Catherine and Sparks had found a new favorite spot: a lounge chair on the back patio. There, soaked in afternoon sunlight, Catherine turned a page in the book she had abandoned in the morning while Sparks contentedly dozed with his head in her lap. Sometime after lunch she had finished her work and carefully secreted it away, hoping Vincent would never be the wiser. In the distance she could hear the muted roar of an engine, two engines actually, confirming her suspicions from earlier in the day. She shook her head and slapped the page of her book, but her lips curled upwards of their own accord. Minutes later she heard boots behind her. Without looking up from the page she murmured, "I'm going to kill Devin."
"And why is that?" Vincent asked chuckling.
"He taught you to ride didn't he?" The snappish words died on her lips as she whipped around to face him. Vincent followed her eyes as they slowly ran up and down his body. The protesting tension that racked her frame melted away as her eyes smoldered with unexpected ardor. With insight like that, he couldn't help himself. Shifting his weight slightly to one foot, he intentionally set off the perfect cut of his new clothes.
Catherine's breath was audibly caught in her throat as she took it all in: the form-fitting jeans, the boots, and the jacket which highlighted the strength of his shoulders. "Wow," she whispered. In an instant, Vincent had moved to kneel at her side, his breath softly landing on her cheeks. She blinked as her senses slowly came back.
"I wish you could have been there, Catherine," he said, taking hold of her hand.
"In a small way, Vincent, I was. I could hardly concentrate. I had goosebumps. So, I knew Devin was up to something. At first I thought something had happened, but then I felt warmth and sheer exhilaration, and I understood. So, how was it? " she was as eager to hear the answer as he was to give it.
"It was like nothing I ever imagined or dreamed."
Catherine smiled and silently blessed Devin. He was proving to be a great ally in the daily battle she fought to open the world to Vincent. She desperately needed a man like him on her team. Father, though he was losing his stricter reservations, was yet a worthy competitor.
"Whoa! 'Scuse me kids—didn't mean to interrupt," cried Devin. "I was just looking for Sparks."
"We were only holding hands," Vincent explained.
"The dog, Vincent," he shook his head and went back inside.
Vincent took a few minutes to describe the events of the day. Catherine winked at him and gave his furred hand a squeeze. "I'm going to go give Devin a piece of my mind." She kissed his cheek and jumped up. Sparks nuzzled Vincent's arm.
Inside, Catherine found Devin examining some odd-looking papers, probably some tunnel maps he had absconded with during his last visit. Had he not started at the sound of her footsteps, she would have thought nothing more about it. However, her curiosity was piqued as he hurriedly began to roll up the charts.
"Whachya doing, Dev?" she said playfully, grabbing his shoulders and trying to peek.
"Hmm? Oh, nothing," he answered coolly. Too coolly, Catherine thought.
"Okay then, keep your secrets. I wanted to thank you for what you did for Vincent today. I know it meant the world to him—literally."
He sniffed in response, lips curled into a humble smile.
"But, it also means a lot to me, too. You're the only other person I know brave enough to dream for Vincent."
"We're fighters, Catherine—you and I." She nodded. "We fight for who we love."
"Absolutely." She put her arms around his shoulders and said, "Well, I for one, am glad to have a man like you in our corner."
"Hey, there's no beating what you've given him."
"Don't sell yourself short."
"Oh, I'm not. I still have my ace in the hole." He walked away, hands in pockets, with a mysterious smirk, eyebrows high. "Oh, and Catherine, tell Vincent to gas up his bike," he added casually as he tossed her a set of keys.
The sun dropped and filled the earth with the distilled glow and heat of late afternoon as Vincent and Catherine rode down the driveway. In the beginning, she had been apprehensive. Vincent was a new driver after all; and she, not unwillingly, had locked her arms around her husband's waist. Her cheek fell flush with the hard leather of his jacket. The coolness of the material slowly evaporated as the heat of their bodies rose and fell to warm the sturdy black partition. As the wind rushed around her, she caught the glint of sunlight in Vincent's golden hair. For several minutes she was transfixed by the golden waves, following the strands down his back like a river down a mountain.
