FUTILITY

By Joan Stephens


"You love him." The softly spoken words shattered the crypticsilence that had settled between them.

She gazed back at him defiantly, apprehensively, and he wonderedwhat she was thinking. Stiffly she rose to her feet, laying aside thebook she had stared at for the past fifteen minutes, not seeing aword. Wandering over to a book-covered table, she began to trace thetitle of the top volume. A picture of Vincent doing the same thingflashed through his mind. He'd had no success with him then, and hefeared it would be the same with her now. With studied nonchalance,she scanned the title of the novel she had just picked up. "Why doyou say that?"

"I'm not so old that I can't see the signs: the way your eyesfollow him when he's not looking, the way you search for him when youenter a chamber, the way you almost touch him but not quite. In thefew years that she was with us, Catherine taught me well." He pausedfor a second. "He doesn't know, does he?"

Wordlessly, she shook her auburn tresses, answering hisquestion.

Heaving a relieved sigh, Father exclaimed, "I'm glad. It woulddevastate him."

"Why?!" she burst out, unable to believe his words. Suddenly sheknew why he had asked her to visit with him before she met withVincent, and she wondered what he had said to Catherine in the samecircumstances and what her reaction had been. She thought that sheknew, and she knew what she was going to do

His next words surprised her. "My dear, it's still too new."

"New!? It's been two years."

"I'm not sure that ten or even twenty years would be long enough.Diana, you must understand."

"I understand grief," she maintained, placing her right hand overher heart and leaning intently toward him. "I've been through it. Ilost my father to a slow, painful death, and I lost a fiancéin a botched bank robbery. I went through all the stages of grief buteventually . . ."

"There may never be an eventually with Vincent," heinterrupted.

"But there has to be or he will never be free of his sorrow."

Pulling a chair close to his desk, he said, "Come. Sit beside meand I'll tell you about Vincent and grief."

As she settled into the chair, she looked at him warily butexpectantly. Folding her hands in her lap, she waited for him tobegin.

He began with a question, "You think that you understand theirlove?"

"Yes," she nodded. Unconsciously her hands began to twitch, andshe laced her fingers together to them still.

"I don't think any of us that watched their devotion growunderstand the quality and quantity of their love. It is like noother that I have ever seen or read about. They seemed to blossom, togrow, to become more together than they could ever be alone or withanother. It took Vincent longer to realize this than Catherine, andI'm afraid he only realized it when he lost the bond. He was suddenlyalone again, and without Catherine, he will be alone for the rest ofhis life. I believe he has accepted this and has turned to Jacob forthe love that he can give him."

"I know he can never love me as I love him," she said quietly,looking down on her writhing hands. "But I can make his remainingyears less lonely. I would never leave him." Her voice held the sameresolve that Catherine's had when she had given him thatassurance.

As he leaned back in his chair, he sighed sadly, "Ah, Diana,that's what Catherine always said. As you know, it was a promise shecouldn't keep."

"Then I'll move down here. I'll never go above," she continued,resolutely finding all the ways she could think of to keep Vincentsafe.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," he cautioned, knowing heneeded to bring her back to the main topic of their conversation.

"All right, I agree; I can't make that promise, but I can make hislife less lonely. No?" she asked shocked, seeing him shake his head."But I'll always be here."

"Don't you think that we&endash;all of us," he swung his arm out,indicating the tunnel world, "including Jacob&endash;are here forhim, try to ease his pain, to fill the lonely hours? We are . . .during the day, but then there is the night."

"I could be with him during the night."

"If he would have you."

"Even if he wouldn't, I could still be near in another chamber,and I could comfort him."

He slowly nodded then added, "But his dreams? Can you enter hisdreams and make them right? Can you take away the feeling ofincompleteness that he feels? Can you make him whole?"

Feeling as if she was drowning in a sea of unanswerable questions,she cried out, "All I can do is try."

"Yes, that is all we can do, but don't you see you can never takeher place in his heart?"

"I know that, but I will make a place for myself."

It was as he feared; he wasn't getting through to her and again heshook his head. "He has told me that the heart that keeps him aliveis Catherine's heart. That she gave it to him with their firstembrace. If it was his, he would have joined her long ago. So yousee, there is no room for anyone else."

A set look came over her face and she sat up rigidly. "You're notgoing to talk me out of loving him. I'm aware of everything that youhave said to me, but it doesn't change a thing." Already she wasshutting him and his words out. She was intent on not listening. "Ilove him and I will do anything for him."

"Can you hide your love, not let him know?"

"As long as I think it is necessary, but I will tell himsomeday."

"I hope you know that when you do, that will be the end of yourrelationship."

"So you say." She tossed her head in denial.

"Yes. You may think that you know my son but you don't. It willhurt him deeply to know that you love him and that he cannot returnthat love, that your love will only bring you pain."

"But you're assuming that he can't. I have to believe that hecan." Reaching over and gently touching his arm, she said, "I knowyou're only trying to protect him and me, but I assure you that Iwill do nothing to hurt him." She stood abruptly, ending theirconversation.

He watched her hurriedly leave the library on her way to findVincent. Shaking his head wearily, he murmured, "Oh, but you will,Diana, you will." Despairing, he dropped his head on his foldedhands. And knowing there was nothing more he could do, he resignedhimself to picking up the pieces of the shattered friendship thatwould result when she confessed her love to his son.