When sight came, it was as sudden and startling as a biblical revelation. He returned from the lake shivering, clutching Celia in her drenched clothes, staring at everything around him. He found, strangely, that he couldn't find his way back to the dorms unless he closed his eyes for a moment and thought about the sounds and scents and the feel of the ground beneath his feet. Celia guided him home as much as he guided her.
It took him an hour to realise that this sudden influx of light meant that this was no longer his home. He had no place here any more. The joy that had sparked up in his heart began to settle and mingle with a strange sense of loss. He sat in his room in pyjamas and a dressing gown, trying to recover some warmth while the doctor bent over him and flashed light into his eyes and had him read letters off a card, and spoke to him irreverently about the foolishness of getting his sight back by trying to give himself pneumonia. He felt as if he were in shock. He should have been laughing and all he wanted to do was cry until his ribs broke apart.
'Celia,' he asked for the fifth time. 'How's Celia?'
'Celia's fine,' the doctor assured him. 'The nurse is taking care of her. A good night's sleep will set her right.'
'I should never have said anything,' he murmured. 'I shouldn't have said it.'
The doctor ignored him, slipping a stethoscope beneath Buz's pyjama top and pressing it to his chest and saying, 'Now breathe in and out. And again.'
He breathed and felt warmth beginning to tingle in his fingertips and creep back into his toes. He stared at the new world around him and thought of his first sight of Celia, clutched in his arms, half-drowned, dripping, shuddering with cold. He had found a kitten like that once, shivering at the side of the Hudson. It was a tiny thing only half in life, trying to claw out of the sack it had been dumped in. He had brought it back to the orphan asylum, but it had been taken away by the matron. He could still see its thin, desperate face, and he thought now of Celia's face, blank and washed through with grief.
'She'll be all right?' he asked again.
'A good night's sleep will set her right,' the doctor repeated, as if it were a line he had learnt long ago. 'And I'll say the same for you. Hot drinks and sleep. I'll see you again in the morning.'
'All right,' he murmured, staring at the room in front of him, at the television that he had listened to programmes on and his stack of records by the player and those table lamps blazing out light that he had only been able to feel until now. 'All right.'
'Congratulations, Mr Murdock,' the doctor said before he left the room, and Buz smiled absently at him, caught up in a hurricane of thought and feeling. He needed to sleep. He needed something to untangle the shock and joy and heartbreak inside him.
Saying goodbye to Celia was a strange thing. Looking into her eyes, eyes that were as blind as his had been, and wondering what was passing in her mind. She was as much like a bird as he had imagined her, as delicately formed, looking as if she were waiting to take off. Her movements made him think of a sparrow on the ground, looking for food. He wanted to put his hands to her face and lay his fingers over her eyes and remove whatever scales were there to set her free.
'There isn't any chance of that, Buz,' she told him prosaically. 'It's not like your blindness. There never was a chance. I accepted that long ago. But you – you've got your whole future ahead of you now. The future you'd always thought you'd have.'
'And what about you?' he asked, touching a finger to her cheekbone and seeing her cheekbone all at once. It seemed like a miracle to be able to do that.
'Oh, I'm making plans,' she said enigmatically. Her smile made him think of icons in churches, secret and knowing. 'Don't imagine I don't have a future. I do, and it's just as wide and exciting as yours.'
'Do you plan on telling me about your plans?' he asked, and she smiled again, shaking her head.
'Not until I'm certain,' she said.
He nodded and left it at that. There was no point in trying to prise secrets from Celia. She could hold onto them like an oyster with a pearl inside.
He sat and looked at her, drinking in the lines of her face and the clearness of her eyes and her short, unstyled hair that somehow made him think of feathers. She looked just how he had imagined and nothing like he had imagined. Sometimes he had visualised her looking like a bird in a tree or a dancer on a stage. He had thought of nothing quite as real and endearing as this. He knew that she was as strong as an arc of steel, but she looked so small and fragile that he wanted to put his arm about her and protect her from the world.
'It's going to kill me to leave you behind, baby,' he said, tracing her cheek again with his fingers. 'All those things I said by the lake. I was – I don't know – trying to push you away before we both got hurt too bad. I didn't know what was going on in my own head. It was just too much, you know. I didn't know how to deal with all those things. I felt like I was drowning.'
She patted his hand. That gesture had become so familiar to him, but now he saw her do it, her fingers thin and fleeting. He could see something behind the veil of her skin – some kind of pain that seemed to illuminate her body – and there was nothing he could do to ease it.
'You get restless, Buz,' she said, her words soft and gentle over the pain that he could see was there. 'I understand. I know that you need to move on. But – write to me, won't you? Tell me about all the places you see.'
He smiled. 'I'll find places to borrow a brailler, just to write letters to you,' he promised. 'They'll be your letters, private. You won't need anyone to read them to you.'
'I'll keep them in here,' she said, touching her hand to her chest. 'They'll be – '
Her voice faltered and he saw tears suddenly spill onto her cheeks and his heart seemed to break.
'Baby, don't cry,' he urged her, wiping those tears off with his fingertips. 'Hey, don't cry.'
He leant forward, cupping a hand behind her head and drawing her forward, touching his lips to hers and closing his eyes and losing himself in her, tasting the salt on his tongue as her tears ran down onto her lips.
'I think I'm gonna miss you like crazy,' he murmured, keeping his eyes closed, letting his hands explore the feel of her one last time. Something melted inside him and he knew that his tears were mingling with hers. He pushed his arms around her and held her so tightly that he was afraid he might break her.
'You need to go,' she said eventually. 'You need to pack and – '
'Yeah, my buddy Tod's coming in the morning,' he said with his head against hers and his eyes still closed. He wondered if he could sweep her up with him and take her along. She was small enough to fit between him and Tod in the Corvette. But there were just some things in life that were never going to happen. That was him and Celia. They had drifted for a time down the same stream and now the currents were dividing. He would have to leave her behind.
He found himself crying again as Tod drove the Corvette down that long winding drive away from the camp. He bit his lip into his mouth and wiped his hands over his face, feeling the cold of the moving air evaporating his tears away. Despite the awful reason for his being there, he had grown to love that place and those people as if it was his one true home and family. And there was Celia at the centre of it all, a slim, self-contained figure in her tightly buttoned coat, being left behind and alone.
'You all right, buddy?' Tod asked, snatching a look sideways at him as he took the turning onto the main road.
'Yeah,' he said, pushing the heels of his hands against his eyes again and then letting the light flood back as he pulled them away. 'I'll be all right. It's just – strange – you know.'
'I can imagine,' Tod said. The road was straight and level before them. He took a little longer to look sideways at his friend. 'You were hung on up her,' he said quietly.
'Yeah,' Buz said, wiping a hand across his cheek again and thinking of Celia's pale, still face as they had driven away. 'Yeah, I was more than hung up. I think she had a net around my heart.'