Mr. Hardy's Advice


A week or two after "Blessed Whispers".

"Where in the world are we going?" Catherine asked that evening, as Vincent led her through unfamiliar tunnels. She had hoped they'd go back to his chamber. Or maybe spend some time in the whispering gallery.

"The ideal place," he replied mysteriously, "to watch tonight's show."

Catherine shook her head and stopped short. bringing her beau to a similar halt when he reached the extent of their joined hands. "Vincent, there aren't any shows in the park tonight. I think they might have scheduled some scenes from "As You Like It" at Delacorte, but everything's been cancelled. There's a huge line of storms coming through tonight."

His response was a playful grin, a sparkle in his eye as he returned to her side. -- -- Here was his secret, and he leaned toward her as if to share it ... closer than he might have months ago, now near enough to tickle her nose with the light fur on his own. "Yes, Catherine. I know this."


Mouse's new radio, its antennae sticking up into an unsuspecting sewer pipe somewhere on the south side, had proven quite useful. Yes, those below had heard there was a line of particularly nasty storms coming, about to pummel all of New Jersey and half of New York. Father had been tempted to suggest Vincent and Catherine not go above, but his son's determination proved insurmountable.

"Not exactly well-lit." Catherine observed, once they'd emerged from a distant tunnel and climbed up through a heavy steel grate. It was so dark, in fact, that she kept the fabric of Vincent's cloak clutched in one hand while he placed the grating carefully to the side.

"I don't believe greenhouses are known for their lighting fixtures," he replied, then looked upward. "No moon, no stars. The clouds have blanketed the entire sky."

"We're in a greenhouse?" she laughed, then squinted her eyes. Yeah ... if she tried hard enough ... maybe she could make out the glint of city lights reflecting off the plexi-glass panels. It was all remarkably dim though, leading to a realization that should not have surprised her. -- -- "You can see in this light, can't you? In this darkness?"

The posed question, although it dealt with the inherent 'differentness' that constituted (in his opinion) the bane of existence, was also infused with wonder. And given also that it came from his beloved, he took no offense.

"Yes, actually. I can see the city's glow hanging like a halo over rows of growing plants. I can see the pale, roughened wood of work tables, where people are coaxing new life from the tiniest of seeds." He paused and took her hand, remembering how this woman had come to him in darknesses even deeper than this ... not the least of which was only the fewest weeks ago, in a blackened, horrible cave. "But the light from you, Catherine, is the brightest," he added. "The brightest of them all."

Deeply touched, she squeezed his hand and let it lead her into his arms. "You'll see my way for me tonight?"

"For you, and with you," he promised to her ear. "Every night."


The storms were approaching, and when the distant thunder began to roll the couple chose a spot beneath an entrance's overhang. Vincent positioned himself against a closed door, inviting Catherine to sit between his legs. His cloak, used as a blanket over her lap, would protect against any rain that might blow in. And his arms ... wrapped as they were around her, he preferred to believe they would guard against everything else.

And my, were the meteorologists correct. Bolts soon sizzled across the sky, assaulting skyscraper lighting rods with an angry vengeance. Thunder cracked with explosive power. Sheets of rain that, when thick enough, in the simultaneous flash of lightning, looked like shimmering clouds set to Earth.

"When I was really little, my great-grandfather used to say that thunder and lightning were signs of God being angry," Catherine commented after a while. "We all had to sit quietly together in one room. It's one of my earliest memories."

"His beliefs certainly are not unusual." Vincent replied. Was he defending the deceased man because such beliefs crossed history's path often, or because he was Catherine's ancestor, and therefore worthy by default? "Many cultures throughout the world see lightning as a tool of the gods. Europe; Africa; right through the Orient."

The gusts of wind were picking up, spraying them with mist until Catherine pulled the cloak higher around herself. Then a loud clap of thunder, echoing through the streets and making them flinch in unison.

"My view of such things has always been shaped by the city." Vincent continued, pondering the show of nature. "In many ways, lightning is the great equalizer. The mighty towers built by powerful men ... the penthouses perched atop them ... the lightning seeks out those great heights."

