Beyond the Stained Glass

THE ONLY GIFT

~ A PORTION OF THYSELF ~

 

Love pleads no excuse of impossibility

sequel to Questions

 

Chapter 1 

 

Monday morning. Too bright. Noisy. Hemmed into the back corner of the elevator overwhelmed by chatter. She was going to need all her resources to make it through this day.

Her desk. Already piled high with new folders, a stack leaning precariously and each of them marked with red on the spine for urgent.

She checked her watch. Nine hours to go, if she were quite lucky.

“Cathy!” Rita met her at the break room door. “You look … not rested! Did your vacation wear you out? Where did you go?”

Umm, I just visited friends out of town. Lots of late night talks … you know.”

“You need an extra week to catch up on your sleep?”

“That might do it.” Hoping to jump start her day with a second cup of coffee, she filled her cup. “What’s been happening here?”

“Joe can’t bear it when you’re gone. He misses you! Don’t tell him I said that.” Rita laughed. “He must have made the turn toward your desk a dozen times and by Wednesday he was in a total snit. He needs a vacation. Or the rest of us do.”

“It looks like he made it to my desk. Did you see the folders? What is all that?”

“Big doings. Joe will want to see us first thing.”

“No doubt.” Catherine winced at the bitterness of the coffee. “Have we changed services? This is bad.”

“No, it’s the same.”

“Must be me.” She thought of William’s rich brew and of the coffee she’d shared with Vincent. That had tasted wonderful and the last kiss she’d taken from him bore the hint of mocha.

“Let’s have lunch,” Rita grinned at her, irresistible. “I want to hear all about your trip.”

“Sure!” she said, smiling and waving as she walked away, but inside she rehearsed her cover story.

* * *

“Cathy!” She read Joe’s lips through the window of his office and his door slammed open. “Cathy! I hope you enjoyed yourself. You won’t get another vacation for a decade! All hell broke loose while you were gone. Didn’t you get my messages? Where were you? That’s the last time I tell you to get out of town. We’ve got a dozen fires to put out, no, two dozen! In my office, five minutes. Bring Rita. And call down to the interns’ shop … tell them to clear everything off their tables. They belong to me now.”

He yanked the door shut behind him, rattling the window in its frame and she saw him grab up his big rubber band from his desk blotter. He resumed a striding pace, his brows knit in study, the elastic stretched between his two twirling hands.

“Home, sweet home …” she said under her breath, as she gathered legal pads and fresh pencils, watering the potted plant with her coffee.

* * *

They had agreed, though Catherine had protested and argued for a while, that she would stay Above this week.

“The whole week?” She made a face. “Don’t say it,” she said, her hand in the air to stop him. “My face will freeze like this. I know. I’ve heard that a million times. It was Dad’s favorite saying after I turned eleven or twelve.”

“Did you often resist and pout, Catherine? And exaggerate?”

“Pout? I don’t pout!” She tried to sound annoyed, but he made her laugh. “All right. All right,” she said, gathering the fabric of his shirt in her fist. “I know you won’t budge once you’ve made up your mind.”

She tried once more – at the park entrance that morning at dawn – to change that agreement. The words she whispered in his ear were few but meaningful, and though she took his breath with them, he managed to reconvey his steadfast opinion.

“I’ll miss you.”

“Be well, Catherine. It’s a beautiful day for a run in the park.”

He called her back when she was no more than a few paces out. Standing in the shadows of the tunnel, he was unseen but she heard him – just – not entirely sure if she heard with her ears or with her heart. She rose on her toes to meet his kiss and it was that last sweet mocha kiss of the morning she remembered all the day through.

* * *

Home at dusk.

She needed a cart to trundle all the paperwork home with her. Joe had been adamant, stacking folder after folder on her outstretched arms. Her feet hurt; her head hurt. Her muscles hurt all over. She couldn’t be sure of the cause – was it the stress of work or pure withdrawal from her days Below? Only a week had passed though an earthquake had shaken her, had made the rivers run backwards. The entire course of her life was changed.

She needed groceries. She needed sleep. She had mountains of paperwork to clear.

I need you, Vincent.

After depositing everything on her couch, she stood staring at the mound, her hands on her hips. Stealthily, she backed away into her bedroom where she changed her clothes. Groceries were necessary or she’d never sleep from hunger. She didn’t remember what she’d eaten that day, and though Rita talked a mile a minute during their measured lunch (Joe was counting), she could not remember a word of their conversation.

“This will not do,” she chastised herself.

So she shopped and came home and made dinner and settled in with a dozen folders in her lap … and fell asleep.

* * *

Later, well into darkness, Vincent dropped onto her balcony. The doors were open to the spring breezes, to him, he knew, and a soft light spread from her living room to her empty bed. He hesitated, though he’d counseled himself on the walk over to not, but still, he lingered at her threshold. He knew she was inside, knew she was well, though exhausted. For a moment, he considered a silent return without waking her … but it was just a moment.

Softly, he called to her. “I’m here.”

She stirred on the couch and when he knew that she saw him, he went to her side and kneeling, rescued the folders spilling from her loosened grip. She traced the bones of his face with the tips of her fingers and smiled a sleepy smile at him. He put kisses in the palm of her hand.

“It was the longest day,” she whispered.

I’m here,” he said.

~ Chapter 2 

 

Thursday afternoon after a long day of depositions from people she did not trust to tell the truth …

The week had worn her out, and her concentration had wandered. More than once Joe had called her back from a daydream.

It is almost morning, Catherine. I must go.

Wake now. Tell me goodbye, for now …

His voice, keen with ardor … once heard only in dreams, now real and soft and so sweet at her ear. And the brush of his lips to the bare skin of her shoulder, still so new, so intoxicating … 

It was harder than she ever could have predicted to have him leave her.

“Hey, Radcliffe!” Joe was at her desk. “I don’t believe the Robardi case can put that look on anybody’s face.” He stood with his arms folded across his chest. “You want to tell me what’s going on with you? I really need you to focus here.”

She started at his words. “I’m sorry, Joe. I’m just a little distracted.”

“By what? You can tell me, whatever it is. We’re friends, right? Is something wrong? Did something – good or bad – happen while you were gone?”

Though it was not quite the whole truth, she told him a partial truth, one she was relieved to share.

“I’m going over to Dad’s tonight, for the next few nights maybe. I’ve just put off emptying his house and now … well, I need to, I need to get it ready to sell. It’s time.”

Joe perched on the corner of her desk, softening his expression and lowering his voice. “That’s a rough thing. Hard, I know. You want some company? I’m good with a tape gun and a magic marker.”

“Oh, thanks. I might take you up on that another time, but tonight Marilyn’s coming to help me. She knew Dad better than anyone and I’ve always felt close to her. It will be good for both of us.”