Once comfortable with Vincent's aptitude, she allowed her eyelids to close and focused on the abstract. Welling up within her soul was an utterly satisfying contentment. Out in the sunlight with her husband as he took the freedom of exploring her world, what more could she ask for? Catherine was glad for the bond, because at that moment what she was feeling would only be diluted by the expression of words. Her emotions were color and light and sound. Joy ran in high arcs of exuberant white light, containing within itself every other color and sensation. She held him closer, not out of fear, but in the pure rightness of the moment.
Vincent and Catherine soon found themselves on the streets of the neighboring town of Eagle Bay, NY. The quiet calm of the streets filled them as they rode past quaint homes, occasionally waving to children or elderly couples relaxing on lawn furniture. Gradually, the CapeCods and Victorian homes faded away into structures of commerce and industry. Older buildings made up of grandfatherly field stones were gently crumbling, giving way to the newer shops slathered in cheap vinyl siding. Now, in the heart of even the smallest town, they defied all caution demanding entrance into a world forever closed off to Vincent in the waking sun.
At the far edge of town Vincent passed a humble shack with an antiquated sign in a badly kempt lot that read "Benson's Iced Dairy Cream". Weeds and grass poked through a third of the pavement. The awning, which slanted dangerously to the right, was supported by several angled logs. Where there was any paint left at all on the wooden paneling, it was peeling or badly chipped. Vincent pulled over and parked the bike. Although he couldn't hear her gasp, "What are you doing?" over the din of the engine, he sensed Catherine's confusion, and he laughed.
A few customers formed a line at the window. Catherine looked sideways at Vincent. Understanding, which then gave way to delight, stretched across the lines of her face like summer ivy on a brick house. Hanging her helmet in the crook of her right elbow, she took his arm with her left and practically skipped to keep up with his long strides.
They waited in line, which thankfully wasn't long. Vincent kept his helmet on, visor down. People glanced surreptitiously at Vincent as they made their way back to their cars or to the splintered park benches at the front of the lot. They were curious; he could feel that, but not enough to be frightened. One woman smirked haughtily; her scornful laugh etched on her face with high brows and pursed lips. Catherine, however, was glowing inside and out and took no notice. She squeezed his arm and laid her head on his shoulder. Her actions validated his presence and the general curiosity of the watchers dissipated.
At the window, the clerk, who wore too much makeup, eyed Vincent with the superior condescension, regardless of actual circumstances, that only beautiful teenage girls can muster. "Next," she said flatly after snapping her gum.
Nerves catching up with him, Vincent stumbled momentarily before ordering, "Two, please." Using his empathic advantage he gauged Catherine's mood and taste, correctly so by her reaction. "One strawberry, one vanilla."
That wasn't so bad, he thought and straightened with pride. Catherine giggled and jumped up and down slightly in her manic giddiness.
The teenager popped her gum and rolled her eyes before squawking out to an unseen in the back, "One strawberry and one vanilla cone for the man in the helmet." She addressed him again, "That's two twenty-five, sir."
Vincent had nearly forgotten about the monetary exchanges that were necessary Above. Below, they gave freely or bartered services or supplies. Catherine reached into her pocket for some change, but Vincent stopped her. He found the twenty dollar bill Devin had given him back at the cabin and handed it to the girl in the window.
She offered him a sweet, but insincere smile as she handed back his change. They touched as she placed the coins into his gloved hand. Physical touch, even in its most trivial form, held great meaning for Vincent. But, as he looked at this young girl he saw nothing and felt nothing. Her eyes were dull, glassy, and as lifeless as one of Samantha's old dolls. They were open drains that allowed her spirit to spill out and evaporate into nothingness. As she handed him the cones Vincent smiled, then remembered the visor that hid his face.
