sequel to The Only Gift

IRON BEHIND THE VELVET

 

 

chapter 56 ~ The Rose-fire of the Compass,
Blossoming with Direction

 

The ocean of longing,
the sea of your deepest want,
the gravity well of your own desire,
the place you would fall becomes
in falling
the place you are held.

 

Mornings. The requirement to rise from their bed, to leave him and go Above was a daily quarrel with gravity.

Why do I have to return to my former home, Wake up, dress …” 1

On his back, his hair in splendid waves on his pillow, his eyes were closed … but he wasn’t asleep. She whispered the poet’s words against the soft skin of his neck just below the lobe of his ear, a murmured marvel at their writing over nine hundred years before, Li Ching Chao’s question yet unanswerable today, this moment …

He turned to her and with feathered touch brushed the hair from her face, from there tracing the plane of her shoulder, the valley of her spine, and on, to the small of her back, a slow hand over the path of her.

Here, he seemed to say and here. Here you are beautiful. Here you are mine. Here we shall linger and loll …

But then his weight shifted, reluctance in his sigh. The degree of his embrace cooled. He wouldn’t argue the hour or lament the circumstance, she knew.

But she could.

“Stay,” she petitioned. “I can’t get up. Not yet.”

“Another minute,” he granted, closing the space between them with the draw of his leg over hers.

“Gravity wins,” she declared, fitted to him again, willing him to follow her train of thought as she released all thoughts of the demands of the coming day, sinking deeper into now, into always.

“Gravity is the weakest of the four forces,” he started in, but she stalled his foray into science with the fingers of one hand.

“It holds the earth in orbit of the sun, the stars together in our galaxy,” she reasoned. “Why not me to you?” And under the persuasion of her lips, he conceded without objection. If they had to part, she’d take this last sweet victory.

Here you are beautiful. Here you are mine. Here shall we love again.

And O how that glittering taketh me …2

* * *

The bathing cascade was concealed within two pleated curtains of pearlescent flowstone, an intimate accommodation even for lovers. Along an unseen race, it rushed with announcement, delivering a steamy downpour through an opening in the cavern ceiling, drilling over the years – the centuries – a waist-deep basin in the granite floor. Spray rose from the loud-spattered surface, fell again as mist. Beneath their feet, smooth round pebbles vibrated. Their necessary ablutions hurried through, they stood together beneath the shower’s massaging pulse.

Hmmmm,” she murmured. “This is wonderful. Exactly what I need, exactly what I want.”

She’d meant the kneading waterfall; she’d meant his encircling arms, and to this he’d returned a husky Yes, but … something … something even more … stirred as if from sleep and rose within her psyche, its faint glow teasing a surprise horizon.

Another want? Another need?

A poem vaguely wafting … uncaught, unwritten.3

Nameless, yet true. The creation awakes me, glad as morning light. 4

His arms tightened around her, drew her closer in a wordless pact of necessity. Later.

 

They moved to the private soaking alcove off the deep-channeled lake, settling to ledges facing each other in the warm and eddying waters.

Leaving out details she’d demand if the hands on the clock of the day weren’t so rudely spinning, he briefed her of Kanin’s findings across the perimeter, hardly bothered, she noted, by whoever MD was, or her – Her!? – designs and intentions. Knowledge was power, he reminded her. The incursions were more accidental than planned, the neighboring residents a loose association of mostly benign souls.

“Are you sure?” she interjected.

They would take all cautions, he promised. They would monitor; they would survey and track, he said. But the lessened urgency insured they would make no mistakes born of haste.

Relieved because he was, nevertheless suspicious of this MD woman and the modifier ‘mostly, she withheld any cross-examination. She bade him continue with a nod.

Adjustments to the plan of reinforcement could now be made with purpose instead of conjecture. They’d waste no time considering all possible routes of incursion, on unnecessary fortifications – they had now an evidence-based plan. The discovery of a mysterious stone-wheel security system – one he’d soon show her – meant thirty residents would not be relocated, but could keep their homes in the northwest sector. Already the alterations hastened the estimated date of completion. And, he went on to say, the entrance to Martin’s garden – to Eimear’s – had been preserved.

“You mean, there was a possi–” She broke off, hearing her voice rise in pitch, the dismay welling in it. Under the cover of water, she trapped her hands between her thighs and the stone seat. Preserved, he’d said. It would remain, the doorway, the beginning of … something new. Something theirs.

Breathe, she instructed herself.

