Beyond the Stained Glass
Love bears evenly all that is uneven
“It’s only for a few hours, Vincent. I just need to take care of some things, gather my mail. We have a date tonight. Remember? Chopin in the Park.”
He was the first to step back from their embrace, though he kept her hands in his.
“I don’t want to go up,” she said. “It seems very strange.”
“It is right, Catherine. You must go. Tomorrow will come, and you have work that requires you. We should forgo the concert and you should ready yourself. Rest.”
“No! I don’t want to forgo the concert. Tell me you don’t mean that.”
“What I want … must weigh against what is right. Always.”
“Well, I will be down here at 7:00. Will you be here, Vincent?”
He inclined his head, brought her hands to his lips. “I will be here,” he said and backed away from her into the tunnel. “Go. Please, Catherine. Or we will be standing here till morning.”
She did as he asked, disappearing into the shaft of light and up the ladder, and it was as difficult as he’d predicted, as wrenching as she’d feared
* * *
His return was slow-paced though his mind sped forward. Where to go in these hours alone, without the near reach of her hand, without the flower scent of her skin in the air. Their chambers … not yet their home but the place of their passion, too empty to face; his old chamber too exposed to company he was not ready to enjoy. To the waterfalls then, or to the mirror pool, anywhere to be alone … somewhere peaceful to sort his sudden fears.
He sensed from Catherine a feeling of rebellion – a strong NO! – and he knew she was home, opening her door, faced with the reality of her life and the war this choice – their commitment – would wage with it. He felt her resist and then acquiesce and he felt her determination, her underlying and overreaching qualities of strength.
Why could he not draw on it – this – her great strength? The question large before him, he veered toward the Mirror Pool and its promise of utter stillness.
He sat at the water’s edge brooding, the sunlight reflected in the black depths. Her world of sunlight … foreign, forbidden to him, dangerous for him and filled with wonders he could never share. So far apart from his. The burden of this balance would fall heaviest on her, and there was little he could do to share it … save to hide from her his fear of loss, to ask nothing from her and to rejoice in the smallest gifts of time together.
Closing his eyes, he called forth a vision of her, a memory he would cherish forever. A vision that a man, a human man, would rightly expect, even take for granted – simply … a woman, who, upon leaving his bed, would pause in the doorway to look back, a smile of promise on her lips, her hand gentle on the wall. It was Eternity that he saw – a great ring of pure and endless light – and time, the hours, the days, the years, she said, years, whirled ’round within it. The love he felt for her, the dreams he dared at last to believe …
He wanted only to hold her.
Who was he? From what or from whom did he spring? What voiced the faint mocking laughter he sometimes heard, deep in his psyche; what darkness pressed against the barred, chained, heavy door of his second self. What goaded him at times with hot sparks of simmering doubt, late at night when he could not sleep, and niggled at him to free his whole being, to no longer hold back … show her … the voice dared him, echoing from far down a black and narrow corridor. Show her …
What was he? He moved back to lean against the rock walls, his eyes closed against a question he would never answer.
You could, you would … come inside. She asked for so little, and this thing, this one thing …
He was so desperately unsure. And he knew why, the real and true why of his hesitation, even now, even as her lover …
Her home was her manifest, almost her aura – feminine, delicate, light – illustrative of her life as she’d expected it and fully Above. On her balcony, in-between, sheltered there, they were well-met, equal. Inside, his differences would be starkly apparent – large, out of place, peculiar, oddly powerful, overwhelming, all his impossibilities at the front. Would she, could she, choose him again? Yet she’d asked him so sincerely, and he trusted her, he did, and he would not deny her, but how …
From some distance he heard Father’s approach, now a triad of sound – a step, a shuffle and then a thud of the cane. The company he’d earlier shunned was welcome now, and Vincent was glad it was Father come to find him.
“Vincent. There you are. Mouse said I’d find you here.”
“This is a long walk for you, Father. You should sit.”
“I doubt I could get up again from your position. I should bring a stool down here and leave it. I miss the quiet of this place. I haven’t been down here since …”
“Since Ellie.” Vincent rose and took Father’s arm. “Over here is a ledge that will suffice, I believe. Try it.”
“Who did this? I don’t remember a ledge.”
“Kanin, not long before … before he had to leave us. I don’t believe he thinks it finished.”
Father perched on the beginnings of a bench. “Ah, yes,” he sighed. “Adequate, quite, for one. Perhaps he will finish it soon and make it a seat for two.”
“I’m sure that was – is – his plan.”
“Has Catherine learned the details of his probation?”
“She must be careful with her questions, to keep secret her involvement, but she contacted Dominic as you suggested, and he has supplied his address for Kanin and will give him work on his masonry crew. Kanin will need to prove a life Above for a year and meet regularly with his probation officer.”
