm and whispered into his ear.
The color drained from his face and he closed his eyes, his forehead crinkling. Whatever she had said, he didn’t like it.
“You have my permission, but you will not wed until a decent period has passed,” he hurried to stipulate. “If you still wish to marry her by the next snow festival, you may.”
Hitoshi and Yukiko kept their heads lowered until Mother pulled Father, continuing on their way to the ice castle. When she turned next, Nabiki saw that Yukiko had changed again. She had been too young to notice the subtle change when Yukiko first donned the kimono, but now she was different again, whole somehow. Hitoshi was careful not to be too familiar in the open, but he was quick to pull Yukiko somewhere secluded.