“Sure. But you know I’ll help you any time, with anything. Just ask me, okay?”

He placed his hand over hers, just for a second, and then he was up and gone. He called to her over his shoulder. “Tomorrow morning, 8:30, in front of the courthouse. Make sure our witnesses remember to show up.”

“I’ll call them all before I leave, don’t worry,” Catherine said to his back as he headed toward his office. He answered her by sticking both hands deep into his hair and, with great exaggeration, pulled at it, never looking back.

Marilyn was coming to help her and she would be meeting Catherine at 6:30 for a quick dinner beforehand. But Vincent would be there too, much later that evening, and she had so many things to show him, things she very much wanted to move Below to their chambers, things she wanted him to have.

She’d asked him if he could meet her there.

“Whatever you need, Catherine,” he’d answered. “If there is a way for me, I will find it.”

* * *

The women stood on the wide granite steps of the Sutton Place townhouse, the steps where Catherine played as a girl, where she poured imaginary tea and dreamed dreams with her imaginary sister. Months had passed since she had first come to clean out the kitchen and sort through her father’s papers and bills. Kay had accompanied her then, and they had spent as much time in tears as in accomplishment. It had been too intense, and she’d found it easier and then easier still to ignore the task. But last week before ... before everything … she received the final settlement papers concerning the firm, and the estate lawyer  included a sternly worded suggestion that she move on with the sale of the house.

He’d pointed out that the sale would mean a great deal of money which, she acknowledged, combined with the settlement, would give her the means to do some good, perhaps a very great good in her worlds, both of them.

The carved, heavy door swung open with a groan of disuse, and a small stack of mail delivered through the slot was swept aside. The grand entryway echoed with their steps on the cold white marble.

“Are you okay?” Marilyn asked, her voice small in the high-ceilinged space.

“I can do this. I will.” Distracted, she stuffed the gathered mail in her bag as she turned slowly in the entry, standing finally at the base of the curving stairs, her hand on the burnished wooden railing. “I still can’t believe it sometimes. I keep expecting to hear his voice or see him. He used to sing the silliest song every morning, coming up these steps. I’d lie in my bed, wanting to stay under the covers, and his voice would get louder and louder. I knew I’d better have my feet on the floor by the time the song ended or I’d be in for a “terrible tickle”. That’s what we called it …”

“He did have a beautiful singing voice,” Marilyn agreed. “I almost looked forward to rainy days …”

“I know!” Catherine’s face lit up with the memory, “Singing in the Rain! He was …”

“Spectacular?”

“Yes, he was that.” She squared her shoulders. “I’m ready.”

“Me, too.”

* * *

“Some of the furniture I know I’ll have moved to storage. But some of it … Do you think I could just sell it with the house, or should I call an antiques dealer?”

“You’re right, some pieces are just so large. Weren’t they in your mother’s family? They surely have quite a bit of value.”

“I guess …” Her thoughts wandered as they stood at the door of the office. She wanted the large, round cherry desk for her space, as she had already come to think of it, for the center chamber upstairs above the library. She wanted her father’s books and her father’s oversized, high-backed leather chairs. She wanted the Tiffany floor lamps and the desk light with its marbleized green glass shade whether they would work Below or not and the antique globe and the tufted ottomans and the marquetry side tables and the buttery-soft leather sofa. They needed a sofa, a proper place to sit together. She wanted the photographs and the delicate chambered nautilus he kept on the mantle. She wanted the whole room, the essence of her father manifest in shape and scent, with her Below, where her heart dwelt.

“Where do you want to start?” Marilyn asked.

“Would you help me with his clothes? I had boxes delivered months ago, but I just couldn’t do it then. I’m donating them to the Rescue Mission. They’re coming for a pick up Saturday.”

“Sure, honey.” And they climbed the steps together.

* * *

“Are you sure you’re okay to stay here alone?” Marilyn asked, as she stood by the waiting cab.

“I’ll just be a little while longer. I want to go through some old photographs first. There’re a few I’d like to have restored.”

“Do you think I could have a copy of the one your Dad kept on his desk?”

“The one of us in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle?”

“He always referred to it as the ‘calm before the storm’. He cleaned the glass on it every morning. I think he sort of … meditated … on it. It was a happy time for him,” Marilyn said.

“Too bad about his shoes …”

Marilyn laughed. “That’s exactly what he would say! He’d look up at me every morning and say, ‘See, the calm before the storm. Too bad about my shoes.’ Then I’d show in his first appointment of the day. It was … poetic in a way.”

“I’ll have it copied for you,” she said, giving her friend a final hug. “Thank you, Marilyn. For everything.”

“I love you, honey. I miss him. Call me, okay?”

“I will,” she said, and the taxi pulled away from the curb.

* * *

As the moon rose full in the sky, Vincent climbed onto the rooftop garden from the next building over. Two carved unicorns topped the stanchions at each corner of the limestone townhouse, magical guardians of her childhood, and in the shadow of one, he waited for her to come to him.

The doorway opened, and she seemed to glide along in the moonlight, her movements those of a dancer, fluid and graceful. She could not have seen him, yet she walked straight to his hiding place and into his embrace. Holding her, the sweetest yielding gift, the scent of her hair …

“It was the longest day,” he whispered.

* * *

“Vincent, I told you once when we found Eric and Ellie, that I’d lived in luxury all my life.”

“You did.”

“I can’t withhold the truth from you. You’ll see. It was more than luxury. I hope you won’t think it … Well, there are some things that I have a strong attachment to and want to keep and others … that were just always here.”

“There is no shame in wealth fairly earned.”

“I earned none of it. But it is mine now … and when I sell it, I’ll have the resources to do something important. You will help me, won’t you, to find the important thing? Help me use it for good?”

“You would use it no other way. I know that.”

He held her close and kissed her when she turned her face up to his.

“Show me. Show me the place of your childhood, Catherine. I want to see everything.”

* * *

So from floor to floor, she took him on a tour of her youth. She showed him her best hiding place, an alcove built in beside the fourth floor fireplace, a massive, carved and polished mahogany masterpiece.

“I thought I was invisible here. I cried for hours when one day, the housekeeper walked right over to me, leaned in and told me it was just a place to stack wood and that it was time for my lunch.”

She took him into her old bedroom, where twin beds stood against opposite walls, still covered in layers of eyelet, lawn and lace, where arched windows of watery glass framed the towers and tracery of the Queensboro Bridge. The lamps were dimmed to a soft, satin glow.

“There’s a park in the back, with trees and then the river. It’s safe to leave the curtains open,” she assured him as he wandered her room, touching, memorizing, learning.