“A possibility we might lose it,” he finished for her. “Yes. One approach – a relatively uncomplicated plan – would have walled off most of Woodlawn, save for the new entrance Wren and Stuart need beneath Dom’s brother’s building. But I asked for a second consideration … for personal reasons.”

“You did?” Now surprise tinged her question, and, chagrinned, she offered a silent broadcast of apology that seemed – when his eyes crinkled at the corners, when he chuffed and smiled at her – unnecessary.

“I promised you ready, Catherine. And because I did, I’m learning … many things.”

The timbre of his voice was velvet-rough, both dark and light, rounded, mellow, whisperingly resonant, and she thought to glide into his arms, to ask him to repeat himself. To show her … ready. But the moment passed, later again their unspoken pledge. He spread his enticing arms along the granite bench, shifting to sink in the water nearly to his chin. His hair fanned wide, amber on the ripples.

“You saw Sam yesterday,” he said. “Martin told me.”

The marvel of that coincidence was acknowledged with a glance, a raised brow, an unruly flash of disappointment. He’d discovered the connection between Wren and Eimear before she could reveal it herself; he knew of her trip to Maryfields. She’d hoped to stun him with that magical meeting. But … time ratcheted forward above, below as well. She could almost hear the clang and grind of the two cities’ morning gears. Somewhere close by, Eimear was waking to a weighty day. Wren, after an interrupted evening, prepared for a critical hearing. At the worksite, Vincent’s crew would soon gather, expecting his expertise, his presence. Much of their sharing was necessarily deferred for now. But what she knew about Mitch, about his utter fall, all that Sam had told her … he didn’t know. He had to hear and hear now.

“Mitch is no threat, here Below or Above,” she told him. “He never will be again.”

He grew still with the telling, so still the water around him smoothed almost to glass. The look on his face … Disgust, anger, sorrowshe recognized each passing flash, shared his response. But this … His narrow-lidded focus had shifted to something distant and magnetic. His mouth turned terribly down; a muscle in his jaw ticked. Does he feel responsible? A woman has died by Mitch’s hands. A woman who would be alive if, on that catwalk, he’d … chosen … differently, if he hadn’t let Mitch go. Between her own injury that  night and another’s murder, how many others had Mitch hurt? Was he making now a mental tally of postulated damages, of suffering allowed by his forbearance? He’d be wrong to think so, and yet she was sure he did. She could understand his reasoning, was party to it. After all, she’d been unable to take Mitch off the streets herself and Frank De Corsia had been killed.

But before she could offer anchor, he pushed off for the deeper channel where he disappeared below the surface with a mighty pike and kick. She held her own breath, letting it out in a slow, slow stream as she knew he must, though he surfaced long after she’d had to again and again draw air.

He flared up from the bottom of the pool, his hair black as the deep, the spray she caught, when he whipped his head side to side, cold. Not now, Catherine. He didn’t say the words out loud. A watery expanse between them purposely kept, he was asking for time. For space. Whatever gripped him, he would wrestle in privacy if he could but have it. She opened her arms, as much an invitation as consent, his to choose. He sank away, propelling himself once more to the enveloping depths, to the dark entanglement that was his history with Mitch. A history he’d never fully shared.

She rose and wrapped herself in her waiting towel, stood at the water’s edge. The nuance wasn’t lost – he’d not asked her to leave him this time – but solitude she would grant.

I’m here, Vincent. Here. When you’re ready.

 

They’d found two brown, nubby cotton robes in the guest room’s closet alcove and now they hung from iron pegs studded in the alcove beneath the staircase. The smaller one only a little too long for her, she cinched the sash at her waist and returned to their bedchamber for the wide-toothed comb she’d packed, the rosewood angle-scope she’d stowed in her bag. The single conversation pipe was soundless, the corridor empty, but the aroma of coffee toasted the air. First cups brewing by five, Liz had promised. Time was passing too quickly. She padded back down the steps and he was there.

A towel tucked and riding his hips, he rubbed his hair with another. His eyes were veiled, both by narrowed lids and the steely-blue color they took on when he … retreated. One day, she vowed, she’d describe for him the barometer of his irises – the azure joy, the cornflower serenity, the cobalt seduction …

“There’s something I want to say, Vincent.”

He lowered his arm, the damp terrycloth clutched in his fist, its hem brushing the floor at his feet. “Then I will hear it.”

