Author notes: Happy Christmas Anne-Marie! This is one of your presents: a Spirited Away fiction. This is the direct sequel of the movie. I love you!
Ahem... To everyone else, you can enjoy it too!
Spirited Away… and back.
"A new home… and a new school. It's true it can be scary."
"I think I can handle it."
Chihiro's father turned the corner slowly.
"And heeeeeeere we are. Our new home. That's odd, the movers aren't here yet. I'm sure it's them we saw earlier."
They got out of the car and Akio, Chihiro's father, opened the gate.
"That's strange, I don't remember being any vines on the gate. The lawn grew up awfully fast too. How's that possible?"
His wife, Yuuko, having no answer to that, proposed none. Chihiro, even being only ten years old, knew they would not believe her. Her father opened the front door to see all the boxes and furniture in the living room with blankets over them. A speck of dust was covering everything.
"Did the air conditioner do this? That's just great. We already have something to fix. And the lights aren't working either. No electricity."
Chihiro was already taking the blankets off things, taking care not to spread dust everywhere. She started the search for the cleaning supplies box. Her mother was still inspecting everywhere. There was no sign of anyone being here for a long time. The last occupant should have been gone only yesterday!
"We should really contact the movers about this. Did they have a key?"
"I don't think so."
They were so engrossed in those mysteries that they didn't look at their daughter for one second. They plugged the phone but there was no tone. They resorted to ask one of the neighbours to borrow their phone.
"Chihiro-chan… hum… you seem to have things well in hands here. We'll head out to a neighbour's house so…"
"You can go. I won't leave the house."
They went out, still a little amazed of how stoic Chihiro became on the returning trip. They went in search of an explanation and came back almost two hours later, totally stunned.
"A year… How could it have been a year?"
"But they all said so! The movers, the neighbours that saw them and your aunt who let them in to unload our stuff with the spar key she had! Even your boss…"
"I know! I know… He was kind enough to give me another job. Still, with the house's payments a year late, it won't be nearly enough. My wages are back even lower than with my previous rank."
"Then, I'll have to work too," stated Chihiro's mom with resolve.
"What about Chihiro?"
"Don't worry about me. I can handle myself."
They turned toward her, having forgotten she was around. Then they looked around her. What they saw surprised them to no end. The living room looked…clean. Okay, there were open boxes everywhere and the floor could use a good wash on top of the sweeping he obviously had. Still, the walls and furniture were clean.
"Chihiro. When… how did you do all of this?"
"You were gone for two hours. I could not just sit there. We'll need food soon. I guess we can live on instant noodles and canned food for a few days but… What?"
"Did… did you hear all we said when we got back, honey?"
"Yeah. We were gone a year. That's pretty weird."
"And you're not more surprised than that?
"It explains the grown grass on dad's car, in the front yard and the vines on the gates. And all that dust. I guess something must have happened in that Theme Park," she shrugged.
"And… do you know what it is?" asked his father a bit fearfully.
"Not a clue!"
She desperately wanted to change subject, but it would look suspicious. If they thought she was lying and forced her to tell them the truth, they would not believe her anyway. They would most probably punish her for making all that up.
"So…like I said you don't have to worry. I'll take care of myself."
"At school, there will be no problem but you will be here all alone an awful lot of time if I take a job too," said her mother, now worrying about her only girl.
"I'll take some club activity. I'll get home later, like you. Besides, there is a lot to do around the house right now."
"Well, if you're sure…"
"Don't worry, everything will be fine."
An outside observer would probably ask himself if the role were not switched by that time lapse too.
The first week passed in a blur. Most of the time, Chihiro's dad passed out on the couch, right after getting in from a fourteen hours shift. Her mother, coming back from her job hunting, usually made herself a place in his arms, not having the courage to make the bed. They got up right after sunrise, going back for another day.
Friday evening came fast with slightly better news. Akio would resume ten hours shift starting next week and Yuuko found herself a job at a newspaper stand. They were exhausted, but strongly satisfied. They, maybe, would manage to reach both ends. They got in the house and gaped. E-ve-ry-thing was sparkling. The floors, the ceiling, the windows: everything.
