Invitation to a Dream

Sequel to I Wish I Had a River

Deborah Jedynak

There are two astronomical events during the year signifying seasonal change. A change from dark to light and back again. Each event known as an equinox; and during the equinox the sun spends nearly an equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth, and night and day will be nearly the same length.

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So that no one day eclipses another, and with their gradual population growth during the past several years, the tunnel’s council established a holiday for the community to celebrate the children’s birthdays at each seasonal equinox; in March on the Vernal equinox and in September on the Autumnal equinox.

On Thursday afternoon, Catherine arrived home from the office early as Joe had unchained her from the desk, so off she sprinted before he had a chance to change his mind. She found a handwritten note from Vincent slipped under her door inviting her to attend the unique celebration Below. Checking her wristwatch, and without changing out of her work clothes, she immediately headed for the elevator intent on finding some gift items for the children. Four hours later, just as most of the stores on 5th Avenue were about to close, she was pleased at the variety of extraordinary things she found. Since Christmas loomed only a few months away, there were endless choices, and retailers seemed to display Christmas merchandise earlier every year. She hailed a taxi and with the assistance of her building’s door attendant, she only needed to make one trip to get all the purchases up to her apartment.

Staying up well past midnight, she finally finished wrapping most of the smaller gifts; stationery, rubber-stamps, toiletries, and assorted journals. The larger items, she would leave for Mary and Jamie to wrap, a badminton set for Zack, music stands for each of the 4 young chamber musicians, 2 volumes of music history for Jeffrey, a cheval mirror for Samantha, and a microscope for Eric. She knew Father would not approve of her spending so much money, yet she couldn’t resist. It brought back bittersweet memories of her childhood, when softly fallen snow sang out with joy of the Lord’s impending birth. These cherished Christmases below were rife with the glory of exuberant youth and it tickled her to see how the children’s eyes lit up with gifts from Above. Store bought gifts were a rarity Below. Mary and Elizabeth made several personalized quilted comforters for the youngest children who enjoyed cuddling on cool winter nights in their chambers and they cherished all the homemade gifts presented to them.

****************

Upon waking Friday morning, Catherine lay in bed recovering from her industrious wrapping frenzy and pondering her plan. She remembered she had a vacation day owed to her and she was ready to cash in. Reaching across the bed, she picked up the telephone and proceeded to dial Joe’s office. It was still too early for him to arrive; therefore, it made it easier just to leave a message to let him know that today he would not have the honor of her presence and that she would see him early on Monday morning.

"Joe, it’s Cathy. I’m not coming in today, so those files on my desk….will have to wait until my return on Monday. Don’t be too blue without me titwillow." Snickering to herself, she placed the phone back on its cradle and nestled into her pillow for another cozy hour.

Later that afternoon, Vincent finished the last page of Charlotte’s Web, as William’s message on the pipes beckoning them to dinner caused the children to wildly scurry, gifts in hand, racing out of Vincent’s chamber, heedlessly scrunching over crumpled wrapping paper and frayed ribbon curls strewn about the chamber floor. Catherine stood amused at Vincent’s brooding glare as his eyes followed the children beyond the chamber corridor. With a shrug, he returned the book back to its shelf.

‘What a waste of beautiful paper’, he thought and proceeded to kick around the crinkled, shredded packaging.

This all transpired as earlier, below Catherine’s sub-basement, with the assistance of Kanin and Olivia, the three covertly loaded up a wheelbarrow with the barrage of gifts and toted them to Father’s library. Afterwards, Mary, Father, Mouse and Jamie schemed to make a grand entrance to Vincent’s chamber with the brimming wheelbarrow of offerings for the children. All at once, the joyful squealing began and unrestrained giggling resounded off the chamber walls and down the corridors.

Vincent couldn’t help but smile as he watched the gay innocence of youth and how that thought brought him a twinge of sadness that someday that virtue may be gobbled up by the reality of life, particularly if any of the children chose to make a life above. Samantha was twelve when Catherine first met her, and now four years later, she transformed into a very studious and beautiful young woman. Her vision to become a doctor and follow Father’s example was foremost on her mind, yet she still wasn’t sure which medical discipline she would pursue. Vincent anticipated that Samantha might decide to attend college. In that case, her best guide and mentor in the world Above would be Catherine and his worrisome mind could rest assured.

Jeffrey, on the other hand, had a vision of becoming a world famous musician. Accomplished on the violin, cello, harp and piano, his preference leaned toward jazz and blues. No one could understand how Jeffrey came to love that genre and Vincent knew Father wasn’t the influence. He suspected Devin’s love of ragtime may have played a role, or maybe Rollie’s penchant for turning classical pieces into his own interpretation of Americana melodies.

Now in the calm of his chamber, mingled with the faint rumbling of the subway, Vincent’s solemn thoughts dissipated when Catherine sighed. He looked up and saw her wanton expression and his heart felt as if it would leap out of his chest. He was in awe of her wholesome beauty as she leaned against a tapestry on the opposite wall from where he stood. She wore a sea green camisole and cardigan that brought out the color of her eyes. He studied her intently for a moment and his eyes were drawn to the crystal nestled within her alluring cleavage. The way she saw through his thoughts enticed him. He wanted to reach for her, hold her to his breast, inhale her fragrance, and become lost in her arms, in her mind and in her heart.

Catherine, only paces away, felt a pull, a grasp of what was coming her way and she absorbed all that he offered. The chamber air was thick with their mutual desire and their gazes connected, promising "forever".

How long ago was it that Vincent was nearly lifeless upon that cavern floor? In his agony and despair, Catherine literally rescued him from himself, desperately clinging to him, willing him to live. It seemed like ages, although two years prior, their lives collided with surreptitious evil bent on undermining everything they built together both Above and Below. The malevolence dwelled day and night and equal in its ferocity. Since that time, with Paracelsus dead and buried and the emotional wounds healing, Vincent, Catherine and the entire tunnel community felt the dismal weight of both worlds melting away, and hope, like a beacon shone anew from the darkness which had engulfed them all, particularly Vincent and his beloved Catherine. It was during Vincent’s delirious illness that Catherine discovered how fragile he truly was, that her soul was forever bound to his. From that point, their steps ventured along a road less traveled, risks taken no matter what the consequence and their union deliciously and finally consummated in order for their love to endure.

