Catherine was sitting in Juan Ramirezís small, bright apartment.
Morning sun streamed through the windows. The living room was tidy;
photos smiled from the walls. But Juan Ramirez was dead. Catherine
was looking at his only son, Hector, a boy, or man really, of
twenty years. He was staring straight ahead with an empty
expression on his face.
The police hadnít been able to get much
out of him. Hector had witnessed his fatherís murder only hours
before. He was having difficulty responding to questions, seemed
unable to form a simple sentence. Hector didnít even seem to be
aware that there was anyone else in the room. Hectorís mother had
died when he was a child. Now his father was gone also. Just him
Juan and Hector Ramirez were both working
men, both holding down two jobs. Hector as an assembler at a
factory. Juan was a junior carpenter, learning his trade at an
exclusive shop uptown that made custom pieces for wealthy
Their second job, they worked together,
was downtown in a large busy laundry which specialized in cleaning
and pressing hotel linens. Their shift ended each night at three
AM and they rode the subway home together.
By four AM Juan Ramirez was dead Ė only
steps from his own doorway, his body cradled in his sonís arms, a
knife with only the dark handle visible lodged just below his
Juan knew why. In recent years their
neighborhood had been occupied, as if by an invading army, by drug
users and drug dealers. Juan Ramirez was determined not to let
them take over. Both men had testified about the things theyíd
seen outside their apartment building: the exchange of drugs for
money, the weapons they used against one another, the drive-by
shooting that finally brought the police to the neighborhood in
force, looking for witnesses brave enough to tell what they knew.
Catherine slowly began making progress. Her gentle voice and
empathic eyes were drawing Hector back to reality. He sobbed as he
told her how the men had surrounded them, how they had fought them
off, then how the drug dealers had suddenly sprinted off. It was
only after they fled that Hector realized his father was fatally
wounded, the dark handled knife with the thin blade protruding
from his chest.
Catherine rose from her chair and sat
beside him on the sofa, placing her arm around him. "Thatís enough
for now," she gently told him. "You did good, Hector; weíll find
these men," she hesitated. "Do you think you would be able to pick
them out of a line up?"
Hector nodded. "Yes." He looked at
Catherine. "But they know I live here, theyíll come for me too now."
"Iíll see about witness protection," she
told him as she rose from the sofa.
He looked up at her, "Alone? Iíd have to
go alone." He shook his head slowly. "This building, this is where
I live. My family... I mean my other family... when my mom died...
Mrs. Morales in 3B, and Mrs. McCarthy in 3F, they took care of me
and my dad. They cooked us meals, minded me so he could go to work.
Old Mr. Cantalano, the super, he let me follow him around all day
while he was fixing things. Heís the one taught me how to work
with my hands. The Rodriguez family in 4C, they invited us to
spend all the holidays with them: Christmas, Easter. Theyíre
family. Benita Rodriguez, sheís my... " Hector stopped, dropped
his head. "Now Iím alone. Youíre right. I canít stay here. Those
men, who killed my father... anyone could get hurt next when they
come back... anyone." He turned his young face back up to
Catherineís. "I have to, donít I, leave here, maybe forever." It
took everything in Catherine not to turn away from him, to keep
looking into the desperation and grief in his eyes.
"Iíll see what I can do," she told him in
a low voice. She slid through the crowd of police and medical
personnel and approached one of the uniformed officers.
"Cynthia, Iím going to see about
arranging witness protection for him. Tell the Desk Officer I want
a detail assigned to him around the clock until I get everything
"Will do, Cathy. Sad case, huh? The guy
tries to do the right thing and gets killed right in front of his
kid for his trouble."
"Very sad," Cathy agreed.
Catherine left, moving quickly through the City streets until she
found what she was looking for, then climbed down through a
manhole into the tunnels below. He was waiting.
"I felt you, Catherine." He reached for
her arm, studied her face. "What?"
