DREAM ANOTHER DREAM
"Iím sorry, Tom."
"B-but," he stuttered, taken aback by her words.
"It just wonít work. I donít love you."
He stared at the 10 carat diamond engagement ring that she had handed back to him. All his plans lay crumbled around his feet. She was instrumental, with her name and contacts, to his continued rise in society. "You canít mean that; you loved me yesterday. Why just last night we slept . . ."
"Please, letís just end this on a friendly note," she pleaded.
"Do you make a habit of sleeping with just anyone?" His eyes accused her of being the shallow person she sometimes thought she was, but she was changing. She was growing, and as painful as it was to him, she had outgrown him.
"No, Tom, I donít. Iíve been questioning my feelings for you for the past few weeks. After you left, I sat thinking for a long time about our relationship, and I realized that I donít love you anymore." There was no way that he would understand what had happened to her, and if she told him about it, he would only dismiss it as nothing more than a flighty womanís change of mind.
"You sound awfully sure of yourself. Maybe, youíll feel differently in the morning."
"Donít wait for me to change my mind; this has been coming on for a long time. I thought I could overlook your frailties, but the way you treated James Gordon tonight showed me that I couldnít. He was a friend of yours."
He bristled, defending his actions. "In my position, I canít afford to consort with losers. Maybe you can but not me."
"Thatís what I mean. Whereís your compassion, Tom, your human feelings?"
"When did you become so all-fired compassionate? You would have snubbed him at one time."
Her eyes darkened in pain as she agreed, "Yes, I would have but no longer."
"Whatís happened to you?" he asked in amazement. "Youíve changed."
"Oh, I hope so," she said fervently.
"Youíve met someone," he charged.
"Only in my dreams, Tom." A soft look that he had never seen spread over her beautiful face, making it even lovelier.
He gazed at her thinking, What kind of an answer is that? Well, it looked like he would have to find someone else more suited for his purposes. She had certainly turned out to be a dud. But he was not going to give her the satisfaction of knowing that she had ruined his plans.
"Well, if thatís the way youíre going to be, Iíll be seeing you around." He stalked back to the limo, entered, and slammed the door. Never looking back at her, he told the driver to move on.
Thankful that this confrontation was over, Cathy entered her apartment building, hoping that this would be one of the nights she would dream of him.
Before retiring, she stepped out onto her balcony. Since the dreams had begun, she thought of it as their place. She had been blithely floating through a life of ease and privilege but with a vague dissatisfaction that unsettled her when she stopped to think about it. The most difficult decisions that she had to make were which ensembles to wear and whether her shoes matched her handbag. She was bored as all her friends were, and she envied her friend, Jenny Aronson, who had a job she loved and was surrounded by a close-knit family, while she had a job that bored her to death and her only family was a father. He tried to be a good father but didnít understand her. He enjoyed corporate law and assumed that she would too. She barely pulled her weight in his law firm, and if she hadnít been the bossesí daughter, she would have been fired long ago.
But all this began to change two months ago. Sheíd had the most vivid dream she had ever had. It was almost like a movie: Partying with Tom, they had had an argument and she had left. She was abducted and beaten, her face slashed, then left for dead. A strange man/beast, Vincent, found her and then took her to his home in the tunnels under New York City. He had cared for her until she was strong enough to return Above and then sent her back to her own world. Her face repaired, she changed her way of life and waited for him to come to her. He saved her from the men, killing them when they attacked her again. A strange bond, a sort of psychic connection had developed between them. He could sense her emotions and to a lesser extent she could sense his. The dream affected her so deeply that she left her fatherís firm and joined the DAís office as she had in the dream. After that she was so busy that she seldom had time to see Tom. Last night and tonight had been the first time in a week and a half that she had been able to go out with him. It had ended unpleasantly, but at least that part of her life was over. Strangely, it seemed that parts of the dreams came true.
Almost every night she lived a different existence involved in the life of a most extraordinary man and the world he lived in: a world that existed in the miles of tunnels beneath the city of her birth. She came to love that world and all of its denizens, especially Father, who was Vincentís adoptive parent and the leader of the tunnel world.
The night she dreamed of her fatherís death was a particularly disturbing dream, so disturbing that she made a concerted effort to see him more often. Her departure from his law office had not been under the best of terms. He couldnít understand why she would give up a lucrative position to work in a grungy, governmental office. Now he found himself extravagantly proud of her when she was instrumental in putting some big shot in jail, who thought he was above the law. And he was so relieved that she had decided to let bygones be bygones and made time for her in his busy schedule.
