Better in the Wind
A special thanks to Ron Koslow to whom these characters belong.
The blue of Vincentís eyes was lost in the dark reflection, but not the calm intensity with which they were illuminated. The glass was cool, and Vincent pressed his cheek against the slender barrier that kept him from the outside world. Mirrored back to him against the night, his leonine image projected into the quickly passing forest. He was running through the evening wood, around trunks and over roots, guided only by the light of the full moon. His breath came in even, full, and deep. His body pulsed with quicksilver, even the fur on the back of his knuckles stood upright. It was a strange sensation, to feel so unbound within the confines of the small van.
It was the most peaceful trip that Catherine and Vincent had taken. The sky was clear, and along the roadside, the greens rose and fell with the shadow and light of the quiet spring evening. As Catherine turned off the main road, a beam of moonlight caught the woven silver band that she wore on her left hand. It shone like the North Star, a guiding light which Vincent followed to home and heart.
Though it did not bear resemblance to one, they had just turned onto Devinís private driveway. In fact, everything about the road was designed to discourage the wayward explorer from attempting to travel it. From the main road the turnoff was nearly hidden. The first 10 miles of the drive were void of any signs of habitationóno mailboxes, neighboring homes, or even signs. The pavement wound its way through the forest in a serpentine fashion and, at times, seemed to double back on itself. Suddenly, the pavement ended and was replaced with a rather bumpy, narrow stretch of packed gravel. This continued for another three miles, continuing to narrow and deteriorate in quality. It was at this point that even the most adventurous joy-riders would turn around. However, if they continued on, as Vincent and Catherine were, in another few minutes they would discover that the gravel morphed again into a short paved drive leading up to a small cabin.
As the lights of Devinís cabin came into view and the noise of the tires on gravel passed away, Vincent was struck by a realization. It had never occurred to him that the crunch of wheels on gravel could become a familiar sound, but now it had. And, not only was it familiar, but it carried its own connotation. As the noise faded, he was filled with a restless joy in anticipation of reaching their destination.
After so many trips, nearly everyone in the tunnels had lost their anxiety over these visits upstate. Only Father still kept his doubts, hidden away in a safe place like a valuable heirloom he intended to pass on to the next generation. Despite his efforts at secrecy, Vincent could sense the old manís continuing disquiet. The risks were genuine, but so was their willingness to barter risk for small liberties.
Meticulous protocol was followed religiously. The van Catherine had purchased in preparation for their first journey upstate, was fully inspected by one of the best mechanics in New York. Any and all problems noticed were immediately repaired regardless of their legitimacy. Catherine was certain she was being swindled out of hundreds of dollars in unnecessary repairs, but she was purchasing something far more valuable: Fatherís ease of mind.
In the back of the van were two spare tires, water, gas, oil, and even windshield wipers. She made sure that the registration and insurance was up-to-date. The children had assembled an emergency separation kit in case Vincent needed to make a quick escape. It contained food, a map, and one of two long-distance walkie-talkies. Mouse had even used his engineering skills to create a secret compartment that would allow Vincent to easily hide if they were ever forced to stop. They drove safely and only after nightfall.
This was the third time the two of them had driven deep into the Adirondack Mountains to visit Devin. Six months ago, Father had joined them after receiving a message from Devin that Charles was intensely ill. A dynamic increase in the severity of his neurofibromatosis was followed by a dramatic decline of his health. Although Devin and Father had done their best to restore health to the body of their friend, in the end Father was forced to admit that the only goal left was comfort. Charlesí passing had been quiet, peaceful, and transitory to a place of far better relief.
Vincent heard Sparks, a yellow lab, spring to life in all manner of yelps and howls. The door to the rustic cabin flew open and yellow light spilled onto the wooden porch and stone steps. A tall, athletic frame filled the door, arms spread wide.
"Hey, you made it!" Devin called as Catherine and Vincent exited the van.
Catherine took a moment to stretch her limbs, stiff from the long drive. Too eager to wait, Vincent sprang up the steps in two long strides and nearly tackled Devin. "Devin! Itís good to see you."
"You tooóQuiet, Sparks!" Devin shouted at the lab which had begun to paw at Vincentís leg, desperate for attention.
Vincent reached down and petted the happy creature that automatically rolled onto its back, exposing his belly. Catherine reached the top of the stairs and embraced Devin warmly. Through the bond, Vincent could sense her mood was lighter, despite her weariness from the journey.
"Hey sis, how was the drive?" Devin asked.
"Oh, it was wonderful, really lovely. Itís nice to get away from the city and into the fresh air."
"Donít I know it! Can I get your bags?"
"Yeah, that would be terrific, actually," Catherine said. Her words were weighted with fatigue.
Vincent turned to his wife and put an arm around her petite figure. "Catherine, you are exhausted. Why donít you go inside and rest? Devin and I will join you in a moment."
Unwilling to protest, Catherine went inside and flopped down on the leather couch. Sparks followed her, tail wagging, and laid his head on her stomach. Vincent laughed, watching through the screen door, as Catherine beckoned Sparks onto the sofa. He gratefully leapt on top of her, causing her to emit a loud, "Oof!" as the weight of the lab knocked the breath from her body.
Devin tossed two large duffle bags onto the porch. With the energy of a teenager, he bounded up the stairs. Devin leaned against the porch railing beside Vincent, gently taking in the scenery.
