The Semantics of Silence
Words, words, mere words, no
matter from the heart:
The effect doth operate another way.
~ William Shakespeare
Catherine fumbled with her keys and finally got the door open. She threw her umbrella in the corner and removed her rain-soaked coat. Mark set his briefcase down and helped her out of the wet garment before placing it on the coat rack. Catherine walked further into her apartment while Mark stood questioningly by the door, dripping wet.
"Well, are you going to come in?" she asked.
"I wasn’t sure …" Mark replied.
"Come on in and get warm. I’ll get us some wine—I’m in the mood to celebrate!" she exclaimed, slipping into the kitchen.
Mark put his coat on the rack beside hers and removed his shoes. He tentatively moved further into her apartment.
So this is where she lives, he thought, chiding himself for glancing into her bedroom beyond the louvered doors. The whole moment felt surreal—the unrelenting rain, the warmth of her home, the intimacy of her company. He glanced out at the balcony, wishing he could see the view. It was probably spectacular.
Catherine emerged from the kitchen with two glasses of wine, handing one to him. He took it and turned toward the couch.
"May I?" he asked.
"Of course, let’s sit. Sorry we can’t have a fire—I keep forgetting to pick up wood."
"Oh, that’s okay," he told her, taking a seat on the larger couch. She sat on the smaller one.
"What a day!" she sighed.
"Did you see the defendant's face when you cross-examined his old employer? It was priceless!"
"It was supremely satisfying," she agreed, taking a sip of wine.
"I think Carerro is finally going to prison," Mark replied.
"I certainly hope so. It’s about time."
"You were wonderful today. All your hard work is really paying off," he told her, stretching out a little.
"Yeah, well, I had a lot of help. It's not often I get to work with an FBI specialist."
"It's not often I get to work with such a beautiful, tough prosecutor," Mark replied, his eyes dropping in shyness.
Catherine smiled at him and moved her eyes to the dark fireplace. Inside, she was beaming ... and breaking. All of this was so unfamiliar—these feelings, the small talk, the uncomfortable pauses. Maybe she shouldn’t have invited him in.
Catherine smiled again and excused herself. She went into the bathroom and splashed some cold water on her face. She stared intently into the mirror.
The name that used to thrill her now exhausted her.
Four years—four years it had been and he still hadn't touched her, hadn't kissed her, still hadn't directly told her that he loved her. They had come close—many times—but he always pulled away. He always pulled away. The sweet, reverent way he always dropped his head used to inspire tenderness in her; now it made her want to scream.
What she thought would be the love of her life was now only a friendship—an exquisite one, for sure, but still, technically, a friendship. The urgency was gone. They had slipped into comfortable complacency. They never thought to push the boundaries … or question them.
And Mark … he really was a nice man, perfect for her in every way. Never married, he was from humble beginnings in Arkansas and was now one of the best FBI agents in the New York area. She had liked Mark the first time she had seen him and her curiosity had only increased over the last few weeks. She respected him and admired him and knew he felt the same way. If it wasn’t for Vincent, she would …
If it wasn’t for Vincent …
She didn’t know what to do anymore. Vincent was still her first choice, her only choice. But she needed more—she needed something. She wanted to be with him forever, but if it meant never being able to touch him, or kiss him, or wake up to him in the morning … she knew herself—it would never be enough.
And now she actually liked someone—the kind of man Vincent had always pushed her toward.
Vincent never spoke anymore of the life he had always said was waiting for her. She almost missed it—at least he showed some fire, even if it was to tell her that he was wrong for her, that she should find someone else.
Catherine finished toweling off, realizing she had kept Mark waiting for nearly five minutes. She hurried out to find him sitting in front of the fireplace, his face tilted upward in contemplation. He turned around and smiled when she returned.
"Cathy …" he sighed.
"Mark …" she answered.
"Will you come sit with me by the fire?" he joked.
While part of her resisted, part of her nearly ran to his side. He had loosened his tie and unbuttoned a couple of buttons on his dress shirt while she had been gone. He was so close; she knew he would welcome her touch. She was so tempted.
"Cathy," he began. "I was thinking, once this case ended … would you like to go out with me?"
Her face burned and her heart did flip-flops in her chest.
"Mark …" she started.
"I’m not daft, Cathy. I can sense a reluctance on your part. Maybe you aren’t sure; maybe there is another man in your life … I find it hard to believe that there isn’t. But, if there is a chance, even the slightest chance, that you might be interested in me, I would really like to explore it," he finished, waiting.
She looked at him and wished, for once, that her life wasn’t so complicated. She couldn’t remember the last time something had been easy. And it would be easy, so easy to lean over and …
He kissed her then, startling her. She started to pull away, out of reflex more than displeasure, but something overrode it, and she—briefly—returned his kiss.
She pulled away, then looked at him—he was happy, his smile lit up the room.
"Why don’t you think about it? I have to testify tomorrow, but then my part in the case will be over. When the trial is done, call me. We’ll go to dinner. My treat …" he added, touching her face fleetingly.
She tried to speak, but found she couldn’t.
"I really like you, Cathy. A friendship would be wonderful—if it was more, well, that would be even better. But no pressure—I want you to think about it. If you decided to date me, I would want it to be without hesitation."
"Thanks, Mark. You have no idea how much those words mean to me. Thank you," she repeated.
He smiled and stretched his arms over his head, yawning.
"God, the thought of taking the train to Jersey in this rain …" he sighed.
"Why do you have to go to Jersey?"
"I moved out there to help my sister out; she’s been fighting leukemia for years. Her husband left her. With three girls and no source of income … well, it’s been rough on her. I gave up my place a couple of months ago."
"Do you want to stay here?" she asked without thinking.
His eyebrows raised slightly, but he recovered quickly and gave her a small smile.
"I have extra clothes at my office, so I guess I could …"
"You testify at nine tomorrow—going out to Jersey at this time of night, in this rain … it’s silly. You can have the couch," she told him, standing up.
"Thanks, Cathy. The thought of crashing on your couch right now … I really appreciate it."
She nodded and got up to retrieve some blankets from the closet. She pulled a pillow from her bed and returned to the living room.
"Here you go!" she said, turning abruptly to leave.
"Good night, Cathy, thanks again," he said, so sincerely that she turned around and faced him again.
"It’s no problem, Mark … I’m … glad to have you here," she blurted out, before hurrying to her room.
She closed the doors behind her and flung herself on the bed, burying her face into a pillow.
What was she thinking, asking him to stay over?
Oh my God, the kiss!
She knew Vincent had felt it. He could feel everything.
What was she doing? This was not the way to go about things. She had to talk to him, to tell him that she was interested in someone else.
Someone else …
She choked back a sob. How could she say that to him? It broke her heart—what it would do to him …
She knew he would encourage her, though. He wouldn’t stand in her way. He wouldn’t even tell her if it hurt him. He never did. He never would. That was precisely the problem.
So many nevers … she needed something to believe in again. If Vincent could not be her dream, she needed to find a new one. It’s not what she wanted—it was what she needed. She was dying inside. After four years, though it broke her heart to admit it, their dream wasn’t enough anymore.
Feeling wretched and guilty, she crawled under the covers. She hated herself, but no one can live on promises, however wonderful they might be.
Below, Vincent lay in his bed, the light from a single candle flickering softly.
He replayed the night’s events over and over in his head. He did not know the details, but he knew what she felt. He knew there was a man in her apartment. He knew he was still there. He had felt it when they … kissed.
Something had profoundly changed tonight—he was no fool. He could feel her turmoil, though it was nowhere near what she had experienced when she had kissed Elliot so many years ago. Then, she had been agonized, miserable … wishing for his lips while settling for Elliot’s. Now, there was only guilt, not remorse; acquiescence, not struggle—he had the nagging feeling that she had stopped it because it was the "right" thing to do, not because she wanted to.
He never expected this day to come, not because he was surprised that she met someone, but that they would have held onto their dream for so long. He had expected her to leave him months, if not years, ago. He had expected to be alone, always yearning for her. He was not alone—but the yearning … it had worn him down. He had no fight anymore—like a castaway, he had long ago abandoned any hope of rescue and fallen where he stood, letting the waves roll over him, again and again, only to be buried in the sand or finally carried out to sea.
He could not remember when their course had changed; he suspected it had happened gradually, all the missed opportunities and squandered moments had finally tipped the balance. They did not share a dream anymore—they shared the memory of one.
