Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Uncertain Essence of Romance - Chapter 2 - "If you are irritated by every rub"

This is a continuation of CHAGRIN IN THE HILLS (Pt. 1/WFOL 2013 & Pt. 2/2013 Conzine)

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.” 


Monday, July 29, 2013

The Uncertain Essence of Romance

This is a continuation of CHAGRIN IN THE HILLS (Pt. 1/WFOL 2013 & Pt. 2/2013 Conzine)
The uncertain essence of romance

“The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays

As Devin spun his tale this rediscovered Catherine Chandler followed his request to drive them to the Brewery parking lot, “So I was in the Keys leading fishing charters when I heard about the band getting back together and I took Vincent up to see the motor home, poor guy got stuck in the back bedroom and I couldn’t get him out.” The exchanged looks, Catherine’s was incredulity, Devin’s was feigned innocence then he continued. “Vincent is in the motor home parked outside your office, has been for a couple of days.” If Devin had hoped this news to calm her it hadn’t. She shook at the thought of not remembering him and how it might affect Vincent. She couldn’t bear to break his heart a second time.
Nervously she turned her car into the parking lot alongside the motor home with the crazy paint job. “Do you want me to go in first, to let him know you’re alive?”

“No, Devin, just take me in with you – it’s best he hears it from me.” She dabbed at the runny mascara and smoothed her hair. Pocketing the car keys she followed Devin to the door.

Devin slammed his palm on the door twice,“Hey, Vincent, you decent?” Devin stuck the key in the lock and opened the door, to find Vincent bleary eyed with three empty beer bottles in front of him. 

Vincent’s chin balanced in the palm of his hand, his elbow on the table, his eyelids fluttering at Devin’s words. “One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.” [1]

Not understanding exactly what Vincent meant Devin stepped into the motor home. “I brought someone by to see you; she’s missed you for a while.” Devin watched Catherine outside the motorhome as he speculated how this reunion would go. Devin curiously watched her reactions to Vincent’s voice.

“All days are nights to see till I see thee, and night’s bright days when dreams do show thee to me.” [2]

“OK, Vincent.” Momentarily frustrated Devin raised a palm to stop her for a moment then he stepped up to gather up the beer bottles and fish dinner wrappers from the dinette. Scurrying to straighten up his brother he caught Vincent’s broad shoulders to give him a good shake, “Are you up to receiving a guest, bro?” Vincent put one furred hand over the other as he straightened up and exaggeratedly ran his tongue over his parched lips. Devin quickly caught the hoppy scent of his beer breath and uncapped a bottle of water, “Drink this!”
Vincent accepted the bottle only to rattle off “Drink to me only with thine eyes, and I will pledge with mine.”[3]

Once the bottle was drained, Devin discarded it and returned to the half opened door to ask worriedly, “Are you ready for this, Catherine?” She cautiously nodded as she stepped up into the motor home, her heart singing. Devin stepped behind her as Vincent stood to receive his ‘guest’. There was no staring at his singular appearance; instead she experienced profound warmth as it rose from her toes to the roots of her hair. He stood, feet planted wide for balance, his strong arms folded over his broad chest. His golden hair, although unkempt seemed to glow from the lights behind him. His stature dwarfed the motor home ceiling and he stood with that darling tilt to his head. Time apart evaporated as every moment of their life together collided in Catherine’s heart. She bolted toward him, throwing her arms around his waist, burying her nose in the suede of his vest. His scent carried experiences too numerous for her mind to recollect. Their sighs melded until words could form. “Oh, Vincent, we’re together again.”

“My dear, dear, Catherine, “As soon as his hands touched the warm flesh of her forearms he knew she was no apparition. This was indeed his Catherine. They embraced both crying at the revelation. Devin felt like an intruder as he watched his brother embrace ‘his’ Catherine and tenderly kiss the top of her head. He silently made his way out, locking the door behind him to sit in her car.

“I felt you die in my arms” Vincent repeatedly kissed her forehead as he accepted her kisses on his bared throat.

