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Steady as the Snow Falls(14)

By:Lindy Zart

Once again she found herself traipsing through unknown parts of a  lifeless, dark house. Beth entered the dining room, her eyes dipping to  the table that mocked family dinners and what they represented. Life,  love, a connection. It was uncanny, and she wondered why Harrison even  bothered to have the table and chairs put in the room.

She stepped past the door that led to the trophy room, and walked the  length of the hallway. At the end of it was a window, a beacon of light  in a somber reality. The low thrum of sound pulled her to the last room  on the right. Through the closed door, she picked out faint instruments  playing a hauntingly slow tune. There were no words, no voices.

Beth carefully turned the doorknob and walked inside, gently shutting  the door behind her. Her ears were assaulted by sound, it vibrating  through her body like she was a piece of it instead of separate.  Midnight blue curtains kept out the sun, darkening the tan walls.  Harrison didn't have a radio-he had an entire sound system. The walls  had to be soundproof, because inside the room was an orchestra so fierce  she feared her ears would bleed. As she listened, it changed its beat,  alternating its rhythm.

In the center of the room was a chair, and sitting on it was Harrison,  his profile in view. Features cut from stone were alluringly resplendent  in peace. His form was relaxed, molded to the chair in quiet, oblivious  seduction. Beth swallowed, her heartbeat fast and forceful. Witnessing  his soul splayed open for all to see, and her eyes alone permitted to  view it, made her veins tighten and release. She felt possessive,  protective. She wanted to shield him from anything that tried to break  him down. Even himself.

The music was loud, powerful. Instruments flowing like magic, pounding  like the beat of a million hands. It floated through the room, sad and  fast, slow and sweet, ripping open Beth's heart as she listened.  Repairing it. Building her up and crashing her back down. She stared at  Harrison, entranced by his stillness. His eyes were closed, his head  tilted back, as he breathed in the melody, living in the music. He was  breathtaking, a half man made whole in the storm of the song.

Lost in the rapture of the song and Harrison, Beth became unaware of  time. She was no longer cold; the nervousness disappeared. She was an  ember of life, on fire in the heat of the blaze. There was only  Harrison, and he was a masterpiece. When the music abruptly shut off,  her eardrums protested the silence. She fought to blink away the fog  covering her eyes and mind.

The only part of her not blurred was her heart. It beat-clearly, ravenously-it beat.         



Harrison was sitting up, his eyes on her.

Beth met his gaze, felt her pulse jump.

A small black remote was in his hand. He stood, his attention dropping  to her arms. Harrison clenched his jaw and focused on her. "You refused  the blanket and you're refusing the pants as well? You insult me, Beth."

"No. That isn't it." Flustered, she lowered her eyes and squeezed her  fingers around the article of clothing. It smelled freshly laundered,  the scent of snow and rain emanating from it. "I just … I didn't know  where to change. I don't know where your bathroom is." Her words were  dipped in wariness and embarrassment.

Harrison paused, scrutinizing her with his all-seeing eyes. "And yet you managed to find me, upstairs and in here."

Beth's jaw jutted forward as she lifted her eyes to take in his derisive  countenance. "I didn't want to get your blanket wet. That's all it  was."

Time hesitated as he studied her, and then he gave a short nod. "There  are two bathrooms." Harrison moved for the door. "One upstairs and one  on this level. I'll show you where the downstairs one is-if you aren't  too afraid to use it, that is."

She wanted to shout at him that he was wrong, she wanted to scream her  denial through all the rooms, but he was right. She had thought about  it, and she had questioned the smartness of using the same facilities as  him. Beth cringed from the suffocating shame as it washed over her in  streams of scalding heat. She hated that about herself, loathed the  ingrained prejudices she didn't want to feel. Enough time had passed,  enough medical progression had taken place that people didn't have the  fears they once had, and still they acted as if no time at all had  passed. As if the disease were new, and as deadly as it once was.

Beth followed him, silent and stricken.

