There is no exquisite beauty, without some strangeness in the proportion… E.A. Poe
An alternative meeting for Vincent and Catherine.
Rusty / RedNightBird
On a rainy April evening after work Catherine Chandler hurried to the street curb to claim whatever taxi she could. Her Father's partner's son had driveled on about his boating weekend as she cleared her desk of her mind-numbing day. She had completed a small Incorporation and a friendly merger and it left her feeling dull. She had gone to law school for this? Now she was bolting for an old book store as Dr. Peter Alcott had invited her to a book signing and she was late.
The cab slunk thru the rainy streets of this leviathan city and she self-consciously picked lint from her wool skirt to keep from impatiently tapping on the cab's door sill.
"Thanks, lady" the cab driver growled as she stabbed the bill into his stout clammy hand and she made her break for the bookstore door. There within the warm light she saw Peter peering into the dark rain for his God Daughter.
"Finally, I thought I was going to have to make apologies for you" Peter whispered as he caught her elbow and before she could return the greeting he whisked her through narrow rows of soaring bookshelves to a circle of timeworn wooden chairs. Fragrant tea brewed on a table in the corner as a professor type postured with his freshly unpacked books. The intimate crowd sat enrapt in his recitation:
"And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed."1
"So as I began studying Keats I realized he never attached much consequence to his own studies in medicine, and indeed looked upon the medical career as the career by which to live in a workaday world, without being certain that he could keep up the strain of it. He nevertheless had a consciousness of his own powers, and even of his own greatness, though it might never be recognized... Poetry was to his mind the zenith of all his aspirations: the only thing worthy the attention of superior minds: so he thought: all other pursuits were mean and tame" he tucked his head to his chin, his hair curtaining his expression before he raised his head and quipped, "I, on the other hand have no other vocation, so I do hope you'll consider buying my book and sharing it message with your friends….but have them buy their own, OK?"
The crowd chuckled as Evan closed his book and caught the end of the small table with a muscular thigh. He was mid-thirties, all tweed and rough leather, a head full of wild hair caught in a leather thong. Cathy's first thought was "where did they find him, Berkeley?" yet she fell into the chair beside Peter and played the silent guest. She surveyed the crowd's response to this man's reflections to Keats' work and she became lost in the eclectic group.
An unassuming mature woman sat shyly, her graceful legs wrapped in a long coarse woven skirt. She would occasionally smooth the tendrils of her long graying hair back into the bun high on her head and when their eyes met the woman seemed to blush girlishly, Cathy thought she was from another era. Cathy found humor in the energetically animated man in the baseball jacket, he hadn't removed his hat and she was sure Peter would have taken the dark haired man to task had the speaker not been in full swing. The man winked at her rakishly and Cathy returned an uncomfortable expression at his audacity.
Soon she was lulled into a sense of repose with the Author's husky voice; silk had soothed his graveled words as he spoke about Keats with studied reverence. She grinned at the thought of this man reading her to sleep. She hadn't had that pleasure since her Mother died. His large hands cradled his book lovingly and she gave him the benefit of the doubt that he knew his subject, it simply was too much for her to digest. She was ready for a bath and a snack; it had been a mistake to come out after work tonight.
"Cathy" Peter woke her from her minds wandering, "I'd like to introduce Dr. Evan Winterberg" Then he stepped back for Evan to catch her hand gently.
"Peter, you didn't say your guest would be this lovely" Evan pronounced gently as he kept her hand in both of his. Now she felt the calloused surface of an outdoors-man and she was fascinated by the combination of poetry and physicality. "I'm sorry Cathy, I was at my cabin last weekend and my hands took the brunt of my catharsis – too much wood chopping" he dropped her hands as he felt her soft, unworked hands melt within his.
"I was afraid my hands might be chilled from my ride over" she covered as she smiled self-consciously. "I'm sorry I was late, work got in the way" she shrank back closer to Peter as it seemed Evan was looming closer to her. Cathy felt the group become eager to share this space and the air grew thick with his magnetism. With her receding into the group the others stepped up to shake hands and make the innocuous fan/author small talk so common at these events.
Cathy circled the perimeter, heading for the refreshment table "No coffee?" she silently winced, wishing for a caffeine kick, "They generally serve tea, you know it can have more caffeine than coffee?" the guy in a NY Mets baseball cap held out a steaming china mug.
"That's OK, I know a place I can grab some coffee" Cathy stood back, clutching her small purse before her as she moved to mill about the bookstore. Peter had mentioned this dinosaur of a store as his favorite retreat since his daughter had married and moved west. He came for the selection and stayed for the comradery. Instead of a library style silence, classical music played in the background, the china mugs hanging on a mug tree bore names of the regulars.
She felt welcome on her first visit, welcome enough to wander back into where the bookshelves covered two floors. As Cathy wandered the narrow aisles she felt as if eyes followed her and this caused her to step into pursuit. She drew in the pervading scents of leather and old parchment then there was a swift shadow with the trace of saddle soap and an earthy musk.
Who was the shadow she missed as she made each turn, what was the sweep of fabric she heard, was it corduroy? As she mounted the steps to the second floor she heard the gentle creak of old brass hinges and a turn of a lock. She came to a door marked "NO EXIT" and bewildered she grasped the brass door knob feeling it warmed by someone's recent use. The scent of candlewax and saddle soap ended there and she pivoted as she heard footsteps behind her.
"You thought you saw someone didn't you?" There he was again, the guy with the quizzical wink. "This bookstore is haunted, but he only shows himself if he's interested in you". He offered his hand, "Kristopher Gentian, Itinerant Artist at your service"
"Cathy Chandler, under challenged attorney" she quipped offering her best business handshake at arm's length. Had she unknowingly worn Musk perfume today? Did it seem every guy was taking special interest in her? She backed away from Gentian and headed back downstairs without concern for her new friend.
As she stepped from the stair case she heard Peter call, "Cathy, we're thinking about going for dessert, would you join us?" Peter asked as they watched the crowd offer books for Evan's signature.
With a jovial whisper, "Who is "we", Peter? Is this one of you and Daddy's fixups?" Cathy sardonically grinned, she was approaching 31 and unmarried, not that Charles Chandler hadn't put her in front of enough eligible men.
"Caught me, you're too smart" Peter smirked, "You could go for coffee, it's not a date" he stood guilty as charged. "Evan is a hell of a guy, I knew his father in college"
"Great, Peter, now our pedigrees are matched so the games begin?" she smoothed back her hair and thought about slinging her scarf around her neck to take her leave, then she heard footsteps again, the same swish of corduroy and muted voices, two different men. Her curiosity was teeming inside her at this phantom guest. Yet all she saw was a glimpse of the Artist upstairs.
"Peter, Mary and I are heading home" the gracious older gent leaned on an ornate cane, that mild looking grey haired woman on his arm. They were pair for sure Cathy surmised by their symbiotic posture and their temperate eyes for each other.
"Oh, Jacob, I want you to meet Catherine Chandler" ah, Cathy thought, Peter had pulled out her full name; these people were old friends for sure. "Dr. Jacob Wells, Mary Reynolds, this is Charles Chandler's daughter"
"Do you know Daddy?" Cathy leaned into Dr. Wells' embrace and caught the scent of moth balls and Earl Grey Tea.
"Your Father did some work for us years ago" Jacob offered, then stepped back to Mary's side.
"I doubt he'd even remember us" Mary volunteered quietly as she gathered her wrap around her slim shoulders. "It's lovely to meet you, dear" the woman's smile was heartfelt and earnest.
"Any way, Peter, Catherine, we wanted to make our good nights – good to see you, nice to meet you" they nodded and made their way thru the tight crowd.
Immediately Peter was in front of Cathy, "The crowd is thinning, time to make a break for that cup of coffee – I know there's a crème brulee with your name on it" As the crowd was dispersing she hadn't heard the bell on the door that many times. Was she enveloped in some fantasy world tonight? She really had to get some rest this weekend!
"I've got to take a rain check, it's a work night and Daddy's been brutal" she fibbed as she slid her hands into her gloves and caught her scarf to her head.
"At least let's share a cab" Peter offered eagerly.
"No, you go out with Dr. Winterberg, surely you can cook up a better setup than this" she motioned at the old book store and hugged him before making her exit.
"Peter, you couldn't hold her until I was done?" Evan exclaimed glibly as he watched her hail the first cab in the bright lights of the big city.
"Evan, you'll have to use some of that old poet's charm of yours. You know where to reach her" Peter grinned at the son of the Tunnels turned literary master and passed him Cathy's business card.
"Well, since I can't weave my way into Miss Chandler's heart I guess I'll head Below since I have to leave in a couple of days" Evan seemed resigned.
Evan's parents had begun their romance in college, then as Evan Sr. moved thru medical school their lives complicated. The young Doctor's first real diagnosis had been on his wife – High Blood Pressure. Then Evan Sr. traded his wife for a son when Siri died within hours of her son's birth. Devastated, Evan Sr. grew closer to Peter and eventually built a small medical practice while his son Evan spent his days Below. It had seemed that Evan Jr's life would be conflicted living Above and Below yet the fates had their way. The Doctor became the sudden patient when a heart attack claimed Evan Sr. in his 40's.
Evan had grown up alongside Vincent; they had played together as children. Evan had grown his hair long as a brother in arms when the kids had picked on Vincent for his hairstyle as one of his glaring differences. Now, living above he wore it as a badge of individuality. His deep auburn hair fell in waves below his shoulders, fettered by the leather thong that he now pulled out to shake his hair free. "I'll see you at dinner, Friday?" Evan asked as he turned toward the threshold in the back of the bookstore.
"Certainly, dinner Below, Friday at 7!" Peter enthusiastically answered as he picked up his purchases to check out and head home.
Cathy Chandler rode home quizzically wondering about her evening. What great cosmic force put her in front of so many men tonight? She shook her head as she paid the fare and walked through her building's grand doors; she nodded to the night doorman and found solitary peace in her 18th floor apartment.
Three days later a kraft paper wrapped package arrived at her building, Jeff the usual Porter was on vacation and Warren set it behind the desk, her name obscured. It would sit there nearly a week before it was discovered.
Vincent removed his cape and took anxious steps to Father's chamber; tonight Evan's Tunnel family was celebrating his new book and tour. It would be months before they'd have time to reminisce and he didn't want to miss a moment of the convivial evening. As Vincent entered the chamber the buffet's scent swirled invitingly, Father didn't do this often yet the current Tunnel population hadn't remembered Evan and his family. Tonight's group would be intimate simply the inner circle of the Tunnels: William, Mary, Winslow, Rebecca, Father and Peter would sit down to break bread and celebrate Evan's success.
