A Day In the Life
by Joan Stephens

Vincent resolutely ignored his internal alarm clock, rolling over to reenter the dream.  He was walking with Catherine through a glade in a forest, where the grass grew almost to his waist.  She was excitedly pulling him onward until they reached a spot in the middle of the glade.  She urged him to sit, then settled beside him.

“Sshhh,” she said.  “If we’re very quiet, they’ll come close.”

Almost as if on cue, a doe and her fawn stepped from the surrounding trees followed by a large buck.  Vincent knew that this was not the usual practice, as bucks and does separate after mating, but he was well aware that this was Catherine’s dream and that she could make anything happen.  It was one of her most fervent wishes that he should experience with her the delight that she had felt as a child, hiding in this glade and watching the wild animals in their daily lives.  She had actively sought him out when she felt herself slipping into this particular dream and she gazed at him with glowing eyes.

“Aren’t they wonderful?  So wild and free.  How I wish we could be the same.”

“Maybe, we can come back as a doe and a buck in our next life,” he said, chuckling.

“I think I would like that . . . ”

“Are you still  asleep, Vincent?”  The dream shattered.  He rolled onto his back, opened his eyes, and looked into Father’s benevolent, smiling face.

“No, I’m not still asleep,” he grumped.  “Since it is Saturday, I decided that I would sleep a little later than usual.  I had a late night last night.”

“With Catherine, no doubt.”

“Yes.”  Vincent luxuriously stretched his sleep-heavy body reveling in the dream he had just experienced.  “Just to be with her is all I desire.  She soothes and comforts my soul.”

“Yes, well . . . I’m sorry that I woke you.”

“That’s all right.  What is it?”

“Well, uh, I was wondering if you would have the time to have some breakfast with me?”

“I always have time for breakfast with you, Father.  You know that.”

“It’s just that you’ve been spending so much time with Catherine, lately, that I rarely get to spend much time with you.  I can’t remember when we last had a game of chess.”

“Last Wednesday, as I recall,” Vincent said with a chuckle.  Someone evidently was feeling a little neglected and he would have to remedy that.  He was sure Catherine would understand.  “Let me get dressed and I’ll meet you in the dining room.”

“I thought that we could eat in the Common Room.”

“What else do you have in mind, Father?”

“Well, since you’ve asked, I was thinking that we could go over Mouse’s plans for piping hot water into the kitchen.”

Why did he think that he had been cleverly maneuvered into looking at the plans?  What other ideas did Father have?  While they were busy eating and examining the plans who should just happen to walk in but Mouse and Cullen.

“Vincent approve?”  Mouse asked.

“Yes, I approve,” he answered.

“Ok good.  Ok fine.  Let’s go.”

“Now?  But this is Saturday.”

“What better time to start then on a day when no one has anything to do,” Father said.

Vincent scowled at him and muttered something about being roped into something he didn’t want to do.  “I will state categorically that I will work until noon, but no longer.  The children need help learning their parts and Mary has asked me to stop by for tea this afternoon.  I will not disappoint any of them.”

“Quite right, quite right,” Father agreed with a smile.

“What about our quiet time together, Father?” Vincent wondered.

“Too much togetherness is overrated, my son,” he answered with a sly grin.

“Come on, Vincent,” Cullen said laughing, “you can’t win. The sooner we get started the sooner we get done,” and he led Mouse out of the chamber.

With good grace Vincent shrugged his shoulders and followed.  Father turned back to his favorite pastime--reading.

                                                              ***************************

 Nothing had gone right from the time they had started this project.  The pipes didn’t fit, the cement wouldn’t hold, and they worked most of the morning in hot mud.  The harder they tried the worse the conditions got.  Disgruntled, Vincent turned to two thoroughly wet and miserable men. He had had enough.  “Let’s shelve this project until Monday and see if some of this mud will dry.”

“Fine with me,” Cullen said, “I’m ready to go back.”

“Should work,”  Mouse grumbled.   “Made good plans.”

