by Joan Stephens
“I’m so sorry, Cathy. How are you doing?” Catherine Friedlander’s nearest neighbor, Myra Hanson pulled her into a large motherly embrace, her watery blue eyes full of compassion.
“I’m fine, Myra, really I am.” Her voice was muffled in the woman’s ample bosom.
“Daniel was a good man.”
“Yes, he was,” Catherine agreed. “I shall miss him.”
Myra pulled back, and shaking her head sadly, said, “Thank goodness you’re not alone. You have the twins, Jeff and Jessie, with you.”
Catherine looked across the living room for her two children. They were talking quietly with Jeff’s best friend, Scott, keeping an eye on her. She knew that they worried about her, about the fact that she had hardly cried at all when her husband of twenty years had suddenly died of a massive stroke. How could she explain to them that she had cried all the tears of one lifetime the month before she had met their father?
Jessie wended her way over to rescue her mother from Myra’s well-meaning solicitations. “Hi, Myra.”
Myra wiped her perspiring face with a heavily scented handkerchief. “I’m so sorry about your father,” she said, smiling sadly.
“Thanks.” Catherine’s youngest child turned to her, “You ok, Mom?”
“I wish everyone would stop asking me that. I’m fine, just a little tired.”
With a pat on the shoulder, Myra left to speak with another neighbor of theirs.
“Why don’t you lay down for a while?” Jessie was petite, but well built. There was a fragility about her much like her mother’s. But where Catherine’s fragility masked a true strength and determination, Jessie’s did not. Everyone wanted to take care of her and that suited her just fine, she’d let them.
Laying in the large king-sized bed Catherine wondered what to do next. Jessie was to be married in a few months and would be starting a new life. Jeff was already on his own, sharing an apartment with Scott while attending Columbia. After today she would be very much alone. Not that she minded being alone, but she wondered. Was he still alive? It had been twenty-one years since she had last seen him. Surely, she would have known if he had died. She would have felt it. Would it hurt to contact him after all these years? Surely not. It would be nice to see him again, to find out what had happened to him, his family, and his friends. Surely, they could meet as old friends and talk as old friends do. The more she thought the more convinced she was that she should move back to the City. But first she would get Jessie married and settled. While accomplishing that, she would get the apartment on Central Park West, renovated and refurnished.
Seven months later Catherine was standing on her balcony looking out over the Park. It had cost her a small fortune to renovate the old apartment, but it was well worth it. Leaning against the surrounding low wall, she opened the bond as she had practiced for months. She was certain she could reach him, whether he came was his decision.
“Vincent,” she whispered, “hear me. I need to see you.” She did this for several nights until finally she heard him lightly drop onto her balcony. He looked as magnificent as she remembered him: tall, broad shouldered, slim hipped, the golden halo of his hair. And that impossibly beautiful half-man/half-beast face that held those startling blue eyes that had haunted her dreams all these many years.
She couldn’t move, just stood there drinking in his beauty. When he opened his arms, she flew into them throwing her arms around his waist. “You came,” she cried, breathlessly. “I was so afraid.”
“That I would not come?” She fit so comfortably in that aching void that his arms encompassed. How had he lived, he wondered, for twenty years without her?
“No, that something had happened to you. You never failed to come to me when I needed to see you.” She snuggled deeper into his embrace. “Oh, you feel so good. Just as I remembered.”
“You thought of me?” he asked, astonished.
“Every day. I wondered what you were doing, if you were happy, if you had found someone else.”
He shook his head at this. “No,” he stated, simply. He put her away from him and walked to the wall, turning to lean against it. “You have been happy?”
She moved beside him bracing her hands on the wall. Staring into the past, she nodded once, then said. “Yes, part of me.”
“And the other part?” He glanced at her through the curtain of his hair. She was still lovely, with honey blond hair and moss green eye. More lovely that anyone he knew and he ached to hold her again, but what she needed, right now, was a friend.
“The other part simply lived day to day, waiting.” She shrugged.
“For what?” He wondered, curious.
She shrugged again. “I don’t know. Maybe this, maybe for my death, so I could finally be at peace.”
At a loss, he asked, “How could you be happy without being at peace with yourself?”
“That’s what I am trying to tell you, I wasn’t truly happy. There was always a cloud over my happiness.”
Looking across Central Park she asked, “Have you ever opened the Bond? . . . Sometimes I
seemed to feel you.”
With a satisfied smile he answered, “Yes, I occasionally checked on you and I found you busy and happy.” He’d had to constantly convince himself that he had chosen the right path for them.
“Busy?” She sighed, “Yes, I was certainly busy but happy? No. As I told you, my life was incomplete, empty.” He didn’t seem to want to accept the fact that she had not been totally happy.
