She woke slowly to the distant rumble of traffic and the beginings of a crick in her neck from falling asleep at her desk again. Heaving herself off her books (they made a poor pillow) and sitting up with a yawn, she stretched and groaned. Fallen asleep studying again. As if she didn't have a test tomorrow!
The summer day's sticky heat had softened with the evening to be almost tolerable. Shaking her hair loose from her ponytail (as if she was ten again), she grimaced at the weather and thought of the haircut she'd been too busy to get. And through the haze of busy, ordinary distractions her mind tried to throw in the way, remembered, fleetingly, that she'd dreamt of him again.
The dream itself was gone, faded into the long passing between sleep and waking, but it had been of him and she could feel him there still, with her, as if he had sent the dreams himself, and that was almost worth more than the dream itself.
Pushing her books away for the moment, she sighed. Leaned into her chair, shut her eyes and let herself sink into that lingering, elusive warmth.
How long had it been since she'd dreamt of him?
There had been many dreams when they'd first moved here, soon after the return from the spirit world. A few had been nightmares, fragments of memory and fear, but they faded quickly and she had dreamed of strange things, good things. Of him. She thought he sent them; it seemed like something he would do, news from the other side, reminders that he had not forgotten her.
That she would not forget him again.
But the dreams slowly grew fewer and she tried to tell herself that it was only wishful thinking, believing that he sent them. Except that she couldn't, really, because she wanted to believe and it had been years since she'd seen him, so that memories were all she had to hold on to.
And memory was a chancy thing; it frayed at the edges, got magnified in the wrong places, was washed out by time. The bathhouse had faded into dream and delirium long ago, names and faces were wearing out, losing clarity. What memories she had, she treasured as she could.
Opening her eyes, she stared at the ceiling. And if she could forget them, she might forget him too and she had already made that mistake once; she couldn't let herself make it again.
Abruptly, her mother's voice broke her reverie. "Chihiro! Dinner!"
Startled, she nearly fell off her chair; fumbling to regain balance, she hastily answered, "Coming!"
Stood... paused. The evening light had stained her room orange and gold, painting even the old pencil drawing she'd pinned above her desk so that for a moment, a golden dragon danced on her wall. Reaching out, she traced the familiar lines on the age-yellowed paper, clumsily drawn because she was no artist but still unmistakably the elegant, slender form of a dragon.
She smiled to herself. Even if the dreams were not from him, even if there were years yet before they would meet again, even if she, him, they did forget.
They would find each other again, as many times as they needed to. And for now, for today, she would hold on to the memories that she could. She would remember...