Catherine shook her head actively, “It was the drugs, when they went to do the autopsy they found my heartbeat.” They drew back to see each other a few years older yet no worse for wear. Shocked back to sobriety he gathered her back to where they could sit together, they sat back against the bed’s headboard as they began to impart their separate stories.

Devin watched headlights scan the parking lot. He cautiously regarded the dim light leaking from behind the blinds and drapes of the motor home. He heard a car door open and an irate Joe Maxwell closing in on Catherine’s car. Devin was stuck; even lowering the seat there was nowhere to hide. Opening the door would only alert Joe to his location. Better that than to have Joe storm the motorhome. Devin left the car to face Joe.

As he stalked toward Catherine’s car Joe’s acerbic wit kicked in, “So is it DERVISH or Jeff Radler?”  Joe’s posture stood ready for a good old fashion rumble. Diffusing the fight with a shrug and grin Devin led him further from Catherine’s car and the motorhome.  The smart ass Devin replied, “Sort of neither, Joe. I mean I could be Dervish if the money’s right. However I was born Devin Wells, been Devin Wells for a few years now.” He tried his best innocent look.

“Whoever you are, where did you take Catherine?” Joe stood, fists at his waist, feet spread for that fight.

“I took her to see a friend; my brother thought she was dead, so I’d appreciate if you’d give them a chance to reconnect.” Devin immediately questioned what he had just said to Joe in his uber-protective mode.

Joe immediately challenged Devin, “Your brother? Is he the elusive Vincent?” At Devin’s nod Joe meant to step around Devin, who threw an arm up, blocking Joe from moving closer to the motorhome.

“Let’s give them a chance to talk, OK? She’s fine, he’s fine, let’s you and me be cool about this, OK?” Joe reconsidered what Catherine’s happiness meant and he halted midstep.

Looking over Devin’s shoulder toward the motorhome for reassurance Joe demanded, “You swear she’s OK?” 

Devin nodded “Totally, the safest she’s been in years”, then threw an amiable arm around Joe’s shoulder and asked, “Have you ever partied with a rock band?” 

When Joe heard no wailing or arguing from the motorhome he and Devin climbed back into his car for the lakeside arena leaving Vincent and Catherine finally alone.

“You’ve got some nerve, Wells. Wells….Wells? Have you got a relative named Jacob Wells?” Joe settled into the seatbelt and held off starting the car.

Devin smirked back at Joe as he made himself comfy in the passenger seat, “Crusty, sometimes imperious, you know him?”

“Yeah, long time ago, another one of Cathy’s odd cases. Something about your family always gets her caught in a wringer.” Joe threw the car into gear and goosed the accelerator.

“Kismet? Didn’t you wonder how she solved cases, who her contacts were on the street?” Devin watched Joe’s face in profile. He caught Joe’s jaw harden as he drew the car over to the curb. Devin took offense at the abrupt stop and leaned over the console, “What are you planning? Bring Chandler back to NY and throw her up on charges? Have her disbarred?” 

Now Joe was chin to chin with Devin, he caught the scent of ‘Rockstar’ sweat and weed and beer and sat back. He was still thinking like ‘Joe Maxwell, DA’, a job he hadn’t wanted and no longer had. Joe softened back to his side of the car. ‘No, Devin. I owe Cathy everything. Her ‘death’ brought down untold duplicity in New York.” 

There was a beat of silence while they gave each other hard looks. “Her blood bought me a chance at bringing justice to the city and once she wasn’t there the fight didn’t hold any value for me.” Joe’s voice relaxed, “I bought a place on the island, went into the B&B industry with my Mom.”

Devin sat gobsmacked. Joe had left his career and New York? He was speechless, as if there was no one to fight.

“Anything she did was history and as much as I want to know I’ll have to wait until she tells me herself. She always kept secrets.” There the edge was back in his voice.

Devin’s voice hovered over a whisper, “She kept my brother’s secrets.”

Joe’s hands tightened on the steering wheel as he checked the rear view mirror. He pulled into the empty road rolling Devin’s words in his heart. “Then I’ll wait. I’ll stay her friend, I’ll be there for her and I’ll wait.”

Devin drew his hand over his face, as if to wash away his expression, “Joe, that’s the smartest thing you could do.”