She swiped at a stray tear. "I just... it
doesnít seem to matter what we do. There are always more victims,
more violence against innocents... more injustice. "
Vincent leaned back against the wall. "Tell
me whatís happened."
Catherine related her story, finishing
with Ė "If you could see how courageous this young man is. Heís
lost his only parent, and now he is forced to leave his whole
support system, everyone he knows and who knows him. If I put him
into Witness Protection heíll be swallowed up by the system.
Theyíll put him wherever it is convenient for them, another
state even. This boy needs support... he needs to belong somewhere
Vincent nodded. "Yes, he does. The
sacrifice he and his father made was huge. He needs to know, to
see, that sacrifice of this kind is necessary for the survival of
a community. His being torn away from his home and extended family
at such a vulnerable time, when he needs them more than ever,
might make him lose faith in his purpose. I agree, Catherine.
Hector needs to be reminded now and in the days to come, of what
he and his father were fighting for Ė of what his father died to
Catherine moved close to him. "Thank you,
Vincent reached out and pulled her to him.
"Iíll speak to Father and the others. Iím sure this boyís actions
will speak for themselves and they will welcome him."
They stood, her cheek against his chest,
breathing each other in, loath to say goodbye.
Finally, Vincent let her go, moved back.
She smiled, squared her shoulders, and climbed back to the world
Catherine quietly returned to Hectorís apartment. There were only
two officers there now: Cynthia and her partner. Catherine
explained that it was all arranged. Hector slowly rose from the
sofa. The officers helped him pack some belongings, but he was
more dead than alive, hardly aware of what he was doing.
As they trudged down three flights of
stairs the other tenants began coming out of their apartments.
They gathered in groups in their doorways, all wishing him well,
some hugging him, many crying. He lingered longest with Mrs.
Rodriguez, "Tell Benita... " he started, then stopped, unable to
"I will, Hector, Iíll tell her everything.
Sheís so proud of you."
Hector nodded, and quickly moved toward
the stairs. On the way down he turned to Catherine. "Benita is
away at school now; sheís going to be a nurse."
Catherine held his arm. "Thatís a good
profession, Hector, very hard work. You must be proud of her too."
"Si, I am."
Catherine had the radio car drop them off in front of the D.A.s
But when they drove off, Catherine steered
Hector away and they began walking.
"I need to tell you a story, Hector. Itís
about people like the ones in your apartment building. People who
take care of and protect each other. You can go through the
regular channels if youíd like, go into Witness Protection. But if
youíd prefer, you can stay with these people, friends of mine, who
understand why you and your father did what you did. My friends,
they live together as a family. They donít have a lot in the way
of money, or possessions, but theyíre very good people. Would you
like to hear about them?"
Hector turned to Catherine, studied her
face. Everything had happened so quickly since last night he could
barely process it all. But he had a feeling this was important Ė
now, and for his future. They walked slowly as Catherine talked,
telling him about her own attack, her abandonment in the park, her
The sun overhead was bright and strong by
the time they reached a small park, one of many squares that was
built when walking and horse drawn carriages were the only mode of
transportation in the City. The squares were the center of the
neighborhood Ė small areas of grass and trees around which the
buildings grew. Catherine led him across the square and then down
an enclosed alleyway. At the end was a grating imbedded in the
cement to catch excess rain water.
Catherine turned in all directions,
making sure there was no one near by. "So Iím asking you, Hector,
would you like to live Below for a while, until this situation is
resolved, until you decide what your future holds?"
Hector nodded, and Catherine squatted
down. "Help me with this, could you?"
Hector lay in the bed they gave him. He listened to the pipes,
stared up at the rock formation hanging over his head. He was
still mourning his father. The memory of what had happened outside
their home kept flashing in front of him over and over. The fact
that he was gone forever was unbelievable.
