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i take your hand (now you'll never be lonely)

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The snowfall is slight, barely there - just a drift of white floating softly past Big Imari's window. She finishes wiping down the panes and steps back against the wall to examine the apartment. The floors are cleared, and every dish put away clean in the cabinets. The only things Imari's left out are her futons, stacked neatly off to the side for later. Satisfied, she goes to boil her soba so that it will be ready when Imari-chan arrives.

Little Imari brings with her a kagami-mochi that she places at the center of the table, and a little strawberry roll, the kind that Big Imari likes. After they finish their soba, she slices the cake at an angle, handing the larger piece to Big Imari, who protests.

"Imari-chan, that's not fair, you won't get as mu-"

"Don't worry, Imari-san, I brought this for you anyway." Little Imari lifts up the fluffy slice of cake and leans in to wave it in front of Big Imari's face. "Listen to your elders! Open up," she says, until Big Imari complies and takes a bite, strawberry and whipped cream melting on her tongue. It reminds her of the cake they shared for their birthdays, and she smiles when Imari-chan pops a berry into her mouth.

They hurry out a few minutes before midnight to head toward the shrine. Little Imari clings tight on the ride over. Her fingers are healed now, and her grip strong and solid in the folds of Big Imari's coat. When they dismount, her long hair has been blown by the winter air out from her scarf, puffed into a messy cloud under her helmet. Big Imari helps her smooth it back down, and they giggle as she combs snowflakes out of her bangs.

They hold hands while waiting in line for their fortunes, Little Imari's hand slipped into Big Imari's mitten so their cold fingers are linked together. They disentangle when their turns arrive, and move to stand apart from the crowd to reveal their fortunes. Little Imari goes first, unrolling her paper carefully. "Let's show each other at the same time," she says after reading hers.

Big Imari nods and follows in turn, fingers trembling slightly from the cold as she unfolds her fortune. The first thing she sees is "Great Blessing" stamped at the beginning.

"Oh! Look, Imari-chan," she exclaims, flipping her paper over to show her friend. "How lucky!"

Little Imari beams when she sees the paper, and lifts her own fortune to show a matching blessing.

"Looks like it's fate again!" she says, leaning in on her tiptoes to read the details of Big Imari's paper. "Mine said I'd have happy tidings in business this year. And that my wish would come true. Oh, maybe you should take a trip, Imari-san; you'll travel well."

"Well, maybe we can go see the mountains like you were thinking," Big Imari murmurs, scanning the rest of her fortune. Health and success in love; she can only hope for such good luck.

After their prayers, they ride back home to turn in for the night so that they can head out early tomorrow morning. The snowfall has picked up, so Big Imari parks Marie under a tarp while Little Imari waits on the staircase for her.

"You should have gone inside! There's snow in your hair again," Big Imari says, flustered at the sight of Little Imari smiling down at her under the glow of the external lamp. In her white dress and with her long blond hair falling in waves around her, she looks ethereal in the dark of midnight. 

"It's okay, there's something I wanted to show you," she replies, beckoning with one hand. Big Imari walks up the first few steps, looking up to try and catch sight of what it could be. "Over here," Little Imari says, pressing a hand to Big Imari's cheek to turn her face back toward her.

Leaning down, hair falling around to frame Big Imari's face, she gives her a kiss, warm and sweet.

"Happy new year," Little Imari says when she draws away. She extends her arm, and Big Imari, blushing still from the taste of strawberries and cream on her lips, takes her hand, allowing herself to be led inside.

They lay their futons side by side, with an extra blanket to tide them over in the January chill. Big Imari snuggles down under the covers, and thinks about the prediction written on her fortune, still tucked in her jacket pocket.

Take a chance! It's your lucky year for romance. You'll have great success in finding love.

"Happy new year, Imari-chan," she whispers, and Little Imari sneaks her hand out from under the blanket to take a hold of Big Imari's. 

"I'll see you tomorrow, Imari-san," she replies, her eyes soft. "Good night."

As she begins to drift off into sleep, Big Imari gives Little Imari's hand a squeeze, turning her wrist to better fit their hands together. This time, she isn't letting go.

This time, fate is on her side. It's going to be a good year.