“Mitch had the opportunity to learn something from you,” she began, watching the set of his mouth. “Mercy. Grace. He had the opportunity to prove there was something left of him. He knows what decent is; he grew up with it. He knows good and right from wrong. Any vile thing Mitch did before or after … was not your fault.”

She handed him the second robe and he pulled it on. The towel drawn from his waist, he let both he’d used fall it atop hers in the wicker basket at the foot of the stairs. His back to her, he tied the garment’s fringed belt … tied it again … tighter. A moment passed … and he turned to her, exhaled through pursed lips a long sigh of air. Whatever hounded his conscience, he’d subdued … or caged to examine another day.

Or maybehe believes me.

“How is Sam?” he asked.

“Ashamed. Angry. Heartsick with remorse,” she said. “But he’s cared for; he has friends, activities he enjoys. Reasons to wake every morning. He’s healing, as much as a father can when his child has become a stranger.” He nodded, and she drew closer to him, taking his hand in both of hers. His skin was cool and damp from his deep swim. “Its over. That’s how he put it. He’s … relieved, I think.”

“If he is, it is a terrible relief,” Vincent said with such a simple empathy. He reached for the comb protruding from the pocket of her robe. “Sit.”

“It’s strange.” She settled in the chair before him. “If it weren’t for Mitch, for my need to know if he might be … here … I’d never have gone to visit Sam today.”

“I cannot thank Mitch for anything.”

Though her head was tipped to his attentions, her eyes closed, she could imagine his glower. “No,” she agreed. “But it’s an amazing coincidence, isn’t it? This morning, Billy delivered a message from Aniela telling me Kanin had returned and nothing else, so I’m worrying about him. Is he all right? Could Mitch possibly be involved? And it comes to me – I need to talk to Sam. And then Joe sends me to Queens to interview a witness. To the 105, just a few blocks from Maryfields.” His ministrations slowed. She risked a peek in the small mirror above the dressing table. Wearing his listening-frown, he smoothed a section of her hair through his fingers. He’s coming back to me. “Then Joe tells me to take a long lunch,” she went on. “So if it weren’t for the threat of Mitch …” And a dozen stars aligning. “… I’d have never found Martin there. I’d have never discovered old Father Seamus was friends with Sam now …” She paused – dramatically, she believed. “Or that he was once friends with Noah’s grandfather.”

“I know.”

Damn it! I can’t believe– But she interrupted herself. Of course I can.

“You … what?!” Though she didn’t exactly wail, in the mirror’s reflection, she saw him blink at her tone, one she thought carefully pitched between playful and peeved. Joe she might have called a smarty-pants, a know-it-all – or worse – but Vincent … Her teasing bewildered him, regardless of their bond. More than once while he considered his response, she’d had to take pity on him, take his arm and laugh, explain herself.

“You knew already?” She let a grin just touch her lips and he blinked again.

“We were devising a plan to spare the churchyard entry” he explained. “Noah remembered the place; once, as a boy, he’d gone up with Leo. And since Martin told me Seamus spoke of landmarks below, wonders he could have discovered only with a guide …” His mouth quirked at one corner when she huffed at him and scowled. “But please, Catherine, go on with your story.”

“I suppose I can skip the dramatic lead-in I rehearsed,” she grumped. “Get to the part you don’t know.”

“If such a part exists,” he parried, tugging at the lock of hair still in his hand.

“Well, Sam knew Noah’s grandfather as Leo, but Seamus called him Lev. He was a little confused, but it was obvious that Seamus knew the secret of Below. When he retired and moved to Maryfields, he left a box of treasures behind in the rectory and for some reason Martin brought it with him on his visit. Sister Norberta called it a hobo’s box; a cigar box layered with wood, all carved and notched. We went through it, Sam and I. There were two silver kiddush cups inside, a tiny chess set Sam recognized. I think Leo must have gone up regularly to visit the old priest.” She shifted in her chair, rooting for the robe’s slash pocket. “There was this too. Look.” She opened her hand to the angle scope. “Sam told me the story, about Leo’s gifts, about you and the other boys in the maze with these. About Father’s … ummm …”

“Snit?” Vincent chuckled and reached over her shoulder for the toy, putting it briefly to his eye. “Leo. Sunday night, sitting with Martin in the ambulatory, I had the strongest memory of him. Out of nowhere, I believed.” His hand closed over the scope. “Leo decorated boxes as gifts. Kanin has his old friend Levon’s. Father has one as well, stuffed with postcards from those moved on from the tunnels. Mary’s is latched and locked on her dresser. As children we were instructed never to touch it, but there’s a spot worn on its lid where I believe she must rub it with her thumb every day.” He came around the chair and leaned against the dressing table’s edge, facing her. “What else did you find inside?”

