“Yes, I did,” she replied, and there was that same look of nostalgia in her eyes as I had seen in the eyes of so many old folk when they sat in their homes and were asked by their children and grandchildren what they remembered.
“You are old before your time,” I whispered to her. She smiled gently and moved, so that her feet could regain their circulation. How long had it been since she last took a step, I wondered, how long had she been sitting there?
“That’s what they always say in books, but it’s not really true. All children are like this. Some just show it more than others.” Maybe that was true, though I’d never thought of it before. Maybe all children were wise and it was only the adults that felt that should be restricted to those above a certain age.
I looked at her with new respect. “Maybe you’re right there. I never thought about that before.” Her grin was a sign that, no matter what sort of things she said or did, she was still a child in many ways.
"Tell me, strange man," she said with a little smile. "What are you doing here? Why have you come? It's snowing. Everybody's indoors, but you are here."
"And so are you," I pointed out, looking at her. She was right to call me 'strange man'. I was strange in many ways, from the beard on my young, twenty three year old face to the hat I wore to protect myself from the freezing air. But I wasn't really going to talk about that now. "You are here, so there is no reason why I should not be." She laughed at that, as though it was the funniest thing she had ever heard. I loved Alyssa when she laughed, because her whole face lit up and somehow she didn't seem quite so thin any more. But that might just have been my imagination. Wishful thinking perhaps.
"Well, I have a reason to be here. But you have so far given me none." I wasn't planning on it, either. How could I explain to her that it was for her sake that I was out here when I would rather be inside by a radiator with a mug of hot chocolate in my hands? I couldn't.
"I have come to make sure you are all right. I knew you were going to be here and I couldn't bear the thought of you being alone in the cold and the snow so I thought I would see how you were doing. I think you need to come inside and warm up. This isn't the weather for a girl like you to be out in those clothes. Come, I'll give you something to drink, and then we can come back. Perhaps they'll be home by then?"
Alyssa looked tempted, but she resisted my charms. "No, I told my mother I would come here and wait for them. There is no reason for me to leave my post.”
At that I really lost my temper. I didn’t think that dear Mary would want her daughter to catch pneumonia, but then she had told me to rot in hell or she would send me there herself, so anything was possible. I think it was difficult for her to find out that I was the reason she had lost her sister, but I couldn’t really do anything about that. Besides, that was the past. That was over with. We should have moved on by then. "No reason? No reason? Of course there's a reason. The fact that you're going to lose your toes to frostbite is one of them, little one. You can't stay out here. I won't let you.”
“And you are planning to stop me?” My blood ran cold. As she took a step towards me, her dark hair hanging over her shoulders, she looked so like her mother that I almost felt like time had been reversed. And those were the words that she had spoken to me, too, on that night all those years ago. The resemblance was more than uncanny.“No. I am planning to help you.” That’s what I’d said to Mary too. She hadn’t listened, but it was for her own good.