(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Billie was written by D. L. Pitchford.)
Like most Thursday mornings, the top floor of the library was eerily quiet while the main floor, where students were able to print out their last-minute assignments from the campus computers, was bustling with life. While the students below rushed to get ready before early morning classes, Billie Dixon walked slowly up the stairs and settled into her regular chair at her regular table, as far away from visibility as possible.
As with every appointment, she arrived promptly ten minutes prior to the arranged time and began to lay out her things. But this appointment was decidedly different than the others, and she certainly wouldn’t need her Calculus textbook. Instead, she settled for a small, wire-bound notebook and her favorite pen. Slowly, she laid the paper out in front of her, the notebook wide open so she could easily close it, and began to sketch out a few dark shapes from across the room.
Only a few motions into the study, Billie paused to pull out her phone. How was it only 8:52? The time was passing far too slowly to get this over with as quickly as she wanted.
Kelly found her way through the silent library all the way to the top floor. She’d forgotten what it was like to be in university libraries. She always like the silence they offered.
Finally she located a table where a young woman sat, and Kelly approached, clearing her throat. She made sure to talk quietly because they were in a library after all. “Billie Dixon?” When Billie looked up at her, Kelly smiled. “Hi. I’m Kelly. I believe you’re expecting me. May I sit?”
Billie immediately shut the notebook in front of her and clasped her hands on top of it before inspecting the woman in front of her for a moment, letting the question hang in the air. After a moment, she glanced down at her phone again. “You’re late,” she said, though it had to have been only by a few seconds, and she heaved a sigh. “You might as well sit. I don’t see any sense in prolonging this.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve been working individuals in Germany and in India, and dealing with an emergency crisis since 5:30 this morning, so I apologize for being late.” Nevertheless, Kelly took a seat, regarding Billie. “So, Billie, why are you here? In university?
“Getting a degree,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Do you have your own private jet or something? To get from Germany to India to Vermont, I mean.”
Kelly chuckled. “Oh, not quite. It’s call the Internet.” Then she shook her head. “I’m assuming you’re studying math, but what are you hoping to do with your degree? What field are you looking into?”
Billie paused, glancing down at the Calculus textbook that was obviously poking out of her open backpack. “I try not to limit myself,” she said, looking back up at the strange woman in front of her. “The economy’s still recovering from one of the worst recessions in its history, you know.”
“It is, and you can do a lot with a degree, but I don’t get the feeling you’re here really to earn a degree. That’s just a plus you get for being here. You wanted away from home, didn’t you?” Kelly raised her brows as she sat back in her chair.
Shoving her thick-rimmed glasses further up the bridge of her nose, Billie tried not to laugh. “Doesn’t every eighteen-year-old?” She cleared her throat and forced a smile. “It didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped though.”
“What do you mean?” Kelly cocked her head to a side.
“Well, nothing ever really does, for one,” she said. “I certainly hadn’t intended to come here of all places, but my mother’d insisted for financial reasons.”
“Because your dad is a professor here?” Kelly raised her brows. “Are you one of his students?”
Holding back a grimace, Billie nodded. “Technically yes, as of this week. He’s teaching my Calc II class, and it is now officially spring semester.”
“So, I’m assuming you knew you were going to be his student this semester. Did he know you were coming here though?” Kelly sat back in her chair.
“Considering it’s the only thing my parents have discussed since their divorce, yes, I’d say so.” Billie plucked up the notebook and moved it back inside her backpack, which she had left on the table next to her. The pen remained on the golden-stained wood in front of her. “He practically hunted me down the first week of last semester just to say hi.”
Kelly regarded Billie for a long, silent moment. She could continue with this line of questioning, but she preferred to address something else. “Why are you so bitter?”
Billie snorted. As much as she disliked the probing, she could respect someone as straightforward as this. “You’re definitely not the first person to ask me that,” she said, still smiling, and she grabbed for the pen, something to cling to. “Haven’t you ever been disappointed by life?” And the people in it.
“Oh yeah, but what matters most is how your respond to it. Do you let the arrows of life sink into you and poison you, or do you let them bounce off? You have the choice to be bitter or not. It’s not easy, not at all, but…it’s true.” Kelly nodded, leaning forward, resting her forearms on the table as she looked at Billie. “Don’t you ever get tired of carrying all that anger? All that bitterness? Doesn’t it wear you down?”
Billie tapped the pen lightly against the table and clenched her jaw. “Not at all.” This line of questioning was starting to remind her of someone, and for a second the image of Xander’s notorious smirk played in front of her eyes. The pen stopped moving instantly. But no, this woman Kelly was decidedly nicer about everything. Hesitantly, she amended her response in an attempt to placate this stranger. “Perhaps I could use a little more sleep though. To stay on top of my studies.”
Kelly nodded and had to smile. “Oh, I’m with you there. Sleep does help a lot, and I personally wish I could have slept longer today, but that is life.” She decided to back off—for now—of the very probing, personal questions to learn more about Billie in another angle. She sat back. “So what do you do late at night? Study? Watch movies? Party?” Billie didn’t seem the kind of person to hang out with anyone, but this was college. Sometimes people did things just for the mere experience.
Billie leaned back in the chair and tried to relax. “The extent of my partying involves me being the designated driver,” she said with a laugh. “Usually I’m studying or playing video games.”
“So you should be able to find time to sleep more if necessary. I’d encourage you to do that and wake up early. And by that, I mean, wake up early enough so you don’t have to rush to get to class or anything. Doing this helps you start the day your way, so no one else can ruin it.” Kelly then gave Billie a look. “It’s not easy–not at all, but it’s an idea.” She shrugged then shifted topic. “So, tell me about your friends.”
