Claire de Lune
They sat in the concert tunnel below the park, she leaning against his shoulder, his arm around her, his mouth nuzzling her hair intermittently. Together they sat, in utter bliss, their gentle love for one another surrounding them, seemingly carried on the air along with the notes of the orchestra.
Impressionism dominated tonight’s musical program, and the music was still as romantic now as when it had been written. Lovely pieces by DeBussy and Ravel swirled around them.
As the first light strains of Claire de Lune began, Catherine basked in their gentle beauty. So like the tender love between herself and Vincent they were. She leaned into Vincent, putting her arm around him for a hug. He brushed his lips against the top of her head. She smiled, delighting in their closeness.
The notes grew stronger and more passionate and she tightened her embrace of Vincent in love and longing. The notes danced on and she put her hand on his chest. She leaned back and looked up into his face.
Vincent gazed back at her, touched by her beauty even more than by the music. Her eyes held such love... He lowered his face nearer to hers, inhaling her scent, feeling her breath on his face. He closed his eyes, suddenly captured by the music.
Catherine could not resist his innocent sensuality. She drew nearer, almost touching her face to his, feeling his warmth. She closed her eyes for a moment, Vincent’s breath on her face. On impulse she turned her face slightly to place a gentle kiss on Vincent’s lips. “I love you,” she whispered.
Vincent opened his eyes, love and surprise plainly evident there. He gazed down at Catherine openly, unquestioning, undemanding. She put her hand to his face, her thumb gently stroking his cheek. She kissed him again, more slowly. As she began to pull away she felt him respond, and she returned her lips to his, opening her mouth slightly, to kiss him again. Sweet tender kisses she shared with him, like the music that flowed around them. She stopped finally, pressing her cheek to his, sighing, then pulled away to look at him again.
His eyes were still closed, and he looked enchanting.
He felt enchanted. He was in awe of what had just happened and didn’t want to do anything to break the spell. The music spoke so truly to him of their love. Even more tender notes... he opened his eyes to look upon her. He brought his hand to her face, as she had done moments ago, stroking her cheek with his thumb. He brought his lips near hers, to caress them with his breath, but he could not kiss her, could not be so bold, could not impose his will upon her.
Catherine was again unable to resist him, however, and she kissed him anew, her tongue gently caressing his lips. Vincent put his arms around her and held her close, slowly stroking her back in patterns to match the melody. Catherine gloried in this sensual contact he had initiated. He so rarely reached out to her in any physically intimate way. Part of her wanted to release the floodgates of her passion, but the soft gentle music restrained her, reminding her of the tenderness of their love and of his inexperience, of his doubts and fears. She broke away again, repeating her earlier words, softly, “I love you... Vincent.” The music ended and was met by applause.
Vincent’s eyes remained closed. Surely this moment was about to end. While he kept his eyes closed, he could pretend it would last forever.
The orchestra began a new piece, but Vincent and Catherine barely noticed. Catherine began to worry about Vincent’s lack of response. “Vincent? Are you all right?” she asked gently.
At last he opened his eyes to gaze lovingly at her. He nodded once, slowly, and continued gazing at her. “Catherine...” he finally said. “Your eyes...” Again he gazed lovingly at her, losing himself in her eyes. “...contain such love. The gifts you have given me... I am so blessed to know you, Catherine, to share a part of your life.” Abruptly he gasped, closed his eyes, and turned away. “I do not deserve your love.”
Catherine was dismayed. What new pain had she inadvertently caused? “What makes you say that, Vincent?”
“I am greedy, selfish.” He spoke without looking at her.
“Vincent, you are not greedy or selfish,” she said with conviction. “Why do you say that?”
“You have given me so much, Catherine, and yet I...” He shook his head.
Catherine squeezed his arm, thinking they might be on the verge of breaking a barrier. “Tell me, Vincent.”
He turned to look at her again and then, again, suddenly closed his eyes and looked away, leaning his head forward, shaking his head.
“Tell me. Please.”
He swallowed and there was a long silence which made Catherine think he wouldn’t answer. Finally, he spoke, very quietly. “Catherine.... what you have given me... your presence in my life... has made me whole and alive. I am continually amazed and filled with gratitude that... you wish to share part of yourself with me... but...” He inhaled a breath tinged with pain. “In my selfishness, my greed...” He shook his head again, his face obscured. He continued, very quietly, “I diminish your gifts by wanting more.”
The words touched her very soul. “Vincent, I want more too.” He did not look up, perhaps not understanding her meaning, and she decided to try another approach. “Vincent, I am selfish and greedy.” Vincent raised his head to look at her, shaking his head, but she stilled his indignant protest with a firm hand on his arm. “I know that you must have reasons for... withholding yourself from me, for keeping a certain... distance between us...” She sighed. “And yet... I ache for your touch.”