Cullen and Mouse scrambled up onto semi-dry ground.  As Vincent stepped through the mud, his foot came in contact with a large stone that slipped out from under him.  With arms flailing like a windmill, he fell over backward to disappear into the mud.  Roaring, he surged up to stand there with mud dripping off every part of his body--even his nose.  Tears streaming down his cheeks, Cullen turned his back to keep Vincent from seeing him laugh uncontrollably.  His shoulders shook as he bent over to stifle his laughter.  Mouse looked at Vincent  round eyed. “Vincent ok?” he innocently asked.

“No, Vincent is definitely not ok!” he growled.  “I’m leaving.”  And he stalked off down the tunnel.

Cullen turned to Mouse and said, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.  Vincent looked like a drowned kitty--a very big, angry, drowned kitty.”  He was finally getting control of himself, still chuckling at the picture of a muddy and very irate Vincent.

“Vincent not think funny.”

“I know but it was, just the same.”

“Yeah,” Mouse agreed with a smile.

Later sitting in the calming warm water of the bathing pool, Vincent looked back on the incident with some equanimity.  He had to admit to himself that he must have made a pretty ludicrous picture standing there angry and muddy.  Bless their hearts, they tried so hard to keep me from seeing them laugh, afraid that they might hurt my feelings, but at that time I was too angry to have hurt feelings.  At that moment he heard the children trooping down the tunnel on their way to his chamber.  It was time for their practice reading.  Hurriedly, he dried off  and rushed to his chamber.

                                                                             *************************

“Am too.”

“Am not.”

“Am too!”

“Am not!”

“AM TOO!!”

“AM NOT!!”

Entering his chamber, Vincent’s gaze swept around the room coming to rest on a smugly contented Samantha.  Sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped tightly around them,  she was intently watching Geoffrey and Kipper argue.  The other children were avidly staring at them, waiting for the fireworks to begin.

“What is going on here?”  Vincent demanded.

“Geoffrey says I’m not Samantha’s boyfriend.”  Kipper looked as if he was ready to hit Geoffrey in the nose.

“Well, he isn’t, I am,” Geoffrey countered.

“Don’t you think it would be nice to ask the lady in question who she chooses?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” they muttered together.

“What do you have to say, Samantha?”

Languidly, she rose and slowly walked over to them.  Threading her arm through his, she batted her eyelashes at him then said,  “I don’t have any boyfriends, only you, Vincent.”

“Ha, you better find out if Catherine wants to share Vincent with you,” Geoffrey said.

“Yeah,” Kipper agreed.

“I’m afraid I will have to consult Catherine about this,” Vincent said soberly.  Samantha gave him a sly look and a furtive wink.  She knew well what she was doing.

Samantha sidled up to Zachary as he entered the chamber.  “Hi, Zach,” she cooed.   “Come and sit by me.”

With a shrug, he followed her and, after they settled on the floor, she snuggled next to him.  If looks could kill, he would have been impaled by the flurry of  arrows that darted from the eyes of the two boys.

“Well, yes.  Let’s begin our practice readings,” Vincent said, smiling to himself.  They grow up so fast.

                                                                             *******************

“I want all of you to practice your readings this next week and we’ll have a dress rehearsal next Friday.  All right, off with you, now.”

Mary was waiting for him.  Her precious tea set was one of two mementos she had brought  with her when she came to the sanctuary of the tunnels and it sat on a small hexagonal table between two comfortable chairs.  The other keepsake was the picture of her husband and children which sat on the nightstand beside her bed.  She was proud of the tea set and only used it on rare occasions.  This was one of those occasions.  As Vincent was like a son to her, she liked to spend special time with him and looked up with a smile when he entered her chamber.

“Mary.”

“Come in, Vincent, please.  I have a new blend that William has made for me and we are the first to try it out.  Sit and relax.  I know that you have not had a very good day so far.  Maybe this can make up for it.”

“You’ve heard about my fiasco this morning?”  He carefully settled into the chair opposite her.