Vincent loved this place with its sheltered forest and rolling hills. The greens were deeper here than in the city, the smell cleaner. The air, unadulterated by pollution, brought fresh vitality to Vincentís body. He breathed deeply of its sweet spring fragrance of a thousand blooms opening to the sky. The stars were out, millions more than could be seen in the city. The sky was white with their number. A silver moon hung high in the sky, daring Vincent to lose his breath. In the woods, a whippoorwill sang. Its call was answered by both a sparrow and an owl. The mountains cast their spell over Vincent, and he was loathe to break its hold, but Devin had begun to fidget, uncomfortable with the prolonged silence.
Vincent turned to his adopted brother, surprised at the new gray by his temples. The familiar scars across his cheek still made Vincent wince with remorse, even though Devin had long since forgiven him. Sensing Vincentís gaze, he turned and smiled.
"They donít hurt anymore, you know."
Quietly, Vincent answered, "I bear those same scars." He clenched his fists, unwilling to look at the sharp claw-like nails at the ends of his fingers.
Devin laughed quietly to himself. "I never told you did I? Thatís how I come up with my new identities: the story behind the scars. People always want to know."
"Hey, donít worry about it. BesidesÖchicks dig scars." There was a vindicating twinkle in his eyes.
Eager to change the topic, Vincent inquired, "Have you been well?"
Looking away Devin responded, "Yes. Yeah. I guess so."
"You miss him, donít you?" Vincent asked, speaking of Charles.
Devin smiled and nodded. "He was one of a kind. After a while, he adjusted to being treated like a human being, and he had a lot to give back. He loved animals, maybe because they werenít afraid of the way he looked." Vincent understood all too well. "I remember the day he brought Sparks home. There was this little mangy thing in his arms covered with fleas and ticks. I wanted to take it to the poundóthought it was going to die and Charles wouldnít be able to handle it. But, there was no convincing him otherwise. He loved that dog. I wish I could have done more for him."
"It sounds to me like you did a great deal. You gave him a home, a place where he could love and be loved. That is not an easy gift to give." Vincent could see that Devin was fighting to keep his composure and spoke no more.
Devin sniffed hard and surreptitiously drew a hand across his cheek. "Iím really glad that you and Catherine were able to come this weekend." The long settled lines on Devinís face relaxed a little.
Vincent put an arm around his shoulder. "We were only too happy to come when we got your letter. We so rarely get the chance to leave New York."
Devin snorted, "Thatís the understatement of the year!"
"I love it here. The seclusion gives me a small taste of freedom. I spent my first day in the sunlight in your backyard. I saw poetry come to life in these woods. Itís been good for Catherine too. There are few places in her world which we can share. This space is a safe haven."
"Thatís why I chose it! I wanted a place where Charles could go outside without people staring at him. But, now that heís gone," his voice cracked, "the quiet gets old pretty fast. It would be nice to live a little closer to the schoolóitís a heckuva drive in the morning."
"Didnít I tell you? Iím a teacher now. Mr. Wells, eighth grade World Geography."
"How did you manage that?"
He admitted meekly, "I may have fudged a little on the application. And the diploma. And, maybe I drew up a fake teaching certificate."
Vincent laughed at how nothing changed. "Well, considering your background, I canít think of a more qualified man for the job! Do you like it?"
"Short answer: yes."
"And the long?"
"One day on safari in South Africa the wind suddenly changed and this mother rhino caught our scent. She figured we were too close to her nest and charged, angry as heck, bent on keeping her calf safe. Vincent, I love teaching, but there are days I would rather face that mother rhino than a classroom full of teenagers."
"The children Above canít be that much worse than Below."
"No, itís not all bad really. The kids seem to enjoy all my stories. Itís rewarding, molding young minds and all that."
His words were mostly bravado, or at least rote memorization, of that Vincent was certain. Devin had a restless spirit, and he wondered how much longer that spirit would allow him to remain before it pressed him to the next conquest of life. Nevertheless, he was glad that Devin had, at least for now, some stability.
Inside, Vincent felt Catherineís mind wander off into sleep and he longed to join her. The men chatted for a few more minutes, mostly on lighter tunnel topics, before Vincent mentioned sleep.
Devin, ever the night owl, made no motion of coming inside and remained on the porch staring off into the woods. Vincent threw his arms around him again and murmured, "It really is wonderful to see you again."
Catherine was fast asleep on the couch. Sparks had moved to his mat in front of the fireplace. Not wishing to disturb her, Vincent took great care to move their bags into the guest bedroom silently. It was small and largely undecorated. The bed and a small writing desk served as the only furniture in the room. The walls were bare, except for three framed photographs Devin had taken of the local area. Although the landscapes held all the makings of inspirational vistas, the perspectives were detached and impersonal.
Returning to the living room, he tenderly lifted Catherine off the couch and carried her to the bedroom. She whispered softly into his ear, "I love you, Vincent." He breathed deeply, drinking in both her words and the love flowing from her heart.
"And I, you," he answered as he gently placed her on the bed.
She had stirred just enough from sleep to change into one of Vincentís undershirts, not unlike the one she had worn during her recovery Below five years ago. As they drifted off into sleep Vincentís heart was filled. Had he known happiness was so easily within his grasp, he would have reached for it much sooner.
Vincent was awakened by a sharp assault to his nostrils. He sniffed the air, cautiously at first, overwhelmed by the intense amalgam of smells. It could mean only one thing: Devin had decided to make breakfast. With great chagrin, Vincent slipped out from underneath the covers. His heart fluttered as Catherine stirred, reaching an arm out to the empty space he had just vacated.
"Is the sun up?" Catherine murmured sleepily.
"Only just," Vincent whispered.
