Joan Stephens


Hovering by the wide-open French doors that lead to the spacious formal gardens of the elite hotel where the latest charity ball was being held, Catherine caught her husbandís eye across the length of the ballroom. Fanning herself with her hand, she nodded toward the dark night, and understanding that she needed a bit of fresh air, he nodded and made the ok sign.

Smiling a greeting to the elegant, elderly couple that passed her, she wandered toward the balustrade and leaned against it to gaze at the moon-silvered landscape. The hotel was noted for the beauty of its garden, and to her it seemed even more beautiful in the silver wash of a full moon. It had been a long time ago that she had lost her fear of the dark and had come to believe that it had its own kind of beauty. Traipsing down the left-hand staircase, she strolled down the fine gravel walkways, breathing in the fragrance of the night flowers planted profusely among the day flowers. She approached the grilled gateway set in the high garden wall and heard the soft steps of someone coming close to the grill. A little apprehensive at first, she laughed at herself when she realized that the person was on the other side of the wall, and that if she was quiet, he or she would pass by without knowing she was there. Starkly visible in the ambient glow of the gate lamps, the person stopped in the middle of the gateway. With a gasp of recognition, she whispered, "Vincent?"

He was garbed as he had been the last time she had seen him: fur-trimmed ankle boots, worn denims with patches tied around the knees, an off-white sweater and a grey, heavily padded vest. All this covered by his full-length hooded black cloak. He was magnificent, and his very presence still set her pulse racing. Her eyes drank in his beloved countenance and form. Oh, how she wished . . . what she wished was impossible. She swallowed her disappointed tears and smiled brightly at him. The smile graced her lips but never reached her sad eyes.

Strolling through the dark streets of night, he had taken a favorite way home that took him past a large garden where he could enjoy the sweet perfume of the night-blooming flowers. As was his wont, he stopped for a moment to inhale the lovely fragrances floating on the air. He stiffened as he noticed someone standing just inside the gate. The form glowing in the moonlight was that of the woman he loved and never expected to see again.

"Catherine," he sighed. She was even more lovely than he remembered: slender, athletic, her lean, tight body softly draped with sensuous silver silk that clung delicately to her shoulders and outlined her breasts and hips. Her hair was piled high on her head, exposing her long slender neck and delicate ears. He noted with sorrow the silver at her temples, indicative of the long time they had been apart. Diamonds dangled from her earlobes, and an antique choker of diamonds and emeralds, which reflected the green of her eyes, graced her neck. Her feet were shod with silver sandals that exactly matched the color of her gown. He feasted on her beauty, storing all he beheld in his memory to be recalled later whenever he thought of her. He didnít dare stay; his desire to hold her was too great. He turned to go, but then she did something she had sworn she would never do: she stopped him. Opening the grill door, she grabbed him by the arm, and he halted in mid-step. Withdrawing her hand, she gave him the option to go if he wished; he stayed.

Nervously she stared down at her painted toenails peeking out of her silver sandals. Tightlipped, Vincent waited for her to speak. Finally she asked in a small voice, "How are you?"

His answer is short and clipped. "I am fine. All of us are fine."

She laughed, self-consciously. "Iím glad."

"How are Joe and your son?" he asked sharply.

"Joe is great," she answered with forced enthusiasm. "Heís thinking of running for mayor, and J. V. is growing like a weed." She fell silent and then asked, "And Lena? How are she and little Cathy?"

"Sheís fine. Little Cathy grows lovelier every day."

"No children of your own, Vincent?"

He shook his head. "No, but I am blessed with the love of all the children Below."

"Yes, you most definitely are." Gazing up into his beloved face, she couldnít resist saying, "Itís been so long. Can we talk for just a little while?"

He hesitated, afraid that if he stayed he could never leave her, but then he nodded. He would take the chance. His heart and his eyes needed to feast on her precious and beloved presence. Guiding her to a nearby stone bench, he sank down beside her. They spoke for several minutes about the tunnels and those who lived there. Soon he had her laughing at one of Mouseís more outrageous inventions. "Oh, Iíll bet Father and William were livid. All those tomatoes gone to waste."

"Yes," he agreed, smiling. "They went back immediately to canning in the old-fashioned way."

"Oh, thatís priceless. I wish I had been there to see it." She caught her breath and dropped her eyes. She should never have said that. Trying to explain, she continued, "Itís been so long since Iíve heard anything about the tunnels. What with Peter retired and moved to Arizona, I have no way of learning if everything is all right Below. I canít move around as inconspicuously as I once did. The media is with me constantly."

"Yes, I have seen your pictures in the papers."

She was ridiculously pleased that he followed her exploits in the newspapers that the Helpers supplied to him. Teasingly, she said, "Oh, so you follow the rich and famous?"

"But of course. My life needs some spice in it."

"Oh Vincent, Iím sorry, I didnít mean to imply . . ."