"Vincent" Evan clasped his broad shoulders as they collided joyously.
"Like the little brother you always were" Vincent affectionately clapped a broad hand on Evan's back.
"Just by a year" Evan countered, trying to pull his height past Vincent's.
They made chatter while William put the final touches to the chafing dishes ready for their banquet. Father sat watching their animated conversation and his ears strained when he heard a familiar name dropped.
"Did you see that Catherine Chandler?" Evan clapped back at Vincent's arm as they stepped toward the refreshments, "She is something" Evan shook his head as Vincent poured glasses of wine for everyone.
"She almost saw me. I had to beat a retreat before she caught me. I thought I'd hear your presentation and then hear some of the good words the crowd had for you, Evan, I was wrong" Vincent shook his head at the thought of being found lurking over the second floor railing.
"Anytime you want to hear good words, recall all those you gave me while I slogged thru college" Evan never forgot how Vincent shadowed Evan's collegiate studies. Vincent was an apt study partner. "So, what do you think of Catherine?" Evan prodded, never one to let the subject of a beautiful woman rest.
"You have a knack for finding the beauties" Vincent concurred, raising his glass to the group, "To Evan and his book tour" the subject of that beauty was shuffled away in deference to a stellar meal.
While they plowed through the groaning board of roast with smashed potatoes and rich burgundy gravy Vincent thought about Catherine, how she had perused the crowd as Evan spoke. She seemed to put a metaphorical finger of each of them as she created the scenario for their being at the soirée. Of course, Vincent mused that she had been wrong on all the accounts, but he drew on her feelings as she had created back stories for each of them present. He felt her racing heart as Evan recited poetry and he detected that she was just a bit excited when Evan hands wrapped around hers. He fought the desire to ever want this, as he knew the insanity of such a desire.
Vincent silently watched Evan as he discussed his itinerary; he satisfied his memory with images of Catherine leaning against Peter, lost in Evan's words. Feeling that some thirsts would never be quenched he satisfied his stomach with the crusty wheat rolls and rich honey butter, he swallowed the green bean casserole without chewing as Evan and Peter discussed Catherine Chandler's single status.
He barely tasted the 7 layer chocolate cake as they discussed Evan leaving this Saturday. Together they had grown up and now they were two lifelong friends, two men, or at least he felt he was almost a man. He had played and studied with him, now as Evan stood at the threshold of a worldwide career his world was contained within damp Tunnels and under cover of darkness.
"Vincent?" Evan waved at his vacant stare, "Are you with us? William, your cooking is too good, you've lost Vincent in the frosting" he jested to William with a flourish of his empty cake plate.
"Yes, Evan… I was reflecting on the other night" Vincent's voice was pensive, soft as Peter and Father watched with veiled interest.
Evan stuffed his duffel silently as Vincent watched, "Would you be cutting your hair while you travel?" Vincent asked curiously "It's not the style unless you're a troubadour" To Vincent their hair was their only commonality now.
"Some women really like it and since my jacket photo is like this I think I need to, otherwise it's like bait and switch, Where's the guy with the hair?" Evan spread his hands as in jest.
Vincent nodded, recalling Catherine's eyes as she took Evan's appearance in. Her eyes had traced Evan's tweed clad shoulders and watched his brogan shoe bob rhythmically as he perched on the corner of the table and spoke. Would a woman ever watch him like that? Surely Rebecca did eye him from time to time, but she was like a sister to him, he could no more court her than Jamie. Vincent felt cast further into a lonely darkness.
With the next morning's flurry of subway trains and pipe clamor Evan was gone, he climbed into his VW bug parked at Peter's brownstone and exited Vincent's world.
Many days later, on a Saturday, Jeff apologized; "Miss Chandler, I am sorry for the delay in delivering this package" he stood at Catherine's door. It was the modest hour of 10am and Jeff assumed it would be a civil hour for the delivery.
"I wasn't expecting anything, Jeff, just bring it in" She opened the door on the sunny apartment as she pulled her hair into a ponytail to begin her morning run in the park.
"Warren set it behind the desk, it came earlier, no bill of lading though" Jeff set it on the dinette table and made his exit. This was enough to distract Cathy from her exercise regime; she carefully lifted the taped corners of the kraft paper to reveal the back of an ornate gilded frame. The signature in the lower corner read "K. Gentian" and to her surprise, she was the subject.
The portrait shone with romantic liveliness, a candid posture copied from a recent newspaper society page. Cathy remembered the night, a Charity event where she met the very eligible developer Elliott Burch. This painting caught her alone with a gleaming smile, reacting to something complimentary Elliott had whispered. She adored that red dress, especially the purple and red jacket that warmed her from the chill in that museum. "Mr. Gentian, I hope you aren't looking for a check" she shook her head at his impudent effort, "Although, Daddy would probably love it." She concluded as she leaned the 24" x 36" portrait against the mantel wall, then she grabbed her keys and left for her run.
Central Park was teeming with children and their guardians. Prim looking Au pairs pushed prams in pairs along the wide sidewalks while a few sat on benches, their shoes cast aside as they meted out Cheerios to their young charges. She didn't feel a maternal pull at all as she paced past the Carousel yet she did enjoy watching the graceful horses dance up and down to the calliope music. She took time to check her heart rate while she marked steps in place and thought about her Mother's last Carousel ride.
With a fresh step she turned to head toward the Belvedere Castle, and there on a bench was that women, Mary, watching children blowing soap bubbles into the cool spring air. Would it be impolite to bolt past her in the interest of maintaining her heart rate? Cathy cut behind her bench and passed the passel of oddly dressed children. Cathy wondered if Mary was the stage mother for a troupe for OLIVER!
"Peter, did you encourage Kristopher Gentian to paint my portrait?" Cathy held her phone in the crook of her shoulder as she balanced and toed off her running shoes. Cathy was perplexed as she was winded, "You didn't see that guy? He was the one that winked at me" Cathy played appalled for Peter's sake.
"I would wink at you my dear" was Peter's pleasant answer before his honest retort, "Who's Kristopher Who?"
"Oh, you didn't see that cheeky man in the baseball cap?" Cathy slid out of her running shorts and regulated the shower controls.
"Before you think him cheeky, could Evan call on you? You got away before he could ask, we had dinner Friday night and- - -"Peter queried.
"Oh, you men are relentless. Sure he can call me if he can catch me" Cathy sought the relief of a steaming shower and politely cut Peter off, "Peter, got to run, I'll look out for his call but don't encourage him, OK? Got to go" and she pulled the wall plug on her phone before she jumped into the shower.
Sunday evening, as Evan unpacked in the modest hotel he retrieved Catherin Chandler's phone number – she was worth a long distance call.
"This is the Chandler residence, please leave a message at the tone" Cathy, not expecting a phone call at 9:15 at night, was stretched out with a file for tomorrow's meeting. She awaited the message, would Evan really call?
"Hello, Catherine, this is Evan. Thanks for accepting my call…" Before the machine began recording she found herself drawn to his voice, hot as a slap she was across the room, the phone to her ear.
"Hello, Evan. . . . I was in the kitchen" and with that dialogue their three and a half hour conversation began.
He was earthy and educated; he was wildly outdoorsy and refined. And she remembered he had the fieriest golden eyes. A little before 1:00am she rolled up from where she had lay on the floor in front of the fireplace like a teen age girl chatting with Evan. "Evan, this has been fun, but we have to get to bed" Cathy giggled.
"So, soon, this is our first phone call and we're going to bed?" His resonate voice accentuated the last three words facetiously.
"You know what I mean!" Cathy stammered as she pulled herself to stand and circle the room to check the locks and power off the lights.
"I do, I was impertinent to hold you up so late, I'm sleeping in to at least nine tomorrow I didn't even consider your eight to five schedule will you forgive me?" Now the depth and resonance of his voice revealed his sincerity. "May I call you Tuesday evening, I'll be getting settled in Baltimore for Wednesday's signing" he was almost petitioning her.
"Since you're so earnest, of course, I'll be home after 7 or 8" Cathy felt 16 all over again.
For the following weeks, Evan and Catherine (as he called her) had marathon telephone conversations, about his audience, the cities he visited, about their dissimilar college years, everything except family. Her refrigerator was covered with picturesque post cards extoling the best views from Philly, Baltimore, DC, Norfolk, Charlotte and more cities dotting the Eastern Seaboard. Besides their love of literature they had a common bond, he claimed he had a one room cabin in the woods in Delaware and she described her family's place in Connecticut and he laughed that the description of her kitchen was the size of his whole cabin. Evan also recorded the copious quirks of the road in letters he sent to Vincent; week by week he squeezed increasingly more anecdotes about "Catherine".
"Excited?" Peter asked Cathy as they strolled through Central Park on July Sunday afternoon. Evan was due back in New York on Wednesday.
"It's a work night, but we're meeting for dinner. We haven't even talked about where he lives, you know what that means?" she bubbled at her question, "I don't want to say much around Daddy, he'll have the engagement party planned"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that" Peter shook his head as if to scoff off Charles' interest in seeing Cathy "happy", "And it's take out because I know how you cook" Peter retorted with a sideways glance, his lips purposefully straight.
Cathy playfully slugged his bicep as they strolled near the Castle. "Cathy…."
"He calls me Catherine" she romanticized as they came to a bench, "And we will eat out because as much as we've talked, you know how I am about having men over to the apartment"
"Honey, Steven Bass is in a mental hospital, he's not likely to get out how many sociopaths can one girl meet?" Peter fanned the copy of the Times as they sat in the torpid summer sun.
"I wish I had some caves to escape into, this heat has been brutal" She popped off her flats and wiggled her toes as if it would evaporate their perspiration.
Peter smiled at her comment, if Evan played his hand that might present itself.
In preparation for Evan's return, Catherine stopped at the bookstore Monday evening, the door pushed open with near silence of the clanging bell and she found the front area empty. Taking cautious steps she thought she heard Evan's voice and her feet flew to follow his solid huskiness. While her hasty steps carried her in that direction she heard his voice silence as the proprietor rushed to meet her, "Miss Chandler, what can I do for you?" his rotund frame nearly filled the aisle as she tried to jockey around him, "What would you be rushing to?"
"Who, Mr. Smythe, it would be who. I heard Evan's voice and I wasn't expecting him back yet, I was just…" Catherine was held back by his arm when his hands fell on the shelves.
