By Joan Stephens
Gliding from shadow to shadow in the moon-bathed park, Vincent paused and glanced up at the enormous alabaster orb. It seemed so close that if he reached out he could touch the cheek of the woman in the moon. Many cultures of this world believe there is a woman, not a man, in the moon. And in his fancies that is what he chose to believe. “Are you there watching me, my love?” he asked with a sad whimsy. It had been a long, devastating year since the last time he had walked through the park, Catherine’s small, trusting hand encased in his.
Father had been so pathetically enthusiastic when he had told him that he needed to walk the park once again. “I think you should, my son. It’s been a long time since you have strolled under the trees. I told you if you would wait a year everything would be better. And now it is. “
“Yes, Father.” Vincent didn’t have the heart to disagree with his solicitous parent, but as far as he was concerned nothing was better. He had been ready to follow Catherine into that undiscovered country after her death, but Father had prevailed upon him to live one more year to see if his grief and pain would diminish, to at least give it a try for his son. It had not. The wound of her loss was still raw and bleeding, and he had decided.
He had even tried to return Diana’s love but finally he had to explain to her that even though he loved her it was the love of a friend and not that of a lover. He tried to explain how he had given his heart to Catherine and that it had gone with her into the grave. It had greatly distressed him to see that strong, vibrant woman turn and stumble away from him, blinded by her tears.
He wished he had never tried to love her. She deserved more than he was able to give to her.
Starting his perambulations again, he thought he heard Catherine’s liquid silver trill of laughter. No! It couldn’t be, and he stopped to lean against the trunk of an enormous oak. This was not the first time he had heard her much missed laughter. One evening, as he paced the bridge in the Whispering Gallery, he had been cut to the core by a bit of laughter that sounded just like hers. But he convinced himself that it couldn’t be her. Now, he wasn’t so sure, and as he hurried through the underbrush chasing this will-o’-the-wisp, he suddenly realized what he was doing: pursuing the sound of a dead woman’s laughter. Desolate, he turned to go back to the tunnels and the long step off the bridge into the abyss. As he pushed through the underbrush, he was stopped by the sudden, glowing appearance of the spirit who had shown him what the lives of his loved ones would have been like if he had died as a baby. “You can’t stop me this time, Spirit,” he said firmly as he brushed her hand from his chest.
“She is alive,” whispered the shining figure so like his love that he lost himself momentarily, gazing at her and did not fully understand her.
“Wha-at?” he asked with uncertainty.
“She is not dead; she lives. Feel her,” the spirit said as she placed her hand over his heart and pressed slightly, “here, Vincent.”
His eyes began to glow with excitement as he felt that long lost connection reform between their two hearts. “But how? How can this be? I felt her die; I felt her leave me, the emptiness in my heart.” He started to move again in the direction of the tunnels.
Restraining him with only one small hand, the spirit said, “The Elders have watched your love grow and unfold and mourned with you at its untimely end. They have decided to give you another chance at love. You are very special to them. “
“Why?” he asked, quivering in anticipation.
“I don’t know but understand this: you will not be a participant in this love. You will watch as all the events of your past with Catherine unfold again. You will see all the mistakes you made, all the opportunities you missed. “
“Are they punishing me?” he exclaimed angrily, aghast at the thought of reliving the joy and pain of his love for Catherine but not being able to hold her in his empty arms.
Calmly, with folded hands, she replied, “No, only to teach you. For you to learn the truth of love. For every lover there is a different truth. Find that truth, Vincent, and you will have found a precious gem of knowledge. “
He looked down at her, his eyes steely with anger, “And what is that, that a beast doesn’t deserve to be loved?”
“That is your anger talking not what you truly feel. Don’t anger them; they may withdraw this opportunity.
“Opportunity?I can’t even relive that time, some other person�thing--that looks like me gets to hold and love Catherine. “The anguish in his voice almost broke the icy serenity of the spirit.
“Believe me, Vincent, he is you. He will love her as you, will make the same mistakes . . . “
“And I am supposed to learn from this?” he asked sarcastically. “For what purpose?I am still apart from Catherine. “
“Yes, but you alone have been given the power to change destiny, to save her, to save yourself,” she told him with hardly a change of inflection in her voice.
His mind pounced on three words to save her. What was the spirit saying? How could he save Catherine if he was only an onlooker?” How? I will only be able to watch. “
“True but as you watch and learn you will notice certain times that could be changed if you had had the courage to follow your dreams. “
“To follow my dreams,” he mused, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. “That’s all it takes?” he marveled.
