Form Follows Function – and Fate
By Cindy Rae
In building, the shape of a thing is determined by its use. A desk looks like a desk because one requires a flat surface on which to work. A door looks like a door because it a room needs an egress through a wall, one that can open, and then return to a closed position.
In Architecture, this rule is known as “Form Follows Function.”
Tom Gunther lived by the notion that “Form Followed Function.” It was a concept he used in his life with an almost unrelenting vigor. It was a rule he applied with equal fervor to his designs, his own apartment, his wallet (more room for credit cards than cash, please), his brief case (combination lock, wide enough for blueprints, a “pouch” in the lid for contracts), and it was a rule he even applied to people, at times.
His tailor was a squat little man who was good with a needle, and available between three and seven, weekdays. His waiter was the man who brought him his lunch, and nothing else. His car was elegant transportation, and his girlfriend… well. She was much the same. Elegant transportation. More, yes. But she was at least that. It was all right. He reasoned that he was that for her, too.
All were his, and much more besides, and he could see no reason why that was not so. Anything that was useless was jettisoned. Anything that was required was acquired. Form followed function. Easy.
When a certain night in April blew apart his self-concept, he wasn’t ready for it. Not by half.
That didn’t mean the night didn’t happen, however.
Tom Gunther had changed. If there was one thing that April 12th had taught him, it was that life did that to you, and sometimes the lesson was hard.
If he'd just let her be, without trying to control her.
If he hadn't been such a stuck-up ass.
If he'd just sipped his drink, schmoozed his investors, and ignored the people unlucky enough to think him a friend, she would have been all right.
In short, if he'd just left her talking to Eve, not made demands, not quarreled with her, not irritated her by implying she was being selfish...
She never would have stepped out into the New York night alone, and into disaster.
She was beautiful, and important to his life. For some reason, that seemed especially true that night. He'd wanted her support, and her attention. Hell, he'd wanted her all but fawning.
Admittedly, he'd wanted to show her off. It was his party. She was his girlfriend. Beautiful, and rich, and cultured. That was Catherine. Elegance dripped from her like her pearls. Tom Gunther liked that. He allowed for her personal failings because of it.
Her father was Charles Chandler, and everyone who moved in the Right Circles knew who that was. Corporate law had made Charles millions, and Cathy was his sole heir.
Not that he was courting her for her money. Tom had more pride than that, and far more ambition. He had his own money. And planned on making a lot more of it. The fact that she was wealthy was true, and even necessary to him, in his way, but he did not need her to save him from poverty.
If the year had been a personal disaster for him, it had been a professional boom time. He was backed up for two years on designs. The civic center alone sat waiting on his vision for its reconstruction. The bidding was supposed to be open to all, with all designs accepted, but he knew he had the inside track. Talent did that for you. Well, talent, and the right contacts didn't hurt.
But still, the talent was his, and it was true. He had a gift for clean designs, and usually coming in at, or under, budget. Overages were well spent, and rare, especially when dealing with Certain People's Money.
His reputation was well earned.
Why, then, was he so... damn... miserable?
He knew his disquiet centered around Cathy, and knew he should have no cause for complaint, especially not now. It had been seven months since her attack. Her reconstructive surgeries were over, for the time being. There was a deep slash just in front of her left ear. She hid it with her hair, for the most part.
He'd waited, patiently, for her to recover, going through endless doses of humility every time he saw her. 'Eve's a lush, and her husband is, too. Couple of losers.' His voice from “that night” came back to haunt him.
He wondered if it haunted her, as well.
Had he really been that self-centered, condescending, and self-absorbed? He realized he had been. That, and more. Success had gone right to his head, before her attack brought him crashing back to earth.
She shouldn't have been out on that sidewalk alone. This was New York. It had been late and, though he'd had a couple of drinks, he'd been counting. Tom Gunther always counted his drinks. It was how you stayed in control.
She was slipping away from his.
God, he hated that feeling.
He tossed the silver Cross pen across the desk, frustrated, and dialed her number. She wouldn't be home, not yet. That new job of hers at the DA's office (A public servant, Cathy? Really? - it was the thing he thought but never said) kept her working long hours. But it was tough to get hold of her in her office, and she always sounded irritated when he tried.
He didn't blame her for that. Well, not exactly. He knew better than anybody how difficult and encompassing a career could be, how much he hated being pulled out of a meeting, or called away when he had a good idea.
Catherine Chandler now hated being interrupted at work. Wonders might never cease, on that one.
It was not lost on Tom that it was that change alone that made them more alike than they used to be. And more apart, apparently. She seemed focused and firm, and somehow driven. Things she never, ever used to be.
That they were now more alike in their work patterns and intense demeanor should delight him. He marveled that it didn't. Part of him longed for the days when she used to go in late, after they'd spent the night together. Or she'd ditch work early, calling him to ask if he wanted to meet her for an early dinner, or a drink, or a jaunt through some art gallery, or a book store, or some such.
She never did that, anymore.