Catherine offered Vincent time during his recovery to reacquaint with her, to allow their bond, their connection, to rebuild and eventually he overcame the obstacles to find his way back to her, both body and soul. When returned to solid ground once again; Catherine initiated the opportunity for their retreat to the Connecticut cabin.

Since that time, their mutual adoration and comfortable familiarity with one another warmed the both of them, and to Catherine’s dismay, their foray into intimacy had not been repeated. Although they had not attempted further discovery of each other’s bodies; not for lack of wanting to try again, but merely because their abstinence was their commitment to intensify their love and strengthen their spiritual bond.

When Vincent heroically captured Catherine from disaster on the shattered ice, their physical union blessed with newfound peace sustained them without frantic measure of time or place. It was their gift from a higher power and they lived calmly, confidently, and their covenant deepened. Their consummation was not the issue; their commitment to one another was a form of consummation by itself.

Surfacing from her thoughts, and in her graceful way, Catherine moved to his chair and curled her legs under her, and folded her hands in her lap. "Tell me what you’re thinking?" she beckoned.

Vincent kneeled before her on the worn, faded Persian rug. "I’m thinking that I’d like a cool glass of milk with some of William’s cookies- what say you to that?"

Catherine offered him a crooked smile, leaned toward him, wrapped one arm about his neck and the other around his waist, feeling the coolness of his leather belt under her touch. His arms came about her shoulders and closing her eyes, she nestled her head in the crook between his chin and neck inhaling his scent and he was home to her senses, a respite from the world Above and all the chaos of their lives disappeared.

"The autumn…always makes me feel a bit melancholy… it has since I was a child". Catherine spoke tentatively into Vincent’s softly worn sleeve.

Softly kneading her shoulders, he felt her body melt into his hands. "Yes, with it’s fading glory" he acknowledged. "I often compare my life with the season’s change, the beckoning of light in the Spring and the recognition of what is to come when the dawn fades and the darkness engulfs me and the trees stand bare."

"Do you feel bare now?" she inquired, softly, mindlessly stroking his golden mane, drawn into his sensuous imagery.

"With you Catherine, I feel as if the autumn breeze blows through me as you are the light within my soul". He tilted his head to peer down at her resting comfortably in the crook of his neck, his heart wrapped around her, and he silently rejoiced in their dream. He remained amazed every day that they could go on as they have without the impatient urgency to love one another with rare abandon as they did many months ago, the journey to salve their hunger truly sated by their spiritual eminence.

Gazing into her green depths, with widening smile he spoke, "Now, getting back to my original plan before I was so pleasantly interrupted…cookies, milk…sound familiar?"

"Yes, yes, Vincent, let’s go on then!" He helped her off the chair and they strolled slowly to the kitchen discussing which of the children would be next to leave the tunnels and how they would arrange for their guidance Above.

Their conversation halted as the echoing clatter of utensils became evident when they entered the kitchen, indicating William was in high gear preparing dinner. The aroma of freshly baked chicken pot pies swirled around Catherine’s nostrils, drawing her to a large pan holding several pies. She bent to inhale the steam escaping from the vents atop the golden flaky crusts.

"William, these are absolutely gorgeous….tell me, how do you get them so perfect….and do I smell nutmeg?"

"Yes, my dear Catherine." William was pleased that she recognized and appreciated his efforts as he explained the process of how he scattered the proper amount of flour and applied pressure to roll out the circles of puff pastry dough in exact proportion to the pans. Vincent watched Catherine enjoying her curiosity as she made mental notes of William’s instructions. He suspected that one day she would turn out some pot pies when he went Above to visit her.

Vincent approached and gently placed his hand on Catherine’s elbow, "William, perhaps Catherine can soak up your knowledge at another time as we’ve come in search of some cookies and cold milk."

In a booming voice and spatula in hand he uttered, "Ah, yes!….I must get a move on to finish these pies. It’s just as well…you both know where the jar is, help yourselves while I get the next round of pies ready. But…don’t spoil your appetites as dinner will be ready and waiting for you in the dining hall in about ½ an hour. I don’t want you both to miss the celebratory birthday fare"

"Vincent, let’s wait." Catherine suggested as she placed her hand over the jar lid preventing him from his intended feast. He looked at her with such pleading in his eyes, as a child would if a scolding were imminent.

"Well, just one won’t hurt will it?", compromise in her voice. In a split second, the lid was off and a single peanut butter cookie was broken in half for both to share. Vincent proceeded to open the refrigerator while Catherine sought out a large mug for the milk. They quietly shared their cookie and the mug of icy cold milk as both sighed pleasurably. Vincent’s heart blessed the sight of Catherine drinking from the same side of the mug that just touched his lips. This is how he imagined their life could be as they took a last gulp of milk. He reached up to wipe away Catherine’s milk mustache with his thumb and she caught it between her lips, licking away cookie crumbs. Their eyes met and he saw into her, past her, through her and an urge to kiss those moist lips glistening with remnants of milk drove him to gather up her hand as they stole away from sight with William calling out after them.

"Don’t forget… ½ an hour….dinner!" The large bearded man bellowed.

They turned quickly down a dimly lit corridor William used as his makeshift pantry. After much deliberation, Mouse and Kanin designed a plan to build a fully functional pantry in an adjacent chamber to the kitchen. William and the kitchen staff would then be able to manage and rotate the inventory of foodstuffs on a regular basis. It also meant there would be more room for storage of equipment as William had planned to use the space to someday teach basic culinary classes within the tunnel community, particularly to those interested in expanding their knowledge of food preparation by attending culinary school in the world Above.

As Vincent and Catherine quickened their steps through the pantry corridor, Catherine reached out to a rack filled with bright yellow bananas and pulled one from the bunch. Holding one end to her ear, she giggled as she improvised. "Oh hello…., yes Father…. he’s with me…..Oh? You don’t say! Yes, yes, he’s right here." Pushing the banana toward Vincent, she innocently prodded. "It’s for you, it’s Father, and he’s not too happy." Vincent stood before Catherine with a look of innocent astonishment. How Catherine developed such a naughty sense of humor was beyond him. Playing along he took the banana and placed one end on his ear and the other near his mouth.

"Father…, I’m sorry…, I forgot our chess game, it’s just that Catherine has been leading me astray all afternoon and now she has me trapped in William’s pantry, wedged between the bananas and the oranges."

