It Was Nothing At All

Joan Stephens


Packing for her move Below, Catherine folded the last piece of lingerie and placed it in the suitcase laying open on the bed. As she closed the bag, she glanced around her bedroom to see if she had forgotten anything. She had everything that she needed. Thinking about living Below, she cast her mind back over the past year. It had all started to unravel after his illness. He had awakened from the coma that had held him in its slumbrous embrace for more than a month. She had seen him through the amnesia that haunted him to a full recovery of his memory and his health.

Visiting him one evening, he had noticed a new scar on her upper arm. It appeared to be long and deep. She blithely dismissed his question with a disparaging wave of the hand, "It was nothing. Just a scratch."

"Catherine, that was more than a scratch." He inhaled deeply, "It looks like the wounds I inflict." Looking squarely at her, he said, "We donít lie to each other."

"It was truly nothing, Vincent. When you collapsed, one of your nails scratched me, thatís all."

Appalled, he declared, "It was more than a mere scratch." Burying his face in his hands, he moaned, "I promised never to hurt you and I have."

"It was just an accident," she insisted.

He pulled away from her as she attempted to hug him and stalked to the other side of the chamber. Standing with his back to her, his shoulders began to shake.

Oh god, she thought, heís crying.

"Vincent!" Dammit, why did her voice have to quiver now, making her sound like a little girl. She came to stand beside him, careful not to touch him. "Donít do this. You didnít mean it; you werenít yourself." Oh no, she shouldnít have said that.

He seized on her statement. "It was him," he hissed. She watched in dismay as his eyes took on a determined glint and his body stiffened with resolve. "Catherine," he insisted, "you must leave me. Itís not safe for you to be around me."

"What are you talking about?" she exclaimed. "Iím not going anywhere."

"I cannot take the chance that I might harm you again." The pain in his eyes hardened her resolution to make him see reason.

"Vincent, for goodness sake, please be reasonable. Youíre still recuperating; your emotions are still in a whirl. Please, donít make any decisions for a while. Let things settle." She sighed in exasperation. He was in one of his stubborn moods and nothing she said would change his mind.

"No," he bellowed. "I canít take the chance. You must never come here again. I forbid it."

Rounding on him, her eyes blazing green fire, she exclaimed, "You forbid it? Just who do you think you are to forbid my coming and going and how I live my life? Iíll leave, but if you think youíll never see me again, youíre sadly mistaken. I am a part of this world, and I intend to come here as often as I please. If you donít want to see me, you can just leave." Crossing her arms, she glared at him.

"You canít mean that," he gasped, dismayed at the prospect of seeing her but not being with her. It would be hell.

Planting her fists on her hips, she stared at him obstinately. "You think youíre stubborn? Well, you havenít seen stubborn until youíve seen me. Iím not only stubborn; Iím tenacious."

"Tenacious?" he echoed in bewildered consternation.

"Yes, I hang on and fight until I win. And I will win. Vincent, we were meant to be together, and I will fight until you admit it."

With that said, she turned on her heel and returned Above.

*

Father never said a word about the change in their relationship, and Vincent was too proud to ask if Catherine had said anything to him. The only one who dared to mention it was Mouse, and he was not happy with the answer he received.

Perversely, Father seemed to enjoy inviting Catherine to every little event Below, and she had all the time in the world, it seemed to come Below. Vincent wondered why but couldnít bring himself to ask if she had done what she had proposed: switched to the court division or had resigned. He could be stubborn too.

He expected her to be cool and distant. Was he ever wrong! She always appeared to be glad to see him and would ask him about his classes and all his other duties. But when he, to be polite, asked her about her days, she would smile and say, "Oh, nothing special. Same old thing." Then she would find something interesting to tell Father, Mary, Rebecca, or any other member of the community.

Soon it seemed that wherever he turned, he saw Catherine. And much to his chagrin, he discovered that while he was working in the lower levels, the council had granted Catherine the right of citizenship. This meant that she could move Below, which she had proceeded to do posthaste.

Now he encountered her at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in the corridors, at all meetings, wherever he went, but what upset him the most was that whenever he entered the library, she and Father were either involved in some project or, as they used to do, reading to each other. He was always graciously invited to join in. Making some excuse, he would beat a hasty retreat.

Then one day she simply vanished from the tunnels. No one seemed particularly upset by her absence, and he wouldnít ask. But he found that he had become accustomed to her cheerful presence and her beautiful face. He wondered if she had finally conceded the battle to him. To his surprise, he didnít want to win; he wanted to lose, to have her back in his arms in any way she wanted. She had taught him what he needed to know: that he needed her in his life, that nothing mattered more than their love, not even the fear that he might harm her. Of late, he had been examining his time with her, and had slowly come to the realization that even in his deepest and darkest rages, he was always conscious of her presence, and therefore, he could protect her from himself. He made a decision.

*

Catherine was using the phone when Vincent dropped onto her balcony and peered through the sheers hanging on the French doors. When she replaced the handset on the cradle, he rapped on a glass pane. Surprised, she glanced at the balcony doors. Seeing his large shadow on her terrace, she rose slowly, sauntered to the doors, and opened them. "Is there anything wrong Below?" she asked calmly. She would have been informed already if there was an emergency in the tunnel world.

"No," he shook his head unable to elucidate just why he was there.

"Oh . . . well, is there anything I can do for you; do you need something?" she coolly asked.

"Yes," he said desperately. "I need you!"

"How?" she asked.

"How?" It was not the answer he expected; he gaped at her. She nodded. After a short pause, he said, "I need you in my life, beside me, loving me."

"Youíre sure."

"Yes, youíve outlasted me."

Turning away from him, the tears gathered and were about to overflow. "I donít want it that way. Go home, Vincent," she dismissed him.

"Go home? But I came here to tell you that you had won, that I give in." Why was she suddenly so distant with him?

Leaning a hip on the balcony parapet, she crossed her arms and let her head fall forward until her chin rested on her chest. "I didnít know that we were in a war," she said and waited for him to continue.

Perplexed, he stared at her, still wondering why she was so withdrawn and silent. "Catherine?" he questioned, unsure of what he should say or do.

She glanced silently at him, still waiting.

"Is there more you want from me?"

"Itís wonderful that you need me and want me in you life, but those are just words."

"Arenít those words enough?"

"No, Vincent, theyíre not. I need more; I need a different word. One it seems that you are unable to give me."

"What word? Help me," he pleaded.

"Love. Can you not tell me that you love me?"

If Vincent had been one for grandiose gestures, he would have smacked himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand. Instead, he took her hands in his and said, "Forgive me, my love, forgive my negligence, my clumsiness. I love you, Catherine; I want you by my side through the coming years. Tell me I havenít lost you forever through my stubbornness. I was so very wrong. I love you. I donít deserve your love, but I do love you."

"Oh, Vincent," she cried, "thatís all Iíve ever wanted from you: your love. I donít have to live Below as long as I know you love me."

"But I want you to," he exclaimed. "I thought you did to."

Throwing her arms around his neck, she happily kissed him. "I do; I do!" She glanced up at him shyly. "Sounds like wedding vows, doesnít it?"

"Yes . . ." He was still for a moment, then in a rush before he could lose his nerve, he said, "Be my wife, Catherine, please?" He was not about to lose her again. This was the best way he knew to keep her with him.

"Oh yes, Vincent, yes!" This time Vincent initiated the kiss, and it was a pledge of a lifetime of love for both of them.

So, here she was packing the last of her things, waiting for the tunnel dwellers to come and help her take them Below. A wide grin blossomed on her face as she thought, Some battles are worth fighting.

 

Fini