In her dreams of Vincent, they experienced all the usual ups and downs of a couple in love, learning about each other and coming to understand their fears and foibles. But Vincentís fear of his dark side was an added difficulty that she faced. Many times he rescued her from a desperate situation that required him to let loose the darkness and each time took its toll of his delicate psyche. They were almost unmasked by an exposť writer for a sensationalist newspaper, and Vincent decided that they must never see each other again. The entire affair had been a charade set up by John Pater, known to the tunnel world as Paracelsus, who thought of Vincent as his son and hated both him and Father for denying him what he considered to be his rightful place: ruler of the tunnel world. Driving Vincent to edge of insanity by his impersonation of Father and telling him lies about his birth, he pushed the distraught man into killing him. Afraid that he would harm more of his people, Vincent retreated to a deep, dark cave beneath the catacombs where he meant to fight the darkness to the death of one of them, not realizing in his madness that he would kill them both. Catherine was summoned Below and went to him in the lightless cavern.
Screaming, "Vincent!" Catherine bolted upright, and scrambling from her bed, she raced out onto the balcony. He was going to die. Of that, she was certain. But itís just a dream she comforted herself. But what if it wasnít? What if, by some miracle, she had tapped into his subconscious and lived his dreams with him. It didnít make sense but she knew that the dreamer, Vincent, was real and that he was dying. But how could she reach him if he really lived beneath the city. Frantically, she went over all her dreams; they were indelibly etched in her mind. In one of them she had opened the great, rolling metal door that was in the culvert in Central Park. It was too dangerous to go there right now, she would have to wait for the dawn, but she was determined to find out if there really was a culvert and an entrance to the tunnel world. She remembered that Vincent had made an entrance for her in the sub-basement of her building, but she didnít have the time nor the tools to break through a brick wall. The sky was beginning to lighten in the east as she returned to her bedroom and donned a sweatsuit and a pair of reebocs.
It was just barely light enough for her to find her way as she edged toward the area where the culvert was supposed to be. She had never been in this part of the Park and was surprised to see it there, waiting for her. Making sure that no one would see her, she quickly ducked into the large, cement conduit. There behind the grill door were rows of levers, and she pressed them as she remembered from her dream. The heavy, metal door slid soundlessly open, spilling golden light onto the floor of the culvert. Pulling open the barred gate that protected the entrance, she hesitantly entered, slapped the lever that closed the door, and carefully walked down the tunnel. Her confidence returned as she recognized more landmarks along the way.
Approaching the first sentry post, she wasnít exactly sure about how she should announce herself, when Jamie called out a warning, "Stop. Donít go any farther."
Turning a smiling face to the young woman as she entered the corridor, Catherine greeted her, "Hi, Jamie." This was the tomboy from her dreams. She fully expected to see Mouse bound up.
"How do you know me?" Jamie demanded, astonished that this stranger should know her by name.
"Iíve met you in my dreams."
"Yeah, right!" she scoffed.
"I donít have time to explain. Please let me pass. I need to see Father."
"Youíll get lost."
"No, I know the way."
"How do you know Father?" Jamie asked suspiciously.
"The same way I know about you and the tunnels."
"Sure, a dream," Jamie said with a sardonic smile.
"Yes," Catherine replied, getting exasperated. Why couldnít this young woman realize that time was of the essence. "Now, please, let me pass. Itís imperative that I see Father."
"Iíll send a message . . ."
"On the pipes," Catherine interrupted. At Jamieís strange look, she explained. "Yes, I know about the pipes too and how to use them."
Jamie tapped a message and received an immediate reply. She watched the strange woman pace agitatedly until Cullen arrived. The unknown woman turned to Cullen and addressed him as if she had known him for years, "Cullen, take me to Father."
With a strange look at her, he said to Jamie, "Father said to bring her to his chamber. Keep an eye out for anyone else."
Jamie melted back into her cubbyhole as Cullen led Catherine away.
Father was standing in front of his desk, waiting for her. "Well, young woman, what is all this about knowing all about the tunnels? Iíve never seen you before. What are you doing here?"