Whenever his phone rang these days, it was never her doing the calling. It was always he who called her. Always, now.
Her home machine beeped.
"Hey, Cathy, it's me. I ... uh, just wanted to tell you there's a performance of ‘Tosca’ at the Met tonight.” He pulled it out of his hat, looking at the newspaper. "I thought you might like to go. I know it's one of your favorites. I'll get the tickets and catch up with you later, okay? Seven thirty."
He'd had to tell her what time, and firm it up himself. Rarely at first, but often lately, she'd turned down evenings in his company.
He rubbed his forehead, wishing with all his heart that he could take April 12th back. He was in love with her, as least as much as a man like Tom could love. And he felt like he was losing her. And he wasn't sure why.
The music swirled around them, and she looked vivid in a royal blue dress. They were in balcony seats, a box he used as a tax write-off for his company. He usually offered it to wealthy guests or clients, as he saw fit. He rarely used it himself. He was well aware that made him something of a barbarian.
Though raised with a certain measure of wealth, well, there was “wealth” and there was Charles Chandler's version of wealth. Above Chandler, there was even another tier, and yet another, above that, the rarified air that boasted names like Buffet, and Kennedy, and Rockefeller.
Tom’s family was privileged, but no amount of private schooling could get him to love opera, or, for that matter, even classical music. He listened to it because it was expected of him. Frankly, he enjoyed the buildings more than he enjoyed the art created inside them. The acoustics here were marvelous, he thought, not for the first time. The shape of the room conducted sound perfectly. Form followed function.
He wanted to build something like it, one day. Maybe in Connecticut, or Montreal or Atlanta. There was plenty of money in those places, if you knew where to look. Tom did.
But Catherine loved this. Loved it here, surrounded by the amazing crystal chandeliers, and the Marc Chagall artwork. She fanned herself with her libretto, not needing to open it to follow the plot, or the arias. She'd seen this before, with different tenors, once in Oriental dress. She'd told him.
The sprayed curls on either side of her face lifted gently as she fanned herself. Her scar showed some, when she did that. Not much. She'd worn her hair up, but the fall of framing curls covered her marred skin. Mostly.
It made him feel guilty to look at it. Still. Strange that she should seem less affected by it than he was. Well, then again, maybe not. After all, he could “‘see” it. She couldn’t, as they sat.
Other than the scar, she was a beauty, and she seemed almost unaware of how lovely she was.
Her neck was long, and white, and had barely seen the sun since her attack. Now, in mid-November, her fair skin all but… glowed. He remembered kissing that neck in their passion, a long time ago. She'd not taken him back into her bed since that April night. A few weeks before that, actually. It was as if things between them were breaking down, even then.
Considering what a colossal asshole he'd been, he didn't blame her.
The sound of applause brought him back to the present moment. The audience clapped politely as the aria concluded. Catherine joined them, setting down her program to do so. She took a sip from her champagne. She looked... luminous, was the only word he could think of.
They were more than half way through this thing. Part of him wanted to take her home, beg her to let him take her to bed, and make love to her for the rest of the night. The other part knew he would do no such thing.
He would take her for a walk near the fountain, and perhaps for coffee or hot chocolate, afterward. If the night wasn't so cold, he’d offer to take her for a stroll through the park, a place she never seemed to want to go any more, though her apartment overlooked it.
Her apartment. Another thing they'd argued about, back in the day. He'd been pressuring her to sublet it, and move in with him. She'd dragged her feet. Then ... April 12th.
Church bells were sounding as a shepherd boy took the stage. Glancing at his own program, he realized they must be about to begin Act 3. Thank God.
The November night was cold. Oddly, she seemed more fascinated with the steam rising up from the grates than she was with the fabulous fountain in the courtyard, or the warm cocoa at the all-night bistro he'd taken her to. Several of the patrons looked just as well-heeled as they were. It was a common night spot for the “after opera” crowd. She liked it here. Or at least she had, before.
Now she looked... distracted by something. She did that a lot, lately.
"You looked very beautiful tonight," he complimented her sincerely. He realized he sometimes didn't do that, before. Too ... self-absorbed. And always simply… “expecting” her to look beautiful. With the amount of money she used to spend on hair and clothes, she should have been, he recalled, a little uncharitably. He dismissed the thought.
He thought nothing of Catherine she had not thought of herself.
"Thank you. I think I wore this dress the first night my Father took me to see ‘Tosca.’ I'm surprised I can still wear it."
It was a ravishing thing. Beautiful and off the shoulder, with a matching wrap. Diamonds winked at her ears and throat.
"I'm sure you were as lovely then as you are now," he told her gallantly, trying hard to tell her that the marring of her face hadn't changed how he felt about her.
"Thank you, again.” She took a sip of her hot chocolate. "And you look very handsome, Tom. As always." But she said it almost as if she remembered it was required, and not because she truly felt it, or noticed it, any more.