She sat up and rubbed her eyes, shaking off the dreams of last night. Of recent years, reality had become much more appealing. As she caught the scent that had jolted Vincentís subconscious, she too grimaced and whined, "Devin cooked?"
"It would appear so."
"Iíd rather eat pencil shavings."
Vincent shot her a reprimanding look. He hated to belittle any honest act of love or kindnessóeven Devinís cooking. However, Catherine was smiling at him, a wickedly facetious twinkle in her eyes. She shared Vincentís heart and appreciated, if not enjoyed, the gesture.
Devin was just finishing up in the kitchen when Catherine and Vincent cautiously stepped into the room. Various piles of chopped bits and pieces were scattered randomly on the counter, debris in the wake of a tidal wave. "Eggs aíla Devin," he quipped, setting down two plates.
"Youíre not joining us?" Vincent asked.
"No, I ate earlier." He gestured to the counters, "Iíll go ahead and clean up while you two eat."
Catherine and Vincent shared a wary glance, hesitating. The plates were arranged quite beautifully with an unappealing hash that vaguely resembled omelet, hash browns, and badly burnt toast.
Devin saw their hesitation and encouraged them to, "Hurry up and eat, I have a sort of surprise waiting."
As it turned out, eating fast was the best way to approach "eggs aíla Devin". His time as a famous chef in Paris had given him a great palate for delectable recipes and skill at plating food, but had afforded little opportunity to perfect his actual cooking technique. "Thatís what a sous chef is foróI was the brains of the operation," he was fond of explaining.
Within minutes the food had disappeared from the plates. Devin hurriedly threw the dishes in the sink. "I just have to feed Sparks and then weíll go." He dumped a large amount of kibble into Sparksí metal dish. The lab sniffed it, but quickly ran away to be petted by Catherine.
"Huh. Thatís odd," Devin said running his fingers through his hair. "Usually in the morning he attacks the bowl before Iíve even set it down."
Vincent stared at Catherine, looking to confirm his suspicions. At first, she refused to meet his gaze, feigning interest in her nails. She turned her eyes up and looked at him innocently, but through the bond, Vincent sensed celebration over her victorious subterfuge.
"Funny thing. Guess heís just too excited to eat," Catherine commented glibly.
"Guess so," Devin dismissed. He clapped his hands together loudly. "Ready to go guys? I really want you to see this. Youíre gonna love it!"
Feeling his pure excitement, like a child going to deliver his first Winterfest candles, Vincent smiled. "Then, I can hardly wait."
The three stepped out into the sunlight, something Vincent did not take for granted, and walked the short distance to the large garage at the back of the yard. Fashioned from an old red barn, it was falling apart at the edges.
With a raised brow, arms braced to push the door back, Devin asked, "Ready?"
"You bet," said Catherine with a small note of impatience in her voice. She peeked at her watch, wondering what all the build-up was about.
Devin threw open the door with a flourish. His smile spanned the entire front of his face proudly as both Catherine and Vincent drew in a sharp breath. The morning sun blinded them for a moment as it was refracted by the gleaming chrome of a mammoth motorcycle.
"Oh Dev!" Catherine exclaimed breathlessly. "Itís beautiful!" She casually wrapped a protective arm around Vincentís waist, as if to hold him back.
"You like it? I saw it, and I just couldnít help myself."
"But, how in the world could you afford it?" she asked.
Devin patted the black leather seat as he answered. "Got her real cheap from a state trooper buddy of mine. I had to rebuild the engine, install new brakes, and make a few other modifications. But, you know meóa couple of Harley Davidson repair manuals and I was set."
"Oh, well, that explains it," Catherine said in mock disbelief.
"Ha! You should see my friendís face now that itís all fixed up. Jealous."
"You have an amazing ability to learn new skills, Devin," said Vincent with sincerity. He wondered what would happen if he and Mouse teamed up on a project together. It would either be great or disastrous, perhaps both.
Devin mounted the bike and broke eye contact, "Yeah, well, you know me. Once a fraud always a fraud."
"Yes, but a good fraud," Catherine added. Laughter echoed off spider webs in the rafters. "It really suits you, Dev. You look like James Dean or something."
Color rushed into Devinís cheeks, making the three scars stand out in contrast whiteness. He hung his head in mock embarrassment and added, "Just wait. You ainít seen nothing yet." With natural effortlessness, Devin hopped off the motorcycle and jogged over to the wall, which supported two dusty, moldered wooden shelves. An old towel covered two large heaps. Devin uncovered one and held it out to Vincent.
"What do you think of that?" he asked mischievously. Vincent turned the object over in his rough, hirsute hands, examining it. It was an oversized black helmet. He turned it over and started, sucking in a quick breath. Catherine eyed his reaction as a wary mother watches a child who has taken hold of something potentially dangerous.
With little emotion, Vincent stated the obvious, "This is a helmet." He handed it back to Devin. At the furthest reaches of her mind, Catherine felt the slight fluttering of Vincentís true state of mind. She could only feel the strongest of his emotions. Closing her eyes in prayer, her heart warred against her mind, caught between the desire to see her husband find a place in her world and fearing for his safety should he succeed.
"Vincent, come on! This isnít just a helmet," he exclaimed, pushing the black globe back into Vincentís grasp. "This is an extra-large, full-face helmet," he paused and flicked a shade down, "with a tinted visor for keeping the sun out of your eyes." He paused for effect, letting Vincent take in his whole meaning as he witnessed the utterly concealing nature of the helmet. Catherineís heart dropped. "A man wearing this couldnít be recognized," he continued solemnly. "A man wearing this could go anywhere, anytime." Devinís voice was low and serious. "A man wearing this could see the world."