If it werenít for that, he would have
enjoyed this adventure, this strange place. They were all kind to
him; they fed him, looked after his needs. Mary reminded him of
Mrs. Morales, the way she enjoyed reading and telling stories to
the children. William was like the super. Mr. Cantalano was always
showing him how to do things, how to fix a broken lock or a leaky
pipe. But William liked to show him the proper way to cut up a
chicken, or how to mix a batter so a cake could be as light as the
air. He helped Cullen with his carpentry, Mouse with his
electrical work, Pascal in replacing rusted out pipes Ė he was
still learning new things.
But it was Vincent whose company he
valued most of all.
The way Vincent spoke, it reminded him of
his father. He spoke of things - things like honor, and valor, and
other ideas that Hector had rarely heard from anyone else except
from the man who had raised him. Vincent praised Hectorís father,
praised his heroism. This was what Hector wanted to hear most. He
needed to believe that his fatherís death had some meaning, as
meaningless as it sometimes seemed to him.
ĎSomeone has to stand upí, Vincent told
him. Someone had to protect old Mr. Cantalano, who could hardly
get around anymore, and Mrs. McCarthy, who was as spry as ever,
even after she was knocked down and robbed by a local drug user
looking for money for a fix.
Vincent had complimentary words for him
as well: praised him for how he had stood beside his father to
confront these dangerous men. He assured him of how much his
testimony would mean to Catherineís case Ė and to the building
where he had lived.
Yet there was one other person who was special to him below, whose
company he wanted more than Vincentís even. And that was Jamie.
Heíd noticed her immediately, when Catherine led him around
Fatherís office, introducing him to the tunnel family. She was so
beautiful, so delicate looking.
But as he became acclimated to his new
home, and learned more about her, he was astonished to find out
how strong and capable she was. She had such a fragile look to her,
ethereal even. Yet she was more than capable at many things,
digging, lifting, constructing. Her ability with a cross bow
intrigued him particularly.
He asked her to teach him how to use the
ominous looking weapon, and Jamie acquiesced. He was beginning to
question the wisdom of this request, however. Being so close to
her was arousing feelings in him that made him feel shameful.
Hector was as good as engaged, everyone
in the building knew it. It had been him and Benita Ė always. When
she finished school and got a job as a nurse they were going to be
married, it was understood between them.
So why then, was he suffering these
feelings for Jamie. It would never lead to anything. It couldnít.
But he couldnít help it. The skin across
his abdomen tingled when she looked at him. And when she was close
to him, the rippling sensation would spread throughout his body.
At night it was worse still, when he had no control over his
imagination. He would awaken from dreaming of Jamie Ė her eyes. He
had imagined, over and over again, both waking and sleeping, what
it would feel like if she touched him, how it would feel to touch
her. Sometimes he could sense her near him as he awakened, and
until he gained full consciousness, could swear she was there,
beside him, holding him.
He hated himself for feeling these things.
It was a betrayal of Benita. A betrayal also, of the tunnel
dwellers who took him in, gave him a safe place. He knew he still
loved Benita, knew he would be her husband someday. How then,
could he justify his unwholesome desire for Jamie?
He began to avoid Jamie whenever possible.
But that was hard too. They worked together often on building new
There was one other thing that bothered him too. He got along fine
with everyone, except one person. Mouse.
Mouse had been congenial and welcoming at
first, yet now he had become distant, almost hostile. Hector was
confounded, but then concluded that perhaps this was a result of
Hectorís competence with electricity and machinery. Perhaps Mouse
felt that Hector was usurping his place in the tunnel family.
Hector wasnít sure how to handle this. He
couldnít help being competent at the same things Mouse was. But he
became less eager to volunteer for a job, would wait until Mouse
was offered it first. Even so, Mouseís indifference persisted.
None of this escaped Vincent. He knew Hectorís feelings as well as
if Hector himself had confided in him. Hectorís fascination with
Jamie had been evident to him from the beginning. Mouseís feelings
on the subject were no mystery either.
Vincent wished Mouse would talk to him.
