1: One Summer's Day
Chihiro walked through a dark tunnel with her parents, clinging to her mother's hand. Their footsteps echoed off of the walls along with the sound of dripping water. Soon, they reached the end of the tunnel.
Chihiro looked back, her purple hair tie glinting cheerfully in the sunlight, and reluctantly went into the car. She felt drawn back toward the tunnel, torn between her parents and her friends. But that was ridiculous. She had worked so hard to save parents, had spent the last month in a bathhouse, fighting to get her life back. She wouldn’t squander her friends’ support and her parents’ love for cold feet. She gazed out of the window, letting her mind wander as her dad swore at the dust in the car and her mother fussed with the luggage. She felt like she was forgetting something…
"A new home and a new school? It is kind of scary," said her father, jolting Chihiro out of her stupor. She was definitely forgetting something. Well, she would deal with it later.
Chihiro replied, "I think I can handle it."
And with that, as they drove down the bumpy road, her memories of Kamikakushi slowly but surely faded away...
It was a gorgeous, sunny day. Chihiro was leaving her friend's house, getting ready to walk to her local high school. It was the last day of high school for her, as well as another special event. As she walked, she thought about her morning...
"Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!" screamed Chihiro's phone for her morning alarm.
"Ok, ok!" Chihiro mumbled as she groped around her bedside table to silence the alarm, "Just shut up already!" Her hand found the shiny, purple hair-band that she always wore. She didn't know where it had come from, but she had owned it for 7 years and wearing it had become a habit. She tumbled out of bed and started getting ready for the day. She had just had a strange dream again that night. "Hmmmm... what was it about again?" she asked herself as she changed into skinny jeans and a t-shirt. "Someone was shouting my name... it was really dark... that boy in traditional clothes running toward me... I feel like I should know him..."
Meanwhile, in the Spirit World, Haku, with all of his memories intact, had woken up yelling her name. He had dreamt of his savior, his light; he had run desperately, trying to touch her, not wanting her to slip through his fingers again. Haku gazed forlornly out of his window at the village and restaurants surrounding the bathhouse.
The lights seemed to taunt him. Haku had met Chihiro down there and had tried to save her. In the end, she had actually saved him...
"Chihiro! Chihiro? Earth to Chihiro!"
"Wha--?" replied Chihiro to her best friend, June, who had just waved her hand in front of Chihiro's blank face as she stared off into space.
"Hey, Chihiro. You're drawing that guy again." said June.
"Huh? Oh." Chihiro looked down at her paper and sighed. "Yeah. I guess I am."
"You're always drawing him. Who is he anyway?"
"I'm not sure. I know I've met him, though," Chihiro mumbled as she let her mind wander again. Who WAS that boy? And why was he in my dream? Does it have something to do with the time Mom, Dad, and I got lost and disappeared for a month? I don't remember anything about that time except for driving through a forest and driving away from the same forest. Chihiro absentmindedly drew a blue, silver, and white dragon next to the boy.
"Come on, Chihiro," June nudged her to get her out of dreamland. "Do you WANT to be late to the last day of your beloved music class?" June and Chihiro hurried out of the classroom and down the hallway.
"By the way, Chihiro," said June mischievously, "that boy you draw is REALLY hot. Are you completely and positively sure that you are not hiding any boys from me?"
"June! Seriously? I don't even KNOW this guy. As far as I know, he could be a figure of my imagination or someone I met that time I got amnesia."
"Whoa, girl. Are you talking about the time your parents..."
"Died in that car crash?" Chihiro finished. "No… What I'm talking about happened 3 years before that. It was when I just moved here. My dad decided to take a shortcut through some forest and I think something happened with... a stone statue? The next thing I know, we're driving out of the forest and neighbors are telling us a month had past. We went to a doctor, and he said that nothing was wrong." Chihiro shrugged as June stared at her in amazement.
"We have known each other for 7 years. You even LIVE in my house. We are as close as sisters. How come you have never told me this AWESOME story?!" June exclaimed.
"I've never felt very comfortable at mentioning it..."
"Still..." June said sounding hurt, "I'm your best friend..." They entered the music classroom and took out their instruments in silence. It's not as if they really had a choice. Though the music teacher, Mr. Okizawa, was easy to get along with, he was strict.
According to him, “If the sound is not music, it is noise. If you intend to make noise, either be silent or leave.”
"Okay, class," he said, "As you’ve known for the past five weeks, your musical composition is due. This is your final test grade."
There were groans all around the classroom as papers were shuffled and pulled out of backpacks. Many were pale with nausea, others were jittery from nerves, but Chihiro was beaming with excitement. June stared at Chihiro’s face and laughed nervously. “Chihiro, I think you may be the only one here who actually liked this assignment. What does ‘Play me a memory’ even mean?”
Chihiro grinned and was about to respond when Mr. Okizawa cleared his throat. “Would someone like to play their piece? Ah! Chihiro, would you like to go first?"
She nodded, stood up, shifted her papers a little, and put her flute to her lips. Out of it came a sad, sweet, hopeful, and light tune. The murmurs in class went silent and all stared in awe at Chihiro, her eyes closed and swaying slightly to the tune. Mr. Okizawa clapped with the rest of the class at the end.
"Bravo! Very nice, Chihiro! What do you call it?"
Chihiro tilted her head a bit for a second and said quietly, "I think I'll call it 'One Summer's Day' because it’s a nostalgic tune about beautiful memories passed."