Catherine began to laugh uncontrollably as Vincent proceeded to peel the banana and shove it toward Catherine’s mouth. "Now Father, you’ve said a mouthful!" Vincent joked still pushing the banana toward Catherine, successfully cramming it against her front teeth forcing her to take a bite. Vincent wouldn’t let up until Catherine’s mouth was stuffed full, her speech incoherent.

"Whaaa ime s sit Vncnt?" she tried to get the words out, and at the same time finish chewing and swallowing, banana smeared across her bottom lip.

Vincent dropped the remaining banana at his feet and leaned into her, trapping her against the cool rock wall, pinning her hands behind her. In the faintly lit corridor, Catherine’s gaze locked onto his and she felt the heat from his body pressed against her. There were no words, their breathing suspended. Vincent’s eyes searched Catherine’s face as if he were memorizing her every feature. When he reached her lips, closing his eyes, without hesitation, slowly, sensuously and deliberately, licked across her lower lip savoring the remnants of banana and her own extraordinary flavor.

With a hair’s breadth between them, Catherine’s eyes closed in sheer delight, his hot breath captured hers delivering her to a realm of no return. His grasp loosened and moved over her rounded hips. She reached her arms over his soft vest to his broad shoulders, allowing her fingers to mingle in his glorious tresses under which she clasped her hands around the back of his neck and brought him to her lips again. The sweet pleasure of his mouth bewitched her, a gift given, and taken repeatedly.

As their eyes opened simultaneously, Catherine saw Vincent’s expression change to one of controlled lust, his eyes widened as if from a waking dream. Since Catherine and he became lovers, Vincent found it easier to be himself, free and playful, no longer was it un-characteristic in his own mind. Although they had not made love since their Connecticut visit, his desire for her resounded in his core, the intensity a pleasant and occasionally frustrating distraction.

Sensing this through their connection, she whispered, "Shhhh….Vincent, this is nice" attempting to assuage his concern. Her hands remained clasped around his neck and he stood immobilized. "I wanted this as much as you did…couldn’t you feel it in me?"

In his raspy voice he whispered, "I wasn’t sure which of us wanted it more Catherine." He smiled shyly and Catherine was comforted. She finally released her grasp and relaxed against the wall, moving her hands easily to rest on his chest.

"Vincent, that wasn’t fair you know, I couldn’t speak, you had me full of banana. However, the aftermath was pleasant enough. Did you enjoy it as much as I?" Her question was more to be sure his brief anxiety had disappeared.

"Catherine, I surprised myself…I didn’t know how you would….I mean, I thought…."

Catherine, knowing Vincent was going to have some difficulty with the subject and make it more complicated than it should be, she reassured him. "Vincent, I love that we can relax finally, and my dearest, our bodies will know when the time and place allows us to love one another again. Now, my love, let’s get ready for dinner… is there anything we need to do before we go to the dining hall?"

"Mouse asked that I stop by his chamber, it seems he has some sort of secret project that he wants me to see." I must admit Catherine, Mouse seems to be very enamored of you since you became a part of our world…my world that is".

She liked hearing him say that, and hoped that he would always believe that he is her world, all of it, and Catherine longed for the day when he would declare his love to her again as he did during their Connecticut trip many months before. Vincent was a man of few words and his quiet dignity was often a barrier to words of love. He could profess his love 24 hours a day and she would never tire of it.

Vincent reluctantly released Catherine’s hand as they entered the chamber and saw Mouse hand feeding Arthur chicken. "Father would say that raccoon eats better than the tunnel residents". Vincent jokingly observed.

As Mouse turned toward Vincent’s voice, Arthur took advantage, snatched the entire bowl of food from Mouse’s hands, and sprinted off the worktable.

"Arthur!" Mouse admonished, and shrugged his shoulders. "Arthur thinks like Mouse…takes when no one sees!" He saw that Catherine was right behind Vincent, blushed and smiled his wide grin evidence of how much he revered her.

"Catherine here to see Mouse?"

"As a matter of fact Mouse, we both were curious about this new project of yours", Vincent replied.

Catherine proceeded to wander about the chamber, in awe of the odd inventions Mouse found time to construct. She recognized his special genius buried in that mind of his and smiled at how valuable he would be were he to apply that unique knowledge in the world Above. She feared however, his talent might be prey to those who may use or exploit him. Her thoughts lingered aimlessly as the din of Vincent and Mouse’s conversation allowed her to drift into dreamy memories of the day she literally fell into Mouse’s lair and landed on a pile of cushions.

It was that fateful day she knew wholeheartedly that she loved Vincent with every fiber of her being. He and Father, trapped for several hours in the maze caused Catherine to swallow her pride and reach out to Elliott Burch after every method to free them was unsuccessful. Elliott hesitatingly agreed to help her procure some heavy drilling equipment and explosives. He had no idea what she needed it for, but he could not deny her…he loved her too. It wasn’t until more than two years later when he learned who Vincent was, and meeting him face to face broke his heart because he realized as he got to know Vincent, why Catherine could love no other. He realized, through his friendship with Vincent, that his own visionary genius as a developer should be used for good instead of self-absorbed pursuits.

Vincent made an impressionable imprint on those whose paths he crossed. It was just his way and how he touched the lives of those lucky enough to benefit from knowing him. Catherine felt blessed from the moment she heard his mesmerizing voice even with her eyes shrouded under bandages during those ten days she was healing, cared for by his gentle attention. There was so much she wanted to give him….perhaps….there was a way.

Vincent’s slightest touch on her shoulder brought her back to the present. She turned toward him to see his quizzical expression. "I’ll explain…later", she offered before he even needed to ask. The bond they shared was translucent enough to communicate the briefest conveyance of thought and emotion.

Taking her hand, he led her to a worktable against the chamber wall. Mouse stood with his back to them, then turned slowly and in his hands; he revealed a bronze likeness of both Vincent and Catherine posed nude, facing one another, their hands placed on each other’s faces, their hair windblown as if suspended in time. Catherine gasped at the beauty of it and stood mesmerized by the realistic depiction before her. She had never seen anything so beautifully crafted; it made her throat close up with emotion. Vincent sensing this immediately embraced her hand more securely.