He had given him a number of openings. But Mouse kept to himself
more and more these days. He puttered alone in his own chamber, or
wandered far below in deserted tunnels and caverns. Vincent was
beginning to be afraid he might revert, at least in part, to his
old ways, before Vincent had captured him like a feral animal and
calmed his spirit.
Since Hector was the easier of the two to
speak with, he found an opening with him instead. Vincent was
seated at his table while Hector wandered aimlessly about the room
examining Vincentís eclectic mix of possessions.
"You havenít been to the new chambers all
week, Hector, is there a problem with the work down there?"
"No, no." Hector was silent for a moment.
"Vincent," he asked, "Do you think it is possible to love two
people at the same time?"
"You mean..." Vincent looked slowly and
benignly up at Hector, "two women?"
Hector looked away. "Si, that is what I
mean, two women."
Vincent heaved a sigh, leaned forward and
placed both arms on the table. "I suppose it is possible... from
what Iíve read," Vincent contemplated. "Charlotte Bronte...
Monsieur Heger, the real life counterpart of Edward Rochester, was
a married man. She left France and also fell in love with her
publisher George Smith, yet during that time she was still writing
to M. Heger. She eventually gave up on both, and married a third
man, a persistent suitor. Alexandre Dumas had many loves, often
overlapping, and he claimed great passion and devotion for them
all. That poem I read the other night, Indian Serenade -
Percy Shelley wrote that not for Mary, his wife, but for an
Italian actress he had an interlude with."
Vincent continued to puzzle, examining
the contents of the table in front of him. "I suppose there are
men, and women too, who would say that such a thing is possible."
Hector moved closer to where Vincent was
seated, and Vincent was still continuing to study the books and
notepaper piled in front of him.
"And you, Vincent? What about you?"
Vincent looked up and then down again.
"No," he said simply. "I do not believe I could be in love with
two women at the same time." He thought a moment longer. "But I
believe it is possible to have feelings, complicated feelings, for
more than one person. Sometimes we can mistake other compelling
needs and confuse them with romantic love."
"Yes. Needs Ė intellectual, emotional,
"And that isnít love?"
Vincent sat back. "It can be. We can love
many people at the same time. And when a love is also blended with
physical attraction, we can believe ourselves in romantic love."
"But we arenít? In romantic love I mean?"
"No. I donít think so." He leaned forward
again, emphatic now. "I know this is not so. Real love, romantic
love, the kind that can only be between one man and one woman, is
something apart from any other feeling or emotion we harbor within
It is more than a physical need, or even
an emotional one. It is beyond any other feeling or capacity we
have as human beings. It eclipses our own needs, our own selfish
desires and confused longings. Our own need becomes theirs, that
other person Ė we want for them more than we want for our own self."
Vincent took a breath. "So much more.
That person makes us able to see our better self. We are
enlightened, enraptured, uplifted by our ability to feel with them,
care for them, want for them.
Yet that doesnít make us subservient. The
two lovers Ė they are equal. They stand together, not as master
and slave, mistress and servant, but as two knowing, loving people
who understand what giving and receiving is. They are a unique
unit. It is like there had been a division that is now made whole.
It is similar to the bond between hydrogen and oxygen that becomes
the water we all need to sustain life. I believe love is just that
important. As important as water, air, food.
Hector, do you think it is any wonder
then, when it is so necessary, that if you were denied it under
your present circumstances you might seek out some other form of
Vincent rose from the table, went to
Hector and put his arm around him. Hector nodded his head
and looked at the floor. He wished he was as sure of himself
as Vincent was.
It was the most vivid memory Hector had of his mother. On City
nights that were hot and still, the residents of the building
would climb to the roof top. Someone would bring a record player,
run a thick orange extension cord down to an outlet on the
stairway. The night would explode with music. Salsa music, the
child of Cuban Son and Caribbean compositions with African roots.
Filtered through New Yorkís clubs during the big band era, Salsa
took on a life and fire and meaning of its own.