Tears started to fill his eyes. This was almost worse than losing her—to see their love wither and become something mundane, a shadow of its former brilliance. Their love did not hold them together anymore—habit did.
In two days, they would celebrate four years of being together, but instead of filling him with happiness and gratitude, the date seemed foreboding.
Happy just to have her in his life, he had never let himself desire more. He had been content—he still was. He loved her no less today than he did when he had found her so long ago. He loved her more. He never believed he deserved her and was thankful for every moment she spent with him. He supposed he had been savoring every moment with her, always knowing it could be their last.
Because he knew he lacked the ability to truly make her happy, he had never even offered more, for he knew he could never follow through on such an offer. He knew she had always wanted more, and he had assumed she would eventually find it with someone else.
But even if she had chosen another, he never thought their flame would die—he thought their love was enduring, indestructible.
Still, he had done nothing to keep that flame alive. Once a roaring firestorm that consumed everything in its path with its wild intensity and strength, their love was no more than the fragile, flickering light of the single candle beside his bed. In one breath, it could be snuffed out. One breath and total darkness.
Could he really let her go? Could he ever find peace knowing she walked the streets above him? He knew he would be lost without her, but what could he do to rekindle the flame? Was he really willing to do now what he had never done before? Could the answer be something as simple as a kiss?
He sighed heavily. It was that simple, for a kiss would be so much more than that—it would be hope.
Would she accept one from him now? Did she still want him? Did she still love him? Was it too late or was that original spark still there, buried deep inside her, crying to be stoked?
He rolled over and glanced at the note he had written earlier, lying on his bedside table. It was an invitation for her, to accompany him on a trip to the Crystal Cavern, something she had always wanted to do. He had always promised her, but had never followed up on it. He had wanted to surprise her for their anniversary.
But the thought of seeing her made his stomach turn. She had kissed someone else. She had feelings for someone else. How could he face her?
He had neglected her for so long, space had opened up inside her and now someone was threatening to step in. He had to decide now, once and for all, what he was willing to do for their dream, before the decision ceased to be his.
Seeing her would kill him, but not seeing her …
"Vincent?" a hesitant voice asked from his chamber entrance.
"Father?" he replied, startled that he had not heard his approach.
"May I come in, my son?"
"Yes, of course," Vincent told him, sitting up in bed. He quickly lit a few candles.
Father slowly walked in and sat at Vincent’s desk.
"We missed you at dinner tonight," Father told him.
"Yes, well …" Vincent trailed off.
"Is something the matter?"
Vincent sighed and looked down at his hands.
"Do I have to ask?" Father said, gently.
Vincent shook his head. Father waited patiently.
"I don’t know what to say," Vincent admitted.
"I assume we are speaking of Catherine," Father replied, leaning his cane against the desk.
"Is she well?"
"Yes, of course …"
"In two days, we will celebrate four years of friendship," Vincent mused.
"Well, then congratulations are in order! What do you have planned? A trip to your music chamber, perhaps?"
"No … we have done that too many times," Vincent started. He closed his eyes and sighed.
"I am afraid it’s not much to celebrate …" he explained.
"Why ever not?"
"Our friendship, Father, it’s … it’s not by choice."
"Vincent, you always knew there were limitations …"
"That’s not what I mean. It is … by choice …"
Father looked at him quizzically.
"It is … my choice. I have set the boundaries. She has …"
"Wanted more?" Father said, astutely.
Vincent managed to nod.
"Vincent, you are prudent and rational. It was the right choice … the only choice, really …"
"How can you believe that, Father?" Vincent demanded. He looked up at Father then, eyes burning.
The sadness on his son’s face surprised the older man and he took a moment to think.
"Vincent, I would be remiss to deny the love you and Catherine share for each other. It’s apparent and … quite remarkable. There is no doubt that what you share is meant to be treasured, but really, again, what kind of life could you have? Don’t you think it’s time to let her go?"
Vincent leapt out of bed so fast, Father jumped in his seat. Vincent was on his feet, pacing, quickly, along the run of the rug. Suddenly, he spun, and looked directly at Father.
"Is that really your counsel? Are you happy you let go of Margaret?"
"Now, really, Vincent, how is that even relevant?"
"I must question your motives, Father. When Margaret came back into your life, there is no doubt you regretted your decision to let her go. Must I follow in your path?"
"Vincent," Father interrupted. "Listen to me. All it did was remind me of what a fool I had been in the first place. I was damn lucky that I got another chance to see her; I would never change it. But to have what I had always wanted for a few moments, only to lose her so quickly after … it …" Father trailed off, and dropped his head, sighing.
"Sometimes I wish I would have remained blissfully unaware … at least I would never have known what I had really given up," Father finished.
Vincent blinked at him, incredulous.
"But you are not angry with me, my son. Tell me, what has transpired?"
Vincent huffed and walked over to his bureau. It was moments before he spoke.
"She has met someone … they … kissed tonight," Vincent mumbled.
"Come here, my boy …" Father said, waving him over.
Vincent bristled at first, and then slowly walked over and kneeled before his father’s chair.
"My son," Father said when Vincent settled in front of him. He smoothed Vincent’s hair back and took his face in his hands.
"Here is my advice," he went on. "It matters not what you decide. The fact is, you must decide something. You are both people of action, Vincent. You must do something. A man cannot love with mere words."
Vincent’s shoulders sank. He nodded in agreement.
"Do you want to be with her, Vincent? Even if you cannot foresee your future and the obstacles and heartbreak it could bring?"
Vincent looked up at him.
"Father, I can only imagine what my life would be without her."
"My boy," he told Vincent. "Surely you must know that whatever my opinion on matters of the heart, I only want you to be happy. I will do all I can to help you achieve it."
"Thank you, Father," Vincent replied, standing up. He walked back over to his bed and got under the covers.
"What are your plans then, Vincent?" he asked, getting to his feet and walking slowly toward the chamber entrance. His cane clicked on the stone.
"I don’t know. I must find a way to … tell her I love her … in word and deed."
"Vincent, my son," Father sighed. "You are a smart boy. I have no doubt you will find the right words … it’s …"
"The deed," Vincent finished for him. "I know."
Father raised his cane in farewell.
Vincent blew out the candles and settled onto his side. He would have Geoffrey deliver the note to Catherine’s apartment in the morning. He couldn’t go there tonight—what if …
Vincent closed his eyes. He still didn’t know what he should do, or how. All he could think about was Catherine. All he could think about was her lying in bed—and pray that she was alone.
The elevator doors opened and Catherine trudged toward her apartment. She was exhausted. The case, Vincent, Mark, the uncertainty, the doubts, the regret—it was consuming her. She was praying a long bath and lots of wine would help to dull the pain.
When she opened her door, she wasn’t surprised to see the note. He knew as well as she did that they had reached the precipice—that something had to change. She was terrified to see him though, to find the words to say what he already knew had transpired—she never thought something like this would happen, so blindly had she believed in their dream, even as it unraveled before her.
She put her purse down and paused before opening the envelope. His notes to her used to make her head spin, even a single word felt like an embrace.
But she knew this one would be different.
The moment she opened it, she started to cry. His handwriting was off, shaky, nothing like the beautiful script she had become accustomed to. She forced herself to read it.
Tomorrow marks four years since the day we came into each other’s lives, a date we have celebrated so warmly in the past.
I realize that this day might mean something different now than it has before, but nonetheless, I would like to honor it by inviting you to come with me to the Crystal Cavern this weekend. It has always been a dream of ours and I believe, in some way, it will pay tribute to what we have shared and give us the answers we are seeking.
If you are in agreement, please meet me at the threshold at 7 a.m.
What he had written was drenched in meaning and she could not ignore the significance of what he was asking. He wanted to fulfill a dream of hers—theirs—the sentiment and love was not lost on her.
But what he hadn’t written—that made her tremble and her tears increased ten-fold. She could only imagine how difficult it had been for him to write it and all that he had made himself hold back. It almost seemed like he expected her to refuse.
Had they really come to this point? Where he could extend his hand and not be sure she would take it?
She glanced up and saw the light blinking on the answering machine. Almost just to torture herself, she walked over to it and pressed "play."
Hey, Cathy … it’s Mark. Hope things went well the rest of the day. I’m heading back to Jersey now and just wanted to say thanks for letting me crash at your place. It was a thoughtful gesture and I really appreciate it … I … uh … hope to hear from you soon … and … I … um … have a great weekend. Bye, Cathy …
For some reason, a poem instantly popped into her brain and she made a mad dash for her bookshelf. Finally, she found it and read the opening lines:
How shall I hold my soul so that it not be touching yours?
