"It's wonderful to meet you Ms. Rosenberg" I said as I quickly stepped past her through the gates.
She laughed lightly, closing the gates behind us, and turned around with an impish smile on her face before launching into the single longest sentence I had yet to hear anyone embark on.
"Oh, well there's no need to be so formal with me Tara, I'm neither a Miss or a Mrs. or a Ms. for the matter really - just call me Willow, everyone does - not that I'm implying that I'm known to the world" she paused ever so briefly to motion above her head in a flurry of circular gestures "and that everybody that meets me automatically knows my name, but I don't stand on circumstance here since I think there is plenty of that in our country already; however, I do stand for being friendly and don't you think that first names have a better way of conveying that - right to the point!"
With that, her hand shot out towards me so quickly that I almost stumbled backwards expecting her to smack me. I couldn't help but laugh at her. A feeling of comfort, amusement and joy that I had never felt before in the company of those my age welled up in me so keenly that it forced its way out of my throat in what I can only describe as a snort. Covering my mouth with my hand I smiled at her with both warmness and embarrassment. Once I had controlled my laughing, I reached out to shake her hand.
Warmth, smooth silky warmth, enveloped my hand when she shook it firmly as she smiled and nodded her head at me. As she drew her hand away from mine, her fingers trailed over my palm, causing a tingling heat to rush up my arm. Never before had a handshake been so pleasant. My hand immediately missed the warmth of embracing hers. I scrunched my forehead in confusion, staring down where our hands had been joined.
"Is something wrong?" she asked "I know it's cold, and here I am talking your head off when I should have been showing you to your room! Gosh! I can be so forgetful sometimes. Particulars before pleasantries Willow" she tapped her right temple a few times as she said her name.
I smiled at her, again my heart lightened by her friendly and carefree manner.
"No, nothing is wrong at all Willow. I just don't believe I have ever heard anyone speak so many words in one single breath".
"Oh, I've been known to do that" She grinned at me again. "Shall we go up and see the grounds?"
Though she was pointing in the direction of what I assumed to be the Institute, I could still not see anything through the heavy fog.
"I think that would be lovely Willow, thank you."
We both moved to pick up my bags, which I had set down after entering through the gates, at the same time. I was leaning down slightly, my hands already gripping both bags, when her hands covered mine lightly in an attempt to take my luggage from me. I begin to straighten up, to protest that she needn't help me, when I found my face mere inches from hers, our eyes suddenly boring into each others - my blue into her never ending green.
I became flustered instantly by her nearness, then confused by my reaction. It was as if she was pulling at my skin and pushing herself into me, all at the same time. I felt warm, weak and unsteady. I attempted to speak a few times, before having to moisten my lips and try again. I pulled lightly to relinquish her loose grip on my hands and the bags and stood up.
"It's not a problem for me to carry my own bags Willow, but thank you for your kindness."
She stood as well then, her hands still slightly outstretched where they had been covering mine. She then folded them into fists and jammed them underneath her arms, turning away from me to start up the slight rise towards the grounds of the Institute.
"Well I had to offer" she said in a sing-song voice and grinned back at me, beginning a leisurely walk up the incline.
I followed a few feet behind her, still unnerved by my odd reaction to this adorable creature named Willow. Then I smiled ruefully to myself and thought 'when have you ever though anyone was adorable, and at what point did you start talking to yourself in your head?' As my inner dialogue rambled on, much like Willow had previously, she moved to walk beside me rather than in front of me. I sensed that she was uncomfortable with our silent walk; I myself have always been prone to seek solitude and the quiet reflection that being alone brings.
Swinging her hands back to clasp together behind her, Willow glanced sideways at me few times. "So... where in the South are you from Tara?"
I groaned internally. Many years of smoothing my accent had clearly not convinced the very first person I met at my new job.
"See, I was thinking maybe Georgia, but I'm not positive because I've never been there - but! I met a fellow once from there and he had a very similar lilt to his voice only not as pretty and deep as yours. So I thought, perhaps further South? But really only Florida is further South than Georgia and you just don't seem like a Floridian to me. Oh gosh, I hope I didn't just offend you. I have nothing against Floridians; I just somehow didn't feel Florida flowing off of you..."
As she trailed off, I could do nothing but shake my head in wonder as my steps slowed to stare at her again. My first negative response about my accent had evaporated as soon as she had begun her babbling. She simply made me feel good, just by listening to her speak. I grinned at her as she swung around to see why I had stopped.
"Do you always talk this much Willow?"
"Yes I do" she grinned back at me. Then, her smile faltered and she whispered in a very small voice "Unless it bothers you Tara. I can slow it down, but I can't promise to stop".
"No!" I laughed nervously at my own outburst. "Please don't stop, it's wonderful to listen to you. I'm from Charleston, South Carolina."
"Ah, a Charleston lady! How lovely."
She then took my hand and pulled me further into the mist towards the Institute. She didn't let go as we briskly finished the ascent to my new home. Only minutes before, I had been terrified at the prospect of a new life and new people. Now, my heart burst with excitement and anticipation. And as I stared down at Willow's hand, still joined snugly with mine, something else swelled in me; its meaning just beyond my grasp.