I approached the gates of the Rosenberg Institute with varying degrees of emotion. Trepidation and fear were by far the prevalent ones. Looming in front of me was my new home and the scariest place I had ever witnessed. The black wrought iron fences, shrouded in many years of unfettered ivy growth, stood menacingly in the early morning fog and somehow made the freezing morning even more unbearable to me. Somewhere behind these gates, I knew that a large brick building would be found; similarly covered in ivy. However, the thick mist hid the image I had seen in my father's scientific journal; a gift for my 18th birthday.
Clutching my bags like they contained my very being, I walked closer to the entrance of my new home and looked for the call bell. Just to the left of the gate's large hinges, I found a rusted and mostly hidden brass bell. There wasn't even a pull attached to it any longer. Clearly, in the haste to open the Institute to students, no repairs or improvements had been made. Reaching into the bell, I found the remnants of a cord and pulled on it quickly.
I heard no sound immediately, but then in the distance and as if from a ship at sea, a muffled ringing was audible. I took a deep breath and waited for someone to greet me. For what seemed like an eternity, but more probably only comprised several minutes, I stood at the dreary entrance watching my breath puff out in front of me in icy clouds. When I heard the shuffling of feet moving towards me I set my bags gingerly on the ground, straightened my dress and coat, smoothed my long blond hair underneath my hat and instituted what my brother Donald always called my chess face; serious and unreadable.
From the mist in front of me there suddenly appeared a small figure, so wrapped in loose fitting garments and various brightly colored shawls that I could not ascertain their gender. For a few moments, the figure studied me, several times glancing around and over me to determine if I was traveling alone.
"And?" the figure finally spoke in an aged female voice.
I cleared my throat, curtsied lightly and spoke with every effort to hide my southern drawl.
"I'm here for the new science position" and when she did not respond, but only looked beyond me again I coughed lightly, extracted a small paper from my coat pocket and attempted another introduction. "I was given this note to present at the gate. It's from Mrs. Anne Rosenberg. I know that I'm a day early, but there was no train tomorrow. I didn't want to arrive late."
She stared at my hand suspiciously, as if unfamiliar with paper. Then, in a quick claw like gesture, she snatched it from me and without even looking at its contents, placed it somewhere within her many folds of clothes.
"Name?" she barked at me next.
Now terribly embarrassed that I hadn't immediately introduced myself properly I blushed and curtsied again nervously.
"I apologize Miss, I'm Tara Maclay. I'm expected by Mrs. Rosenberg tomorrow."
And as if I had spoken some secret language to her or performed a clandestine club handshake, her entire demeanor shifted. Giggling in what now sounded like a very youthful tone, she lifted the shawl that had been hiding the majority of her face and torso. Though I tried not to, I know I gasped aloud. Revealed now in front of me stood the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Adorning her pixie like features was a mass of wavy red hair falling to just over her shoulders. And her eyes - they were green like the vibrant grass on a summer day in the South; twinkling at me in merriment.
Swinging the gate open suddenly she smiled at me, showing all of her pearly white and straight teeth, waving her arm in a gesture to pass through in front of her.
"Well, why didn't you just say so? We were expecting you Miss Maclay. I'm Willow Rosenberg, Anne's sister."