The morning before her first day at the new school, she had a new kind of dream. Or maybe it wasn’t new, but she didn’t remember having it before. It was like déjà-vu: everything seemed familiar, even the first time she saw it. Maybe that’s the way dreams always are. But this one felt different.
She was in a room. It wasn’t a small room, as rooms go—in fact, for a bedroom, it seemed like something straight out of a Disney castle, with blues and reds popping out from the walls and the wardrobe and furniture, and a bright purple bed in the center.
At first, it felt like she was alone in the room, but then all at once, she felt hands circling her waist, soon followed by a nuzzling kiss on the back of her neck. She had never been touched like that, awake, yet it felt natural, and like she knew the man who did it. She turned around to greet him—
And that was when she woke up.
As dreams go, it wasn’t too elaborate, but it left an impression that lingered during breakfast and the ride on the metro with the woman trying to be her mother, and even when she joined the class that would be hers.
She couldn’t help but wonder, later on, if that dream had been what made her fall so quickly and completely in love with almost the first boy she came into contact with.
His face was soon put upon the body that called to hers in the dreams. That very night, they picked up where they’d left off in the not-so-small room, gazing into one another’s eyes and drinking deep. There was a caution in those first few nights, but it was born of excitement and played as a lingering within each other’s touch, a savoring of the company of each other’s dreams.
They didn’t speak much at school, but when they did, he smiled and she was always aware of his presence, even when she pretended not to be. But they didn’t speak much, even when their eyes found each other across rooms and the crowded courtyard.
Until they did.
“I hear you write songs,” she was bold enough to say to him after sitting down near him in the study hall.
In response, he merely lifted his eyes up at her with the shadow of a smile on his lips.
“What are you writing about?” He twirled the fountain-pen in his fingers like a tool for inspiration and the words on the page were arranged like verses.
“Everything,” he told her.
It was a megalomaniacal answer, for sure, but “Does that include love?”
He seemed taken aback by the directness of this riposte and she caught his eyes flickering up and down her frame. “Perhaps,” he confessed, and then lifted the pen to his lips like a cigarette for a long, magical drag of inspiration.
That night in the red-blue-to-purple room, they explored the bed at last, its purple majesty, tossing sheets about like waves as they dove into one another. It occurred to her that though the room was hers, this was his domain, and he played the fabric of this little world like a chef in his kitchen, like a librarian on the subject of his endless collection, like a rockstar performing for billions and then surfing their waves. All she could do was cling to him. It made her feel safe, but at the same time, excited.
The next time they spoke, he showed her one of his songs, upon request. It wasn’t a song about love (not yet) but it was lovely and it resonated: it was about a home across the sea and living in two different worlds, not sure which of them was the real one. They didn’t talk about love, but she thought she caught him gazing at her neck and wanted him to kiss her there.
Every time they spoke, no matter how many other people were nearby, there was a tension between them. They would stand next to each other. They would lean in and “accidentally” touch. But then they would back away. She wasn’t sure why. She did it because he did it, and she couldn’t help but wonder if the same was true for him.
At night, there was certainty and purpose. He would bend the world around them both and wrap her up in its sheets. He would build mountains and cities out of fabric and then wrinkle them down into dust. He would whisper her name in her ear from behind her as he pointed out their room in the palace of silk, but it wasn’t her name, not the same one she answered to, awake. This name was older.
There was a trip, with school. After driving eight hours South, they would spend a week in the wilderness, biking and hiking, an adventure, if somewhat controlled. The bus drove down at night and though they had held hands once or twice, no words had been spoken between them that mattered. But on a bus ride South with school, no one gets much sleep and what sleep they get, they get at different times. That was how she came upon him sleeping and found herself lingering a bit too long, wondering a bit too seriously what he might be dreaming about, and she heard him breathe her name.
Not her real name, mind you. Her name. That name. From the dream.
She couldn’t know before that moment it was real, but now she did. Now she knew it and the knowledge was almost too much. Could she bring it up? No, it was crazy. Even if she knew it was true, it was crazy—especially then. But how could she just let it linger, let the word fester between them. One of them had to do something!
They unloaded and climbed on their bikes far too early in the morning. She had slept only briefly and dreamed a different dream, an older dream, covered in ash, where she was smoking blue flames, chased by spiders to a door she couldn’t go through until a storm hit—it wasn’t important, she told herself. They had slept at different times, so of course their dreams had been different. But now they spread out, seventy of them, kids on bikes going up mountains, careful of cars on the roads. Now she could speak to him.
She caught him alone on the trail, and, weak in the knees, her resolve and her confidence drifted away at the sight of him. They spoke, but only as they had spoken before, in vague whispers of what they really meant and riddles disguised as jokes. She wanted to do something drastic, she wanted to talk about rooms and how big they could be if you let them, or at the very least mention sheets, to see where he’d go with it. But it wasn’t until they crested the final ridge that he started humming a song and finally crooning the soft words he had written about a lady who was dressed in blue flames.
They arrived at the camp site and she wrote him a note to meet her at the large rock over the river at sunset—
I can’t tell you the end of this story. It’s too much. It’s stupid, the heartbreak. The reasons why it happened the way it did. How could she miss this appointment. She, of all people, she who had set it and made the arrangements. Stood him up. And for what? Reasons, she had aplenty. Excuses, she had none. Not ones she could tell herself. And when the day broke and camp was unsettled, she sought him out to apologize, and saw the truth of it, how in her absence someone else had been there when she’d stood him up, and now she was on his arm, she held his gaze and he avoided the one that hadn’t been there for him.
No wonder their dream had taken such a turn that night. Instead of in bed, they were upright and the door was open and he was turned away from her, light streaming in from outside, shadows dancing across the room. She kept trying to call to him, but when she ran to him, she slammed into the invisible glass between them, keeping her out, and he didn’t hear her.
I won’t tell you the end of this story. And neither will she. It pains her still, her part in it, and the fact that even now, it still isn’t over. But every night—not for the entire night, but some portion—she finds herself locked in that room, where the man she loves takes a stranger in her bed, thinking that it’s her. Why couldn’t she have just told the truth? Even now, why can’t she just tell him?
She tells herself it was all her imagination anyway. If only she could believe it.