There was a time when she was proud of his looks, of his ambitions. A time when her Father's approval of him was paramount in her mind. A time when they’d been… exploring their options with each other, romantically. An eventual marriage wasn’t so much a declaration as an understanding of sorts, between them. Or at least, Tom felt that was true. Before April 12th. Before... everything.
"Catherine.” He said her name and reached over for her hand.
She wondered why her name didn't sound … “right” on his lips. She remembered another voice, from months ago.
"There's something I wanted to ask you."
She froze. Dear God. He wasn't going to talk about marriage again, was he? They'd postponed even discussing such things, indefinitely, thanks to her attack. They hadn't re-approached the issue. He'd been waiting for her to bring it up.
"What happened to you... this spring…” He couldn't bring up the date, but they both knew what he meant. "You don't... blame me for it in some way... do you?”
His eyes held the question. Deep, brown eyes. Why weren't they blue? It took her a moment to snap back to what he had asked her.
"Blame you? Of course not, Tom. Why would I do that?" Her expression looked a little confused.
"Because we quarreled, a little, before you went out for the cab."
Had they? She honestly didn't remember. She had blocked out much of what happened that day, had blocked much of the attack itself, as a matter of fact. She remembered getting dressed in a gown she no longer had, thanks to its ruination. She remembered not really wanting to go, feeling that vague sense of ennui that had been plaguing her so often, back then. She remembered someone... was it Eve? Something about Eve, and her marriage falling apart? It didn't matter. It honestly had nothing to do with what happened next. Or what happened after that. Vincent.
Catherine met his gaze, steadily.
"No. No, Tom. Of course I don't blame you. Why would I? It wasn't your fault. It was a horrible accident. A terrible thing happened to me, but you didn't do it. Why would I blame you?" She gave his hand an almost motherly pat, before she returned it to her mug.
"Maybe because I do. If I'd have been... more understanding. Or if I'd at least followed you outside and put you in a cab..."
"Tom.” She cut him off. “If there's one thing the last seven months have taught me, it's that we could all play 'could have, should have, would have' until Hades freezes over, and it won't change one thing about our lives. Not one. It won't. It can't. We have what we have, and we are what we are. We play the hand we're dealt, and we live with ourselves as nobly as we can, and with the results."
His dark eyes took her in. She said things like that a lot now. Deep things, things about nobility and sharing, and sacrifice. Things about nurturing other people, and helping the less fortunate.
It wasn't that she was cold-hearted before. Indeed, it was the warmth in her nature that drew him. It's just that... well. To put it bluntly, she hadn't had that much of a social conscience, before. Aside from writing a check now and then, for a charity here and there.
"I suppose you're right," was all he said. That job was going to make a liberal of her yet. He wondered how Charles Chandler was reacting to her now. The two men were still close, and often discussed Cathy. Charles referred to all of this as a “phase she was going through.” Tom wasn't so sure that was true anymore.
Catherine shifted in her chair. "And on that note, I find my feet are sore in these heels, and I have a brief to dissect before morning. It was a lovely performance, Tom. Will you get me a cab?"
Of course he would. Get her a cab, not get them a cab. Her apartment was the opposite way from his. They had not shared a cab home in a long time. Either home.
"Of course I will," he answered, rising from the table to do it.
Tom went home to his cold bed alone - and increasingly frustrated.
Catherine's ride was far more sanguine.
The November night was cold and starless. A gibbous moon held court in the New York sky. Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks away, but of course, Christmas decorations were already in every shop window. Christmas. That two month time span between Halloween and New Year's, she thought wryly. She wondered if he celebrated it, in his home below the streets. She wondered if he celebrated any holiday at all.
"Could you drive once around the Park, please?" she asked the cabbie, letting the warm air from the heater defrost her toes. Pumps made for an elegant line, but poor cold weather gear. But the shoes gave her height. Tom was tall.
Vincent was taller. She should wear heels, if they ever saw each other again. Unlikely.
She would say she thought about him a lot lately, but in truth, he'd never been far from her mind to begin with. She sometimes thought all of it had been something unreal, like a dream of sorts, but she had the scar to prove it hadn't been, not to mention the hard memories. If she forgot those, there was a photograph of her scarred face in the database at work to remind her.
She wondered if he remembered just how she looked in that picture. She hoped he didn’t. He. She didn’t even need to name him. In ways, she almost couldn’t.
She avoided going into the park. Avoided it like heartbreak waited for her there. Avoided the entrance to her basement for the same reason. Wherever her life was, it was up Above. Here. She was reshuffling and juggling her whole life, trying to ... be the person he thought she could be. To try and fulfill her expectations of herself, so he could be proud, and she could, too. It had been very hard. But it had been worth it.
Christmas lights winked from a hundred displays, and inside the windows of the apartments on Park Avenue, some. No lights glimmered in her designer-decorated apartment. The subtle palette of blues, whites, and greys comforted her, but even she admitted it wasn't very warm. The apartment had been a gift from her Father, for finishing law school, grade point average be damned. She liked it there, and sometimes thought of redecorating it.
