My Love of You (Deaux)

by Linda Mooney

The caverns and tunnels beneath the city were never quiet, and they were always cold. The cold sometimes penetrated through all the layers of clothing to prickle the skin, but the seamstresses who helped to sew and make everyone's clothing made sure each piece would help protect its wearer against becoming chilled. The passages were often lined with lanterns or torches, as much to light the dark corridors as to help heat them. Candles by the score illuminated individual chambers, but for additional warmth, everyone used braziers. Some looked suspiciously like hibachis, used coal scuttles, or the tire well of an old Ford Camaro, but they did what they were expected to do, and that was to provide warmth in confined spaces.

Sometimes during the worst part of the winter months the cold made breathing hun. The flu and sinus problems made the air seem as though it was a thin, sharp blade slowly slicing away pieces of lungs; noses would turn a bright cherry red, and eyes would water from the pain. Those were the times when the number of quilts and blankets on the bed did little to deter the illnesses, so the Tunnel members performed what tasks were absolutely essential and let the rest slide until the ice broke on the lakes in Central Park. And, during the worst storms which would drown the city under foot after foot of icy powder, everyone communed in the main dining hall to huddle together and share the glowing output from William's ovens and kilns, sipping soup and medicinal concoctions to waylay any chance of pneumonia.

For some reason which she couldn't explain, Catherine loved to descend into her secret underworld during those trying times more than at any other time of the year. At first, she had considered bringing several space heaters to help those who needed it the most, but heaters tended to eat electricity and there was no way Mouse could bleed enough juice from the city's power supply without arousing suspicion. It didn't take long before she realized that gifts of thick woolen ski sweaters, caps, gloves, mufflers, and earmuffs were better appreciated and needed, She also invested in a few down comforters and thermal blankets for the beds, despite Mary's kind protest that what they had did quite nicely. But Vincent assured her that one could always use another blanket on the bed, if only to wrap oneself in. sit by the nearest fire, and enjoy a book and a cup of tea. Besides, he said, it took Mary and the other Tunnel women several months to sew together even a full-sized quilt from scraps and there were a long list of those waiting to receive the next one.

This winter had not disappointed the Tunnel people. The first storm of the season struck with a vengeance the weekend after Thanksgiving and didn't let up until fourteen inches of freshly fallen snow had totally enveloped the city. So the city settled down to hibernate until Monday when, hopefully, things could return to normal.

Catherine awoke, instantly allen, and wondered what had awakened her. Lying there, she listened to the myriad sounds floating around her, and was surprised not to hear the rumbling thunder of the subway. Even the clatter of pipes as messages were relayed was sparse and infrequent. She rolled over and discovered she was completely buried under a mound of covers, but even so she could see her breath plume in the still air.

Vincent was gone, probably on some emergency arising from the storm. His side of the bed was cold, meaning heed been away for some time. The candles heed lit the night before were nearly gutted. The brazier had only a few coals left. The room had turned brittle with the cold, leaving Catherine to wonder what had happened.

She sat up, looking about, and noticed that the stained glass window was still dark, meaning it was still night Above. For the morning sun tended to find the little hidden crack in the earth and send a shaft of light to the tiny chamber behind the window to illuminate it. There was no other source of light save the handful of candle stubs, and it wouldn't be long before those were gone.

"Vincent? Father?"

The cold had begun to creep into bed with her, stealing what little body heat she jealousy guarded. Catherine realized she had to get the fire going again in the brazier or bear the iciness in the dark.

Slowly she crawled from beneath the covers. Reaching for her clothes where she'd draped them over the back of the chair by Vincent's writing table, she realized that the jeans and jacket wouldn't be enough. The chill had found its way to the marrow of her bones, and Catherine wished she knew the Tunnels well enough to find the way to the kitchens by herself.

A cup of coffee and a slab of fresh-baked bread maybe a little cinnamon and butter on it . . . She could see herself, surrounded by other members of the Tunnel community laughing over the weather as they warmed their hands around mugs of hot drink. The vision was enough to spur her into action. Perhaps Vincent had something in his wardrobe she could borrow.