Catherine collapsed on the couch. She had felt that their souls had been intertwined since the day Vincent had come into her life, even before, so profound was their love.
But now it burned to be attached to him. She could feel his pain pulsing toward her, scrambling across the streets, filling the air around her, until it was lodged so deep inside her, it became her pain, her soul … her burden.
She used to welcome this feeling, desired it, longed for it, believing she could not survive without it. But could she hold it anymore? It felt so heavy and their love had always filled her with light, not darkness.
What did all this mean? Was she supposed to let go? Explore something lighter … even easier … with Mark,or was this her destiny?
That she even doubted their love spoke volumes to her.
It started to rain again and Catherine watched the water slide down the glass doors, blurring with the tears in her eyes.
She wanted release—but would it come from taking the new path, which seemed to lead to lightness and ease; or the old path, which promised the light, but had only proved to be dark, twisted, … and endless.
With a heavy heart, in the morningVincent set out for the threshold. To his amazement, he had slept soundly, but the rest had him feeling uneasy.
When he reached the sub-basement, he set down his pack and sighed heavily. He was suppressing the Bond. If she wasn’t coming, he didn’t want to feel it inside her. It bothered him that it wasn’t difficult for him to ignore the Bond. When had that become so easy?
His disgust in himself deepened.
Something stirred deep inside his belly, causing him to catch his breath. The next moment, he heard her boot hit the metal rung of the ladder. Love roared up inside him; he had to fight every urge to pull her off that ladder and into his arms. He should proceed with gentleness and not overwhelm her.
But when she stepped off the ladder and dropped her pack to the ground, he lost his restraint and swooped her up in a passionate embrace … and she responded, clinging to him desperately. A cry tore from his chest and she returned the urgency by pressing closer to him, burying her face into his chest and gripping his arms tightly.
But reality leaked back in, along with their shyness and discomfort, and he set her down again. Embarrassed, he took a step back.
Great, another step backward, she thought, not even trying to disguise her disappointment.
"Catherine," he managed after some time.
"Vincent," she replied.
He paused, unsure of what to do. But she was here … it was enough to give him some courage.
"Shall we?" he asked softly.
He put his pack on and slowly started walking away. Catherine couldn’t help but feel it was a premonition of what was to come.
After many hours of walking, Vincent suggested they stop for some rest. Catherine agreed, if only to break the monotony of the silent death march they had just forced themselves through.
Catherine dropped her pack and sat down, leaning back on it for comfort. She took a sip of water from her canteen and closed her eyes, just wanting to disappear.
This was painful, almost unbearable. The elephant in the room could not have been larger.
Vincent was beside himself in agony. He was trying to focus on the gesture of his love. He still didn’t know what he was going to do to show her what she meant to him.
But all he could think about was the kiss. He needed to ask her, he needed to know, but he was terrified of the truth. His heart was beating fast and he was out of breath. He hadn’t been able to eat since lunch the day before. He felt shaky.
"How much further?" Catherine asked casually, breaking the silence.
He sat down heavily, clumsily dropping the pack from his shoulder. He sat cross-legged and leaned over to catch his breath.
"Vincent?" she asked.
Her voice sounded like an echo. He took a deep breath to calm himself—he was sweating all over and his chest was tight.
"In thirty minutes, there is a way station with food and beds. The cavern is only a few hours’ walk from there. We can see it in the morning," he told her, his voice husky.
"Are you alright, Vincent?" Catherine said, softly.
"Yes, I’m fine …" Vincent whispered. What was wrong with him? He had never felt such … what was it? He felt dizzy.
"Something is wrong. You look ill. Are you okay?"
"No, I’m fine," he repeated.
"Vincent …" she ventured.
"I’m fine!" he snapped. He jumped to his feet in a blur. Catherine had never seen him move so fast. It disturbed her.
She stood up then and walked right up to him. Her finger rose to point at him, but she thought better of it, and lowered it.
"Do you want to hide forever, Vincent?" she blurted out.
"Catherine …" he whispered.
"If there was any time you needed to talk to me, this is the time, Vincent," she urged him, and not gently. There was an edge to her voice.
He huffed and spun from her. But when he reached down to grab his pack, a stabbing pain hit his right temple. He stumbled and helplessly tossed forward, onto the ground. His head slammed against a protruding rock and pain shot through his body like electricity.
During this, Catherine had turned away, trying to smother her urge to reach out to him and help. She felt heartless, but she couldn’t help but think this was providence. If he ran from her now, it was at his own peril.
Vincent clutched his head, rolled over, and sat up against the wall. He was mortified and defeated. He breathed in heavily and cried out in frustration. The sound echoed throughout the tunnel.
Rapidly breathing in and out, he struggled to calm himself. Catherine turned and stood above him, her arms crossed across her chest.
Finally … he spoke.
"He spent the night with you," Vincent whispered.
"Yes," she conceded.
"He … kissed … you …"
Catherine stiffened. Without her conscious thought, her barriers flew up. Oh God, it’s really come to this, she thought. Suddenly, she didn’t want to reconcile—she wanted to be home alone right now. Not with Mark, not with Vincent … she wanted to be alone. She wanted to run from here this very minute. She quickly glanced over at her pack—her keys were in there.
Vincent made a sound, which made her look at him.
"That’s what I wanted to do, Catherine. Run. I tried—look where it got me," he broke in, interrupting her thoughts.
Vincent sighed, still holding his head. He spoke quietly.
"I have never spent the night with you. I've never been permitted to kiss you ..."
"Permitted?" she asked, incredulous. "What do you think I have been waiting for all these years?"
She turned away, putting her hands on her hips. Trying to calm down, she paced a few steps and then turned around again.
"It didn’t mean anything." The words sounded hollow, even to her.
"To you, maybe. But him?"
"He understands the boundaries of our relationship," she retorted.
"Your relationship—?" he broke off, unable to continue for a moment. He shook his head in anger and continued.
"Catherine, you have never kissed me. You have never spoken of a relationship with me …"
"Are you serious? What else would you call what we have? A delusion we called a dream?"
She was being cruel, she knew. He didn't deserve it, but it seemed more appropriate than rushing over and kissing him, which kept crossing her mind.
"You always said it was more than a dream to you," he gently reminded her, trying to ignore the other things she had said.
"It was, Vincent!" she exploded. "I never doubted!"
"I, too, believed, but Catherine, it was a dream. Dreams have limits—that is their very definition."
"Are we going to fight over semantics, then? Are you trying to convince me that you don’t believe dreams can come true because it goes against their dictionary meaning? I don’t believe that. Dreams can come true and I wasn’t the one standing in the way of ours!"
"And I was? What did you expect me to do?"
"Something! Anything, Vincent!"
"You know what, Vincent! God, you just don’t get it. I don’t think you will ever understand …" she dismissed him.
"Not understand? Catherine, I feel everything you do, as deeply as you do! Everything! I felt that kiss. I have felt every time I disappointed you, every night you have cried in your bed, every night you longed for me to come to you!"
"Then why didn’t you come to me?" she demanded.
"I don’t know!" he growled back.
"Maybe you don’t want it enough …" she suggested.
"Impossible," he answered, his voice rough with emotion. "I want nothing more …"
Catherine sighed, frustrated.
"Well, what are you waiting for? It’s been in front of you for four years now. I would think that would be enough of an indication that you are ‘permitted’ to kiss me," she said, bitterly.
He flew to his feet and stormed over to her, seizing her in his arms. He pulled her to him and kissed her roughly, heavy with the passion Catherine had always known was inside him. Her mouth opened and accepted his probing tongue as her hands snaked into his hair. His lips crushed onto hers and pressed against them tightly.
But just as quickly, he pulled away and it was over.
"I don’t want to kiss you in anger, Catherine," he said softly, letting her go and backing away from her.
"Again with the retreat. I don’t care what it’s in. I just need you to kiss me, Vincent!"
But he was reaching for his pack again and she knew the moment had passed.
She huffed in frustration—mad at him and surprised at herself. When had she lost all patience with him? When had she become so hostile toward him? In her pain, she blamed him entirely, but she knew that couldn’t be true. Nothing was ever that simple.
He had already started walking down the tunnel, so she walked over to where her pack was. When she reached for it though, she noticed something on her hand. Was it dirt? Was it … blood?
