Northern Sky, Nick Drake
It's been a long time that I'm waiting, been a long time that I've blown
Been a long time that I've wandered through the people I have known
Oh, if you would and you could, straighten my new mind's eye.
Would you love me for my money? Would you love me for my head?
Would you love me through the winter? Would you love me 'til I'm dead?
Oh, if you would and you could, come blow your horn on high.
My decision was becoming more and more firm. I could feel it creeping inward from the borders of my mind, solidifying from a formless, vague impression into a more tangible reality. As I had hoped, being in this place helped. Over the past few years, I had come to realize I was the type of person who put a lot of stock in intuition, but I was also careful to back up my instincts with realities gathered from direct experiences.
With a quick "thank you" and a handshake, I asked my cheerful and chatty student guide to leave me alone for a few moments in the half-furnished room that would theoretically become my office here at Newcoven College.
The room, a turreted alcove on the top floor of the 18th-century stone building, was dominated by beautifully maintained dark mahogany woodwork. It was well insulated from the weather outside. I noted that up-to-date technology and security features had been tastefully incorporated. A large, heavy desk—probably original to the space, lined one wall, beneath two rows of deep shelves.
A single wide bay window overlooked a vast clearing, bordered around the edges with tall, old trees and crisscrossed by a few meticulously groomed walkways. Beyond the trees to the north were student dorms. To the west, more academic buildings. The clearing itself was filled with a thick layer of fresh, puffy white snow and not many people. Final interviews and campus visits for prospective faculty were being held during winter break, when the student body—and most everybody else, for that matter—were away.
I moved closer to the window, settling into the solid built-in window bench and peering down to watch the few figures moving through the campus below. For the hundredth time, I considered the implications of moving from sunny Phoenix to this northern climate, and a rural town at that. The prospect of four or five months of snowy winter was the silly last obstacle keeping me from accepting what was really a wonderful job opportunity. Everything else lined up like ducks in a row. It was a respectable college, and the position had research funds attached, which was almost unheard of for a new professor. I was lucky.
A smattering of students-some of the scant few who stayed in town for break-rushed from one corner of the quad to the other with a posture of no-nonsense determination, huddled and shivering in their coats, eyes cast down to scan the ground for slippery ice patches. Would that be me this time next year, bracing against the cold and dreading any errand that took me outdoors? I mentally calculated the distances and routes from this building—Masen Hall—to the library, classroom buildings, the shops in the square, and, just beyond that, the neighborhood where I would most likely be living. The whole town was so small I'd be able to walk everywhere, or ride my bike. So what if I had to dodge some snow now and then? The winter break here was longer than at most colleges, to allow for special student projects, which meant I could spend those winter weeks back in Phoenix or somewhere sunny. I realized I was beginning to envision a life here, outlining my tactics for surviving or avoiding the horrors of the cold.
Below my window, a bicyclist rode along with her head down against the cold air, not seeing the low-hanging branches of an oak tree in her path. She veered at the last minute to avoid disaster, slipping just a bit in the slushy snow bank, righting herself, and carrying on. The campus below looked desolate, and I reminded myself that only during winter break would it be so cold and lifeless. What would I have done if that cyclist had wiped out? Was there even an emergency room nearby? I shuddered, pushing all thoughts of hospitals out of my mind.
Gradually, my attention was drawn to a lone figure, a man, moving slowly on long legs across the quad toward the edge of the clearing just below my window. He was dressed in rugged boots and outerwear, a dark woolen hat pulled over his ears and a grey scarf masking most of his face. Others rushed past him without so much as a nod, as if he wasn't even there, and he seemed equally indifferent to them. His pace was so unhurried as he strolled the path, his posture upright and his gait purposeful rather than hunched and frenzied like everyone else. A mountain lion among scampering squirrels. It intrigued me. What was he doing?
He surprised me by stepping off the path, leaving oval impressions in the ankle-deep powder as he stalked toward the snow-laden branches of the round oak. Without its leaves, frosted all over with a white fringe, the tree reminded me of a dandelion, spherical and spindly- but huge, probably hundreds of years old.
Effortlessly, this person hauled himself up onto a low branch and scrambled up a bit. The tree was stronger than I thought, barely moving under his weight. He was suddenly closer to me—if he climbed much further we would be at eye level.
Inexplicably, I felt like a voyeur, blushing a little as he removed a glove, shoving it into a pocket, and reached out his hand toward a nearby branch. Steamy vapor rose from his pink skin. His hands moved within the tree, clipping or pruning. He shoved something into the deep cargo pockets of his heavy work pants. I guessed that he might be a landscaper or building-and-grounds engineer. From what I could see of his face, he was handsome, with a strong jaw and pale, creamy skin, a little bit flushed from the cold.
The intensity of his concentration stirred something in me. He turned his gaze to the sidewalk below and, in a sort of offhanded way, began jostling the low-hanging branch with his foot, just enough so that the heaviest snow deposits and ice chunks tumbled to the ground below and the branch was made lighter. I saw that it no longer obstructed the path. A pair of bicyclists meandered by, deep in conversation as they pedaled, both of them clearing the branches easily.
Just what sort of place was this? The moment anything was out of place...a low tree branch threatening to clothesline wandering cyclists...someone came along to fix it. This place was sort of eerily perfect, but wild, too. I began to see the variable texture and weight of the snow—fluffy and drifting over there, heavy and drooping here, sharp and glistening, beautiful or dangerous or both.
Now my mystery man lingered in his perch, elbows braced against a leafless tree limb. I stayed totally still, transfixed by the character in the tree, not wanting the show to end and really hoping it wouldn't end with him startled by yours truly and pitching into thin air. He just gazed at his surroundings with an inscrutable expression. He looked pained, cautious—conflicted somehow. Steam puffed out from his lips and the recess between his neck and his scarf.
As he turned his face a few degrees-away from the tree, toward the sun-I gasped to see a shock of brilliant color refracted in his eyes. I could see even from this distance that his eyes were green like soft moss. His one gloved hand rose to remove the woolly hat and shake ice chunks loose, revealing a mop of unruly bronze hair. His other hand, bare and wet with crystals of clean snow, raked across his forehead and through his hair, and he visibly relaxed. Small lines of worry disappeared from his face.
He palmed some fresh snow and scraped it along the back of his neck and up along his temples.
I gulped, blinking slowly.
If I thought he was handsome before, he was utterly transcendent at this moment. Peaceful and exposed, neither suffering through the cold nor immune to it, but absorbing it with an uncritical openness that shocked me. The sun danced in his eyes and he seemed to take a moment to bask in the cold, bright light.
Then, just as quickly, his expression clouded over once again. He squinted and looked down, hopping lightly to the ground and walking back in the direction he came from.
I felt a sense of calm coming over me. Whatever agenda the weather brought to bear, this small town full of sturdy stone buildings and resilient dandelion-puff trees was ready. The cold didn't need to be the cruddy and painful torment I had been imagining. This was winter as nature's yearly recuperation: restorative, quietly dynamic. I hadn't realized how much I craved that for myself.
I could see my breath beginning to cloud up the window pane. I was suddenly struck by a childish impulse: I stroked my fingertip along the glass, marking my initials within a swooping heart. B.M.S…Bella Marie Swan. Yeah. I'd be back here—for good—by fall.
Author Note: So...will anyone read this? My first attempt at FF! This is an Edward/Bella love story, with a lot of involvement from the rest of the family (canon pairings) and appearances by some other familiar characters, some drama, mysteries, weather, atmosphere, and contemporary art weirdness. My outline puts it at maybe 25 chapters?