Shelves were piled full with books, picture books and all of Baum’s Oz and Carrolls’ Wonderland, The Secret Garden, Dr. Doolittle’s Voyages and Miracles on Maple Hill, the Little House books and Dr. Seuss. “So that’s where you are. I thought you were lost.” She pulled one from the stacks. “I bought this book just a few years ago at a signing. I must have left it here. Do you know this artist?” She showed him a large book with a strange charcoal-colored picture on its cover.

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick … no, I’ve never seen it.”1  Vincent took it from her and began paging through. In just a moment he was lost in it, his eyes wider at every drawing. She laughed, her sweet, delighted laugh.

“I knew you’d like that. Take it with you tonight. I’ll want to pack all these books up and bring them Below. Someday we will …”

She wouldn’t go on with her sentence – though he knew – and he met her gaze with his own longing. She recalled the terrible, painful moment when he confessed his deepest fears to her, for her. Between them, in this sudden quiet, a feeling of deep, abiding faith grew even stronger, more profound and palpable. 

With all that I am … 

* * *

“Do you think we can get this furniture below?”

“If we ask Mouse, can you imagine him answering negatively?”

“No, but do you think we can get this furniture below?”

“We’ve managed to carry unique things great distances. There’s a helper with a warehouse and an entrance we use.”

“Do you like the chairs? The couch?”

“The seating seems more … to size than that in your apartment, Catherine.”

Jamie would be entertained by the knowledge that Vincent had yet, even now, to sit on one of her couches, electing to lean against it from a position near her on the floor.

“Joe calls them dinky; even he looks funny on them. Sit down here.” She patted the cushion. “We need somewhere to be together, so when you read to me we’re comfortable and near.”

He settled against the arm and she seized the opportunity to snuggle close to him. “Feels good, don’t you think?” she murmured.

“Yes. Good. Very good.” He sighed in mild surprise. Indoors Above with her was less threatening than he’d ever imagined it could be, though it seemed like a fairy tale in this grand house, almost a mansion, a castle. The irony of that thought was not lost on him. He marveled at her ability to accept …

In his reverie, he felt a strange coldness, sudden and without origin. He loosed his senses, searching, listening … but it was gone.

She hopped up, interrupting his slide toward vague unease, and crawled under her Father’s desk, disappearing behind the solid knee-wall. She emerged with her find, a small, folded square of yellowed paper.

“It’s still here!” she crowed. “Look! I wrote this when I was maybe seven or eight. I was playing under the desk with probably a dozen dolls, when Dad and Mother came in. They didn’t see me and I sat so still. You never know what you might learn, staying still. Mother put a record on the stereo. It used to be over by the window. I’ll never forget the song. It was Frank Sinatra. I’ve Got You Under My Skin. They started to dance and Dad sang along. Here. Read this.”

She handed him the fragile paper which he carefully opened. He smiled as he read aloud.

“It says, ‘I, Catherine Chandler, will never marry a man who does not sing and dance. Never. Ever. I mean it. Signed, Catherine Chandler.’”

She eyed him with mischief. “Well, do you?”

“Do I what?” He looked up at her with confusion.

“Sing and dance.”

“You’ve enjoyed my dancing, Catherine. At least you seemed to. But the waltz is both the beginning and the end of my talents.”

“What about the singing?”

“No.”

“Let me hear you.”

“No.”

“Anything, just a verse of something.”

No.

She looked hard at him, determining how she might cajole him …

“No,” he repeated, refolding the note along it’s aged creases, laying it on the table. “You will have to retract your vow if singing is a requisite.”

After a moment, she took his hands, bringing them to her lips. “Vincent, thank you. I thought tonight would be terribly difficult and you’ve made it … wonderful for me. I can remember and not cry. You’ve healed me again and I can laugh, thinking of what I have, not what I’ve lost.”

“I want to hear your stories, Catherine, any that you will tell me. And your laugh … thrills me, always.”

She held his gaze for several moments, love and memory playing on her face … until a sparkle flickered in her eyes, and her mouth curved in impishness, and she said …

“So tell me, Vincent. Do you … .hum?”

What?!” he spluttered and laughed loud and long – a sight and sound she would cherish forever. He pulled her into his lap and held her close, there in her childhood home Above, where its stony limits protected them and kept the world out.

* * *

The contents of the wine cellar would be boxed for William, and he would have the knives, the napery and the copper pots. Mary would delight in all the fine bed linens and towels of Egyptian cotton. They would use the long dining room table and its dozen chairs in their atrium, while the twin beds from Catherine’s room would go into the two empty bedchambers on the upper gallery. They would crate all the books and her father’s collection of antique maps to expand the library Below.

She asked if he saw anything he wanted for himself.

He did. He wanted all the photographs of her and there were many, but one held his attention.

“My mother took that one.” she said, peering over his arm. “Usually it was Dad with the camera, but I think he was laughing too hard to make the snap.”

In the black and white photograph, a very young Catherine dressed in Easter finery stood holding an empty sugar cone. Squashed under one foot were the the splattered remains of a once much-desired double dip. Her face was one of shock and five year-old despair as she bent to see the disaster at her feet.

“Do you remember this day?” Vincent asked her.

“How could I forget?” she chortled. “Right after this was taken, Daddy bought me a balloon to make up for the ice cream cone. But when we got in the car to drive home, he opened the sunroof and my balloon was sucked right out and up into the sky. I was heartbroken. Later, when I got home, I declared it the worst day of my life.”

“If only it had remained so,” Vincent said.

“Oh, I don’t know.” She leaned into him. “Look what came of the true worst.”

And there was, in her father’s room, a small camphor-wood chest, ornately carved in strange creatures and dragons and birds, sailing ships tossed upon wild waves and trees bent in the wind, bearing a heavy brass hasp and rope handles. He wanted to move the gifts he’d massed in the mirror room – evidences of his wishes fulfilled – from their bedchamber to a more private place. He would always be grateful and always amazed, and there would be days he knew when he would want to take each gift into his hands just to remember, just to count his blessings. This chest would be a perfect new home.  

He lifted the lid to find it not quite empty. “Catherine, you must see this.”

At his side, she peered into the chest. Two small treasures lay on the quilted satin padding. She squealed with glee, for one was an open-topped, velvet lined box and in it was the round, red rubber clown’s nose her Father had worn to coax her into good humor.

“He kept it! All these years! I’m surprised it hasn’t disintegrated.” She cradled it in her hands, remembering the last time he’d worn it … in her guest chamber Below. This would stay with her until it turned to dust.

The second treasure was in a miniature manilla envelope. She reached for it, unwound the circled string closure and shook out a heavy, old-fashioned key. Inside she found a folded a sheet of the rich yellow ragged paper her father favored for writing.

It’s Dad’s handwriting …” Her throat tightened and she passed the note into Vincent’s hands.