"Oh Mouse, how…what…", was all that Catherine could choke out. The tears began to flow and she turned away, burying her head in Vincent’s sweeping mane, searching for his comfort to shield her from overwhelming joy, of what this mere eighteen-inch statuette meant to her. Collecting herself, she reached and trailed her fingers over the smooth polished surface, over the planes and curves of the lover’s bodies. "Mouse, I am touched more than words could ever express."

"Mouse was inspired by you both", he whispered respectfully. "Spent many nights here in my chamber working on it, with help from Cullen – for you and my best friend, Vincent. And now, finished it….can’t keep it here anymore."

With a questioning look, Catherine looked up into Vincent’s watery gaze "Vincent, I want you to keep this in your chamber so that every time you see it you will believe in possibilities." Catherine offered the statuette to Vincent.

His face revealed all there was to know, that he could only remember how they stood together just like this too long ago at the cabin. He felt his vulnerability rise up, fragile longing and desire stirring his soul.

Catherine saw a blush rising to his cheeks. A sprinkling of reality and fantasy clashed in Vincent’s mind. He scarcely allowed himself to imagine their bodies this close again, yet here it was, in coppery bronze, a perennial truth, a glimpse of what may be again. Seeing it in all its measure, he was inclined to believe that loving Catherine’s body, reveling in her sweet flesh could be more than just a passion of the mind. She illuminated his existence and he was intent to prove that to her in any way he could. He would forego his own convictions. He would obey her beckoning desires…he had no choice…not now, after seeing their images forever caste.

Looking down into her soft green eyes, he spoke. "Catherine, every night in my chamber, my thoughts return to you…of us…those many months ago when we became lovers. When I dream, it is of you. This gift of eternity is one on which I will reflect always.

"Vincent, I understand that you….I..."

"No, Catherine.", Vincent gently cut in. " You don’t know…my world is built around you, and each time you go Above, I envy those who share you when I cannot. This tribute to us will bring us together when we are apart. My dreams are now dimensional, without abstraction."

They stood very still, gazing into each other’s eyes for what seemed like infinity until both realized they were not alone when they heard a throat clear…"uh..humm." Mouse stood nearby, and looking up, Vincent and Catherine saw his half smile and furrowed brow portraying a whimsical expression. They both began to laugh and Mouse’s appearance changed to one of relief as he joined in the laughter.

Thanking Mouse again for their gift, they slipped away and proceeded to Vincent’s chamber before continuing to the dining chamber. They found a home for their gift on the ledge under the stained glass window. The amber backlight reflected off the bronze and cast upon its features, an equinox of light and dark. Pausing a moment, they pondered their likenesses and sighed simultaneously, both chuckling under their breaths.

During the resplendent dinner as Vincent and Catherine lingered over companionable conversation, they never noticed that all eyes were upon them. They never failed to draw the attention of the community in their presence. It was as if they were royalty and those around them were the court.

That evening, Vincent and Catherine strolled to the Chamber of the Falls to walk off their hearty portions of pot pies and dessert. Nary had a word passed between them yet their hearts and minds joined in unspoken conversation.

Vincent spread his cloak across the chamber floor as a light mist from the falls delicately kissed their faces. Vincent sat with one leg outstretched and the other bent at the knee. Catherine turned into his side, curled her legs under her as he wrapped his cloak about her.

"Vincent, later perhaps you could read to me, and if it’s not too distracting for you, I’d like to stay below tonight."

His heart leapt with restrained jubilation as he replied, "Catherine, I would be more than happy to have you stay below, but what about your work tomorrow?"

"Vincent." She smiled. "Don’t you know that tomorrow is Saturday? Actually, I’ll stay until Sunday night. Do you still have my gowns I wore when I last stayed Below?"

"They are in my dresser and I would be happy to help you change into them later."

At his offering, a slight blush rushed to his cheeks. "Catherine, forgive my presumptuous suggestion…you provoke my desires…I didn’t intend to be so…forward."

"Hmmm….well, I started it", she nuzzled his ear beneath his sinuous mane. "You provoke that in me as well Vincent…it is welcomed…and cherished…my beloved man."

His heart pounded in his ears, her calling him her ‘man’ was a dream he never believed would come to fruition. This woman in his arms was a gift from God above and he wanted to shout to the heavens at his fortune for she loved him with every fiber of her being. He knew this now; he knew it when they first made love those many months ago.

Vincent settled himself and leaned back against the rocky ledge, taking Catherine with him.

They nestled together silently side by side; as he began to softly recite…

Youth, like the spring, will soon be gone,
By fleeting time or conqu'ring death;
Your morning sun may set at noon,
And leave you ever in the dark.
Your sparkling eyes and blooming cheeks
Must wither like the blasted rose;
The coffin, earth, and winding sheet
Will soon your active limbs enclose

Catherine pleasantly surprised by this verse, exclaimed. "Vincent, that’s beautiful, and at the same time enigmatic of what’s to come, yet I don’t recognize the text"

He explained the origin. "It’s from an old hymn, Morning Sun, a rustic Americana ode that has endured within a community somewhat like our community here in the tunnels."

"What community is that?" she questioned.

"Catherine, since you will be here this weekend, Sunday afternoon you will bear the honor of hearing and participating in a singing of odes, anthems and praise music which originated in England – and at the same time you will find enlightenment and the answers you seek."

"Vincent, are you sure that I can participate? I don’t want to interfere with something that is a ritual here – and why haven’t I heard of this before?"

"You will not be interfering…as a matter of fact, your voice will be welcome and is required. I cannot tell you more than that, and I suppose the topic never came up, yet you must experience this yourself to understand its impact. This music speaks to the soul and reverberates within the heart. It’s settled then, Sunday in the Great Hall at 1 p.m. William will prepare a veritable feast which is a tradition among the Sacred Harp singers."

"Why are they called the Sacred Harp?" Catherine inquired.

"My dearest Catherine, the Sacred Harp refers to the voice, which God gave all of us."

"Vincent, tell me…"

"What shall tell you?"

"Do you sing?"

"I cannot carry a tune to save my life and fortunately for everyone below, I shall not have anyone try to endure the sound of my singing voice. Dearest Catherine, you have a very lovely voice. You proved that when you sang to Ellie. I was moved to tears that night."

