Northern Lights

By Tracy

Disclaimer: The author means in no way to infringe upon the rights of NBC or CBS, to whom the characters from "Providence" and "Northern Exposure" belong. I hope everyone enjoys the story!

Northern Lights

Lynda Hansen tossed a dark blue parka, identical to the one which she was wearing over her dress, onto her daughter's bed. "Don't forget this, of all things, darling."

Syd looked at her mother with an incredulous expression. "No, Mother. I thought I'd freeze to death instead. It's just like yours. . . don't tell me, you're not coming to Alaska, too?"

Lynda sighed and shook her head. "Syd, dear, I'm not chained to Providence. I go where you go. Though why you agreed to spend two weeks in some little town in the middle of nowhere is beyond me!"

Syd sat up in bed. "I told you, Mother, a guy I went to medical school with has been up there for five years and was desperate for a vacation. But the mayor of the town wouldn't let him leave unless he had a replacement. It'll be over before we know it."

"All right, but just make sure you don't oversleep. This time of year, the sun doesn't rise until nearly eleven o'clock. . ."

Lynda's voice was replaced by the low, smooth tones of Cicely, Alaska's morning DJ, Chris Stevens.

"Rise and shine, Cicelians. It's actually seven-thirty, believe it or not. The Winter Solstice will soon be upon us. I'll be unveiling another, um, project. If I said any more about it, no one would dig it 'cause the secret would be out! Holling and Shelly want to remind everyone that the Brick is still running its chocolate special. We'll get through this darkness together, troops!"

Syd reached for her digital clock. Seven thirty-five. She'd always set her clock a little ahead of the actual time, in order to be on time. Her fingers fumbled for the lamp. Syd rubbed her eyes, suddenly realizing how tired she was from her journey from Providence to Alaska. The room in which she'd slept was small, but neat. While she had hoped to stay at The Sourdough Inn, Cicely's luxurious bed and breakfast, Maurice Minnifield had arranged for her to stay in Joel Fleischman's cabin. Syd groaned at the memory of yesterdays' meeting with Maurice. A former NASA astronaut, Maurice was more than a little chauvinistic, calling Syd "little lady" a la John Wayne. She had assumed, from various comments, that he wasn't used to the idea of women being doctors.

It was only for two weeks, right? Syd's bare feet hit the cold, wooden floor. "Hot shower," she murmured as she put her robe on and headed toward the bathroom.

Forty-five minutes later, the skies were still pitch black, obscuring a view of Central Alaskan mountains that would have made the most unappreciative city-dweller be consumed with awe for such a pristine landscape. There was a knock at the door. Syd finished pulling her long, curly hair back into a tortoise shell clip before answering it. A tall, dark-haired young man with a wide grin was standing on Joel's porch. "You're Dr. Sydney Hansen," he said, extending a mittened hand in greeting. "I'm Ed Chigliak. What do you think of Dr. Fleischman's cabin?" Ed grinned even wider and reclined on his heels to get a good look at the woman who would be filling Fleischman's shoes for the next two weeks.

Syd wondered how anyone could answer all these questions at once. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Ed. Please, call me Syd. Would you like a cup of coffee?"

"Sure," Ed stepped inside and sat down in Joel's easy chair. "I stopped by to give you the keys to Dr. Fleischman's truck. I guess Maurice forgot last night, it being so late, and all."

Syd returned from the kitchen with two steaming cups of coffee. "Thanks, just lay them on the table." She sat on the sofa and sipped her coffee, still trying to wake up.

"So the cabin is OK? Maggie told me to ask you, but she had an early flight. Mail run. She's a pilot." Ed inquired, his blue eyes looking somber and mischievous all at once.

"It's great," Syd answered. "It's not The Sourdough Inn, but I'm pleasantly surprised to see how neat a single man can keep his place. You should see my brother Robbie. His room always looks like it's been hit by a tornado." She checked her watch. "I hope it's not a long drive into town, because I'm going to be late!"

* * *

Ed had been kind enough to let her follow him into town, just in case she got turned around in the dark. When Syd reached her destination, she could hardly believe that Cicely was considered a town! Except for Main Street, a few side roads and a handful of cabins, there was nothing there. "Two weeks," she reminded herself as she located Dr. Fleischman's office.