"Yes, very fitting. Alright, class. Who’s next?”
After thirty unsatisfactory, squeaky, or downright awful musical murdering, Mr. Okizawa’s face was scrunched up, looking as if he had just bitten a sour strawberry. “Almost time for the bell,” Mr. Okizawa said, as if it were a gift from heaven. “Put your instruments away then sit quietly. You may whisper but don't make too much noise."
They started murmuring among themselves and Chihiro caught her name several times. June started to tell her how great she was. But, Chihiro's mind was on something else. As she was playing, she felt like she had remembered something from a long, long time ago… like memories trying to push their way to the surface. Then suddenly, an image popped into her head with something like an invisible flash, but not quite invisible. An image of letting go of someone's hand. And a voice... a boy's voice... telling her not to look back.
Chihiro felt an inexplicable need to cry. But before she could, the bell rang, signaling the end of the day. As the stepped out of the classroom, she thought, "Urgggg... here it comes..." Not a moment later, 3 boys ran up to her followed by six others all of them shouting "Chihiro, go on a date with me!" Chihiro had to push her way through the pack of boys begging her for a date, occasionally saying, "Excuse me, sorry, I'm not available, no, I don't have another guy, I'm too busy..."
This was what dismissal was like on big occasions—the last day of school, the start of spring break, Christmas, prom, etcetera. Once she and June had escaped the mob of guys, Chihiro sighed heavily.
"Why don't you go out with one of those guys for once? A few of them are really decent," June said casually.
"You know that I'm not obsessed with guys. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever. You should know that, just as well as I do."
"I wonder how you get them all."
"Me too. It’s gotten worse. Like last year before the dance... I’d rather not think about it..." The two girls doubled over and laughed.
Last year, a few days before the annual dance, the boys had literally lined themselves in front of Chihiro, and had one by one started asking her to the dance. It went well until about the 9th boy. Then, it was a domino effect. One boy at the back pushed the one in front of him, which pushed the one in front of him, and so on until all of them lay at Chihiro's feet in a crumpled mess. June had witnessed it all and had started laughing, just as they were doing in the present. Both wiped tears from their eyes.
"Ahh... good times, good times..." June said to Chihiro as they started calming down.
"Yeah... oh no! I forgot to lock the house door this morning. We should get home fast." They picked up speed and arrived within minutes. Nothing was out of place so luckily, no one had noticed the door was unlocked and waltzed in. "I'll be in my room," Chihiro called to June, who was in the kitchen making a sandwich.
"Ok. We should be all prettified before 5, ‘cause you know..."
"Yup. Today's the day," Chihiro murmured and sighed. Today was her 18th birthday. The day when she would be given custody of her parents' house and start to live there, alone. She couldn't just back out now; after all, SHE had made the decision. ‘Anyway,’ she thought to herself, ‘I can come here whenever I want, and June's mom and dad will still be supporting me. Besides, we're only... what? A neighborhood apart? Technically, I'm not alone.’
All of the paperwork, moving in, and cleaning up had been done in advance. The fridge was stocked and June's parents were giving her money for weekly groceries. The house was complete with a working phone, T.V., and electrical sockets everywhere. The living room was large enough for her to practice her martial arts in without whacking anything. Better still; Chihiro had gotten her own car. When it came down to it, Chihiro was more excited than nervous. Nothing would really change except for the address that she put on school forms and such. She and June would walk home and do homework together and have weekend sleepovers at each other's houses. But that weekend, she wanted to be alone.
Chihiro surveyed her new, or rather, her old room. It still had her old bed and furniture; the same desk and view of the forest to the right. She walked over to her desk, picked up her drawing pad, and flopped onto her bed. The pad was almost finished. She had been drawing in it for years and it even had sheets of other papers stuck in between pages with more doodles. From the first page, the pad was chock full of strange drawings of strange people. But, for some strange reason, she felt like she knew all of the people and creatures she drew. Every single drawing was detailed from their hairstyle to the clothes they wore. Some showed two old ladies that looked exactly alike- except that one looked sour and the other friendlier, a mustached man with a lot or arms, fuzzy black balls that might be soot, and funnily enough, a bathhouse.
But, most of them depicted a boy in traditional clothes, shoulder-length jet black hair, and emerald green eyes. And as June said, he WAS hot. The really weird thing was that she got older, her drawings of that boy would also get an older and mature version. His hair had grown past his shoulders, and, if he were real, Chihiro admitted she could probably fall for a guy like that--tall, dark, and handsome, like a romance novel character. Lately, for the past 2 or 3 years or so, she would draw him sitting by a window staring out, in a field looking up at the sky, or walking past a tunnel entrance. If Chihiro really strained her brain, the tunnel would seem familiar, but the feeling always passed.
She set the drawing pad back on her desk, then flopped onto her bed and groaned exasperatedly.
“Why do I keep forgetting things?” she asked herself as she hugged her pillow to her chest and stared out of the window.
A month passed without event, and Chihiro was enjoying her summer of solitude. She had already been accepted at her chosen music college and spent her days without form or habit, just drawing, playing flute or piano, or practicing her martial arts. The fridge was starting to look a bit empty, so she threw on some jeans, a BTS fan shirt, combat boots, and a black hoodie. Picking up her car keys and purple hairband, she left the house, locking the door behind her.
On her way back from the grocery store, she spotted a small back road that seemed to go directly to her house. ‘Hmn,’ Chihiro thought to herself. ‘Maybe I’ll try that road.’