The only gift is a portion of thyself – therefore the poet brings his poem; the miner, a gem: the painter, his picture; a father, his love, inexpressible in words but until, and even after, his last breath. 2

“Do you know what this opens, Catherine?” Vincent asked.

“No. I’ve never seen it. He must mean something by it.” Tears threatening to spill from her eyes, she tucked the key and the note inside the little box with the red, rubber nose and closed the lid of the chest.

Again …  he felt a strange and sudden coldness, though it was erased by the warmth of her arms around him. There was a moment, a fleeting sureness of having had that feeling once before … before this night … but it dissipated and he passed it off as a sensation of Catherine’s grief shared through their bond. As he held her, the memory slipped away.

* * *

It was late and she would have few hours to sleep. Vincent insisted she call a cab for home so that she might rest and insisted she tell him goodnight here before he went Below. He lingered on the rooftop in the shadow of the stone unicorn and she knew he was there, but as she stepped into the taxi, she looked up. He moved forward from the darkness into the silvery moonlight, his hood down, his mane of hair riding the breezes off the river. He was like an angel watching over her. His eyes were stars in the night.

___________________

 

  1. Chris Van Allsburg. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1984.
  2. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Gifts. Essays: Second Series. 1844.

 ~ Chapter 3 

 

In the courtroom the next morning, Catherine mustered her professional strength with three cups of strong coffee and Joe and she were relatively successful – only one continuance out of the three morning appearances.

“Three down and only about a hundred to go,” Joe rubbed his face hard as he spoke. “You hungry? You better put something in there with all that caffeine, Cathy.”

“Can we take more than thirty-two minutes this time?”

“Ha Ha.” He checked his watch. “This judge will be in a hurry to get through the afternoon. Friday, and all, you know … so I’m thinking, forty minutes at the outside. We get back early and rack up some brownie points if we’re sitting there waiting on him.”

“That’s not how the legal system is supposed to work!” Cathy said, feigning horror.

What time is the forensic accountant showing up?”

“I told her 1:30.”

“Call her, see if she can push that to 1:00. Hey, how about a souvlaki. That cart with the funny mirrors has great ones.”

“I like the felafel from that man with the red and blue wagon better.

“Picky, aren’t you Radcliffe.”

They sat at a stone table on stone seats, where Joe ate his souvlaki and half her sandwich. “You know, you’re right about those felafel. Pretty tasty.” He downed half his soda in a gulp. “What happened to your appetite?” He went on without letting her answer. “What are you doing this weekend? I’ve got this buddy coming in. I think you’d like him. We went through law school together. Smart, funny, real good looking, like me.” Joe grinned at her, “Likes blues music. I thought we’d go to the 55 Bar over on Christopher Street. Wanna go?”

Her reaction was instinctive and she had to control her tongue. She wanted to tell him, to tell Joe, who was her friend, why she couldn’t meet his buddy, not in the way he meant. But she refrained and only shook her head. “Can’t,” she said innocently. “I’ve already made plans, but thanks.”

“Really, I think you’d like this guy. His name’s Ben, and trust me, he’s not a loser. He’s a Mets fan.”

“That’s enough right there.” Catherine said with a laugh. “But really, I can’t. There’s … well, I … I can’t.”

Joe looked at her with curiosity. “You’re not telling me something I probably need to know, Radcliffe.”

She just smiled at him and gathered their lunch detritus to throw away.

“Do you have a sister, Cathy?” he said to her back. Under his breath, he said, “I sure wish you did sometimes.”

* * *

They were early back to the courtroom and she had time to go through the mail she’d retrieved from her father’s entryway and stuffed in her bag the night before. She’d forwarded his mail to her address, or so she’d thought, but a dozen or so envelopes were missed this time, a mish-mash of charity event announcements and travel advertisements, except for one letter.

She gasped when she read the return address.

777? What is going on?” she muttered, as she slipped the page out of its envelope.

Dear Mr. Chandler,

The item you desired proved elusive, however, we did not abandon our search! Though it has been several months since you made your request, we are happy to inform you that we have been notified of its imminent arrival!

We do so hope you will be pleased with our find. We will hold this treasure for your perusal at our shop. Please visit at your earliest convenience.

It was signed in a swirling hand that looked suspiciously like Smythe.

PS. I’ve been told the “illustrations” are simply beautiful.

Attached to the letter there was a copy of the receipt for her father’s order. The copy was smudged and she couldn’t make out what was ordered, but she could read the date.

She read the date again. And then she read it a third time.

What … is … going … on?

“That’s simply not possible!” she said not quite to herself, capturing Joe’s attention.

“Cathy, you don’t look so good. What’s the matter?”

“I don’t think that felafel agreed with me,” she said, faking a cough and stuffing the letter back into her bag. It would not do at all to involve Joe in this situation again. Given the circumstances, she didn’t know what might be waiting for her at 777. She longed to bolt from the room.

Checking her watch, she began praying to the courtroom gods for continuances.

Smythe …” she growled to herself. “Illustrations? What could that … Kristopher?

Daddy?” she wondered, in amazement.

* * *

She flew from the courthouse steps to hail a cab, leaving Joe to shake his head.

“Whoever she’s heading for, he’s one lucky guy,” Joe thought. Turning to Rita, he asked, “Want to take in a happy hour? And what are you doing this weekend, I got this buddy coming in …”

* * *

The door to 777 was locked and the windows were dark. Rapping on the glass and rattling the door handle, she attracted a fair amount of attention.

“I didn’t know the used book business was so … emotional,” a man said, behind her. She whirled on the shopkeeper from next door.

“Where is Mr. Smythe? What time does he open tomorrow? Tell me!!!”

“Lady, I don’t keep tabs on him. Sometimes he’s here and sometimes he’s not.”

The shopkeeper scooted back inside, leaving Catherine heaving for breath on the sidewalk. She gave the door one last yank, believing she might rip it off its hinges, when she was sure she saw movement inside. She pressed close to the glass, shading her eyes with both hands. Was someone in there wearing a ball cap?

Kristopher!” she yelled. “Get out here and open this door!

She waited and watched, but the moving shadows she thought she’d seen were stilled. There was nothing to do but return home.

She would be back.

* * *

Vincent could sense her agitation. Her energy snapped through him, ricocheting, revving his heart rate, and for a brief moment he thought, for the first time he could remember, that it might be a good thing he was so far away from her. It was a curious sensation, one that held no danger he could discern. Not for her, anyway, though he believed she might be the dangerous one this night.

“I don’t think we can finish this today,” Cullen sighed, leaning against the stone and sliding down to a crouch. “I’ll be glad when Kanin gets back. I’m just not sure about the strength of this wall.”

Vincent rested his muscles, stretching out his arms and arching his back. “This is complicated,” he agreed. “But I think we have it in hand. Another day, perhaps a little less, if we make an early start tomorrow.”