Syd was greeted by Joel's receptionist, a Native American woman with long, dark hair named Marilyn. Marilyn was knitting something that looked like a scarf when Syd opened the door. As soon as she was inside, Syd noticed that Marilyn was listening to the radio. The soothing voice was reading a Robert Frost poem.

"Good morning," Syd said to Marilyn. "Maurice told me about you."

"Good morning. Welcome to Cicely," Marilyn said in a clear, factual voice before turning back to her knitting. "You can hang your coat here." Marilyn pointed one of her knitting needles toward a wooden coat rack.

"Thanks," Syd said, remembering that Maurice had told her that Marilyn wasn't the talkative type. He hadn't been kidding, she thought as she turned on the hallway light and located Joel's office. Two huskies were sitting next to the desk.

"Marilyn," Syd called down the hallway. "Are these your dogs?"

"There you are! Come here," Marilyn led her dogs into the reception area.

"It's not a problem with me if you have your dogs here," Syd told Marilyn. "My dad's a vet, so I'm used to animals. What are their names?" She reached down to stroke their glossy fur.

"Cornelius and Sweet William," was the answer. Then, besides the radio, the only sound Syd could hear was the clicking of knitting needles.

* * *

As was the case on most mornings, weekday or otherwise, the majority of Cicely's residents were gathered at The Brick, the town's only bar and grill, for breakfast. "So," Shelly Tambo-Vincoeur, whose husband Holling was 'owner and proprietor of this fine establishment,' asked Ed as she poured him a glass of orange juice , "what was she like?"

Ed gulped his juice before he could answer. "She's nice. And, uh," he was clearly embarrassed, shy as he was, "really pretty."

Shelly, who had competed in beauty pageants in her native Saskatchewan, wasn't the type to be insecure. "That's great, Ed. Maybe you could ask her out!"

"Nah," Ed dismissed the thought with a chuckle. "I'm a little young for her. No offense, Shelly." Shelly's husband was over forty years older than she.

"None taken." Shelly returned to the kitchen.

Chris Stevens, on a break from the radio station, sauntered over the bar and sat next to Ed. Chris was tall and lanky and had soulful blue eyes. Most women could not resist him. He evoked a cowboy flair, someone who seemed likely to travel to the Last Frontier and beyond. "What's this I hear about Dr. Joel's replacement?"

Ed smiled and filled him in on the details. "Turn around and see for yourself, Chris. She's right over there."

Chris felt butterflies in his stomach the instant he saw the pretty, dark-haired woman sitting at the corner table. "No fooling, my friend." As outgoing as Ed was shy, Chris took a seat across the table from Syd.

"I hear you're new to town. I'm Chris Stevens, the Voice of the Last Frontier."

"I heard you this morning. No wonder everyone has their radio on in this town!" Syd felt as if she were in junior high school. He was undeniably attractive over the airwaves, but even more so in person. She could feel herself blush. "What I mean is, there aren't any disk jockeys like that in Rhode Island!"

"Rhode Island, huh?" Chris mused in that wonderful voice, which nearly drawled over particular words. "I hail from West Virginia. Wheeling. But I've called Cicely home for the past five years. Well, if you'd like the fifty-cent tour of Cicely, Alaska, let me know. I'll show you around."

"Okay," Syd agreed, laughing. What was going on with her? In Providence, she considered herself too level-headed to feel giddy around a man like Chris. However, there was something about this strange little town that changed one's perspective.

* * *

"I'm telling you, Joanie, it's weird!" A week later, Syd was recounting her adventures to Joanie, not caring how big of a phone bill would result from a call from Alaska to Providence. As much as she was enjoying this strange odyssey, she missed her family. "Then there was the Fling!"

"A fling???" Joanie was clearly shocked. "Where's my sister, Syd Hansen? This can't be the same person!"

"Calm down, Joanie. I said THE Fling." Syd said. "It's this giant catapult they've built out in the country. They call it The Fling, because they fling stuff with it. Apparently, when they first got it, they flung a piano. But last night they flung some great big sculpture that Chris Stevens, he's the local DJ, decided not to finish. It sailed through the air and landed in the river!"

"Unreal!" Joanie couldn't imagine what kind of sight that must have been. "Come on, Syd, don't hold back. I can hear it, there's a man, isn't there?"