“A blue glass cup. Something that looked like a pocket watch, but wasn’t.”

“A pedometer,” Vincent guessed. “Leo carried one everywhere. Father thought it held a significance beyond its purpose. A relic from his life before.” His eyes glimmered – with memory, she imagined. “Was there a note? Any explanation for Seamus having Leo’s things?”

“Sam’s nurse came for him and we had to close up. But later Martin told me about the keys. There’d been five of them in the box, and over the years, he’d removed one lock after the other. From the three dormitory rooms in the churchyard and the little closet across the archway. The remaining one, he used to unlock a door from the wall into the rectory. Yesterday.”

“I saw it last night, the entry into a forgotten sacristy.”

“He’d told Martin to guard the doorways and wait. He’s been waiting for you, Vincent.”

He held her gaze. “Not for me alone, Catherine, but for us. All of us.”

“It’s symbolic, you mean?”

“I think so. When you first met Eimear, you told me then … the connection between you was powerful. And since …”

“Since and before, Vincent. Rosie and you and the moon that night in the park.”

He released a breath. “Yes.”

“Leo and Seamus,” she mused. “Seamus and Martin. Seamus and Sam.”

“Stuart and Wren,” he added. “Their finding of each other, their immediacy. Wren’s friendship, her work, with Eimear – the chance of that.”

“Joe taking me along on Flynn’s case … It was just an inquiry, more … a finalization. He could have given the job to anyone in the office. Joe didn’t need me; I’m still surprised he was involved.”

“Are you? Surprised?”

A vision materialized in her mind’s eye. The night of the ceilidh. Joe, in the twilight garden with Rosie, handing over perhaps far more than his watch. “Vincent,” she whispered. “When did all this start?”

“This magic? Martin speaks of soul mates … and of soul families … seeking to dwell again as one. What seems like coincidence is our inevitable reunion. When we began is not the question. Simply, we began. We began as one energy, were separated, and … this … is our deliberate journey home. We require each other. Perhaps we’re ready, finally ready. All of us.”

As if she stood near, Catherine felt Eimear’s steadfastness, her longing, her adamant concern.

“And Flynn?” she ventured.

“All of us and Flynn,” he promised.

“Why now, do you think?” she whispered into the settled quiet. “It’s all happening so fast.” The dreams I’ve dared to dream.5

“Or so very slowly.”

They shared a smile. Too much to take in all at once, the subject would be explored together at the precipice of the falls, on long walks in the park for months to come, on their pillows.

“But,” she persisted, “there must have been some trigger, a key moment–”

“The magnet that fired, drawing us all from our separate worlds at last through a single door? I know the answer, Catherine. The moment that changed everything. Everything. When I found you.”

 

Back in their room, she unpacked her workday clothes, snapped her black slacks from the tight roll she’d made of them. The crease was still sharp, the cuffs unwrinkled. Her jacquard blouse hadn’t fared as well; it’s stand-up collar did anything but. Though after who-knew-how-many hours with Eimear in an unairconditioned station house, after any number of interviews, after turning page after grubby page of mug shot photos, it would hardly matter how pressed she began her day. Depending on the time they returned up top, she could, she supposed, ask Eimear for an iron. At any rate, though she’d worn it last week and it might be a little limp, a moss-green blazer was folded on the back seat of her car.

Her car parked in Eimear’s driveway. They should hurry. Best to be home when Flynn arrived rather than have him worry over their whereabouts or, should he see them emerge from the wall, have to explain where they’d slept overnight.

Two revelations … Too much at once. Not today.

Hurry. She put her arms through the long sleeves, turned her back to his buttoning. How had she ever managed this blouse without his help? His sad expression mirrored hers, she noted as she fussed with the cuffs, the drape of the darts.

It was hard, so hard to leave him. Again and again he’d smoothed the comb through her hair, crown to tip in one long, slow motion. She’d sighed with each stroke, wishing the end of their separation. He’d assured her his return home was moved forward, but even a single night more seemed over-long.

“Catherine …”

She looked up, meeting his reflected gaze. Had he sensed her melancholy? Mentally, she chastised herself for burdening him, chastised herself again when she could not master her longing.