“Everyone has.  Cullen delights in the telling and you know how he can spin a tale.”  She picked up a delicate white bone china cup with a golden rim and red roses painted on it.  She poured it full of a fragrant tea that smelled like nothing he had ever smelled before.  After handing it to Vincent, she poured a cup for herself.

“I’m sure he made it funnier that it really was.”  He took a sip of the hot, steaming tea and nodded appreciatively.  “This is good,” he commented.

“I don’t know.  He says it was the funniest sight he had seen in a long time.”  Mary sipped from her cup,  “Umm, William has outdone himself this time.  This is delicious.”

Vincent leaned back in his chair, stretching his long legs in front of him and settled in to spend a quiet hour or so in gentle conversation with Mary.

                                                                             ************************

The hour had flown by in Mary’s gentle company and he was as relaxed as he ever was.  Mary had come to take the place of the mother he never knew.  Somehow, she always knew the right thing to say or do in any situation.  Even Father had come to depend on her wisdom and kindness.

“How is Catherine?” she asked as she bustled around the room putting her tea set away.

After staring into space for a few seconds, he answered, “She is well and happy.”

“Vincent, may I ask you a question?”

“Certainly.”

“This love you have for Catherine and she has for you, is it enough?  Will the time come when you want more?”

“What the future holds I cannot imagine, but for now it is enough.  She fulfills me.  She completes me.  It is as if she is the other half of my soul.  Without her I am only half a man.  I could wish for nothing more.”

“But Catherine . . .  is she satisfied with what you give her?”

“Truthfully?  No, but I am afraid to get too close, afraid to let loose my emotions, afraid of the beast in me.”

“I don’t think Catherine even worries about that.  She trusts you and knows that you can’t hurt her.”

“She doesn’t really know me.”

“There I think you are wrong.  She knows you better than you think.”

Silently, he hung his head and then raised hopeful eyes to meet hers.

“Yes, Vincent, she knows you very well.”

Just then Eric came tearing into the chamber.  “Vincent, can you come and get Toby down from a ledge?  He climbed up there and is too scared to come down.”

“Just what were you children doing that Toby got stuck on a ledge?” Vincent asked as he followed Eric into the tunnel.

“Aw, we were just teasing him about being a baby, that’s all.”

The chamber Eric took Vincent to was used by the children as a playground.  They had been warned not to climb up to the ledge that ran along one side of the chamber about ten feet above the ground, but as with all children, rules were made to be broken.  Toby was crouching against the wall as far from the edge as he could get.  He was a recent addition to the tunnel family and had not fully integrated into it.  He was crying and was obviously frightened.

Vincent quickly shed his boots and socks and, using his clawed fingers and toes, climbed up to the frightened boy.  “How did you get up here?” he asked, taking the frightened child into his arms.

“I climbed all by myself,” Toby stated proudly.  Then his face crumpled and his lips quivered as he said, “Then I got scared and I couldn’t go down.”

“Why didn’t you let Zach or one of the other bigger boys help you down?”

“I wanted you to come for me.”  He burrowed deeper into Vincent’s embrace.  A warm glow spread through Vincent’s heart as he realized the trust that Toby had developed in him.  This child had lost all faith in the adults Above and had come Below trusting no one, but clearly he now trusted Vincent.

“Put your arms around my neck and hold on tight.  I’ll get you off this ledge.”

Toby did as he was told with a vengeance.  He almost put a strangle hold on Vincent’s neck.  In only minutes the child was safely on the ground and Vincent was able to breathe freely again.  The other children crowded around, admiring Toby for his bravery in climbing to the ledge even if he had to have Vincent help him down.

“I hope we have learned a lesson today,” Vincent said, “Too much of the wrong kinds of teasing can have dire results.  Remember Toby is still new to our ways.  He must be allowed time to learn them.”  He glanced at each child, sternly.  All of them had the grace to look penitent.  “It’s almost time for supper, so go get cleaned up.”

He followed the noisy children out of the chamber then returned to Mary’s room to tell her all that had transpired.  She was as gratified as he to learn of Toby’s trust in Vincent.  “It’s almost supper time Mary.  Will you walk with me to the dining room?” he said, offering his arm to her.