"Trying to save Vincentís life." She saw his eyes flicker at the name and pressed her advantage. "Yes, I know about Vincent, and I know heís in terrible danger. That heís going to die."
Father groped for the desk behind him and weakly leaned against it. "How do you know all this?" he whispered.
"Maybe, I should start at the beginning. My name is Catherine Chandler." She told him of the dreams that had started two months ago, she described the tunnels and the residents thereof, and then she described Vincent and their relationship.
Father listened patiently until she was finished. Sliding into his old, comfortable desk chair as she spoke, the hostility in his face slowly dissipated, as she told her story, and was replaced by a look of absolute wonder. "My god," he gasped, "I never suspected that his empathic senses were so strong as to seek out a total stranger and involve her in his dreams."
"Well, just be glad he did. I donít know what I can do, but I have a feeling that he wants me to try."
"You say these dreams began two months ago?"
"Two months ago Vincent was involved in a cave-in of one the tunnels. We were able to rescue him, but heís been in a coma ever since, and heís slowly wasting away."
She grabbed the old manís hand and, pulling him toward the entrance, exclaimed, "Take me to him. He needs me."
Standing behind Father in the entrance to Vincentís chamber, Catherine spied all the dearly loved souvenirs and artifacts of her dream loverís life. Then she noticed a young auburn-haired woman about twenty years old sitting hunched over in his large ornately carved chair, holding his large hand tightly in her own two hands. She was murmuring to him in a pleading voice so softly that Catherine couldnít hear her. When the young woman heard the sound of their entrance, she looked up at them with red-rimmed eyes.
"How is he, Brenna?" Father asked, quietly.
"No change," she stated. Brenna watched the strange woman approach Vincentís side with a look she knew well. She had seen it on her own face. The stranger was in love with him.
Father, following Catherine into the chamber, said, "This is Catherine Chandler, Brenna. She claims that she knows him and can help." The two women acknowledged each other with a bare nod.
Grudgingly, the young woman relinquished Vincentís hand and the chair. Catherine immediately slid into the vacant seat, never taking her eyes from Vincentís sleeping countenance. Before Brenna could leave, Father stopped her with a hand on her arm. "He hasnít moved or said a word?"
"No, he hasnít." She began to weep. "Oh Father, heís got to live. I donít know what I will do without him."
Patting her on the shoulder, he recalled the day she had come to them. She had lost her parents in a double homicide and, having witnessed the murders, was thrown into a deep depression that even the eventual capture, trial, and death sentence of the perpetrators could not ease. Through one of their Helpers in Family Services, she had been brought to the tunnels three months ago. After recovering from the initial shock of meeting Vincent, she had formed a strong friendship with him which Father thought went well past friendship for her. Vincent had helped her work out her sense of failure in preventing the crime, helping her to realize that there was nothing that she could have done. And, that by castigating herself over that perceived failure, it did nothing to bring back her parents or to give her the ability to mourn for them properly. She had transformed her love for them and her gratitude to him into a romantic love that was not returned. "Well, get some rest. Maybe, Catherine can do something for him." He felt her stiffen under his hand, and she threw a resentful glare at the other woman as she disappeared into the corridor.
If Vincent lives he might very well have a problem on his hands, Father thought. Quietly he moved to stand beside his sonís bed. He definitely was looking much worse: his skin yellowed, his cheeks more hollow, and that once mighty frame shrunken and thin. And for the first time he feared that he might lose his son.
Noting the tender way she held the large, furry hand, gently stroking the fur with her thumb, he knew that there was no malice in this woman, and that his son was safe in her care. "Do you want me to stay?" he asked softly, startling her out of her deep concentration on the unconscious man.
She shook her head, giving him a hopeful half-smile. "Iíll be all right. If you have other things to do . . . ," she left the invitation open.
"Yes," he said with a tired sigh, "I always have other things to do. Iíll come by later."
Already engrossed with the sleeping man, Catherine barely heard the tunnel patriarchís words and didnít hear him leave. Never letting go of Vincentís hand, she rose and settled beside him on the bed. "Vincent, Iím here. I finally figured out your message, but youíve got to help me. I donít know what to do. Donít leave me, not after I have just found you Even though I feel as if Iíve known you for a lifetime, I know thereís so much more to learn about each other. Donít take that away from me, from us."
She noticed eye movements behind the closed eyelids. Excitedly, she cried out, "Do you hear me, Vincent? Give me a sign: squeeze my hand, open your eyes."