Chihiro appeared from the kitchen, smiled and bowed.
"Welcome home! Dinner's ready!"
It may have been pride, or relief that they would not have to spend their only day off cleaning. Maybe they were just exhausted but both started crying and ran to Chihiro, crushing her in a bear group hug. Chihiro just laughed.
"At least wait to taste the food before hugging me!"
Her mom answered without letting her go.
"You would be reheating fast food I would not care, honey! I'm so proud of our sweet…"
"…courageous, working little girl!" ended her father.
"Thanks, but I still had to take some money in your wallet for the groceries, Dad. Would you mind leaving a little bit here so I can, at least, purchase the day's meal?"
"Of course! We were just so…"
"Busy? Yeah, I saw that. I put so much effort in getting your room ready first and you still haven't slept in it!"
The following weeks were much less tiring for Chihiro. She had to clean up a lot of dirty baths at the Bath House in the Spirit World, but not a whole house and not alone! Nonetheless, she managed. She was proud of that. The good thing was: nobody's home long enough to dirty it! Her mom was right, she was alone most of the time.
The clubs at school didn't interest her. All the other kids seemed to think she was weird. The story ran that she was gone for a whole year and was now back without telling where she was gone. It was enough to get them suspicious. Same thing with the teachers. They all expected her to tell them she was an alien or some sort of top-secret government project. The things adults can watch on TV…
So, she explored the neighborhood. She had a few yen to spend. Not much, and her father apologized for not being able to give her more for all the housework, but she did not mind. She didn't do it for the money. Part of her… missed the work at the Spirits Bath House. She missed the people there too. She missed Haku…no. Kohaku.
She stopped in front of a convenient store. She didn't know why, though. It was quite unkempt and unnoticeable. She got in making a little bell rang.
"My, my. What have we here? A lost customer? Ha ha ha! Come in! Don't be shy, I won't bite! I'm a few teeth short for that!" said an old woman.
"Hello. My name is Ogino Chihiro. Nice to meet you! I'm searching for an after-school job. I'm sure you could use a helper to keep the place."
"So you noticed? Ha ha ha! Yes, I would need some younger hands. I'm in no shape to furnish all the shelves except for some products that sell well and keep this place running. The problem is: I don't make enough to hire someone."
"I would not ask much! Pay me with what you want and if you judge that my work bring in more customers, you'll be free to give me a raise!"
She bowed low, her back stiff toward the elderly woman.
"Please take me in!"
The woman smiled at her willingness. She could use some company on those long days.
"Alright…Chihiro-chan. I'll hire you. Your wage will be three hundred yen an hour."
She waited for the protest. She heard none. Interesting.
"When can you start?"
"Okay then. You could…"
"Where are the cleaning supplies?"
Another week passed by and Chihiro's parents got back home late as usual. They were always looking forward to the dinner where their ten-year-old daughter would serve a home-made meal made from scratch. They were so proud of her.
Meanwhile, Chihiro had fun at the store. The old lady was stunned by the cleaning tornado she hired. Right after that, all the stocks in the back store that could get on the shelves were fetched. And then the back store got cleaned. Then came the turn for the front of the shop to sparkle as well as the sign that got repaired. Since it was only an old fashion wooden sign, killed by the competition by the surrounding neon signs, she decided to paint it. She took some leftover from her home, mixed it into some kind of purple goo she got all over the sign. She painted the name of the shop on it: "Granny's Cupboard", with some flashing yellow. Now that would bring attention.
Once done, customers started to come in, thinking a new store opened.
"Welcome to Granny's Cupboard! What can we help you with?"
The old owner was astonished at how good Chihiro was at welcoming customers. She was such a polite young girl! The end of the first week came quickly and she called her new helper at the end of Friday's shift, right before Chihiro had to get back home to make the usual late supper.
"Chihiro-chan! As we agreed, I will raise your wages. Since you're still so young, I won't give you too much or money will get to your head! I made this mistake once… I've got to balance my own finances too, but you're holding your promises so I will hold mine. I'll give you four hundred yen an hour."
"Thank you Granny!"
