sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 3 ~ Where Is Fancy Bred?
Tell me where is fancy bred?
Or in the heart, or in the head?
Mouse had threaded a precious line of electricity to their chambers, and when she thumbed the switches, the lamp with its green satin shade cast a pearled glow on her desk, the tiffany floor lamp at the entry jeweled with light. She stooped to her work. Only a few weeks had passed since she’d packed her father’s things for moving, and each lid lifted, each crimp of tissue peeled away, each slender curl of excelsior scooped aside sparked a childlike gratitude. There you are! And you! The near-magic mingling of her life – her history – above with her future below sent the hours of Sunday speeding past, the emptiness she’d feared might set in kept at bay with the simple unwrapping of a parrot-shaped letter opener from her father’s desk or his enameled pen rest and ink well. How often as a child had she prowled his study, visiting the treasures of it.
As in those youthful days, now she flipped open the well-cap, no longer expecting a genie to appear, begging for her fondest wish. That – and more – had been fully granted.
The last box of the day emptied, the wrappings stuffed into burlap bags to store for their next needing, she stood and surveyed the chamber. Her father’s office had become hers, though arches of sparkling granite replaced the coffered ceiling and rich paneling of Sutton Place. His desk, more likely a dining table in some grand hall a century before, centered its new round room, the candlelight a dance in the rich-red patina of the finish. Still dwarfed in it, she settled in his tufted leather chair and turned the antique globe idly with her fingertips, remembering the game he often played with her. He would spin, and she would stop it, one hand over her eyes. No peeking! Her task then was to study and learn and make up a story about a little girl who lived … wherever.
How he would enjoy her story of this place!
She took the long way back to her apartment, reluctant to accede to the days without his greeting at their end, the nights without his touch. Their hideaway under the bandshell was silent, the pillows tucked away. Beneath the grating, she stood in the blue evening light. Two days and she burned from his absence.
* * *
“Yes, Jenny, everything’s fine! What do you mean, I never call you? Just last … okay, okay …” She trapped the telephone between her ear and shoulder as she rummaged the bins of her refrigerator. “I thought you might come over for dinner. I’ll cook … No, I’m not joking! You like my primavera pasta … don’t you?”
She frowned and closed the door. Primavera, it turned out, would require a trip to the grocery. Puttanesca was a possibility. Carbonara, if she had no olives. She opened a cupboard, scouted the jars while Jenny chattered on. When the invitation came, she tapped the door shut. “This is getting serious,” she said. “I’d love to meet him … sure, I’ll be there. Right … an hour. I know where it is … see you soon.”
Jenny was falling in love.
The receiver still in her hand, she froze, stunned by a wash of feelings as much tone as temperature – tenderness, a twinge of pique, sun-warmth and chill. They’d shared so much, Jenny and she, … except this. Except Vincent. A part of her chafed at her constraints.
She dropped the receiver onto its rest and the base emitted an unnerving and illogical briiiing. Startled, she shrank back, only after seconds of sustained silence venturing to reach for the phone, to bring it to her ear again. A simple dial tone greeted her, a sound signifying only readiness, promising only … connection.
I sound like Narcissa, she thought, striding to her bedroom to change. It was a stray electrical impulse, a … nothingness. She sighed. A nothingness … that was Vincent’s word.
* * *
The restaurant was narrow, a stone-walled room with low wooden beams, anchored by a fireplace only candlelit this warm night. Jenny sat alone at the far corner table, radiant, a dazed smile for everyone and no one. Catherine slid into a chair and squeezed her hand.
She knew that look, that feeling. Every morning for weeks now, returned in her own mirror she saw it, an I-am-loved smile. A brush of knuckle to her cheek, the urgent press at the small of her back – oh, yes, she knew. She knew the music of love sounds, the sweet rush of breath, the images suddenly so vivid, she had to shake herself loose from them. A gulp of water, a quick fan with the menu …
Concentrate … concentrate, she admonished herself, on Jenny.
“So, before I start talking about myself, which, believe me, I intend to do … let’s hear about you!” Jenny poured white wine, overfilling her glass. “Ooops!” She shrugged and grinned and rushed on. “Where have you been keeping yourself? I call; I get your machine. Am I going to have to camp in your office to see you? We need another shopping trip.”