She sensed that he was trying to find his way but didnít have the strength to do it, and she wondered what she could do next. Feeling like she was in some kind of a fairy tale, she began to run through all the tales that she knew. One story stuck in her mind: Sleeping Beauty. He was sleeping and he was beautiful to her. And she wondered what would happen if she kissed his intriguing mouth. Itís worth a try, she thought as she lowered her mouth to his. It was the most unique kiss she had ever had, and she didnít want to end it. Suddenly she felt a slight pressure returned to her lips, and she opened her eyes to gaze into blue, confused eyes. With a gasp, she broke the kiss, pulling back to stare at him.
"Catherine?" he mumbled hoarsely. His throat was so dry that he could hardly speak, his voice rusty from not being used. She fetched a glass of water and, with a smile, raised his head with one hand and let him take a few tiny sips. Exhausted from the effort to hold his head up, he fell back into the pillow. "I must be . . . dreaming," he murmured. "Are you . . . real? Or . . . are you . . . part . . . of my . . . dream?" he asked haltingly.
She placed the glass on the nearby table and reassured him, "Iím as real as you are, Vincent. I thought you were a dream, too. Iím sorry it took me so long to understand the dream; I would have been here sooner."
He raised a frail hand a few inches off the blanket, but that was as far as he could move it. Catherine noticed the effort and took his hand in hers, bringing it to her cheek. "Youíre here now . . . thatís all that matters," he said.
"Yes," she said thankfully, gently replacing his hand on the bed.
Suddenly shy with each other, Vincent shoved his hands under the covers, and she left his side to sink slowly into his chair. An uncomfortable silence descended between them until she said, "This is ridiculous. Weíre acting like a couple of backward teenagers. I feel as if Iíve known you for years."
"I feel the same. I feel connected to you."
"Are you really empathic, Vincent?"
He nodded, anticipating her next question. Slowly and with difficulty he said, "We are connected. I feel what you feel. Somehow in the depths of my mind, I searched for someone to connect with. You were the one. Does it bother you?"
"No, I donít think so. You canít read my mind?"
"No, only your emotions."
"Thatís good. A woman should have some mystery about her," she chuckled.
Chuckling along with her, he suddenly yawned. "Would you get Father for me? He must be frantic with worry."
"He is and so is Brenna."
"I think she sat with you almost every day since your injury."
He seemed surprised. "She did?"
"I think she was begging you to wake up when Father brought me here."
"Hmm. It took your kiss, Catherine."
He blushed a lovely shade of pink as she grinned at him.
"Iíll get Father and be right back." Leaving the chamber, she didnít see Brenna lingering in the shadows.
As soon as she had disappeared into Fatherís chamber, the young woman rushed into Vincentís room and flung her arms around him, crying in relief. "Oh, youíve come back to me. I was so afraid."
Astounded by her actions and words, he lightly patted her on the shoulder. "I will be fine, Brenna, Catherine was instrumental in forcing me to awaken."
She ignored what he said and babbled on about how much time she had spent with him and what all the other tunnel residents had done.
"Thank you for caring, Brenna," he said stiffly, uncomfortable with all her oversolicitous attention and was relieved to hear Father say, "Excuse me but I would like to examine my son."
Quickly Brenna moved away but not too far, hovering nearby, staking her claim to him and trying to keep the other woman away.
Catherine stood quietly to the side observing the tunnel physician happily examine his reawakened son. Turning to look at this unknown woman who had restored his son to him, he said earnestly but with the utmost sincerity, "Thank you."
Inclining her head, she accepted his gratitude. She felt her own enormous gratitude to the man who in his extremity had reached out to her so that she could save him. Their chaste kiss had released something in her. The tight rein she had always kept on her emotions dissolved, and she was free to sense his emotions. Suddenly she knew that he was trying to find her, and she moved into his line of sight. When she did, she saw him relax; he had been afraid that she had left.
At her movement Brenna had looked over at her, glowering ferociously. Catherine returned a compassionate smile to the young woman.
"Catherine," Vincent called. She could hear the tiredness in his voice as well as feel it.
She moved past Father and Brenna to take his extended hand in hers. "Iím here."
"Donít leave me," he pleaded. She could hear the young woman gasp in dismay.
"I wonít; Iíll be right here," she said, bending over him.