Vincent saw her sad expression at the memory of that turbulent period Below when the outbreak of plague could have ended their fragile world. Catherine was the pillar of strength risking her well-being by coming Below to help the sick and dying. Vincent’s respect for Catherine’s strength magnified as he watched the events unfold. Father also gained a new reverence and appreciation as he observed Catherine ministering to Ellie, with selfless care and devotion.

Just then, Catherine buried her head in his glistening locks releasing a heavy sigh and the burdensome recollections as Vincent comforted her within his healing embrace. Moments passed without an utterance and peace filled their hearts and minds. Time was irrelevant as was every care and thought.

Breaking her reverie, Vincent moved to place his clawed index finger and slightly tipped her chin up and their gazes met. His lips parted as if to speak and before she could react, their lips pressed softly, warmly, together and the tenderness made Catherine want to weep with gratitude, for this man, her beloved haven of resolve, was real and true.

Leaning back, Vincent spoke. "Catherine, the hour is late and perhaps we should get back…you spend endless hours doing for others…your rest is important."

"Yes, you’re right Vincent…and…" her shyness evident in her hesitation.

"What is it, tell me" he gently prodded.

Slowly lifting her eyes to meet his, she whispered. "Can we help each other dress for bed? It wouldn’t be fair for you to help me, and I not return the favor."

"You won’t need to twist my arm to get me to agree Catherine. And then perhaps we can sink into some pillows and read a few chapters before we retire." Vincent wished he had the courage to suggest more than that, yet he didn’t want to presume anything. Catherine’s patience with him brought relief yet at the same time made him anxious. Since their discovery of each other’s bodies at the cabin, their abstinence from further intimacies increased their frustration, yet neither Vincent nor Catherine initiated more than what they believed the other could handle.

Vincent recalled past stolen moments in his chamber alone, his thoughts randomly settled on Catherine’s full supple lips, her golden, shiny hair, and the feel of her firm breasts again his chest and a persistent gradual heat rising from his core, which he would immediately suppress. He knew further fantasies would only serve to foil him and invite insomnia. Catherine was his potion, his elixir of desire and he could not consume her as wished to, therefore, he knew he must put such dreams aside for the time being.

Vincent rose from his recline and offered Catherine his hand. Together, arm in arm; they strolled back to Vincent’s chamber to ready themselves for an evening of poetry, verse or song, whatever the mood inclined.

"Catherine, there is a private bathing chamber which adjoins with my chamber and you are welcome to use it. I’ll use Father’s bathing pool and meet you back in my chamber in about ½ an hour?"

Vincent sensed Catherine’s disappointment, yet her expression did not reveal it. He realized how stupid he must sound, and wanted to revise his offer instantly. What did he fear? They had made love many times during their Connecticut liaison, yet the issue of sex remained a delicate one. Why? He couldn’t begin to answer the question and the mere thought made his head spin. He waited for her reply and was relieved when she answered.

"Vincent, this is silly…we tiptoe around the subject, we know how we feel and there is no shame in that. Let’s just say for now…be at peace with our love, our bodies and our desires and we can live a normal existence without disconcert. Gather our things and we’ll bath together, and languish away in the soothing warmth of the pool."

Catherine paused as she watched Vincent’s thought processes forming before her eyes and not waiting for a response she interrupted his contemplation.

"Shall we Vincent?" She proceeded to walk to the bathing chamber and turned slightly to see if he would follow.

"Catherine…." She turned to face him; the air was thick with their passion and anticipation. "I’ll bring our things, go on ahead and if you’ll be so kind to light the chamber candles, I’ll be along in a few moments-be cautious upon entering the bathing chamber as the entrance has a low ceiling."

Her smile emanated warmth swirling around his heart and Vincent heeded her silent call drawing him. He responded by placing his fingertips against his lips, blowing her a kiss dispatching his own beaming ardor. She grasped the invisible devotion in air and giggled, continuing on to the bathing chamber.

As Vincent entered the bathing chamber, he noticed her pile of clothing atop a wicker basket, yet didn’t see Catherine immediately. She was at the far end of the pool. He could hear her softly humming and glimpsed the water undulating around her reclining form, her head back, her arms outstretched and her toes wriggling above the surface. Their bond gave him strength to move toward her, his psyche drawn instinctively to this woman who embraced his differences and loved him because of them.

Catherine’s eyes were closed as he stood adoring her from afar. Without adieu, in the flickering candlelight he quietly disrobed and placed his clothing atop a basket nearby. He placed Catherine’s gown and slippers on a ledge and his own robe next to it. He laid the towels near the brazier where they would stay warm until needed. In a small-netted pouch, he placed the toiletries nearby as he sat at the edge of the pool a few feet from where Catherine languidly floated.

He was somewhat relieved that she did not stare him down as he undressed, for he wished not to make a spectacle of himself, and he didn’t remind her of her offer to help him undress. She had a knack to see through his very soul and occasionally unnerved him with her perception. He was haunted by disbelief, not of her steadfastness, but of his own doubt. Self-recrimination persisted no matter how much she cherished his beauty. Though she did not fail to remind him of her devotion and commitment to their union, he was still in a quandary about whether Catherine was making the best choice to remain with him. He was ebullient with joy that she could love him and at the same time, his abandonment issues would creep in, swaying his confidence. It was a struggle, yet worth it in view of what he would lose without the fight….his Catherine…and he could not bear to lose her ever.

Silently he immersed himself, slowly, fluidly into the surrounding warmth and felt his muscles respond in kind. Hearing him enter the water, Catherine barely opened her eyes with a fleeting stab of regret that she missed what she longed for the most…watching Vincent disrobe in all his wonderful, gorgeous glory, a feast to her eyes. ‘Oh well’, she pondered, ‘timing is everything’. Yet, she was content to watch him slice through the water; the candlelight refracting his image cast golden fireworks over his backside.

The pool’s water swirled as he dipped beneath the surface and emerged at the other end opposite Catherine. Swiping his golden locks away from his face, he squeezed out the water and felt it trickle down the planes of his chest.

"Vincent", Catherine spoke. "We haven’t had many opportunities this past year to share some quality time together and I wondered, if you would be up to a cruise on Elliot’s yacht next month? The subject came up after the last council meeting when we discussed the endowment for enhancing the music program. I was subdued when Elliott made the offer, yet my stomach was turning somersaults so that I wanted to jump in the air. I can promise you it would be safe and no risk exposing you or us – just think…it’s an invitation to a dream."

