Chapter 4: Four Years Later
"Lyra. Lyra, wake up! It's half past eight!" The girl still lying in bed groaned and moved
out of reach of whoever was dragging her from the depths of sleep.
"Go ‘way." She mumbled, keeping her eyes firmly shut.
"Come on! We’ve got to get a move on or we’ll be late."
Lyra's eyelids fluttered open. Then she bolted upright colliding headfirst with something hard. Lyra looked around wildly, rubbing her forehead. Her roommate was at the other end of the bed, clutching her chin. She giggled, then glanced at the clock above the fireplace.
Launching herself out of bed, Lyra hastily pulled on her school uniform: blue skirt, white blouse. In her haste, the blouse ripped, buttons flying. She swore loudly and rummaged in her chest of drawers for a spare. Finding one, she pulled it on, not bothering to tuck it in. She grabbed her school bag, slung it over her shoulder, and tried to tie her tangled blonde hair back into a ponytail. She ran to meet her roommate, who was already halfway down the hall, and together they sprinted down two flights of stairs, wheeled around a corner and flew into a classroom.
The professor raised an eyebrow at Lyra’s disheveled appearance. "Good morning, girls,” she said, with a hint of a smile. Out of breath and flushed, the two girls replied, "Good morning Mistress Kent." Finding seats in the back of the room, they sank into their chairs, pulled out their books and tried to catch their breath.
Will sat quietly at his desk, looking at the student who was currently reading from a passage from the textbook on the benefits of railroads during the Industrial Revolution. The words drifted around him, their monotony driving Will’s mind to wander. Somehow, railroads just didn’t seem so important. He felt that way about a lot of things nowadays.
"Will, would you continue where Henry left off?" The history professor, Mr. Hawkins, was a hook-nosed, beady-eyed man who could spot inattention with uncanny accuracy. Will stood without hesitation or complaint and read the next few paragraphs with complete indifference.
When he finished, a hand rested on his forearm. He looked over to the student next to him, the only friend he’d managed to make during his time here. She eyed him with concern. "Are you okay?"
He shrugged her worries away. "Yeah. Fine."
He could tell she didn’t believe him, but she didn’t press the issue. This was what he liked about her; why they got on so well. She understood he needed to be left alone sometimes. She didn’t ask why, she just accepted it.
He went through the rest of his classes in a daze, much like every other day of the last four years. His mind wandered, as it often did, to that time spent in other worlds. He tried to relive some of those memories everyday, fearing they might disappear if he didn’t keep them in the front of his mind. But despite his efforts, things had started to slip away. The feel of the knife in his hand. The sensation of opening a window to a new world. Her face.
He was ashamed he couldn’t remember her face clearly. He knew that he thought she was beautiful, but when he recalled the name Lyra what came to mind was her smell, a flash of golden hair, sparkling blue eyes, and a feeling of complete belonging. There were still three long months left until midsummers day, when he would sit on the bench in the Botanic Garden and pretend to be near her for a few hours.
Lyra's heart fluttered nervously as she waited for the coach to stop. As soon as she heard the driver call the horses to a halt, she jumped out and ran the rest of the way to the Botanic Garden, Pantalaimon in her arms. She burst through the wrought iron gate and jogged to the small, secluded space where she had visited so often during the months before she started at St. Sophia’s. She had come back as often as she could manage, not just the one day a year she had promised. But midsummers day was always special.
Lyra stopped in front of the bench, breathing heavily. Pantalaimon jumped from her arms and climbed onto the seat. He looked back at her expectantly, but she was staring at something behind him. Clumsily scratched beneath the worn engraving of “L+W” was the word “always”. She knew at once that the message was meant for her and that Will had written it – in his own world.
Her mind began to race with the possibilities. If this gets through the barrier, then maybe –
"No." Pan’s voice brought her back to reality.
"No!" His voice was fierce and his fur bristled dangerously. "Remember what the angel said. We have to stay in our own worlds, and be all those good things, and create dust and keep the window open for the ghosts.”
"No Lyra.” He felt her helplessness and relaxed, flowing back into her arms. “We mustn’t. No matter how much it hurts."
Although she tried not to, her heart clung to that tiny glimmer of hope, cruelly false as it was. She stood a few moments longer, then slumped onto the bench, closing her eyes and imagining she could feel Will beside her.
Will stood, eyeing his handiwork. As he stared, he felt heat creep up the back of his neck. Carving this message was both the most foolish and most painful thing he had ever done. It meant that he believed she had really written it; that she, in her own world had found a way to communicate with him. And that was the last thing he wanted. However much he wanted to see her, however much he needed it, he knew it was impossible. He sat, a hand reaching across the middle of the bench, towards the other side, where she might be at this very moment.For a brief moment, he felt a feather light touch on his fingers. But then it was gone, as if it had never existed.