“What? Don’t tell me you need more shoes,” Catherine teased. She slid the goblet across the table and leaned in for her first sip.
“Actually …” Jenny paused for a swallow. “I need something from that store you found near the Village, where you bought that extremely romantic sculpture, the one that reminded me of a Snowden, the bronze and the geode?” 1
“Really?” Practiced at the subtle change of subject, she was caught unawares. “I, um … I don’t think there was another one … the artist … um … unless …”
“No, I don’t want a sculpture … well, I do, because who wouldn’t? It was beautiful!” Jenny beamed and ducked her head. “Don’t think you’re going to get by without telling me to whom you gave that gift, Cathy. You’ve been keeping him a secret for months. Months and months.” She sobered. “I let it go, you know, that night after that lunatic tried to … well, after you came out of the lake … but I want to know, and you are going to tell me.”
Catherine willed her hand to sweep the table, a toppled glass surely a diversion, but Jenny plunged ahead with her own story, her excitement a current too swift to leave her snagged for long.
Check swing … she thought, her fingers instead closing around the stem.
“I remember looking through the window. There was a beautiful mirror propped inside,” Jenny said. “A huge floor mirror, gold gilt, layers of framing – do you remember it? Ned’s birthday’s coming up and he has this big empty wall in his foyer. He likes antiques, funky things. Now that I think about it …” She tilted her head and tugged on a curl. “You two have a lot in common. He likes music, poetry, old books … the quirky and collectible. He has an unusual assortment of acquaintances. Hmmmm. Maybe you don’t need to meet him after all.” Jenny laughed, delighted and not at all concerned. “Cathy, this is it. I’m in love. I really am.”
She couldn’t say mirrors can work miracles.
She couldn’t say me too.
* * *
“Ned Rutledge. I’m glad you would come tonight, Catherine. Jenny’s told me everything about you.”
His hand was warm and roughened. A working hand, she thought. A thick sweep of dark hair and darker eyes, a wiry energy … familiar. He filled his glass and touched his to hers, to Jenny’s.
“Have you eaten here before? It’s not new, but still a bit undiscovered.”
“No, but I’ve wanted to. Jenny raves about the food.”
“I’m happy to make recommendations, but you’ll speak up when I suggest the very thing that makes you break out in hives, okay?”
“Such a lovely accent,” Catherine said, lulled already by the glide of his phrasing, the rounded-off edges of his vowels.
“What accent?” he asked.
Though his attention was haphazard, drawn from the page of print to Jenny’s face again and again, he conferred with the waiter and then with the sommelier. Soon a roasted beet salad appeared, sprinkled with pistachios and parmigiano crisps. They shared a plate of oysters nestled in a granita of cucumber and lime. A small bowl of low-country bouillabaisse followed and Ned acknowledged – humbly, when pressed – that yes, the chef had tuned the recipe to his tastes: mussels and shrimp, sausage and carrots and new potatoes in a spicy broth. No more! she protested, but surrendered to an egg roll – They’re small, Cathy. Skinny little things! – stuffed with greens and salt-cured ham, a sauce of peach chutney. Though the denial to share pained her, she touched just her spoon-tip to Ned’s dark chocolate sorbet, asking for coffee instead.
Jenny told stories from their college days that kept them laughing. Only once did she have to press Jenny’s foot with hers under the table. And Ned spoke of meeting Jenny, how he’d appeared in her office early for their appointment, empty-handed, his assistant home with the flu and all the notes for their first session.
“Five minutes in,” Jenny said, “he called for a cab. We drove out to the Cloisters for the afternoon …”
“Gathering first-hand information,” Ned assured her.
“Jenny tells me you have quite the specialty,” Catherine said and Jenny grinned around a spoonful of sorbet. “How did you ever decide to get into …”
“Armor repair?” Ned laughed. “It’s odd, isn’t it? Not exactly a party starter, but if you need your chainmaille unraveled, I’m your man.” He accepted the cream pitcher from her hand. “It’s a simple story, really. Pretty standard. Majored in Medieval Studies, went on to grad school. Figured out fast enough that if I planned on eating regularly, I’d have to find a real job. I worked construction on breaks. But one summer, I landed an internship at the Met, the year they were cleaning and restoring the galleries. I was handy with steel wool and scraping tools. My dad’s a furniture maker, you see. I learned at the foot of a master. Anyway, they asked me back the next two summers. After that I was able to command minimum wage at any museum with a dented breastplate. It turns out that – now I know this is hard to believe – there aren’t too many of us out there who do that sort of thing.”
