This is a continuation of CHAGRIN IN THE HILLS (Pt. 1/WFOL 2013 & Pt. 2/2013 Conzine)
THE UNCERTAIN ESSENCE OF ROMANCE
CHAPTER 2 - "If you are irritated by every rub"
THE UNCERTAIN ESSENCE OF ROMANCE
CHAPTER 2 - "If you are irritated by every rub"
“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays
Jacob Wells sat across from Peter Alcott. Mary watched the uneasy play of troubled expressions between them. The tension in Jacob’s brow seemed to dial back Peter’s general hint of a smile.
Peter neutrally asked, “How old is Vincent?” as he ran a finger around the rim of his tea cup, his other hand ready to cover any uncontrollable grin.
“Peter, that is not the issue, my son loses all reason when he is too deeply embroiled in his latest diversion.” Jacob’s consternation furrowed deeper wrinkles across his forehead.
Each of them sipped at their cup, Jacob seeking reason as Peter sought grander eloquence. “Vincent will use all discretion while he is in hiding. Imagine how it is for him to find Catherine alive.” His words were rewarded with Jacob’s oddest expression.
“You think I’m speaking of Vincent?” Jacob’s hands flew into the air and landed on the arms of his chair. The slap caused Mary’s head to rise from her crocheting, realizing Jacob had not let go of the subject she grimaced slightly, pushed her glasses up her nose and returned to her craft. She understood his overwrought tone.
“I mean Devin; essentially he plays dangerous games with people as if they were pieces on a chess board.” Jacob wiped at his mouth and continued on to stroke his beard, all the while shaking his head slowly, “He has all the aplomb of Peter Pan without being the hero.”
Peter reiterated from an earlier discussion. “His phone call to me mentioned finding Catherine and bringing her to Vincent, that reunion alone is quite heroic I would say.”
Jacob’s eyes narrow, “And what condition was she in after God knows what happened to hWhat yarn did she spin to reclaim Vincent’s attentions? You know the condition Vincent was in for months after he believed she was dead?”
Mary and Peter shared a long look at Jacob, remembering the “speed grieving’ he had enforced on Vincent. She spoke up softly, “Jacob, dear, may we reserve all of this until we hear from Vincent? I am certain he is expecting something of a hullaballoo when he returns, especially with Catherine.”
Jacob’s lips pursed stubbornly, his eyes darting to Peter and back to Mary, “How are we to deal with that? Is it even safe for her to return to New York?’
Peter’s life above had quieted since his best friend’s daughter had died. He had retired from his practice and begun an arm chair investigation into the medical circumstances that had leaked from the case. These startling facts had only been discussed with Vincent and at that they were discussed in the privacy of Peter’s library. Peter had previously never withheld things from Jacob, yet these facts were kept from the Tunnel patriarch.
Peter tried to speak with an air of detachment, “It was discovered that Gabriel’s organization had shifted after Vincent’s scourging of the drug house. He was superstitious and he divested that arm of business to a cousin in Chile.” Although his knowledge betrayed him and Father honed in on Peter’s expression.
“Peter, you know why we do not play cards. You have a terrible poker-face. What do you know about this said organization?” Father now leaned out of his chair as if he could bodily threaten Peter. Eyes locked in silent challenge then Peter spoke up.
“Mary, could you be so kind, I hadn’t had dessert tonight and I am craving one of those Chocolate muffins.”
Putting her crocheting down into the basket beside her chair her mouth twisted. The muffins had been eaten; she’d have to pop some of the batter into the oven, with that request she understood their need to be alone.
“How long do you need to chat? I can be back in 30 to 45 minutes.” Now her arms were diffidently folder over her chest, understanding the true request.
‘I apologize for Peter my dear. We do need every bit of those 45 minutes.” Jacobs’ lips puckered in a bit of a kiss and Mary stepped to place another one of his furrowed brow.
“You won’t start World War 3?” She smiled and asked over her shoulder as she left, drawing the curtain closed behind her.
Their words flew back and forth in rapid drill. Peter divulged succinct answers to Jacob’s rapid fire demands. All in all Peter danced through Jacob’s propriety, leaning heavily on his familiarity with current medical protocols. Their words flew as daggers at one point, pausing only for Jacob to blanch at Peter’s mention of "Manners maketh man".
Peter rose to lean across the table, pressing two adamant fingers into the stack of Jacob’s assorted papers he emphasized, “It took more than days to build this place, your refuge. The walls you put up went both ways, Jacob. Vincent has tread so many of these tunnels in fear of crossing not only the dangers above, but you – here.”
Jacob’s head snapped up, their eyes riveted in heat, “We’ve all paid dearly for the safety here, and perhaps Vincent has paid the most because of his nature. HOWEVER, his involvement with Catherine, from that very first night has done more to lay mines for all of us.”
“Jacob, I’ve lost a piece of my belief in you and what you’ve done here. If there ever was a lost soul who needed refuge it was Cathy Chandler. As well as Charles did for her, he was one sad man. How can a man raise a daughter alone? You saw both Vincent and Catherine flourish in their love.”
Jacob’s lips straightened, believing there was nothing left for him to do, yet he cocked an eyebrow as if to challenge Peter, “And I saw her blessing become Vincent’s curse.”
“Curse? A Curse?” Now Peter drew up to his full height, his arms folded across his slim chest.
Jacob’s jaw dropped as he recollected the points Peter had placed before him, “Whatever devious science and medicine Gabriel’s people sought to inflict using Vincent and Catherine, why did they think it would succeed?”
Peter stepped to the cardboard box containing his collection and riffled for the final piece of evidence, “Because Gabriel’s people used medical research from The Crittenden Foundation.”