"Devin, stop it!" Catherine interjected with a half-scream. "What do you think youíre doing?"
"Just dreaming a little Cathy. Thatís all." His voice was saturated with defensive hurt.
"If youíre hinting at what I think youíre hinting at..." she trailed off in her anger. Her fists clinched. "You could put him in serious danger." Vincent stared in silence at the helmet in his hands, deep in thought.
"Itís the same danger he faces anytime he takes one step out of the tunnels, whether itís the park at night, driving up here, or even sitting on your balcony. Are you the only one allowed to let Vincent put himself at risk? That choice belongs to him!" The truth stung as Catherine remembered the dozens of times she had been rescued by Vincent and urging him to flee the scene before the authorities arrived.
"He doesnít even know how to drive."
"I know that! This lady," he patted the bike, "is strong enough to haul the two of us. He just has to hang on."
"Oh yeah? What if you break down? Or wreck? What if he gets hurt? Or you get hurt? What happens if you get pulled over or caught? What ifó"
"Catherine," Vincent interrupted, commanding her silence.
"What?" she groaned.
"I want this." His blue eyes were firmly resolute. She locked his gaze and felt his hopeful determination as it called softly through the mists of their connection. Vincent wanted so few things in life, and there were even fewer occasions to indulge him. However, this was an opportunity she hesitated to accept.
"Really?" she asked in a lame attempt to convince him otherwise. He nodded his response. Catherine threw up her hands in defeat and attempted to push down the foreboding that lurched in her throat. With as much positive energy she could muster, which was regrettably very little, she consented. "Okay." She kissed Vincentís cheek. "Be safe." Devin clapped his hands in glee and wrapped Catherine in a firm embrace. She added, "But if anything goes wrong, Iím telling Father it was all your idea."
"You wonít regret this, I promise. Iím going to take good care of him. Thank you, Cathy!" he cheered. "Itís your turn next, you know."
"Pass!" called Catherine over her shoulder as she hurriedly walked back to the house. Another moment and she would have been unable to prevent from unleashing all her misgivings.
The two men exchanged a look, the kind only seen in a "No girls allowed" clubhouse. "Well, try it on!" Devin urged. "Havenít got all day."
Vincent struggled awkwardly to push the helmet onto his head. It was tight and pulled on his hair, but it fit. "Howís it feel?" Devin asked hopefully.
"As if the world is pressing in around me from all sides."
"Just wait till you get on the road. Itís not as bad once youíre riding. Trust me," Devin spoke with a confidence gained only from experience, "Itís better in the wind. But, thereís one more thing."
"And what is that?" Vincent removed the helmet and ran his fingers through his hair. The complete allure of that movement was lost on Devin, but somewhere in the cabin Catherine felt a little warmer.
"You gotta toss the Tunnel clothes. A man in a helmet is mysterious. A man in a hooded cape isÖ" he chose his words carefully, "conspicuous. See how these work." Devin uncovered the second bundle and heaved it at Vincent. He caught the clothes but nearly dropped the helmet. Setting it down gently, he looked for a place to change.
"Oh yeah," Devin added frankly, "Boxers or briefs?" He tossed another, smaller, bundle towards Vincent. Devinís lips curved upwards in a wicked grin.
Vincent tossed the bundle back, "Neither."
Inside, Catherine decided to change out of her sweater into something with short sleeves.
Devin caught the bundle deftly. "Gross." He shook his head.
Vincent headed to a dark corner while Devin turned his back and pretended to tune up the motorcycle. He was pleasantly surprised at both the quality and fit of the clothes Devin had provided. In the tunnels, all his clothes had to be specially made to accommodate his broad stature. His size was hard to find during scavenging trips. He relished the soft cotton of the white t-shirt that hugged his torso. The heavy black denim pants, were basic, with the exception of a small, thick chain hanging from his left hip. But, it was the jacket that Vincent loved. It was loose at the waist, setting off the close-fitted cut of the pants. The metal buttons fastened just to the right of the center of his chest. There were several accenting straps and buckles. He felt confident, powerful, sexy even.
Catherine, unable to concentrate, went to get a glass of water and completely abandoned her book.
Devin heard a change in Vincentís footstep. Generally soft and agile, they were now heavy and certain. He smiled before turning around to admire his brother. "Like it?" he asked, knowing the answer already.
"Like it? Iíve never had anything as nice! Itís as if they were made for me. Where did you find them?"
Devin beamed with pride, "Didnít I ever tell you about the six months I spent in Milan as a tailor? I made a suit for Burt Reynolds once."
Although Vincent had no idea who exactly Burt Reynolds was, he clapped Devin on the back and sighed. "A man with your gifts would truly be a blessing Below."
"Aw shucks, V," Devin cried with mock humility, "Iím a blessing wherever I go." Devin hefted the helmet to Vincent and suited up himself. "You ready to do this?"
Despite the rooted sense of apprehension that was growing stronger, Vincent nodded with confidence. Letting his weight settle onto the frame of the bike, Vincent was alarmed at how it sank several inches under the additional burden. Fatherís voice rang out loud in his head, warning him of all the risks he was about to take. As if Devin could read his thoughts he answered, "Donít worry," he fired up the obscenely loud motor, "Once weíre on the road you wonít hear a thing but the engine!" He had to yell now.