Syd sighed. Joanie must have some sort of radar when it came to that sort of thing. "Okay, okay. I did meet a man up here, but it's nothing. He gave me a tour of the town, that's all."

"But you like him," Joanie insisted.

"No," Syd answered. "Well, he is attractive, but I'm only here for two weeks. He did ask me if I wanted to come see the Northern Lights with him tonight."

"Go for it, Syd!" Joanie exclaimed. "Did you bring that navy dress I let you borrow?"

"Yes, I did, but it's going to be way too cold for that! We'll be outside the whole time!"

* * *

As much as she had insisted that she didn't like Chris, Syd could hardly keep her mind on anything else but the upcoming date. Joel was right, the medical practice in Cicely was incredibly boring. The only cases she'd had all week were several cases of frostbite and a sprained ankle, an ice-skating casualty. Nevertheless, getting to know the people felt like jumping into a novel about the most interesting place on earth. Syd had become acquainted with Ruth Anne Miller, the kind elderly lady who ran the town's general store. It had been Ruth Anne who had convinced Syd to go on the Northern Lights date.

"Why, honey, you're only here for five more days. Have fun!" Ruth Anne was used to giving advice to the entire town.

Five o'clock finally came, an hour after the sun had gone down. The twilight gave the town an ethereal look, dressed in brilliant shades of deep blue. Chris, dressed in a brown parka, let himself into the office. "Here's dinner, fresh from The Brick." He held a picnic basket of fried chicken, which Shelly, the best cook in town, had prepared. "I hope you remembered your camera!"

Syd reached into her pocket. "It's right here."

Chris took the least bumpy road to Coffeepot Rock, named by the Native Americans for its distinctive shape. It was one of the best places to view the Aurora Borealis.

"Wow!" Syd was enchanted by the countryside, still partly illuminated by the magical twilight. Mountain upon mountain stretched out before them, as well as the tops of pine trees, and, most of all, the expansive sky. As if on cue, a bright yellow light appeared in the sky and began to shimmer and move into a band of sparkling light. Syd had seen the Northern Lights on a family vacation to northern Vermont, but had been nothing like this.

After their winter picnic dinner, Chris showed her how to set the camera to photograph the ever-moving bands of light. They snapped picture after picture until it became too late and too cold to stay out any longer.

Syd rubbed her hands together for warmth as she walked back to the truck.

Chris took her hands into his own. "Hey, thanks for coming out here with me. I had a good time." His eyes glimmered as their lips met in a first-date sort of kiss.

Chris cleared his throat and felt himself at a loss for words, which was a rarity in his profession. "Syd, um, I don't want to come on too strong, but there is something I wanted to ask you."

"What's that?" She could still feel his lips on hers.

"You wouldn't consider actually moving up here for good, would you? We could go on a lot more picnics! Seriously, I'd love to get to know you better."

As attracted as she was to both the town and Chris, Syd shook her head. Though her mind was made up with firm resolve, she still felt as if she were hurting a small child's feelings. "No, I have my family and my practice, and, well, my entire life, in Providence." She squeezed his hand. "But I am very flattered that you would ask!"

"That's okay," Chris said. He started the truck's ignition. "Want to go grab a hot chocolate at The Brick?"

"I'd love to!" Syd replied as the truck bounced over the country roads, toward Cicely.

* * *

The last two days of Syd's time in Cicely flew by as she saw more frostbitten patients and took pictures of the entire town to show her family and friends back home. She had actually gotten used to the darkness, and woke up without the radio alarm. Nevertheless, she did keep the radio on, as long as she could listen to Chris and his wonderful voice.

Maggie, the local bush pilot, flew her back to the Anchorage airport. As Syd began her long flight back to Providence, she closed her eyes and pictured what it would be like if her new friends visited Rhode Island. Ruth Anne, Maggie, Ed, Shelly and Chris would certainly make an impression on New England!

Syd turned and looked out the window, imagining that she could still see Cicely and The Fling. Although she knew her place was in Providence, Syd would always remember Alaska.


2000 Tracy

DISCLAIMER: Characters mentioned in this story that have appeared in the NBC series "Providence" are the property of National Broadcasting Company. No copyright infringement is intended.
Characters mentioned in this story that have appeared in the CBS series "Northern Exposure" are the property of Universal Television and CBS Worldwide Inc. No copyright infringement is intended.