Then she dismissed the idea as frivolous, and silly. The apartment was fine. It suited her needs.
And it was the only place she knew he could reach her. Funny how that emphasized pronoun always stood for “Vincent,” these days.
She blinked back a tear as she acknowledged the sentence. She remembered how she felt when she was with him, in those ten days that changed her life forever.
She'd been frightened, and alone. Hurt beyond terror, and terrorized beyond reason. He'd extended his hands, those huge, clawed, fur-backed hands, and cared for her so gently. She covered her mouth in shame when she thought of her reaction to her first glimpse of his face, and had a ghost of a wan smile when she thought of how he'd sat there, half afraid of frightening her again, as she'd pushed back his hood.
He'd brought her tea. His voice, reading Dickens, was a balm to her shredded sense of self. She didn't know why. Didn't question it. She only knew she felt... embraced, warmly and deeply, by him. In a quiet, loving way that she hadn't felt since her Mother, and maybe not even then.
This was different, and it wasn't parental. She didn't know what this was. She only knew it felt like a glowing place in her soul, and it pushed a light into dark places.
She watched the park roll past, wondering if he was warm enough, was safe enough, was he well. She hoped he was. Even as she accepted she wouldn't see him again, she hoped for that much for him, at least. Vincent. Her savior and her salvation.
She'd sat at the opera, wishing she could show it to him, wishing she could share it with him, trying to remember all of it so she could tell him about it, if she ever saw him again.
That wasn't fair to Tom, and she knew it. And she wasn't going to see Vincent again. Too much time had passed, and he was not part of her reality, not now. What did she expect him to do? Come knock on her door?
For a moment, she considered walking in the park, hoping he would... find her, somehow, but she dismissed the thought. That way, madness lay. The park was dangerous at night, in the first place, and she could stroll through it for fifty years and never see him again, in the second place.
Her life felt suspended. Waiting.
The cab stopped in front of her apartment building and she got out. Enough of this. She had work to do, inside.
She left the cabbie a big tip. He'd been nice, and not tried to talk to her while she'd been lost in her own thoughts. She appreciated that. And his gloves were thin. He looked like he could use a new pair.
Vincent kept to the roof, seeing her exit the cab. She looked beautiful. A glorious blue gown that would have looked fitting on royalty. She was lovely. He was too distant to see her face, but knew the color of her hair, and the shape of her petite frame. He should know it. He'd carried her at a dead run across the park, back in April.
He was driving himself mad with wanting to see her. Finally, tonight, he'd succumbed, and pushed and pulled himself up to her roof. He knew he wasn't going to speak to her. Knew he had no reason to, and that Jacob's warning had been keen. 'This act of kindness. Please don't let it... destroy you.'
But it was. Or something was. Loneliness ate at his soul like a cancer, and the life he'd led before was no cure.
Her world had no place for him. None. None at all, except in a cage, or stuffed, in a museum. He knew that. Knew it, in his bones. It was madness to even be here. But here he was.
He was on her roof. He closed his eyes, feeling her enter the room beneath his feet. The living room light cast gold onto the terrace through the sheers. She was home. And she was alone. He'd both seen that as she emerged from the cab, and he “felt” it, now, from her. She felt different when she was at work, or with other people. She just did.
He had to stop this. He must never do it again. He felt like a stalker, like something unclean. But he missed her... so... much!
He'd let her go April twenty-second. To this moment, he remembered it as the last day he'd been happy. Ten days. Ten wonderful, terrible, soul-changing days, for both of them. Or at least, for him.
He both wanted her to step out on the balcony, and dreaded that she would. What would he do, if she were so close he could see her face, if she looked up from the edge of the balcony? But she had no reason to do that. This was November, and it was icy. He drew his cape around himself. He left her roof, and headed for home. He had to. It was wrong to be here, and it was freezing.
November was a banshee, and the wind had teeth. Most people thought he was warmer than others, thanks to the obvious thickness of his body hair. The opposite was true. The smattering of fur - 'Fur. You have fur. Not hair’ - could not make up for the fact that he had very little in the way of body fat to use for insulation. The fur helped him sweat, which helped his body cool with evaporation against his warm skin. It did not keep him warm. There was a reason he dressed in layers, aside from his copious modesty.
But he'd come out tonight, distanced the park and scaled her building, knowing he wanted to just... check on her. Yes, that was it. Make sure she was well. He made his way home, holding that as a truth.
She'd had a deep blue wrap against the cold. Her shoes, however, were impractical. He smiled at that. He remembered the high heeled pumps she'd worn out of his home, walking in them steadily, as if she was born to it. She was short. She used the shoes to give her a sense of height. Even in them, she just reached the area under his arm. The area he wanted to fold her into, and hold her, and keep her safe.
She'd been content, this evening. Then pensive. Then, later... wistful was the only word he could think of for it. Her emotions had whispered to him across a bond he was still struggling to understand.
He wondered where she'd gone, in her finery. Then he berated himself for asking the question.
