He know she won’t understand, not the way that he does. She’ll understand in her own broken hearted way but it won’t be the same, her version, his version of what this is, what this could have done.
Her heart’s already broken, defective. Nothing he can say will ever change that. She won’t let herself love him because then she would love him and she just can’t have that. He doesn’t mean to sound bitter, he’s not, but the sarcasm lessens the aching sting of the thought and so he lets it sit. It makes it easier to ignore what he really feels.
Love, it’s a distinctly illegal construct now. One he’s not allowed to live his life by anymore, not when it comes to her, to Helen, to Magnus, to the woman who opened his eyes and turn his world upside down. She had changed so many things about him and that was exactly why he had to leave. He was terrified of what else she would change. He wouldn’t let her win this one, not even if it broke them both.
He waits until he knows she’ll be gone for the day to pack the few things he’s planning on taking. The books he had brought with him he packs to be shipped, the rest he carts to the library, leaving them in the corner where the Big Guy will see they need to be shelved. He divvies up the trinkets and the mementos, leaving a box in Henry’s lab and a bag hanging from Kate’s door. He tucks a note behind a crystal vase containing sprigs of mistletoe and a single steam of periwinkle. He fusses with the arrangement and then slips his hand through the handles of his duffle.
Magnus would be back soon with the others. He knows what the confrontation would be like if he stayed too long, if she found him. She would yell, her eyes would glisten, she would hug him, squishing the air from his lungs, pleading; and then he would have to walk away. He couldn’t do that not when he still- the Big Guy was waiting downstairs to walk him out. He had already said his goodbyes. No one would realize for a while that’s what he had meant stealing a quiet moment with each of them over the past week. He straightens the folder containing his resignation so that it’s centered on her blotter and walks out.
He rents a cabin in the woods outside a small town in Appalachia . The people are nice enough, they don’t ask many questions once he explains he’s here to write a book on abnormal psychology, that he’s only interested in them if they’re interested in him. May, who owns the town’s only store takes to him right away and sells him her brother’s beat up blue pickup. The majority of the most recent paint job is worn away, leaving patches of blue on the white underneath, like the sky on a cloudy day. He figures the frame’s more than a bit rusted but it’ll last him through the winter. It might even see him through a year. That’s more long term than he’s thinking now.
He buys coffee for his breakfast and more than enough salted bacon to see him through the worst of times. He lets May talk him into buying an axe and an all weather radio. The axe turns into an electric blanket, a moth bitten armchair, steel toed boots, and a stove top percolator as the days wear by.
He learns how to fire a shotgun and gut a fish. He loses half his first draft in a power outage. He buys a typewriter from an antique dealer several towns over and promises himself he’ll type the manuscript up on the computer later.
He learns to cook an entire meal from the cans and other notions May and the others had stashed in his pantry. Homemade tomato sauce, a pork shoulder Matt had given him for his help clearing out the road after the latest storm. There’s blueberry filling so sweet and perfect he abandons the idea of making a pie and scoops it out by the spoonful straight into his mouth. He’s chopping his own firewood now, half a cord stacked between two red pines.
He finishes a chapter on narcissism and has to go back and scratch out the title. He was pretty sure ‘the day I met the megalomaniac Tesla’ wasn’t going to earn him any points with a publisher.
He shovels off the roof of the cabin and almost takes his eye out with an icicle. The next morning he drives into town to buy a ladder and a roof rake. May tries to talk him into buying a shaving kit.
He gets a call from an interested publisher in New York. He declines the offer politely and spends the afternoon working his way through a bottle of Jack Daniels singing to the crackling fire in the hearth. He doesn’t know how she knows but he knows she must have had something to do with it. He knows no one around here had said anything. They’re no more interested in him leaving than he is in going.
He polishes off his first draft when the first spring thaw occurs. It’s a misnomer, he thinks. The subzero late January temperatures haven’t set in yet, but he celebrates with the others nonetheless, hard cider and good old fiddle tunes.
His first round of edits end as the coltsfoot begins to bloom; the small yellow flowers blanket the ground around the cabin. May laughs when he tells her he finds this odd. It grows wild she says, wild like a heart full of love and a head full of dreams. He says that’s not wild, that’s insane. She tells him he should know.
He sends his manuscript out to publishers and spends an afternoon helping Matt sharpen the blade to his plow. It’s tradition for the first plowing. Will relishes in the sound of metal being whittled sharp and biting. The blade turns the soil deep and rich, black clumps of foaming earth.
Matt’s wife Lizzie is baking strawberry pie when the news comes from the small firm outside Reading. There’s a promise of an advance and a bunch of forms for him to sign. He doesn’t ask questions. The check he donates to the community. Some of the kids have promise, maybe now one of them will go to college. The locals scoff, but he’s been hanging around with them too long, it’s only half hearted.
An advanced copy, it seems so out of place, shiny brand new and full of promise like he had been. It’s sitting on top of a box of books. He’s not going anywhere, he’s settling down, fixing the roof, installing a water heater and lighting in the upper portion of the house. The books are going, though. They’re going somewhere where they’re needed, where they can be used. Everything has it’s place. He belongs here, but they don’t. He pulls the flap free from the last box and slips in a copy of his book before taping the box shut. Inside the dedication reads “to the ones who made it possible, who believed in the unbelievable.” Below it he had written “to each and every one of you and to the beautiful woman who showed me who I really was. You taught me to see what’s really there. I won’t forget you. Always, Will.”
He addresses the boxes to the Old City Sanctuary care of the Big Guy and heads out to pack up the truck.