"Hold on!" shouted Devin over the roar. He sped off with a jerk for which Vincent was unprepared. Had his reflexes not kicked in, he would have fallen off the back. Thankfully, his legs and arms automatically caught hold of anything solid, which happened to include Devinís waist. He felt Devinís sides shaking and knew he had done it purposefully. Glad to be on the untraveled back roads, Vincent realized how ridiculous they must look. The larger of the two men sat in the submissive back seat. For the first time in his life, Vincent was embarrassed, not ashamed, embarrassed. Fear, loathing, and disgust were all reactions he was used to experiencing from strangers. The mocking scorn of public humiliation was something altogether new.
At first, Vincentís acute senses were nearly overwhelmed. The foliage and smells flew by so fast that they melded into one singularly identifying piney aroma. And the wind! It was like being on top of the skyscrapers back in New York. He wanted desperately to remove the helmet and feel the wind pull every hair straight backwards, but even on these back roads the risk was too great, Devin said.
Within minutes the road had morphed from Devinís private drive into a mountain highway that wound its way around the crest. The first turn was nearly disastrous. "Youíve got to lean into the curve!" Devin screamed. As it turned out, this was easy enough for Vincent to master. A phenomenal sense of balance was just another one of his physical distinctions. Contentment and joy welled within his spirit as his eyes watched the shadows of the trees on the road flicker like the flame of a candle.
On the road ahead was a large minivan, fully loaded with camping supplies. Vincentís body tensed as Devin increased their speed to pass them. It was only a moment and then it was over. A young boy was looking out the window of the back seat. As the vehicles rode parallel, their eyes locked, despite the tinted visor covering Vincentís face. He braced himself, habitually he realized, for the panic that usually flooded the heart of every stranger who chanced to glimpse him in the dark. Instead, he felt admiration, like a blip on radar, as the boyís eyes grew wide. The boy smiled and waved. Vincent waved a gloved hand back, which only made the boy nod in approval. Behind a mask, Vincent felt the power to be anybody, even himself. It was the stuff of Shakespeare.
Devin took an unexpected turn. About a mile off the main road, he slowed the bike and stepped in front of a rundown metal building at the end of a long field. Devin stepped in and out of the building, checking to make sure they were alone. His face was all light and excitement.
It looked fairly deserted, and at Devinís signal, Vincent removed his helmet. He took a moment to take in his surroundings, from the blooming honeysuckle to the sound of a brook not too far off.
"Well, what did you think?" he asked.
Vincentís eyes closed as he searched for words to express the inexpressible. "I hear the wind among the trees, I see the branches downward bent, and over me unrolls on high, the splendid scenery of the sky."
"Poetry, huh? I knew youíd love it." He fought to keep his more sensitive emotions in check, but the delight was unhidden. "What was that anyway? Emerson?"
"Longfellow, actually. Youíre getting rusty."
"Come here, Iíve got something else I want to show you," said Devin, motioning for Vincent to follow him into the building.
Devinís steps were unsure and awkward as he made his way through the darkness with a flashlight; however, Vincentís cat-like eyes had already adjusted to the dim light and he followed easily. The lingering scent of gasoline lightly perfumed the air. He could make out several large forms covered by canvas tarps and evenly spaced throughout the building. The manner in which they were draped made it difficult for Vincent to guess what was underneath, but they were nearly twice as large as the van they had driven upstate yesterday. "What is this place?" he asked, curious.
Devin answered vaguely, searching for something in the shadows, "A friend of mine owns it. He lets me store stuff here. Ah, there it is! So, V, you really had a good time?" Vincent affirmed his pleasure with a simple nod of the head.
"Well, then, letís take it to the next level, what do you say?" Devin yanked the tarp off one of the frames to reveal an even more impressive bike than the original. It was all black leather and chrome. The handlebars reached out to embrace the rider, while the engine components snaked around each other in unfathomable convoluted splendor below the seat. Both wide and tall, it was built for a man of Vincentís stature.
"You mean?" he trailed off.
"Vincent, did you really think I was going to make you ride piggy-back all weekend? Iíve got a reputation to keep here."
Removing his gloves, he lightly ran his fingers over the machine, caressing the metallic skeleton. What had started as a feeble spark of curiosity had been fanned into a steady, lasting, white-hot flame. Could Devin possibly understand the ways in which the world had opened itself today? In his mindsí eye, Vincent saw a paved road unraveling before him infinitely.
Devin went to great lengths the rest of the morning instructing Vincent on basic traffic laws, the use of mirrors, and operation of the machine. It had been over 10 years since Vincent had been able to call himself a student. However, Devin was as eager a teacher as Vincent was a pupil. Fairly matched, the classroom portion of their studies passed quite pleasantly.
At noon, they took a break for lunch, if it could really be called that. Devin, in his excitement, had completely forgotten to make preparations for lunch. So, they sat in the shade with cans of soda, crackers, and other vending machine fare. Vincent took a moment to check on Catherine, whose mind was fully occupied, focused, a little perplexed even, but not anxious. With a sigh, he realized she was working. He would have preferred her to be relaxing on their mini-vacation. She was relentless when she got behind a cause, even lost ones as he had once been. He was thankful for this part of her personality. And, it was just as well, because Vincent wasnít sure how much longer they would be away from the cabin.
They rolled the bikes outside onto a long, straight, strip of pavement. Vincent thought it was an oddly placed road, because it was in the middle of a field and didnít seem to lead anywhere in particular. However odd, it was perfectly suited for driving lessons.
Over the course of a few more hours Vincent made numerous attempts at starting, stopping, and switching gears. Devin marveled at how quickly Vincent mastered controlling the vehicle, "It took me nearly a week to get the hang of it!"