"Yes, Iíll have Mary prepare the guest chamber for her," Father said, looking around for Brenna to have her tell Mary. She was gone.
"No," the leonine man shook his head. "Here. I want her to stay here. I canít lose her now."
"You wonít lose me, Vincent. Iíll be with you always and youíll be with me."
His eyes widened. "Do you mean . . . ?"
"Yes, I feel you."
Closing his eyes, he sighed happily and drifted into a refreshing and renewing sleep.
As she straightened up, Father took her arm. "What do you mean, that you feel him too?"
"Just what I said. I knew he was afraid that I had left and needed to see me. I feel that he is content now. Is there some way I can stay here?"
"Iíll have John bring a cot for you. It wonít be very comfortable."
"Thatís all right. The important thing is that I am here. He would know if I left the chamber and could become very restless."
Father looked at her with a question in his eyes. "Do you understand any of this?"
With a snorted chuckle, she answered, "No, but does it really matter? Heís alive and heís going to get well. Thatís all that matters."
"Youíre right, of course. I have my son back, thanks to you."
"What happened to him?"
"The work crew he was leading was caught in a cave-in. He made sure that the others were safe but was trapped when the ceiling gave way. He had a broken collarbone, broke an upper arm along with both legs, and had received a severe blow to the head. The broken bones healed swiftly but the head trauma seemed to have him trapped in his own subconscious. It took an outside influence to waken him."
"Strange, isnít it?" she offered.
"Very strange but you must be tired?"
"I am," she agreed. Father tapped a message on the pipes, and she was able to decipher it, much to her delight.
In a short while a tall, dark-haired young man entered carrying a pillow, a blanket, and a cot, which he set up close to Vincentís bed. He looked closely at Vincent, seeing that he was resting peacefully, and said, "Thanks for what youíve done for Vincent."
"Ah, thank you, John," Father said and introduced the two young people. The thin-faced, intense young man was one of the few people she hadnít met in her dreams.
"News travels fast down here," she said to the young man.
"Itís difficult to keep secrets here," he agreed, and with a slight nod of his head, he left.
"Well," Father said as he hugged her, "sleep well, my dear."
"Iím sure I will," she replied.
With a last fond look at his son, Father departed to his own well-earned rest.
Much to Brennaís distress, Catherine stayed in Vincentís chamber for the next week, aiding in his recovery anyway she could. His recuperative powers were astounding, and he was soon sitting up, anxious to be up and around.
Several times Catherine mentioned that she needed to return Above, but each time she did, Vincent would beg her to stay a little longer. She couldnít bear to hurt him and so she agreed. Not that it was a hardship to remain with him, for she realized soon after he awoke just how much he had become a part of her life. Now that she knew him in the flesh, she couldnít imagine her life without him. But finally the day came when, after extracting a promise that she would return soon, he reluctantly agreed to let her return Above and straighten out the mess her life had become.
"Brenna will be glad to help you with your therapy," she assured him. It would also give him the opportunity to explain their relationship to her.
Her life was not the mess she had expected from her prolonged absence. The note she had sent her father had kept him from worrying about her; although, he was very glad to see her. Work was a different story. Her sudden disappearance and reappearance hadnít upset D.A. John Moreno at all. Joe Maxwell, her immediate superior had covered for her. What really upset Moreno was that Joe was in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained in a bomb blast. To reassure herself, she immediately went to visit her friend and boss. He was recuperating better than she had expected, and after a pleasant hour spent in friendly banter, he gave her a small black notebook that he wanted her to give to Moreno.
"Howís Joe doing?" Moreno asked as he took the book she offered to him.
"He should be back to work in about a week," she commented.
"Good." Rifling through the book, John said, "Itís all in code."
"Yeah, I know."
He handed the book back to her. "Give this to Phillips. He was a code breaker in Nam. Maybe he can crack it."
Later that day after learning that Catherine had returned Above, Brenna came in with a delighted grin on her face. "Finally, sheís gone."
"She will return though," Vincent said.
"Why? We donít need her," she said petulantly.
"I need her."
"You have me," she said, wondering why he was being so obtuse.
"Brenna, come here." Vincent moved over and patted his bed.
Happily, the young woman sat down on the edge of his bed, facing him.
Tenderly he held her hands aware that what he was about to say would hurt her.
