Authors NOTE: Let's just pretend that she went to him in the cave, but they did NOT make love. The unfolding rose and volcano images never satisfied me anyway. Here's how it might have happened instead. My thanks to Neruda and Yeats for their wonderful words. I hope you enjoy it!

TREAD SOFTLY

Jennifer Cox


Vincent decided that it was time. He had felt Catherine's sadness for too long. Life was not worth living if he was not living with her. All his wishes, long denied, were going to come true. He was going to propose. The fears that had kept them apart, kept him from declaring his desire for her, were now so far behind him that he did not consider them anymore. The fears that were once a part of the darkness in his soul, now were more like a distant memory.

He had spent considerable time recovering after he lost himself in the un-human darkness of the cave. Catherine had been there. The sound of her calling out his name in terror had shaken him to the core and awakened his soul out of its dark daze. He had been driven to that point of madness by Paracelcus who claimed that Vincent was born in blood.

Friday night, Catherine heard him leaving the balcony just as she entered her apartment from the front door. She ran to the French doors, calling his name, but he was gone. As she turned back to the bedroom, she saw out of the corner of her eye, the cloth wrapped package on the bench. The cloth was a large piece of slightly faded embroidery and Catherine knew instantly that it had been made by Mary's hand. The design was a beautiful rendering of the Chamber of the Falls. Wrapped inside was a slim volume of poetry. Thinking of the many books and poems he had left for her in the past, she smiled as she headed back into the bedroom, holding the items close to her breast. Sitting on her bed she opened the book to a page that had been book marked with a folded note. Holding her place with her index finger, she read:

Catherine,

Though I will not be able to see you for a time, please know that I am not far away if you need me. Please do not come Below, for you will not find me there. I will reveal more soon, but do not worry, all is well. For now, I will let others say what I cannot.

Be well Catherine,
Vincent

Catherine was perplexed, curious, frustrated and a little worried. Though he said all was well, it was all she could do not to run down to the sub-basement and find him. She tried to feel any fear or pain through the Bond, but she knew she could not feel Vincent's emotions as well as he could hers. Deciding to deal with her curiosity first, she opened to the page in the book he had left.

  Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

She smiled as her eyes misted. He always found the most beautiful works to express things he didn't know how to say. From the time that he first read Great Expectations to her after she was attacked, great poetry and literature had been as much a part of their relationship as a favorite love song for any other couple. Much of the poetry that they shared was English or American. Catherine often thought that it had more to do with the influence of Father's library on Vincent's education more than anything else.

She kicked off her shoes and went to the kitchen to make herself some tea. She sat down at the dining table and pulled out some work she had brought home. She found out very quickly that she couldn't concentrate, her thoughts kept returning to Vincent's mysterious note. Part of what made her want to rush down to the tunnels was the fear that this was another attempt to send her away. Somehow, she knew that was not it. After she brought him back from the cave, he had seemed different. He was loving, more affectionate even, but less communicative. Vincent was always a contemplative soul, but since the illness that quiet seemed to grow exponentially. He would just look at her sometimes, saying nothing, and the silence was so exasperating that she wanted to shake him.

She decided the time had come to break through the force field that Vincent put around himself. She didn't know if he put it up to protect himself or her, but it was time to put it to rest! She wanted to tell him all of the things she had kept locked away in her heart. She had blocked her desire for him from their Bond, not wanting Vincent to be scared away by the intensity of what she felt for him. Now was the time to let him know! Catherine decided it was time to fight fire with fire.

She jumped up and headed for her bookshelves, her mouth set in a determined line. As she scanned the titles she realized that what she was looking for wasn't there.

"It seems as though I owe a visit to Mr.Symth’s," she said aloud.

___________

Late Saturday morning she returned to her apartment, her shopping trip a great success. She had found the poetry book she had been looking for. Saving the other poems to be read later, she copied one for Vincent.

 
  Love Sonnet XI

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.

Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day

I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

I hunger for your sleek laugh,

your hands the color of a savage harvest,

hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,

I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.

I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,

the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,

I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,

and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,

hunting for you, for your hot heart,

like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.

