She couldn’t remember a time in her life when closing her eyes meant anything else but his smile, his laughter, his whispers. Her dreams were filled with him. She had assumed most of her childhood that that was how everyone woke up: sweet voice singing in their ears, arms stretched to reach for another. Her world had been destroyed when her parents had learned of her dreams. They had called her singer a figment of her imagination. A lie. An illusion. Something to grow out of. But she grew up. She was smarter, wiser, stronger than any of her peers. Than any of her elders. Than anyone she had ever met. And amidst the pride, the applause showered at her parents for her genius, her education and her manners, she stood alone. The dreams never stopped. He was still there, just beyond the waking world, whispering, singing, waiting. Gone were the excuse of lies and illusions, now they called him an illness, a disorder. A defence mechanism to deal with the loneliness induced by her intelligence and maturity.
But they were wrong. Her family, her peers, her psychologists, had never understood. Being alone was not the same as being lonely. Not for her. For how could she be lonely when he was still there? Dancing before her eyes every night? Taking her with him even as she stumbled through the steps and couldn’t sing a note to save her life? She was not lonely. She chose to stay alone. The waking world had nothing half as entrancing as him. No one had ever come close to his elegance, to his talents, to his wits and heart.
She left her family the moment she reached adulthood. It was a scandal. Her social class had a field day with the gossip and the tabloids printed claim after outrageous claim. The proud Pruitt heiress had left. They spoke of it as if it was something unexpected, something obscene. Even her parents had been shocked. But how could they have expected any differently, when they spoke of him as if he were a curse? How could they when they tried to find ways to remove him from her dreams? How dare they expect her to stay, when they spent years persuading her that he was her one flaw, her one weakness, her one mistake?!
She was not flawless. She was arrogant, stubborn, and apathetic. Her experience with sex, with both men and women, had made apparent her absence of desire for human touch. Her lack of intimate confidants, her distance with her parents and her outright disdain for her brother, had made even more apparent the coldness of her nature. But few married for love when they could marry for wealth or influence and even fewer commented on her apathy but with praise for her decisiveness and strength.
She had many flaws, but he wasn’t one of them.
Truly, if it weren’t for him, for the warmth he spoke of, she would have remained a Pruitt. She wouldn’t have spent the following years building up from scratch everything she had already had as her birthright. She needed the space, the lack of oversight that allowed her to do foolishness such as this: over a decade of financing children, sponsoring artists both new and accomplished, in search of him. She had not had even half a hope that she would find him. But she had to try. She couldn’t do otherwise. She wouldn’t forgive herself.
So as she built as many non-profit organizations as she could, as she tried to spread them all over the globe, she would read over the weekend, every weekend, the profiles of every child who expressed an interest in the arts. For he loved the arts. In her dreams, he was always dancing, singing, painting, writing...
It had been futile. She had perfected the process of selection as much as she dared with the fear of losing him accidentally amidst the red tape. And still nothing. Over ten years, tens of thousands of final candidates and nothing.
If she spent more time thinking of what she was doing, searching for a dream, a dream, she would grow insane.
So she learned to dance. Her talent was non-existent and her grace lacking.
She learned to paint. She burned the resulting canvas every time.
She learned to sing. She learned to write. To act. To play the violin, the flute, the piano.
She was failing. She promised him in her dreams to find him. And she was failing.
She was about to enter the gallery. One of her final candidates had just debuted, and she needed to check his work before she could eliminate him. A boy, no, a young man almost crashed onto her. She caught his shoulder before she could understand what she was doing. “Careful there.”
He was of average height. A decade younger, looked no older than 25. Messy black hair and warm brown eyes. Green shirt and black trousers. He was beautiful.
“Sorry about that,” his voice was soft, with the accent of someone who lived in many cultures. She couldn’t speak as he waved an awkward goodbye before hurrying out.
She followed him with her eyes down the stairs. Her hand felt warm.
“I found you,” she said to him that night.
“You’re late,” he answered.