They made small talk about their lives since Catherine had ‘died’, Joe recounted her visiting the Island and their long conversations about her love’s face whom Catherine could not ‘place’. Forging a new rapport through discussing Catherine they soon arrived at the venue.

Pulling past the guards at Devin’s wave Joe parked and ruminated a second, “Serious about this party offer?”

Devin tossed back his head and let out a naughty chuckle, “How else am I going to tell whether you’ve got the stuff to hang with my family?”

“I gotta make a phone call first.” Joe dug in his pocket as he exited car and scoured the area for a pay phone.

Their love was more than a memory. Across time their love knew no boundaries, it would know no end.

Face to face in the near darkness, Catherine scrambled to let the moon shine on the planes and curves of Vincent’s noble face. Her hands framed his jaw as her thumbs verified the fine golden hairs that she began to recall so fondly. Wanting to draw closer to him she crawled in his lap, a knee on either side of his hips.
Catching a deep breath Vincent moaned, “Catherine, you’ll be my undoing.” He drew her back from his hips in the guise wanting to see her face, her breasts heaving under her silk shirt and her trim waist caught in a butter soft belt.

“Take me home, Vincent, where we can be each other’s undoing.” Her soft, desirable lips’ kisses found the tip of his nose and her tongue sought that delicate pink flesh in the split of his upper lip. The union of their lips strummed a thunderous chord in each of them.

Catherine proposed, “Perhaps we can talk Devin into driving us home to New York?” 

Vincent looked askance, ‘While we’re in this room for hours alone?” he stretched out his legs and welcomed her weight over him as he reclined back, “Let me simply hold you for a while, let me adore you within my arms” His words were the right words save for his rather dubious tone of voice at being in a room for 9 hours with basically nothing but Catherine and a bed.

Catherine sat up, straddling his waist and rested her palms on his chest. “Before we leave, I wish you could see my home. I need to gather a few things, I have a small woods behind the home I want you to see it.” Catherine regarded their surroundings, as she caught a whiff of the scent of ‘captive’ Vincent. “How many days have you been cooped up here?”

“It’s been awhile.” He reluctantly lifted her blessed weight off of him to find a paper and pencil. “Let me leave Devin a note.” Looking out at her sedan he suggested, “I can ride in your trunk.”

Catherine playfully swatted at him, “You will not! The whole city is here at this concert, practically. If you want to lie in the back seat I’d understand, but not the trunk!” She wrote out her phone number and address and stuck it in the frame of the mirror. “I’ll start the car and turn off the overhead lights, OK?” She could barely let go of his warm hands, yet she wanted to leave the cramped motorhome and take him with her. 

As Catherine wound through the streets toward Moreland Hills she drove past locations that reminded her of New York and their past – she drove past a symphony hall and thought of cuddling under the park’s band shell. With each of these reminiscences she realized where their relationship had always stalled. Passages of their life careened through her head, Winterfest, their Halloweens, their Anniversaries, their candlelit nights on her balcony never reaching the ‘end’. Now she realized she was taking Vincent to her large and tunnel-like home, in a secluded and silent neighborhood. Would he walk over the threshold?
Vincent’s adventure persisted in his mind as he rode in the backseat; his legs folded up, enveloped in his cloak he watched the city lights moving over them inside the sedan. He shook his head at his predicament then weighed the sides of the argument he and Father would have on his return. Regardless of all the opportunities for being seen he had found his love and she was alive. He was also heading toward her home that she had described as large and isolated and his reservations were all too familiar. Fear’s time needed to end.

Driving the car into the garage she lowered the garage door and killed the motor. Yes, she was in Cleveland and YES, she had Vincent within her reach. Drawing reassuring deep breaths she left the car and Vincent followed her into the home, marveling at the warmly decorated home so different from her park side apartment. Parts of it reminded him of chambers Below and it soothed his heart that her style had mellowed in her new life.