“Devin once described what it was like to ride a roller coaster,” he said. “Your yesterday was that.”

Hers was a doleful chuckle of agreement.

He freed her hair from the tall collar. “Anticipation and joy, a plunge into despair. I knew you were coming to me. I felt your need. But you’ve held back, put me first, our world’s concerns and Eimear’s. Something else weighs on your heart, Catherine.”

“How do you always know?”

He led her from the bedchamber to the anteroom, drew a hassock close to the chair she sank to, but it was as if he’d scooped her up, rocked her in his arms.

“Tell me.”

 

About Phan, his courage to testify, Vincent knew; about the fire, he did not. Its casualties, the horrific unknowns of who had been killed … she relayed all – how Joe took the news, how responsible they felt, how frustrated. And then the second blow – Mr. Haas. Beaten first unconscious, now to death. His daughter furious, with every right to be. His little dog left without a companion. The detectives thwarted and depressed. Her suspicions and Joe’s unprovable. Nothing in their notes overlooked, nothing to reinterpret. In either case, justice unlikely. So very unlikely.

He listened without comment until she was spent of words, both her hands in his resting on her knees. Now he pulled away to tend the tears on her cheeks, to cradle her face. When he repeated her earlier affirmation, it was without mockery, without irony. “This is terrible, Catherine. But it is not your fault. Nor is it Joe’s. I wish …” He hesitated without looking away. “I would assure him of that myself if I could. I know him … through you. He’s a good man.”

“He is.” She found a smile and he sat back. “He’s seeing Rosie. I’ve never known him to be so … taken.”

“I’m glad.”

And then he said nothing more, was simply … quiet. He waited for her, for what more she needed to say.

Jenny. What happened yesterday.

Her wedding announcement … Jenny’s bewilderment-turned-aggrievedness, her invitation-turned-ultimatum …

The inevitability of estrangement; my acceptance …

Nomy recognition of it.

Had she truly imagined she might avoid the telling?

 

She might have assumed she’d need a deep breath to begin, a careful vocabulary … for to speak of Jenny as she now must, even if she never uttered his name, she’d be speaking of Stephen as well.

Something they’d rarely done … since.

She’d been angry … and for too long she’d denied that anger. Don’t be too hard on her, Stephen had lobbied. Vincent, too, had encouraged her compassion. Jenny had been simply careless; she’d intended no harm. Stephen’s self-serving suggestion she’d waved away; but Vincent’s bore a tone of responsibility and shame – not hers, but his own. His ferocity, the mortifying darkness from which he believed it rose … The wounds he suffered that night in New Rochelle would ever be unhealed – and she believed her own fury would frighten him. She couldn’t confront Jenny, take her to task, not without telling her everything. And so she’d swallowed her tears, afraid to share her disappointments … in her old friend, in herself, the burden of her own guilt … which even now knotted her stomach.

But Jenny had known – her history with Stephen, his obsessions, his manipulations. His rage. How could she, of all people, be so easily swayed by his insistence, just … hold the door open for him. I’d be dead if not for Vincent who had to perceive, while Jenny knew! And since. Since!

Their few paragraphs of discussion – of the incident, as Jenny described it – had but skimmed the surface, the subject then dropped. Forgotten, dismissed … If Jenny even thought about the distinction, she’d likely shrug. It hardly mattered which. It was over. That was then; this is now.

Except it wasn’t over. And it mattered, more than anything.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Afterward …

The elevator rose to her floor; the bell dinged and the doors slid open.

Let’s get this over with. She braced herself for Joe’s interrogation, marched straight to his office.

“What the hell happened, Cathy?”

The tenderness caused by Stephen’s blow had forced a simple hairstyle and Tylenol with her coffee, but she’d returned to work – though with scratches and bruises that wouldn’t be covered up. Joe’s face darkened as she told him almost the whole truth. His fists opened and closed, opened and closed. She sensed he half wanted to take her in his arms, half wanted to go after Stephen himself.

“If he weren’t in the hospital already,” Joe growled, “I’d put him there.” He thunked into his chair, planted his elbows on his desk, laced his fingers. “What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Take the day off.”

“No!”

“Look, I don’t think I can concentrate, thinking how close you came … I sure don’t see how you can.” He plucked a yellow rubber band out of a catch-all tray, dropped it in again.

“I’m fine. You know where to find me.” She started away, looked back. The mottled red of his face had paled to a color just as concerning. “I’m fine,” she repeated, her tone gentled. “Thanks for caring.”