Just then, she heard a noise ahead of her. Panicked, she scrambled down the tunnel and lurched toward his motionless body where it lay on the ground.
"Vincent?" she cried out. She pulled the pack from his shoulders and rolled him over. He was so still … and he wasn’t answering her. Her hands frantically moved over his body, searching for an injury, but she couldn’t find it. Where was he hurt?
Finally, she found it, buried deep in his copper-colored hair. He had a small cut on the right side of his skull, toward the back of his head.
Think, Chandler, think!
She needed to put pressure on it. Yes! She ripped her sweatshirt off, rolled it up, and pressed it against his head.
What next? Why isn’t he waking up?
She would bet a million bucks he had a first aid kit in his pack. Leveraging her weight against him and anchoring his head against the side of the pack, she tore through his pack. She quickly found what she was looking for and opened the kit. She took out some antiseptic and then paused. Was this the right thing to do?
She started to cry then. Vincent had still not moved. She pulled the sweatshirt away and was relieved that the bleeding had lessened.
She put the sweatshirt back over the wound and pressed firmly. She didn’t know what to do. She glanced around and didn’t see any pipes nearby. Should she leave him and try to find some to call for help? But the thought of leaving him was horrible. She couldn’t do it. Besides, they had already passed any tunnels that were even remotely familiar to her. She couldn’t risk getting lost.
"Vincent," she repeated, over and over. He didn’t even stir. He felt heavy and lifeless in her arms.
"Please, Vincent ... please!" she whispered. "I’m sorry for everything, for doubting, for hurting you. Please wake up! Please!"
But he wouldn’t, and after a bout of constant crying, combined with the unaccustomed exercise, she finally exhausted her last emotional and physical reserves and dropped her head onto his chest, one hand still holding the sweatshirt. She kissed him softly, telling him how much she loved him and then finally, mercifully, fell asleep.
Vincent’s eyes flashed open into total darkness. The natural light that managed to trickle in during the daytime was gone.
He tried to move and was immediately nauseous. It took him a moment to recover before he was able to think clearly.
He was on his back, on the ground, and … Catherine was lying on top of him. He could feel the wound on the back of his head and his mouth was dry. He remembered what had happened. But before he could analyze it, Catherine slowly moved on top of him, which affected him—profoundly.
She was lying along the length of him, nearly flush with his entire body. She felt heavy, like a blanket. He was moved by the gesture, soothed by the warmth, but he was also completely aroused—completely.
Too hurt to panic, he relaxed. She was asleep—he could calm himself down.
But then, the balance tipped and Vincent could not ignore the fact that Catherine was lying on top of him. Yes, he had craved her touch since the moment she first came into his life, but he had never allowed his industrious powers of imagination to run away from him and his respect for her had never waivered for an instant.
But now … he couldn’t help it and it felt so good to feel her so close to him. He took a deep breath and sighed.
Slowly, his hand floated to and settled on the curve of her waist. He slightly pulled her toward him, just for a second, but it was enough to devastate him.
His other hand rose and cupped the back of her head, pulling her closer to him. He again considered abandoning these thoughts … and now, actions … but he didn’t want to.
Tears came to his eyes when he realized how muchless painful this could have been for both of them. If he wanted to be with her, he needed to commit, not hold himself back. He needed to be present and attentive to her needs, all of them.
He could not ask for more opportunities than he had already had—until now, they had seemed as numerous and endless as the pages in a long novel. But they weren’t. He was at the end of the story and had filled the middle with nothing but pain, unnecessary pain.
How could he have let himself become less than what he was before? How could he have taken her for granted—how was that even possible?
He should have just touched her, kissed her, done something. It was the deed. Too many words had been spoken, but nothing had ever been made real.
He moved his hands to her shoulders and gently pulled her up until their faces were next to each other. He found her lips and kissed her, softly, and whispered her name.
She murmured something and her lips instinctively sought out his.
He kissed her again and with his lips held firmly over hers, breathed in her breath and returned it to her, intertwined with his, willing her to wake. She did and returned his kiss.
"Vincent?" she whispered, smiling. The she bolted upright and grabbed his shoulders.
"Vincent! Are you okay? Are you okay?" she cried, already having traveled from sleepy to agitated.
"Yes," he assured her. "Please, come back …"
"How is your head?" she demanded, completely oblivious. Her hands found the bump immediately and in her haste, rubbed against it.
Pain shot through Vincent, so intense, he gripped her arms and pushed her off of his chest. It was a moment before he eased her back down on top of him again.
"Catherine, please!" he managed, his eyes still pressed shut against the pain.
"I’m sorry, Vincent! I’m so sorry. I was so worried. You wouldn’t wake up! I was so scared!"
"It’s all right, Catherine," he whispered.
She immediately rolled off of him and sat beside him, careful not to touch him.
He was so disappointed. He had been so close to her and now she was gone and maybe he would never have the chance again. He sighed deeply, trying to clamp down on his hurt feelings.
"I’m sorry. I was just so worried!" she said again.
He forced a small smile to his face, even though she couldn’t see it, and sighed one more time, forcing himself to move forward, no matter what the outcome.
"Catherine," he started. "There are some torches strapped to the right side of my pack. Can you retrieve one?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed, glad to be helping him.
After a moment, she found one.
"What about matches?" she asked.
"They are in my … vest pocket," he replied quickly, bracing himself against her touch. His mind may have processed the frustration of a lost opportunity, but his body hadn’t forgotten.
Catherine lay down the torch and reached for him in the dark. Her hands landed on his stomach and then moved upward to his chest. She quickly worked her fingers underneath his vest, found the matches, and pulled them out. But it wasn’t until she was withdrawing her hand that she noticed Vincent was unnaturally still and holding his breath.
And suddenly, there in the dark, Catherine realized what had happened. He had been trying to … move forward. He had been kissing her and their bodies had been so close. She shivered. She had ruined the moment—completely!
"You hold the torch, Catherine, and I will light it, all right?" he explained.
"Yes, go ahead," she told him, pushing the matches into his hand. She wanted to put the torch down and crawl back on top of him, but she stopped herself. Maybe this wasn’t the time; he was hurt.
She heard a pop and then the light exploded from the match, quickly reducing in size. The flame lit the torch immediately.
"There should be a holder nearby, Catherine."
She stood up and found one a few paces down the tunnel. She slid the torch in and then turned back toward him, at a loss for what to say or do next.
He still hadn’t moved to get up so she sat back down beside him.
"Can you move?" she asked gently.
Vincent sighed. He didn’t have a choice, but this wound wasn’t just something he could shake off. His head had hit jagged rock—he didn’t know the extent of the injury, but he knew how it felt. He could barely move without feeling woozy. He was afraid that if he tried to stand up, he would only fall back to the ground.
And he was furious with himself. He had only gotten this injury from being obstinate and now it threatened to ruin their entire trip. If only he had found the courage to face this a year ago, two years ago, even a few hours ago … if only …
And then, to his utter horror, he started to weep,and not just silent tears. A sob racked his body and then another, and before he knew it, his face was soaked with tears.
He wanted to be strong. He wanted to face this like a man. He wanted her heart back, all of it, but not like this. In a last ditch attempt to salvage his pride, he tried to roll over and away from her.
But Catherine stopped him and pulled him onto his back again. She lay down next to him and carefully slid her arm under his neck, using her free hand to brush the hair away from his face before laying her arm across his chest.
Vincent felt her face press against his cheek, which only made him cryharder. She brought her hand to his face and cradled him, kissing him softly and whispering comforting, but unintelligible words into his ear.
Her compassion, her understanding, just the fact that she was being nice to him when he was hurting so badly—it was too much. Choking on his tears, he let out a roar, weak, but overflowing with frustration and regret. It ended quietly.
He could not let her go. He couldn’t. But now—he didn’t know how to hold onto her. Each passing moment, he felt further away from her.
Finally, after some time, he calmed down, his breathing returned to normal, and the tears dried up. But though he felt infinitely better, he was still ashamed and didn’t know what to say.
"Vincent, I know you must be feeling terrible, but we should get you to the way station. It’s half an hour away, right?"
"Yes," he managed.
"You just have to do it, Vincent. You can’t spend the night here. We need to eat and I should look at your injury."
She was right. He had to get up.
"Here, I’ll help you," she offered, trying to help him up.
"Please, just give me a moment," he told her, pain rushing through his skull.
"Okay," she said, softly.