Taking the biggest candle that was still lit, she padded barefoot over to the tall carved closet, grateful for the worn rugs scattered on the floor Opening it, she noticed that a large part of the interior held several changes on hangers; a narrow column of drawers took up the rest of the space. She reached inside, grabbed the first thing she could lay her hand on, and pulled out his familiar gray corded vest. Immediately, a thousand memories flooded her mind, memories both distant and new, bringing with them the sense of his presence. Unconsciously, she pressed her face into its scratchy surface, breathing deeply. There, unmistakably, Vincent's scent. . . musky, with traces of Father's pipe and candle smoke. She fingered the rolled shoulders, twisting the leather tongs around her palm, lost in thought.

How may times had she lain against this vest? Bled on it, tipped water on it, and cried against it? How many nights had she left his arms with its imprint on her cheek? Not realizing what she was doing, Catherine pulled the vest down over the sleeves of her flannel nightgown and laced it up. It was too big on her, but already she was beginning to feel it retaining her body heat.

Closing her eyes, she hugged herself, and imagined feeling Vincent's arms around her. It was as though his clothing could impart his strength to her and the security she always felt when he was nearby. Her body suddenly shivered, bringing her back to the present. This time she pulled out a pair of Vincent's pants, a pair of brown corduroy with furred patches on the knees. Quickly she stepped into them, tucking in the bottom of her gown in order to fill up the waist. They were still too big and threatened to fall to the floor, but one of his belts lay rolled at the bottom of the wardrobe. It took her several minutes to figure out how to fasten the harness like buckle. Lord, what I wouldn't give for some velcro! she silently mused, but somehow she managed to get everything tied up to stay up. She then discovered that the legs of the pants were too long, so she rolled them up to her ankles. Now, with his layer of clothing over her nightgown, she definitely felt warmer A quick glance into the drawers yielded a pair of his thick woolen socks which she hurriedly drew over her feet.

She was searching for her tennis shoes when a voice from the doorway intoned, "What is this? Who is this waif who creeps into my chamber to steal my clothes and my heart?"

Catherine leaped up, running into his embrace. "I was worried about you! Something woke me up and I found you gone, and the fire had gone out and the room was freezing. I was coming to look for you, but I needed some wanner clothes. You don't mind?" "Mind?" Vincent softly snorted, resting his chin in her soft hair "I felt your worry and came to reassure you. During the night some of the city's water lines had ruptured, and few of the tunnels had been threatened with flooding. But everything's fine now" Rubbing his hands along her back, the feel of her in his vest was both strange and mildly erotic. Catherine snuggled closer, enjoying the rise and fall of his ribs beneath her hands. She'd forgotten about gloves, and she debated whether she could get away with dipping them inside the inner lining of the fringed sweater he now wore. As if he could read her mind, Vincent chuckled, a deep, throaty sound she dreamt of often in her sleep.

"Don't you dare."

"But I'm cold."

"And it's going to get colder if I don't freshen the fire in the brazier." "Wait . . ." She dreaded to let him go. "Hold me just a little longer. Is it still dark outside?"

"It's a little past two in the morning."

She breathed deeply, the air now warmed by their bodies. "Can't we go back to bed, instead? Why light a fire when we can keep each other warm?"

His arms tightened around her. She could feel his head dip, and a pair of lips found the juncture of her neck and shoulder just above the collar.

"Why light a fire when we can start our own?"

His hands moved down her sides, gliding upward slowly, teasingly, before reaching the top of the vest. He began to unlace the ties at her throat, but found he was having a bit of trouble. Twice he fumbled, then he murmured apologetically, "I've undone these lacings a hundred times, but never from this side."

Catherine laughed softly and started to help him, but he brushed her hands away. "No, Let me. Every time I touch you, hold you, and make love to you, you're like a trembling bud. These clothes are your petals, and I must peel them back with infinite care to reach your very core." Finally reaching the bottom of the vest, his mouth followed the curve of her throat to the soft swell of her breast where he drew away her nightgown. Soon the vest and gown and the pants were puddled at her feet. And lifting her into his arms, Vincent slid her under the cool covers and joined her there where Catherine could take her time loosening his own clothes in the warm pocket created by their bodies and their love.

The End