Chihiro opened her eyes. The morning light was weakly struggling through her curtains, and a soft breeze was attempting to disperse the humidity of the night before. It was unseasonably warm. She closed her eyes, weakly clutching at the image of his face and the way he smiled at her. The painting on her wall was her testament to his memory. She remembered her mother's uncertainty as she surveyed the white dragon that stretched across the bedroom wall, and her father's exasperation. He was tired of her. He hoped that if he just ignored it she might give it up. Her mother speculated that it was their move that had triggered their daughter's change, but years of therapy had made no difference. Chihiro had tried to tell them so many times, hoping that it might make some level of difference, but no one would believe her. She couldn't blame them; she wouldn't have believed her story either, except that it had happened to her. His face still haunted her dreams.
She rolled over. It was no use: she was going to have to get up. She would be leaving for university in only a few days and had barely packed anything. She had thought she would be thrilled to be getting away, but now the day was creeping closer she wasn't so sure. She loved her parents, despite the divide that had developed between them, but she'd wanted a fresh start. The spirit world had changed them all, and she struggled to fit in, both at school and at home. Her mind was always elsewhere. But, she felt close to him here. She felt she might lose him forever if she left.
Was he still in the spirit world, or had he found a new river? She threw herself out of bed, and tried desperately not to think of him. The white dragon looked down at her with baleful eyes. Sometimes she was sure he looked at her as if he was real. Sometimes she was sure she saw something move out of the corner of her eye. She reached out and patted the dragon fondly on his painted head. She was going to have to make a lot of goodbyes soon, but parting with a painted wall would be a particularly sad one.
She tore herself away from the dragon, and wandered over to her wardrobe. She had to pick something to wear tonight: Taro was picking her up and she needed to look presentable. She couldn't help but feel the accusatory stare of the dragon behind her as she thought about her date. She had to move on from a childhood crush, and the fantasy world that it entailed. Taro was sweet, and he'd been asking her to have dinner with him for so long – she felt she owed it to herself to try and have a normal relationship. She needed practise for university.
Examining herself in the mirror, she wondered what he looked like. Her body had changed over the years – had his? Was he still a spirit boy, or had he grown? Her shorts and tank top hung loosely on her body, and she poked at her stomach. She was on the skinny side, but had struggled to gain weight. Her parents, on the other hand, had fought to maintain their figures since the pig incident. They put it down to a new job and a change in environment.
Chihiro's scan of her wardrobe was proving to be fruitless. She plunged further into it, rifling through her over-worn clothes. Her hand touched on something soft, pushed carelessly towards the back. The silky material rippled through her hands as she gingerly pulled it out, holding her breath as she realised what it was. She'd bought this dress impulsively, and never worn it. It made her think of him. It seemed to contain all the colours of water that she knew, and tumbled about as if a flowing river. It clung to her body tightly as she wore it, and she'd imagined she was a water sprite who'd come out onto the land for a day. She admired it a moment longer before placing it back in the wardrobe. It wouldn't be right to wear it for Taro.
Her mind raced now. She was sure there was someone behind her, but if she looked she knew they'd be gone. She slowly raised her eyes to the mirror, holding her breath, as if her breathing might scare them away. Her eyes reached the glass and met the reflection of her empty room. She expected nothing less. Obviously she was still tired if she was hallucinating like this. Maybe breakfast would perk her up.
Taro walked her to the front door, hesitantly taking her hand. She looked so beautiful. Her chestnut hair hung softly around her face, and she was wearing a blue dress that fell about her as if a waterfall. He had told her how stunning she looked and had been rewarded with a gentle blush. She had always seemed so shy at school, but when she laughed it made him think of summer rain. He could barely believe he'd just had dinner with Chihiro. They'd reached the front door, and he realised he was staring.