"It comes so easily. Iím not sure if this machine was built for me or I for it. Science was never my best subject, but the physics seem to have been preprogrammed into my beingóa new creation of man and steel."
There had once been a time when a comment of this nature would have made anyone in the tunnels wince. Some things were just not brought up in polite conversation around Vincent, namely the issue of his humanity. But, now, much to his delight, Devinís only reaction was to smile and nod. There was no longer any question.
"Know what you mean. For once." It was true. The experiences of their lives were lines that danced and twisted around each other, but rarely intersected. And, while their brotherly love conquered much, it rarely produced common ground on which they could stand together.
"So, you think youíre ready?"
"Solo ride on the open road. Iíll be right behind you, in case anything goes wrong. Oh, and before I forget." He showed Vincent how to open and close the tinted visor with one hand, "When the traffic is light you should be able to keep this up. That way you wonít miss a thing. When you pass a car, just flip it down and no one will be able to tell you from Adam."
Vincent could only smile and shake his head in appreciative disbelief. As they started the engines and sped off on the road, Vincentís hands vibrated with the pulsation of life, adventure, and freedom.
Catherine and Sparks had found a new favorite spot: a lounge chair on the back patio. There, soaked in afternoon sunlight, Catherine turned a page in the book she had abandoned in the morning while Sparks contentedly dozed with his head in her lap. Sometime after lunch she had finished her work and carefully secreted it away, hoping Vincent would never be the wiser. In the distance she could hear the muted roar of an engine, two engines actually, confirming her suspicions from earlier in the day. She shook her head and slapped the page of her book, but her lips curled upwards of their own accord. Minutes later she heard boots behind her. Without looking up from the page she murmured, "Iím going to kill Devin."
"And why is that?" Vincent asked chuckling.
"He taught you to ride didnít he?" The snappish words died on her lips as she whipped around to face him. Vincent followed her eyes as they slowly ran up and down his body. The protesting tension that racked her frame melted away as her eyes smoldered with unexpected ardor. With insight like that, he couldnít help himself. Shifting his weight slightly to one foot, he intentionally set off the perfect cut of his new clothes.
Catherineís breath was audibly caught in her throat as she took it all in: the form-fitting jeans, the boots, and the jacket which highlighted the strength of his shoulders. "Wow," she whispered. In an instant, Vincent had moved to kneel at her side, his breath softly landing on her cheeks. She blinked as her senses slowly came back.
"I wish you could have been there, Catherine," he said, taking hold of her hand.
"In a small way, Vincent, I was. I could hardly concentrate. I had goosebumps. So, I knew Devin was up to something. At first I thought something had happened, but then I felt warmth and sheer exhilaration, and I understood. So, how was it? " she was as eager to hear the answer as he was to give it.
"It was like nothing I ever imagined or dreamed."
Catherine smiled and silently blessed Devin. He was proving to be a great ally in the daily battle she fought to open the world to Vincent. She desperately needed a man like him on her team. Father, though he was losing his stricter reservations, was yet a worthy competitor.
"Whoa! ĎScuse me kidsódidnít mean to interrupt," cried Devin. "I was just looking for Sparks."
"We were only holding hands," Vincent explained.
"The dog, Vincent," he shook his head and went back inside.
Vincent took a few minutes to describe the events of the day. Catherine winked at him and gave his furred hand a squeeze. "Iím going to go give Devin a piece of my mind." She kissed his cheek and jumped up. Sparks nuzzled Vincentís arm.
Inside, Catherine found Devin examining some odd-looking papers, probably some tunnel maps he had absconded with during his last visit. Had he not started at the sound of her footsteps, she would have thought nothing more about it. However, her curiosity was piqued as he hurriedly began to roll up the charts.
"Whachya doing, Dev?" she said playfully, grabbing his shoulders and trying to peek.
"Hmm? Oh, nothing," he answered coolly. Too coolly, Catherine thought.
"Okay then, keep your secrets. I wanted to thank you for what you did for Vincent today. I know it meant the world to himóliterally."
He sniffed in response, lips curled into a humble smile.
"But, it also means a lot to me, too. Youíre the only other person I know brave enough to dream for Vincent."
"Weíre fighters, Catherineóyou and I." She nodded. "We fight for who we love."
"Absolutely." She put her arms around his shoulders and said, "Well, I for one, am glad to have a man like you in our corner."
"Hey, thereís no beating what youíve given him."
"Donít sell yourself short."
"Oh, Iím not. I still have my ace in the hole." He walked away, hands in pockets, with a mysterious smirk, eyebrows high. "Oh, and Catherine, tell Vincent to gas up his bike," he added casually as he tossed her a set of keys.
The sun dropped and filled the earth with the distilled glow and heat of late afternoon as Vincent and Catherine rode down the driveway. In the beginning, she had been apprehensive. Vincent was a new driver after all; and she, not unwillingly, had locked her arms around her husbandís waist. Her cheek fell flush with the hard leather of his jacket. The coolness of the material slowly evaporated as the heat of their bodies rose and fell to warm the sturdy black partition. As the wind rushed around her, she caught the glint of sunlight in Vincentís golden hair. For several minutes she was transfixed by the golden waves, following the strands down his back like a river down a mountain.
