Chapter 7: Reunion
The first thing she noticed when she woke was that Pantalaimon was not with her. Disoriented, she looked around. Where was he? Not especially worried – they’d been apart before, after all – she stood and attempted to make herself look more presentable. However, the combination of her wildly tangled hair and rumpled blue party dress was not especially flattering. She hoped she could find Will before somebody took special notice of her appearance. So she started walking. Pan would be able to find her anywhere and she needed to start looking.
Lyra did not know how long she walked or how far from the Botanic Garden she was. She only knew that her feet were sore, her body was weary, and her heart ached. She was able to separate from her daemon for a while but the time apart was already taking its toll. It had been long enough that she knew something was not right. Pan would have found her by now. Perhaps daemons could not travel through rifts, much like they could not travel to the land of the dead. And now, if she didn't find a way back, she would die. She knew that. And it only made her task of finding Will again all the more urgent.
She knew that the Botanic Garden was near Mary's house, she'd heard Mary say it just before she had entered Will's Botanic Garden the first time. Though it would only be sheer dumb luck if she were headed in the right direction, she stubbornly pressed on.
Her heart skipped as she saw the first row of houses. Of course she'd seen scattered buildings and shops and roads but she hadn't come across a proper town yet. But now energy seized her and she half ran, half walked into the mass of houses and streets.
Lyra came across a large, severe looking building on her left. A thin woman in her mid-30s was opening the front doors. Behind her, masses of school children were rushing into the open air. She decided to approach the woman, who might have been a teacher, and ask where she was.
Already forming a story in her mind, she walked up to the woman. "Excuse me, could you tell me the name of this town? I'm looking to get to Summertown. I’m supposed to meet my parents there." Despite her disheveled appearance – the blue dress she had worn to the gala was now limp and severely wrinkled, and her hair had become a sweaty, dusty mess – she smiled. There was no quiver in her voice, no hesitation in her eyes. She could still rely on her silver tongue when she needed it.
Will kept stealing impatient glances at the wall clock at the back of the room.
"Staring at that clock will not make the hands move any faster, Mr. Parry." His teacher gave him a stern look before turning back to the blackboard.
A cool hand touched his forearm. He looked up. Melanie,
sensing his uneasiness, whispered, "Only a few more minutes.” She smiled briefly. He sighed and waited impatiently
for class to end. When it finally did, he gathered his books and was the first out
the door. Melanie followed close behind. "What are we going to do this
weekend?" she asked. They often
went into the city together.
"Why don't we go to the cinema?" He didn't look at her as he said this, so he didn’t notice her face light up at the words.
"Okay." They walked silently out of the school building. That was one of the many things he liked about Melanie. They were both comfortable with silence.
He looked at her. She was pretty in an unassuming kind of way, with dark brown hair and a slender, willowy frame. He loved Lyra, but his mind wanted to forget her. He would never see her again, so why torture himself for the rest of his life?
Against his better judgment, Will began to think more about Lyra, remembering moments spent with her. No matter how many doors he closed against it, no matter how many curtains he pulled to shield it, the more he thought of her, the more he wanted to see her.
He let his mind wander slowly back to the present and found himself walking down the school's fronts steps with Melanie. He sighed.
He took little notice of the other people around him. It was only as he and Melanie were rounding the corner of the school building that he heard hervoice.
"Excuse me, could you tell me the name of this place? I'm looking for Summertown. I was supposed to meet my parents there." Will froze, heart skipping a beat.
He heard Mrs. Randall, the headmistress, reply, but couldn't understand the words. He could only hear her voice. He could hear the smile of gratitude in her soft thanks. Surely it couldn't be. He began to turn, reminding himself not to raise his hopes, because it was all just a repercussion of remembering too much. It was all just wishful thinking.
Melanie's soft, light touch on his arm brought him partly back to his senses. Without looking at Melanie, he brought his head up abruptly, almost putting it down again for fear of the vision disappearing. But there she was, standing straight, tall, and proud as ever.