"Well, yeah! Isn't this Granny's Cupboard?"
The old lady started laughing again. She did that quite a lot now with her new helper.
The whistle blew briefly in the air.
The girls were having tracks at P.E. today. Chihiro was in her own world. She was thinking back at the days at the Bath House. She ran a lot back then.
"Ogino, stop staring at the clouds! Get on the blocks!"
Chihiro stood up and got to her position. It remembered her the time she had to clean that bath while running. Those basins were huge!
To her eyes, it was the signal of the foreman to go and scrub. She would race with Lin to the other side!
Faster Sin! It's gotta be sparkling! Don't trip now, or you're gonna slow all of us down!
"Slow down! Stop! Chihiro!"
Why was she telling her to slow down all the sudden? She never did that before! Chihiro finally got back to reality and saw her teacher run toward her.
"That was some amazing time! And you just kept on going! Do you like running?"
"Well, yeah. There was a time where… I used to run a lot!"
"There was a time, huh? You're awfully young to say that and yet I believe you! Would you be interested in the track team?"
"I would love to but I have another occupation most evenings of the week."
"If you can just stay for one or two days a week after class and promise me you'll sometimes practise on your way home, that will be no problem!"
"Alright then. I'm in!"
From that day on, she never had a dull day.
A twelve-year-old girl was getting to her workplace. Granny's Cupboard had changed since she had put her foot in. They changed the simple metallic racks by more attractive wood imitation shelves. The walls had paying advertisement of a brand or another. There was even a "youth" section that sold everything that was "in" at the moment. Having a twelve-year-old employee helped to keep up to date.
Still, the store was closed as she got there. Intrigued, Chihiro used her key to get in and locked behind her. Voices were coming from the back store. Not being one to spy, she walked in.
"…won't last forever! You know it! You should… Who are you?" asked a man visibly arguing with the old owner.
"Hello! I'm Ogino Chihiro, Granny's part-time employee. Nice to meet you!"
"Yeah…real nice. Look here Tsuki…"
"And who might you be?" interrupted Chihiro, standing back straight from her bow.
The visitor turned toward her, not expecting the bold, but polite question.
"Her grandson. We are in family matters here so if you could leave us…"
"Chihiro-chan, stay here. It concerns you. My dear grandson here thinks I should go in an old folk's home, sell the store and put all the bothersome matters in his hands."
Chihiro saw the glint of greed in the man's eyes. She saw that in more than one pair of eyes once, when it practically rained gold. She knew how to deal with that kind. She threw herself on the ground, kneeling and bowing low at the grandson's feet.
"Please! Please no! Don't! I'm sure we can still make it!"
"What are you talking about?"
"You must have heard of Granny's store debts but it can be saved! I swear! Don't close it just now! If you put a little money in this place, and some time working here now and then, you can keep it from bankruptcy! I know that if you take care of Granny's business now, you would gladly clear all of her debts but…"
"Debts! You never told me this! You almost had me, making me take your problems on my back! No more will I care about what happens to you! You're on your own. Don't even consider calling me!"
He walked off as if bills were already going after him. He battled with the front door, before unlocking it and going out. He didn't bother to look at the little crowd of young girls waiting for the shop to open. They received the latest Hello Kitty keychain that was so cute! They even had a whole lot of old ones to start a collection! The man never saw the goldmine he was walking away from.
"Debts, huh?" asked Granny.
"Hai. We still haven't paid the newspapers this week," answered Chihiro.
"He forgot to take his money at his last run."
"Did I make a mistake?"
"How am I paying you right now Chihiro-chan?"
"Five hundred yen an hour."
"Let's make that six hundred."
"Hai, Granny. Thanks for taking care of me!"
"No. Thank you."
The attic of the shop mustn't have seen a broom in ages! There was dust everywhere! Old, broken furniture was lying all around. Cardboard boxes full of old newspapers, inventory summaries of the last decades… and a strange wooden box. She got to it, moving spider webs out of the way distractingly. She saw something like this once. It was in the Spirit Bath House … in the kitchen…
"An old ice-cream machine! Wow!"