Since their last pilgrimage to the cabin, they had not attempted another journey, partially because there was much to do Below, as Vincent was involved in a deep tunnel project which kept him busy for at least four days per week for several months.

Catherine also had commitments with her reassignment managing a group of interns from the local law school. She gave Joe Maxwell an ultimatum during Vincent’s frightening illness – reassign her or she would quit and find employment elsewhere. She didn’t just want to throw her career away, yet she knew that she could no longer jeopardize Vincent’s well being every time she was in trouble, knowing he would come to her aid. The risk was too great and she would no longer bear the burden, so her decision was final and Joe had no choice.

Throughout their working relationship, Joe grew to love Catherine, although she would never know his heart. They developed a true camaraderie. He did not want to disturb that balance so he swallowed his heartbreak and soldiered on. Their mutual respect for one another was genuine and occasionally Catherine felt a piercing guilt for not being able to tell Joe about Vincent or his world, yet this was one of the sacrifices she faced as Vincent once told her.

"Catherine…what are you thinking?" he inquired. His long stride from across the pool brought them face to face. He was pleasantly distracted as he peered down at her firm breasts, buoyant beneath the water’s sheer surface. He felt as though he was in someone else’s body, that this angel before him could not possibly be real. He reached out to stroke her cheek and she closed her eyes relishing his silky touch. "If it’s possible to do such a thing, are you aware of the risks we face?"

Opening her eyes, solemnly she answered, "Vincent, anything is possible, you taught me that. Don’t you see, it’s been too long for us, we can’t waste our lives working and doing constantly for others without making time for each other can we? Please my beloved, if it IS possible, would you be willing to take another leap of faith as you did at the cabin?"

With an endearing tilt and slight dip of his head, his smoldering gaze met hers and Catherine could see his steely resolve trickle away as did the water over his down covered flesh. His blush-tinted claws left her cheek and trailed sensuously down her arm until their fingers joined. Pulling her to him, Catherine floated willingly into his embrace. Flesh upon flesh, intoxication imbued their senses; the dizzying reality of their melded bodies cried out heavenly bliss.

Vincent held Catherine possessively to his breast, cupping his large hand around the back of her head. He leaned in to claim his prize and met her hungry mouth with his own and all sensibilities instantly crumbled. Ravenous tongues intertwined as the roots of their love grew into full bloom. His muscles tensed as she moved her hands to embrace his smooth angular hips drawing him into her body as if he could get any closer without climbing inside her.

Abruptly they separated, passion dampened as distant conversation resonated just outside the chamber. Vincent moved away as Catherine slinked back under the water as not to reveal herself to whomever was about to enter. In their haste to bathe, they forgot to place a lantern at the entrance of the chamber indicating a desire for privacy.

Just then, Mary and Father stopped short when they discovered the pool’s inhabitants. Father’s face revealed his stunned embarrassment and Mary just smiled with secret encouragement. Both did an immediate about face and scooted away so quickly that both Vincent and Catherine laughed aloud.

"Well Catherine, I believe we’ve learned our lesson."

"Yes Vincent?"

"Never go anywhere without our privacy lantern." He replied and smiled.

‘Hmmm....’ she thought to herself. Was this his way to acknowledge or confirm what might have happened had they not been interrupted?

They proceeded to finish their intended bath, swiftly dried themselves and donned their nightclothes. As they casually walked back to Vincent’s chamber Catherine thought that perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that Mary and Father happened upon them just when they did, as neither Vincent nor Catherine had the will to stop what they were about to do. She would have welcomed it if she were sure Vincent was ready to make love again, and a small voice on her shoulder told her he might have reservations. She didn’t want to push him – a man of few words and as methodical as he was, her forbearance grew more precarious with every stolen moment they shared.

Vincent moved gracefully about his chamber lighting several candles and dragged his chair near the bed.

"Catherine…relax here, I’ll only be a moment." He leaned over to fluff up his pillows and neatly folded back the threadbare quilt and wool blanket. "I’ll bring some tea and scones for an evening snack before we retire. Also, the guest chamber is prepared should you tire before we’ve finished reading."

Before he could turn around Catherine was behind him, wrapping both arms around his waist in an earnest embrace. "Vincent, if you don’t mind, I don’t want to think about that guest chamber right now. Let’s enjoy our snack as we read and we’ll play it by ear…hmmmm?"

He reached behind him and placed his hands firmly over her voluptuous hips, turning his head to look over his shoulder, he released a ragged sigh, a testimony of his prolonged unfulfilled desire. Still within her grasp he turned fully about to face her, allowing his hands reverent exploration of the tender roundness of her bottom, enshrouded by the soft nubby fabric of her gown. Squeezing his eyes shut, he privately rejoiced. The glory of the moment made him quiver with arousal, which elicited an unexpected stirring in his very core. Vincent reluctantly disengaged himself from her embrace, his face flushed and Catherine’s gaze burned with desire for him. Wordlessly, he turned, exited the chamber, leaving Catherine standing there with her shawl pulled around her shoulders.

On the return trip from William’s kitchen, he smiled at the thought of Catherine snuggled up against his pillows, with the quilt draped over her legs focused on a book from his collection. At the same time, he felt a pleasant sense of dread of actually taking Elliott up on the offer of loaning his yacht to him and Catherine.

He entered his chamber and laid the tray with delectable morsels and a pot of tea and two cups on his side table. Unfolding a napkin, he proceeded to tuck it under Catherine’s chin just inside the collar of her gown.

"Oh Vincent, you are quite the caretaker aren’t you? I could have you tend to me this way forever."

"My dear Catherine, I am your captive, I thought you already knew that." He joked and sat beside her on the bed. "Please excuse me a moment while I change out of this robe."

She watched intently as he moved across the chamber and pulled a nightshirt and sweatpants from his armoire. "What is it that you are reading there, anything that resonates…recite something?"

"Very well." She knew this was his way to distract her so that she wouldn’t burn a hole into him with her eyes while he dressed. Watching him walk, talk, eat or whatever was a delectable treasure to her, yet she would do what he asked. "Let me find something here."

….He bent nearer; the sentence died unfinished. Margaret’s head turned very stupid, and the inside of it seemed to revolve like the beacon in a lighthouse. He did not kiss her, for the hour was half-past twelve, and the car was passing by the stables of Buckingham Palace….