“Yes, but there is only one right nexus that will save Catherine. If you make the wrong choice all will end as before, and this time there will be no second chance. “
“How will I know?” he exclaimed, pacing nervously.
“It is for you to decide, Vincent. “
Pleading, he asked, “Can’t you give me a hint or something?”
She shook her head and answered simply, “No. “
“When does it begin?” he asked. Anxious but oddly reluctant, he was ready to begin. Much depended on him to make the right decision. And he wasn’t sure how he would handle being a voyeur in his own life.
“Now,” she answered, fading into a shadow of herself.
“Wait! What happens if I make the right decision?”
“You will become part of your life again, and you and Catherine will have a long life together. “Her voice drifted into his mind and faded into stillness. He closed his eyes, wondering what would happen now.
His eyes flew open at the sound of tires screeching to a stop. He saw himself hurrying to a bundle lying on the damp ground. It was beginning. Following his alter-ego (that’s what he called the other Vincent), he relived the shatteringly beautiful flowering of the Bond as they returned to the tunnels. Once again he beheld the ruined loveliness of the woman who became the living embodiment of his soul. He ached to take her in his arms and comfort her. “Spirit, I didn’t know it would hurt so much,” he achingly whispered.
And so it went as he watched the last two and a half years of his life with Catherine. He was tempted to interfere when she almost fell in love with Elliot Burch but thought better of it: it was too early in their relationship. Then there was Providence but once again it was still too early. There was Lin and Henry Pei’s wedding, the time she went to Nancy’s when he had decided that she needed to be free, the night she came to see him after he had saved her and Elliot from the death squad and she had kissed him�oh the feel of her lips had been heavenly. He almost decided then. There were so many times he could have told her how deep were his feelings, but he was learning. He witnessed all the mistakes he had made: not listening to her heart, discounting the words she said, deciding that he and he alone knew what was best for her, not listening to his own heart and the Other who lived inside him, who would always protect her. His worst mistake was his overweening pride in his belief that he could decide how she was to live her life. It was a wonder that she had fought for their love and had not left him. If he had listened to all she had said and did and believed that she truly loved him, she would be alive today. He had been ten different kinds of a fool.
Finally, he had decided on the moment of his confession of love and desire, hoping it was the right one. He relived his inevitable descent into madness, the treachery and death of John Pater, and the wonder of the events in the deep cave where he had withdrawn to fight a losing battle with his demons. He glowed with pride as Catherine bravely confronted him and brought him back from the edge of black death. He wept with joy when he saw how tenderly they loved and how gently they took one another. It was as he had always hoped it would be but feared that it was not. Now he knew that he had made the right choice.
He watched his disorientation, his partial amnesia, and his pitiful whining at losing the bond. But he knew something that his alter-ego didn’t: the bond would be restored with the birth of the child.
The time was approaching when he would change their destiny for better or worse . . .
He watched as Catherine came Below to tell him of the child she was carrying: his child. He noted the strained look on her face as he listened to himself bemoaning the fact that he had lost the Bond, feeling sorry for himself. “Look at her, you fool. Listen to her,” he raved. But the other Vincent was so wrapped up in his own misery that he was oblivious to her trepidation and pain. Impatiently he waited as Catherine tried to reassure the other Vincent that the Bond was not lost and that there were so many gifts waiting for him if he would only open his arms. At last, he slowly opened his arms. Entering them, she set aside her troubles until another day. As the other Vincent closed his arms around the woman he loved, he said, “Now, tell me. Tell me what’s troubling you. “And she made the ultimate sacrifice by saying, “Another time. Don’t worry. “
Now! Vincent’s consciousness literally leaped into the other Vincent and, being the stronger, immediately took control. A silent shout of “Yes! ” echoed in his mind.
Taking her by the forearms, he put her away from him and gazed penetratingly into her astonished eyes. “No, Catherine, it is important. You must tell me. “
Her eyes slid away from his, coming to rest on the far wall of his chamber. “All right, but I don’t know how to begin. “
“Just begin. “
Looking everywhere but at him, she made her confession, “When I followed you into the cave, we made love . . . “She stopped, waiting for his words of denial.
“Go on. Finish it,” he demanded.
“I’m pregnant; we’re going to have a baby. “
“Oh my love, that’s wonderful, that’s marvelous! ”
“You’re not upset?” His unexpected reaction unbalanced her.
“Upset? Why would I be upset?”