"I know you didnít." Suddenly, he blurted out, "Why did you leave me when I needed you so?"

"Father . . ."

"I might have known," he interjected bitterly.

"No, no my love, donít blame him. It was my decision. He just agreed with me that it was safer for you if I never came back."

"You made the decision!" he said with disbelief.

"Yes," she answered defensively. "And I would do it again to keep you safe."

"But I needed you and there was no one."

"I stayed as long as I could until . . ."

"You told me how you had used your love to bring me back, and I railed at you unmercifully for doing that," he interrupted.

She looked away from him and nodded.

"Surely you must know that I was berating myself for putting you in that position."

"Yes," she answered softly, "I know. But then you said something that hurt me even deeper."

"That there should be no chance of anyone ever being like me."

She nodded again, unable to speak.

"And I was driving you away then because I knew how much you wanted a child."


"But within six months you returned with a child and married Joe." This he said in complete bafflement.

"Yes," she said so softly that even with his excellent hearing he almost missed her confession.

"The child is yours?" he asked quietly, still curious after all these years.



"No, Joe adopted him."

Vincentís head snapped up and he gazed at her sharply. "Then who is the father?" He paused and reconsidered, "No, donít answer that. I have no right to ask. It is your life."

She couldnít keep the truth from him any longer. "Oh, but you do, Vincent." Laying a serious hand on his arm, she quietly but fervently asked, "Donít you know? Havenít you seen pictures of him?" She sat back and waited for him to find the truth.

He nodded, and his eyes took on an incredulous look as he pictured the boy in his mind: tall for his age, robust, unruly honey gold hair, eyes the color of aquamarine, slightly slanted, and high cheekbones.

She watched with gladness as she saw the knowledge dawn in his eyes. "Yes," she whispered. "He is your son."

"My son," he said in a daze.


Stunned, he stared at her. "When, Catherine? How?"

When she grinned at him, he blushed and dropped his eyes. "You know what I mean," he muttered.

"Yes, I do. Iím sorry for teasing you," she answered soberly. "Remember all that I told you about what happened in the cave?"

He shuddered and nodded.

"How?" Smiling softly as she remembered their one and only time of complete intimacy, she said, "We loved, Vincent. We loved and it was glorious. Nothing has ever approached the wonder of that one night."

As she spoke of their night of love, the floodgates to his memories opened and he remembered. He took a deep breath of intense joy and whispered, "Oh Catherine, it was wonderful. I remember. I remember it all."

Hugging him, her heart soared with joy, and she felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her soul. At last, he knew. At last, he knew what loving delight they had found in each other. He was freed from his fear of himself.

"Why, Catherine? Why didnít you tell me?" He asked the one question she was afraid she couldnít answer to his satisfaction.

"I was going to the night I told you about all the gifts waiting for you. After that, the timing just never seemed right. You were so unhappy about losing yourself, and then you stated, categorically, that there could never be another like you, even if our dream should come true."

Bowing his head, he said, "I thought that that was the reason you left me. That you wanted children more than you wanted me."

"Iím sorry if I caused you to believe that, but I didnít know what else to do."

"And I wasnít any help. I was slowly pushing you away . . . again."

"Yes," she nodded. "Then when I returned, Peter told me that you seemed to have accepted my leaving and had settled into a rewarding life Below."

"I had," he agreed. "I felt it best for both of us. Does Peter know?"

She laughed lightly as she recalled Peterís astounded look when he had first seen J. V. "He only had to take one look at his blue eyes and golden hair to know."

Vincent shook his head. "He never said a word."

"I asked him not to. He was my only friend that knew about you and the tunnels. I miss him."

"How do you explain J. V.ís differences?"

"I say that heís a throw back to the Viking warriors in my family tree."

"People believe that?" he asked, amazed.

"Youíd be surprised what people will believe when it suits their preconceptions," she laughed.

"You are amazing, Catherine."

"No more than you. Would you like to meet your son?"

A light blazed in his eyes then quickly vanished. "More than anything but I think not. He doesnít know about the tunnels or me, does he?"

"No," she said sadly.

Vincent made the supreme sacrifice for his son; he let him live an uncomplicated life. "It is best then that he continues to think of Joe as his father."

"Oh Vincent," Catherine said, tears standing in her eyes as she knew of the enormity of his sacrifice. Burying her face in his vest, she wound her arms around his neck in an effort to comfort him.

A nearby clock chimed twelve, and gently removing her arms, he started to get up. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I must go."

Desperate to keep him with her a little longer, she clutched his arm, keeping him from leaving, and asked, "Have you been safe?"

"Yes." He settled back on the bench, tensed, ready to leave at a momentís notice.

Then it was all worth it: the misery of being without him, living with a love buried deep inside her that cried out to be released, and pretending to be happy. She hesitated then plunged ahead. "We made it, didnít we, Vincent?"

"What do you mean?"