"You are a dear friend to me, Brenna, but that is all it can ever be."
She gazed at him in consternation. "But you are always so happy to see me."
"I am happy to see all of my friends."
"But I thought . . ."
"If I have unintentionally led you to believe otherwise, I apologize. I am truly sorry. I do not wish to hurt you."
"Then you donít love me, have never loved me."
Slowly, he shook his head.
She took a deep breath. "Thank you for telling me. Not everyone would be so honest. Iíll admit that it hurts, but we are still friends, arenít we?" The tears accumulating in her eyes overflowed to run down her soft cheeks.
"Of course," he said as he gathered her into a friendly embrace, letting her cry her pain away.
Finally the tears stopped, and she moved back out of his arms, not that she really wanted to. "You love Catherine," she said. "Even though youíve only known her for a week."
He nodded, "Yes, but Iíve known her far longer than that." And he explained to her about the dreams and the bond that connected them.
On hearing voices in Vincentís chamber, Catherine had halted just outside the doorway. Her heart leapt with joy when she heard his simple confession of his love for her. She had realized a long time ago when she knew him only in her dreams that he was the man that she would love for all her life and beyond.
Unexpectedly, he sensed Catherine waiting patiently outside his chamber. Had she heard his declaration of love? He hoped not; he didnít want to tie her to him through a series of dreams. She had to be free to live her life without any interference from him. She must make her own decisions. With trepidation, he called out, "Come in, Catherine."
She entered with a smile, which she quickly directed toward the young woman hastily disentangling herself from Vincentís arms.
"Iím sorry," she said. "Itís not what you think."
"I know. Vincent is free to hug whomever he chooses." Although to be honest with herself, if she didnít know the truth of the situation, she would have become very, very jealous. Vincent raised his head sharply and gave her a quizzical look. She grinned at him, feeling his wonder and disquiet at the sensations he was receiving from her.
Flustered by Catherineís easy acceptance of a compromising situation, Brenna colored and hastily bid them a good night.
"Iím afraid Iíve embarrassed her," Catherine said.
"Probably," he agreed. "But she knows now that there can never be anything between us."
Catherine nodded, suddenly feeling a mix of emotions concerning the other woman: sadness, regret, understanding, but most of all relief that Vincent had sent her away.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"I am so bored with just lying here. At least I get to walk a little each day. I think I am ready to take longer walks, but Father keeps holding me back."
"Donít push it, Vincent," she said as she sat beside him on his bed. "Youíve been ill for quite a long time. I donít want to lose you ever again; you came too close this time." Leaning over, she laid her head on his shoulder and wound her arms around his waist. His arms automatically came up around her, and without thinking, he pulled her closer. The feel of her in his arms was the only medicine he needed or required. He sighed contentedly.
"How long can you stay?" he asked, wishing she could stay forever.
"I have the whole evening free," she replied.
"Good. Will you ask Father to please let me get up for a walk?" he pleaded.
"Sure." She went to find Father.
After using her legal training to convince the overly cautious man that it would be better for Vincent to take a little walk with her than to lay fussing in bed, she and Vincent had walked slowly to the Mirror Pool which was the closest quiet spot to his chamber. She told him of Joeís injuries, and he warned her to have nothing to do with the book. She assured him that it had been given to another lawyer. They talked of many things until finally he admitted to becoming a little tired and suggested that they go back before he become too fatigued. On the walk back, he leaned a little heavily on her, much to her satisfaction. She wanted to become indispensable to him.
It became a pattern that she thoroughly enjoyed; she would come Below after work and they would go for a walk. This was a time that they learned more about each other than they had in the dreams. It finished the complete bonding of their hearts and souls. Each day they walked a little further than the day before until Vincent was fully restored to health.
Lightly tripping through the tunnels, Catherine happily greeted everyone she met. It had startled more than one person to have her treat them as if she had known them for years. To her, they were old and dear friends, but it took them a little while to accept that she had met them in her dreams.
It was Saturday morning, and she expected to find Vincent in his chamber, but his chamber was empty. She knew that Father had at last released him to full time work, so she traveled on to Fatherís chamber, where she found the two men bent intently over an open map on Fatherís desk. "Here you are," she exclaimed.
Vincent raised his head with a smile, "Have you been looking for me?"
"Not really. When I didnít find you in your chamber, I figured you would be here. What are you doing?" she asked curiously.