She inspected it and it seemed still fully functional! The tick varnish over the rose wood kept it intact. Only one or two metal pieces were rusty and in need of a good polish. It was heavy but she had done worse. She finished getting rid of the dust all around the attic and postponed moving things at some other time. This was going to be fun! She placed the massive box in the back store under the cunning eye of Granny.
"What have you gotten here, Chihiro-chan…? My! This is our old ice-cream machine! This brings back memories! We used to get this out at summer... Children were always trooping around it! Of course, simple grinded ice with cherry syrup would not interest kids these days. They have all those candies and chocolates…"
"I would usually agree, Granny, but even if this is really old, children of today rarely have a chance to try it. Do you know what it would look like?"
"No, Chihiro-chan," she answered, an amused smile grazing her lips. "What would it look like?"
"Old memories for people your age, a past heritage for people like my parents and a brand new cheap sugary candy for kids my age. All I have to do is…to buff it up a little…"
"Ice cream! Ice cream! Get your own ice cream cup Granny's style! Only a hundred and fifty yen!"
The ice cream business was a huge success. Chihiro, dressed in a festival yukata, was serving grinded ice with a choice of ten fruits toppings non-stop! Granny smiled at Chihiro from her counter. She installed the machine right beside the open door of the convenient store. That was a good thing too since the bell would have given up before the end of the day so much there were people getting in. That little girl really saved her from the situation she pictured to her grandson in order to get rid of him. Things were looking down at the time. The sun eventually set and Chihiro had to get back soon. She rolled the ice cream box inside and put what was left of ice and syrup in the freezer. She would have to order more fruits. It was only the first day and she was already short of some of the flavours! A late customer went in, looking around, searching for something.
"Welcome to Granny's Cupboard! What can we help you with?" asked Chihiro, always helpful.
"The cashier," mumbled the young man, taking out a knife.
"What?" asked the little girl, a bit confused.
"No jokes! Give me all you've got! Now!"
"Right away, sir!"
That stopped the thief right in his tracks. While Granny almost had a stroke, Chihiro simply opened the cash drawer, empty it in a paper bag and hand it to the nervous guy, smiling all the while. He almost dropped his knife.
"Thank you for your business! Come again!"
The thief, a late teen with a mohawk, nodded absently and left the store slowly, still not understanding just what happened.
"Say, Granny. Do you have insurance?"
"I…I don't even have security cameras."
"Oh. Call the cops. I'll be right back."
She ran off the door, grabbing a broom on her way.
The punk looked in the bag. He had enough to get stoned the entire week! He would surely take that stupid girl on her offer and come back.
He turned around. Right on time to get the handle of a broom square across the face. Chihiro was only twelve. Yes, she was in shape for her age, but to knock out someone with one strike? Well, she put all her running start in that blow. She was the best of the track team. So…yeah. The guy was lying unconscious on the pavement. The cops only had to pick him up.
In a closely bound neighborhood, rumours fly very fast.
"You heard about that? I was in my kitchen and heard a loud scream. When I got to my window, the guy was on the ground! He was at least 5 years older than her! She had a broom in her hand, holding it like a combat staff!"
"They said her parents and her were missing a whole year before getting here, somewhere in the mountains…"
"They must have lived with Shaolin monks or something."
"She's surely some martial art genius…"
Nobody ever tried to steal from them again.
High school. Young girls wait so long to get there, dreaming of romance and sunny summer fun. It was not starting to be any different from Junior High to Chihiro. Girls gossiped wherever she went. Her father, unable to pay for her tuition, told her she would be unable to continue school. She said she started to work part-time in a convenient store a while ago and could take care of it. No need to tell him that 'a while' it was about four years ago. She didn't mention either the bills she was paying from time to time without them knowing. She was the one who sorted the mail at home after all…
"Hey, you, weirdo! Stop right there!" said a voice near her.
"Are you talking to me?" Chihiro answered, turning around, pointing to herself.
"Do you see any other weirdo except you here?"
Chihiro looked at the girl. She was the leader of a group of three. It was easy to see why. She was almost a head taller than any other girls their age. She decided to do something for once. She walked up to them.