"Catherine, however did you find Howard’s End? I’ve searched for that book for weeks and had just about given up on ever finding it again."

"It was there behind the armillary", she pointed to a ledge in a remote corner of the chamber. "Under the volume of Sacred Harp music. See Vincent, you also need someone to organize your chamber just as Father does for his library. You are two peas in a pod."

Smiling he said "Yes, I suspect we are" as he motioned for Catherine to move over, he climbed into bed and settled against a mound of pillows. She curled her knees under her and leaned toward him, resting her head against her open palm.

Catherine placed the book between them as they proceeded to indulge in their evening snack and hot piping tea.

Catherine thought now would be a good time to revisit the topic of Elliott’s offer.

"Vincent", have you thought about Elliott’s gesture?", she was fishing, yet didn’t want to be too pushy, but Catherine knew Vincent always seemed to need some prodding now and then.

Unexpectedly, he abruptly replied.

"Yes, let us do it then. We cannot wait for our destiny to come to us, we must go to it." Vincent was mischievously pleased watching surprise light up in Catherine’s gaze of disbelief.

Tossing the book to the side, Catherine gleefully possessed Vincent and gave him the tightest squeeze around his neck that he was practically breathless. Now that she had his blessing, the planning must begin.

That night neither Vincent nor Catherine were able to sleep, as they took turns reciting poetry and verse, recalling childhood memories and playing hang man on some parchment. Catherine stifled her joy that she and her beloved were going on another adventure, thanks to Elliott’s generous offer. Vincent on the other hand felt as though he was granted a reprieve and was finally allowed to break out of his cell. Ever since his journey with Catherine to her Connecticut cabin their involvement had lost its sense of urgency and had settled into a quiet sense of knowledge and abiding love. They had with unspoken compliance not pursued their physical desires as it seemed almost an interruption of the dream had they chosen to consummate once again. What if their dream turned sour?

Neither Vincent nor Catherine wanted to travel down that path, so they chose to keep the subject under layers of desire and anticipation, yet since the cabin they were never closer, never more intimate.

In the early morning light streaming from the stained glass window, Catherine woke to find herself in her beloved’s bed, lying on her left side, her right leg curled around Vincent’s right leg. The unfinished book from last night lay across his chest and his hands folded over the book. He slept more soundly than she had ever seen him sleep. Raising herself up to rest on her left elbow, she silently studied his every line, pore, and hair on his face. She watched his chest move with each breath he took. He was glorious, this creature of wonder and majesty, and he was HERS!

Sensing her from the depths of slumber, Vincent slowly opened his eyes to realize that his lovely Catherine was beside him. Peering up at her tousled morning hair, he offered her a sleepy smile. Tossing the book aside, he reached over and pulled her to him. He didn’t know why, but the morning always brought a heightened sense of arousal and with Catherine here, next to him, his dream of waking with her in his arms was a pleasant reality. He was thankful that the quilt was draped across his mid section, as she would have seen more than his sleepy smile.

"Good morning, my beauty", he whispered as he brushed a stray hair from her eyes. "To what do I owe this welcome surprise my fair lady? I could get used to waking to your shining face each morning, do you know that?"

Catherine enjoyed Vincent’s vulnerability this morning and decided she may want to do this more often. "Yes, my prince. I guess we got so involved in our reading last night, we didn’t even know we fell asleep. Waking this morning to see you in peaceful repose was well worth it." She leaned in for a petal soft kiss squarely on his warm, moist lips and without event, rose reluctantly from the bed. She didn’t want to make a big deal of what she just did, hoping he wouldn’t become skittish or withdraw from her.

Standing beside the bed, gazing down at him from her hazy green depths, not wishing to disrupt the moment, Catherine wondered in hushed tones, "I can’t imagine what time it is, I guess we should see about breakfast?"

As she turned to walk toward the bathing chamber, Vincent mischievously reached over, grasped Catherine’s gown, and tugged her back down onto the bed next to him. Feeling his own heart skip a beat, Catherine’s surprise was evident, yet through their bond, Vincent felt no aversion to his boldness, actually, he sensed her arousal. Nuzzling at her neck, her racing pulse was palpable and her scent drove him to distraction.

Leaning back he drank in her loving gaze, and gently pleaded, "Catherine, let’s linger a while here unless you are positively famished, then we could consider some breakfast." He secretly hoped she would agree. He knew he probably shouldn’t push it, but his manly desires were getting the best of him and he wasn’t sure he wanted to rein them in just yet. He didn’t know why he wasn’t apprehensive about his new found bravado, but there was no justification needed just then. He only wanted to savor the moment with Catherine.

"tap, tap, tap" echoed beyond the chamber entrance and both Vincent and Catherine immediately separated and waited for what was to come. Enter Father with his expression not one of surprise, but of neutrality. Through their bond Vincent sensed a warmth radiating from Catherine, a pleasant encounter was about to ensue, so he just lay back among the pillows and observed the moment.

"Ah, Vincent….Catherine, I’m glad you are awake, I have a proposition for you both and I want you to hear me out. I thought…um….just for the purpose of….well, I think it’s best if we discuss…..the mishap in the bathing chamber"

Catherine rose from the foot of Vincent’s bed and wrapped her arms heartily around Father’s neck, causing him to sway slightly off balance. She caught him and sat him down in Vincent’s chair. Kneeling in front of him, she looked him straight in the eye, as a bullfighter in the ring with his prey.

Her heart thrummed wildly in her chest as she spoke. "Father, Vincent and I are both adults and we need to be able to interact as such. I know you worry about him and I think the time has come for you to trust in his judgment and mine. We love each other deeply and need for you, especially you, to understand how it is for us. Do you think you can do that?"

Vincent stared in awe of Catherine’s diplomacy. She would make an excellent teacher or therapist he noted, but as a lawyer, she’s top notch and he settled on knowing her skills were not wasted here in his own chamber with a man known to be far more stubborn than a mule.

Father leaned over in search for his son’s reaction to this confrontation, and realized he was not to get any help from Vincent. Actually, Vincent bore a half smile, one of triumph and pride.

Rising slowly from the chair, as if defeated on his own battlefield, Father reached for Catherine’s hand and delicately brought it to his lips and placed the most gracious kiss upon her palm. He saw the glistening tears in her eyes as he spoke.