She wanted to cry now. He was really hurt. She was worried. They hadn’t talked yet. What was going to happen?
"Do you want my help?" she asked, tentatively.
"No," he snapped. He had tried to roll over, but it hadn’t made anything better.
"I mean, no thank you," he caught himself.
"Okay," she whispered.
He could feel through the Bond that he had hurt her feelings. This whole thing just kept getting worse. He had to stop pushing her away.
"Catherine," he said, swallowing to keep his tears down.
She looked down at him. He found her hand.
"I love you."
There. He had said it. After years of holding it in, it was finally out. He searched her eyes for a reaction.
"Vincent," she answered, leaning over and kissing him softly on the lips. It was quick, but it had its impact.
She pulled back from him and though he could feel it through the Bond, he watched his words play out on her face. She wanted to be excited—and she was—but the words were too late. They were simply too late.
He wasn’t sure if he could bring her back to him. He chastised himself for only offering her words—however overdue they might be. He needed to kiss her—that would make this better.
But he couldn’t. It was impossible. No matter how much he wanted to, he wasn’t sure he could even stand, much less hold her or kiss her.
She was still looking at him, like she was expecting an answer—to her kiss or her silence, he did not know. Her mouth had dropped open and she had the most vulnerable look on her face.
"We must go," he said, grimly, pushing himself up. It wasn’t as bad as he thought it was going to be, but he knew he couldn’t walk without holding onto the wall or—
"Hold onto me," she instructed him.
"The pack," he reminded her.
"Is there anything in there that we can’t find at the way station?" she asked, propping him up.
"I don’t think so …" He didn’t know. His head was spinning.
"Then leave it. We’ll get it later," she told him. "Come on."
Step by step, little by little, they made it to the station within an hour. When they arrived, Catherine gently laid him down on the bed and immediately went for the first aid kit.
"Is there a mirror down here? You might know what to do if you could see it."
"I don’t think I can see it—with or without the mirror," he replied. He was so sick to his stomach, he could barely talk.
"Okay, well, let me see," she asked, sitting down beside him. She pulled his hair away from the wound and tried not to be alarmed. She had been wrong. It wasn’t a small cut. It was a nasty, jagged cut. It obviously needed stitches.
"Vincent, how far are the nearest pipes?"
"It’s that bad?" he asked, breathing heavily. He had broken into a sweat and was afraid he might lose consciousness again.
"Vincent," she swallowed. "It’s bad. You need Father. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Now I am thinking I shouldn’t have even moved you."
He could both hear the fear in her voice and feel it through the Bond.
"Catherine," he managed. "You did the right thing. We selected … these locations … because they all have a direct line to the pipe chamber."
"Oh, thank God," she exhaled. She started to look around the room. "Where is the pipe?"
"Catherine, I …" Vincent whispered, drawing her attention back to him. In her worry and desire to help, she hadn’t noticed that Vincent was close to passing out again. She felt his forehead and his skin seemed to burn her hand.
"Vincent, stay with me!" she told him, trying to think of a way to cool him off.
"I … I’m so hot," he muttered, starting to pull at his clothes.
"Is there ice here? A cold compress?"
He wasn’t listening to her. She pushed up one eyelid—his eyes were starting to roll back into his head.
What should she do?
Panicking, she frantically attacked the laces on his shirt and vest, undoing them enough that she could pull them open. But he still had on his cloak and his undershirt and for all she knew, a few more layers.
He was mumbling now and rolling side to side. He had his knees pulled toward his chest in pain.
She jumped to her feet and grabbed the scissors from the medical kit. She cut the rest of the laces on his vest and pushed it to the side. Then she started on his shirts, cutting them from the bottom up, promising she would replace them.
He seemed to sigh in relief when his chest was finally fully exposed. She grabbed some gauze from the kit and managed to wrap a firm bandage around his head.
She pulled back then and looked at him.
His eyes were barely open, but he was looking at her. And he was beautiful.
"Catherine, I’m sorry," he whispered. "For everything …"
"Oh, Vincent," she replied, trying not to cry. She had to stay focused on getting him some help.
His hand came around hers and he squeezed.
"I will make it right," he promised before his eyes closed.
Now the tears started falling down her face. It was an olive branch—and more than anything, she wanted to take it.
After she composed herself, she found the pipe and sent a call for help.
She came back over to him and sat down. She was worried about him, worried about their future. She still wasn’t sure what she should do. What if he was exactly the same when he recovered? What if he completely dismissed what they had briefly shared?
She touched his face, relieved that he seemed to have cooled off. She went over to the cupboard and took out some nuts and jerky. She grabbed her canteen, pulled a chair over to his side, and started eating.
She had no reason to doubt him—he had never broken a promise to her and he seemed intent on moving forward. So why did she still feel scared?
Because if you had asked her three years ago, or two, or even one—she would have believed without a doubt that they would be together now, maybe even married and living together, but at least physically involved.
But they weren’t. She couldn’t blindly believe anymore. Trust had eroded … and doubt had crashed right on in.
Catherine sat at her desk, staring at the deposition of the defense’s expert witness, trying to find discrepancies in her assessment of the forensic evidence. She would be cross-examining her in two days and though her case was strong, this witness was formidable.
As committed to this case as she was though, she found herself reading and re-reading the same page over and over. Finally, giving up, she closed the file, grabbed her mug of coffee, and went over to the window closest to her desk and stared outside, still not really seeing.
It had been a week since she had left Vincent in his chamber, under Father’s care. And though his injury had been rather serious—requiring eighteen stitches—she was still a little surprised that Vincent had not come to her balcony, or even sent a note.
She knew she should go to him, but something was holding her back. She always went to him, but this time was firm in the belief that he should come to her, injured or not. She knew how quickly he healed, though that hardly seemed fair. Her lack of compassion for him bothered her, but she couldn’t change how she felt.
Her faith in their happy ending had only faltered further since she had left him. For all she knew, the accident could have been a sign that they were not supposed to tread down the path of realizing their dream. She had wanted it so much, for so long, she felt incapable of deciding—objectively—whether or not it would truly lead them to happiness.
She took a sip from her mug and nearly spit it out when she felt a light hand on her shoulder.
"I’m so sorry, Cathy!" Mark exclaimed, taking a step back. "I didn’t mean to scare you."
"I’m just … it’s okay," she managed, taking a deep breath to calm herself down. "I was just startled, I was concentrating is all …"
"A penny for your thoughts?" he said, softly.
"More like a few dollars," she muttered.
"Want to grab some real coffee?" he asked. "Or dinner maybe?"
"Is it already dinner time?" she replied.
"Not really—it’s only four," he chuckled.
Wow, she thought to herself. She had been sitting at her desk since noon. No wonder she felt so out of it.
"Just something quick," he assured her. "I’ve got to babysit for my sis tonight so she can go see a movie."
"Is she feeling any better?"
"Not really," he winced.
"Oh, sorry," she replied.
"I am happy that she is going out with her friends though. She hasn’t done that in a while."
He looked at her and she was wondering what he wanted when she remembered his dinner invitation.
"Well, I guess I have to eat."
He laughed. "Thanks for the enthusiasm."
She laughed, too, surprised at how happy she was to see Mark. She would have thought after … no. She refused to think about Vincent right now.
"You’re going up against Clare Raines tomorrow?" he ventured.
"In a couple of days. The defense took longer with today’s witness than I thought."
"Feeling a little nervous?"
She nodded. "Yes, she is pretty intimidating," Catherine admitted.
"Well, considering she’s made Nobel laureates look like middle school science teachers … yeah, I would say she is pretty intimidating. Do you have a strategy yet?"
"Well, I was really onto something when I was blindly staring out the window. Too bad you interrupted me," she joked.
He laughed. "Shall we?"
Catherine grabbed her things and they were on their way.
"Where shall we go?" she asked.
"How about Mariposa’s?" he replied.
"Yeah, right. My boss’s boss can’t even get a table there in less than six months," she laughed.
"I think we’ll be okay," he assured her.
After a few blocks, they arrived at their destination. As expected, the ten-table Spanish restaurant was packed to the gills, even at this early hour. The place was always surrounded by hopefuls wanting to get in. To her complete surprise, Mark walked right up to the door and opened it for her.
Catherine laughed, shrugged, and walked through it.
An elderly, elegant woman swept past Catherine and gathered Mark in her arms like a long lost son. She ran her hands over his face and gave him kisses on both cheeks, telling him how skinny he was, how she would feed him heartily. Catherine couldn’t help but smile.