"No, that wasn't Evan, their voices are quite similar" he shook his head as if it would convince her further. Above them Vincent concealed himself in the shadows watching and hearing her enthusiasm he felt her joy at thinking she heard Evan's voice. Would any woman ever carry that joy in her heart for him?
Catherine balked at his insistence, "But I heard him" her brows knit in her insistence as she backed away from Mr. Smythe's imposing figure. "I thought he was back early, he said he'd return Wednesday I was hoping he was early" now crestfallen she clutched at her purse, thinking of the elegant book mark she had seen here weeks ago, she had wanted it for his "welcome home" gift.
"No doubt Miss Chandler, Evan will be return on winged feet to you….on Wednesday" Mr. Smythe processed the transaction for the bookmark and Catherine swept the room, aching to hear Evan's voice one more time before she left the book store.
"What do you think of that?" Mr. Smythe mused to Vincent after he pulled down the shades and locked the front door. Vincent's brows rose as he shrugged, he simply had no words to share.
Geographic necessity had led Evan and Catherine to a telephone relationship, they had done no more than shake hands the night they "met" and yet the hours of soul-baring dialogue they felt breathtakingly close. Tuesday evening his last words to her were, "I simply cannot wait to melt into your arms for if your lips are as sweet as your words our time together will be sublime"
At his ardent intentions Catherine's soul burned sweetly for him, for weeks in her dreams she ran through a pine forest following his voice to find him on a dock on a lake. In her dreams their affections burned to the extent only their dropping into the placid lake cooled their "ardor". Catherine's sleep was fitful, her heart hungry to feel his arms and lips as she had been hearing his words. It had been years since she held this kind of desire.
All day Wednesday she felt his impatience at traveling back from Florida by car. Then as she relocked her door and threw her purse onto the floor was the trill of the phone.
"Cathy, dear" Charles Chandler's voice was heavy and grim, "Cathy, I am afraid the law firm took on a bad egg of a character. I'm leaving for the cabin and I want to take you with me" his tone left her no wiggle room.
"Daddy, what do you mean?" She didn't want to leave NY now, would she seem flighty if it was because of a man? Really, were they in danger? "And whoever is looking for you could find our cabin" for a brilliant corporate attorney Charles was no devious fugitive.
"It seems we've contracted to do business with a dirty client. Before we can step out of the obligation I need to make sure you're safe" She could hear the stress in his breathing, she worried that he'd have a heart attack or stroke.
"I know someone with a much more conservative cabin in Delaware, let me call him and see if we can have access. Come here, Daddy, now" her brain spun at the thought that this was the reason for Evan to come into her life, "Daddy, I love you, be safe while you hurry over".
Catherine spun on her heel to get Evan's telephone number, and then considered he was on the road with no way to reach him. Peter, she'd call Peter, perhaps he'd have Evan's family telephone number to arrange something.
"Peter, Daddy just called me. We have to get away for a while, could you come over?"
Peter sat on the end of Catherine's love seat, arms folded his thumb running back and forth over his chin, "So you need to disappear for a while?"
"Before I go to the authorities I need to go underground, Peter, it could be days before the FBI would get us somewhere safe" Now Charles had begun pacing behind the drawn curtains of his daughter's park side high-rise.
"If you could get in touch with Evan's family" Catherine's words seared thru Peter. Had Evan divulged the family's home underground in the Tunnels? Catherine continued before Peter reacted, "Evan said there's a cabin in Delaware; if we could get away there we could be safe – they'd never connect us". Catherine brought Peter the cordless phone, urging him to act.
"I'm afraid it's not that simple" Peter back pedaled thinking about the chain of contact he'd go through to contact Below. It would be a phone call to Henry's home and then time for a family member to carry the message down. "Come to my home tonight, we'll work out something". Peter held out both arms to draw the Chandlers together. "Leave your car here, Charles – we'll leave in my car now"
They moved in serious silence, Catherine setting lights on timers, packing her Mother's framed photo along with the delicate carved rose that sat beside her bed. With a sad sweep of the apartment she closed the door behind her and locked the deadbolt as if that would stop someone intent on larceny.
Watching their backs, Peter drove his precious friends, Charles and Catherine Chandler silently to his brownstone. The Law Firm's new obstacle hung over each of them in a singular way. Fortunate that it was a moonless night they made hurried steps into their safety and as they settled around the small kitchen table Peter read the fear and uncertainty in their eyes.
"It's best you both stay here, it will take a bit of time to get the keys to the cabin" Peter began brewing a pot of decaf while Catherine fidgeted and Charles scowled.
"Well I could have waited for Evan if it was going to take time" She threw her hands up and then composed herself to worry her bottom lip while she watched her Dad for signs of physical stress.
"Charles, take my room, I'll stay in my study I had a daybed put there awhile back. Catherine, take Susan's room." Peter's mind was working while he laid out mugs and plated some carrot cake. He watched while Charles silently traced the pattern of the table cloth. "You're awfully quiet, my friend".
"I've come this far in my career and now that I've drawn Catherine into the firm we get hit with this, I should have suspected that family" his voice was low and sad.
"Daddy, you had no idea when you took them on, remember innocent until proven guilty?" she laid a warm hand over her Father's and their eyes met as Peter delivered steaming mugs in front of them.
"Honey, anything that threatens your safety is bad business" Charles accepted the mug, doctored it with sugar and cream and watched the steam rise before he sipped, "When this is over I won't have the credentials to load rust at a dirt factory"
"Henry, its Peter Alcott" Peter began the call in the privacy of his study once he knew the Chandlers were making themselves comfortable upstairs. The two Helpers talked at length, about Catherine's new relationship with Evan and whether it was safe for them to make a run to Delaware once they got the keys to the cabin.
Peter made cat-light steps upstairs, listening for Charles' movement, with a light wrap of his knuckles he reported, "Charles, I've had a call from the hospital, I need to step out. You're locked in – safe, don't answer the phone and stay tight"
Charles came to the door in trousers and tee shirt, looking quite lost out of this element of usurping Peter from his own bedroom, "Certainly, Peter, that's the difference between our careers. My clients just keep me up nights, not out nights" They exchanged melancholy expressions and Peter was out the front door to a Threshold.
Jacob Wells curled a lip at the JAMA article's proposition of a revolutionary treatment, sometimes he doubted new-fangled medicine, then a rattled of the pipes announced Peter was approaching and it gave Jacob cause to rise and shake out the chill in his hip. He readied the tea pot to share a cup and by the time Peter arrived the two cups sat steaming. "Peter, the next person I expected to show up was Evan….. Not you. What brings you down tonight?"
They exchanged brotherly hugs with a hearty smack on the back and settled in chairs, "Afraid it isn't good for friends of mine" Peter paused to let the steam rise to tickle his nose, "Catherine, the young lady you met at Evan's event, she and her Father need sanctuary. Catherine wants to contact Evan about the cabin in Delaware"
"Sanctuary? The Attorney and his daughter?" Father understood the specter of the question. "What … is … the … issue?"
"Seems the law firm took on a dirty client, some threats have been made. Before the Authorities can help they need to take cover." Peter's eyes searched the eclectic chamber, knowing Jacob's mind would be weighing the situation, "Catherine thought perhaps she could borrow the keys to the Delaware cabin."
"It's just so far away and there is no telephone, how would they ensure their safety?" Jacob was resuming his role of "Father", thinking of the mechanics of their exile.
"They haven't thought that far, they're still processing their shock at the thought of needing to run" Peter stretched out his legs and took a deep breath; "I wish I hadn't sold my place now" Peter ran a worried hand over his face and took a long mouthful of tea.
"Then the thought of Evan being separated from his new romance" Jacob's expression seemed wistful, "His letters tell me he is quite taken with this Catherine Chandler and their long distance relationship." They sat in silence only broken by the sound of Vincent's arrival.
Vincent stood at the top of the stair, understanding that Peter and his Father would sometimes sit and sip tea in total silence. Should he break that silence to greet his "uncle" Peter? Taking the opportunity for some friendly conversation after a day of teaching youngsters Vincent took light steps downward.
"Good evening, Peter" Vincent's strong hands pat a soft greeting on his shoulders as Peter acknowledged Vincent's greeting with a nod and smile.
The conversation began with an invitation to tea and progressed to Vincent's suggestion. "I'm going below for at least 6 days, perhaps before I return they could go into protection?" His magnanimous heart proposed opening his world to include the Chandlers.
"It certainly would throw Evan and Catherine together" Peter mused, "Nothing like the solace of a loving shoulder in times of trial" Peter's glance danced back and forth between father and son.
"We could call a vote , it would be an emergency meeting after breakfast tomorrow" Father, now in full leadership mode searched the corners of his chamber as if the particulars of that discussion hung like dust motes in the air. "Perhaps we could wait until lunch and include Evan in the discussion?" Father directed the question Vincent.
"His relationship, this new long distance relationship with Catherine" Vincent's pronunciation of her name gave him a slight pang he could not identify; "it would either kill it or cure it."
Vincent had perched against the end of an overstuffed chair, his arms folded over his chest as he considered their romantic possibilities: viewing the Nameless River, hearing the voices whispering back at them while they viewed the stars in the water, and perhaps even their kisses stolen in the dark Tunnel alcoves. Within his heart, Vincent was a romantic fully understanding what ripe home the Tunnels were for lovers. If only it were for him.
"Certainly the Tunnels would be no more rustic than Evan's cabin" Peter mused as they deliberated the pros and cons. "Here they can make it to my Threshold and use the telephone, grab a hot shower"
"You don't think they'd enjoy the hot springs?" Father settled back in his chair, his eyeglasses down on his nose with a twinkle in his eye.
"I think Charles' exercise is relegated to the Health Club, but he does spin a great tale, he could fit right in with us right here" Peter poured more tea and slid the antique flask out of his breast pocket, held it up to meet Father's offered cup and poured a medicinal dose into each cup. Vincent grinned at the ceremony, this communion of kindred spirits over tea and brotherhood.
"I'm going to check in with Winslow, he's my partner this trip" Vincent began his exit, "Father, where's the chronicle for these levels?" He stretched on tip toe to peruse the stacks for the old style leather folio.
"Here, Vincent," Father offered up the open portfolio and then held on to it, "Are you sure this is no disturbance for you?" Their eyes met over the portfolio they both held and their expressions softened with Vincent's nod. Then he made his "good-nights" and was gone.
"We've sent the Administrative staff on a professional retreat in Philadelphia" Charles eyed the list on the legal pad before him as he sipped his coffee, "These women deserve no danger" his shoulders slumped as he greeted Catherine to the breakfast table.