"My dearest Catherine, I knew this time would come and I appreciate that you both respected my feelings on the matter of your relationship. I know I haven’t been the easiest person to live with, what with all my criticisms and doubts, but it warms my heart to see how much you love each other." Winslow was right when he said he believed in it."

Vincent swung his legs off the bed and stood before his Father and as man-to-man, their bond heightened with a knowledge only men could share as he remembered that Father had told him long ago that there is a truth beyond knowledge. Vincent embraced Jacob saying only "Thank you Father".

"Hmmm…yes, well you two, perhaps you can join me later for some tea in my study?" At that moment, Father turned and exited the chamber, his tapping cane becoming fainter until there was silence. For a brief moment, Vincent and Catherine stood apart just staring at the chamber entrance and turning toward each other, Vincent opened his arms and Catherine melted into his embrace, her relieved sigh warming the sleeve of his nightshirt.

Catherine raised her head and looked into Vincent’s calming baby blue eyes, eyes that she wanted to inhale, sink into and float on their clarity.

"Catherine, when will you speak with Elliott about our excursion? I ask because I would need to let the community know when I will be unavailable and also to find a suitable substitute for my classes with the children."

"Well, I can call him when I return above tomorrow afternoon. Is that soon enough my love?" Her smile, the sound of her voice, turned Vincent’s heart inside out. He wanted her so, yet his restraint was the utmost challenge right at this moment as Catherine glowed with the chamber’s morning light streaming through her hair.

"Yes", he whispered as he pulled her to his chest, enrobing her in his embrace, his warmth pressing against her flesh felt like heaven and all its glories had alighted upon his head.

They spent the day in laid-back luxury as Vincent had no pressing duties and could languish away the hours with Catherine at his side. That was until Jamie came seeking Catherine and found Vincent and his lady in Father’s study pondering over an encyclopedia of the history of carousels.

"Well Jamie, what is so urgent that you enter as a dervish in a whirlwind?" Father inquired.

Breathless she replied, "I just…well, I know Catherine is below for the weekend and I was wondering…if…"

Catherine looked up from the large volume of colorful photos and drawings. She stepped down from the gallery and met Jamie at the bottom step. "What is it Jamie, is there a problem?" She asked as she brushed Jamie’s hair out of her eyes.

Jamie looked too shy for comfort and it was obvious she didn’t wish to reveal what was on her mind in front of anyone but Catherine, so she motioned Catherine to the side and whispered in her ear. "Can you help me find something to wear for a date tonight?"

Catherine’s eyebrows raised and her mouth was agape at this. Whispering back in Jamie’s ear, she asked. "Is it anyone I know?"

Jamie reluctantly sighed her reply. "It’s Antonio"

Catherine suspected for some time that Jamie had her sight set on a young man, Antonio, who had come below with his parents after their house burned down and during the re-building, they needed a place to stay. As helpers for many years, Father welcomed Diana and Stefano. with open arms until they could get back on their feet. Antonio Jr attended school Above and was about to finish his education as a Chiropractor. He believed the profession was a noble one and he aspired to help people who could not find relief through traditional Western medicine.

When Catherine first met Antonio, she was taken with his energy and sincerity of heart. He had a gift, a unique sense of the physical organism and she was convinced that he would go far in his endeavor to heal.

Antonio Jr and Jamie first met when they were small children. They maintained a friendship although they rarely saw one another, except for Winterfest celebrations or the yearly birthday festivals at the equinox. Now, an evolution had occurred between them and Jamie’s expression was evidence of such.

"Hmmmm….I see…" said Catherine, knowing too well what that look in Jamie’s eyes meant. "Yes, I will help. I would LOVE to help. Where and when?"

Vincent peered into the darkened corner where Jamie and Catherine were huddled and suspected that his beloved may soon be drawn away. Resigned to sharing Catherine with the community Below, he would relinquish her briefly, albeit, not willingly.

He discovered how right he was as Catherine came back to join him and before she could speak, he smiled his sexiest smile that always touched her heart. "Go now Catherine, help Jamie do whatever it is she needs doing and I’ll meet you later in my chamber. Does that satisfy?"

Reaching out to stroke his furred hand lying upon the large stack of books, she stood speechless, returned his smile, and retreated with Jamie to her chamber.

The hour grew late and just as Vincent was about to retrieve Catherine from Jamie’s charge, Catherine appeared at his chamber entrance, flushed, as if she ran through the tunnels to get there. Her hair askance, her white knit sweater had crept down her shoulder and her creamy freckled skin peeked out from beneath a pink satin strap.

He tilted his head the way he did so often as if trying to comprehend that Catherine was his and no one else’s. He stood near the armoire, not wearing his vest, his shirt untied to the waist. He opened his arms and Catherine floated into his warmth. She nestled her head against his broad chest and welcomed his scent; a scent like none other, comforting, manly and arousing to say the least! Her hair brushed his chin and his arousal was evident once again as he drew her into himself. Vincent knew he shouldn’t test fate, yet here she was, his treasure, his prize, his refuge.

That evening Catherine and Vincent crossed a threshold, softly whispered words of love, feasted hungrily on their bond, elated in their union. They loved; entering each other’s souls and bodies, redeeming one another’s bitter joys. Their glorious, enchanting journey brought them closer than they had ever been before. As the hours passed into Sunday morning, which came too soon for both of them, they awakened in Vincent’s chamber wrapped around each other’s body, naked, without shame, flesh upon flesh, timeworn quilts draped around them and pillows strewn about the bed.

They had tested fate once again, this venture unspoken, unapproved by most, yet their love and commitment was true and this truth brought them to this place of submission. This morning as the subtle sunlight streamed and snaked around the chamber, Vincent and Catherine discovered their dream once again. What made it special was the spontaneous rapture, the absence of ceremony permitting them to relax and meld into the moment.

Somewhere down the distant tunnels, ethereal, abstract voices of various vocal ranges bounced off the cold hard surfaces, and floated into their chamber.

Catherine turned, studying him, still listening to the harmonies filling her with peace. Vincent too was at peace soundly slumbering. Catherine smiled and touched her swollen, suckled lips and internally giggled as a girl fashioning her first party dress in a cheval mirror, awaiting her first love’s kiss. Closing her eyes, she sighed with contentment for nothing could match this bliss, right here, right now. It was truly an invitation to a dream.