Friends was not a term Billie used liberally. “Uh, Jimmy’s a music major,” she said, shifting in her seat. “One of those do-gooder types. He’s head over heels for one of my suitemates—you know, the girls I share a bathroom with but not actually a room – but he barely even knows her because he’s too scared to ask her out.” She paused and glanced around. “He’s really the only person I intentionally spend time with.”
“Is he the guy from your neighborhood?” Kelly furrowed her brows, trying to make sure she had the information right.
“Uh, yeah. We lived next-door to each other for more than half our lives.”
“Makes sense that you two would become friends even if it’s not very close friends.” Then Kelly leaned forward, setting her chin in her palm. “And who is Zane Nelson?”
The question took her off-guard—perhaps because it was usually Zane sitting across from her at this table. “My student, for lack of a better word,” Billie said. “He was in my Calculus class last semester and needed help to graduate. Apparently I was such a good teacher he decided on a whim to take Calculus II since he needed one more class to fill up his final semester.”
Kelly saw that she had caught Billie off guard, so she pressed a bit more with a kind smile. “But you find him intriguing?”
The word made Billie grimace. “I don’t understand him,” she corrected. “He spent all of winter break texting me and then calling me if I didn’t respond fast enough. He asks too many questions.”
“Like what?” Then Kelly noticed she was also asking lots of questions, but this was different, and she wasn’t backing off.
“Just questions about me,” she said, shrugging. “I told him when we started the tutoring last semester that it would be purely business – he is paying me, after all. But he keeps trying to get personal, and I don’t see that changing, especially now that he gets to see me and my dad interact for the first time.”
“Is there a chance that he might like you?” Kelly raised her brows.
Billie laughed, if only at the irony. “That’s what Xander says, though not in so many words.” Mostly he made crude sexual innuendos about the mysterious boy that wouldn’t leave me alone. “I try not to think about it.”
“That’s actually a good idea.” Kelly nodded, finally sitting back. “It’s a good idea not to get involved, especially when you’re focusing on your studies. However, I am curious now, once you graduate and such, you ever want to find someone and settle down? Or do you just like being alone?”
Billie furrowed her brow and stared off into the depths of the library for a moment. “I’m not sure I’d ever want to settle down,” she said. “I mean, I’d certainly never be the perfect fifties wife, staying home and taking care of the kids. But I don’t know what I’d do by myself either. I’ve never been completely alone before.”
“So if you could do anything, regardless of finances, what would you do? Travel the world? Or what?” Kelly spread her arms out briefly, indicating to the world around them, before she brought them back in again to watch Billie for an answer.
Shrugging, Billie tried to keep her answer nonchalant. “I’d probably take a sketchbook and backpack across Europe.” Or twelve sketchbooks.
“You like to draw?” Kelly raised her brows. “And where would you like to visit in Europe?”
Billie eyed her backpack, hoping Kelly wouldn’t get too curious. Beneath the Calculus textbook, it was full of sketchpads, ink pens, Conte crayons, and vine charcoal. “The Mediterranean, France, Britain, Germany,” she said, steering the conversation toward the second question. “Anywhere with good food and nice footpaths.”
“Lots of nice sights.” Kelly smiled with a nod then sat back. “What kind of things do you like to draw? I can’t draw for the life of me, so I highly respect anyone who can!”
“Uh, anything,” she said, glancing up at Kelly and forcing a smile. “People, objects, superheroes—you name it.”
“Wow. Impressive!” And Kelly was impressed. “May I see some? If not, I will respect that, but I would like to see some of your work.”
That was where she drew the line. “No,” Billie said, placing a hand on her backpack to push it farther away. “No one sees them.”
Kelly nodded respectfully. “Very well. I don’t have to see them, but…why don’t you show them to anyone? Are you worried they’re not like it?” She raised her hand to reassure Billie. “I’m not asking to see them. Don’t worry. I’m just curious of your motives, that’s all.”
“It’s just a hobby,” she insisted. “Nobody needs to see them because it’ll never go anywhere.”
Kelly nodded. “But it helps you relax? Helps you get another view of life?” She lifted her brows.
“You could say that.” Billie shrugged. “It’s usually how I finish the day before going to sleep, looking up references photos and sketching.”
Kelly smiled. “I’m glad you have that.” She then looked at her phone, saw the time, then looked back up at Billie, offering her another smile. “Our time’s almost up, so you only have to put up with me a little longer. However though, is there anything you wish you could go back and change in your life?”
Billie lifted an eyebrow. “Change?” Where was she supposed to begin? “Everything,” she said slowly, but she hesitated. “But also nothing.” She cleared her throat and tried again. “I wish I’d been a better sister.”
“How so?” Kelly softened her voice.
“When my dad left,” she began, staring at the oak grain of the table in front of her, “it was just me and Imogene and our mother, and it didn’t take very long for Mom to get worse. But Imogene, she was eleven and she didn’t know any better – she thought he’d come back, even after the divorce papers went through. I basically had to take care of her, but I was too…bitter.” Billie laughed at the resurgence of the word. “She quickly became the one to take care of our mother.”
Kelly nodded, tilting her head to a side. “That is very difficult. I’m sorry, but you can always go back to her and make things right. If nothing else, at least you could make things right with her. I’d like you to consider that. That is the last thought I will leave you with.” With that, she rose to her feet, offering Billie one final smile. “Thank you for meeting with me and for answering my questions. I hope you have a wonderful day. And…keep drawing, even if no one else sees your work.” With that, she turned and left.
D. L. Pitchford’s novel, ‘If We Had No Winter’ is scheduled to be released April 2017. Follow her on social media for updates!