"And who is this?" the woman purred, taking Catherine in.
"This is Cathy … Cathy, this is Desiderio …" he grinned.
"So beautiful!" the woman exclaimed. "But too skinny. Come, I feed the both of you!"
Desiderio snapped her fingers, which felt pretty corny to Catherine, but suddenly they were surrounded by waiters and being ushered over to the very table she herself would have selected. Taking her coat and her belongings, the waiters sat them down with great flourish. Red wine, sparkling water, and warm bread followed shortly after.
After the fuss had settled down and they had ordered, the conversation came to a halt. Catherine knew she had to tell him something, but she didn’t know what she should say.
"Mark, about what you said the other night …" she started.
"It’s okay, Cathy. I see the writing on the wall," he replied, smiling sadly.
"I’m sorry," she sighed. "I like you … very much … but there is someone else. There has been for a while, but …" she trailed off, not knowing how to finish.
"It’s complicated?" he tried.
"Yes," she smiled softly. "It’s complicated."
"I know. Relationships always are. I’m no different," he replied.
"How so?" Catherine asked.
Mark sighed and took a sip of wine. "I recently broke up with someone …"
"I’m sorry, Mark …"
"I am, too. She was everything to me ... but it’s my fault," he added.
"What do you mean?"
Mark raised an eyebrow. "Do you really want to talk about this?"
"Why not?" Catherine jested. "We have to talk about something."
"She wanted to move to Paris," he began. "She was an attaché for the French Ambassador, which is how she ended up in New York. But the embassy wanted her to go back to France and work directly with the American Ambassador. It was a promotion, and somewhat of a dream come true. She had been homesick for years," he explained.
He sighed and looked down, obviously upset.
"I didn’t want to go with her," he answered.
"Because of work?"
"No," he admitted. "She helped get me a post in Paris. It was a promotion for me, too."
"Was it because of your sister and your nieces?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "I wish it was."
Catherine reached over and laid her hand upon his.
"Tell me," she said.
"I was scared …" he revealed. "Aside from training and vacation, and growing up in Arkansas, I have never left New York. I’m scared of living in a foreign country."
"Does she have family there?"
"Yes, her parents, a brother. Grandparents. She had found us a wonderful apartment. She even looked up an old college roommate for me so I would know someone in Paris …"
"That’s really sweet. She must have really loved you," Catherine comforted him.
"She did," he agreed, sadly. "Just because I was scared, I lost the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m a fool."
"No, you’re not …" she resisted.
"Yes, I am," he countered. "She stayed in New York for years for me and I wouldn’t return the favor. Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I would have been very happy. But I wouldn’t even try it. I just refused," he finished, dejected.
"When was this?"
Mark looked at her. "She left six months ago."
"Is that the last time you talked to her?"
"No," he began. "She called me a couple of nights ago."
"What did she say?"
"She wanted me to come to Paris. She wanted to get married. She … missed me."
"What did you tell her?"
"That I loved her and missed her, too. That I would think about it," he sighed. "I don’t know what I should do."
"Do you want my advice?" she asked him seriously.
"I don’t. But I want you to go ahead and give it to me," he said, forcing a small smile.
"You should go to her. Right now. Like leave-this-restaurant-go-pack-a-bag-and-get-on-a-plane kind of right now. How can you not?"
"It can’t be that simple …"
"Yes, it can," she replied firmly. "Mark, the love of your life wants you to be with her in the most romantic city in the world, has gotten you a better job, and wants to be your wife, and you don’t even have to find an apartment? I’m surprised at you."
"Yes, I would have had you pegged for a romantic."
"I am," he insisted. "I’m just …"
"What? What are you?"
"I don’t know … maybe … of losing her?" he tried.
"You already let her walk away! That’s not what you are afraid of."
"You’re afraid of choosing love. Maybe you are too rational or maybe you are afraid of being happy. Maybe the thought of leaving everything behind to follow the woman you love scares the hell out of you. Whatever the reason—it’s the wrong thing to do. You have to face your fears and choose love. So many people never find anyone—you have. You shouldn’t throw that away."
Mark closed his eyes and pulled his hand back. Just then, the waiter brought their food and Catherine sat up straighter in her seat. When he left, Mark looked at her again.
"You’re right. I should go."
"I will?" he grinned.
"Yes, you will. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll know."
He laughed at her then and took a bite of his dinner. After a moment, he spoke again.
"So, what’s your story?"
"Yes, your story. Who’s this ‘someone else’ you mentioned. Why is it complicated?"
"I don’t know … it’s really hard to explain …"
"Try me," he insisted.
And suddenly, she wanted to open up to him. What she felt for Mark was not romantic love, but it was love. She cared about him. He felt … like a brother. She had always wanted an older brother.
But what could she say? How could she explain without revealing …
"He’s never had sex before," she blurted out before she could stop herself.
"Okay," Mark replied, not skipping a beat. "I assume he’s your age."
"So, he’s scared?"
She nodded, so relieved Mark had not made light of the situation.
"And you’re trying to help him …" he continued.
She nodded again. It felt so good to finally tell someone, she almost started crying. She shoveled some food in her mouth and tried to calm down.
"Well, I can say from experience that I waited a while longer than most guys. I was so focused on studying and getting out of Arkansas, I never let myself even look at girls. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty-one. Not that that’s super late, it just is in comparison to most guys.
"When I finally found someone I really cared for, I was really scared. I really wanted to … do it, you know, but I was afraid of disappointing her, that I would be too inexperienced. Is that what’s holding him back?"
"Maybe. I don’t really know. It’s just been so long and I have been so patient."
"How long?" he asked.
"Too long," she replied. "I’m done. I can’t wait anymore. Words alone can’t express what I feel for him anymore. It seems like we are drifting apart, that we lost our chance."
"You know, Cathy, ten minutes ago, I thought I had lost my chance with Simone, but you have shown me otherwise. You haven’t lost your chance."
"I hope not," she said, putting her fork down and taking a sip of wine.
"You must really love him," he said, softly.
And she did. She always would.
"Want my advice?" he ventured.
"I don’t. But I want you to go ahead and give it to me," she joked, repeating him word for word. They laughed.
"Give him an ultimatum," he advised her.
"What? No, I couldn’t do that …" she said, startled at his suggestion.
"Why not? He can’t expect you to wait forever. It’s not like making love with you is the worst thing he could ever do," he reasoned with her.
"I don’t know, Mark. He’s very …" she began.
"It doesn’t matter. You deserve to be loved, Cathy. He needs to put his fears aside!" he finished. His eyes dropped.
"I should know," he sighed.
Catherine stared at him, as though she was seeing him—and her situation—with new eyes. Maybe he was right. The thought of giving Vincent an ultimatum was one that had never crossed her mind, but maybe that’s exactly what he needed. She had never wanted to push him or make him feel uncomfortable, and so had given him all the space and time in the world. But things were at a standstill now—someone had to rattle the cage.
The heady weightlessness of having nothing to lose filled her with a cacophony of feelings—hope, love for Vincent, desire, faith in him, in their dream, all of it. Warmth spread through her, a warmth she had never felt before. She wished he were here right now. She would throw her arms around him, kiss him, and not let him go, not let him turn away or make excuses, until he really understood how much she loved him and wanted him. Like hugging a scared child—they might push you away at first, but they would eventually relent … and feel all the better for it.
She had to be bold—Mark was right.
"It is the one thing I have never done," she told him.
"I say do it. What other choice do you have?" he rationalized.
She didn’t have a choice. She had made up her mind.
"I feel a lot better," Catherine admitted, finishing her wine.
"Another glass?" Mark gestured toward the bottle.
"Absolutely! We both have something to celebrate!"
Mark smiled at her and poured.
Catherine awoke the next morning with a sense of renewal. She actually hummed when she brushed her teeth and made herself a nice breakfast instead of her usual—downing a cup of coffee as soon as she got to work, praying there were still doughnuts left in the break room.
She hoped he would come to see her soon. He had to know what she was feeling, how excited she was, how much she loved him. Surely he would come now. He had promised to make this right.
Cathy plowed through the workday, staying late to finish her research. When she got home, it was already dark. She put in a tape of Corelli, warmed up her leftovers from the night before, and settled onto the couch with a hot cup of tea and the takeout container.
She loved Corelli. His "Concerto Grosso in C Minor" never failed to make her pause, whatever she was doing. Tonight, it was almost enough to make her cry.