He snorted. “Yeah. You’re welcome.”

She’d not made it to the coffee machine before he called her back. “Hey, Radcliffe! I’ve got a slice of torta di mandorle in the top drawer of my file cabinet. I’ll share.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, grinned boyishly. “From Veniero’s, fresh this morning.”

“Tempting,” she replied. “But I’d better not.”

The torte was a favorite of hers, always had been, and Joe knew that.

But so had Stephen.

I remembered, he’d told her, and she’d known a flash of misgiving, his tone just slightly self-aggrandizing. The ride to New Rochelle had been scented almond, vanilla, and apricot, a box from her favored bakery on the back seat tied with string. He’d expected Sunday breakfast with her, imagined a lifetime of breakfasts together – or the remainder of her life, however short. No one will ever love you the way I do.

She doubted she would ever order the torta again.

“At least let me take you to lunch,” Joe went on.

“Thanks, but I’m meeting Jenny,” she said, opening the urn’s spigot for her fourth cup of the day. She’d have the jitters for sure. “Rain check?”

 

She’d suggested the Dumpling House on Lafayette. Ten minutes early, she waited for Jenny under the green and white striped awning, peering now and then through the window between the neon sign – a cup of steaming noodles – and the illustrated menu taped there. A bad choice. Always crowded, tables necessarily shared with strangers. They’d be unable to talk. Perhaps she’d subconsciously wanted that excuse.

She could tell Jenny only what she’d reported to the police and the hospital’s psychiatric emergency services, leaving out the most painful part of the story and its aftermath.  But even without relaying the consequence to Vincent’s soul and psyche, there was a sticking point between them.

Maybe the breach between them could be healed. Maybe she could just … get over it. What had happened with Stephen was her own fault – her blindness, her guilt, her … ego. Jenny might have directed Stephen to her door, but she’d let him in … again.

Face your fears, she told herself. They had to talk this through – as far as they could.

She joined the order line for takeout instead, later, when Jenny finally arrived, holding up a carry-bag with their favorite ginger chicken soup inside, an order of scallion pancakes to share.

They walked the few blocks to a table in Columbus Park, Jenny shaking her head, repeating “I’m so glad you’re okay” whenever she paused in her story to take a breath.

 

If only, she’d inwardly sorrowed. If only you would say, Cathy – Forgive me. I should have refused to help him out. I should have warned you he was looking for you. Instead I just … alerted you … that he’d be calling. Calling because of me and my big mouth, because I let him persuade me, like I didn’t know how he works people. If I’d kept quiet, none of this would have happened. I promise never to–

But Jenny said none of those things. And after all, she’d apologized already. I gave him your home number and I realized about a second after, I probably shouldn’t have.

“I’m so glad you’re all right, Cathy,” Jenny said once more. “What’s going to happen to Stephen?”

“I don’t know. They won’t let me see him.”

“Why would you even want to?” Jenny asked, her brows knitting. “It’s over.”

It wasn’t over. It might never be. What happened, what Stephen knows, what he might say threatens everything, haunts us, will lay like wedge between Vincent and me. What Vincent did to save me, what he risked, what he bears in consequence. And between us, too, Jenny. This hurt I can’t fully explain without disclosing my true life … Vincent … our love. The disclosing I cannot chance. This wall that’s bricking up between us, its mortar drying …

“You got an invitation to Beth’s party, didn’t you?” Jenny pried off the lid of her soup container. “Want to drive out together?”

A cold, cold stone, the great weight of all she would never share, settled in her stomach.

She felt like weeping. Where can we go from here?

* * *

‘Twas a long parting, indeed.6

Oh, she’d tried … She’d made an effort to spend more time with Jenny. To pursue close and familiar. To push aside their long history of waxing and waning friendship, turning from the memory of that phone call …

            It’s great to hear your voice, stranger!

            Jenny? Is that really Jenny Aronson, world record holder for unreturned phone calls?

To hold fast to the dream of trust, treading lightly, unsure of her footing or the way. Pretending a life lived wholly Above. Never voicing the surprise of her joy. Hoping that time together and conversation would reveal assurances she could count at the end of the day, nuggets of promise she could polish into certainties. Hoping somehow to stop the grains of sand filtering through the hourglass of their friendship …

Months later, rescued again and delivered home, when she’d showered away the murky lake water and the terror, when she insisted Jenny leave her – I’m not going to be alone – she’d hurried them to this … divergence. Her admission opened a door to Jenny’s probings – Soooo, who is he? Light-hearted at first, even joyful. Curious, then curiouser, then confused. They could not go on in that manner – she withholding, Jenny recognizing her hesitation. Her reticence becoming more and more a judgment. No relationship could withstand it.