Once comfortable with Vincentís aptitude, she allowed her eyelids to close and focused on the abstract. Welling up within her soul was an utterly satisfying contentment. Out in the sunlight with her husband as he took the freedom of exploring her world, what more could she ask for? Catherine was glad for the bond, because at that moment what she was feeling would only be diluted by the expression of words. Her emotions were color and light and sound. Joy ran in high arcs of exuberant white light, containing within itself every other color and sensation. She held him closer, not out of fear, but in the pure rightness of the moment.
Vincent and Catherine soon found themselves on the streets of the neighboring town of Eagle Bay, NY. The quiet calm of the streets filled them as they rode past quaint homes, occasionally waving to children or elderly couples relaxing on lawn furniture. Gradually, the Cape Cods and Victorian homes faded away into structures of commerce and industry. Older buildings made up of grandfatherly field stones were gently crumbling, giving way to the newer shops slathered in cheap vinyl siding. Now, in the heart of even the smallest town, they defied all caution demanding entrance into a world forever closed off to Vincent in the waking sun.
At the far edge of town Vincent passed a humble shack with an antiquated sign in a badly kempt lot that read "Bensonís Iced Dairy Cream". Weeds and grass poked through a third of the pavement. The awning, which slanted dangerously to the right, was supported by several angled logs. Where there was any paint left at all on the wooden paneling, it was peeling or badly chipped. Vincent pulled over and parked the bike. Although he couldnít hear her gasp, "What are you doing?" over the din of the engine, he sensed Catherineís confusion, and he laughed.
A few customers formed a line at the window. Catherine looked sideways at Vincent. Understanding, which then gave way to delight, stretched across the lines of her face like summer ivy on a brick house. Hanging her helmet in the crook of her right elbow, she took his arm with her left and practically skipped to keep up with his long strides.
They waited in line, which thankfully wasnít long. Vincent kept his helmet on, visor down. People glanced surreptitiously at Vincent as they made their way back to their cars or to the splintered park benches at the front of the lot. They were curious; he could feel that, but not enough to be frightened. One woman smirked haughtily; her scornful laugh etched on her face with high brows and pursed lips. Catherine, however, was glowing inside and out and took no notice. She squeezed his arm and laid her head on his shoulder. Her actions validated his presence and the general curiosity of the watchers dissipated.
At the window, the clerk, who wore too much makeup, eyed Vincent with the superior condescension, regardless of actual circumstances, that only beautiful teenage girls can muster. "Next," she said flatly after snapping her gum.
Nerves catching up with him, Vincent stumbled momentarily before ordering, "Two, please." Using his empathic advantage he gauged Catherineís mood and taste, correctly so by her reaction. "One strawberry, one vanilla."
That wasnít so bad, he thought and straightened with pride. Catherine giggled and jumped up and down slightly in her manic giddiness.
The teenager popped her gum and rolled her eyes before squawking out to an unseen in the back, "One strawberry and one vanilla cone for the man in the helmet." She addressed him again, "Thatís two twenty-five, sir."
Vincent had nearly forgotten about the monetary exchanges that were necessary Above. Below, they gave freely or bartered services or supplies. Catherine reached into her pocket for some change, but Vincent stopped her. He found the twenty dollar bill Devin had given him back at the cabin and handed it to the girl in the window.
She offered him a sweet, but insincere smile as she handed back his change. They touched as she placed the coins into his gloved hand. Physical touch, even in its most trivial form, held great meaning for Vincent. But, as he looked at this young girl he saw nothing and felt nothing. Her eyes were dull, glassy, and as lifeless as one of Samanthaís old dolls. They were open drains that allowed her spirit to spill out and evaporate into nothingness. As she handed him the cones Vincent smiled, then remembered the visor that hid his face.
"Thank you very much, miss." He handed a cone to a beaming Catherine.
"Yes, thank you!" she added with enthusiasm. "Vincent, this is wonderful!"
Vincent addressed the clerk again slipping her a dollar, "Apparently, youíve made my wifeís day."
"Thanks," said the young woman with the only pitiful liveliness she could summon. Vincent began to walk away and Catherine followed. She turned and waved to the clerk who stared back quizzically.
"Have a nice day!" Catherine called.
The young girl shook her head and muttered, "Whatever," under her breath as she turned her attention to the next customer. Her eyes remained empty, but whatever opening there had been before had been plugged up.
Vincent guided them towards the very back edge of the property where he had spied a forgotten picnic table surrounded by trees. Nearly 100 yards away from the road, they were barely visible. Nevertheless, Vincent kept his back to the crowd. He pulled off his helmet and shook out his golden hair. Sunlight caught it from in between the trees, reflecting gold sparks like the East River at sunrise. Taking a seat on the weathered bench, he removed his gloves and laid them beside the helmet.
Catherine did not join him. She looked over each shoulder conspicuously. "Donít be afraid," he directed tenderly. "No one will bother us here. Besides, I can hear them coming long before they get close enough to see anything. Sit with me."
She nodded, and willingly, though on guard, obeyed. They ate in silence. Eventually, Catherine relaxed and leaned into her husbandís embrace. "Have I ever told you that you make my dreams come true?" she asked contentedly.
He smiled, enjoying the simple victory that had borne such a precious reward. Today was just one hope out of the countless many they had shared over the years. Everything they had now was once a dream. Long ago, Catherine had shared hers with him from a hospital bed. That night his spirit soared. He had never been anyoneís dream before. In that moment, a world of impossible had suddenly become not only possible but probable and, after a time, tangible. He intended to make all of Catherineís happiest dreams come true as he was able.
In answer to her question, he gently turned her around to face him. He yielded, momentarily, to his desires, the advent of his own dream, and kissed her tenderly. Bodies and hearts quickened, each responding to the pull of the otherís embrace. Love was, bit by bit, filling the gaps of thirty years. With great reluctance, they parted while they still could.
