UNFULFILLED

Joan Stephens


Catherine Chandler was dying. She had led a long and, what most people thought, a fulfilling life. Only she knew that her life had fallen short of the completion that she sought. Still as she looked back over her life, she realized that it hadnít been all that bad except for the vague disquiet she had always felt within her.

She believed in reincarnation; she had to. She couldnít face the thought that this was all there was to be. There had to have been a time before or a time to come where she would find the answer to her constant unease.

Events never ended as she expected; she was always caught by surprise. Even her children had come as a pleasant turn of events. She had never expected to be a single mother; her dream had always been to have a husband and the requisite 2.5 children. But when she found them, it had only seemed right, and adopting them had been worth it. Even the loss of Ellie had brought her and the boys closer together.

But there was something that eluded her no matter how hard she sought it. Nothing had quieted that unrest, not her children, not the one failed marriage to Elliot, not her career, and certainly not her charities. It had been fun being Mrs. Elliot Burch for a while, but when she realized that the emptiness was still there, the union had quickly dissolved.

Running her hand over the king-sized satin duvet, she wondered why she had always kept a large bed when a smaller one would have suited her much better. Maybe, it was her suppressed hope that he would someday sleep beside her. She felt . . . no, she knew with the sure knowledge of those who have spent a lifetime searching for a certain treasure that he was out there looking for her. Blame destiny, the fates, or just bad luck, they had missed each other, falling short of their happy lives.

The yearning had been there all her life but really struck her after the night she had been attacked. What she had expected, she didnít know, but the anonymous caller, who had never identified himself, was not the one she waited for. She had been taken to St. Vincentís by a team of EMTís and her father, Charles, had stepped in and assumed control of her treatment. But from that night on, she was conscious of a small empty space that sat in the center of her soul.

Restlessly changing positions, she thought, The boys should be here soon. She reached for the signal button to call her nurse but jerked her hand back. She didnít need the over solicitous attentions of the large, bosomy woman. Not that Maude wasnít a good nurse, she was, but her constant vigilance grated on Catherineís nerves. She valued her privacy and her solitude, and Maude had an irritating habit of interrupting when she wanted to be alone.

Clasping her hands together, she pushed back into her pillows. Now was the appropriate time to examine her life before the boys burst in with their unsettling vitality and cheerfulness. There were many times when she felt that if she had taken a new direction, turned a different corner, or chose an alternate road her life would have found its real purpose. Easily, she listed them in her mind: Jason, the subway slasher; Mitch, the crooked union boss; the stalker that had almost killed her; the day she married Elliot; the night they had almost been killed by the goronistas. There were so many more, but it accomplished nothing to continually go over them. She felt that if she had only turned around at just the right time she would have met her destiny face-to-face. But for reasons unknown to her, it had never happened.

She had wanted a husband and a family but had to content herself with just having children. No man had ever measured up to the standards she had set. No man could. They were impossibly high. Still, she knew there was someone who would if she could only find him.

With a fond smile, she remembered the day she had met her oldest son and his sister. She was investigating foster-care homes and had come upon this small boy with impossibly thick lenses. He had wanted to tell her something, but his sister pulled him away before he could say anything. The pleading look he gave her convinced her that something was wrong in that house. After she had discovered the secret that they were selling children, Child Services had shut the home down. In the ensuing chaos she had been able to obtain a court order giving her custody of the two children. Eric was now a research physician at St. Lukeís Childrenís Hospital heavily involved in solving the riddle of leukemia. Swiping a tear from her eye, she thought of darling, sweet Ellie, her only daughter. It had been so hard to watch her lose her battle with the blood cancer that claimed her life. Catherine had had so many plans for the two of them: mother and daughter things that only they could do together. On the day Ellie had slipped away forever, Eric had turned to her and in a chocked voice had asked, "What do we do now, Mom?"

She had gathered his brokenhearted frame in her arms, kissing him gently on the forehead. "We go on, sweetie, just as Ellie would want us to." Together they wept for a lost sister and daughter. Ellieís death had set his feet firmly on the path to becoming a research physician.

The thought of Geoffrey, her youngest, brought a smile to her lips. She had literally bowled him over as she charged around a corner. Picking himself up off the sidewalk, he had politely excused himself as if he had been the guilty party. When she got a good look at him, she saw a handsome, freckle-faced, tousled-haired boy of about ten, wearing ragged clothes and looking defensively at her. "Are you all right?" she asked.

He nodded glumly and started to leave.

"Wait a minute, whatís your name?"

