By Midnight Rose 1992
Father carefully descended the steep, winding stone staircase that had long ago been set into the narrow, twisting fissure leading to the common bathing chambers. The slow, painful trip downward caused by his bad hip was worth the soothing soak that awaited him at the bottom.
The bathing chambers were really one smooth oval cave hued out by an ancient whirlpool and then divided into two rooms by the subterranean inhabitants. A central waterfall of hot water, created by the merging of an underground stream and the diversion of a hot spring, spilled from a hole in the ceiling and ran down a deep trough on top of the stone wall that divided the two chambers. The trench ended at a T-cross trench diverting the water into a double waterfall that cascaded over a stone lip into the pools of both chambers.
After a long, busy day of a community-wide repair detail to fix a collapsed section of tunnel, the thought of a long relaxing soak was just what Dr. Jacob Wells ordered for himself.
The majority of the Underground’s men had already had their turn in the common waters and now the women were using the right side of the bathing chambers. Father could hear them laughing and talking (most likely gossiping about the men). Over the curtained doorway hung a pink towel, the community’s way of indicating that it was the Women’s Common; a blue cloth indicted the Men’s Common. On the left side, a red piece of fabric hung over the curtain revealing that the pool was in private use.
Father knew Vincent was in this side because his son was always one of the last to bathe and he always bathed alone. well, not always. Father was welcome to join his son in the pool. His unique son was not as self-conscious about his modesty in the company of his parent as he was in the presence of others.
The elderly gentleman slipped behind the curtain unannounced and entered the small dressing area, a slender room carved into the rock wall and partitioned from the main chamber by a shale stone wall. Disrobing, Father wrapped a towel about his loins and limped around the concealment wall to the pool.
He froze. Vincent was not alone as he had assumed. His son’s new wife, Catherine, was sitting on the edge of the pool wrapped in a large towel. The pastel pink terry cloth did little to hide the curves of the slender woman and the pale, smooth skin of her bare back and shoulders glowing warm in the soft glow of lamplight. Vincent was waist deep in the water, standing in front of her. Father’s entrance interrupted their loving embrace and a kiss by causing their heads to snap in his direction.
Color came to Father’s cheeks. ‘I’m sorry’ he stammered. This was embarrassing. ‘I thought Vincent was alone. I can wait.’ The habits of an old bachelor were hard to break. Vincent was no longer one of those bachelors and the proper courtesy of privacy was expected, although, this was harder to remember after years of complete, unrestricted access to HIS son.
‘It’s alright,’ Catherine soothed with her easy smile. She rose to her feet. ‘I can go next door. No problem.’ She breezed by the towel-clad patriarch and was gone.
Father was not so shaken up that he missed the lingering hungry gaze Vincent cast upon his retreating mate, nor the shy pleasure in a hint of a smile on the exotic, leonine face.
Father composed himself and stepped down into the pool of warm water; Vincent assisted him by holding onto his father’s arm. The older gentleman made himself comfortable on an underwater ledge that served as a bench, then submerged to the neck as the gentle current swirled around him. Vincent sat down beside him within arms reach.
In the pleasant silence, Father could not help shyly smiling to himself, chastising himself for the events of the last few minutes and he shook his head in renewed embarrassment. He looked up to find his tawny son’s deep blue eyes upon him.
‘What is it, Father?’
Color came back to the parent’s cheeks. ‘It is nothing,’ Father stammered, ‘I am just so embarrassed over’ A gesture of his hand that appeared briefly from the water finished his sentence.
The boring sapphires were unmoved.
Why did he have to be like an open book? Father grumbled to himself. Vincent knew there was more to his embarrassment then just walking in at an awkward moment.
‘Vincent,’ Father sighed in resolve, very shyly. ‘It has been many years since I have laid eyes on a woman clad only in a towel. Unless---of coarse---in my duties as a doctor,’ He finished awkwardly.
The golden son’s look smoldered as he nodded. His crooked smile showed a sharp pearl canine. ‘Beautiful, isn’t she?’ His voice low and gravel, almost whisper.
‘Yes. ‘ Father agreed. He had to look away that pair of gentle, probing blue orbs was back. Vincent always seemed to be able to look right through him at all the wrong moments, questioning, analyzing, and knowing that there was more.
‘I can see why you love her, Son,’ Father added lamely. ‘The beauty of her heart is matched by the loveliness of her countenance.’ Father waxed poetic, in his attempt to turn the tables on his son; it would be Vincent’s turn to smile shyly and drop the whole conversation.
The deep-set azure eyes twinkled warmly beneath the heavy topaz brow and a cock-eyed smile tugged at the unique mouth, but Vincent did not back down. He said nothing more, but watched his beloved parent wiggle under his inquisitive gaze, patient.
Father surrendered. ‘Alright, alright! Vincent, I am much too old to have my head turned at the sight of a pretty maid. I am embarrassed’’
‘Because it stirs you. ‘ Vincent’s voice was soft and wistful. This was not a statement, nor a question and he let it hang in the silence that followed.
The larger man shifted, stretching out his muscular arms to follow the curve of the pool and he let his bushy golden head fall back against the stone edge. Father did not answer, but the tip of his gray, grizzled head did, half of a nod, half of a shrug.
‘It is never too late for a new love,’ Vincent said softly.
The elderly Tunnel founder snorted, choking back a laugh. ‘Love an old codger like me? A man set in his ancient bachelor ways? Impossible!’
Then his voice softened in reflection of the past. ‘Margaret was my one true love.’ Father sadly shook his head; ‘I will never love another.‘
‘But you do love another, Father. ‘Vincent countered softly with the twinkle of secrets kept in his all-knowing blue eyes.
Vincent moved away then, wading down toward the cascading waterfall that fed clean, hot water into the pool. Father was left behind with his mouth agape at his son’s words and alone with his own thoughts. Vincent dropped the matter there and never mentioned it again.