The sight of Vincent’s back, his head hung low between his shoulders struck a dissident chord in Catherine’s memories. They had not come this far to fall away from each other. Catherine rose silently and padded to stand behind Vincent. If only she could hit ‘Erase’ and be done with ‘this’, move to the next conversation- - - their love and their lives ahead. Afraid to embrace his waist, she rested her cheek in the center of his broad back and placed her hands gently over his furred hands. “Vincent, it is ALL over, we’re safe. I can’t day it enough, please, face me, talk with me?” She felt him inhale deeply and he shuffled from foot to foot. Catherine recognized she had him trapped and she backed away, resting her backside on the breakfast table. Gradually Vincent pivoted and raked his fingers through the mass of hair concealing his face, he found himself a bit too close and he leaned against the counter, one knee bent, one bare foot resting on top of the other, his arms spread along the counter.
“What about me, Vincent? What about my dreams?” She moved unsteadily and relit the burner under the tea kettle.
Vincent’s words were measured and careful, “Now that you’ve recovered your memories you should be living in the light of your friends’ smiles. Imagine their joy at your return! You are returning to New York aren’t you?” He had caught some of her conversations while undressing for his bath.
With her back to him she pressed her palms into the cool granite counter-tops, feeling some phantom strength to crush the stone counter. “Since I recovered my memories of us I thought my return would bring you the most joy, Vincent. Were my dreams hollow dreams?” She worried her bottom lip, fighting back tears.
“I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t ecstatic at our reunion - - -.” His sentence’s end hung precariously in a thought he feared to express.
Catherine turned to face him, her hands still grasping for the counter for balance. “I feel there’s a codicil waiting to be initialed, I mean, who’s the lawyer here?”
The room’s air tingled and crackled with emotional electricity, “A dreamer is one with no regard for the harsh light of reality and my reality is what I am.” His hands rose as if they were a monstrous truth. At the kettle’s whistle she prepared the fresh pot of tea mechanically. Her brain was on overdrive trying to recollect if she’d ever won an argument about their relationship with Vincent. Returning to the table he accepted the pot and covered it with the needlepoint Raccoon tea cozy, he directed a clawed finger toward it, in a lighter toned voice he queried, “Did you remember Mouse and Arthur?”
She flushed, “I remembered Arthur, I couldn’t remember Mouse’s name.” Catherine’s elbows went on the table to cover her face for thought, to hide her reddening eyes.
“Catherine, I feel fragments of your emotions, they began to re-emerge while I was soaking in your tub.” His voice was a near whisper, “The tipping point of our love tells me approaching our unbridled desire we’ll surely approach a tragedy-in-the-making."
Pushing aside all thoughts of ‘them’, Catherine had to ask. “Have you lived these past years without any attraction to anyone?” Catherine sensed she knew the answer; there hadn’t been anyone for her in that time.
His head rose to tilt thoughtfully, “You could say I wore my grief visibly. There were those who attempted to cheer me, yet even Lena did not approach me.” Catherine’s hand wiped at her face trying to recall ‘Lena’, and at the spark of the memory of her ‘offers’ to Vincent she grimaced painfully.
Vincent toyed with his tea cup, “You’re reliving her visit to my bed, no doubt?” Catherine lifted the pot to pour his cup as Vincent continued, “I’d be a liar if I didn’t confess in these past few months I was painfully close if it had been you, Catherine.” At his words her hand shook and tea spilled in jagged splotches on the table. Vincent rose for a sponge or towel as she placed the pot carefully on the quilted matte. He felt her hot gaze on his back as he turned to remedy the spill. Eyes to eyes the air whirred with a new vigor.
“This makes no sense, Vincent! On one hand you fancy my coming to your bed, yet want me to live Above? Have things changed Below that they tolerate affairs between unmarried people?” He saw this coming and he raised his eyes to the ceiling for an answer. Thwarted for words she was prompted by his silence. “Have you fast-tracked into the world above to the degree that you would want me as a dirty secret, not sharing our relationship to your family and our friends?” Her tears flowed at that inference. And he reached across the table to hold her hands but he had to ask for them.
“Please, Catherine, let me explain my reticence to manacle you to the darkness.” Their fingers threaded and their hands held fast.
Catherine tremulously licked at the tiny tear on her lip, “I know in my heart when I was taken away we were no closer to cracking that hard crust of our dilemma. But, Vincent, in my bed in my dreams I savored our life together and it was more than just finding the pleasures of each other every night in bed. It was waking up each morning to start the day together.”
Vincent’s mind hungered to hear the depth and breadth of her fantasies; he nodded and rose to join her on the other side of the table. Drawing her onto his lap his clawed fingers combed back her hair to see her glistening eyes roam over his face.
“My love, I spent months in a miserable state of mind desiring few people’s company and fearing losing you. When I held you dying I had told myself if given the chance I would be different.” Vincent rocked her softly, one arm around her shoulder and one under her knees. “Now being given the second chance I appall myself that I’m wearing out the same fears.”
As the moon ruled the tides, Vincent recognized his connection to Catherine was growing with each swallow of air. The only palpable sound was his breath driving the rise and fall of his broad chest as he placed a sweet kiss on her forehead and she melted closer to him. She felt the strong beat of his heart through the thick fleece. Pushing through her fear for him her tentative finger traced the ‘v’ of his open hoodie; they seemed to gather closer to each other in breathy silence. Bringing one cautious hand up toward her face he leaned back a bit, his fingers continually combing her lustrous hair just to feel the silk between his fingers. He felt the warmth of her pensive, sea-green eyes.
His breath fell hot on her face, “Oh, Catherine, I have loved you in my heart.” Yet his eyes were dark, brooding about something untold.
In a whispered sigh Catherine implored, “Show me how, Vincent.”