“I think I might fall asleep right now,” Cullen said, yawning. “I could probably force myself to do a couple more hours though.”

“Mouse will be back soon with our supper and the bolts we need, and I need to get a message to Pascal for Catherine. Rest until Mouse and I return.” Vincent swept down the tunnel to the nearest pipe. He would not be home, Below or Above, tonight.

He had the feeling that Catherine was not going to like that.

* * *

Mouse trudged up the corridor with a bag of tools and supplies and a knapsack of food. Vincent took the tool bag from him, lightening his load but not his demeanor.

“You seem … glum, Mouse.”

“Need advice.”

“Concerning …?”

“Women.”

Ah.”

“Messed up, I think. Don’t know, exactly.”

“Tell me. Perhaps I can offer you … insight.”

Mouse was silent for several paces, though his face showed his many emotions.

“Kissed her.”

“An auspicious beginning …”

“No. Ending.”

“Tell me the whole story, Mouse. In a bit more detail, if you can.”

“Okay, then, fine. Kissed her. She said, needed practice.”

“Go on.” Vincent encouraged him with a hand to his shoulder and a smile.

“I said, okay good, okay fine, with who? Brooke? Miriam?” Mouse hung his head. “Jamie said, hopeless. Stomped off.” Mouse looked plaintively up at Vincent and wailed, “She said, practice!”

“Mouse, I think she meant you and she should … practice.”

“Oh.” Mouse grew more morose. “Didn’t get it.”

“Perhaps, you can repair the misunderstanding tomorrow, when we return.”

“Kinda scared of her now.” Mouse shuddered at the thought.

“Be brave, Mouse.”

“Worth it?”

“Worth it.”

* * *

Catherine headed straight for her basement without even stopping by her apartment. She was whirling from the bottom rung when Zach ran through the doorway.

Yah!” she squealed.

Yipes!” he cried.

They both put their hands over their hearts and struggled to quiet their breath.

“Wow, Catherine,” Zach was the first able to speak. “Thanks for not karate-chopping me.”

“You’re welcome,” she wheezed. “You came this close–” she said, her fingers pinched together, “to going down.”

They broke into laughter, though they did try to keep it soft.

“To what, or to whom, do I owe this visit, Zach?”

“Message from Vincent.” He was still a bit winded, both from his run to her basement and the surprise of her. “On the pipes. There was a security emergency near an entrance, way up north. He wanted you to know. They have to spend the night up there.”

“Oh.” She was deflated by the news. The letter from Smythe was burning her with its curiousness and impossibleness. She wanted to share it. Now. She wanted Vincent to bash a hole in 777’s basement so she could ransack the place.

Thwarted. She did not enjoy being thwarted.

But she recovered for Zach’s sake and sent him back with a return message for Vincent – that she would occupy herself and that he should be careful. And then she climbed back up, resigned to waiting until tomorrow for resolution, though she gave the door above the ladder a little kick as she closed it.

She winced and hopped a few steps, “Ouch!

Back in her apartment, she felt adrift. Her pent-up energy needed an outlet. She settled on returning to her father’s home to label the furniture for the movers. She needed to tag what would go to storage, and she’d called a dealer to appraise the remaining antiques. It would require at least a couple of days to supervise the crating of the items she would move Below. Luckily the helper with the warehouse rented storage spaces as well and there were things she would hold for a future she could feel, but as yet, could not name.

She packed a small bag, deciding to stay over until the next morning to meet the Mission truck. It was something to do and perhaps she could discover the lock that wanted the key they’d found.

* * *

She spent hours boxing photographs and keepsakes, quiet and content, alone in the house, nearly forgetting the mystery of the letter. There was a warmth with her there, almost a feeling of an embrace, as if her parents were encouraging her, praising her. She’d been ambivalent about selling the house for a long while but she was sure now, that it was right and time.

Past midnight, she climbed to the rooftop and stood where Vincent had the night before. She missed him and she loved him and they’d lived happily almost a week in both worlds

* * *

Saturday morning light woke her early as it had years ago. She lay in her childhood bed, safe under the soft and sweet-smelling covers. Soon this bed would be Below, filling a space for now, waiting …

For a short while, she let herself drift in dreams and then she fell into memory, lustful morning memory … how his face softened in sleep, how beautiful he was. How she’d lie on her side, watching him and he would always wake to stoke her arm or brush the hair from her eyes. His gentle kisses, slow and tender in the mornings … and his first word, always, her name …

“Do you feel this, Vincent?” She suspected he could, speaking to him at their distance, calling him with touch and fantasy. But in a few moments, she released him from what he would likely report to her as a torture, sweet but distracting. 

She went for a shower, a long, calming shower. And then she remembered … 

Smythe.

* * *

The rest of the morning tried her patience.

Catherine had put aside an antique scrimshaw walking cane for Father, one with a brass-banded, tooth handle and a turned and twisted whalebone shaft that glowed with a rich patina. She polished it lovingly and cleaned the brass details with paste and a small soft brush between calls to Smythe’s Bookstore that repeatedly went unanswered.

The Mission truck was almost on time, and they took away the boxes of three-piece business suits and formal wear, things unnecessary to anyone in the Tunnels, but clothes that would bring decent revenue to the agency. Even her father’s casual wear was too dressy for Below, though she had saved the sweaters and overcoats. And then the antiques appraiser arrived and the rest of the day was spent in rather dull conversation and necessary decision making.

Tasks completed. The moving company contracted for the next Saturday, as she was close to positive Joe would never hear of her taking time off so soon after her … vacation. The antiques dealer in auction heaven. Little yellow stickers on the furniture she would move to storage and Below.

Time to head to the Village.

* * *

The taxi driver was a talker and Catherine was ready to throttle him by the time she arrived at 777. No doubt – she was on the edge. The Abyss would seem a quiet, safe place in comparison.

The letter Smythe had written to her father recounted the order he placed for … something … which in itself might be discounted as simple coincidence. Except for the one detail she’d so wanted to share with Vincent last night …

The date her father has supposedly placed his order was several days after his death, the same day he’d … visited … her Below in the guest room she’d used, when he’d worn his red, rubber nose for her one last time. When he’d told her he had heard her and that he’d heard Vincent as well. Catherine needed to hold on to some of her certainties, she’d said that before, yet … there was Kristopher’s oil portrait, and all the pipes and strange chambers of the Tunnels Below … 

And there was Vincent.

Mr. Smythe had some explaining to do. He’d better be in the shop.

She marched to the door with determination and pulled hard on the latch, fully expecting it to be locked as before. It swung open with her force, however, and suddenly, she was inside. Ever suspicious, she peered around the stacks, seeing no one, but not so sure there weren’t shadows of dark-haired, rumpled artists fading away at every corner.