Vincent stared at her in stunned, disbelieving silence for a few moments. He almost asked, How would you have me touch you, Catherine? But after forming the question in his mind, he immediately realized it was far too provocative a thing to say aloud. Still, her eyes entreated him for a reply. What could he say? Tears began to pool in his eyes, as he thought about the ways in which he could never touch her.
“Catherine...” She reached out to wipe away the tears that had escaped his eyes and trickled down his cheeks, her love and concern for him evident in her eyes. Her action reinforced the intensity of his feelings for her, and he gasped. He gazed at her for several moments more and then looked away, dropping his eyes in resignation, shaking his head.
Catherine squeezed his arm, her own tears falling now as well. She hadn’t meant to hurt him, only to convey the depth of her feelings for him. “Vincent... will you tell me why?”
He turned back to her, discomfited that she would ask such a question. He shook his head slightly. “Catherine...” She looked at him with eyes so full of love, of longing, of utterly ingenuous questioning. How could she not know? “You... and I...” He shook his head again, a small subtle motion. “are different,” he finished, his voice full of emotion. He turned away and looked down again.
A reply came immediately to Catherine’s mind, but she debated for a moment whether to speak the words, finally deciding to indeed do so. “The French have a saying, Vincent.” She paused. “Vive la difference.”
He sighed deeply. How could she use those words in reference to him, words which spoke of the beautiful, complementary differences between men and women, differences they could never explore together? He spoke again, this time without looking up. “I am too different, Catherine.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” she said firmly, and there was a touch of something else in her voice as well, sadness perhaps, or frustration. Vincent turned to look at her again.
Catherine took his face in her hands to keep him from looking away again. “Vincent, I love you. I love you in all the ways a woman loves a man. I rejoice in our differences. And... I want...” She searched his eyes. “... to know you, Vincent. In every sense.”
He brought his hands to hers, removing them from his face. He dropped his eyes, but still faced her, still held her hands in his, fingertips pointing up. “Catherine... I am not a man.”
“I’m not sure I believe that, but whether you are or not, it doesn’t matter. I love you, Vincent, all that you are.”
He shook his head slowly. “It’s only a dream, Catherine.”
“It doesn’t have to be, Vincent,” she said insistently. She moved her hands so that his were within hers. “I’ve dreamed of kissing you, and now that dream has come true.” She entwined her fingers through his. “Other dreams can come true too.”
He looked at their hands, the image a promise of other, more intimate joinings. Her fingers began to caress his palms. He inhaled sharply and closed his fingers over hers to still them. “Catherine, I am touched by your love, by your generosity.... But... you can’t have thought this through. Think about what I am, Catherine.”
“Oh...” she breathed. “Vincent, I’ve thought about it. I’ve dreamed about it, wished for it, prayed for it. I have thought it through, Vincent, all the way, to its natural...” She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “... glorious conclusion.” She gripped his hands tightly.
Vincent was shocked, both by her words and by the depth of her feelings as they reached him through the bond. Still, he was in denial. He shook his head. “Catherine, you cannot mean...” He stopped, unable to give voice to the words. If he was indeed wrong, she would be horrified at the very idea.
“That I want to make love with you?” she finished. He stared at her, his eyes wide. “Frankly, Vincent, that is what I mean.”
“No...” he breathed, closing his eyes.
“Does that mean you don’t want to make love with me?” Catherine asked quietly, afraid to hear his answer, but sure she was better off knowing, even if the answer wasn’t the one she wanted.
Vincent’s eyes flew open. He looked stricken and shook his head yet again. “Catherine... I could ask no greater gift of this life, but...” He sighed raggedly, dropping his head again.
Catherine released his hands, putting one hand on his face to caress his cheek, and then continuing on to rest at the back of his neck. She slid the other hand between his body and his arm to rest on his back. She leaned her head against his shoulder and gently stroked his back for a few moments. Vincent leaned his head against hers, taking short, painful breaths. After a few minutes, when Vincent was breathing more normally, she asked, “Vincent, can you tell me why this is so difficult for you to think about?” She thought she knew at least part of the reason, but without knowing for sure what the reasons were, how could she refute them?
His breathing became pained again, and after a moment he said, “Please, Catherine... don’t.” He sounded as if he were near tears.
She couldn’t hurt him any more tonight by insisting he further discuss something which was so obviously painful. Still, she couldn’t help but feel sad. He had admitted that he wanted her as much as she wanted him. “It’s all right, Vincent. You don’t have to talk about it if you’re not ready. I’m sorry I hurt you.” She wrapped both arms around his middle and held him tight.