After Vincent had taken in the entire downstairs he shook his head, “Catherine, how can you leave all this?” She ignored that question, there was nothing preventing her from following him home. “Is that a swimming pool out back?” Vincent stood at the doors enjoying the moonlight dancing over the water’s ripples and the natural landscaping surrounding the patio. His face pressed against the cool glass and his large hands splayed on the glass door as he looked over the moonlit backyard and the black horizon of the woods against the indigo sky. Innocently, his warm breath fogged the glass, leaving nearly a perfect impression of his spectacular face. Staring at the impression, she almost forgot to speak.

“Yes, and I have a bathtub nearly that large upstairs – where I’ll allow you all the privacy you need. After a few days in these clothes wouldn’t you feel more relaxed after a good long soak?” That did sound tempting to him yet could he bear to be apart from her? Catherine approached the rear staircase and held out her hand to him. How could he not follow her?

Catherine dialed the dimmers to near candlelight as Vincent padded curiously from room to room. He saw the pair of overstuffed wing chairs covered in calf colored leather in front of a fireplace. Oh, how life would be if they could retire here nightly? Catherine silently thanked whatever Gods brought Vincent back into her world and she retrieved a few fluffy towels and a small laundry basket. She smiled softly as he arrived in her bedroom suite. Her soft voice cut the silent tension, “Put your clothes into the basket and slide it outside the bathroom door and I’ll get them washed while you soak, OK?”

Vincent stood now nearly deserted, “I can scarcely bear to be apart from you, Catherine.” His whispered voice was smoky and deep, exactly the way she recollected him. Her spine tingled that perhaps Vincent would invite her to share the tub, yet she wouldn’t push him. Did he still have his bond? Could he tell how anxious she was?

“We have forever, Vincent” Her hands were pressed flat against his chest; she felt the tremor of his anxious heart. “ – go and relax.” Once she carried away the basket of his clothes into the laundry room Catherine held each piece affectionately, the aroma waking sensations all over her, their walks in the park, their walks in his world. They were everything to each other, hadn’t she told him one night ‘What we have is everything’? She remembered their kiss in the golden light of the park’s culvert. 

Not feeling Catherine’s hovering he’d dropped the clothes into the basket and opened the door enough the push the basket into the dim hallway. Vincent stood, stripped of all cloth barriers, covered in only his apprehensions. He imagined the months they had been separated and if she came into this bathroom to wash away the memories of Gabriel’s filth. Her perfumes and soaps infiltrated his lungs, both calming and exciting him. Against his wishes he grew tumescent and tingled for her touch under different surroundings than New York ages ago.

Now dusting off his suede vest and shaking out his black cloak she dropped each piece of washable clothing into the machine and dialed it almost in a trance to startle as the phone rattled the silence.

“Radcliffe, you OK?” Joe yelled over the concert’s noise.

Her smile was serene, reflecting in her words. “I’m super, Joe, it’s all good.” 

He voice was tense, “When are you coming back to the B&B?”

She didn’t want to lie yet she could bear to tell him to truth, “Joe, it might be a long, long time.” Her voice registered sadly with him.

Surrendering Joe offered, “OK, Radcliffe, you know where to find me. I won’t forget you.” And after an audible hitch in his voice he ended his conversation, “This isn’t good-bye, right?”

“Right, Joe, this isn’t good-bye. I know where you live!” Their voices silenced as their minds settled the issues between them “Give your Mom my best, alright? Joe, you know I love you.” They were silent for a moment before Joe’s line clicked off. Catherine lowered the receiver to the cradle realizing she indeed had been loved all her life by so many wonderful people.

In the semi-darkness Vincent turned slowly as the scent of candle-smoke and lemon oiled furniture in her spacious bedroom/bathroom seemed to engulf him. In her rebirth Vincent recognized she had adopted various tunnel habits. He could see the furniture had been thoughtfully chosen from the conditions of the eclectic and love-worn pieces. He further darkened the lights in the bathroom so he could watch the moonlight as it played over the odd shaped lake in her back yard.

Popping the window open he listened to the foxes barking to each other and he realized how much a part of his life Central Park had always been. The frogs’ songs kept his company as he lathered himself with the ginger soap and mindfully explored where their bond had gone. He felt her joy, pure joy at their reunion.