“Hello, Mr. Smythe? Hello!”

She heard a rustling in the back room and the proprietor finally wandered out, his perpetually innocent absentmindedness already fraying her nerves.

“Oh, it’s you!” he said, looking behind her, over her shoulder. “Where’s your partner, the tit-willow? I have some vintage comic books he might enjoy, Archie and Veronica … and Jughead.”

“Mr. Smythe, I need you to look at something.” She smoothed the letter out on the counter in front of him, ignoring his comments, though she thought Joe might like vintage comic books. She tried not to smile.

He deposited the stack of books he carried on the counter and began to polish his glasses, taking far too much time to do so, in Catherine’s opinion.

“Is there a problem?” he asked.

“Just look at this and tell me if you remember the man who placed this order.”

Mr. Smythe picked up the letter and made a show of reading very slowly.

“Yes, yes. Well, well. Let me see … oh, yes. That was quite the challenge to find. But find it we did! How did you come to have this letter, Ms. Chandler? OH!” He looked a bit chagrined as if he’d been caught. “Is Charles Chandler a relative of yours?”

“He is … was my father, Mr. Smythe. He died.”

“Oh dear, I’m so terribly sorry. Have you come to collect his order, then?”

“Well, yes, but first … wait! Come back!” Smythe had ambled toward the back room and Catherine had a strong image of him exiting the rear door, never to be seen again.

“First, Mr. Smythe, please. Could the date on this order possibly be wrong?”

Smythe took the paper again and made another great show of looking from letter to receipt to envelope and back again. “I can’t possibly remember the date, Ms. Chandler. It could be right; it could be wrong. Why do you ask? The important thing is we have the item. You do want it, don’t you?”

“Do you remember my father?”

“Of course. Tall, I think, quite slim.” Smythe patted his belly. “An example for us all, I’m sure.”

She found him both maddening and oddly endearing. “My father died, several days before the date of this receipt,” she stated, stepping back to watch his reaction.

Mr. Smythe stood quite still, a benign expression on his face, and pondered her words. Finally, he said, “Well, the date must be incorrect, then … because, otherwise …” A small smile played at the corners if his lips. “I remember your father spent a great deal of time in the stacks that day. He was with someone; he must have been, because I overheard snippets of their conversation.”

“Do you remember what he said? Who he was talking to?”

“Oh, no, my dear. I never eavesdrop … or spy. People deserve a certain privacy, you see. I seem to remember he found a book, however … yes, a first edition … Christina Rossetti, I believe. Her sonnets.” He began to polish his glasses again.

“How’s Kristopher these days?” She changed the subject abruptly.

Mr. Smythe gave her his trademark look of teasing concern. “Kristopher is dead, my dear. I thought we established that ages ago.”

“Well, I thought, maybe these … illustrations … you mentioned here, were Kristopher’s doing.”

“Well, now that is a mystery, isn’t it. I don’t remember for the life of me why I wrote that.”

“I don’t believe that, Mr. Smythe,” she replied, indignant.

“The perils of growing older, I fear. My mind is … a blank,“ he answered, gazing into the middle distance.

Then he did disappear into the back room and was gone far too long for Catherine’s liking. Not one other person came into the shop. How does he stay in business? She could hear him, rummaging and talking to himself, and she kept her ears attuned to anything that sounded like a rear door opening and closing. Finally he appeared, disheveled and a little dusty, but carrying a large box.

“Here it is. Now I must tell you some things first, about this, before we open it. We have just a teeny little problem.”

Catherine eyed the box. “What is it? And what kind of problem do I … do we have?”

“In due time, my dear. Let me give you some history first. Now your father described this item in great detail to me. Apparently he’d seen one years ago in a bookshop in Edinburgh. He said you were quite taken with it as a little girl and were terribly upset when it was not for sale.

“We contacted all the rare bookshops in that city and eventually found, if not the exact item, then one very close to the original you saw there years ago.

“Now I don’t want to alarm you under the circumstances, but this item has a rather morbid name. Though it is often referred to as a book box, it is also called a book casket. It is designed to protect one’s most precious treasures. This is a very special one, very beautiful and rare.”

She felt a strange coldness at the description – book casket – and the memories of that sad, eleven-year-old girl traveling with her grieving father flooded back to her. She had wanted so many things on that trip, trying to replace the one thing, the one person, who could not be replaced. Yet she was anxious to see it and wanted Smythe to stop talking and give it to her.

Mr. Smythe slowly untied the strings of the box and pulled the box top up to reveal the treasure nestled in layers of tissue paper and wrapped in soft flannel. He lifted away the cloth and at once, Catherine knew it. She recalled her longing for it and the magic it seemed to promise. It was beautiful.

It was shaped like a book, maybe sixteen inches wide and twenty inches long, with a spine and covers, front and back, but it also had solid sides, making it indeed a box. It was very old and crafted of sterling silver with intricate Celtic designs engraved and gilded with gold on the covers. It closed with an etched brass hasp held fast by a filigreed, heart-shaped padlock set with a garnet. The lock was exactly as the one she remembered; the stone blood red, dark and infinite. She reached out to touch it, stunned into silence and memory.

“What’s inside?” she whispered.

“Ah,” he said, sadly. “Therein lies our little problem.”

Catherine looked up at him, willing him to get on with it, Tell me. Show me. Her mind screamed the words, though she appeared to wait patiently. A part of her worried over the contents and another part felt an almost giddy anticipation.

“Go on,” she encouraged. “The problem …?”

“There is obviously something inside the … um, box. But we didn’t receive the key for the lock with the shipment and we’ve been unable to contact the seller again. In no way could we justify prying it open ourselves. So we’ve waited for you … and here you are. The treasure has found its rightful home, with you. And I am truly sorry about your father, my dear.”

With that, Smythe replaced the box top and retied the strings, all while Catherine watched, mesmerized, skeptical and thrilled at once. And then it came to her … 

The key.

She had the key.

~ Chapter 4

 

Vincent was hard-pressed to keep his mind on his task and it was necessary that he do so. This was an important entrance into the northern tunnels, one of the few in the Bronx, and incursions by strangers, even if only teenagers on a dare, could not be allowed. The hidden panels and false walls were some of the oldest in their perimeter and the most primitive in design. It was a priority they be reconfigured, as there was evidence that visitors were exploring past the safe zones.

His thoughts wandered, pulled as they were by Catherine’s emotional swings of anxiety, wonder and near anger. He could not focus on one emotion, but he knew she needed him. Willing himself to narrow his connection to her, to concentrate, to proceed methodically and as quickly as possible, he set about completing the job.