The neighbors would bring up their spicy,
aromatic food. Tequila would appear in small glasses. And they
His mother and father were the best among
them. They had even won some prizes at local nightclubs. He
remembered how everyone would stand back and watch them, his
parents. He could still close his eyes and still watch the sway
and twirl of his motherís brightly colored skirts. He could
remember the way she would throw her head back, her hair long and
shining black. The way her high heeled shoes would seem to barely
touch the cooling tarpaper, now that the sun had gone down.
Vincent has escorted him back to his
building one night late, helped him gather some belongings left
behind Ė he was especially pleased to have his Fatherís record
He wanted a place alone where he could
play his music. Pascal suggested the great chamber, where
Winterfest took place. Pascal showed him the chamber. Hector could
play his own music and practice dance moves and remember and dream.
The girls found him one day. The younger
ones, Samantha and the others, were watching quietly but then
shrieked and laughed when he discovered their hiding place.
"Teach us!" they demanded. "Teach us to
dance like that."
So he did.
He taught them the basic steps, showed
them how to keep time with the music, explained to them how ladies
should twirl their skirts, and how they should look into their
partnerís face as they flew across the floor.
The girls would talk and laugh about
their new pastime later. Jamie was curious. Jamie was more than
curious. She didnít understand what it was that Hector made her
feel. It was curious, and exciting, and confusing, and frightening.
Jamie had always loved Mouse. But Hector
was different. He was tall and his hair was dark and his teeth
were very white. He spoke with just a hint of an accent, a
residual from his parentsí more pronounced ones. She liked the way
he moved when he worked, so graceful. She liked his easy ways and
even the restrained manner in which he carried his quiet sorrow.
She wanted to see him dance.
And Mouse? Mouse did not look at her the
way Hector did. She wondered, for the first time she could
remember, what she and Mouse had. Why did he never look at her as
if she was the glowing center of a brightly lit candle? No. That
wasnít true, sometimes, almost, she could feel him look at her.
But when she turned to him he would be busy, always busy, fiddling
with something or other, and not looking at her again for the
remainder of the day.
He spoke to her as he spoke to all the
tunnel dwellers. On a couple of occasions she thought she heard a
note, a special tone of affection. But then he would go on as if
nothing had happened, as if nothing had changed, as if nothing
Jamie was not any more successful at hiding in the shadows than
Samantha and the others had been. They found her out, dragged her
forward. Hectorís heart began to hammer. He knew he shouldnít
offer, but he did, the words just jumped out.
"Can I teach you to dance too, Jamie?"
She meant to say no, but somehow it
sounded as if she said yes.
It was okay at first. The younger girls
all laughing and shouting and clapping, it kept their minds from
going other places. They concentrated on the dance steps, on
keeping the rhythm.
But then Kipper came down and called the
girls to their other lessons. Suddenly, faster than either of them
could think, they were alone. Jamieís hand was in Hectorís. His
other hand was cinched around her waist.
They tried to go on again, acting as if
it was all the same, as if their isolation in the enormous room
was not a matter of concern. But the dance required she look
straight into his face. Their eyes held in a steady gaze. They
moved closer, together, away, and then back again.
The record ended. He kissed her. A short
kiss, then a longer, deeper one. Jamie responded, hesitatingly,
then passionately. Suddenly, she stumbled back. "I canít... we
He came back to himself, horrified. It
had all seemed to be just another dream, one more erotic imagining.
"Jamie, Iím so sorry... " he began.
"I know," Jamie stood staring at him. "I
know you didnít mean to; neither did I," she turned away. "Itís
just... Iíve never met anyone like you before."
He had to smile. "Iíve certainly never
met anyone like you." His smile froze and he whispered, "Benita."
Jamie looked at him and nodded. "I know."
He turned away, she moved toward him, stopped.
