"Are you lost?"
Silence. The girl went on staring at the falling snow.
"Are you lost?"
She waved a hand, indicating the street, the snow-plastered stop sign, everything dressed in white, and more white falling from the sky. The trees and bushes were sugared, everywhere changed by a trick of weather into new, pure things, a geometry of curves never before seen.
"Pardon me," she said. "I didn't mean to ignore you. It's beautiful," then repeated the word, almost inaudibly: "Beautiful." She shivered.
"It would be just as beautiful with a coat on."
She shrugged, and the snow epaulettes on her shoulders slid off. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered harder. Her hair was unlike any he'd ever seen: spiky, uneven, and short as a man's. It didn't look like a style, but an accident; other women students wore theirs exactly in one of the few accepted fashions: bouffant, long and straight, bangs. Her cut, if you could call it that, had trapped the snow so an irregular frosting of white mixed with the red. A little circlet sat on top, tiara-like.
Why hadn't she gone home for Thanksgiving, like the other students? Though she might not be one -- she looked young. He touched her hand; it was icy.
"You're freezing," he said. He pointed at the apartment building in the middle of the block. "My place is right there." It was the only new structure. All the others were typical of the Lawrence student ghetto: old houses of frame and brick on the steep hill below the campus.
He touched her elbow and nodded in the direction of his building and turned. Looking back, he saw her follow, setting her feet in his tracks to keep the snow out of her shoes.
Inside, he inspected her: drenched clothes, wet hair. He went to the bedroom and collected long underwear, wool socks, a tee shirt and flannel shirt, and sweatpants. He took the electric blanket and the wool blanket off the bed. In the living room she stood where he'd left her. He held out the clothes. "Put these on." Her skin had a bluish cast.
She looked around the room, then at the floor. She couldn't stop shivering. "Oh, no. Thank you. I'm sorry to have bothered you." She stepped back.
He pushed the clothing against her chest. She accepted the pile, without noticing or acknowledging, but didn't move or speak.
"I can call an ambulance," he said. "You'll need one." He waited. "The bathroom's that way." He pointed. "Get out of the wet things. Dry off. Put those on."
She went quietly. He put water to boil on the stove.
When she returned, he smiled: she was lost inside his clothes. She was so thin they draped around her as on a hangar; she was so short the sleeves of the flannel shirt and the bottoms of the long underwear and sweatpants were rolled up a quarter of their lengths. He pointed to the middle of the floor. She arranged herself cross-legged. He positioned the portable heater a foot in front of her and turned it all the way up. He draped the Army blanket over her, then, atop it, the electric blanket at its maximum heat. He arranged them to make a tent, with an opening just wide enough for the electric heater in front of her.
"Hold these. They'll trap the heat," he instructed.
The kettle whistled. He went to the kitchen and poured the boiling water into a large mug and added coffee crystals. He gave her the mug. She looked surprised at the first sip.
"Is this coffee?" she asked.
"Instant," he said, and took the mug. "I'll get you something else."
"Please don't go to any trouble."
He returned with a fresh cup, of cocoa. She said, "You're very kind. I didn't know how cold it would be. I thought cold would wear off by itself, the way heat does."
Who was this dark-eyed, bright-haired, gracile girl? It was as if Wyatt had reached out, and on his hand had landed a bird. Now it sat quietly, unlike any he'd ever seen, and unaware that it didn't belong there. "Where are you from?" he asked.
"Costa Rica... " So that was it. "You've never seen snow, have you?"
"Only in books. I used to look at the pictures when I was little and wonder how it got on the ground. My parents said it fell through the air, but I couldn't imagine it. Did it fall like rain? Did it sprinkle? Did it pour? Did it come straight down, or slant, or float? What was the texture? Was it rough like sand, or smooth like flour? They never show snow falling in paintings. They only show it after it stops. Why is that?"
"I don't know." She was right. Why had he never noticed?
"Even if they showed the snow falling, they couldn't catch the quality of it. The way it falls. I think they paint it on the ground because it's static. How could you paint the way it flows in the air?" She nodded at the world outside the window. The blankets slipped, and she gathered them around her shoulders. He noticed that her fingernails were bitten.
"It varies," he said, "but I've never seen it this heavy."
"It made a sifting sound. I never expected that. And it sparkles!"
He knelt and reached toward her. She leaned away. He pulled the blankets up so they were tented over her again. "Keep these up. You'll get warm faster."
Her eyes darted back and forth, scanning the room.
"I am perfectly safe." He spread out the words, little pauses between: I -- am -- perfectly -- safe. "I'm only trying to help." He paused. "My name is Wyatt Packard. I'm a junior. I doubled up on my major, so it's taking an extra year." He gestured toward the shelves, jammed with books and record albums, and the piles stacked on the floor, and under the windows. "I figured I might as well major in both the things I like, music and English. My dad's still sending money, so... You can go any time, but please get warm first. I don't want you on my conscience."