Stop this. He castigated himself mentally. Enough. It was time to find a way to be happy with his life again. He had to. He would chew himself alive, wishing, otherwise. Wishing and not having. Like he'd done half the spring and all summer, and now into fall.
She looked fine. She looked well. And the last thing she needed in her life was him, spying on her. Or anything else to do with him.
"Be well, Catherine," he whispered, willing her to feel the benediction.
He dropped his head in despair as the cold moon lit his way back to the tunnels.
"Your friend Jenny's been calling,” Tom told Catherine, aware of it because when he'd picked her up at her apartment, he'd seen her tablet by the phone. Jenny's name was listed, often. "Do you want to arrange a dinner date with her? Maybe go to that Italian place you liked?"
He was being polite. Solicitous. Trying to do things with her she liked.
For no good reason, she found that irritating.
"No. And don't look at my phone tablet, please," she'd reprimanded him, standing in the Museum of Natural History with him.
"Hey. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry." They'd been visiting the King Tut exhibit, on loan from the museum in Cairo. The displays were amazing.
They stood looking at the huge stone sarcophagus, the resting place of a teenage boy. Catherine said nothing as they gazed. Golden jars which used to contain body organs seemed both eerie, and ornate.
"The pyramids were so difficult to build. The manpower needed alone was insane. And it was mostly skilled labor, not slave," Tom told her, trying to entertain her. Architecture was a subject he knew a thing or three about.
"I can read the brochure, Tom."
She could. But at least some of what he was saying wasn't in there. She knew she sounded bitchy. She didn't seem able to help it. She was tense and moody. Things between them were reaching some kind of boiling point, some kind of climax. And it wasn't the kind he was hoping for.
She walked away from him, out of the Egypt exhibit, and into the rooms full of fossils, dinosaurs, and mannequins of early people. She was sorry she'd done it. A savage face was curled back in a snarl, its hirsute body looking bestial. He had long teeth, but not quite as long as fangs. His forehead was heavy, and heavily browed. His hair looked like a wild mane, and he had fellows. He looked... savage, and unintelligent, with a crude spear in his hand.
It brought tears to her eyes for no reason. Or at least for no reason she wanted to name.
"I need to go," she said, not sure if Tom was still behind her. It didn't matter. This afternoon had been a mistake, and again, she didn't know why. It had been her idea, to come here.
It was like she was spoiling for a fight, one she wasn't sure she wanted to have, or why. Tom had been good to her. He’d helped her father during the days she’d been missing, hired private investigators, pushed the police… He had stuck around through the surgeries and the doctors, stuck by her through one of the most horrific times in her life.
And why in God's name did her name sound so wrong in his mouth?
"Catherine, wait. You're upset. Wait." He caught her arm, then knew better of it. He expected her to round on him, and she did. He pulled his hand away from her immediately. She hadn't been raped. But she seemed to be avoiding being touched, or at least being touched by him.
There. At least that was better.
Wasn’t that a question for the ages? One she could never answer.
"I changed my mind about being here. I want to leave, Tom."
"Okay. I'll get our coats."
She didn't want her coat. She just wanted to leave. Badly.
She forced herself to wait, to calm. She had to stop behaving this way. Like he was abusing her or something. She didn't know what she was feeling. Then in some ways, she did.
She felt like she was being unfaithful to Vincent, somehow.
Which was utterly ridiculous. He was not in her life. He hadn't been, since the moment he'd sent her down the passageway to her basement, light shining in front of her like a soft blessing. She remembered promising she would keep his secret, and she had. She'd been as faithful to him as she could be, considering.
More was unwarranted. Ridiculous, even. She couldn't be “unfaithful” to someone who wasn't even in her life.
Tom held out her jacket, ever the gentleman.
By the time he'd got her out on to the street, she was better. The open air felt good, better than the dry heat inside the building. A stream of weekend traffic was in front of her, and beyond that, the park.
"I want to go for a walk in the park," she told him, heading off in that direction.
He had no idea what was wrong with her. Sometimes, it seemed like she was coming out of her own skin. Her repaired skin. Other times, it seemed like she had almost no reaction to anything, lost in thought somewhere.
Now she wanted to go into the park, a place she'd avoided for months. Fine. It was a crisp, clear November Saturday. The park would be fairly full of people. Skaters at the rink, chestnut vendors near the entrance, tourists everywhere.
She crossed the street and went into the nearest opening, flowing into the park along with several other pedestrians. Tom got the feeling she didn't really care if he was there or not, as he trailed a few feet behind her.
She walked a fast pace, boot heels clicking on the sidewalk. Her red coat was a banner of anger to suit her mood, her scarf fluttering against the lapels. Her head was down, her back stiff. She was the picture of aimless determination. She was burning off steam and they both knew it.
The park was dozens of blocks long, and fairly wide. He had the impression she would walk all the way back to her apartment if she could.
Fine. If she wanted to walk, they would walk. He could come back to pick up his car, later. His long stride had no problem pacing her, but he remained behind her, sensing she wanted the space.