"Thank you very much, miss." He handed a cone to a beaming Catherine.
"Yes, thank you!" she added with enthusiasm. "Vincent, this is wonderful!"
Vincent addressed the clerk again slipping her a dollar, "Apparently, you've made my wife's day."
"Thanks," said the young woman with the only pitiful liveliness she could summon. Vincent began to walk away and Catherine followed. She turned and waved to the clerk who stared back quizzically.
"Have a nice day!" Catherine called.
The young girl shook her head and muttered, "Whatever," under her breath as she turned her attention to the next customer. Her eyes remained empty, but whatever opening there had been before had been plugged up.
Vincent guided them towards the very back edge of the property where he had spied a forgotten picnic table surrounded by trees. Nearly 100 yards away from the road, they were barely visible. Nevertheless, Vincent kept his back to the crowd. He pulled off his helmet and shook out his golden hair. Sunlight caught it from in between the trees, reflecting gold sparks like the East River at sunrise. Taking a seat on the weathered bench, he removed his gloves and laid them beside the helmet.
Catherine did not join him. She looked over each shoulder conspicuously. "Don't be afraid," he directed tenderly. "No one will bother us here. Besides, I can hear them coming long before they get close enough to see anything. Sit with me."
She nodded, and willingly, though on guard, obeyed. They ate in silence. Eventually, Catherine relaxed and leaned into her husband's embrace. "Have I ever told you that you make my dreams come true?" she asked contentedly.
He smiled, enjoying the simple victory that had borne such a precious reward. Today was just one hope out of the countless many they had shared over the years. Everything they had now was once a dream. Long ago, Catherine had shared hers with him from a hospital bed. That night his spirit soared. He had never been anyone's dream before. In that moment, a world of impossible had suddenly become not only possible but probable and, after a time, tangible. He intended to make all of Catherine's happiest dreams come true as he was able.
In answer to her question, he gently turned her around to face him. He yielded, momentarily, to his desires, the advent of his own dream, and kissed her tenderly. Bodies and hearts quickened, each responding to the pull of the other's embrace. Love was, bit by bit, filling the gaps of thirty years. With great reluctance, they parted while they still could.
Vincent put on his gloves, stole a final kiss, and finally put on his helmet. Taking Catherine's hand, he led her through the now empty parking lot back to the motorcycle. Before leaving town Vincent put gas in the bike at a local station, his second transaction incognito. He settled back into Catherine's arms and heard her murmur, "I love you," before the engine roared to life.
Back on the highway, Catherine floated on the euphoria of the afternoon. The sun warmed her and the wind cooled her back. The road rose and fell like a gently rolling wave that lulled her to the edge of unconsciousness.
Suddenly, Catherine felt Vincent's body tense. She didn't have time to ask what was wrong before she heard the unmistakable staccato tones of a police car. Vincent directed the bike over to the side of the road and stopped. Catherine beat her fists on Vincent's sides in alarm, "What are you doing? Go, go go!" she shrieked.
He tilted his head back, "I can't outrun him—it's too dangerous."
"Dangerous? What do you think is going to happen when he takes one look at you?"
Facing the greatest fear Father had ever bequeathed him, Vincent surprised himself with the level steadiness of his nerves. Before flipping the visor down, Vincent locked eyes with his beloved. "Know that I'll always love you, Catherine." With a gloved hand, he caressed her face.
The officer was out of his squad car and walking over to them quickly. Vincent saw playful recognition drain from the officer's face as soon as he noticed Vincent's hair. The officer slowed his approach, wary of encountering such an intimidating form. He kept a hand lightly on his belt by his firearm.
"Afternoon, folks," he greeted coolly. His breath was quick and shallow. "You know why I pulled you over today?" His voice carried the same steady, steel-blue calm of his eyes.