"Hector, look at me." Reluctantly, he
complied. "We canít take this back, but we can stop it from
happening again. This, being alone like this, was a mistake. I was
trying to pretend I didnít feel anything for you. We should have
been honest with each other from the beginning."
"Youíre so good, so strong and so
beautiful. I couldnít help... "
"But you can now, we both can."
Hector gazed into her determined face, he
nodded. "Si, you are right."
Jamie nodded too. "Doing the right thing
can be the hardest thing of all."
Hector smiled. "Vincent says that."
She smiled back. "Yes, I know."
Hector turned and began putting his old
records back in order. Jamie wheeled around and headed back to the
sleeping chambers. She wasnít going to her own though.
She was headed for Mouseís.
He had his head down when she entered, fiddling with an old radio.
He didnít look up.
"Mouse, I need to talk to you," she told
"Mouse busy," he said. "Too busy for
"Mouse," she said again, picking her way
through his large and odd collection of artifacts. "Thereís
something I need to tell you about," she paused. "I need to talk
to you about Hector."
Mouse froze for a second, and then still
seemingly distracted, tried to look engrossed with the radio.
"Did you hear me, Mouse?"
"No talking now," he leaped up. "No
talking ever." He attempted to rush past her. But Jamie threw
herself in front of him and grabbed his arm.
"Mouse," she pleaded. "Please, hear me
out, I need you to hear this."
Still torn, swaying, he didnít try to
leave again, but stood with head bowed.
"Mouse, Hector and I... we felt something
between us... something we didnít mean... but... It wasnít...
youíre..." she stopped, let go of his arm.
"What do you see for us, Mouse, years
from now? How do you see us living?"
Mouse looked up, totally bewildered and
downtrodden. "Mouse doesnít understand," he said quietly.
She half smiled. "I know. But I need... I
need to know what will happen with us. Not tomorrow, but someday.
Will you always have your own chamber, and will I have mine? Or do
you think... I need to know how you think of me." She pulled away
slightly, stepping back, standing straighter. "I need to know how
you feel about me."
Mouse stood perfectly still, neither
moving or speaking. There was a sound coming from just outside but
neither one of them took notice.
Vincent paused at the chamberís entrance, breath suspended. What
had happened? Was Jamie trying to choose between the two men?
Vincent stepped back, unsure, embarrassed but transfixed by the
scene. "Tell her, Mouse," he whispered, "at least tell her, or you
will always regret it."
Jamie leaned toward Mouse, put her hand out
to him. "I know this is hard for you. But you have to try, for
He finally moved, shifting from one foot
to the other. "Jamie is Mouseís friend."
"Yes," she said softly. "But only that?"
Mouse looked down and then up,
alternately smiling and frowning. "Mouse," he began quietly, then
stood up straighter himself, gazing into her face. "I... I love
Vincent breathed a sigh of relief, then
escaped, aware that a third party wasnít wanted.
Vincent didnít go to Father. What he had witnessed was private; he
had no right to divulge it. He made his way down to the Whispering
Gallery instead, walking slowly back and forth until the sun went
He wanted to see her. Not to talk really.
There wasnít anything he particularly wanted to say. But he wanted
to look into her face, feel her close, touch her hand.
It was an unseasonably warm spring night.
She was on the balcony when he came. She was wearing a light
cotton nightgown covered by a densely embroidered silk robe.
Sitting in a wrought iron chair, she studied his profile.
"Itís a beautiful night," she said.
"Beautiful," he repeated. He stood silent
"Something is on your mind?"
He nodded, not turning back to look at
her. "Hector and Jamie."
"Iím not sure. I havenít spoken with
Hector yet. But something did happen... with Jamie and Mouse."
Catherine leaned forward in her chair.
"Jamie came to him. She wanted to know,
wanted to hear..."
"How he felt about her?"
"Did he tell her?" Catherine wanted to
Vincent smiled that half smile of his. "With
Catherine stared up at him, trying to
divine his feelings, trying to will him to turn toward her. "He
didnít believe that he could give Jamie what he thought she
Vincent shook his head slightly, trying
to avoid her persistent gaze. "Perhaps... I donít know... I cannot
know what is in the heart of another."