Finally, Catherine burned off some of the irritation that had been simmering inside her. Finally, she slowed. She knew he was there. She wondered if Vincent still knew she was there. Was here. Whatever. Vincent, again. She had to stop this. She just had to.
Tom’s next statement caught her entirely unaware.
"Cathy.” He had to know. "Is there someone else?"
She stopped, stunned. Floored, if she'd been standing on one, which she wasn't. How did he know?
And she could never say. Vincent was part of what had happened to her during those ten days she never spoke of. Besides. Tom didn't mean “then.” He meant “now.” And he meant something entirely different.
"Your boss, Joe. He's an okay-looking guy. Is it him?" Tom asked, sensing her weakness.
"No. It isn't Joe, Tom. It isn't anyone,” she hastened to add. That was both true and it wasn’t. Oh, well. There was no help for that. She rubbed her temples, as if she had a headache. “I just need a break for a while. I don't know why."
If he pushed right now, he knew he'd lose her. Tom had not succeeded in business by not knowing how to read people.
"Okay. I'll take you home. Call you for dinner in a couple of weeks, when I get back from scouting locations in Atlanta. If that's okay."
"I can walk. I'd like to," she said, dismissing him. She began to walk in the general direction of her apartment building.
"I said ‘I will walk you.’” His voice was firm as he fell in step beside her. He would never let her walk off on him in anger, again. Not after the last time.
She could feel what he was thinking, both his confusion over her reactions and his protectiveness regarding her going off alone. She despaired of how badly she was treating him, considering how hard he was trying with her. Fine. She could use the two weeks to get herself sorted, get herself back on an even keel.
He was a good man. At least she'd thought him good enough to marry, once upon a time, or at least she'd considered it. And while she'd once found his personality occasionally overbearing, abrasive even, at times, well. She knew she’d had her foibles, too.
She also knew that since she'd been found, he'd remained in her life and in her father’s, through every surgery, through every doctor's visit, through every change she’d made. Sometimes, the old, abrasive Tom was still there. But for the most part, he'd been patient with her, been conciliatory, and considerate. For the most part.
He dropped back a little, sensing her need for space, again. He resumed his position slightly behind her, and watched her as she walked through the park. Her now-steady pace chewed up the ground. She slowed near a large drainage culvert, and again near the ice-skating pond.
A girl with a simple jacket and an obviously home-knitted scarf was “skating” around the pond on slick shoes, her blonde bangs flying as she worked her legs. Her coat looked like a patchwork affair. Tom wondered if Catherine recognized the girl from her work.
Catherine watched for a moment, then tucked her head down low in her coat, and kept walking. She tied the scarf around her neck as she did so, finally feeling the cold.
Catherine despaired a bit that she hadn't just veered back toward the street and called a cab by now. Tom could have put her inside one, and they'd have been quit of each other. Now he was following her through the park, guilty because of what had happened to her the last time she'd walked off in a huff, crowding her even though he stayed well back, not even speaking to her.
Finally, she reached her apartment building, her cheeks ruddy and her expression… fathomless was the only word Tom could think of. She looked as if whatever she'd hoped to find in the park, it hadn't been there.
Again, he wondered if she was having an affair, if the park had been a meeting place for them or something. Perhaps that was why she didn't want to go there very often. Hell, maybe he was the popcorn vendor or the guy who ran the carousel.
Tom was disgusted with his line of thought. Catherine was faithful. She may have had something of a personality transplant lately, but she was faithful. He knew that. It was part of why he'd dated her in the first place. The last thing he'd wanted was to be embarrassed by her. Especially back then, when his career was still at a delicate place.
"Cathy.” He stopped her before she went in her building's park entrance.
She turned. "What?" she asked, realizing she sounded rude.
He reached for her awkwardly, kissed her cheek, and bid her farewell. "I love you. Feel better, Cathy. I'll see you, later. In a couple of weeks."
She nodded at that. "Take care," was all she replied, slipping inside her building.
He could have caught a cab back to the parking garage where his car had been left. But he decided to walk back, at least part way. He strolled by the culvert that seemed to hold her interest for a while, and the ice rink. The girl she'd been staring at was gone. Or maybe she was just on the other side of the pond. Whatever.
He wondered why Catherine had noticed that poverty-gripped looking girl over any other. He shrugged. It probably didn't matter. Cathy was different these days. She just was.
He remembered a particular moment from their early months. He'd dropped by to pick her up for dinner, and found her in her apartment, the space awash in shopping bags.
"A little retail therapy?" he'd asked her, eyeing the hoard.
"I guess I got a little carried away," she admitted, holding up a red sweater. She'd meant it for Nancy Tucker. Nancy liked red.
"I guess that's easy, with Daddy's gold card." Tom had let the jab slip, immediately aware he shouldn't have. He tensed, wondering if they were about to fight.