-Pablo Neruda

She included a note at the end.

Vincent,

Shakespeare may have known this feeling too (as you say, he knew everything), but he didn't say it in quite this way. I can think of no better way to tell you how I am feeling and how I long for your return. Come to me soon, I’ll be waiting here.

Forever,
Catherine

She read the note twice before putting it in the envelope. Just a little over- dramatic aren't we, Chandler? she mused, shaking her head; it will certainly get his attention! Catherine sealed the envelope, grabbed her coat and keys and headed out the door and to the drainage tunnel in the park.

Heading in through the secret entrance, she was met by Jeffrey.

"Hi, Catherine!" the young boy said, "If you are looking for Vincent, he's not here."

"I know, Jeffrey" she replied, "but do you know when he will be back?"

"Father said that he will be back for classes on Monday. Do you want me to take you to Father's Library?"

"No thanks, Jeffrey, I am just going to drop something off at Vincent's chamber."

"Okay, bye Catherine." and Jeffrey raced off. It was a chilly February day, but the sun was out and Catherine knew that the Tunnel children liked to spend as many sunny Saturdays in the park as possible.

She made her way to Vincent's chamber. When she reached the entryway she couldn't resist looking around the room before stepping inside. This chamber always made her feel as though Vincent was near, his presence felt on every object she saw. From journals in the bookcase, to the statue of Blind Justice, to the stained glass window behind the bed, everything made Catherine feel his spirit embracing her. She went in and, slipping the envelope from her pocket, she placed it on the bed. As she did, the back of her hand brushed the worn and faded quilts that covered the place where Vincent slept.

She started to think of him, sleeping here, his big body easily filling up the space. She imagined herself lying next him, his arms wrapped around her, making her feel safe and protected. She sighed as he began to kiss her, at first tentatively, then with a hunger. She felt her need, long denied, set ablaze by his touch. All she would ever want was here, his hands wandering over her body, the feel of his unique lips on her mouth, her face, her neck, her . . .

She snapped herself out of her reverie. THAT should get his attention! she thought smugly, as she turned on her heel and left the chamber.

Down in the lower tunnels, Vincent could feel that Catherine was below, but he did not go to her, even when he heard the sentry announce her arrival on the pipes. He sensed through the Bond that she was not in danger, so he returned to the task at hand. Then, he felt it. He knew that Catherine was in his chamber alone, and thinking of him. And oh, the thoughts she was thinking! He felt her desire slamming into him, pounding with a rhythm that his heart starting beating to match. He had never felt such things coming from her before and with an intensity that could only be described as ferocious!

Vincent wanted to run. He wanted to run up to his chamber, take her into his arms and kiss her and never let her go! He did start to run then, only stopping when he realized that the desire for him that he had been feeling from Catherine was over almost as soon as it started. How is that possible? he thought, It is as if she is closing part of the Bond from me.

Then it struck him. She was! He had felt this desire from her before, but never so powerfully and not for some time. The last time that he could remember was after Catherine's father had died. Then she was too deeply in grief for him to talk to her about it. Not that he was ready to then, either. But he was ready now! There was so much still to do! He wanted the timing to be right. There were many decisions they both needed to make once Catherine said "yes".

But what if she says no? he thought suddenly. He started to head back to his chamber, trying to shake the doubt from his mind. He was sure that Catherine had left the tunnels by now and would not see him. What if she says no? his head repeated with every step.

He reached his chamber at last, the doubts still plaguing him. He saw the envelope on the bed and knew it was from Catherine. As he read the note inside, his heart began to hammer in his chest once again. He was amazed by the words he read. She felt this? About him!? It was too unbelievable, yet he knew it was true. And his doubts left him then and there. The time had come to ask her.

He returned to the lower chambers to finish his project before nightfall.

_______

When the city lights replaced the blazing sun, Vincent made his way up to Catherine's balcony. She saw his shadow out of the corner of her eye and rushed to meet him.

"Vincent!" she sighed into his chest as he held her in his arms. "I thought I wouldn't see you for a long time!"