"Good morning, Daddy" she hugged his shoulders from behind before she went for a mug of coffee, "That's great, has Peter come down yet, he had a late night" She had focused her concentration on the noises in the home, the creaks and rumbles of an older home.
"I'm still young enough to burn the midnight oil, young lady" Peter announced from the hallway as he buttoned his shirt collar then reached for a coffee mug, "Who did the honors?" Peter nodded to the coffee pot.
"I can still make coffee" Charles retorted as they settled around the small table. The air lay thick with mystery for the Chandlers' future.
"For that I thank-you," Peter swallowed the black coffee thinking of how to break the news of their safe destination, "Catherine, I spoke to Evan's family last night and secured a safe place for you both"
"You got the cabin? I hear it's rustic, are you ready to return to your Scouting days, Daddy?" Catherine's enthusiasm brightened the breakfast table gathering.
"Closer and safer" now Peter had their attention, "Remember Jacob and Mary from the other evening, Catherine?" When she nodded he continued, "They are Evan's Aunt and Uncle you could say –"
"And they have something closer?" Charles folded his hands over the morning paper.
"Beneath our very noses" Peter rested his hands flat on the table to accentuate the statement.
"And safe?" Charles countered.
"Off the maps safe" Peter responded gently.
If it struck either of them odd that Peter suggested athletic shoes to Catherine she didn't register it. The fact that Peter had them deposit their bags in the basement didn't seem peculiar as the back door gave them alley access in broad daylight. What had both of the Chandlers scratching their heads was that Peter locked the basement door so no one could enter the basement and then led them to a corner where he slid a pristine work bench aside and unscrewed a small knob on a peculiar door.
"We're going underground, really underground" Peter declared, "There's a row of large rebar staples down about 5 feet, it's lit. Charles, you climb down and I'll pass the satchels to you, then Catherine and I'll close up and be down last"
They followed directions silently, each of them breathing in the loamy damp air as Peter did his best to close up his home. They exchanged long looks at the repetitive tapping and the industrial wire covered electric lights ahead.
"This is where we're heading, to where we call "Below" Peter picked up some luggage and led the way, "The story I told you at breakfast, about Jacob and that wife, Margaret, you understand it's not commonly discussed" The Chandlers understood discretion and replied in fact.
"Evan can tell you his story, Catherine, everyone has one here" Peter led down a hard packed earth path, brick foundations to one side, rail road ties and scavenged wood on the other side, "Jacob was sited before the government about his medical findings and was blacklisted. He lost everything, had he come to me I would have taken him in, but pride does goeth before the fall" Peter shifted the weight of the baggage and stopped for Charles to catch his breath.
"I could have taken him in, but it wouldn't have been a life, this, what he did gave so many people a life where they thought they had lost their dreams"
"How do they live?" Catherine fought her repulsion for the dark as she saw torches ahead after twenty minutes of steady walking, "No electricity?" she was beginning to bristle at the offer of safety underground.
"They are quite clever; you'll meet their Thomas Edison, a young man named Mouse. Don't encourage him with the gizmos, either of you! God knows what he'll try to rig for you!" Now Charles' eyebrows rose amusingly at the prospect, Catherine was silent, worrying about the eminent darkness.
As much as Vincent needed to be deeper into the Tunnels, he had sent Winslow off with the preliminary papers and a smaller pack of tools. He knew the dispositions of those who sought the Tunnels as a refuge; he had stood back from them – his visage too much for newcomers. Now he watched the trio make their way around the curve of the rock hewn Tunnel corner and from a hidden alcove he watched Catherine close her eyes tightly as if to wish herself somewhere else. When she opened them and stepped out her jaw dropped at the tableau ahead. The man she had met at the Book signing, Jacob Wells was standing at a sizable table covered with charts and stacks of books. He rested on the palm of one hand as he sorted books to clear a place for his visitors to share the pot of tea. Once Vincent knew they had been welcomed he stepped double time to join Winslow.
"Welcome to my home" Jacob smiled as he grabbed his cane and moved toward his guests. In the initial moments of their meeting, from another direction, Mary joined them, sliding chairs toward the table and plating small muffins with their tea.
"Sorry your situation has forced you to leave your homes, we hope you find yourselves safe and comfortable in our world" Mary offered as she accepted their windbreakers and hung them on the coat tree.
It was a peaceful accord as the group discussed the society rules of the world below, "We'll be sharing our meals here in this room, not that you aren't welcome to our dining room, we simply find it easier for most of our citizens to meet new people gradually and lastly, because of the natural outcroppings and bodies of waters we would demand that you not go off on your own. Your chambers are adjacent to the bathes and you're welcome to our library and our kitchens" Jacob sat back, his fingers steepled in his lap.
"Well, of course not, I mean we wouldn't go off on our own, frankly Dr. Wells, I would probably read or I see you play chess" Charles was still absorbing whether or not he had ingested something from a bottle that said "drink me".
"Catherine, I know Evan expects to be home around dinner time. He doesn't expect you here, I didn't have a chance to get a message to him – you can see we have no phones" There was a bit of a smile at this.
"I am looking forward to seeing him" all of a sudden she was demure, searching for discussion subjects with the "Mayor" of Below.
Her "chamber", what they called their living quarters, was the size of her bedroom. Once Catherine set down her bags she lovingly placed her Mother's portrait and her rose on the bed table. She surveyed the riot of mis-matched furniture from the spindled rocker to the chest at the foot of the full bed. When she smoothed the handmade quilt she felt the varied textures of the fabrics lying handsomely under the hand stitching while the scent of lavender and vanilla rose from the fat pillar candles on the rock hewn ledges. What had the law firm gotten them into and where exactly was she?
Charles' eyes followed the carving on the chest of drawers as he rocked in the chair next to his small bed. His chamber, a bit further past Catherine's was impressive as he had expected something akin to a cave. He folded his hands, as if to pray and counted his blessings, he hadn't been too jaded to make this prayer. His free will had brought him education and professional standing and his heartaches had always been in his personal life. Losing a loving wife, raising his daughter alone these had been sad moments he had worked so hard to temper with travel and gifts. Now he sat in literally a hole in the ground assessing his next steps. "Excuse me, Mr. Chandler" a young voice called from the hall.
"Yes, child" Charles answered wearily.
"Mary says that we should take you on a tour" The youngster shuffled in clean but well-worn sneakers, "I'm Jeremy"
"Could we do that later, son?" Charles asked as the boy entered the room, "Jeremy, do you go to school?"
With a quick smile the dark haired boy chuckled, "Yessir, most days. Today my lessons were independent study and I study quickly" he was 11 or so, rangy in his cast off clothing, "You would want to know where the bathroom is, right?" the boy knew basic needs; he had done this before Charles surmised.
"Alright, son, let's do this" Charles rose to join the boy and were off on a small adventure.
"Catherine?" the voice called from a distance, the volume building as Evan drew closer, "Catherine" Evan had arrived home early and had been surprised with the news of the Chandlers taking refuge Below. Evan's quest for Catherine carried him so quickly he slid to a stop before her standing in the roughhewn hallway.
"You didn't expect to find me here, did you?" Catherine giggled finding a place in his arms, nestling under his bristly chin as they held each other. They cuddled finding each other's warmth yet oddly, that kiss….their first kiss landed mutely on both their lips.
No primal energy surged thru their bloodstreams, no open mouths or inquiring tongues. No quivering in their hearts. It was like cousins at a family reunion, then just their rocking back and forth within each other's arms. As they drew back to capture long looks at each other they held just each other's fingertips. Each of them silently assessed each other as if for the first time.
Now Catherine could fit all of his idiosyncrasies with his home, the long hair, the well-worn corduroys frayed at the heel, and the chukka boots scuffed from miles of tunnel walking, the long hair and beard. His blue, blue eyes were bright and friendly, that was it, just friendly. Oddly as they stood there were no embers of hot passion stirring within either of them.
Evan stepped back and nodded, she was the last person he ever expected to be waiting for him in the Tunnel. He gallantly offered his elbow and the two of them took a long stroll.
Why hadn't they torn each other's clothes off? Why hadn't their lips locked, enflamed by weeks of telephone chats baptized with romantic endearments? Their internal gears, so necessary to get their wheels of love into a horizontal position never synced. It was never going to happen for them, even while they stood reading the constellations in the reflections of the stars.
When they returned at the dinner hour they weren't even holding hands. Surprisingly, Catherine had a mind that this simplification would be one less issue in what she figured would be a tumultuous season. The last thing she needed was infatuation to cloud her reasoning.
Their quiet dinner with Father was just that. William's posse of kitchen help carried a large crockery of stew, a basket of rolls and apple butter and a small cinnamon cake into the room. The static silence seemed odd to Father as he watched Evan slowly break his bread before carefully slathering it with apple butter. Chat wasn't that, it was carefully meted out words on generic subjects between people just wading into something of a friendship. The Chandlers assumed "Father" and Mary weren't subscribers to the New York Times, although they had discovered the paper would find its way down within 24-28 hours of its distribution.
When they plated up the cinnamon cake Father eyed Evan as he sat across from Catherine, where was that romance Father wondered.
After the dishes had been cleared and the candle glow had been reduced to the two of them at the table Father motioned for Evan to have a seat, "Tell me about your travels, Evan".
With those few words Evan morphed from a fully functioning adult to a 13 year old boy, he pushed the chair back on two legs and braced his foot on the table leg, rocking as he thought about the weeks away. "You know I love my work, nothing like meeting people, talking about poetry, I mean how lucky am I?" With just a "look" from Father Evan brought the chair legs back to the floor.
"How lucky?" Father posed the question back to him, sipping his tea, waiting to hear more about Evan's travels.
"Well, you know I hate being alone on the road" Evan's smile grew pensive, reflective, " just about every night I'd call Catherine, just to hear her voice and Father, I thought it was a beginning for me. We connected on so many points…. But…. There just wasn't a spark" Evan hung his head, romantically defeated again.
"Love can sometimes be magic" Father leaned into their conversation, "But magic can sometimes... just be an illusion, was the illusion good while it lasted?"
Evading the question Evan countered, "Where did Vincent head off to? Somewhere I could find him one of these days?" Evan recognized the discipline – new residents were reserved in a circle while they grew comfortable with the community, then as their sense of "citizenship" gelled truths were shared. Vincent was always one of the last truths.
"I know he'll want to see you" Father smiled at the conversational dance.