"How come am I weird? Did I misplace a limb again? Tell me my nose is not on my chin! Please!"
Two boys passing by laughed at that one. The tall girl's face got crimson.
"You are weird! People don't just disappear for a year without leaving a trace, come back and act as if nothing happened! If you're not weird, then try explaining that one!"
"That's easy! I was working in a Bath House in the Spirit World! We got trapped in by crossing the river of death in a haunted Theme Park. We got out thanks to the help of a dragon spirit."
Now the girls were officially crept out.
Chihiro began to laugh at her own joke. The first time she tells the truth and they believed her! Now she had to make them believe it was a joke! The situation was priceless. Her rival, meanwhile, was fuming to have been had so easily.
"Come on now!" said Chihiro, walking at her side. "Tell me there is something fun to do around here! I've got to walk for almost an hour every single morning to get here!"
"It's the first day…"
"Really? Then that last year student told me the truth saying that High School takes forever to end? I already feel I've been here an eternity!"
The girls of the group started giggling. Didn't they have something more intelligent to say?
"I'm Chihiro, but that you probably already knew."
"I'm…Tayima. Pleased to meet you."
Maybe she would not be left alone in High School after all.
"Welcome home, Toussan!" Dinner's ready in five minutes!
Chihiro got used to do everything around the house. Her parents even gave her their paychecks so she could take care of the household! She finished setting the table and she saw her father kiss her mother on the cheek as she was getting out of the bathroom, still damp from her shower.
"You seem quite cheerful today Dad! What happened?"
"I finally got my old post back! No more thigh month budgets! Your mom could even take one more day off a week to help you out around the house and relax!"
"Honey, is that true? The job was hell lately!" Chihiro's mom said with relief.
Chihiro watched her parent kiss once more, and not on the cheek this time!
"That's such a great news dad! I can't wait to tell Granny and Tayima-chan!"
"Who's Tayima?" her dad asked, hearing the name for the first time.
"She's my new friend from school. Could she sleep over at some time? Please?"
Akio was relieved. He thought his little girl could never have a normal life because of what happened four years ago. It seems things were turning out for the best.
"Sure thing, Sweetie. Make sure to get some sleep though. I know how busy you always keep yourself. You don't want to get sick from lack of sleep!"
"Don't worry Dad, I'm a tough girl."
She said that so seriously he could not stop himself from bursting up laughing. He couldn't remember a happier time.
Chihiro was currently writing in her diary, holding a blue dragon plushie she bought that day. She just couldn't resist. Then her cell phone rang. That alone was strange, as it was already past nine. She turned on Granny's birthday gift.
A quiet, rasping voice talked.
"Chihiro…help me! I beg you!"
Tayima was hidden behind a dumpster in an alley. Through a little space between the metal container and the wall, she could see the exit, and the man blocking it. She was going home after a late karaoke when she saw the guy, hands in his pockets, following her. She sped up a bit but he was faster. In desperation, she turned in an alley, sure it would lead to a more crowded area. It was a dead end. She was trapped. She hid. The man knew it, but there was a lot of hiding places available. He opted to lean on a wall, waiting for her to come out. She would have no choices at some points.
Tayima did the only thing she could think of: she called Chihiro. The cops would not arrest the man. He didn't do a thing, yet. Then he would seek revenge. She was so stupid! What more could Chihiro do! She told her to just wait there but then what? Wait, wasn't that her skidding on the sidewalk? What was she doing? Her mind could not get around the fact that she looked really cute like that…with those two ponytails and a shorter school skirt…and the way she was slowly licking that lollypop…and the fact that it showed with every bounce in her step that she didn't wear a bra…
She was going to get eaten alive!
The men seemed to already have forgotten about Tayima. He was almost drooling.
"Hi there, young girl."
"Yesh, shir?" She didn't even let the lollypop out to speak. The man was shaking in anticipation.
"I work as a janitor in a place advertising new candy. If you want, I can take you there for a few samples if you promise to tell all your friends."
"Yeah! Free candy!"