Catherine looked at the piles of “stuff” that covered her small sofa, the top of her table, her banquette - there was even a pair of shoeboxes stacked near the door. Even her corporate salary would have been stretched to pay for this batch of loot. And she was painfully aware she'd done very little to earn that.
Tom braced for impact, expecting a rebuke. But rather than cause her head to snap up, she'd looked struck. Justifiably.
"I guess it is," was all she'd answered, her head down. "I'll go change for dinner. Give me a minute."
He’d had the feeling that a peach frock with the tags still on it was what she'd planned to wear that evening. He’d surveyed the damage. There had been nearly eight hundred dollars’ worth of stuff in the room, according to the tags. He'd have to pull in a lot of good contracts to afford her, he’d thought. No matter. He was equal to the task.
She’d emerged from her bedroom in a mint green skirt and blazer he'd seen before. She threw the bags in the closet and gathered her purse. That night, when they'd made love, she'd seemed... distant. Lost, a little.
Tom snapped back to the present. He shook his head, and hailed a cab at the first opportunity. She was becoming high maintenance, and not in a way he wanted to handle. The way that couldn’t be solved with a generous allowance, or a chore of some kind, to keep her busy. Oh, well.
If they married, he'd have to get her pregnant quickly, to keep her occupied. If they got married. When they got married. They were still engaged, in a way, in spite of the tension that had been going on between them.
He would ride this out. He would keep her near, let her work through whatever this was, and find a way to make this work. She was still his best choice for a viable life partner. There was enough of a mercenary left in him to know that.
Two weeks. Two long weeks.
For Vincent, they dragged, as many of his days had done lately. When they did that in summer, he blamed the length of the light of the day. In summer, he hated how long he'd be kept inside, kept penned up, away from the peace of the night, and the light of the stars.
But this was not summer. He had no excuse, now, for why one day seemed to take so long to bleed into another. He still felt the pain of missing her. Still felt the misery of his separate existence, separate from her, separate from ... everything.
He wanted to be near her, and guarded against any thoughts that propelled him in that direction. He'd not gone near her apartment since that one night, nearly a month ago. December chilled the air, November's banshee wind was smoothed down and replaced by December's icier temperatures and darker days. Vincent found himself wishing for a sun he never saw, so that the feeling of cold in his bones could finally ameliorate.
Then he wondered if that cold, frostbitten feeling was thanks solely to the weather.
He wanted to be near her. Just to be... near ... her. Just because he knew he'd felt the blush of love slam into his veins even before the moment she'd placed her palm against his chest, as they’d neared the exit to her home. Knew he couldn't help but feel it, and felt it still. A romantic love, not a carnal one.
He wanted to be somehow a part of her life. Not for gain, or for position, or for social stature reasons, but just for her. Just because she was Catherine, and he'd touched her, and tended her, for ten amazing days. Just because she’d been trying so hard, and struggling her way through. Just so he could lend her his strength, sometimes, as she found her own. Just so he could smile at her victories with her and help her with her losses. Just because she was Catherine. Just because.
Stop hoping. Just… stop. He had to stop thinking of her. Had to stop hoping. It was the hope that was killing him. There was nothing more dangerous for him, right now, than that.
Pandora's gift was wearing him thin, wearing down his resolve. He needed something to occupy his mind, some way to stay busy and keep his focus off of Catherine. He eyed an embarrassingly large stack of unshelved books near his desk which needed to be put away. Might as well start there.
He sorted the books he'd allowed to fall into a haphazard jumble. Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, Robert Burns… Victor Hugo and the Hunchback. Bram Stoker's Dracula. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He’d been fascinated with monsters for a while, judging by the order of the pile.
He dug his way through October's offerings backwards, embarrassed that he'd allowed his books to get so... cast about, and ill-cared for. Edgar Allen Poe was face down, open to “The Raven.”
"Nevermore," he said aloud, closing the thick volume, putting it back on the shelf where it belonged.
Other offerings followed, until he finally dug his way down to a grey volume with a red-letter monogram on the cover.
A scrap of paper held his place, near the end.
He turned over the title before he read it, knowing what it was ahead of time. "Great Expectations," by Charles Dickens. He caressed the cover, his terrible hands as gentle as a lover's.
So much for occupying himself to forget her.
For Catherine, the two weeks had a rapid quality. Thanksgiving kicked off the Christmas shopping season in earnest, and reminded her of a time when she would have been out there, running up a charge card with the best of them.
Now, however, it was a time when her workload seemed to ratchet into high gear, something Joe told her was common. Poverty was more keenly felt at this time of year when some of the “have nots” felt free to liberate merchandise from the “haves.” Throwing lots of alcohol into the mix did not seem to help anyone’s judgment, any.
From shoplifting to strong-armed robbery, from domestic squabbles to drunk driving after the office Christmas party, it all seemed “up” and like it was landing on her desk with a thump.
She barely spared a thought for Tom. She simply had neither the time nor anything specific she needed to think about, regarding him. They would manage. Maybe after New Year's, she'd get that remaining vestige of her old life sorted out, one way or the other.