"But you can, Vincent, you do." Catherine
stood up and came to him then, stood beside him and gently placed
her thumb under his chin. "You know what is in my heart."
Vincent moved off slightly, loosed the
grasp of her fingers. "Catherine... I... " He turned away from her
again, toward the City, "I came here tonight... "
"What Mouse told Jamie... " she whispered,
He drew a deep breath, faced her, opened
his mouth, closed it again.
"... youíve never wanted to say them? The
words." Her own words were very low, almost inaudible. She almost
stopped breathing, looking up at him, asking with her eyes.
He opened his mouth again, jerked his
head up, his chin held high, his eyes closed, trying to
concentrate on reason, instead of the fear and self doubt that
crippled his tongue and paralyzed his nerves. Remembering what
Mouse could have lost, what he himself perhaps, could lose, if he
continued to stay silent.
He felt a small hand lightly touching his,
then fully taking it in her own. "It is hours until dawn,
Vincent," he could just barely catch the words, they were said so
gentle and small. "Iíll wait."
He looked down then, opened his eyes. She
was smiling, just a little, her eyes filled with tenderness and
She didnít speak again, but waited.
The edge of her flowing silk robe was lifted by the breeze and
flapped lightly against his arm. The highlights in her hair
were lit by the million small lights that made up the Manhattan
backdrop like the tiny points on a Saurat painting.
He turned fully to her, reached up his
hands and placed them on either side of her face. He
couldnít help but see the fur on the backs of his hands, his long
claws. He hesitated once more, but her eyes drew his, and he
looked into them, kept looking until that was all he could see Ė
just her pale, determined, tender eyes gazing into his.
"I always knew, long before I ever met
you, of your existence. I couldnít have told anyone what you
looked like, what the color of your eyes would be, or how your
voice would sound. But I knew, always, that there was a
woman, one woman, who I could put my faith in, who would not shun
me, or condemn me for what I am.
I felt you, all along, even in my
loneliness... especially in my loneliness. I knew you were
somewhere. Yet I didnít know if I would ever meet you.
And even if I was so blessed, I never believed in the possibility...
I thought this person would be dear to me, be a friend to me.
I always knew I could love you, but to have it returned... I never
believed that a woman, that you, Catherine, could offer me...
"My heart. Completely. That I would want
to be everything to you, for you. That there wouldnít be
anything I wouldnít want to give you."
"Catherine... I love you." Deep and low,
full of gravel, full of wonder. He felt it then, everything
he had held inside himself, not just since he had met Catherine,
but his entire lifetime. Like a drowning man seeing his life pass
before his eyes, he saw it all. All the pain, and hurt, and
humiliation he had always felt and locked away inside of him.
It might have belonged to another person, all his self loathing,
all his unworthiness. It was the look in her eyes, the way her
face softened and glowed when he told her. The warmth and the joy
and understanding that filled them both when he finally said the
words he thought he could never utter.
He stood up straighter, leaned back
slightly, transfixed by her face, transfixed by what he knew was to come.
She moved her lips close to his, tilted her head to the side, and
kissed him. He never imagined her lips would be so soft, her body
would feel so open to him. He kissed her back gently, quickly.
They parted then, just a bit, drawing back their faces so they
could witness what the other was feeling. They gazed at one
another for a moment. He pulled her to him, gathered her quickly
and tightly in his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and
buried her head in his chest and hair.
"I love you," they murmured together,
making it one thought, one expression, the very best reason for the existence of
They stood a long time. Finally she
took his hand, led him into the living room. They sat down together on her sofa, her
head resting against his chest, his arms around her. They didnít make love that night;
their heads and hearts were already too full. But it was now a promise between them.
The threshold had been crossed.
It had come at last Ė their time.
Art by Lynn Wright