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Steady as the Snow Falls(11)

By:Lindy Zart

Beth held her breath until he walked away, releasing it when he was in  the doorway. He paused there, and she stared at the book in her hands,  feeling his eyes on her. They were inescapable, prying into her head,  accurately reading her. She knew he had some idea as to her thoughts,  and he was irritated with her.


She looked up and turned her head to meet his eyes, an electric shock  zipping along her skin as their eyes connected. A muscle throbbed in his  jaw, his body taut as his eyes trailed over her face, ended on her  chin, and swept back up to her eyes. The look made her breaths uneven  and her hands clammy. When Harrison looked at her a certain way, he  stripped away everything until all that was left was her truth, hidden  deep inside, not meant for anyone but her to know. The truth of her  heart, and how it chose to feel, without her consent.         



"Don't act like I'm dying and you're not. I just have a better idea of when it's happening to me."

Beth exhaled noisily when he turned the corner and disappeared, stunned  by his words, even if they were true. Her mother always said people  began dying the moment they were born, as soon as they took their first  breath. She'd found it a morbid observation and tried not to ponder the  validity of her words. Her mom might be right, but that didn't mean Beth  wanted to think about how quickly her life could be gone. But  Harrison-he thought about it. How could he not?

She poured herself a cup of coffee with hands that shook, pausing as she  watched the black brew move from side to side in the cup. Harrison  hadn't touched it yesterday or today. Did he make it specifically for  her? And if so, how had he known she liked coffee? Stop it. You're  glamorizing things you should not. It's coffee. Even if he did make it  specifically for you, it means nothing. Except that maybe he isn't quite  as rude as you first thought him to be.

Beth took a sip of her coffee made sweeter and milder with cream and  sugar before setting the cup on the window sill near the bench. She was  more eager to continue the tale of the motherless boy than she would  have guessed. With the accumulating snow to watch, and a book in hand,  Beth enjoyed the peaceful scene as she read about a boy who didn't know  how to give up, even when every aspect of his life told him it would be  easier to.

Motion outside the window drew her attention to the white hills. Sitting  up, Beth moved to her knees and set her elbows on the window ledge, her  eyes locked on Harrison's lean form as he journeyed through the snowy  waves, heading toward the hills farther back. He wore a bright orange  jacket, and a black stocking cap on his head. The sight of the clashing  colors brought a small smile to Beth's lips. His progress was slow, and  he stopped every few feet, but she had to admire the way he kept going.

Chin in hand, Beth observed a sick man wordlessly dare the elements to  tell him he was anything but healthy. What lies he must tell himself,  his truth clear in the discoloration of his skin, the lines of strain  and exhaustion evident in his face. The austerity of his eyes. It was  sad, and beautiful, and inspiring, and before she knew it, Beth was on  her feet, searching the room for paper and something to write with. She  found a napkin near the coffee, and a pen in a drawer of them, and  plopped back down on the settee to write.

She wrote about the snow being on all sides of him, and how small he  looked against it, even as he fiercely faced it with a challenge clear  in his rigid stance. She mentioned the conflicting colors of his coat  and hair, as if he was defying fashion as well as anything else that  told him the way things were supposed to be. Harrison disagreed with his  destiny-that she could tell. And he wasn't giving up. She'd been wrong  about that.

Beth tapped the pen against her chin as she thought.

What are you doing? He was higher up on the hill, moving slower than he  was moments ago. Clearly, his body was tired, and that disgusted him.  Harrison pushed himself, relentlessly, determinedly. You're fighting,  any way you can. That's what he was doing. Beth dropped her gaze, an  eerie chill sweeping across her skin. Emotions swirled around her,  building and building, and Beth found that she desperately needed to  know Harrison, every detail of his life, his thoughts, his feelings.

She wanted to know him, the seemingly broken man who refused to shatter.

He fell.