She said, "Thank you. If you're certain."
"You're -- " too trusting. Better not say it. She might bolt. Then she'd freeze again. "-- welcome," he said. He walked to the window and raised the blind the rest of the way so she could see more of the falling snow. She settled back and her shoulders lowered. The line between her eyebrows smoothed and her eyes focused past him, out the window.
He washed dishes in the kitchen. Then he washed them again, to leave her alone with the snow and warmth and quiet. He had dried and put everything away and rinsed the sink and watched her for a few minutes before she spoke again.
"She talks," he mumbled. He wiped the counter, and his hands, and wandered into the room. "You're welcome," he said. He looked down at her looking up at him. On the street he would have passed her by, but close up her features were perfect in their symmetry and harmony; none overshadowed the others. The overwhelming impression was of delicacy: her nose, her cheekbones, her lips and chin. Their fineness was startling, once noticed, but until then they were inconspicuous, even anonymous. Her eyelashes were pink, to go with the fire-engine hair, but her irises were almost black. There was an unmediated directness in her look that contradicted her shyness. She met his eyes without the reserve that commonly keeps the last piece of the self to the self. Hers was the sort of 19th-century face that had gone out of style, the sort that women in antique posters sometimes had, open and artless. It was this ingenuousness, he decided, that had prompted him to help her without question. He had trusted her. And yet he couldn't categorize her -- she fell outside the classes in which he unknowingly, automatically grouped everyone on first meeting.
"I had no idea how powerful cold is. So freezing wet. I feel much better. I'll go now."
"Where do you live?"
"In the scholarship dorm."
"A mile. Too far. You'll freeze."
"I don't want to inconvenience you."
"You won't. You can have the bedroom. I'll sleep here."
The window was behind him. She nodded toward it, and he turned to look. The snowfall had thickened. He sat on the floor, his back against the bottom of the sofa, and watched the torrent of white.
"This is too warm," she said, and turned off the heater. She sat next to him and he draped the blankets up to their necks.
Sheets of white fell fast and dense and straight down in the windless air. The cars at the curb were submerging. The streets were empty. All evening, the neighborhood had been quiet because the students were gone for Thanksgiving. With the snow deadening the outside sound the silence in the apartment was complete, except the popping of the heater as it cooled. When that quieted there was only an occasional click as the electric blanket turned on and off. They sat on the floor and watched without a word until the snow stopped abruptly. She roused herself.
"Honestly, I'll go now. I've burdened you, I'm sure."
"You'll be knee deep in snow." He waited, but she stared at the floor without answering. "Don't be embarrassed," he said. "Everyone feels that way the first time they see snow. It's like returning to childhood."
"You understand! Everything's unexpected. I don't know things -- what this place is like, what snow is like. Staying warm! This is all foreign. People think I'm stupid or crazy." She turned and looked him in the face. "Did you?"
"No. I thought you were probably stoned."
"Stoned? That's what happens when you take drugs and your brain goes on vacation."
She laughed. "You see? I should know that. If I couldn't speak English, people would understand. They'd help me. But I sound American. I look American. So they think I should know these things. I'd never seen a comic book until I came here, or the Sunday funnies. Or, what did you call it? Instant coffee? I feel like a child. I came here to study, but I have to learn everything else at the same time. Thousands of things. Overwhelming. Then there was the snow, a gift, and a new world, soft and smooth, and my worries disappeared. More beautiful than I ever imagined." She seemed preoccupied, absorbed in trying to say what she wanted to say as precisely as possible.
"What part of Costa Rica are you from?" he asked.
She turned to him. Her eyes, abstracted and focused out the window a moment ago, looked directly into his. The change seemed completely unselfconscious. "Monteverde," she said. "No one knows it, even in Costa Rica. The day we arrived was my fifth birthday. My father tells me things that happened before that, because I don't remember our life in the States."
Then she was gone again, out of focus, thinking. Her attention always seemed to be wholly taken up, either in the person or thing she was looking at, or in her thoughts, and she switched between one and the next without effort.
"Where did you come from?"
"Alabama. My Meeting -- my church, you could call it -- moved, to get away."
"What's your name?"
"Ada," he said, to keep her talking, "Would you do me a favor?"
"If I can."
"Would you trade life stories with me?"
She smiled; her teeth were perfect, except one that was slightly chipped. "Now?" she asked, and he nodded. "How lovely," she said. "What a perfect way to pass the time." She touched her chin for a moment.
"Yes," she said. "If you like."