He continued to drill, using an old-fashioned brace and bit, while Cullen bolted a barricade together between two false walls. It was a plan to buy them time to think and design, though complicated enough on its own. Finally they reached a stopping place, finding it good enough, or at least the best they could manage on emergency notice. Mouse made intricate drawings and Cullen took precise measurements, while Vincent patrolled the area, erasing their footprints, checking for telltale debris and litter.

As they began the long walk home, Vincent could feel Catherine calling him, willing him to come to her. He knew where to find her, but he was still hours away in miles and until dark.

* * *

Catherine carried the package Mr. Smythe had given her reverently through the front door of Sutton Place and into her father’s office. She set the parcel on the desk and went as far as untying the strings and lifting up the top. Then she backed away to think.

Everything in her propelled her toward the key Vincent had found in her father’s room, in the camphor-wood box he’d chosen for himself. It was there still, and she had only to retrieve it and open the jeweled padlock. So she fetched the chest, within it the key, but willed herself to wait, needing him with her, unwilling to do this alone though her curiosity roared and raged.

It might be hours before Vincent could come to her and she was not entirely sure he would know where to find her. If only she knew of a nearby entrance where she could find a pipe and send a message. But he would tell her to simply trust in their bond, in his knowing of her. 

And so she did.

Another mystery played havoc with her certainties. Smythe said her father had purchased a book, a first edition of Christina Rossetti’s sonnets.

“Ghosts don’t buy books,” she said aloud to herself, startled by her own words in the silence of the house. Of course, Mr. Smythe had not used the word purchased, but had said found. There might be a difference. And Kristopher had handed her a book, Mr. Tennyson’s book, in that very shop. Kristopher … 

She couldn’t go through the riddle of him again, not right now.

She began a search of the bookshelves in the office. She would look until she found it, but what would she discover on the inside cover, whose book plate? She was anxious, in all senses of the word.

Not in the office, not in the library, not on the chair-side table in the den. There were so many rooms! What time is it … when will Vincent come? Many times she returned to the locked treasure, thinking she could no longer wait to open it, but each time she checked her desire to know and continued her search.

At last, on the fifth floor in a small, slope-ceilinged room her mother had used as a retreat, she found it. Soft, leather bound and gilt-edged, a slim, supple volume, it lay in the seat of her mother’s chair as if she had been interrupted and would soon return to finish the poems. Catherine held her breath as she picked it up and clamped her fingers tight on the bindings, holding it shut, hurrying with it to the office downstairs. Now there were two things she wanted desperately to open, two things that would torment her until Vincent arrived.

* * *

Father would require a report but that must wait, or he could question Mouse who knew the answers if one had the patience to interpret. He should bathe, he knew, for the days of toil had left him dusty and sweaty, so he avoided the library and walked purposefully to their private chambers where he hurried his ablutions. Darkness, deep enough, would fall soon and he wanted to be as close as possible to her by then, waiting for it.

She’d left the rooftop door ajar for him, the lamps dim along the stairs and hallways. He went down and down, to find her curled asleep in a chair, her feet tucked beneath her. As he knelt before her, he called her name.

See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!” he whispered. “O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek.”1

She was learning to wake easily at his silent approach. To see that beautiful face before her, the bluest eyes and the smile he wore more often than not of late, sent delighted shivers through her. She slid from the chair into his arms before she started her story, snugging herself to him as he nestled his face in her hair. Whatever they were to find, they would find together. And suddenly, it could wait.

* * *

“You have much to tell me,” he said. ‘Where shall you begin?”

“I don’t even know how to start. It’s all just too fantastic and you know …”

“You don’t believe in magic … or ghosts.” he said, finishing her sentence.

“You have to see this, Vincent,” she said as she led him to the desk. She recounted her last two days, beginning with gathering the mail from the entry floor.

She smoothed the letter out for him, much as she had for Smythe, and he read it carefully, more than once. She pointed out the dates, expecting him to suggest it all a mistake, but his response was to draw back from her, just a little, with a bemused and anticipatory look on his face.

“What?” she asked. “You don’t think …”

“Tell me the rest, Catherine, I will think later.”

So she told him the conversation, Smythe’s story, word for word … of her father’s request, of her childhood visit to Edinburgh and her sadness there, of the book of sonnets her father … found … and that she had found, of the book box or casket or whatever … of the padlock with no key … 

“You haven’t opened the box? Or the book?” He shook his head in amazement. “How could you resist? Generally your curiosity is undeniable.”

“I had to wait for you. I just had to.”

“Are you ready then? To see?”

“No,” she said, “I mean, yes. Yes!”

“Catherine, are you afraid?”

“No, not afraid. I’m … something, though. I just don’t know what.”

They stood together at the desk, before all the mysteries amassed there.

“If this book belonged to Kristopher …” She could not finish her thought.

“We both know already,” he said, his voice hushed below a whisper. He opened the cover to find the familiar and expected book plate.

Vincent picked up the volume, fanning the aged, ivory pages. It was a beautiful book, with tissue papers bound between the printed poems. A ribbon, thin and pale, almost unnoticed, marked a page, and he read …

I lov’d you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drown’d the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seem’d to wax more strong;
I lov’d and guess’d at you, you construed me–
And lov’d me for what might or might not be
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not “mine” or “thine;”
With separate “I” and “thou” free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of “thine that is not mine;”
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.2

His voice was faltering by the end, so meaningful and tender were the words, marked by someone, left for her to hear. “Do you know this poem, Catherine?”

Moments passed before she could speak. “I remember Daddy and Mother would say “I loved you first” to each other. I didn’t know … I thought they were just teasing each other.” Tears spilled from her eyes as she took the book from him and read the poem again. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it. So …”

“Bonded,” he said.

“All last night, I felt their presence, Daddy’s and Mother’s. I was packing little trinkets and photographs and it was as if they were with me, helping me, enjoying the memories. I wasn’t even sad, not a bit. I told Mother all about you and she was happy for me, for us. I just wish they could know you.”

“I understand wishes, Catherine.”

“Vincent, how can this be happening? The book, Kristopher, the poem … it’s more than I can take in.”

“You should wait to say that, as there is more,” he said, indicating the treasure yet unexplored, locked and wrapped still in soft layers.

“Who’s going to open it?” She reached for the flannel but pulled her hand back. Then she reached out again, lightly pressing her fingers to the covering. “I’m supposed to, aren’t I. That’s what you think.”

Vincent remained silent, offering his strength but leaving the choice to her.

“All right,” she said. She lifted the book casket out and unwrapped it. It was a heavy silver, warm in her hands, and something inside shifted as she laid it on the desk. She took up the key and inserted it into the padlock. Of course, it fit and of course, it turned and the shackle slipped out of the body of the lock with a soft click. She removed it and lifted the hasp and, after a hesitation, opened the cover.