"I'll bet you were worried about Catherine and I having an incendiary love fest weren't you, Father?" Evan's words were like a confession. "I thought this was the girl, the ONE, you know? We talked for hours so many times a week, I could tell you her political views, hell, I'll bet you I could tell you how she sorts her kitchen drawers" on that comment Father's brows rose.
"And….." Father opened the door.
"There was nothing, zip…. I did that long distance run, we caught each other in our arms and . . . . Bahm, it was like kissing a sister." Evan threw his hands up in the air, then caught the length of his hair and tied it into a ponytail, "and the damndest thing, it doesn't even hurt. I mean we chat and she's good company but you don't have to worry about us being a bad example for Jamie and the rest of the gang"
"I appreciate your concern for Tunnel morality, Evan, I very nearly expected that you'd be courting her, seriously from your letters" All of Father's telltale emotions were bleeding thru, his knitted brows and cleaning his eyeglasses. Evan felt Father's deep and true concern, "Perhaps as you get used to being together the flame might catch?"
"Father, I appreciate your compassion, I'm not shutting down here, I'm just not seeing us taking off as Evan and Catherine, happily ever after" Now Evan had risen and pushed his chair back into the table. "Is Vincent where I think he is?" and Father nodded. They made their customary good nights and Evan struck out for a late night visit with his best friend.
"You can run, but you can't hide" Evan joked as he approached Vincent as he dried himself after a swim.
"I can never hide from you, Evan, welcome, how was your trip?" Vincent stepped into his trousers then they caught arms and grinned, Vincent rewarding his return with a fang baring smile. Vincent accepted the napkin wrapped cake and they sat beside each other as Vincent broke the large piece into two and they began picking the moist cake to bite size pieces, "I'm surprised that you aren't romancing Catherine with some sweet words, I feel honored"
The story was there to tell, Evan measured his words as they ate then admitted, "I've never been one to kiss and tell, fact is, Vincent….. There is flat out nothing to tell. It's not love"
"What is love, Evan, you've made your life recounting the words, writing them yourself" Vincent offered the canteen of spring water and Evan accepted it.
"We kissed and it wasn't a spark, we hugged and there was zilch, sort of a kissing your sister thru a screen door sort of thing" Evan waited for the metaphor to register with Vincent and was rewarded with a wry smile and a shake of his shaggy head.
"The search continues?" Vincent posed the question, knowing Evan had been weighing these past month's telephone conversations as if Catherine was the one for him.
"I'm proud to consider her a friend, just Damn, Vincent, why do I have to have such a ravishing friend?" Evan stretched out on his back to view the cave ceiling, "Soft in all the right spots, round and strong and….arghhhhh. Beat me to death now, Vincent I'm destined for bachelorhood"
Vincent nodded as if he'd comply, "Then it will be the three of us, Devin, you and me keeping company into perpetuity?"
"Did I tell you I had dinner with that rascal?" Evan sat up to share the tale of a Mahi-Mahi dinner in Key West, "he's down there tending bar, sleeping all day" Then Evan's voice tapered to a whisper, "He tells the tourists he was swiped by Pirates between there and Bermuda" as he pointed to his cheek, referring to Devin's scarred cheek, "I'm sorry, Vincent, I didn't mean to make light of it" Then they watched the motes of dust in silence, each lost within their hearts.
The days stretched into a week and Charles' own counsel advised he "stay put", this could have worn on them except for their temporary forays into Peter's brownstone to break their "cabin fever". Vincent and Winslow returned the 6th day of their stay and although they met Winslow, Vincent hung in the shadows of the Tunnels. The heavy tapestries stayed drawn across his chamber doorway and he took his meals alone when the Chandlers were below.
Weeks later when Catherine had escaped her solitude to sit in the bedroom window seat on the 3rd story, she watched the bounty of thick leaves turn orange and amber to drop away and she felt her heart crumble too. Not that she could even say why, she felt hollow and pointless, even more so than when she occupied a mahogany desk at the law firm. This would have been the time perhaps for a religious conversion had it presented itself, yet what was laid before her was more of a societal transformation.
"Daddy, what if I offer my talents teaching? That Radcliffe education could be used for something" her light fingers traced over the spines of the books in Peter's library to fall on a thin red book of Shakespeare's sonnets.
"We need to carry our weight in some way" Charles' lifelong purpose had been truncated by crime to become a daily chess partner, "they seem to not want our money, it's the damndest thing – anywhere else and they'd have put a bounty on our futures and charged us accordingly" He certainly didn't understand them even after living amongst them for these weeks.
October 1st Mouse jogged toward the Chandlers as they returned to the Tunnels, "Ok, good to see you, good news just in time"
"Good news, what type, Mouse?" Charles had a standing 4 O'clock meeting twice a week to talk about "gizmos", they had become fast friends.
"Halloween Party, pumpkins, games and most important, COSTUMES" Mouse nearly bounced off the stone walls.
"It's been a while for us; Mouse, what would you propose for our costumes?" Catherine exchanged a grin with Charles and drifted alongside Mouse and looped a hand into the crook of his elbow. Mouse seemed surprised at her action yet carried on with his usual enthusiasm led her away to a large chamber with stacks of sorted clothes and bolts of cast off fabric.
"Bailey" Mouse called at the doorway, "Need more costumes!" then he cut out, running to draw more residents to pick and choose a costume.
Bailey, a 40's something woman had escaped a life or exhausting abuse at the hand of a politician. Not wanting to live in the light of being someone's EX, she had made her break when her physician, Dr. Alcott had brought her into the fold. Her love of fabric and sewing solved an age old clothing dilemma Below. These days found her playing with dyes and fabrics for the fall fete of Saowain.
"Do you sew Catherine?" Bailey asked as she dragged a box of patterns from the shelf. Bailey's eyes danced at the thought of the tunnel community celebrating in costume.
Catherine laughed and threw he hands up, "Not hardly! Never had a good teacher, are you a good teacher?" Before Bailey could answer, Evan entered carrying bags of trimmings from a family owned fabric store.
"More goodies for Romeos and Juliets and Pirates" Then Evan winked at Catherine, "Which one will you be?"
Once Mouse had played the town crier about the costume party he circled back to Catherine's chamber, "Catherine Chandler?" he politely stood outside her doorway, his back to the door.
"It's Mouse, right?" She had been reading and wanted to be sure she had remembered his voice, this time low and polite.
"Sure, it's Mouse" she could hear his shuffling in the echo of the hallway.
"Come on in, what can I do for you?" Catherine had been ordering small electronic pieces from a tool catalog and they had struck up an eccentric rapport.
"Someone wants to meet you, my friend" Mouse almost removed the book from her lap to bring her to her feet, "Need hiking shoes and warm gloves, walk with me"
"Where to, Mouse?" She slid into her sneakers and caught the gloves off the top of the bureau, "We aren't going up are we?"
"Down, going down, someone wants to meet you" Now his urgency carried him to the doorway as if to draw her with him, she could do nothing less than follow him. He had shown her luminescent lichen and brilliant crystal formations so this person would undoubtedly be as interesting as his previous adventures.
"Who wants to meet me?" She brought the lush, soft scarf around her neck and set to walk beside him. He demurred telling who, he just babbled about special stones and herbal concoctions. They walked down steep spiral staircases until she begged to take five only to have him offer her a flask of peppermint tea sweet with dark honey and pull her further into the bowels of the earth.
"She's going to come for you here and then I'll return for you….need to do something for Vincent….. I'll be back, promise" and he led her to a slab of carved stone and nodded for her to sit and wait. Mouse darted back the way they came while Catherine sat in flinty silence, her fear growing by the minute as she detected a shuffling sound approaching. She thought of Minotaurs and giant rats to the extent that she clenched her eyes shut and pull her feet up to the stone bench.
Then as the noise built to a crescendo it stopped, suddenly in front of her. Herbs and oiled scents whirled around her so overtaking her breath that she removed her hands from her face and covered her mouth and nose. In that moment Narcissa stood in her sightline and Catherine drew her hands into defending fists.
A cackle cracked the dry air and Narcissa pronounced, "Child, you need not fear me….. ….. You fear the unknown, you fear the criminals encroaching your father's business you fear love is elusive and I bring enlightenment for these fears"
Seeking to melt into the rock wall Catherine shrunk back, "Who are you, how do you know my fears?"
"Oh, child, we all want to be happy and free from fear, many people here have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. You and your Father have come for sanctuary from violence" Narcissa's white eyes gazed over Catherine's head as her voice entranced the nervous Topsider, "You have begun the wheels of justice Above to protect you and still you lay awake at night. What can Narcissa do for you?"
Once Catherine's breathing returned to normal, she found herself extending both her hands to the old woman's and truth erupted from her lips, "I came here in love, or what I thought was love. When Evan and I kissed every notion of romance flew out of our minds. I feel guilty, I feel sorry – I feel like I led him on"
They stood connected by their clasped hands and Narcissa meditated for a few moments, "Child, this was a journey of discovery to gain a friend you will have for life . . . . . there is no waste, no pain in this realization" Of course to Catherine it seemed like an oversimplification of what she and Evan shared.
"In this time with Father's community you have breathed easier, shared smiles because you reflected and contributed to this world. You have accepted your role and become flexible while you supported your Father in his strife"
Catherine found herself nodding along with her as those dark gnarled hands massaged her tense fingers.
"You have made yourself ready, you have lightened you heart and given thanks. Now, you stand transformed and ready to receive the love of your heart's desire" Narcissa's dark skin shone in the torchlight, in contrast to her pearl white teeth.
"What?" the force of her disbelief nearly pulled her hands from the sorceress.
"I will speak more plainly. Catherine" now she took Catherine's left hand, "On the night when masks are worn, your true love's heart will be unmasked. You will express your true desires and he who is ripe to fulfill them will make his presence known", their eyes burned into each other after the oracle's ravings. A current transmuted between them and the tension left the young woman's body and soul. The aged woman came to sit beside her guest and she held her across her lap like a child as they rocked in another sort of trance, Narcissa whispered into her ear "Child, all gains are the fruit of venturing".
As the strumming between them died Mouse's footfalls approached and Catherine awoke, she was foggy and momentarily confused yet lucid enough to nod a good-bye to her new friend and walk along side Mouse the entire convoluted path.
"Catherine looks happy" Mouse proclaimed as they climbed the circular metal staircase.
"You know, Mouse, I'm not even sure why, but she's magical and I feel Daddy and I are going to be safe and perhaps our time here will be coming to a close" her steps lightened as they approached the torchlit hallways.
That night she ate little and made her good-nights early, she felt she had too much to dream this night!