Guilt was added to the tumult of emotions Vincent was experiencing. “Please do not apologize, Catherine. You have done nothing wrong. It is I who -”
She interrupted him, pulling back to look at his face, her hands on his shoulders. “I have done something wrong, Vincent. I’ve hurt the person I care most about in the world. I love you. I never want to hurt you. Please forgive me.”
No words could escape Vincent’s constricted throat; he nodded instead. Catherine put her arms around him again. Vincent reciprocated, resting his forehead on her shoulder. He felt vaguely like he’d failed her. They held one another for a long time, each deriving comfort from the embrace, in spite of the awkwardness now between them.
Extended applause told them the concert had ended, and in silent agreement they separated and rose. Vincent offered Catherine his hand, a small gesture of affection, perhaps even a peace offering, which Catherine accepted with a small but warm smile, letting Vincent lead the way.
They walked in silence, and Catherine spent the time thinking about what had happened this night. She regretted hurting him and wondered what she might do to make it up to him. He was such a sensitive soul; why had she pushed him? And the kisses they’d shared, were they a mistake too, she asked herself. The rational part of her said maybe, but the rest of her could not agree. How would they ever arrive at the place in their relationship they both wanted to be? These thoughts spun round and round in Catherine’s head so intently that their journey passed very quickly and without Catherine noticing where they were going.
She was, therefore, quite surprised when she found herself in Vincent’s chamber. She’d been certain that after tonight’s events, Vincent would take her directly home. She couldn’t help but be pleased though.
Vincent had also been walking without paying much attention to their destination. His feelings bounced from incredulity to joy to guilt to passion and back again. His thoughts wandered from the almost-too-good-to-be-true kisses, to Catherine saying she wanted to make love with him, to his own inability to tell her his feelings. And she’d said, ‘I love you.’ Again, and more than once. If he could do nothing more for her tonight, he at very least owed her those words in return. He vowed to himself that he would find it within himself to say those words to her this night.
Vincent was also somewhat surprised, and more than a little chagrined, to find that he had led Catherine to his chamber rather than to her threshold. He turned to apologize to her but stopped when he discovered a warm and expectant smile on her face. Instead, finding no words, he basked for a few moments in her loveliness.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” she said after a few moments. “It means a lot to me.” She dropped her eyes shyly. “If you would bring me here, you can’t be too upset with me.”
Vincent could not bring himself to tell Catherine he had not chosen this destination deliberately, but he easily found words to answer hers. “Catherine, I’m not upset with you at all. As I tried to say before, it is I who should apologize, for my reluctance to share my feelings with you.” He took a breath. “I’m sorry.”
Catherine shook her head. “Vincent, I can tell by the distance you keep between us that you’re uncomfortable with...” She sighed, searching for the right words, and finding only inadequate ones, “certain things. I shouldn’t have tried to make you talk about them. I’m sorry.”
Vincent drew Catherine into his arms and they shared what was a very cleansing hug for both of them, Catherine resting her head against his shoulder, and he placing his head to hers. Now, Vincent told himself, tell her now. He suppressed the urgency of that request, electing instead to enjoy the almost meditative peace of their embrace for a few minutes more, finally moving his hands to her shoulders and stepping back a bit.
“Catherine,” he began, bringing his hand to her face to caress it for a moment. “There are some feelings which I am not reluctant to share with you tonight, feelings I have had since I first knew you and which have grown... far beyond any reasonable expectation. I think you already know these feelings, but it is past time I spoke them aloud to you.” Suddenly he started to feel like he was losing his nerve. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I love you, Catherine.”
Vincent opened his eyes to find sublime joy, through the bond as well as on Catherine’s face. She almost seemed to glow. Vincent wondered if she would say the words again herself. He couldn’t help but know that she loved him, with the bond continually reminding him of her feelings, but it had been a singular joy to hear the words.
Catherine contemplated answering his I love you with her own, and settled on a wordless I love you. She sent her love to Vincent through the bond and stood on tiptoe, drawing his head forward to kiss him.
Vincent was a little surprised, although he told himself immediately that he shouldn’t be. He put his arms around Catherine and returned her kiss, the feel of her lips on his own almost unimaginably pleasurable. Catherine’s kiss grew bolder and she caressed his lips with her tongue, inviting his mouth to open. With a soft sound of desire, Vincent accepted the invitation, and his senses virtually exploded. If the kiss was pleasurable before, it was nothing to what he felt now. She caressed his mouth everywhere with her tongue, enticing his own to meet hers. She moaned, a soft, melodious sound that was a siren’s song to his libido.
This was happening too fast.