With a flourish she took the offered arm, “I would be delighted,” she said, a broad smile wreathing her face.

                                                                               ***********************

Cullen was in great form as Mary and Vincent entered the dining room.  He was flailing his arms and falling backwards saying, “And then he fell into the mud and came up looking like a big wet and muddy kitten.  Man, was he mad.  He looked at Mouse and I and said, ‘I’m leaving.’ with as much dignity as he could manage looking like he did.”

By this time Vincent was standing behind Cullen and leaning forward whispered into his ear, “Having fun at my expense?”

Cullen jumped a foot into the air and when he turned around, he came face to face with an unamused, unmuddied, very dry Vincent.  “Oh, hi, Vincent,” he said innocently, “I was just telling them about your little problem this morning.”

“I’m sure you were,” Vincent said, drily.  “And did you tell them just how much help you and Mouse were to me when I had that problem?”

“Uh . . . no.”

“I thought not.”

“Hey, don’t be mad, Vincent.  It was funny and you know it.”

“Yes, I know it and if everyone gets a good laugh out of it I suppose it is all right,” he said with wounded dignity.

Father motioned for Vincent and Mary to sit at his table.  After they had their plates, Mary sat next to Father and Vincent sat opposite him.  “Cullen is in fine form tonight,” Father commented.

“Yes,” Vincent said, “at my expense.”

“Well, the way he described it, it must have been a rare sight, indeed,” Father commented.

“Umm.”

“Now, Father, leave the boy alone. He’s had enough problems today,” Mary admonished.  “You just ignore him, Vincent, and eat your dinner.”  Reaching over she patted his arm, mothering him as she had for years.

                                                                               *******************

Vincent was draped over his chair like a wet noodle, listening to his friends tell of their most embarrassing moment, his morning debacle had been the catalyst. After dinner was over, the single folk had decided to stay behind as nothing was scheduled for this evening.  They were all laughing, riotously, at Cullen’s description of Brussels sprouts leaving a greasy trail on a table.  They had flown off his plate as he was threading his way through the dining room in his dorm.  He had caught his lead foot on a chair leg and did the buffalo shuffle to the right and had run smack into a table.  His hand shot out, still holding the tray, and the Brussels sprouts, along with some french fries and a hamburger, leaped off the plate and slid greasily down the length of the table.  Totally embarrassed, he looked up to see his future father-in-law watching him in utter amazement.  Vincent was enjoying the bantering and gaiety when he suddenly sat straight up.

“What is it, Vincent?”  Jamie asked.

“Catherine,” he replied, relaxing back into his chair.

“Are you going to go meet her?”

“No, she is coming to me.”

“OK, who’s next?” Cullen wondered.

John raised his hand, hesitantly, “I guess it’s my turn.”  He paused, blushing, and then plunged ahead, “It happened when I first came here . . . ”

“Excuse me, Catherine is almost here.”  With joyous anticipation, Vincent hurried from the dining room.

“Say hello for us, ok?”  Jamie hollered after him.

                                                                            **************************

He met Catherine at the door to his chamber.  Standing on tiptoe she lightly kissed him on the cheek.  “I have a surprise for you.”  She smiled up at him as she took his hand and led him to his reading chair.  After he was settled, she brought forth a bag she had been hiding behind her back.  Opening it, she pulled out a Styrofoam bowl filled with ice cream, hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, and a bright red cherry on the top.  All of which she handed to him.  She delved into the bag once again and brought out paper napkins and a plastic spoon.  Handing him the spoon, she said, “I thought you might enjoy a hot fudge sundae tonight.  Go ahead.  Take a bite.”  She
watched in happy anticipation as he took his first bite.

“This is delicious, Catherine.  Thank you.”

“You are very welcome.”  She settled on the edge of his bed, watching him devour the sundae.  The pleasure she received as she watched him enjoy something new was worth any trouble it caused her.

He ate every bit but the cherry.  “Aren’t you going to eat the cherry?”