That next night an old Tunnel Script of Romeo and Juliet lay on her bed when Catherine returned from her dinner. Inside was a pencil sketch and notes on the costume Catherine thought someone had designed for a previous production, then she looked at the "actress" her features were remarkably similar to hers! She fell asleep, the script in her hands.
Three nights later a small hair comb appeared on her pillow, from the patina it was vintage, the note said: "O! She doth teach the torches to burn bright" - William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, 1.5.
"Daddy, are you doing this?" Catherine called down the hallway, only to hear a shuffle in the shadows that caused her to jump back into the warm light of her chamber.
Was it any surprise that October 31st found Catherine adjusting the Juliet cap before the antique mirror in her chamber she figured she could be "Juliet" although she hadn't heard of any man being "Romeo"? Bailey had done most of the work on the empire velveteen dress while she claimed Catherine was a fashion designer in training. Together they drew and cut the lengths of discarded draperies. "If it had been green I would feel like Scarlett O'Hara" Catherine remembered the week she learned to sew. "Cathy" her Father called from the hallway, "Ready for the Party, Juliet, your Lost Boy awaits?"
"Daddy, what fun this is going to be, don't even think about what's going on Above" she grinned the absolving smile of a loving daughter and adjusted his sash, "The boys are going to love you being the biggest Lost Boy"
"All of a sudden I have the oddest urge for Peanut Butter" Charles quipped as they headed toward Father's Chamber. They heard Father's breathing life into the tale of the Headless Horseman and the hesitated before joining the group.
"Not knowing that the hill had already been taken by the British. Whatever the reason, the Headless Horseman continues to roam the roads near Tarrytown on dark nights from that day to this." Father closed the book, although he could have told the tale by heart. "Now, as the adults join us we'll prepare for the pumpkin carving and then bobbing for apples"
As the children hopped up and down to jockey to the front of the line for cider and a pumpkin Catherine searched the room for a seat and the costumes and masks amused her. "Who's your friend, Evan?" Catherine nodded toward the man in the duplicate costume of his. Catherine was certain she had never met this tall golden stranger who stood brushing shoulders in the corner, both in deep blue cropped front military tailcoats rich with gold braiding. Vincent and Evan posed as bookends, mirror images of tall, muscular men in knee high polished boots; their long hair brushed till it shone in the candle light.
"My good buddy, Vincent, I would like you to meet Catherine and her father, Charles Chandler" Charles extended a hand and Vincent offered an elegantly gloved hand. Those gloves were the only difference between Vincent and Evan's costumes, other than the mask. That intriguing lion mask.
"Vincent, just Vincent?" she asked and he nodded, "How have we missed you all this time?" Catherine blushed at the sight of this intriguing gentleman in the tight white trousers. After months of carrying on what she thought was a stimulating long distance connection she stood extra tall as he bent to brush his distinctive lips over her fingertips.
Energy was too severe a word for what streamed between them. The soft flow of power crackled at their touch and circulated thru her bloodstream. The warmth and stimuli nestled between her ribs near her heart and she could only freeze in that stance, no other movement was possible.
"Great, Vincent, you always pull that trick out of your pocket and slay the rest of us guys away" Evan caught Catherine's elbow and drew her to the small chaise in the corner. "Don't mind Vincent, he gets into the costume" Vincent turned his head, sneaking a bit of a smirk at Evan's aside. He had felt it, felt all she had experienced only it settled within him as a disturbance, why now, why with her?
From across the room Vincent observed the two of them taking in the next story with more interest than for each other. Her amusement at the Gaelic yarns grew with each paragraph and it was as if he could feel her engrossment. Lost in watching Catherine he jumped at the warm words Evan whispered into his ear, "The seat's good and warm, all you have to do is sit down next to her".
Vincent shot Evan his best incredulous air and struggled to slink further into the shadows, "Seriously, you've been watching Catherine since the first night at the book store" Evan turned his back to the group to perform his most active expressions for Vincent, "She's a beautiful woman, inside and out. You'd be a fool to not enjoy her company" With that said Vincent scowled at his friend and beat a path to the Commons where the younger children were carving pumpkins.
Vincent drew his lips together to speak and swallowed the words; he'd be a fool to pursue her.
Evan grabbed two mugs of cider and worked his way back to the open seat he left, "What did you say to your friend?" Catherine quietly probed as she held the mug up to her lips, her eyes on Father and his illustrated story book.
"He's off to carve up pumpkins, he's a hands on kind of guy" Evan felt bad at the comment and even worse that Vincent had felt he needed to take flight. In the Chandler's time Below Vincent had clung to the shadows admiring Catherine from afar. She would comment on a bit of a story and the book would be on her bed table, she would talk about a scent and those candles would appear on her chamber's ledge. Evan knew whatever passion he lacked for Catherine it was quite likely Vincent's heart burned for the woman. Evan had hoped to push the two into some Halloween meeting, if not tonight, when?
Once Mouse, Jamie and Rebecca rounded up couple of dozen Trick or Treaters the Tunnels quieted down, leaving the adults to gather in the Commons for pumpkin donuts and hard cider. "Is that Jacob as Captain Hook?" Charles murmured to Catherine. Spice scented candles burned in the candelabra's distributed on the buffet table laid heavy with platters of hard cheeses and sausages. Piles of grapes and figs nestled in between the cutting boards and stacks of mis-matched luncheon plates.
"I think Mary has quite a sense of humor to dress as Smee, don't you think? I mean I've never seen her in a pair of trousers, check out those striped socks!" Catherine lingered over the cauldron of hard cider looking for Vincent. Music seemed to come from nowhere as the adults relaxed without their children. Laughter filled the room as it can when people are relaxed and within their element.
"She most likely knitted those socks herself, Cathy. I've never seen such a creative woman in my life" Charles had grown to admire her sense of industry and talents. In the candlelight Catherine had been seeking a particular pair of those white trousers and knee high black boots, looking for Vincent's arrival to the adult party. When she only saw Evan her heart sunk just a millimeter so she relied on her appetite to make up for lost entertainment.
Balancing two plates and a mug of cider she shuffled over the slightly uneven stone floor in the direction of a fairly ornate chair near a tall tapestry.
(within my blog post, there is a music video)
Someone shouldered a violin and playful hands began wrapping and tapping spoons in harmony, one of the married couples began a hearty jig their playful energy drew more and more of the crowd to dancing. Except Catherine, she sat pinching grapes off of her plate, watching the merriment and scanning the multitude for Vincent.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught movement and pulled her feet up to the rung of the chair in fear of mice. Then in the dark earthen and stone corner she saw brown booted legs and suede covered thighs extended from an alcove in the stone wall. Who was this? She stood and craned her neck to no avail she had to move closer, she felt really desperate yet she swallowed her curiosity and got closer. It was Vincent.
"You changed costumes" Catherine burst in surprise. Now he wore a linen poet's shirt with an olive suede tunic, his arms crossed over his chest, his hands tucked into his armpits. Had he blushed at her? She couldn't tell through his makeup.
"Ah, yes, pumpkin innards and white trousers are certain disaster" His tone was pleasant if not a bit awkward.
"Do you dance?" she asked as she turned to lean against the wall to gain his perspective of the dance floor.
"Not like that" he unconsciously raised his hand to the crowd and then withdrew it back to his side, "My feet don't connect with my brain until adrenaline kicks in, I'm sort of a fight or flight individual" he was digging deep to make conversation, Evan would have been proud. There was Vincent, the Tunnel Protector nearly shivering at the thought of intelligent discourse with Catherine.
"I can't do that" she nodded to the energetic Irish Jig that Livvy and Kanin were performing, "They didn't cover that in Cotillion" she held out the plate of fruit and cheese, "My eyes were bigger than my stomach". He caught the glow of her green eyes and their time stood still. Vincent accepted the plate to keep his hands still as he felt a tremor take over.
"I have done nothing but stuff my gut since I've moved down here, there may not be a hole large enough for me to emerge" Her eyes twinkled at her self-deprecation and Vincent shook his head in denial.
"You are a beautiful young woman, too many women are too thin today" his honesty burned in his blue eyes and she girlishly reached out to pat at his bicep. Under the linen shirt he was coiled muscle and her palm melded to his warmth. Momentarily he jerked at her touch and she drew back as if he were fire, only their eyes were locked, the two of them isolated with in the crowd.
"See that?" Evan nodded in their general direction to Father, "I've been trying to get them together all night" to which Father shook his head.
"Really, Evan, is that wise? Once this hubbub with the Chandlers' legal situation blows over they'll be Topside" The feather on Father's Pirate Hat danced to give him almost a comical air. He was more Disney than bloodthirsty pirate.
"They'll always be Helpers, I can tell. Plus, I told you he's been yearning for her since he saw her" Evan refilled his mug and swallowed half right there.
"Yearning….. Vincent, yearning?" Father's darkened mustache turned down with his frown. "Really, Evan?" Then he directed his question to Mary, "Am I blind? Vincent yearning?"
Mary traded looks with Evan, regard the couple across the room and then pinched Father's cheek, "Jacob, would you know yearning if it bit you?" and she slunk off to leave Jacob in Evan's very complicated hands.
"What was that supposed to mean?" Jacob blanched at Mary's departure, "Am I the only oblivious person here?"
"Don't sweat it, Father; you're a big picture sort of man and we always come to you when there's a joining or a naming ceremony, don't we?" Evan patted Father on the shoulder and left him behind the donut tray.
Within moments of the lively music ending a simple waltz drew to majority of the adults to step closer to their partners and dreamily circle the floor. With trepidation, Vincent set down the nearly empty plates and eyed the dancers. He could barely look Catherine in the eye when he pushed away from the alcove to stand whisper a husky, "Would you care to dance?"
When had five words sent a shiver like that down her spine? The frisson settled warmly within her center and her knees nearly went weak before she could raise her hand to his. Her hand in his she felt small and sheltered cherished. Honestly, she couldn't count the beats of the song or identify its name once his strong hand settled at the small of her back. Catherine made careful steps to keep a respectful distance from the broad belt strapped around his lean waist. She eyed the ornate buckle as the gate to damnation, one brush along the front of his suede trousers and she wouldn't be responsible for her behavior.
Vincent's strong arms led her earnestly through the dance, as he read the waves of excitement rolling off his dance partner heat licked at his iron self-control. He counted the stanzas left of the song, feeling his heart thumping out of his chest. When he looked down to check that his chest wasn't visibly shuddering their eyes seared into each other. She was engrossed in the two of them; he could feel it in his bones.