She bounced a little but it was not even needed. The guy bit the bait, hook, line, and was currently chewing the fisherman's arm. He led her away, trying not to look suspicious. When they got in front of a discreet love hotel, he opened the door for her to get in. Three men passing by grabbed his arms and twisted them behind his back painfully.
"You're under arrest for tentative of children abuse. Come with us peacefully."
"Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh? No candy?" said Chihiro, tilting her head on the side.
She smiled and dropped the act once they left. She turned toward one of the men.
"Thank you, Officer. I've got to go to calm my friend now. She must think I'm in a really bad spot."
"No problem. Thank you for your help, young miss," said the officer, bowing.
Chihiro ran to the alley and got in just as Tayima was running out of it.
"Chi…Chihiro! How are you? Where is he? Did he do anything to you? What…"
"Relax Tayima-chan. He's been taken by the cops. We trapped him. There is nothing you have to fear anymore."
Her friend let out a deep breath and started shaking. Chihiro hugged her. Tayima began to cry.
"I thought… I was going to be…"
"Shhhh. It's okay. Nothing happened."
"You were sent by Kami himself, I swear! I am so lucky…"
"I already told you… remember? It's not Kami, it's the spirits…"
Chihiro had a faraway look.
"A blue dragon spirit."
Chihiro was softly crying. So softly it was easily covered by the beeping cardiac monitor. She was holding Granny's hand, taking care not to touch the infusion tube. She told the doctor she was her grand-granddaughter. She wasn't off about her age. The doctor told her she was ninety-three years old. She would have never thought… she just seemed… old… grandmotherly old. The kind that was always there. She didn't want her to go yet. It was not fair! Granny always told her it was the funniest time she had since her own children were still alive. She always… told her so…
She knew. Still, the first words the doctor told her when she asked about her health were still ringing in her head.
She heard a nurse told another that she recognized Granny but didn't understand how she could still be alive. The last time the doctor saw her, he gave her one year left! One and a half, top! That was about five years ago. Chihiro didn't care. She wanted her to get better. To live!
The dying lady opened her eyes. She looked at Chihiro fondly.
"Granny…" Chihiro's shaking voice managed to let out.
"It would be useless and cruel to ask you not to be sad. I took enough time in this world."
"Don't worry Granny. Your place in the other world is already waiting for you."
"And me who tough that the young ones were not superstitious!" the old lady said softly, winking.
"Granny…before your next trip, let me tell you a tale. It's about a girl named Sin. She made an incredible trip too."
She told, under the shinning eye of the old lady, the story of a girl who was spirited away in a faraway land. The old woman seemed to fall asleep as the story went but her smile never ceased to grow.
"My child… that's such a wonderful story. What happened to that little Sin after getting back in her world? What was her true name?"
"She got back with her parents, who didn't remember anything that had happened. They got back to their life as normally as they could… considering one year had passed in the real world."
The old woman's eyes grew wide.
"You know what happened to that little girl, Granny, since her name is Chihiro."
The cardiac monitor, who didn't stop slowing down those last minutes, let out a continuous sound, contrasting with the peaceful death of the sweet woman occurring.
"Think of where you want go Granny," whispered the young girl.
"I've always wanted to see…the…ocean…"
She closed her eyes, her last energy spent up.
"Maybe we'll see each other again, Granny."
The doctors came only to confirm her death. Chihiro left the hospital, tears rolling off her cheek slowly. The week after that, she inherited the store. In honour of the woman, she kept it opened every hour out of school she could. She left the track club. It didn't mean anything now. She felt so alone. She needed someone to talk.
Takeru was shocked. Everything was going so well! Why now? He remembered how it all began, a few months ago. He had lost a bet. His "friends" told him to go and steal panties from the girl's dormitory. As he refused, they told him he just lost the bet that he didn't agree in the first place. As punishment, he had to let his air grow as long as a girl. He was unpopular enough… not that he was ugly. He simply was too shy and lacked a solid backbone. So, he let his hair grow.