He stopped near a door at the start of the hallway, opening it and  flipping up a light switch while remaining outside the room. Harrison  turned to her. "I clean as needed, and someone my mom knows comes over  weekly to do a better job."

"It's-" Beth began, her face burning, but he cut her off with a look  that told her not to bother with whatever she was going to say.

She hovered in the doorway of the spacious room, taking in the gray and  white tiled walls and floor. There was a large, square-shaped tub near  the far wall, illuminated by the light shining through from a high  window. A shower with glass doors took up a corner. Everything sparkled  as if recently washed. Even the toilet gleamed bright white, scorning  her weak disposition.

Harrison opened a cupboard door and set a bottle of cleaning solution  and a roll of paper towels on the counter. Glancing at her, he said, "We  might as well be open about it. It's an ugly disease. No point in  trying to pretty up the unpleasant facts. If it eases your conscience to  clean everything before you touch it, go ahead."

Without waiting for her reply, Harrison left, closing the door after him.

Beth set her back to the door and covered her face with her hands, the  pants sliding from her grasp. The coldness of the floor leached into the  soles of her feet and up her legs. Her shoulders shook against the  emotion coursing through her like an inescapable curse. She felt sick,  not only in her stomach, but in her soul, and erroneous in a way she  couldn't brush aside with an apology. Harrison was living with the  illness, and her presence shouldn't make him feel worse about it.

Stop it. Stop reacting negatively to something you don't understand.

Straightening, she slowly removed her jeans, her skin cold to the touch.  Beth slid on the soft cotton pants, tightening the drawstring around  her waist. They were too long and too big, but they were warm, and they  were dry. She folded her jeans and set them on the counter and looked at  her reflection. Remorse pinched her features, made her blue eyes dark  with the reality of the kind of person she was. Beth choked on air as  she brought it into her lungs, turning from the image of someone she  didn't entirely want to claim as hers. She didn't think he would accept  it, but she owed Harrison an apology.

Harrison waited outside the door, on the opposite wall of the hallway.  His face was angled down, his eyes lifting to hers as she stepped out of  the bathroom. The darkness of his gaze pulsed with emotion. A single  glance from him and her mouth turned to dust. He offered a pair of white  socks and she gladly took them, his fingers unconsciously brushing  across hers at the exchange. Harrison's fingers were long and warm and  Beth blinked in surprise at the pleasant sensation of contact.

He snatched back his hand, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. He stood  partially turned from her, as if to protect one of them from the other.  The air around them radiated with tension, thick with everything kept  unrevealed. She quickly leaned over and pulled on the socks, the  material ending halfway up her calves. Beth straightened, catching the  direction of Harrison's attention.         



Pulling his eyes from her legs in a way that suggested it took  substantial effort, Harrison said, "I can put your jeans and socks in  the dryer."

Beth bit back the need to tell him she could do it herself, not wanting  him to do any more for her than was necessary, and instead nodded.  "Okay. Thank you."

She gathered up her damp clothes, including the socks from the foyer,  and was led by Harrison to a laundry room located off the kitchen.  Trying to keep her eyes from his shoulders and back proved difficult as  she remembered the sculpted terrain beneath his cobalt blue shirt, but  Harrison didn't comment on her inability to look elsewhere, and it was a  small reprieve.

The laundry room had wood flooring like the majority of the house, and  the walls were painted cream, lined with windows and cupboards. When he  tried to take the clothes without touching her, Beth purposely made  their hands touch. Convincing herself or him that it was okay, she  didn't know which. Both. Dark eyes flickered to hers and away, a spark  of light glowing tiny and distant in their depths. Beth wanted to grab  his hands, and hold them, and force him to look into her eyes and see  that her prejudices weren't by design. That she was trying, that she  would understand, if he let her.

He paused before the dryer with his back to her. "I understand your  reservations. I have them as well. I am a monster with poison living  inside me. One wrong touch, one innocent mistake, and someone else is  compromised."