Vincent put on his gloves, stole a final kiss, and finally put on his helmet. Taking Catherineís hand, he led her through the now empty parking lot back to the motorcycle. Before leaving town Vincent put gas in the bike at a local station, his second transaction incognito. He settled back into Catherineís arms and heard her murmur, "I love you," before the engine roared to life.
Back on the highway, Catherine floated on the euphoria of the afternoon. The sun warmed her and the wind cooled her back. The road rose and fell like a gently rolling wave that lulled her to the edge of unconsciousness.
Suddenly, Catherine felt Vincentís body tense. She didnít have time to ask what was wrong before she heard the unmistakable staccato tones of a police car. Vincent directed the bike over to the side of the road and stopped. Catherine beat her fists on Vincentís sides in alarm, "What are you doing? Go, go go!" she shrieked.
He tilted his head back, "I canít outrun himóitís too dangerous."
"Dangerous? What do you think is going to happen when he takes one look at you?"
Facing the greatest fear Father had ever bequeathed him, Vincent surprised himself with the level steadiness of his nerves. Before flipping the visor down, Vincent locked eyes with his beloved. "Know that Iíll always love you, Catherine." With a gloved hand, he caressed her face.
The officer was out of his squad car and walking over to them quickly. Vincent saw playful recognition drain from the officerís face as soon as he noticed Vincentís hair. The officer slowed his approach, wary of encountering such an intimidating form. He kept a hand lightly on his belt by his firearm.
"Afternoon, folks," he greeted coolly. His breath was quick and shallow. "You know why I pulled you over today?" His voice carried the same steady, steel-blue calm of his eyes.
Catherineís pulse raced, keeping pace with her mind which frantically searched for a viable escape. She removed her sunglasses, but not her helmet. Vincentís face remained concealed behind the tinted visor. Hope wasnít lost yet, but it was fading fast. What would she say to Father? How would she face the despair in Mouseís eyes?
Lamely attempting to block the mounting fear in her throat, she replied, "No, officer."
The officer cleared his throat, "You got papers for this thing?" Vincent awkwardly looked at the meters, handles, and patted his pockets. Catherineís eyes closed in fearful despair as she realized Vincent had no clue what he was looking for. He threw up his hands in defeat and shook his head.
"Where did you get the bike?" Without giving them an opportunity to respond he continued, "This is a custom Harley. A buddy of mine built this. You want to explain to me how it came into your possession today?"
Vincentís shoulders lowered a fraction. He exhaled deeply and asked, "Your friend is Devin Wells?"
"Alright," he agreed, but was not convinced. He crossed his arms and shifted his weight. "Everyone in town knows Devinís been restoring a couple of bikes."
Unsure of how much to reveal, Vincent determined to give as muchóand as littleóof the truth as he possibly could. His visor remained down, but he looked into his mirrored reflection in the officerís eyes.
"My wife and I are visiting Devin this weekend. My name is Vincent, Devin is myó"
The officer reacted powerfully to Vincentís words and cut him off, "Vincent from New York? He smiled and stuck out his hand. "Man! Wow, itís great to meet you finally. Devin said you work so hard you never see the light of dayónever mind coming upstate to visit!"
The men shook hands and Catherine breathed deeply. A friend could be persuaded into silence. A large chunk of concern melted away, but not all. Still, her heart warmed to see her husband conquer another hurdle and shake the hand of a stranger.
"Itís a pleasure to meet any friend of Devinís," Vincent spoke with warmth. "Mr.--?"
"Scott, Iím Scott. This must be the famous Catherine?" he said turning his gaze towards her. She nodded, unable to speak for fear of betraying her true emotions. "You know, Devin told me a lot about his little brother. But, I never imagined you were really his bigger brother!"
The radio perched on his shoulder squawked and Scott paused in conversation to report back, "All clear, Nancy." He winked at Catherine. "Sorry, looks like Iíve gotta get back to work here in a minute. It was nice to see you," he tapped Vincentís helmet and laughed, "sort of."
Vincent moved his head back reflexively. A shadow of doubt passed across Scottís face. Catherine held her breath, but let it out again as Scottís attention was pulled to a speeding car driving past. Music blared as three inebriated college students threw empty beer bottles and shouted obscenities at the officer.
"Shoot!" he cried. "These idiots think they can outrun me in their busted Honda Civic are sorely mistaken. Gotta run!" Scott shouted as he ran back to his vehicle. He was out of sight within five seconds.
Catherine threw her arms around Vincent and held him until her pulse slowed. "I think Iíve had enough adventure for the day," she breathed into his back.
Vincent turned to her and lifted his visor. Desperately he wanted to remove his helmet and alleviate her anxiety; however, on an open road it was too risky. Some barriers would always remain. He murmured, "Perhaps itís time to return." She nodded gratefully.
The ride home was bittersweet as Vincent enjoyed the last miles of liberty. The adrenaline in his bloodstream was gradually replaced with peace and certainty. This place, this freedom was something he could return to. Secretly, he wandered into a new dream of impossibilities. He thought of Devinís friend. He thought of slowly building a network of comrades in this community. He dreamed of a place in the world where he and Catherine could go without pretense. The voice of reason in his head, which sounded remarkably like Father, laughed as it had laughed when Vincent first dreamed of building a life with Catherine. But, as she held him tighter with the curve of the road, the voice of truth in his heart laughed back. The voice of reason had been wrong before.