“Good. Good. Though the year will drag for him, I’m sure. As it will for Olivia, until they can return to … normalcy.”
“This past year must have seemed interminable for Kanin,” Vincent said. “If he could live through that …”
“How do you think he will take Olivia’s surprise?”
“He will be overjoyed … in time,” answered Vincent.
They sat together in silence for a while, watching the mirrored clouds scuttle across the still waters, Vincent at his father’s feet, Father’s hand resting on his son’s broad shoulder.
“You were lost in thought when I came in, Vincent, and you did not look as … happy … as I hoped I would find you. Tell me. What troubles you?”
“The same mystery, always, Father. Who I am … what I am. Before, I tortured only myself … and you,” he said with a rueful expression. “But now, there is Catherine. I vowed to her father on his deathbed that I would protect her until my last breath. But what if … what if I am her danger?”
“If you truly believed that, Vincent, would you have let her love you as deeply as she does?”
“You would tell me now, wouldn’t you, Father, if you knew …”
“Yes, son. I would.”
“Am I a man?”
“I know only that you are more than a man, not less. Beyond that answer, there is my love for you. And Catherine’s.”
“I want to make her happy. And I want never to lose her. I still have doubts … fears … that for her to be happy, I must lose her.”
“Vincent … I am, regrettably, not the world’s authority on women.” Father’s was a woeful chuckle. “But I have to believe that of all the women on this earth, Catherine is one who knows her mind. And speaks it. And means what she says and then acts upon it. I know she loves you … more than loves you. She is simply smashed to your heart, under your ribs with a terrible love and joy, always. Let her joy save you. Reach out your hands and take it.”
“A new and different song from you, Father. Catherine spoke of your time together. I am glad of it.”
“Vincent, I should tell you this. I’ve been meaning to for quite a while.” Father paused and Vincent held his breath. “I am not always right.”
Laughter rumbled deep within them both.
“Right, enough, often enough, Father. I love you,” Vincent said, laying his furred hand over Father’s more frail bones. “But you should credit Carl Sandburg for that last bit of poetry.”
“You know … too much, Vincent.”
“Enough,” he sighed and felt the return of happiness.
* * *
She was down the stairs before 7:00, the doorway piled with belongings, more than she could carry alone, and so she waited for him. Back and forth she paced, anxious with a lover’s anticipation, the few hours in absence from him elevating an agitation she had not expected. She heard the quiet swish of his cloak against the stone and dashed into the corridor and into his arms.
“Vincent,” she whispered into his shirt. “Hold me,” she whispered into the hollow of his throat. Where had he been ... “I missed you.” How would she survive tomorrow and the next day and the next. Give me your heat, your strength. Give me your kisses. She surprised herself with her desire. She would make love to him standing against the stone if he would cooperate.
Which he would not.
And so she composed herself, laughing, and he watched her with raised brows. And smiled at her and brushed the hair away from her face.
“What is all this, Catherine? We will need a brigade.”
“Not so much,” she said, still breathless. “Some extra quilts for our symphony seats and more cushions. My gym bag. A French press and some coffee that I ran out and bought just now. And I made some cookies.”
“The essentials?” He loved her so.
“Just.” She wanted him.
“What’s in this gym bag.”
“My running clothes, my shoes, my keys, my watch, a water bottle. I’m beginning a new regimen tomorrow morning.”
“And that is …”
“I won’t want to leave you. Even though I know I have to go back to work. And you, you have work to do too. The nights I spend Below … I’ll dread their ending, but I love to run. So if I run those mornings, the transition will be easier for me. I’ll leave from the park entrance early, at dawn, and run my way back to my apartment to get ready.”
“I will see you off then, early those mornings … at dawn.”
* * *
Chopin in the Park. Beautiful. As was the music, some of his favorites, Tristesse and the Nocturne in B and the Waltz in C-sharp and the warmth of her in his arms. Close, as he’d dreamed her before, wearing the deep sapphire dress he’d seen for too short a time only once before, when he’d nearly made that first step over her threshold …
No interruptions this evening. He moved his hand from her bare shoulder to the small of her back and pulled her to his heart with a terrible love. He felt her joy and he took it, as Father said he should, as he wanted over everything else, as she made him feel he deserved …
* * *
And so, afterward, arriving just inside the secret passageway from his chamber to their private rooms, he cooperated with her desires, shedding his clothes with record speed and helping her with her dress, mindful of it as he found it beautiful and wanted to see her in it again, soon … but not now … not now …
Tristesse, in his memory still, clear and haunting, as he tasted the sweet salt at the pulse of her throat, as he lifted her – his great strength a welcome thing – as he cradled her against him, supported her, filled her.
All the glories of the days just past shining forth into years yet to be lived.
Together as a single bow, one voice drawn out from two strings.
The next story in the Beyond the Stained Glass arc is The Only Gift
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