Catherine made her easiest phone call to Monica, explaining that she could see clearly who she was and where she was going. She left a message at the brewery that she was sorry she ‘disappeared’ at the concert. She explained a family situation had arisen and she’d be leaving for New York within the week. Mentally she began writing her resignation letter and truly regretted suddenly parting, however she rejoiced in the circumstance of finding Vincent and her memories. 

She pulled the realtor’s magnetized business card off the freezer door and left a message to the realtor with a date to list the home. Then she opened the phone book to a car rental agency and left a message about leasing a windowless cargo van one way to New York City. She’d driven longer distance, besides; Vincent could keep her company on a piece of furniture between a few cartons. Catherine Chandler was going home; all of this could be sold. Fiona Charles would be a scant memory within weeks.

Reaching into the Pool Bath closet she pulled out an extra-large sweat suit and returned upstairs, “Vincent, I’m leaving some clean clothes right outside the door. I’ll be downstairs fixing us a snack, OK?” Catherine heard the tub jets wind down and his “Alright, Catherine.”

In soft light she set the kettle on and prepared two mugs for tea. She carved some sharp cheese and salami slices and set the bowl of fruit onto one end of the ample dinner table. Who would have imagined her one and only guest tonight would be her forever love, Vincent?

As the kettle began to sing she heard his bare feet padding down the wooden back steps. Pouring the water into the teapot she watched him gracefully approach her. His towel dried hair appeared longer and darker than she remembered. His height was exactly as she recalled yet without his many layers of clothing he was more approachable. It was if they were another couple on this suburban street just settling down for their evening tea.  She smiled at the ginger hair peeking out of the neck of the zippered hoodie. Vincent felt her joy as they silently embraced and together they shared the thought of no shadow of another parting from each other. [4]

“Oh, Catherine” her name of his lips flowed like honey as he moved to sit across from her at the antique wooden table. One hand held his steaming tea while his other hand travelled across the table to seek her touch. Then each of them selected some things from the plate and they ate silently. They enjoyed the scent of the chamomile as they beamed at each other between bites.  Vincent had not remembered when they had this much silence between them, no music, no incessant pipe code or friendly interruptions. 

He focused to broaden his newly recovered bond that had evaporated with his illness years ago. There on the edge of his consciousness he felt a growing delight from Catherine’s direction. She pushed her plate aside and put her chin on her palm to appreciate the play of light across the golden hairs on Vincent’s face. Under the table she knew his feet were bare so she toed off her socks and sought the warmth of his lightly furred feet.

Vincent straightened suddenly, “Catherine, how can your stockinged feet be so frigid?” He immediately captured her feet to sandwich them between his. He seemed to blush at the accomplishment as her feet warmed. He felt a bit of her ‘melt’ with his bold move. How long had Vincent wished their past had gone differently? His mind was in turmoil, what to say or do next?

Catherine melted into the warmth between his two large feet, now her other hand came up to hold her face steady, her elbows propping her up. What if this is what every morning could be like? What if they could end each evening over tea to climb into bed together? She caught herself thinking too far ahead.

The velvet hammer of his words punctuated the silence, “Whatever is going through your mind right now, my love?”

Honesty won out, “Vincent, what if we could end each night like this?” her jaw remained resolute, her smile broadening.

“Then I would consider myself extremely blessed.” His palms were on the table half way between them so she extended her hands to lay gently over his.

“This is within our grasp, all of what we’d dreamed of.” Her fingertips drew lightly over the tops of his furred flesh tingling him delightfully.

“Our dreams are fantasies, Catherine.” His fingertips caught hers with a heavy sigh and a shrug of his broad shoulders.

Turning her wrists under she wrested her fingers from his light grasp to gently trail her fingertips up his palms and fingers, “Vincent, our dreams were illustrations from a single book our hearts were writing.”

His breathing startled at the feeling her nails on his flesh, rasping, “Catherine, I need to ask your forgiveness.” His face was obscured, his chin tucked to his chest.

“My forgiveness?” She shook her head in ignorance. “For what?”

His voice a husky whisper, “I had violent nightmares about what I did to you. Yet when you collapsed in my arms I had lost the words.”