She bought Jenny and Nancy each a pair of bedroom slippers that had monkey faces on them, and stood three inches off the carpet. They were wonderful, and the tail dragged the floor. They were silly fun. She expected something just as ridiculous in return.
Then she wondered if anyone would get Vincent anything silly, or wonderful, or sentimental, for Christmas.
She wanted to tell him all about the case she'd won last week, the first one Joe had let her handle from start to finish, on her own. Her father had been proud of her. Really proud. Things were... settling between them. He was starting to understand how important this was for her, that it wasn't just a whim, or a rich girl spending five minutes pretending to have a social conscience.
Something inside Catherine was starting to shift again, to change. She was starting to know that her choices had been good ones to this point.
She only had a few more to make.
For Tom, the two weeks in Atlanta were something else again. For one thing, he'd had a fling. A brief, meaningless romp with a woman he'd known since college, a woman who was married, but unhappily so, and... interested.
Sex-starved for eight months, Tom had used her for release, and ego repair. A woman found him attractive, and interesting, at least in the sack, if not out of it.
He knew Deirdre wasn't “forever.” He wasn't in love with her. But she'd wanted a toy, and he'd been willing to oblige her.
It solved no problems with Catherine. But it made him not care about them as much, at least for a while.
He knew she wouldn't find out. He and Deirdre were reasonably discreet, and nearly a thousand miles from New York. If his conscience bothered him, a little, not much else did. He'd never pictured himself as a completely faithful man, though he'd been willing to entertain that notion, when it was convenient.
Of course, he wouldn't tell Catherine. There was no need. It was nothing that would interfere with his marriage to her, if it still happened. No confessions needed to be made here. It was the first time he'd stepped out of bounds in their relationship. But it wasn't surprising that it had happened, considering her ... attitude toward sex, lately.
He picked Catherine up for dinner as he said he would, and took her someplace expensive. She looked lovely, as always. Relaxed, polite, and even happy about some case of hers. Or something.
"You haven't heard a word I've said," she accused without rancor as they pulled up in the limo.
"That your work is important to you?" he told her. "My work is important to me, as well, Cathy," he confirmed.
He waited to see if absence had made the heart grow fonder. He knew in his case, it had. She was beautiful, or she would be, once she got the scar over her ear fixed. She looked elegant, and cool, the perfect choice for him. Deirdre was already a distant, unimportant memory.
"I'll walk you up, Cathy," he told her, getting out of the limo with her, this time.
"No. That's all right," she refused him.
"Cathy, it’s been a long time.” He held her close, as she stood next to the idling car. Felt her body tense, a little. He ignored that.
Determined to “win” here, and put the last year behind him, he pushed, a little. “It's time. I'm not going to let you go, Cathy. Not going to let you slip away."
He felt her stiffen, and he knew immediately that he had over-stepped, badly.
He’s half-right, Catherine thought. It is time.
"Good night, Tom," she told him.
"I've been more than patient, Cathy."
"Yes. You have." She didn't deny it. She also knew with perfect clarity that she never wanted to see him again. She should have said something much earlier. Probably from almost the moment she'd reappeared above ground. But she hadn't. Hadn't been ready, yet. Now she was.
"Good night, Tom," she repeated, knowing that, this time, it was “good-bye.”
She didn't feel guilty as she walked away from him. She knew if she'd used him, as a crutch of sorts, that he'd used her for something else.
Well, she was done with that. Done with using anyone, anymore. Done using her Father for approval, or Tom for an excuse to not face what she knew in her heart.
She was at least half in love with Vincent. And until she either stopped feeling it, or did something about it, being with someone else was not fair, either to her, or to that other person. She was trying to live her life with integrity. It was past time to cut Tom loose, so he could do the same. Or live whatever life he was about to, one way or another.
She was grateful that he didn't try to follow her inside the building, or up to her apartment, glad he didn't try to make a scene.
After all, she had a big day tomorrow, at work. A lead she was considering. One about her own case, her own attack. So far, they'd never found her perpetrators. Perhaps she could do something about that. Early to bed, early to rise.
Tom Gunther watched Catherine Chandler walk out of his life, and into her own. He never knew how close he'd come to guessing the truth, one late afternoon in Central Park. Never knew her life had already been changed, forever. Never knew she'd already met her fate, and it wasn't at the hands of her attackers.
It was at the claws of her savior.
A savior who was even now cradling a copy of Great Expectations against his chest, and reaching a fateful decision.
"Perhaps it is true that we cannot be together," Vincent said, holding the novel gently, feeling her emotions through the bond. It had been a trying evening, but she felt at peace now.
"But then, we will never, ever be apart." he concluded, setting the book down on the top of the stack near his hand. He grabbed his cloak from the back of the chair, and pulled it on. He would take her the book. The night was clear, and lovely. A beautiful night, eight months since he'd sent her back to her world.
He could be on her balcony in less than an hour, if he ran.
He knew he would.
No matter where you are in your own fairy tale, I wish you love.