“No, that is for you.”  He took the cherry dripping with hot fudge sauce and melted ice cream and popped it into her mouth.

With a wicked grin on her face, Catherine asked, “Do you know what you just did?”

Innocently he replied, “No, what did I do?”

If possible, her grin became even wider.  “You just asked me to make love to you.”

He reared back as his eyes went wide with dismay.  “I did?” he whispered,   “Please, forgive me I didn’t know.”

“I know you didn’t know.  That is what make it all the more delicious.”

“The cherry or the thought?”  He could tease her as well.

“I’ll leave that for you to figure out,” she replied saucily, as she slid off the bed and took his hand,  pulling him to his feet.  “Come on.   Let’s take a walk so I can cool off.”

“Are you warm, Catherine?”

“Yes, love, very warm.”  Chuckling, she threaded her arm through his as they stepped out of the chamber.

“Shall we go to the Mirror Pool tonight?  There’s no moon and we should be able to see the stars clearly.”

He pressed her arm close to him and took her hand in his as he led her to the Pool.  It was dark and the stars were bright and clear.  He spread his cloak on the floor at the edge of the Pool and settled Catherine on it, then lowered himself to sit behind her.  Pulling her back against him, he twined his arms around her.  She sighed happily, leaning her head into the hollow of his shoulder. “We won’t see many stars this way,” she said

“No.”  With his night vision he had an advantage on her, he could see her very clearly.  It was a sight he never tired of.

Twisting slightly, she turned so that she lay in his arms and was able to reach up and run her fingers over his cheek.  “I love your face, it is so beautiful.  It is the first thing I see when I wake and the last I see when I go to sleep.  I am grateful in more ways than I can say to the fate that brought us together.  I love you, Vincent.”  She sat up on her knees and taking his face in her hands, she kissed him gently.

“I love you, too, Catherine,” he said when he got his breath back.  “Why haven’t we done this before?”

“We weren’t ready.  I wish I could see your face.”

“You would see a very flustered man, my love.”

“Too bad.  I love to see you flustered.”

“I know you do.”  He chuckled and pulled her to him.  Then he kissed her as she had wanted him to for a long, long time.

“Ah, Vincent, I knew it would be wonderful when you kissed me.  Do it again.”

He obliged her with a deep, soul-searing kiss that literally curled her toes.  Breathless, they held each other close.  At last, Catherine thought, he is willing to take a big step toward intimacy.  Oh, please, please, Vincent, don’t step back now.  He pulled back, gazing down at her.  Taking a shuddering breath he whispered, “I love you, Catherine.”

“I love you.  I give you my heart, my soul, all that I am or ever hope to be.  I am yours forever, my love.”

“Forever?”

“Yes, forever.”

“Can you wait until I work through my fears?”

“Yes.  If you will allow me, I can help you through those fears.”

“Then I give you my heart, my soul, and someday, all that I am.”

“Oh, soon, Vincent, soon.”

His lips captured hers in another deep, passionate kiss then he held her tenderly close to his heart. Sighing deeply she smiled up at him.  “You know, it’s a funny thing but I feel as if I’m already married to you, Vincent.  Like we’ve just vowed to spend the rest of our lives together.  Do you feel the same way?”

“Yes.”

“Marry me, Vincent.”  It seemed the most natural thing to say, but it shocked her when she heard the words come out of her mouth.  She held her breath, waiting to see what he would do.

Speechless, he stared at her.  When he was finally able to say something, he croaked, “You would marry me?  Why?”

“Why indeed?” she asked as she gazed steadily into his eyes.  When there was no answer forthcoming she answered her own question.  “You are the man I love.  Who else would I want to marry?  I . . .  love . . .  you,” she said emphasizing each word by poking him in the chest with her forefinger in rhythm with the words.

“There is Elliot,” at which she snorted.

 “Joe,” he added.

“Give me a break, he’s like my big brother.”

“Someone Above who could give you what you want--a home, family . . . children.”