“For what?” Of course she had a laundry list of bones she wanted to pick with him, whatever distressed him this long? He had retracted his hands to fold his arms over his chest.

“After we were separated I fell into a delirium. They I moved you and I was stymied as where to find you.”

Catherine watched the color of his eyes darken to blue smoke, curious about his confession.

“When I came out of my delirium, I had visions of. . . . “ Vincent swallowed hard, and shook his head to dispel the image pummeling his conscience. With a deep breath he took a sip of tea and then recovered enough to speak. “I forced myself on you; the sounds you made were unimaginable. I can’t fathom why you’d even have me alone in your home.” His arms unfolded, only to have him drag his clawed fingers through his drying hair.

Catherine rose to stretch across the table, “No, no, no, Vincent. You never forced yourself on me. We’ve never known each other that way.” As if she hadn’t wanted to know him! She thought she had come out of her amnesia, what fresh layer of hell was he uncovering? She knew she would have remembered them like that. She reached for him and with grateful eyes he loosened the grasp he had on himself, “Vincent, it had to be a terrible nightmare, you have never forced yourself on me. We have never known each other that way.” She warmed his hands in hers as their eyes met, “I would love to love you, I was always sure you knew that.”

“Catherine, they were abominable times, days locked in Gabriel’s cage while they forced me to watch you on the monitor.” Now his hands drew together clasping at first then wringing each other. “I had nightmares while they forced me to see what they were doing to you.” Catherine shook her head, trying to erase the glimpses of their ‘experiments’. “Then, Catherine once they sedated you they brought me to you.” Vincent’s head hung in shame; it was a violent attack,  I fell prey to my animal self.” His tone displayed his hatred of that side of himself, his voice muffled by his hands.

Crestfallen at his pain she confessed, “I wish you had understood how I wanted to love you and be yours.” She eased back into her chair.

His self-derision continued, as he retold nights of their baiting him into sexual situations, while he felt their eyes through the mirrored glass. Vincent’s head hung, his hair curtaining his expression.

Catherine’s head shook, all these years, lost in an amnesiac’s fog to come back to understanding this?

“Catherine, they spoke --- as if they wanted me to know their insidious plans, as if I would take some brazen pride in being the father of their new generation.”
The dawning understanding of all their guarded ‘study’ sickened her. “Why, Vincent?” she shook her head, her brows knitted.

“They intimated their process, not their reasoning.” Vincent raised his head and searched the room for something other than Catherine’s eyes.  He could not bear to reveal all he knew. “Once Gabriel knew the black book was not in your possession, that you didn’t know where it was and once he saw me, his plans altered.”

Catherine’s eyes narrowed, “Altered?”

“Eugenics, for a loss of a more insidious term.” An ill silence fell over them. Nervously they picked at the shards of cheese, he watched her pull apart the bread and chew on the crust. The savory taste of the cheese and meat had turned sour in his mouth, he apprehensively poured more tea. Her eyes begged him to continue. His sandy, low voice whispered, “You would be the Mother of them all and I would be a new generation’s stud. Their medical circus revolved around their watching us. Gabriel’s proclivities were more voyeur than participant.” His arched brow rose higher to accentuate his words and her generous mouth straightened in understanding. 

“But ---“She had no recollections of any of that.

He raised his palm, wishing to purge himself of the experience. “He, Gabriel, thought we could entertain him. Thought I would be more….entertaining….if I knew what he wanted from me.” Vincent went silent remembering the day long lectures on ‘releasing the beast within’, that Gabriel felt his ‘release’ would be more effective. Their hearts thumped in the silence as Catherine fought for a true understanding of Vincent’s subtext. Only when Vincent looked away at the clock over the stove did Catherine’s eyes widen.

Her head tilted as his frequently did, “Did he think a bedtime spectacle would create a wilder child?” and that comment caused Vincent to bolt upward from his chair, breaking the silence.


[1] May Sarton

[2] William Shakespeare, "Sonnet XLIII"

[3] Ben Jonson's 1616 poem "Song. To Celia."

[4] "I saw no shadow of another parting from her." for the 1863 edition of the novel Great Expectations.