Chihiro hesitated on the front door. Dinner had been nice. She didn't have much to say. He'd complimented her on her dress, and the purple band she wore on her wrist. She always wore it, and suspected he hadn't had much else to say. She wished he hadn't said anything about the dress. She shouldn't be wearing it, but suddenly she'd found herself walking down to his car with it on.
"Would – would you like to come in?" She paused a moment, wondering where those words had come from, her mouth dropping open a little as she'd realised it had been from her. She saw the elation on Taro's face, the eagerness behind his eyes.
She felt like a different person as she opened her front door, murmuring hello to her parents as they sat before the TV. She took him through to the kitchen, offering him a drink. All the time she was sure she was having an outer body experience. She invited him to her room, tripping over the words as she'd stumbled up the stairs. She was sure she wasn't in control.
He'd gasped when he'd entered her room, rushing over to the dragon painting.
"Did you paint this?" he asked. She nodded mutely. "It looks amazing."
She wanted to cry out as he ran his hands across it. No one touched it but her. She fought to gain control of her thoughts. She counted in her head, and focused on her breathing. There was nothing wrong with Taro being in her room. It was a perfectly normal thing. They'd been friends for a long time. It was just a friend hanging out in her room. But Taro wanted more. They had nothing to lose: she was leaving soon. Now she was calmer she didn't think it was wrong of her to have invited him in. Her parents were downstairs, and she'd known him a long time. She hadn't had much experience, but surely she wasn't rushing things?
Taro was still running his hands across the painting. She told herself it was fine. It was just a painting. But maybe she could distract him. He was just trying to be kind to her.
She sat down on the bed, and Taro slowed in his conversation.
"I, had a really great time," he murmured. He looked down into her shining eyes. "I'd like to see you when you get back. Or maybe I could come visit you."
Chihiro knew that there was nothing wrong with a friend coming to visit her. He had been practically her only friend at school, and she at least owed him that.
He reached towards her, his warm palm brushing against her flushed face, and tucked a strand of her unruly hair behind her ear. He was going to kiss her, she was sure of it. Wasn't she supposed to shut her eyes? His eyes were open as he moved closer towards her. She was aware she was blinking nervously, trying to figure out what to do with her eyes. Did she want to kiss him? His hand felt for hers across the blanket, entwining their fingers together. Slowly she felt the soft pressure of his lips against hers. His kiss was gentle and sweet, like him. She found herself naturally responding to him, their kiss deepening, his tongue sliding inside her mouth. He was hungry for her kiss, but even as she relaxed into it he could feel her tension. She didn't want this. Chihiro was hesitating. He was warm, and enticing, but this wasn't right. He could feel her begin to push away, her hand slipping from his and pressing against his chest. He began to slow his kiss, awaiting the inevitable disconnect. He wanted to prolong this moment. This was his last chance with Chihiro.
Something hit him hard in the back of his neck, as he heard a crash. He was aware of Chihiro's shriek and something warm beginning to trickle down his neck.
"Toro?" she sounded concerned. He turned to see a broken mirror, and shards of glass shattered around the room.
"What happened?" He brushed some of the shards off his jacket sleeve.
"I don't know, but you're bleeding. My mirror looks like it exploded." She'd been looking at it before it happened. Taro was still kissing her, but she'd opened her eyes and begun to push him away. Then she'd seen something move. The mirror exploded next. "Let me help."
"No, really, it's fine." It wasn't that bad. Just surface cuts. "It'll stop bleeding in a moment." He felt uncomfortable. He shouldn't be here. Chihiro had only invited him in to be kind. He should have seen that before. "I think I should go," he murmured.
The beautiful girl next to him looked up at him with concern, and he wanted to take her in his arms and tell her how lovely she was. He leant down and kissed her forehead. He probably wouldn't see her again before she left.
Taro turned and exited the room, not wanting her to show him out. Chihiro sat on her bed for a moment, surveying the damage in her room. She curled up into a ball and began to cry.
For a moment, the dragon's eyes glowed.