BEFORE THE FIRST VISIT


By ChicagoTunnelKid

 

 

Catherine stood on her balcony, gazing at the night skyline made bright by man’s invention of electric lights. While not nearly so beautiful as a star-lit sky, it had a loveliness all its own. She contemplated this vision more than she ever had since her trauma in the park. Before, she rarely stepped out onto the balcony, as her life was too frenetically filled with activity to enjoy such a dalliance. Now she frequented the balcony to help her growing unease.

 

Why she felt such unease, she wasn’t certain. Of course, she was adjusting to the many changes she had begun in her life. She felt more confident with her training with Isaac, training that left her drenched with sweat and wrung out like the proverbial wet towel. But it was a good feeling – empowerment to offset her previous laissez faire approach to her personal safety.

 

Her new job required a level of commitment that was new to her. And she was pleased to find that she could meet it, although the hours it took also took away her time to socialize like she had in the past. Although, if she were honest, the people she socialized with before lacked the appeal they once had for her. Outside of her close friends from college, she didn’t miss seeing the others. But she would enjoy attending more concerts than she seemed to have time for now.

 

She suspected part of her unease could be traced to Vincent. Many a night she would ponder solely about him. Did he really exist, or did she conjure him up from some pain-induced hallucination? Really, how could he exist? Not only because of his outward differences, but because he was such a kind, caring, giving being of a male variety, nothing she had ever encountered before. Did she create him to meet a standard she desired, but feared would never exist? Most of her college girlfriends were married now, yet she and Jenny remained adrift. Meeting Vincent only made her cling more tightly to her hopes that such a man could exist for her.

 

But would such a man ever notice that she existed? Perhaps that was why she was working so hard on changing herself, so that she would be worthy enough to attract such a man. Would she ever be able to transform herself? Vincent said she could. He had faith in her. Her father had faith in her, too, but it never felt as if he knew what that faith could bring out in her. With Vincent, it was different. He could tell her how she could change for the better, and she would believe it. He could see what she could become before she could. And she believed him; she believed in that ‘new’ her.

 

For such a brief encounter, Vincent left a lasting impression upon her. How interesting that upon such short acquaintance, major change could result. Many an evening, she had thought he might contact her, to check on her, encourage her. Now, she doubted she would ever see him again.

 

That thought filled her with an unexpected sadness. She felt bereft – like a child whose most important stuffed animal had been taken away; that confidant who heard all a child’s dreams and concerns and only loved in return. Gone. Not that she thought Vincent loved her, no, she was not that far gone. But there was more between them than friendship, she thought. If he really existed, that is.

 

She sighed, and thought about returning indoors. She cast one last glance over the city. What are you doing now? she wondered.

 

***

 

Father watched Vincent stride out after the council meeting. He suspected Vincent would head Above yet again. Exposing himself to danger because he ‘needed to roam free’ or some such nonsense he would utter. Father had suspicions that it was brought about by that woman who was Below for a short time. Catherine, wasn’t that her name? Vincent as much admitted to a strange attraction to her. Father sincerely hoped Vincent could forget her, for he saw nothing but trouble ahead if he could not.

 

Vincent was indeed on his way out of the tunnels via the park entrance. Late at night, the park was a fairly safe place for him to roam and work off his growing anxiety. Why was he so anxious? That woman. Catherine.

 

He had a connection to her he found hard to deny. It took him several days to recognize that feelings came to him that were not his own. But whose were they? Slowly, a pattern of feelings immerged that suggested it was Catherine. Her feelings took him through a kaleidoscope of events – apprehension at meeting all the questions about her assault and trying to explain where she had been; embarrassment over her slashed face and the pitied looks she got; uneasiness as she wondered what would happen to her now that she was back Above.

 

Have courage, Catherine, he wished. Whatever comes, you can handle it; you can.

 

He missed her. Despite Father’s misgivings, he missed her, and wished he could see her again. Many nights he would stand behind a tree in front of her building, looking up at where he imagined she lived. He would try to concentrate on his connection with her to glean how her day had gone. Tiredness. A lot of tiredness; some satisfaction, as she found new resolve; and she, too, felt unease for some reason that he could not fathom.

 

Lately, he had begun to think about how he might get up to her balcony so that he could check on her without her knowledge. He circled and studied the building carefully. He had tried a few ideas until the most successful one seemed possible. But he did not climb up very far before he would abandon the idea and come back down. What if she were to discover him? Then what? He knew there was no point. There was no life for him up there, nor for her below, with him. Why start something that had nowhere to go?

 

But what of friendship? Could he not have a friend of his own Above? Sure, there were many Helpers he knew Above, but no one who he would call a special friend. Perhaps, Catherine would be his friend. Surely that would not be wrong?

 

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

 

Father often quoted Richard Feynman, a fellow scientist. Who was he kidding but himself? He wanted more than friendship from Catherine. He dreamed of more. Where once those dreams were banished from his mind as impossible, he now found they had resurfaced, tantalizing him with winsome possibilities. What was he to do?

 

He would go see her. He would.  Some evening, after dark, he would make his way to her balcony, and hope that she would come out. He would imagine that meeting – how she would welcome him, and express her joy at seeing him. She would even beg him to return. He closed his eyes as the scene played out in his mind.

 

Why would he come? He needed a reason. One did not just show up, unannounced, as he would have to be. Think! He began to pace back and forth as he thought.

 

She might need his help to adjust to her scarred face. He, who knew of strange reactions that his countenance elicited from others; he, who learned how not to let other’s perceptions color his own thoughts about himself. Yes, he could help her adjust to her new life.

 

He inhaled deeply. No, it could not be so crass as ‘to help you accept your scars;’ no, nothing so blunt as that. The book! He could bring her the book so that she might finish the story. Now he had a plan: a reason and a way to get to her balcony.

 

One night soon, he thought, until then, Catherine. He turned and headed back to the tunnels.