He broke their embrace and turned her face to his. "You thought no such thing, my Catherine, you knew I would come to you tonight after that note."

She blushed sheepishly when she saw the smile on his face.

"Yes, I did." she said simply.

"I have much to tell you and something I wish to show you. Will you come Below?"

"Yes, of course. I have something for you as well, but I’ll bring it with me."

She started to turn away, but he held her chin gently with his fingers. Catherine turned her eyes to meet his and saw his face coming towards hers. Oh God, Catherine thought, it's finally going to happen. His lips met hers in the sweetest, briefest kiss. Before she had a chance to think about what he was doing, it was over.

"I will see you in the basement" he said, his voice even huskier than usual. And he was gone.

Catherine made her fastest time getting to the Tunnel entrance below her building, but somehow Vincent was faster and was there when she arrived.

"How did you do that?" she asked in disbelief.

"With love's light wings did I o’er perch those walls, Catherine." he said with a small smile.

He took her hand and led her to the Chamber of the Falls. To the left of the entrance was a stairway she had not noticed before. It led down to the river below the falls. Vincent led her carefully down, each step slick with water and moss.

"Has this always been here?" she asked.

"Yes," he said, "though we block the entryway most of the time as it is too dangerous for the children to find."

"When did you find it?" she asked.

Vincent laughed. "Devin and I found it when we were children."

The steps wound down in a semicircle to a small path, to the right of which was a chamber. As they stepped inside, Catherine's breath caught. The chamber was set back far enough that there was no danger of the water from the river coming inside, yet the falling water could be heard thundering above them. Inside were candles, lighting the chamber with a warm glow. On the floor of the chamber was a quilt, or more precisely, several quilts. They were all colors, bright and beautiful. Multicolored pillows were strewn about on top of the quilts, waiting for someone to lie upon them. It was an inviting space and Catherine knew that Vincent must have gone to a lot of trouble to set this up for her.

She turned to thank him and he squeezed her hand then let go to remove his boots. He gestured that she should do the same. He held her hand again as they walked on the quilts in their stocking feet.

"Tread softly," he said, "for you tread on my dreams."

As they came toward the center, he turned to her and knelt down on one knee.

"My Catherine," he began "My love for you goes beyond anything that I had ever dreamed existed. The Bond we share is beyond my understanding, but it is a gift for which I am most grateful. We have been through so many things together, both wonderful and tragic. It is the two of us together that makes it worth everything for me. The dangers and the fears I have lived with for so long would be overwhelming if you were not with me, if you did not love me. I know that I have no right to ask this of you, that it will mean sacrifices you may not be willing to make, but I cannot go on as we have before. Catherine, will you be my wife?"

Catherine's tears had started to flow the moment he mentioned his love for her and ran unchecked down her cheeks.

"Vincent," she couldn't get her voice to stop shaking, "You are everything to me . . . my life . . .my dreams . . . and my only love. What other answer could I possibly give you than yes!"

"Oh my Catherine, all my dreams have come true!" He stood up and hugged her to him, their lips meeting in triumphant passion. This was nothing like the last kiss he gave her, this was filled with longing, need and desire long denied. As the kiss deepened to the touching of tongues, Vincent could not believe the sweetness of Catherine's mouth. I never knew, he thought, and if I had known I never would have gone this long.

They made love there beneath the Falls, knowing that this was the first of many times. They had a lifetime of loving ahead of them.

Later, as they lay in the now tangled quilts, Catherine picked up the gift for Vincent that she had brought. He opened it to find a volume of Pablo Neruda’s poems.

"He is the poet in your note, is he not?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Well, you certainly know how to get me to read something new!" he remarked laughing. "I got this chamber done a week sooner after reading that first one!"

"In that case, I have another to read to you." she said, taking the book from his hand.  

I do not love you...
I do not love you as if you were salt rose, or topaz,

or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms

but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;

thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,

risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I do not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

"My Catherine," he said. And taking her into arms, they began again.

Monday morning, Vincent was very late for his classes with the children.
 
 

"He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" by William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939