She'd grown since their last days together. But then again, so had he. She was a woman now, as he was a man. Her hair had grown into long golden waves that tumbled around her shoulders. She was no longer the awkward adolescent, now standing with an enhanced form of the precocious grace he remembered. She wore a dirty, wrinkled blue gown, but despite its ragged appearance she held herself as if she wore the finest clothes money could buy.
Will felt he was made of heavy stone, sinking slowly into the ground. Shock and disbelief warred with the unexpected resentment of her sudden appearance. He hadn't seen her in over four years and had almost, if not forgotten, then exiled his memories of her into a secluded corner of his mind. And now, he realized that however much he loved her, she was an unwelcome intrusion into the safe world he'd created since their parting.
She turned, and he could see her face clearly. He saw the mask of assurance and sincerity as she told her story to the headmistress. But having studied and memorized every expression, he thought he was able to detect a hint of panic or desperation. Why was she here?
"Oh, I was in the village down the road. We separated
to go to the shops and - "
Something caught Lyra's eye, and she abruptly fell silent. A tall boy of about her own age was staring at her, unblinking, pale faced. She inhaled sharply, her heart fluttering in her breast. She almost fainted. She couldn't speak. Her whole body began to tremble in the swift moments of recognition.
The boy's messy dark hair fell across his hooded eyes. His left hand was tucked gently in his pocket, out of sight.
Will found his voice. "Lyra?" he whispered, but she was much too far away to hear him. He slowly began to realize that she was here, now, and his resentment retreated, replaced by wonder. He began to walk slowly towards her.
The boy and girl, the young man and woman, moved slowly together. Neither knew what the other would do, but they desperately wanted to find out. Their eyes were locked together and, for the first time in a long time, each saw their own expression on the other’s face.
When they stood mere feet apart they stopped. Will was vaguely aware that a few people had gathered around, whispering and pointing. He didn't know what to do. He hadn't seen Lyra in years, hadn't thought he ever would again. But here she stood, as pale and disbelieving as he was. They were strangers again.
He reached out a tentative hand to touch her face, feeling her shiver as the tips of his fingers brushed her cheekbone. She looked into his eyes – shyly, it seemed. Without thinking, he moved his hand to the back of her neck and raised her face to his. Very gently, almost timidly, he kissed her trembling mouth. It was a soft, sweet embrace, unhurried and undemanding. He moved his lips to her forehead, her cheek and back to her mouth. He renewed every memory of her: the feel of her body and her warm, honey fragrant hair. Sighing, she broke the kiss, laying her head on his chest. He felt her shudder and pressed her closer, whispering in her ear, "It’s okay. You're safe. We’re together."
With all that was happening, Will never noticed that his friend, Melanie, had been watching them. After a while, she turned away – completely at a loss – and started home, forgotten and alone.
Lyra had no idea how long they stood there. She felt safe and warm in his arms. "This isn’t real." He said, and she felt the words rumble in his chest, a counterpoint to the rapid beating of his heart. "I want it to be real…but it can't be."
She kissed his shoulder and looked up at his face. There was
hesitation and joy, but pain as well. He looked away. "I'm afraid I'll wake up and it will
have all been a dream, and I'll resent it and wish it hadn't happened, and
never would, and -
She reached up to kiss him, but he pulled away. Undeterred, she put a hand to his cheek and gently pushed back his hair so she could look him in the eye. "I love you, Will. Whether this is real or not, that will never change.”
Lyra laid her head back on his shoulder and sighed. He brought his cheek to her hair and kissed the top of her head. They stood like that for a while, content to be in each other's arms for the first time in years. To Lyra, it was like returning home after a long journey. Will felt almost guilty, like he was taking advantage of her. He was unsure of his feelings. He even entertained the possibility that he didn’t love her anymore. The only thing he knew with any sense of certainty, was that Lyra was here, she was real, and she was going to stay here unless he found a way for her to go back to her own world – and he had absolutely no idea how that was possible.But Lyra did.
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