WHAT NOW

Joan Stephens

Lightly, Vincent dropped onto Catherineís balcony. He had felt her unease and disquiet all day. He knew it had something to do with him, but since he couldnít read her mind, he had come to her tonight to hopefully find out what was troubling her.

She was standing by the low balcony wall and slowly turned to face him. "Vincent," she said soberly.

"Catherine, are you all right?"

She backed up a step as he took a step toward her. Puzzled and a little hurt, he stopped, and tilting his head, he gazed at her with wounded eyes. What had he done to cause this reaction in her?

Letting loose a deeply held sigh, she sank onto one of the wrought iron chairs that she had bought for their late night comfort. "Iím sorry, Vincent. I didnít mean to do that, but I have some serious questions to ask you, and if youíre near me, Iím afraid Iíll lose my train of thought."

"You will?" Inordinately pleased and surprised by her confession, he settled into the other heavy chair.

"Yes," she replied rather grumpily.

"What is it that you wish to ask me?" He squirmed into a comfortable position, thankfully aware that the chair could hold his considerable weight.

Carefully studying her hands, Catherine was silent for a long minute. She took another deep breath, then said, "Itís about the . . . what do you call it . . . the bond?"

He nodded once. "Yes, the connection that joins us."

"Can you read my mind?" she asked hesitantly.

"No, not that," he hastened to reassure her. "I only feel what you feel . . . your emotions."

"My god, Vincent," she leaned back, staring at him. "When you said that you could feel what I felt, I never once thought that you could feel all my emotions. How do you live with the daily highs and lows of my life?"

"The everyday flow of your life is barely a ripple. It tells me that you are safe and contented. But when you are in danger or feeling some intense emotions, those come through loud and clear."

Shocked she continued to stare at him. "All my deep emotions?"

Unhappily, he nodded. "Believe me, Catherine, Iíve tried to block them but something wonít allow me to do it."

"All my deep emotions . . . all," she murmured, looking away from him. Then her head snapped up. "You . . . you felt every kiss; every emotion I felt for Elliot?" Burying her head in her hands, she moaned, "Oh god."

"Donít distress yourself, Catherine. As long as I know you are happy, I will be content."

Incredulously, she raised her eyes to his. "B - but how would you handle . . ." A deep red flush suffused her face. ". . . you know . . . ," she said helplessly.

Jumping to his feet, he stalked to the parapet and gripped it tightly as uncomfortable as she. "Donít worry yourself about it, Catherine; itís not your problem."

"Not my problem!" she barked. "How can you say that? Of course, itís my problem. How can I subject you to something like that?" Suddenly she was angry. In a flash she was beside him, and grabbing his arm, she swung him around to face her. He lowered his eyes unable to look into her blazing eyes. "How dare you do this to me?" she grated. "Tie my life to yours without asking me?"

He tried to explain. "All my life I have had empathic feelings for people, but with you, it was an immediate connection that I could not control, and have been unable to break. I did not ask for this to happen, and I swear to you that I do not listen in on your life."

"Well, thatís something," she huffed.

"Iím truly sorry, Catherine, that it upset you so. If I could, I would break it."

"Do you have any idea how this impacts on my life?"

"I believe so," he answered softly.

"I donít think you do. Now that I know how closely we are bound; subconsciously I will be careful not to put myself in any situation that causes you any embarrassment." Leaning against the balustrade, she shook her head. "Iím stuck."

"Donít say that. You must live your life without regard to me," he vehemently protested.

"How can I do that?" She moved to stand beside him. "I care about you."

Bowing his head, he admitted his shame. "What will you do?" he asked, dreading her answer. He wouldnít be surprised if she decided never to see him again.

Staring at the New York skyline, she thought for several long minutes, going over all her options in this strange relationship she found herself in. Never before had she been so closely tied to another human being. And it appeared that there was nothing that either of them could do about it. For the time being, she decided to make the best of a singular situation. Turning to gaze at the silent man standing stiffly at her side, she said, "I guess weíll have to continue as we are and see where things go from here. If weíre bound together, maybe we are meant to be together. Letís just take it one day at a time."

Visibly he relaxed his rigid posture. "Iíd like that. Thank you, Catherine, for being so understanding." Silently he heaved a relieved sigh.

"I donít know how understanding I am, but I canít see how thereís anything else we can do. Itís as if someone is telling us that we belong together."

Vincent was speechless. How was she to live the life she deserved if he agreed? He held his tongue.

She waited for his answer. But when it didnít come, it suddenly became clear to her that he would say nothing, that he couldnít agree with her, that if he did he would bind them together closer than they already were. Appreciating his sensitivity to the situation, she asked lightly, "What did you bring to read?"

His shoulders slumped in relief. Whatever had he done to deserve a friend like her? He answered as lightly as she, "ĎLeaves of Grass.í"

"Good! Walt Whitmanís poetry fits the occasion." She chuckled.

Settled into their accustomed places with their backs against the wall and her head resting on his shoulder, he opened the book and began to read. Unknowingly, they had weathered the first obstacle to the realization of their love.

 

Fini