Catherine's pulse raced, keeping pace with her mind which frantically searched for a viable escape. She removed her sunglasses, but not her helmet. Vincent's face remained concealed behind the tinted visor. Hope wasn't lost yet, but it was fading fast. What would she say to Father? How would she face the despair in Mouse's eyes?
Lamely attempting to block the mounting fear in her throat, she replied, "No, officer."
The officer cleared his throat, "You got papers for this thing?" Vincent awkwardly looked at the meters, handles, and patted his pockets. Catherine's eyes closed in fearful despair as she realized Vincent had no clue what he was looking for. He threw up his hands in defeat and shook his head.
"Where did you get the bike?" Without giving them an opportunity to respond he continued, "This is a custom Harley. A buddy of mine built this. You want to explain to me how it came into your possession today?"
Vincent's shoulders lowered a fraction. He exhaled deeply and asked, "Your friend is Devin Wells?"
"Alright," he agreed, but was not convinced. He crossed his arms and shifted his weight. "Everyone in town knows Devin's been restoring a couple of bikes."
Unsure of how much to reveal, Vincent determined to give as much—and as little—of the truth as he possibly could. His visor remained down, but he looked into his mirrored reflection in the officer's eyes.
"My wife and I are visiting Devin this weekend. My name is Vincent, Devin is my—"
The officer reacted powerfully to Vincent's words and cut him off, "Vincent from New York? He smiled and stuck out his hand. "Man! Wow, it's great to meet you finally. Devin said you work so hard you never see the light of day—never mind coming upstate to visit!"
The men shook hands and Catherine breathed deeply. A friend could be persuaded into silence. A large chunk of concern melted away, but not all. Still, her heart warmed to see her husband conquer another hurdle and shake the hand of a stranger.
"It's a pleasure to meet any friend of Devin's," Vincent spoke with warmth. "Mr.-?"
"Scott, I'm Scott. This must be the famous Catherine?" he said turning his gaze towards her. She nodded, unable to speak for fear of betraying her true emotions. "You know, Devin told me a lot about his little brother. But, I never imagined you were really his bigger brother!"
The radio perched on his shoulder squawked and Scott paused in conversation to report back, "All clear, Nancy." He winked at Catherine. "Sorry, looks like I've gotta get back to work here in a minute. It was nice to see you," he tapped Vincent's helmet and laughed, "sort of."
Vincent moved his head back reflexively. A shadow of doubt passed across Scott's face. Catherine held her breath, but let it out again as Scott's attention was pulled to a speeding car driving past. Music blared as three inebriated college students threw empty beer bottles and shouted obscenities at the officer.
"Shoot!" he cried. "These idiots think they can outrun me in their busted Honda Civic are sorely mistaken. Gotta run!" Scott shouted as he ran back to his vehicle. He was out of sight within five seconds.
Catherine threw her arms around Vincent and held him until her pulse slowed. "I think I've had enough adventure for the day," she breathed into his back.
Vincent turned to her and lifted his visor. Desperately he wanted to remove his helmet and alleviate her anxiety; however, on an open road it was too risky. Some barriers would always remain. He murmured, "Perhaps it's time to return." She nodded gratefully.
The ride home was bittersweet as Vincent enjoyed the last miles of liberty. The adrenaline in his bloodstream was gradually replaced with peace and certainty. This place, this freedom was something he could return to. Secretly, he wandered into a new dream of impossibilities. He thought of Devin's friend. He thought of slowly building a network of comrades in this community. He dreamed of a place in the world where he and Catherine could go without pretense. The voice of reason in his head, which sounded remarkably like Father, laughed as it had laughed when Vincent first dreamed of building a life with Catherine. But, as she held him tighter with the curve of the road, the voice of truth in his heart laughed back. The voice of reason had been wrong before.
From the Author:
Thank you for taking the time to read this story. To all my Tunnel family, I hope to bump into you sometime in the Great Hall! Remember:
"The greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light."
P.S. Follow me on Twitter BrookeSummerlin