The dance floor appeared to clear and Vincent used the space to glide a wider perimeter perhaps to escape the scores of admiring eyes. His heart filled as he felt his families' eyes and her admiration within the music's glow. Within the maelstrom of tune and emotion he prayed for the song to end yet for the moment to never end.
The music ended with applause and their abrupt stop nearly throwing them into each other. Catherine prayed for more music as Vincent separated from her and promptly folded his hands behind his back. "Thank you for the dance, Catherine" And again a few words from Vincent melted her heart. She adopted the same body language and walked shoulder to shoulder with him, her sweating hands clasped behind her toward the cider cauldron.
"Something hot?" Evan asked as he held up mugs for each of them. At the end of the table Father rolled his eyes and shook his head as he shuffled off seeking Mary's good company.
Evan turned to swallow his comment and met Charles' eyes. "Matchmaking, Evan?" Only a father's face could wear such an inquisitive expression. "Why haven't we met him before tonight?"
"If we are very quiet, we won't be found" Vincent whispered as he slowly opened the back door to the Book store, the very same door thru which he had eluded Catherine the night Evan met her. Below a Halloween gathering was in full swing, she heard Mr. Smyth's melodious voice reading from Poe" Murders in the Rue Morgue.
"Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of probabilities- that theory to which the most glorious objects of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration."
Conspiratorially they slunk against the shelves toward the back and a midnight blue velvet fainting couch. It was only occupied by those who found their way thru the maze. Vincent had led her up the Tunnel stairs and thru the back door of the shop, to share the silence and that fainting couch.
"He's a Helper?" Catherine dropped the cap onto the table near the basement door, "I had to take that off, the elastic annoyed my chin" she craned her neck upward to expose the red line. Vincent swallowed hard at the otherwise alabaster flesh so ripe for a man's kisses, "Are you comfortable in all that?" her hand gestured at his "costume".
"As best as one can be" he tucked his chin to hide behind the curtain of hair, then she followed him as his long strides delivered them to sit on the length of overstuffed indigo velvet.
Reaching under the furniture Vincent withdrew a fat candle, a book of matches and a book of Sonnets. "Now that tells me you have a little hideaway here"
The squeals of the audience gave Catherine a start then she settled, watching Vincent's graceful setting the candle into the holder on the petite round table and the dance of the match flame as it roared to light. She felt he had plucked a string in her spine as he touched the flame to the candle and seemed to inhale its warmth as fuel.
His voice broke the spell, "Would you like to share a book?" He set himself at the opposite end of the couch, one foot on the floor and his right knee ahead of him to keep her at bay. His features softened in the golden light, the glint of the individual hairs down his nose caught Catherine's attention. She admired the exotic geometry of his masque and wondered how he had fit the pieces around his eyes. Those cerulean blue eyes could have been contacts, but she doubted that. Catherine shrugged in agreement, ambivalent to their activity, just enjoying the peace between them.
He posed the question, "What did you have in mind?" She pushed back into sumptuous upholstery and drew one knee up in the thought perhaps their knees would "kiss" in their sitting there.
"My choice?" Should she choose funny, romantic, fiction, non-fiction? Anything she chose would have some implication of meaning, how could she make a choice? "Could we just chat? I mean we've just met"
Or so she thought, as Vincent had watched her from afar from the day he returned from the depths of Below. For a scant moment Vincent recalled the first moment he had seen her in his world, as she sat with her knees under her chin in the Whispering Gallery. Her finger drew shapes in the sand then she'd oblique them with a swipe of her palm, frown and begin again. Vincent had watched her for 30 minutes or so while silent tears ran down her face. That night at Vincent's suggestion Father had proposed and impromptu Music recital where Vincent hung in the shadows of Father's chamber to watch her smile, Vincent loved to see her smile.
"Capital idea" He braced himself for a game of 20 questions Vincent mused humorously as he prepared for the worst, "Me first?" He seemed to beg.
"For the question or to ask the question?" Catherine bent forward in interest.
"To ask the question" Vincent was emphatic, nearly insistent.
"Sure, shoot" Catherine settled back and her knee slid a fraction of an inch toward his.
"Oatmeal or Chocolate Chip?" Vincent managed the question without a smile.
"Chocolate chip, what about you?" she grinned at the thought of cold milk and a stack of freshly baked cookies, something she had learned to enjoy since being Below.
"Oatmeal, with raisins" he nodded as if they were before them, ready for the eating, "Was that your question?" he secretly hoped.
"Sure" and she nodded for him to ask another question.
Vincent swallowed a lungful of air and let out a throaty whisper, "If you could be anywhere, doing anything right now, where or what would it be?"
"That's unfair. . . . . . It's as if you don't think I'm enjoying being here" Now she parked her chin on her palm and waited for his answer.
Vincent grimaced and her response and rephrased it, "Well, I would mean tomorrow or a month from now"
"I would love to be. . . . . . . .On a boat, somewhere warm with maybe four of us, you know two couples. Snorkeling, fishing, drinking good wine and cooking on the beach" He could feel the warmth in her voice, the roll of the ocean in her mood.
"You've done this before?" Vincent choked on the question, wishing to be that man sharing the sun's warmth with her on the deck of a boat pitching and rolling with the waves.
"Is that question 3?" she girlishly giggled as she began to pull hairpins out of her French twist, honey colored strands fell into loose curls around her neck.
"Of course" Vincent nodded as he stared into the dark shelves aside then slid his back against the chaise, leaving her with a profile view, his long legs straight out, booted ankles crossed.
"Well my question before your 3rd question is, what animal best represents you and why?" With Catherine's question his faced snapped to her half in shame, half in torment, "Well, your mask, the lion, it must mean a great deal to you. People use Halloween to express their personalities, a lion, well it's a symbol of power and strength and respect." Catherine seemed flummoxed by his sudden movement, her words sought to assuage any perceived verbal assault.
Vincent settled back in his seat, facing her, his head slightly bowed, "Yes, it's an expression of that, you could say that" Pulling up to look in her eyes his brow arched and an awkward apprehension infiltrated her curious heart as he spoke, "To see a lion in your dream, symbolizes great strength, aggression and power. You'll overcome your emotions or difficulties. As king of the jungle, the lion also represents royalty, leadership, pride and dominion. To dream that you are attacked by a lion indicates that you have many obstacles to overcome. You must resist the force that is driving you to self-destruction"
"Do you dream of lions, Vincent?" Her voice barely past a whisper she watched his eyes close slowly then reopen to face Catherine, her shoulders rose and she back-pedalled, "I asked two questions again, you don't have to answer that one"
Vincent pursed his lips as he thought about his dreams, those past few weeks that had become a multitude of nights dreaming of Catherine. The nightly reveries had begun innocently, pleasant dreams of their sharing a book, a meal, and long walks between the natural wonders he had grown up around. He believed they were imaginings as for each endearment he whispered to her, Catherine poetically repaid him. Where else but a dream could any woman love him?
"No, Catherine, I don't dream of lions" then after a beat he inquired, "What do you consider to be your most life changing experience?" Once he managed those words out he raised his knee and crossed his arms on the knee as if to disappear behind his shirt's full sleeves.
"Wow, that's quite a question…. I'm going to need a minute on that one" Catherine examined the space vacated by his thigh and her finger fell to make lazy circles in the velvet nap. Her head rose slowly and she began, "probably all this" her hands circled in the air, "having to run for our lives. . . . . .Certainly has caused me to examine my life's purpose" She clasped her hands as if in prayer and shook her head as if to dispel the reality, "I should be helping with more here while this community hides us, God, I feel so spoiled"
And in his heart it was his greatest desire to truly spoil her, yet how would he spoil a woman from Above?
"How do you spoil someone such as yourself?" his thoughts crossed his lips unconsciously.
"AHHHH, it was my turn, Vincent!" Catherine extended a hand unconsciously and he bristled at the contact, she released the light touch and they each settled to their corners, "Where would you be, if you could anywhere? You know other than here" she emphasized those past five words.
Absent mindedly his tongue darted to moisten his lips and Catherine's breathing hitched, he opened his mouth to speak and all his "filters" fell away, "In the fiery sunset to walk on a shore, the waves crashing at my bare feet, enjoy ice cream, and swim in the pounding surf at dawn. And before you ask another question, I've never done that" Now he tucked his chin as if to hide.
"We could do that, I mean the ice cream, right now" Catherine lurched, ready to enjoy a night "out". When the smell of the street washed pavement comes up sparkling in the streetlight's gold. "You asked about what it takes to spoil me" now she settled her slipper clad feet to the carpeted floor, "to be indulged in something as simple as ice cream"
"Ice cream?" his gloved hands padded to his pockets, feeling woefully inadequate, and telephone change wouldn't buy a scoop of ice cream in NYC.
"Let me spoil you" Catherine's hand flew to a small coin purse tucked within her décolleté, "A lady always carries "mad money" She grinned and her eyes doubled the candlelight for Vincent.
Vincent quoted the lyrics from a song long ago, "And the wind went sighing over the land, tossing the grasses to and fro, And a rainbow held out its shining hand, so what could I do but laugh and go?"
Vincent fell into step behind her as she remembered the song, "Oh, you remember the movie, FRIENDS, with Elton John's music? I loved that movie, two young people falling in love" Yes, indeed, he knew he had already fallen in love.
As they slid past the crowd in the bookstore Catherine led the way to the closest Ice Cream Parlor, once on the street they jostled between costumed partiers. "Is the game over?" Vincent asked as she was pushed against his arm.
"Game?" Catherine queried, "Oh, sure but I still have lots of questions for you" she chuckled at her confession as Vincent padded beside her in awe, pursuing to gain the upper in their conversation he asked, "How would a man spoil someone such as you?" Now they strode shoulder to shoulder bobbling against clowns and devils and geisha girls.
"Vincent, you're on a tangent!" She smirked and shook her head, only to snap back to meet the burning vision in those blue, blue eyes, "How would a man spoil me?" her eyes traveled the gaily lit marquees of stores and restaurants then she watched the faces of couples walking with arms linked, couples teasing and kissing on a corner, "I've had every shallow relationship imaginable, I was the right girl for them and each of them were happy to drop a gift bag from Tiffany's or dinner at Delmonico's then scurry off to a Yankees game or a golf course."
Vincent processed her feelings as she divulged them; he felt her pain at her realization and at her utterance.
"All well and good" she nearly winced at her words, "Except I want their time, I wanted to be lost in conversation" then she threw her arms around herself, "wrapped in their arms. I would go anywhere if the man I loved, who loved me spent time with me – anywhere. A man could spoil me that way!"