Catherine smiled, having never really considered it like that. "The lower you are, the safer you are" she mused, taking his thought to the next step. "Safety is below."

Vincent smiled, amused that she still only saw half of it. "It's not safe there either." he pointed out. "With the thunderstorm comes the rain, and the low places will flood. Perhaps your great-grandfather was right. The gods ... the fates ... they move beyond us. They grant no easy safety."

... ...

A moment, while his beloved burrowed farther into the curve of his body, coaxing his arms more tightly across her midriff and bosom. How pleased she was to find so little resistance. "No, but safety exists," she finally replied, conscious that her words be chosen wisely. "When we recognize it. What's not easy, sometimes, is asking for it. Or accepting it, even when it's offered. ... ... But it exists. It's surrounds me right now."

... ...

Silently, his breath lowered to her hair, his cheek taking the gentlest nuzzle. "Truly? Catherine? Even after what the last weeks have brought? After what you've seen?"

"Especially after what the last weeks have brought." she countered quietly. "I just wish ... ..."

He gave her another squeeze, then cautiously prompted, "Tell me, Catherine. ... I won't flee from your words."

... ...

She swallowed. She braced herself. She made her case. -- -- "I just wish you could feel that same safety with me. With us ... together. Like we should be." Her hand slid to his thigh where it arched up beside her hip. The press of her fingertips was simple yet meaningful. Physical explanation of words that were difficult in coming.

This time though, she needn't have been so hesitant. His answer would stun her with its ease, and delight her for days with its promise.

"I'm learning, Catherine," came his raspy whisper at her ear. "Every morning as I wake, I shudder at how I could have hurt you, when I was ... lost. I wrestle with a fear that has become an old acquaintance. And then, the day creeps to an end, and you're here. Despite everything, you're here." ... ... His wonder at those words was difficult to disguise. ... ... "Reaching for me with such love and determination. You asked if I could see through the darkness. I'm starting to. To future dreams. And I see you there. ... ... Yes, I am beginning to feel the safety in that too."

... ...

It required her a minute to digest such a statement, replaying it in her mind, convincing herself that the hope she found therein was genuine. ... That she hadn't simply fallen asleep and imagined his voice. But no, it was no dream.

When she finally returned her eyes to his, she found him patiently watching her ... his face illuminated in flashes of lightning while he waited to gauge her response. And, as part of him had expected while the other part merely hoped, her whispered "I love you" was the encouragement he needed.

"There is, Catherine, another reason I wanted to view the storms tonight."

She held her breath, waiting with anxious puzzlement as his grip around her tightened.

"When Mouse warned of the impending onslaught, it brought to mind a fragment of lines I had long since forgotten. A poem I had dismissed as irrelevant for me. ... Even painful." Clearing his mind, he recalled the lines he'd reviewed just hours earlier. -- --

"Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain, And the glass that had screened our forms before Flew up, and out she sprang to her door: I should have kissed her if the rain Had lasted a minute more. ... ... Thomas Hardy"

... ...

The smile that spread across her face was one he could see; feel tickling at his chin; even sense flooding into their bond. Magnificent.

"He's right," Catherine replied softly. "And storms don't last forever, do they?"

"No, they don't," he agreed. "Not even storms of the heart."

Taking a cleansing breath, she nodded and stared back out at the flashing, flickering sky. She understood. He was drawing closer to her at last. Day by day, slowly but surely, his fears were easing ... and he was approaching.

But as for the thunderstorm that still danced overhead -- --

"The lightning is getting farther away," she pointed out. "More time between the flash and the thunder. This rain won't last too much longer either."

Now it was his turn to smile. "Then perhaps I should take Mr. Hardy's advice." Leaning closer, shifting her gently in his arms, his lips found hers ... surrounding her carefully ... adoring her ... warming her against the rain's mist just as he too was warmed.

A kiss of love, a kiss of deeply running desire ... ... and a kiss of safety against the storms.


A Thunderstorm in Town

She wore a 'terra-cotta' dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom's dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.

Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.

Thomas Hardy