“W-well,” she stammered, “y-you always s-said that our d-dream was nothing m-more than a d-dream. “
“I was wrong. Obviously . . . very wrong. “
He had chosen the right time; Catherine would live. But now came the difficult task of convincing her to give the case to someone else, to ignore her sense of duty. It was the only way he knew to keep her safe; she must come Below and live with him. “We’re having a baby,” he shouted, whirling her around. “Oh Catherine, I love you so very much. “
She staggered slightly when he returned her to her feet. “You’re not mad?” The sudden change in him from unhappy confusion to confident delight confounded her. He was suddenly so strong and sure of himself. “What’s happened to you?” she asked.
Throwing his head back, he laughed happily, “Someday I’ll tell you a sad story, my love, that has a happy ending, but now I’m too gloriously happy to spend any time on a sad tale. Just know, I am well, I am happy, and I remember everything . . . everything. “With a gentle tug of a finger beneath her chin, he raised her worried eyes to his. “Everything,” he emphasized. Her eyes widened as she understood what he meant.
Throwing her arms around him, her face glowed with joy. “And you’re not mad at me for taking advantage of you?”
He shook his head, “How could I when your actions brought me back from the darkness and look at the result. “
“Well . . . you can’t see anything yet. “She was completely baffled by his change in demeanor and his rapid return to health. There was something happening here that she didn’t understand, but she was afraid to examine it too closely, afraid that it would disappear.
Vincent suddenly turned serious. He couldn’t let her know that he knew about the black book. Yet somehow he would have to get her to agree to leave the DA’s office and the book. He didn’t realize how easy it would be.
For the first time that evening since his abrupt change, he seemed hesitant. “Catherine, if I asked you to come Below to live, would you do it?”
“Are you asking me to live with you?”
Dumbly, he nodded. He was startled as she began to cry. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you. “
Shaking her head vigorously, she searched in her pockets for a tissue. “No . . . no . . . It’s not that,” she gulped through the sobs. “I never thought you’d ask me. Oh Vincent,” she wailed, “how soon can I move down?”
“Then you’ll do it?” He pulled her in to him as she tearfully nodded. “Tonight?”
“Oh-h-h-h,” she sobbed, crying even harder as she nodded her head.
“Tomorrow you can send a note to the office, giving them your resignation, all right?”
“But I’m on a very important case; I can’t just leave. Joe would never forgive me,” she protested.
“But you can. There are others who can take your place. Believe me, my love, it is too dangerous for you and the baby to remain on this case. “
There it was again: that indefinable something in his voice that warned her that he knew more than he was telling her.
“Have you had one of your dreams?” she asked, gazing into his earnest eyes.
“Something like that,” he answered and shuddered as he whispered to himself, “I can’t lose you again. “
“All right,” she acquiesced, “I’ll do whatever you say. “
“Oh thank you,” he released a deep sigh, “I promise you: you’ll never regret it. “
This time Vincent was there for all the joys and mishaps of Catherine’s pregnancy. He held her head through the morning sickness, cleaned up after her, listened to her complaints about being too fat and ugly, watched his son grow inside the woman he loved until she was so large that she waddled like a duck - which he considered so endearing--suffered through her mood swings and finally held his lustily crying, red, wrinkled, squirming son in his hands. Bowing his head, he sent a heartfelt �thank you’ to the Elders for this second chance.
A month later he had a restless desire to walk in the Park. The night was similar to the one in which he had met the spirit. Sitting against the same oak tree, still and silent with his head bowed, he fell into a deep sleep. He awoke with a start, a cold dread settling over him. It had all been a dream. A horrible, miserable dream that his subconscious had foisted on him. Too miserable, he neglected to seek the Bond. Heavy at heart, he levered himself to his feet and trudged through the park to the threshold. He would finish what he had started: the bridge and the abyss still called to him. There were no more reasons to put it off.
As the gate softly clanged shut behind him, he felt the fluttery brush of her happiness. Could it be? Was she? There was only one way to find out. Running flat out, he flew through the tunnels and stopped breathless in the entrance to his chamber. Smiling at him in anticipation, she was there, holding the child.
“You’re here,” he sobbed.
Cocking her head, questioningly, she answered, “I’m always here, silly. “
That night he told her of the Spirit, and the Elders, and their second chance at happiness.
In later years as he fondly watched his children play on the floor of his chamber, he couldn’t seem to separate dream from reality and eventually he accepted both. The dream - if it was a dream - was a painful lesson, one he kept close to his heart. It was so easy to lose those you cherish. He was ever mindful of how desolate his life would be without them.