And when the moment of interview arrived7

Jenny’s wedding, her expected attendance, the invitation for two. Her demand for the truth …

She knew.

There was never another option, Vincent. There is only you. And I am glad for it.

Instinct. The immediate reaction – to protect. It couldn’t be taught. Reason didn’t factor in. It wasn’t a choice. Trust is everything. And she didn’t trust. Not with her heart’s best treasure.

Strange, she thought now. Admitting her anger, owning it, made her less so. A soft-aired space seemed to open within her. A sweet memory surfaced – her father at her bedside in the hospital, one of the long days and nights after her return above. There will come a time when you believe everything is finished, he’d told her, pressing her palm to his rarely-stubbled cheek. And that will be the beginning.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I saw Jenny today,” she admitted, letting the gravity of the fracture weigh on her words, and for a moment, Vincent studied the hammered brass nail heads trimming the footstool he occupied. “She’s getting married,” she went on.

“Married.”

“To Ned, he’s … new. I met him just last week, but he seems … familiar.”

“How so?”

“I can’t put my finger on it. Something in his eyes, his smile maybe. A mannerism.”

“She’s in love?”

“I think so. She’s very … happy.”

“Is she?”

She sighed. His voice was so soft. “Jenny’s known for her … enthusiasms … and their casting off. But I’ve never seen her so–” She tucked her hair behind her ear. His unspoken question begged an answer. “She insisted we come to her wedding. In Charleston. In August – or September or October. A date of our choosing.”

“And a lie regarding my … availability … will no longer do.” He frowned. “What did you say?”

Lie. The word made her wince. The truth of him was exquisite. “I told her I’d come alone, but that didn’t fly. She doesn’t understand, but she knows it’s something about her.”

His frown deepened. She expected him to rise and pace the room, to find a shadowed niche, fold his arms across his chest. And she would have followed, would have allowed no parting. Instead, from his seat at her knees, he braced his hands on the hassock. Waited.

I can’t tell her, Vincent. If she wouldn’t instinctively protect me, how can I trust her to protect you?”

“You had to choose.”

“It wasn’t a choice.”

“But it is because of me.”

I never want to hear that from you again, she sputtered inwardly. As tiresome as evasion and deflection and the constant feint and dodge were in her world above, it was more disheartening to have him imagine their love a burden. Now? After … all this? A passion blazed and she let it fully show, leaning in close, his knee so in the vise of her grip that he flinched. “Yes. Yes! It is because of you. Because of my life with you. The life I love. A choice is something you make between two equally worthy prospects. This wasn’t a choice,” she repeated. “It was time.”

Gently, he disengaged her fastened fingers, pressed a kiss to her palm. “You’re relieved. Is it, too, a terrible relief?”

For once he seemed to need to hear her words. “I’m sad, but yes, I’m relieved. And it’s strange, but I feel more hopeful now – about Jenny – than I ever have before. Not any time soon, but eventually … I hope she’ll understand how important … That there was something so big … I was willing to walk away. But that doesn’t mean our paths won’t converge again someday. I’ll … welcome that.”

“You’ve struggled. With your love for Jenny. Your doubt.”

“I have.”

“With Eimear, you have none.”

In the ensuing stretch of silence she searched for any uncertainty.

“You told me once …” she began, braving the context of his words, “that somehow, somewhere deep inside of me, I just … know.

He rose and held out his hand, drawing her from the chair.

“You’ve been lonely,” he said, his voice like velvet. “Living a demanding solitariness. I wish nothing … nothing more … than the end of your aloneness. Don’t be afraid to want it, Catherine. Don’t be afraid to believe that anything–”

“Is possible,” she finished and, within his embrace, settled against his heart.

 

_________________

Chapter Title: David Whyte. Millenium. 1992.

Opening Quotation: David Whyte. Millenium. 1992

 

 

1. Li Ching Chao. A Morning Dream.

2. Robert Herrick. Upon Julia’s Clothes.

3. Walt Whitman. Proud Music of the Sea-Storm (paraphrased).

4. Ibid.

5. E. Y. Harburg. Over The Rainbow. Lyrics. 1939.

6. Emily Dickinson. ‘Twas a long Parting, but the Time For Interview had Come. 1862.

7. Ibid.

 

6 Comments

  1. Carole, it constantly amazes me — although by now amazement is irrevocably paired with expectation — how you can take so many of the familiar canon elements of BatB and make them your own while still keeping it recognizable and real. That’s quite an accomplishment!