At that declaration Vincent's heart raced, he laid his gloved hand over his heart as if to capture it. His mouth ran dry and head grew light while Catherine's emerald eyes glistened with the bright lights and the nuances of tears. As she brought the two of them to stop there on the corner the urge to wrap her in his defending arms and kiss her loosely curled hair pounded between his ears, leeched into every vein in his body and he fought it with every ounce of his being.
"That isn't being spoiled, it's being loved" Vincent's voice dropped to a quiet huskiness as his hands drew to fists to keep from wrapping around this angel incarnate.
"What is LOVE, Vincent?" the autumn breeze blew her loose hair over her face and she switched her head to move the hair from her lips, she drew her fingers thru both sides and pulled it back to reveal her exuberant glow.
"I've read of it, I've seen it" then he shook his head, hiding behind a curtain of copper hair, "I've never experienced it . . . . . . . . . . . Reciprocated"
"Vincent, no…. never?" Catherine's brows peaked at the thought, she understood his sadness and he felt her process the emptiness, "I can only wish, for the two of us, that one day we feel the balance and the radiance of what love is"
Vincent saw the spectacle of the two of them; he was genuinely feeling on display even though the throngs of revelers paid them no mind. He raised his head and zeroed in on the Ice Cream Parlor in the middle of the next block, "Enough sadness, it's time to be spoiled, perhaps not to the fullest extent, but at least two scoops worth"
The weighty theme of their tête-à-tête seemed to be lifted by waffle cones full of Strawberry Cheese cake and Cinnamon ice cream for Catherine and Mint Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Cup for Vincent.
"I don't eat peanut butter often, it sticks terribly to the roof of my mouth, yet I love the flavor" Vincent admitted before he evasively lapped at the cone while he played to be watching the costume parade in a side street. Of course Catherine's curiosity was fed be her watching his reflection, her nosiness mounted as she looked for a "seam" on his mask as he bit over and over into the waffle cone. For now, she would simply watch. After he swallowed the last of the cone he modestly tapped at his lips and returned to Catherine, "Now I feel spoiled", his eyes creased with the smile his lips couldn't bear to form.
"Do we absolutely have to go Below yet?" she begged waif- like in her quietest voice as they left the ice cream parlor.
Vincent nodded and pursed his lips, and with a change of heart shook his head, "Men say that in this midnight hour, the disembodied have authority to ramble as it liketh them, by sorcerer oak and fairy brook, so why not us?" he dug his gloved hands into his trouser pockets and waited for Catherine to express an interest in their direction.
"There's a concert in the park, some of the darkest classical music, it starts at 9" Catherine put a foot in that direction and Vincent fell into step right next to her, following the costumed throng headed that way.
"So" Catherine drew out the word as they straggled behind the gangs, "being out for me tonight, I should be afraid perhaps?" She noticed he hadn't caught her hand, yet he had extended his elbow for her to loop her hand into that snug, warm space.
"Another way to uncover your fears is to find one of your goals, go and experience it" that was hearty advice for a creature afraid of brushing against this comely woman, "And, I believe the mob has taken the night off"
Walking within their own cadence, his strides purposefully shorter he gathered his courage to speak while her hand rested on his forearm, she scrutinized a group of young men dressed in exaggerated pinstripe suits carrying violin cases, "Who do you think the Mob masquerades as tonight?" she countered humorously, "I'm not quite sure, now you've got me a tad paranoid" her hand pulled at his elbow and as they halted in mid crowd, people bumped off of them.
"I have an excellent notion, we have a culvert below the front row" and Vincent diverted their steps toward the bookstore back door, thru torchlit hallways and around to an alcove where Vincent caught a basket of cushions and quilts and guided Catherine toward one of his clandestine quarters.
"Oh, Vincent, our family had seats above for years….. "Her voice tapered to silence as the orchestra began tuning for the opening number. Furtively, Vincent set the cushions in a wide arch giving her plenty of space to relax, if he held her close she would feel him tremble at her touch.
As the first notes of the Adagio for Strings, Op. 11a as it began with a B flat played by violins, leading to the lower string's entrance Vincent sat back. Watching Catherine's reaction to the musical tones that were so full of pathos and cathartic passion that it threatened to bring tears to Catherine's eyes. As the eight minutes of emotion played above them Catherine sunk into her own arms, the edge of her pink tongue caught between her lips, so still as the piece ended. In the silence the dramatic tension snapped and she slunk deeper into the cushions surrounding her.
When the strains of the next piece began the Baroque meditation sent her into such a state of relaxation that she drew her knees up under her chin and shyly blushed as she smoothed her velvet dress around her ankles.
The concert was a study of music and sensation driving Catherine through a myriad of her last months' emotions. The Medieval, grotesquely macabre Dance of Death seemed to almost bring a grin to their faces, they nearly giggled like kids that fought off fear at an afternoon of horror movies.
As the program progress thru Toccata and Fugue in D Minor they were mostly mute, Catherine feeding off the music, Vincent experiencing it all thru the emotion rolling off her. Then as the last tones ended their eyes drew to each other, her eyes especially heavy with curiosity, "Vincent, why haven't we met before tonight? And, and before you answer.. .. .. We seem to feel comfortable in a particularly connected way.. .. .. Except you keep your gloves on. . . . . ."
Vincent swallowed at her words as he seemed to inspect the seam of his glove; her words seemed to increase his blinking, his long golden eyelashes catching the random light thru the grate. Her whirlwind of escaping emotions brought a trill up the light hair up his backbone.
"We haven't met formally because you keep to yourself. . . . ." she wanted to say more, unsure of the words to use.
"I am one acquainted with the night, with aloneness" his sullen, deep voice filled her heart, yet his head never rose to face her.
"Why?" Catherine's soft voice implored while she kept within her tiny space. She watched him slowly draw off his gloves, finger by finger yet before he slid out of the gloves his head slowly rose, his eyes seeking absolution.
"Catherine, how would you describe the taste of a peach?" his voice was deep and dry.
"A peach? The taste of a peach? To someone who never had a peach?" now Catherine sat flummoxed.
"Words would fall short - I could describe the texture or the juice but you have to actually try it" there he was going back to philosophical discourse she mused to herself.
"Exactly, Catherine, when someone tells you about it - is not the same as actually doing it. It's like savoring that peach. I can tell you how soft and supple its skin feels against my lips, how firm and tender it feels when I sink my teeth into its flesh, how sweet and refreshing its nectar is as it washes over my tongue. For me it's a sublime experience. For you, it's just voyeurism. You have to find your own peach and taste it. Only then you know what it's like to taste a peach"
"Vincent…..what does a peach have to do with you?" her patience was stretching as her curiosity took over.
"What if there was only one peach in the world… … … how would you know if it were safe to partake? Could that peach be poison? Or, would it leave a foul taste in your mouth?"
Vincent let the gloves slide into his lap as the Arena's brightest lights from above dimmed. Now they sat in the intermittent rays of the security lights thru the storm grate. Catherine watched as Vincent slid under the broadest scope of the light, she took in the geometry of his face strong, solemn and resolute. In his lap his hands rested on the leather gloves, palms up, cupped within each other. The graceful curve of his strong fur covered fingers ended in thick claws. In the silence of the culvert she heard the sound of his breathing, a slow and steady rasp that she recognized as the impetus for his husky, rich voice.
Her daring mounted as Narcissa's words returned to her….."On the night when masks are worn, your true love's heart will be unmasked. You will express your true desires and he who is ripe to fulfill them will make his presence known. Child, all gains are the fruit of venturing" encircled her heart and filled her with wonder.
She shifted to her knees and walked on them across the cushions where she kneeled before Vincent in the rays of light. She heard his breathing escalate as her hands sought his hands, "Have you had a visit from Narcissa?" she lifted his left hand toward the light and ran her fingers lightly over his calloused palm; she curled his fingers into his palm to inspect those dangerous claws at rest.
Within each other's gaze Catherine spoke, "There is no exquisite beauty, without some strangeness in the proportion"
He fell under the spell of this enchantress as she inspected each of his hands, gently placing them to rest on the knees of his crossed legs. Now she rested back on her heels before she took a deep breath and rose back to her knees where she reached both hands to cup his jaws. The rush of her love filled his soul and the tilt of her head told him she was discerning in her inspection. Her eyes bathed him in adoration as her returning to rest on her heels drew him to lean closer to her. Her breathing was a siren's song drawing him to his knees before her, his hands reaching out to her face.
"A farmer might teach you about the peach" she whispered breathlessly, her hands frozen in place as her thumbs feathered over his whiskered chin.
He husked in a near whisper, "But he can't experience it for you. Only you can do it" copying those silken strokes on her strong jaw. In his sapphire eyes she saw his love in his wholeness, his strength, and his radiance.
He caught a deep breath and solemnly asked, "How would you like to be spoiled?"
Epilogue (or Beginning?)
Within 6 months the two Brownstones to the right of Peter Alcott's were purchased by the Author, Evan Winterberg. From the sounds of things, the renovations are ongoing.
Within the year the Law Firm of Chandler and Coolidge closed their doors. Charles Chandler assisted the FBI in the case against his client, DePaul Gabriel, and was last seen under protection leaving his bank after the Chandlers liquidated their considerable assets. Mr. Chandler and his daughter were believed to have left the country.
Within 18 months Evan's most successful book, a collection of love letters between a pair of pre-destined lovers, "Between Vincent and Catherine" was a best seller sold to a major Film Company. They have an actress in mind for Catherine, but haven't been able to cast "Vincent".
Twenty eight months later, within the candlelit master suite on the top floor of a Brownstone a satin robed Vincent made gentle steps carrying a silver tray over to the mahogany four poster bed. As he sat in on the patchwork velvet coverlet his eyes sought Catherine lounging back on piles of feather pillows, "Happy Second Anniversary, my Catherine" he whispered into her ear as he nibbled a gentle kiss and his large hand slid to cup the gentle swelling of her baby bump.
She caught his hand for the two of them to enjoy the precious life within her, and the child responded with a flutter of joyful arms and legs. Sharing expansive smiles of delight Vincent slid closer alongside his love to pour the sparkling cider into two flutes and pass Catherine hers. Vincent caught a wedge of fruit to pass it to her lips, but before she bit the fresh fruit she giggled gently and winked, "Are peaches the gift for the second anniversary?"
Drolly, Vincent shook his head of copper hair, "Of course not" Vincent held up the sheet and nodded to it, "the gift for the second anniversary is cotton ….. That's why we're in bed".
1) A Thing of Beauty, John Keats 1818
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkn'd ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.
2/The Blood of Cu Chulainn