Catherine’s heart jumped inside her chest when she heard Vincent land softly on the balcony. She barely ever heard his feet touch down, but she always heard his cloak brushing against the terrace.
She set down her food and ran to the doors, stepping out onto the balcony. For a moment, she felt a little scared and hesitated going to him, but she pushed that feeling aside and walked into his waiting arms.
"You came," she mused.
"Catherine," he whispered, holding her tightly. He didn’t know what would happen tonight, but it felt wonderful to hold her in his arms.
Just then, the phone rang, and Vincent stiffened, but Catherine didn’t move to answer it, so Vincent relaxed.
"The machine will get it," she explained.
After a few more rings, the machine kicked in and suddenly Mark’s voice was coming from the living room.
Cathy, it’s Mark. I just wanted to say thank you so much for last night.
"Last night?" Vincent asked, incredulous, immediately pulling away from her.
"Vincent …" she started, surprised at his behavior. Surely he didn’t think …
It was amazing—you are amazing. And you were right—I am going to choose love. I have to run, but I will call you soon. Thanks again! Good night!
"He’s choosing love?" he demanded, staring at her with bright, burning eyes.
"Vincent, it’s not what you think. We had dinner last night …" she began to explain.
"I see," he said grimly.
"No, you don’t!" she interrupted.
"Yes, I do," he countered. "I felt it. I felt your conversation. How happy you were, how firm you were in your convictions. How excited you were … the warmth, the … love you felt. I felt it all!"
"No, you are misunderstanding the situation," she disagreed, finally understanding what this was about. She had been feeling love and hope and excitement—about him, not Mark.
"I highly doubt that. I know the Bond."
Catherine threw her hands up in exasperation. "Why are you being like this, so … argumentative? Would you let me finish?"
"There is nothing to say, Catherine. We … can’t go on like this …"
"I know we can’t. I don’t want to either. I want us to—"
"There is no us. It’s been four years and neither of us are happy," Vincent told her.
"We could be. The only thing that is stopping us is you!" she said, angrily.
"I’m not the one who kissed someone else," Vincent replied, vindictively.
"And that’s precisely the problem, Vincent. You won’t kiss anyone, certainly not me!"
"That’s not entirely true," he accused.
"Fine. You kissed me in the tunnel and for a few wonderful seconds, I was the happiest I have ever been. But then you pulled away. You always pull away!"
"What would you have me do?"
"Do I really have to spell it out, Vincent? After four years, you really don’t know?"
Vincent huffed and turned away from her. He did know … he just couldn’t.
She strode across the room, grabbed him by the arm, and turned him back around.
"I want you to kiss me. I want you to touch me. I want us to make love. I want us to live together and be a family. That’s what I have always wanted—always!"
"Then why would you kiss this man?"
"Dammit! That’s not fair!" she shouted at him. She grabbed the fabric on his shirt sleeves and shook him. He immediately stepped away.
"You can twist this back on me as much as you want, but this is about you. It’s been four years, Vincent! I love you … with all of my heart, and I want to be with you more than anything, but you refuse to touch me. You won’t let me touch you. Our love is dying!"
"Nothing is dying, Catherine," he said cryptically. "All we ever had was a dream."
"Oh, God," she cried, going back inside and collapsing on the couch. "This again? I can’t believe it …"
In his anger, he crossed the threshold without pause, but once inside, he stopped. It took all of his strength, but he steeled himself against going to her.
She was crying now, her face in her hands, her shoulders rising and falling with each sob.
"Don’t you trust me?" she blurted out.
Vincent thought for a moment. Did he?
"Listen to me!" she insisted. "I have waited so long for you. So long! Until it nearly killed me. It’s killing me now! You really think I would just flutter off with someone else without reason?"
"You have, Catherine. You kissed him. If you really loved me …" he stopped himself then, mad at himself for saying such things out loud.
"I do love you!"
"Then why would you …?" he trailed off again, now eyeing the door.
"I didn’t do anything, Vincent! You have no idea what happened last night. I don’t think it matters to you. You can only see this one way, with me as the bad guy. Yes, he kissed me before, and yes, I responded, but only because I am desperate for something! Last night …"
"I should go," he muttered. The jealousy he felt—it was burning through him like venom. He couldn’t let her see him like this.
She looked up at him with such sadness, such vulnerability, unbelieving.
"You’re leaving?" she whispered.
Vincent sighed and shook his head.
"All I do is hurt you. I cannot … be who you want me to be. I can’t give you what you need, Catherine. I can’t."
"You won’t," she said bitterly.
Vincent closed his eyes and sighed again.
"Catherine," he said, impatiently. "I want to … realize our dream. I’m sorry. I just don’t feel … ready."
"Still?" she sniffled.
"I’m sorry," he repeated.
"How do you know if you won’t even try?"
"Catherine …" he started, before trailing off. He sighed and looked away.
Her head fell forward into her hands. He still wasn’t ready. What would it take?
"Stay here tonight," she said suddenly.
He looked at her in surprise.
"Surely that won’t …"
"I mean it," she interrupted. "Stay here. Give it one night, Vincent, please!"
Vincent stared at her intently. He opened his mouth and then closed it again. After a few painful moments, he looked toward the door. She knew the answer before he even said it.
"I’m sorry, Catherine," he said quietly, walking toward the balcony.
"You promised to make this right! Don’t you remember?" she cried out.
He paused, but did not turn around.
"I cannot make this right. I can never be what you need," he told her.
"You are what I need, Vincent! You always will be. All I am asking is that you try!" she pleaded.
He didn’t move.
"Won’t you even look at me?" she whimpered.
"I can’t. It’s … easier this way …" he said, his voice breaking. He started to walk away.
"If you leave, don’t come back!" she threatened.
She saw him wince, but he did not stop moving. Within minutes, the balcony doors were open, the curtains were curling against the gentle breeze, and he was gone.
Vincent didn’t even acknowledge the sentries as he made his way back to the central tunnels. He took a circuitous route, running at full speed, trying to forget her last words to him.
Once he reached his chamber, he was exhausted. He removed his clothes and sunk into his bathing pool, finding little comfort in the hot water.
News had reached Father that something was not quite right with Vincent. He ducked his head into his son’s bathing chamber.
"Vincent?" he ventured.
"Not now, Father …" he warned.
"Vincent, I …"
"Not now!" Vincent roared, not even caring about hurting Father’s feelings. He heard Father sigh and walk away.
Vincent bathed quickly and returned to his chamber. He didn’t want to write, or read, or even think. He wanted out of this misery. He got into bed, determined to sleep.
Sleep was a long time coming, but when it came …
He was standing on a beach. The ocean was choppy and loud. He looked down at his feet, amazed by the sensation of sand between his toes. He stared up at the sun, squinting at its brightness.
How was this possible?
"Vincent!" Catherine called to him. "Vincent, come here!"
He saw her in the water, up to her waist. She had a black bathing suit on. She was smiling and waving him over.
He took a few steps toward her and stopped, suddenly afraid.
"Come on, Vincent! The water is perfect."
"Catherine, the waves … they’re so strong …"
She laughed, going out further. "Don’t be afraid, Vincent!"
"Catherine, stop! They’re too strong!"
"No they aren’t! They’re perfect. It’s wonderful out here. Please, Vincent!"
But his feet wouldn’t move. And then his mouth wouldn’t open. Frozen in place, he watched her go out further, laughing as the waves crashed over her.
When she made it past the sets, she stopped swimming and turned around, treading water.
"Trust me, Vincent!" she called.
But Vincent still couldn’t move and then he couldn’t see. He wanted to tell her that he trusted her, but he couldn’t speak.
"Vincent! Come with me, trust me, please! Vincent!"
He stood in his darkened hell, raging inside. All he could hear was her voice, calling to him. Constantly calling to him.
Vincent woke up with a start, breathing heavily. His nightclothes were damp, though he felt a chill deep inside him. The sheets and comforter were on the floor, pillows too. Total chaos surrounded him. His heart was beating too hard.
The dream, he remembered.
Vincent jumped out of bed and hurried over to his bookshelf. One of the young women had left a book with him the other day. It was a dream dictionary.
He found it quickly and then returned to his bed, grabbing the covers along the way.
Waves … waves …
Vincent thumbed through the book until he found the answer.
Calm waves indicate tranquility, tenderness, and sexuali—
No, that wasn’t it.