"Geoffrey with a G."

This brought a grin to her face. "Well, Geoffrey with a G, how would you like to come home with me for a nice hot bath, clean clothes, and a good meal. My cookís supposed to be one of the best in the city."

He hung his head. "Ah, I donít know. Maybe I better not."

Catherine dug into her purse and pulled out her D.A.ís identification card. "Itís all right, Geoffrey. Iím with the D.A.ís office. Youíre safe with me." He went home with her and never left. Later that year she had adopted them, and the four of them became a true family. Geoffrey became a lawyer like his beloved mother and was a child advocate for any child that needed him. Her children were the one bright light in her life.

Now she could hear the boys clattering up the staircase. Their voices echoed gruffly down the hall as they spoke with Maude, and Catherine hoped with all her heart that the nurse would leave her alone with them. The door flew open and two handsome young men blew in bringing their noisy, love of life into her solitary bedroom.

"How are you, Mom?" they both asked at the same time.

"Much better now that youíre here." Her heart lifted with joy as she gazed lovingly at them. No one could ask for better children. She was truly blessed.

For a second she had thought sheíd seen Ellie standing as she always had between her two competitive brothers. Dear, dear child, she thought, wait for me.

She held a hand out to each and sighed happily when they encased it in theirs. Sitting on either side of her, they told her of their latest accomplishments. Their comments were filled with humor and pathos. Especially Geoffreyís dealing with the justice system and the tribulations they put the poor children through. Her eyes misted over. How proud she was of them. They were the best legacy that she could leave the world. Money, position, and power werenít important; it was what you gave the world that made it a better place. And her sons would definitely leave the world better than when they had come into it.

She was so very tired and closed her eyes to rest for a moment. Vaguely she heard Eric and Geoffrey calling to her, but the lure of sleep was overpowering, and as she slipped into another dimension, she met the man who had haunted her dreams all of her life. She felt an instant connection to him and could feel his love wrap itself around her and warm her for the first time in her life. She knew him. "Vincent."

"Catherine," he replied as he held his arms out to her.

With a sense of rightness, she walked into his embrace and laid her head on the instinctive place she knew to be correct: over his heart. "Oh, I have missed you."

He held her as if he never wanted to let her go. "And Iíve missed you, my love."

"I knew there was something or someone missing in my life. My life was so incomplete."

"I know; my life was the same."

"But why, Vincent?"

Each time they met after a reincarnation, he had to explain why they were kept apart. "The Higher Powers are slow to anger and even slower to forgiveness. It was my fault. Itís my pride that condemned us to live without each other. If only I hadnít cried to the heavens, ĎI dare you to show me anyone who loves as we do!í And you know that pride makes you blind. The Higher Powers heard me and cursed us to live throughout eternity, living different lives in each reincarnation."

"But how can they continue to be so cruel? Surely they canít still be angry with us."

"To teach me a lesson. Instead of being arrogant about our love, I should have been thankful that we had been graced with such a powerful love. Iím so sorry that it caused you any pain." He pressed her gently against him and kissed the top of her head.

She shook her head, denying any hurt. "There was no pain, my love, only a sense of great loss. That I had missed out on something very beautiful. Now I know what it was."

"I knew, but was prevented from contacting you in any way. They even took the bond away."

Searching her heart, she found the lifeline that had been dormant for so long. "Itís there. Thank god, itís there." She felt the warmth of his heart next to hers and the joy of his awareness of her in his heart.

"Mom?" Behind her she heard the beloved voice of her daughter.

"Ellie?" She spun around and there before her was the young girl she had adopted. "Oh Ellie," she cried softly as she opened her arms to her. "How Iíve missed you."

"Vincent and I have been keeping each other company waiting for you, havenít we, Vincent?" Ellie said from the comfort of her motherís arm.

"Yes, we have," he agreed. "You have a wonderful child, Catherine. Weíve spent many long hours together, entertaining each other. She plays a wicked game of chess."

"I know; I had a hard time beating her." She beamed with pride.

Taking Catherine by the hand, Vincent began to lead her toward a door behind which glowed a glorious white light. "Shall we rest for a period until we are called upon again?" Ellie held onto her other hand.

"Do you think they will ever relent?" Catherine asked as she leaned into his shoulder.

"Allow us to live one life of total, complete love?"

"Yes."

"I donít know, my love, but I have hope."

And as the door swung open, they disappeared into a realm of peace and tranquility, to be summoned one last time. The Higher Powers were satisfied at last.

Fini