    This chapter was well worth waiting for! It helps us understand more deeply the reasons for so much of what has gone before, while laying some of the groundwork for what is to come. I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of soul groups — soul families, as you have called them — since I first heard of the concept many years ago. Actually, it was another friend from BatB, Rosmarie Hauer, who first told me of them. I was an instant believer, and I still believe. It all makes so much sense. And I love the way you have made that concept the framework for your story. I so look forward to discovering how you will continue with it.

    As always, another beautifully imagined, beautifully written chapter.

    Reply
    • Oh, thank you, Linda! I’m made exceedingly happy by your comments! Your support for this story means everything to me.

      I, too, believe in soul families – and not just for this story or in other stories, but in very real life. I know I’ve found mine! 🙂

      C

      Reply
  2. Beautiful and tender memory of mornings when duties separate them, when she has to leave him, so lovely and touch words.
    Then the conversation about what happened when they were apart, his reassurance that the neighbors are not so threatening, that “their” entrance to Martin’s garden will be preserved.(It was so important to be part of both worlds for Vincent.)
    I like this mutual understanding in the conversation, the bond also does its job because they feel emotions and are tuned into each other. I totally agree with Catherine’s concerns about Jenny, she didn’t protect her how can she trust her?…but I think maybe things could change in the right direction one day after all. The consequences of not being careful were frightening for Catherine and Vincent.
    I think Vincent feels regret that Mitch is just that, that he ended up that way. I watched “Beast Within” yesterday and sensed that Mitch was promising and hopes were pinned on him and so I suspect Vincent and he have some history that we don’t know about, but we will find out, right Carole?
    And like Linda, I think it’s amazing to introduce the concept of souls and that these events, these encounters, all of this was going to happen and with one moment it was set in motion, with one moment of Vincent finding a Catherine, it’s amazing when you think about it and so really beautiful!
    Shades of blue of Vincent’s eyes…ah…you can write a story about it:)
    Carole, I guess delightful words were lacking in my meager resource today, but you know how I love it, every word, every chapter, and I thank you for that with all my heart!

    Reply
    • Ahhh, Paula. You found all that I hoped you would in this chapter. As you know, writing and rewriting it gave me a bit of a hard time – trying to get it right. Your kind words make me very, very glad. 🙂

      You caught the colors of blue of Vincent’s eyes! I think I DO have a story about Catherine’s recognition of the changes of hue. Thank you for inspiring me to grab hold of what was only a swirling idea. It will be my Winterfest goal – to write it!

      Your encouragement means so much to me, Paula. I’m so happy you’re enjoying this story and so very happy to know you’re in my soul family (as I really do believe in them!) Hugs!

      Reply
  3. I LOVE the progress Catherine and Vincent make in this chapter. I LOVE Catherine’s frustration/indignation as she realizes that one after the other of her “surprise” revelations are things Vincent has already learned himself from other sources — and Vincent’s amusement at her consternation.

    But then, there are two revelations — that Mitch is dead and Catherine’s confrontation with Jenny — that are indeed new and prove difficult for Vincent to assimilate. However, instead of falling into old patterns of behavior, they BOTH demonstrate wonderful growth. Catherine leans into her understanding of their Bond to find ways to gently give Vincent the space he needs without withdrawing from his presence completely, and Vincent chooses to accept that space without leaving/running away when feelings/guilt become difficult for him.

    They’re learning how to navigate this “something that has never been before” as a COUPLE, rather than reacting individually, mastering the give and take, push and pull without letting it drive them apart to deal with things all alone.

    Marvelously done!

    HUGS,

    Karen/Lindariel

    Reply
    • Yay! You found the personal growth markers! I am really excited to hear that! 😀 This chapter’s re-re-rewrite gave me some trouble, as I saw, from its first iteration, that I’d not explored that growth as fully as I wanted to. I’m glad to know the concept came through.

      Also, I’m glad you caught the small bit of humor between them! Vincent isn’t always so seriously serious, surely, but we saw so little of his easy manner on screen. Thank you for mentioning that moment. 🙂

      You’re always such a thoughtful reader and I am always and truly encouraged by your kind words.

      C

      Reply

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