If you are caught in a tidal wave, you need to face an overwhelming emotional issue—
Not exactly …
And then there it was.
Violent waves indicate that you are seeking guidance, looking to nature for existential answers. If they are crashing over you, you have made a mistake in an important decision, but there is the opportunity to be cleansed. If you are watching them from afar, you have made a terrible error, a potentially fatal error, regarding a significant decision.
Vincent closed the book and dropped his head, sighing deeply.
He understood. When Catherine came into his life, all she had was his voice. She had trusted him—almost implicitly—when she had been at her most vulnerable. Just a stranger’s voice and she had believed.
When she was afraid and unsure of whether her life would ever be whole again, she was filled with fear, a fear he had helped her navigate. But from the first cup of tea and his outstretched hand, all the way to where they were today, she had trusted him.
He had only needed to trust her in return.
He remembered how good it had felt to be trusted by her. How could he deny her the chance to help him face his own fears? Not only was he denying her affection, he was not giving her a chance to help him. He was denying her that joy of being trusted.
This struck him as unforgivable. Never mind the other reasons, the excuses—it was wrong to deny her that experience. In every essence of the word, he owed her.
It was time for him to face his responsibilities—and to honor his heart. It was time to trust her.
He had made the wrong decision. He could only hope it wasn’t too late.
Vincent lay down again and pulled the covers around him. He was going to make this right. Tomorrow.
He didn’t remember her ultimatum until he dropped onto her balcony the next evening.
"If you leave, don’t come back!"
His heart seizing, he looked for her through the glass.
She was by her front door, hunched over. He made to go in, but stopped when he realized she wasn’t in any pain.
When she stood up, he could see that she had been out running. Her hair was all over the place and her skin sparkled. He swallowed hard, wanting very much to touch her right now.
She saw him before he had the chance to knock. He saw her make fists with her hands and take a deep breath. Looking him in the eye, she made her way to the balcony.
She brushed past him, not saying anything. He watched her stare out at the city. After a moment, he slowly walked over and stood beside her, not speaking for a few moments.
Finally, he spoke.
"Catherine, last night, I had a very significant dream. You were—"
Suddenly, she pushed back from the balustrade and stomped away. He turned to look at her.
"You had a dream? Really? This is what you came to tell me?" she chastised. "That you had a dream?"
"Catherine, please, let me explain …" he cut in.
"No, there is no need to explain. What, did you have a dream about how we shouldn’t be together and came over to plead your case some more? I don’t want to hear it anymore. You left last night, after I begged you not to … and now you want to talk about a dream?
"Vincent, I am tired of dreams. I’m so tired of them. If this has taught me anything, it’s that dreams don’t matter. They don’t!"
"You don’t believe that," he reasoned with her.
"It doesn’t matter what I believe, Vincent," she argued. "I …"
"Catherine, please, just hear this …"
"No, I don’t want to know. It doesn’t matter …"
"No. It’s over, Vincent. You’re right. Dreams don’t come true," she cried, pushing past him.
Though it felt like her heart was breaking, she ran inside, left the doors as they were, and fled into her bathroom.
Vincent stood there in shock. He heard the water come on.
Slowly it dawned on him.
Thiswas the moment. This was the decision. There was still time. He could do this. He could make this right.
He glanced inside, considering his options.
He wanted to go in there right now. He wanted to hold her in his arms. He wanted to … touch her. He wanted to walk in there and kiss her.
But could he do that? Is that what she wanted?
He turned back to look out over the city, frustrated.
Catherine stood trembling in the shower. Trying not to cry only lasted a second. She leaned against the wall and traced the lines in the tile with her fingers, willing the hot water to help her feel better.
It was over. It was really over. After everything they had been through, this is how it was going to end. All those years of respectful distance, brief touches, moments of visceral longing, the dance—the constant dance around the thing they desired most. All of it was over.
She wanted that feeling back, the one that night at dinner when she had—briefly—believed again. That incredible feeling of love and desire she had felt for him …
This was going to end and he would always think she had felt that way about Mark.
If there was ever a time she could have reached through the Bond and told him what she was actually thinking, she wished it were now. She wanted him to know … and now he never would.
Catherine screamed when powerful arms suddenly surrounded her. Scared and panicked, she struggled against them, pushing them away, trying to break free.
By the time her mind finally registered what was happening, Vincent’s lips were crushed against hers and she was pressed up against the shower wall. Shocked, she stopped resisting.
She was still crying, her throat tight, her air choked, as she pulled him closer to her. Her hands rose to his face. Itching with years’ old desire to explore his beautiful face, her fingers traced his features.
The water showered over them as they kissed. Catherine had never experienced a sensation such as this. It was like she was standing on a tightrope, a line between dreams and reality. Was she dreaming?
Oh God, she was not dreaming, she was not dreaming. Catherine groaned when Vincent’s tongue pressed between her lips. She pulled him down and rose onto her toes in an attempt to get closer to him. They clung to each other like vines.
Vincent suddenly pulled back. He pushed the hair from her face and looked at her like he was seeing her for the first time. Maybe he was. They didn’t look like themselves—they had never seen such blatant desire on each other’s faces before. Catherine stared at him, disbelieving, as he ran his hand lightly over her shoulder.
He had taken off his cloak and vest—nothing else. She saw them on the floor behind her, resting on top of her clothes. His boots lay in the doorway. This was so surreal.
He stood before her, his hair covering his face. She pushed it back, looking deep into his eyes. She needed to see him right now. Him. Not shadows and sighs.
Vincent looked determined and present. And he was staring at her with such … yearning; Catherine swallowed hard and sighed as the warmth burned its way through her.
Vincent’s arm shot out and turned off the tap, but he never broke eye contact with her. When the water stopped falling, all they could hear was their own breathing.
Catherine blinked at him, unable to move. She felt paralyzed.
His fingers lingered over her collarbone. Her chest was a light red from the hot water.
"What you felt that night—" he whispered.
"I felt that for you," she finished.
He nodded, his face pinching in regret.
"But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I think it’s time we—"
"Stopped talking," he finished.
"Vincent," she spoke, her voice choking. "Please take me to bed …"
He picked her up immediately, carried her swiftly to the bed, and set her down. She instantly stood up and pushed him back slightly, tugging at his clothes.
Realizing what she wanted, Vincent quickly shed his clothes before he even knew what he was doing. When they were off, he blanched. What would she …? His chest seized in a panic.
And then Catherine stepped toward him and embraced him, an embrace they had experienced hundreds of times before—their embrace. Vincent started to relax, finding comfort in the familiarity of it. He kissed the top of her head and her arms rose around his neck. He hung his head beside hers, silently thanking her.
"I’m terrified, Catherine," he whispered.
"I know," she replied. "But we can do this."
"I don’t want you to have to wait anymore. I want to make you happy," he confessed.
"I am happy. You’re here," she assured him. She brought her hands down and wrapped them around his waist. Vincent held her tighter.
And just like that, her breasts pressed against him was too much—it pushed him further, past his fear. He lifted her up and pitched forward onto the bed, kissing her passionately. Catherine wrapped her legs around him and ran her hands over his back.
"Please, Vincent, I want you inside me. Please …" she urged him. "I want you—"
Vincent surged hard against her, holding her tightly in his arms. His body was moving a lot faster than his brain was. He thought he should slow down, but his body wasn’t listening.
And then, for the first time since he had met Catherine, he ignored his brain and listened to his body. He didn’t slow down. He went faster. The sounds coming from her just confirmed his decision.
He had been wrong—so very wrong—for so long. The time had long since passed that she had needed words from him. They weren’t enough anymore. Things said in anger, things half said … so much of it misunderstood. Words, however poignant and eloquent they might be, were empty. They were inadequate. They were nothing.
All of his life, he had dreamed of finding the kind of love that lived in the pages of Shakespeare and Austin, Wordsworth and the Brontës, Byron and Shelley, but poems and novels only described love—they didn’t provide it. They might have comforted him in the past, but they weren’t enough anymore. He needed more. She needed more.
But their bodies—their bodies could speak the truth of their dream. Their hands could forge the paths their words could not. Their skin held blank pages; their lips, their story. Their eyes could speak volumes and a touch, the slightest touch, could undo years of anguish and despair. To be joined, truly and wholly joined, was the realization of the dream.
"Vincent," she whimpered. "Please …"
She didn’t even have to say the words; he knew exactly what she meant. He pushed them to the edge, past it even, until they were exhausted, happy, … and silent.