* * *

It was he who was forced to close his eyes at the sight, while she could not tear her gaze away from it. Her gasp was jubilant, but he was stunned into utter silence.

One glance … and for Vincent, it was as if a saber had been hurled across a vast land to embed in his soul, turning end over end to stab so deeply into his heart as to cleave his being into two – one, weak-kneed with overwhelming emotion, with what could only be pure and perfect love and the other, a being filled with a fierce, relentless and unyielding determination, to protect, to safeguard with his last breath … his most precious treasures.

“Are they …” He could not continue his question; his thought – like me? – words he could not voice.

“Ours?” she answered, changing his world. Her breath grew rapid, as if with desire. “Oh, yes. Ours.” She lifted the painting from the silver box, leaned it against a lamp. Seeing his expression, she turned his face toward hers with a gentle touch to his cheek. “Look, Vincent. We’re glorious!”

And so he did.

It was an oil painting and quite dry, K Gentian clear in the lower corner. Smaller than his usual work but unmistakable.

Therefore the poet brings his poem; the painter, his picture …

The painting was as a hand-tinted photograph, in shades of gray and black and white and sepia, washed in rose and bronze and gold and splashed with azure. A strange, pale light bathed the figures, transfiguring them, exalting them.  All he had ever wanted, all he had only dreamed he might have … Catherine and children of his own.

She stood clothed in filmy white, her arms and shoulders bare, her hair long and honey colored, a strand of it clutched in the tiny fist of the fat, naked, sleeping infant she held to her breast. Vincent, wide-stanced behind, clad in dress whites beneath his cloak, held her with one arm encircling her waist and in the crook of his other, he held a child on his hip, a girl-child, with waving amber hair. Her hands were buried in the folds of his cloak, and her face, turned against his neck, into his hair, showed only one slight peek of an eye, her bright blue eye, evidence of her merriment. Another child … a third, a boy … stood between his feet, hiding, pulling the cloak across his face, leaving exposed only short bronze curls and azure eyes sparkling with glee.

He had no words.

“Three!” she sighed.

He could not yet speak.

“We’re so … happy.” She sighed again.

His throat was closed, his breath held in check.

She reached out a finger to trace the baby’s face and arm and then her own face down to her waist and hips. “Look at me, Vincent, just look … I’m so …”

“Lush,” he whispered finally.

“I was going to say plump.” She laughed, delighted, unselfconscious.

He watched her face. She was not afraid; his fears were not hers. She saw no monsters roaming the dark hollows of their life together. Indeed, she had forbidden the word that night in the mirror room. He let loose a ragged breath, one that turned guttural and raspy. He could not hold her close enough as she kissed his tears away.

* * *

“Do you believe in magic now?” he asked her. They sat together, twined in an embrace that would not be broken this evening, the painting and the book of poems moved to the table before them, never out of their sight.

“I don’t know. Not in magic. Not in ghosts. But maybe in a certain power.”

“Power?”

“The power of love, Vincent. Daddy heard me, he heard you, that night in the hospital. He told me he did when he came to my chamber. That wasn’t a dream, not a sleeping dream … and I think the doctors were wrong.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t think he was blind. I think he could see you. I think he could see … us.”

“The paintings are evidence of seeing.”

“Kristopher knew your name. When he followed me that night in the park, he called you by name. He said, ‘and I won’t speak about Vincent.’ Out of the blue. How could he have known your name?”

“He knew because …”

“Because Daddy told him about us, when he went to the bookstore. Months before. He described you. He … commissioned Kristopher. Daddy wasn’t ready to go. He couldn’t go. He wanted to give me something, something I needed desperately.”

“His blessing,” Vincent said, softly

“Yes,” she sighed. After a moment, she continued, “I suppose my going to the shop later was simply a coincidence.”

“Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the pulleys and levers,” he quoted.3 “And that doesn’t explain Kristopher.”

“No. There’s only so much I can bear to examine and I’m way past that point already. But if I ever get my hands on him …”

“You will thank him.”

“I will.”

* * *

A week later, the house was emptied. The movers, come and gone with her furniture and crates to a warehouse with a secret entrance, had left little trace of her family’s tenure here. The antiques dealer had gathered her treasures for a special sale and the Mission had come for a second load of useful things. She had contracted with a cleaning service to polish the property, and that done, she would turn it over to the realtor.

They’d moved the painting and the poems and the silver book casket Below, packed them all into the camphor-wood chest. Catherine had carried it from a taxi to her apartment and then to the basement, where Vincent met her and took it from her. She insisted that all the treasures, these and the ones Vincent had collected before, stay in their bedchamber where she could see them. She intended to count her blessings, each morning and every night.

Catherine was thinking of Kanin and Olivia as she stood one last time at the windows of her old room, gazing out over the park behind the house. Kanin would be released today, and tonight there was a party for his homecoming. He would have Olivia’s surprise soon – a new baby – a daughter.

Dreaming a little, she was startled to see three people standing right below her at the edge of the trees in the park – a man, tall and slim, a woman with honey-colored hair … and a rumpled, dark-haired figure in a ball cap. She plucked at the window latch, trying to open it and finding it stuck, frustrated at the watery glass she’d always loved because now she couldn’t see clearly. The rumpled figure shook hands with the man and the woman reached out to touch his shoulder. Then the couple, hand in hand, disappeared into the trees down the path toward the river, never looking back.

But the rumpled figure, a man with longish, brown hair, wearing a Mets cap, threw his head back to look up at her and smiled a brilliant, sweet smile she had no trouble seeing. She shook the latch once more and bent to examine it, and when she got it unlocked and the window open, there was only a woman walking a bulldog along the sidewalk and two teenagers together on a bench, their heads bent over a magazine and a little girl, eating ice cream.

 

Love pleads no excuse of impossibility. It is therefore able to undertake all things, and it completes many things, and warrants them to take effect.4

______________

The next story in the Beyond the Stained Glass arc is Iron Behind the Velvet

______________

 

  1. William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. Act 2, Scene 2, lines 23 – 25.
  2.  Christina Rossetti. Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets, #4. 1881

  3.  Emma Bull. Coincidence quote attributed to her. Science Fiction author.

  4.  Thomas á Kempis. Imitato Christi. Book 3, Chapter 5. The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love. ca. 1418.

2 Comments

  1. I can picture the childhood house so clearly!

    Reply
    • I’m so glad! Thank you for reading this one, Londa. It first published on Tunnel Tales, but just after chapter 2 appeared the site crashed and it was weeks before it was up again and the story continued. By then it had lost its momentum and readers I think. It sets up so many events yet to come, parts of Iron Behind the Velvet (in edit and parts 1 and 2 posted soon, but part 3 still in progress) and other ideas parked and idling in my brain. 🙂

      Reply

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