“That’s probably a sure bet,” Catherine said. “Have you been at the Met since school?”
“It took a while to get on staff, longer than I’d hoped. I’ve worked here, let’s see, almost three years now, but I was out of the country for the first half of that – Scotland, Wales. Germany too. Before, I was at the Walters in Baltimore and before that, the Higgins Armory in Worchester, Mass. A stint at the British Museum and a year in Bucharest. The Cloisters restoration will keep me close. It’s a six-year project.”
Catherine took a final sip. “It sounds like you’ve been all over the world. Will you enjoy staying in one place?”
“I’m liking it much better here lately,” he said, turning to Jenny. “I found a place in West Village last year. Needs work, a lot of work. And just me … I kind of rattle around in it.” Jenny blushed and lifted the bread cloth, poking at the bed of crumbs left behind. “I might get a dog,” he continued, a half-grin dimpling one cheek. “A big one. One of those Irish wolfhounds, maybe.”
Jenny’s favorite breed …
“So … are you still working on the armor, still putting it all back together?”
“No, and I miss those days. But I think I know almost every piece there intimately.”
“It sure feels like it. I’ve moved them all twice. You know the collection, Cathy?”
“She usually gets lost in the Egyptian section,” Jenny said.
“Well, it’s time for me to get lost tonight.” She folded her napkin, tucking it under the rim of her saucer. “Early court tomorrow. Thank you both for a lovely evening.”
She lost the argument for the bill, even her part of it. Ned rose as she pushed away from the table. Reaching to steady her chair, he offered to see her home, but she demurred. “Don’t lose your table, please. It’s a fifteen minute ride and cabs are easy here. She leaned in to give Jenny a hug. “Call me.”
“I’ll leave a message,” Jenny said, rolling her eyes.
At the doorway, she looked back. Ned had moved his chair nearer Jenny’s and his hand was closed over hers on the table, but they watched after her as she made her way out. She knew it was just her imagination, but Catherine saw a light around the two of them, a warm ring of promise.
Ned. He was intelligent, easy-going, good-humored – a nice match for Jenny. He was also vaguely familiar. Slouched in the taxi’s back seat, her hands clasped in contentment over her stomach, she pondered the likeness on the drive home. Who? Who does he remind me of? Men in her office, her building, detectives … witnesses … She ticked off a mental list but no image suggested Ned’s. She shrugged, letting the mystery drift away, a bobbing notion on a gentle twilight tide.
She did have early court in the morning and she most decidedly was not in the mood for it. At home, ready for bed but too full to lie down, she settled on the couch to go over the paperwork, but the words ran together. Logic toppled like dominoes. In minutes, she tossed it aside, bored and guilty at once. Restless, she put on music, but couldn’t settle on a composer, choosing silence instead. And when the silence proved too much, she opened her balcony doors though only to breeze, and she knew she would be alone this night and the next and the next. She wanted the shelter of his arms, wanted the drub of his heart against hers. She surveyed her empty bed, vast now without him.
There was nothing for it, nothing to do but fall against the pale bulwark of her pillows …
I know how to do this … and into dreams.
* * *
Below, too far from her, he lingered at the spring only to drink, only to wash the dust from his face and eyes, to rest briefly against the cavern wall, the trickle a soothing music. But in that moment, she appeared – close, fitted to him. Her skin was satiny … warm … and he touched her there … and there …
The stone basin was deep. He plunged his hands and then his arms up to the elbows into the water, bringing palms full of near-ice to his face to douse the internal flame. He could not lose his focus, and yet his heart arrowed to its target, leaving a hollowed man behind to toil. Two days gone, only two days.
Camp was dark and quiet, but he could find no comfortable position on the ground. The next day’s work threatened to be even more strenuous and he bore the brunt of the heaviest tasks. He needed rest. He tried not to think of her, tried not to share the sting of longing or her restiveness …
After a while, he felt her slip into fancy, and following her, he did not sleep alone.
Chapter Title : William Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, scene 2. 1599.
Title quotation: Ibid.
1. I Carry Your Heart. Chapter 7: Love-Throb in the Heart.
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