“Grandchildren will fill that emptiness,” he said, turning away from the meaning of her words.
“No, they won’t,” she flatly stated. “I need more than that.”
“You could take up your old career again,” he suggested quietly.
“The law lost its appeal long ago.” She shook her head. He was acting as a friend, nothing more and she had know. “Did you stop loving me, Vincent?”
He took a deep breath and replied, “No, I couldn’t . . . even if I wanted to.”
She trembled when she heard his answer and waited for him to ask her the same question. “Aren’t you going to ask me?” she finally asked.
Shaking his head, he answered, “No, I don’t have the right.” He bowed his head.
“Then I’ll ask for you,” she said lightly. “‘Did you ever stop loving me, Catherine?’” Then she answered, “No, never. Everything I did was done for your approval.”
“I would think ‘Will Vincent be proud of this?’ ‘Would he be proud of me?’ ‘Does this honor our love?’”
Taking her hand and leading her to the chaise lounge, he gently settled her there and sank down beside her. “Tell me everything. Let me live your life with you?”
She turned and leaned back into his arms, resting against his firm chest. “I met Daniel a month after we . . . parted.” She told of their courtship and marriage, moving to the suburbs, bearing and raising two children, being involved in their activities, of helping her husband rise up the ladder of success, of Daniel’s death, of her daughter’s wedding, and her son in college.
After telling him all, he asked, “Yet, you were not completely happy?”
She shook her head, “No.”
“Why?” He had been so sure when he sent her back to the world Above that he was doing the right thing for her.
Again, she shook her head unwilling to say. “You know why,” she murmured. Brightening, she asked, “Tell me about the Tunnels, about Father and Mary, Pascal and all the rest. About the children. How are they? They must have children of their own now.”
Her hair smelled wonderful, bringing back memories of all the times he had nuzzled into it as he did now, pausing to gather his thought. “Father is quite frail. The council rules now in his place, although he offers any insight he has.”
“Oh, I would like to see him if it is possible, if he would allow it.”
“I’m sure he would want to see you. Many of the children: Kipper, Samantha, Lana, Nick, Toby and others are living Above. They are helpers now and have children of their own. Mary, Sarah, William, Elizabeth are gone. Rebecca and Olivia are grandparents. Jamie married a newcomer, Dack, and has two fine boys.”
“Mouse, what about Mouse.” Oh, she hoped he hadn’t blown himself up with one of his gizmos.
“Ah yes, Mouse. Well, Mouse is Mouse. Enough said.” A big grin spread across his face.
Her delighted laughter was a counterpoint to his grin. “What about Eric, Geoffrey, and Zach?”
“Eric is our doctor now. Geoffrey and Zach are both married, have children and are on the council.”
“And Pascal? Is he still pipe master?”
“Yes, with much assistance from Zach.”
“Oh, I want to see them.” Turning to him, she asked, shyly, “Would it be possible?”
He nodded slightly then she sobered and asked, “Were you happy, Vincent?”
Looking away from her, he murmured, “As happy as I could be apart from you. Knowing you were happy made me content.” But now he wondered anew if he had deprived both of them of their happy life.
With her finger beneath his chin she turned his face back to her, “I’ve never ceased wanting to be with you.”
They sat in loving silence until he finally asked, “Catherine, if you could, would you give up all you have had for a few years with me?” He had to know her answer.
Astonished by his question, she paused, “Is this a hypothetical question or a real one?”
“A real one.”
“You mean to lose Jeff and Jessie? To go back to the beginning?” She squirmed around to look intently at him.
Slowly he nodded. “Yes, I think I would. I have learned that I am not wise enough to decide how anyone should live their life.”
A brilliant smile spread across her face. “I’m glad you have realized that. Yes, I would like to go back to the beginning.”
“You would sacrifice all you have for me?” Cupping her head in his large hand he urged her forward and lightly grazed her lips with a kiss.
“I once told you that I would sacrifice everything for you and I still would,” she answered, breathlessly.
“I love you, Catherine.” All his love was gathered in his eyes.
“And I, you. My heart has always been yours, love.” Her fingers lightly traced the contours of his unique mouth.
With one abrupt motion he pulled her into his arms and kissed her passionately, telling her that she was his and he was hers, forever.
“Vincent, Vincent, wake up.” Father was shaking him by the shoulder. He awoke in his own bed feeling weak, hot and cold, sore all over. Then he remembered being in a dark cavern fighting the other and Catherine bringing her light to him. It had all been a dream. It was now, not twenty years in the future. He knew what it was like to live without Catherine and he was not going to make that mistake
. . . this time.