Kimiyasu met them when they arrived back at the house. She was waiting in the courtyard with Mikan, an old wrinkled woman who had been with the family since Kaori’s father was young. They bowed to her father and mother, her brother and finally to her, though only Mikan bowed. Kimiyasu was older than Kaori, and it was Kaori instead who bowed to her. The lanterns were just being lit by servants, and the rich lacquered cherry wood glowed in the warm light of the paper lanterns. Kimiyasu greeted her mother and father.
“How was your trip into town?”
“Productive, if I do say so myself. Although I did not attend your mother’s meeting.” Kimiyasu turns to her mother.
“Let us go inside and discuss this while sitting.” Ume bows and goes inside to prepare the seating room, the rest of the family ambles slowly in the same direction. Kimiyasu turns towards Kaori.
“Did you find anything interesting, sister?”
“Gossip and rumors, but also this wonderful fabric. It’s a beautiful emerald silk with a simple linen brocade done in lavender. Tenshu said it was a local work, though I don’t know who would have done it. We—” Kaori pauses, “I, got him to throw in enough material for a sash as well, a darker purple. We’ll see how it works, but I have high hopes.”
“I’m so glad it went well. Mother asked me if I thought you were ready to start doing your own shopping.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say it went… well. Tenshu kept wanting to say the fabric was beneath me, and then I argued that it was humbling, and was maybe a little too forceful. I fear I may have left a sour taste.”
“Oh well, not every will be pleased by your ideas little sister, just as not everyone will appreciate your poetry.”
“Speaking of, we also met with some friends of Hideki Hensei.”
As they arrive in the sitting room and sit down, Huiren speaks. “Yes, Hideki says they were from a nearby province, people with whom he has corresponded for many years. He invited them to see the newest arrangement of his garden, which is where we met. I accompanied them back into town afterwards in order to meet back up with your mother.”
“I’m not sure how that relates to Kaori’s poetry… unless?”
Kaori nods sharply. “It was a simple verse, one of them called it rustic and pointed, but they still put it in.” Kaori turns to her father, her eyebrows have gathered like the folds of a sash. “Who kept the poem?”
Huiren thinks. “I imagine it was Hideki, since he was the cause of everyone being together and thus the host. Although, since Zheng acted more as a host, Hideki may have gifted it to him instead of keeping it. Hmmm, I genuinely do not know, Kaori. I shall ask Hideki when next I write to him.”
Kimiyasu turns towards Katai. “And what of your meeting mother?”
Katai’s fan wafts lazily around her face. “It went well. Your brother did a good job and I’m so proud by how much the two of you have grown up.” Katai looks to Weili and Kaori, who turns to her sister.
“Wait, Kimiyasu, you said Mother asked you if I was ready?”
“I did. I thought you would be, but I wanted the opinion of your sister, the two of you are close. Not to mention you are about the same age she was when she shopped for her first fabric.”
“You too to the arts so much better than I did, and have gained such maturity from them, that I figured even though you’re younger than I was, you would do just fine.” Ume enters, and leans in to speak to Kaori’s mother. The fan comes up to block their faces as they converse briefly. When the fan comes down, Katai looks at the rest of the family.
“Dinner is ready, and afterwords I think would be the best time for a fairly important announcement to be made.” She turns to Huiren, “Shall we?”
Huiren turns to his wife. “One hurdle and you already think its time?”
Katai pauses midway up from the ground and then continues. She turns to her husband. “Time is exactly why. It continues to pass. I know you think its too early, but it we went according to your ideal schedule, we’d be mentioning it as it was happening. Now is as good a time as ever, Huiren, especially after we’ve put it off this long.”
Kaori, Kimiyasu and Weili have all turned to one another in a furious exchange of glances and fan movements honed over the many years of their lives into a fairly well developed secret code. It seems to Kaori that not only do Kimiyasu and Weili know what’s going on, but they know that Kaori has no idea of what their mother is referring to. Kaori quickly realizes that everyone is sharing a secret that she isn’t privy to. But why would they keep this from her? She will simply have to wait until after dinner, and likewise after tea, and then likely after practicing her flute playing. Kaori becomes much less certain she’ll be able to wait until her mother tells her.
Kaori and her mother sit at the small table in Kaori’s side of the house. The rest of the family retired reluctantly, Weili stiffly, and Kimiyasu with a look that Kaori can only describe as hopeful and scared all rolled into one. Her mother pours tea for both of them. Kaori can smell the faint notes of mint, rose hips and lemongrass. She sips slowly, calmly. Her movement is smooth, but the water still shivers slightly from it. Unlike her mother, who movement is fluid, continuous. The water in the teacup does not even know it has left the table.
“Do you remember your Aunt Chochin? On her last visit you were fairly young.”
“Vaguely. I remember her as a happy woman who always smelled of tea and herbs, but if you asked me what she looked like then I would not be confident in my description. Why?”
“Did you know she was married at your age?”
Kaori sips her tea slowly. Her mother does not speak without purpose. Kaori knows this, its the one thing her Mother made absolutely certain to teach her: even in idle chatter there is meaning.
“I did not, Mother.”
“It was before the war. Everyone was in a state of… waiting. As my younger sister, Chochin and I would have been married to the same husband, but our Father did not want that.”
Kaori’s fan comes up in front of her face, her eyes are wide. To suggest such a thing against the traditions of their ancestors was… unthinkable. Kaori continues listening.
“He did it because he was greedy, and the spirits dealt with his deviation from tradition. However, since he wanted a separate husband for Chochin, against tradition, he had to find a Matchmaker to find someone suitable for her. So he went to the Matchmaker where we grew up. For an entire season the Matchmaker tried to find someone. Our Father carefully proposed the idea to a number of his friends, always in ways that could be retracted if they proved to value tradition more than friendship, as they should. None of them would give the idea any sort of merit or even very much recognition.