“It’s been a long time since I have even considered having those things with anyone but you, my love.  Don’t you see, don’t you know I can have those things with you?”

“But . . . children?”

“Yes, even children.”

He shied away from the question of children to say, “You have your life Above, Catherine.  You do so much good.”

“Yeah, and a lot of good it does me.  I don’t want to be away from you.  I’m tired of having to go back to my apartment.  I want to stay with you.  Besides, there is always someone else to do what I do for the DA’s office.”

His last argument against her was that she would miss all her friends, going to plays, concerts, dining out with them, etc.  To which she added, “What makes you think I have to give all that up if I came to live Below?  I can still see Jenny and Nancy--they will understand--and I can go to see anything I want to Above.”  Suddenly, she had a flash of intuition, “That’s it, isn’t it?  If I come Below you think I won’t be doing those things and you won’t be able to experience them through me.”

“You know me too well,” he said in mortification.   “I have become accustomed to enjoying those things with you.”

“Vincent, I promise you, I will always do things that you can share with me.  I enjoy them so much more knowing that you are enjoying them with me and that we can discuss them when I return.”

In grateful wonder he looked into the eyes of this fragile but determined woman--his woman--and, his eyes glowing with love, said,  “We need no ceremony between us, Catherine.  We are wedded to each other just as you said.”

“Then let me come Below and live with you.”

“I don’t know if I am ready for that.”

“Then let me stay in the guest chamber and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

He was silent for a few minutes, and she feared that he would refuse her even that, when he said, “Yes, I need you near.  I need to know that you are safe.  Come Below, Catherine, we can be together and you can help me work through my fears.”

She flung her arms around his neck, kissing him joyously.  “Oh, yes, Vincent.”  She nestled back into his arms already planning how to leave the world above.  “I will have to hand in my resignation.  Give Joe some reason why he should not worry about me.  Tell Jenny and Nancy.  Oh, I have so much to do.  Thank you, my love, for trusting me and our love.  Everything will work out, I just know it.”

He smiled down at her as he lifted her lips to his.  “Thank you for giving me the courage to do it.  If you had not kissed me tonight, we would still be at the same impasse, my Catherine.”

“Yes, your Catherine forever and always.”

“Come, it is getting late.   You must get some rest,” he said as he helped her to her feet.

“I don’t know if I can go to sleep tonight, I am so excited.  I have so many plans.  Vincent, I don’t think you know what you have unleased into the tunnels tonight.”
 

“I think I have some small idea,” he said, chuckling.

With an arm around each other’s waist, they walked to the threshold of Catherine’s apartment building.  “Just think, in a few days I won’t have to make this trip away from you again.”

Standing on tiptoe, she reached up and gave him a chaste kiss, then shyly ducking her head, she walked into the light.  “Good night . . . husband,” she whispered as she turned to enter the light.

Vincent’s heart skipped a beat when he heard those words.  Softly he said, “Goodbye, my Catherine,” then he added, “my wife.”

On the way back to his chamber, the wonder and glory of what had transpired this night overtook him.  Suddenly he was as weak as a kitten and he sank to his knees, his hand pressed to his heart.  The heart that would never beat the same again.  She was coming Below to be with him.  Now, it was up to him to meet her glorious gesture with one of his own.  He knew that the only gesture he could make that would equal hers was to give her all of him as he had promised.  The terror of that thought took his breath away but he had to trust the faith that Catherine had in him.  She knew, unquestionably, that he would never hurt her.  Her words and her feelings through the bond told him so.

Slowly, he climbed to his feet and returned to his chamber where he found it as difficult to go to sleep as Catherine did Above.  He felt her happiness flowing through the bond in wave after wave of sheer joy.  He could hardly believe that he was the cause of such happiness for her.  Vainly, he attempted to close the bond and go to sleep.  But the plans he had in mind kept him awake.  Finally, Catherine fell asleep and he had worked out his plans to his satisfaction.  He turned on his side and, sending thoughts of love to Catherine, he fell into a deep sleep where he dreamed of the happy life he was about to begin with Catherine.

                                                       THE END