"You are happy, arenít you?"

When the answer came after several long seconds, it was a hesitant yes.

She chose to ignore the hesitation and said, "Oh, Iím so glad."

They fell into an awkward silence for a while, each thinking of the happiness they had lost. Shifting suddenly, he turned to her, to be able to see her eyes. With their bond muted to only a golden glow in a corner of his heart, he needed to see her eyes. She could not lie to him; her eyes would speak the truth. Taking her hands in hisĖshe shivered at his touchĖhe asked, "And you, Catherine, are you happy?"

Startled, she gave a truthful answer before she could stop, "Someti-i-i-mes." Her voice slowly faded to a whisper.

"I knew it. Even though you hide your feelings from me, there are times when your unhappiness comes through."

"Oh Vincent, donít misunderstand me. Joe has been a good husband and a loving . . . friend, and I do love him."

"I know. Lena has been a true and loving companion, and I love her too, but still I long for what we had together."

"I know; I do too. All the pain, all the heartache, notwithstanding, it was a time of wondrous love." Then looking up at the full moon that afforded her a full view of his extraordinary face, she looked back into his eyes. "But I canít help but wonder what our lives would have been like . . . No, I know what our lives . . . would have been . . . like." A tear slowly wended its solitary way down her cheek. Vincent sat frozen by this uncommon display of emotion from a woman the media called ĎThe Ice Princess.í He was the only one who knew of the fierce hold she had to have on her emotions. Suddenly she was in his arms, and they were kissing as lovers do when reunited after a long separation: hungrily, desperately, and passionately.

When they broke apart, she laid her cheek against his chest. "Oh god, how I love you."

"And I you," he replied.

"Vincent, you have to be happy or it was all a waste," she cried. "All a waste," she added in a whisper.

Enfolding her in his arms, he said, "Nothing has been wasted, Catherine. We still have our dream of love. Someday, somewhere in time, we will be together forever. Often, late at night when I canít sleep, I think of the course of our love, and I feel as if we are being tested, to see if our love can withstand anything."

"But why?" she asked.

"Perhaps they have never seen a love like ours. Sometimes, I believe that our love stretches back into antiquity."

"Reincarnation, Vincent?" Her eyes twinkled merrily as a smile sat softly on her lips.

"No, not that," he chuckled. "But itís as if our love has existed forever and we with it, always different, always changing. As if itís immortal."

"Not reincarnation. More like a personification or an avatar?" With a mischievous look, she exclaimed, "I know who you are. Youíre Eros, the god of love."

He threw his head back, letting out a loud guffaw, unmindful of being overheard. "Me? The god of love."

"Well, to me you are," she said, chuckling.

"Then you know who you are, donít you? Psyche: Erosí greatest love. She was his soul and they were tested over and over again."

"Oh Vincent, what a wonderful thought." She hugged him tightly. "Too bad, itís only a thought."

Pensively he said, "Iím not too sure about that."

"Now, Vincent, this is the 20th century," she gently scolded him.

"There you go, being sensible," he answered with loving exasperation. "I prefer to believe that itís possible."

"My love, with us anything is possible. Look what weíve done with our love in this life," she added sadly.

"Weíve made many mistakes," he said as she nodded in agreement, "Trapped ourselves in ways we never dreamed that we would, but in the meantime, we have made two very dear people happy, have we not?" Placing a gentle finger under her chin, he raised her eyes to meet his. "Havenít we?" he asked again.

Mesmerized by his deep blue gaze, she nodded. Then her eyes widened. He was going to kiss her again. He lowered his lips to hers in a delicate, chaste kiss that sent a tremor through her to the end of her toes. Her arms wrapped tightly around him as she responded with all the devotion she felt for this man. They pulled back, resting their foreheads together. At that moment her name floated to them from the hotel balcony.

"Itís Joe. Heís probably wondering whatís become of me."

"I must go. Iím sure Father and Lena are wondering what is taking me so long."

Rising together, they looked longingly at each other.

"I donít suppose . . ."

"No, it would be unwise."

"Yes, youíre right."

"Good bye, Catherine." He turned to go.

"Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing;

Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness,

So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,

Only a look and a voice; . . . " she quietly related.

He glanced at her over his shoulder, nodded, and then finished the poem, "Then darkness again and a silence." *

"Yes, darkness and silence." She shivered, looking down the long, lonely years without him. As he turned away from her, she called out, "Give my best to Father . . . No. You better not. Iíll give J. V. a kiss for you. Iíll tell him of you someday."

His whole body sagged. Then he straightened and, without another backward glance, disappeared into the darkness.

"Good bye, my love," she whispered into the dark night, and then hearing her name again, she smiled. She could do this; she had the strength as long as she had Vincentís love to keep her strong and their dream that they would be together someday . . . sometime. She answered, "Coming, Joe."



* ĎTales of a Wayside Inn, pt.3' by H. W. Longfellow