Then they told him to go and take pictures of the girls changing for P.E. class. See the pattern? For that one, he had to dye his hair a forest green. His dad almost disowned him. For most students of that school, it would not have mattered, but his father was the director of a reputed bank. He had a lot of explaining to do, and then the next bet came. He had to ask Chihiro-chan out. They wanted to see him get rejected. He didn't care much. It was enough of an excuse to ask the girl he really liked to go out with him. So, he asked. He never expected one of the most popular girl in school to accept. The sixteen-year-old beauty looked at him dreamingly and said "yes" just like that. He managed not to faint.
They went to see a movie and sing some karaoke. They talked a lot. She was so much fun to be around. He tried so hard to please her. Why was she breaking up after just a few months?
"I'm sorry Takeru-kun. It's not about you. You're a sweet guy. I mean it. It's just… well…I'm in love with someone else I met way before you."
"You don't know him. He lives far from here."
"Oh. Could... we stay friends?"
Chihiro's sad smile turned in a real one.
"Yes. I would really like that."
"Okay! Well then… as a friend…could I ask you about that mysterious guy I've been dumped for?"
Chihiro could not stop the giggle to escape her lips. Takeru never regretted not to be his boyfriend more than now, but he could be her friend. That counted for something. He wasn't totally losing her.
Chihiro was happy to have Takeru around. Maybe she wasn't in love with him, but he knew how to make her laugh.
"Please, promise me to never change. And yes, I can tell you. I owe you that, at least."
Takeru saw that faraway look Chihiro was known for. He would be the first to know what caused it.
"I knew him…under the name of Haku. I learned his real name only long after the first time I talked to him and that I met him before. He's a very serious guy with a caring soul hidden underneath. He's always so sure of everything he does… Like he knows…"
"Wow. Where did you meet him first?"
"I never saw him. I was playing…in a river and I lost my footing. I would have drowned, but he took me to the shore. My parents found me there. I lost a shoe that time. He kept it."
"You're in love with a shoe fetishist?"
Chihiro laugh out loud at that one.
"I really have to tell him that next time I see him! My ex-boyfriend think he's a shoe fetishist! His face is going to be priceless! Yeah! Next… time… I see him…"
Then it hit her.
"Are you okay Chihiro-chan? You seemed so serious right now."
"Don't worry. I just realized something important. Thank you, Takeru."
"Well…hum…it's nothing, I guess."
Now she knew. What she felt she was waiting for. She was waiting for the day she'll get back to the Spirit World. She would not feel completely happy anywhere else.
The police car was parked in front of the Ogino home. Chihiro went missing. She never came home the night before. They went to check at the convenient store she used to work, only to find it closed. Permanently. The place could be seen totally empty inside from the windows. The door was condemned. None of her friends knew where she went.
Then the letters came. Each of her friends and her parents got one. It all resumed to this: I'm going away, I love you all and shall miss you. Don't worry about me, I've got a place to stay. Don't come looking for me. Maybe I'll come back to visit some day. Maybe.
The police searched as much as they could. The sad truth was: there were missing children every day. Her parents lost their only child, never knowing what they did wrong. Try to explain any parent that it was totally out of their power to begin with.
Chihiro took the train and walked. She bought a simple yukata the kind you can work well in. She arrived at a riverbank. She took off her shoes, having learned her lesson, and put her feet in the Kohaku River. She walked a little, going knee-deep in the water.
"I'm coming back," she whispered just before getting out.
She walked back to the train station and got as close as she could remember of the Theme Park. She went down the forest path and crossed the tunnel made of stone. The green grass field was as lush as she remembered and she hopped from one rock to another. Near the end of the path, a small line of water ran around them. She then stopped and waited. As the sun went down, the thin line of water grew. Her heart leaped when she saw the familiar river take place. She was so afraid she would not be able to get back. She turned her back to the river and the boat that was rapidly approaching.
She climbed the many stairs going on a road she knew by heart, having gone back thousands of times in her head. The stands, filled with delicious food, went past her without making her even slightly hungry. She wanted something else entirely. She reached the bridge that led to the Bath House, and the young man standing just past it.
How long she waited for this... She ran on the bridge. She threw herself in his arms. He hugged her close. She lifted her head and kissed him, for a very long time. She, at last, felt she was where she belonged.