"Since Father has given his permission for me to return to work, we are trying to decide where to start next. My accident put us seriously behind schedule." He held a hand out to her. "Is there anything important that canít wait until we finish this?"
"No, I just wanted to talk with you," she said as she took his hand. He settled her into a nearby chair and turned back to Father.
"How are you, Catherine?" Father asked, smiling at this unusual young woman over the top of his glasses.
"Just fine, Father. And you?"
"Now that Vincent is completely well, Iím . . . Well, you know."
"Indeed I do," she said with a grin. "Donít let me interrupt you." She waved her hand at them to continue.
Rolling up the map, Father watched the two young people leave his domain. Every time he saw them together, he realized what a miracle it was that Vincent had been saved by a love that had developed in a series of dreams. He shook his head in wonder as he stowed the map away.
"Where would you like to go, Catherine?" Vincent asked. He could sense her happiness at just being beside him.
"Iíd like to go to the Triple Falls. I know Iíve seen them in my dreams, but Iíd like to witness them in the flesh, so to speak."
"All right." He led her through tunnels she had been through a hundred times in her dreams, but it was still a thrill to traverse them now. She couldnít help but gasp when they entered the chamber: the Falls were beautiful.
"Oh, theyíre just as I remember them," she cried in delight.
Leading her to a nearby stone bench carved out of the stony wall, he eased down beside her. "What is it you wish to talk about, Catherine?"
"I have a question to ask you, and your answer will determine if I keep on coming Below." She hadnít meant to be so straightforward about it; she had meant to ease into it, but in her quiet nervousness she just blurted it out.
His heart almost stopped beating at her words. "You know you are always welcome here," he protested.
"I know but Iíve got to know . . . Vincent, do you love me or was it truly only a dream?" Tensely she waited for his answer.
He ducked his head, letting his hair fall forward to hide his face. He had known this question would come, and he knew how he should answer it. But he didnít have the courage to do what he must. Finally he raised his eyes to her. "You have given me so much: my life, my future. And you ask for so little: a walk in the tunnels, a concert sitting in a storm drain, an evening spent reading. I donít have the right."
"You have no idea what you give me, do you, Vincent?"
"I have nothing to give."
"Oh, but you do. You give me your trust, your belief in me, your dear friendship. You would not have liked me if you had met me before the dreams; I was frivolous, arrogant, condescending, interested in only me and my comfort. The dreams taught me so much about myself and how to improve. Iím still growing, Vincent, but Iím more satisfied with myself than Iíve ever been. I wish I had the scar to be a constant reminder of your caring friendship." She ran her fingers over the smooth area in front of her left ear. His heart flipped. In the magnitude of her love, she would even consider being disfigured just to be reminded of him.
Reaching up, he took her hand in his, thinking how everyone thought him so valiant and brave, but when it came to personal relationships, he knew himself to be a coward. Still after all she had done for him, given to him, she deserved his courage, and taking a deep breath, he said, "I love you, Catherine."
"Oh, you do?" She threw herself against his chest and his arms automatically rose to enclose her as her arms snaked around his neck. "I love you so much. I donít know what I would have done if you had said that you didnít." Impulsively, she kissed him. His startled reaction told her that he had never been kissed like this before. She leaned back in arms and, mischievously grinning at him, asked, "Never been kissed before?"
"Only the one time," he reminded her. Then he lowered his eyes in embarrassment at confessing that, as a thirty-three-year-old man, he had never had a kiss quite like hers. But instantly addicted, he wanted more and his eyes dropped to her waiting luscious lips.
"Go ahead, Vincent. Kiss me. I want you to." Entwining her hands in his hair at the back of his head, she urged him forward. With an expectant sigh, he took her mouth in a kiss that soon passed all bounds of chasteness and left them breathing heavily, foreheads resting against each other. "Oh boy, are you a fast learner," she commented delightedly.
Now, he had a question to ask her. "Catherine, never leave me? I think I would die if you did."
Hugging this man that she knew to be hers and hers alone, she promised, "My love, that is the least of your worries. I will never, ever leave you."
If possible, he gathered her even more securely against his chest. Against all odds, he had survived a crushing injury and now was holding the woman of his dreams in his arms. He had no idea what was in the future for them, but with Catherine by his side, he knew that they would prevail. Happily he captured her lips in another blazing kiss.