Beth made a sound of dismay, her arms stretched out as though to catch  him as she watched him tumble down the hill. She was to the front door  before she stopped, her hand tightly squeezing the doorknob. She stared  at where her flesh met the metal, her heart pounding like she'd fallen  with him, and she let it go. Closing her eyes, Beth took deep breaths,  shaking off the fear, steadying the trembling in her hands. He was okay.  He wasn't a child, and he wasn't an invalid. He was okay, she repeated  to herself.

She went back to the reading room, and she watched through the window as  he picked himself back up. He stood unmoving, not wiping away the snow,  his sharp face angled toward the hill that tried to defeat him. She  couldn't see, but she imagined his features would be carved with  determination, and anger, and they would be fearless.

If it were her, she would stop trying. She would go back inside and  change her clothes, warm up. Possibly cry about things out of her  control as she wallowed in self-pity. But it was Harrison, and however  foolish it might be, whatever consequences he was bringing to fruition  with his actions, he started up the hill again. Beth cursed, her blunt  fingernails digging in her palms, and then she grudgingly smiled.         



It wasn't long before a frown claimed her face. With his weakened immune  system, it might not take much for him to become ill, and it could  become serious. Beth snorted. She could tell how much he cared about  that. She chewed on her lower lip, wondering what medications he was on,  wondering how often he went to the doctor. Wondering all kinds of  things Harrison refused to talk about.

The urge to research the disease more grabbed her, and she knew how her  evening would be spent. Beth picked up the book, tried to read, and  immediately set it back down, only a word or two registering in her  brain. Harrison was the only book she wanted to read, and write, and  then reread.

IT SEEMED TO take hours, but was closer to one when he finally made it  to the top. Beth pumped a fist in the air when he peaked the incline,  grinning. Harrison tossed both arms up, his head thrown back, and  declared himself the champion of the hill without uttering a word. She  would love to know if he was smiling, and if he was, she wanted to see  it.

What would a full, genuine smile from Harrison look like? Would there be  teeth, or not? Would it touch his eyes? Would it creep up on one side  more than the other? Would it brush aside the shadows from his face for a  moment?

Harrison dropped his arms, and his whole body seemed to crumple inward,  though he didn't move. His shoulders slumped, and his hands dangled at  his sides. Beth's smile faded, along with her joy. Whatever he was  trying to prove to himself, reality could only be ignored for so long.  Proving that he could do that had cost him something, and she wouldn't  know what until he came back.

She scowled. Beth was not going to wait around to see when that time came.

Knowing she was going to get reprimanded for bothering him, checking up  on him, whatever he would call it, Beth flung on her coat, boots, and  hat, and stomped through the snow in the direction of the hills behind  the house. Before she even reached the hill, she was spent, her breaths  coming fast and ragged, sweat lining her body beneath her clothes. Her  leg muscles burned from tramping through the thick snow and her lungs  ached from sucking in frigid air.

Harrison seemed miles away, a pinpoint on a map high and far in the  distance. She squinted her eyes against the bright whitish-blue sky, and  the falling snow, pausing to catch her breath at the base of the hill.  Beth put out a hand and let it collect snowflakes, the speed of them  languid as if to be better enjoyed. They were dainty, and frail, unique.  Beautiful bits of impermanence. She told herself to stop  procrastinating, and with a sigh, she took the first step to reach her  employer.

The path was treacherous, uneven, and unnecessary. Exercise was great,  and she enjoyed walking, but not through difficult snow. Beth cursed  Harrison as she journeyed the hillside, some of the names quite  colorful. Butt-monkey quickly became a favorite, because only a  butt-monkey would venture up an undisturbed hill of snow. She lost her  boot once, fell three times, and twisted her ankle when she stepped down  hard and met ground before she was ready for it. By the time Beth  reached Harrison, she was out of words, and air, and she wanted to fall  to the cold ground.

"I'm not paying you to take long walks," he said without turning.

"You aren't … paying me … to do … anything, really," she gasped.