He ended the kiss, but continued holding Catherine firmly, trying to settle his out-of-control feelings. Catherine’s breathing was rapid and shallow as she clung to him, and through the bond he perceived wildly sensual emotions. He realized that any lingering doubts he harbored regarding Catherine’s feelings for him were rapidly dissipating, to his astonishment. She’d surprised him several times tonight by the depth of her feelings for him, but even more startling was his own, almost casual, casting aside of his doubts. He definitely had some serious thinking to do. But how to send Catherine away without rejecting her? How to send her away when part of him didn’t want her to leave, never wanted her to leave? He decided to procrastinate for a little while and luxuriate in their embrace.
She’d gone too far with him again, Catherine scolded herself. But after what they’d admitted to one another tonight, how could she go on repressing her profoundly passionate feelings toward him? She said a silent prayer that before long it would be unnecessary. She started to feel calmer and she deliberately tried to take deeper breaths to relax herself further. She realized she still had a tight hold on Vincent, and she relaxed that as well, flattening her palms against him and gently stroking his back. Finally she stepped back from his embrace, Vincent’s hands moving to maintain their contact by traveling along her arms to hold her hands.
The sensuality of that small action made her forget for a moment what she’d been about to say, and she stood dreamily staring at him for a while, before she gathered her wits about her again. Except now she didn’t want to say that she should be getting home. “I love you,” she said instead.
Vincent smiled and squeezed her hands as he said, “I noticed.”
Catherine smiled broadly and blushed slightly. “Sorry if I got a little carried away,” she said demurely.
“You needn’t apologize, Catherine. In fact...” Now it was Vincent’s turn to blush. “Thank you.”
Catherine squeezed Vincent’s hands, almost giddy with happiness. She decided to make a teasing comment of her own. “I don’t suppose you’ll let me spend the night?” But those words didn’t sound quite the way she wanted when spoken aloud, and she hastily added, “In the guest chamber?”
Vincent sighed, all seriousness now. “I don’t think that would be wise.” He dropped his eyes.
Catherine considered those words and was suddenly filled with joy. She sighed. “How wonderful,” she breathed. Vincent looked at her in stunned surprise, and she smiled even more greatly. “It’s just... it sounds like you don’t want me to stay because it would present too great a temptation.” She shrugged, grinning uncontrollably.
Vincent looked at her intently. That was exactly the reason he didn’t want her to stay. While the idea of succumbing to temptation filled him with trepidation, it obviously had quite a different effect on Catherine. Her smile began to fade and he felt her uncertainty through the bond. He squeezed her hands and gave her a small smile of his own, tilting his head to one side. “Catherine, you are incorrigible.”
She smiled mischievously. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“I love everything about you, Catherine. How could I mind?” They shared another smile, looking into one another’s faces for long moments. Vincent squeezed her hands once more, took a deep breath and asked, “May I walk you home, Catherine?”
Catherine sighed and nodded.
The journey to Catherine’s threshold passed as quickly for both of them as did the trip from the concert chamber to Vincent’s, but this time the unhappy swirling of thoughts and feelings was, for both of them, replaced by a joyous swirling of thoughts and feelings. They arrived all too soon at the point of parting.
Catherine sighed, turning to hold and be held by Vincent once again. “It was a lovely evening,” she murmured.
“Mmm,” Vincent murmured in return, his mouth pressed to Catherine’s hair again. Catherine pulled back to look at him expectantly, her arms still around him. Vincent stared at her for a few moments until he realized what she was probably waiting for. He felt abashed in the newness of these experiences, but he would not disappoint her. “Catherine, may I kiss you good night?”
She closed her eyes, sighed and nodded, smiling briefly, then parted her lips slightly. Vincent leaned down to place a brief, warm, tender kiss on her lips. She sighed again. He basked in her pleasure as well as his own. Finally, thinking they might be here all night if one of them didn’t say the words, he said, “Good night, Catherine.”
She sighed again through a dreamy smile and finally opened her eyes. “Good night, Vincent.” She slowly began to back away from him, her hands keeping contact with him as long as possible. Not until she inadvertently backed into a wall did she turn to face the direction she was supposed to be going. She felt lighter than air as she ascended to the world Above, dreamily considering their future together, which now seemed a lot closer than it had only hours before.
Vincent virtually floated back to his chamber and soon found himself, pen in hand, at his table with his journal open. As he sat trying to organize his thoughts, he realized he had felt this way before: overcome with joy, astonished by life’s vagaries, feeling like his life was only just beginning. He had felt this very way when he had first met Catherine and fallen in love with her. He had written then about how much richer she had made his life. He had dared to dream of a life shared with her.
And now... now, knowing her feelings, her desires... Vincent felt now as he had then: overcome with joy, astonished by life’s twists and turns, feeling that his life was truly just beginning. But now... now Catherine shared his feelings, shared his dreams. They would share a life; somehow it would come to be. Love would find a way.