© 2002Judy McPherson
Catherine sprayed furniture polish on the cloth and rubbed it in.Tossing the can on the bed, she walked over to the picture on the wall and ran the cloth around the frame.Stepping over to the antique dressing table, she wiped along the top of the mirror.It was on a shopping trip with Nancy a few months ago she had seen it off in the back of a cluttered junk shop.Her slight size had allowed her to get through the intervening boxes, chairs and picture frames to get a better look at it.It seemed to be just what she had been looking for.The bedroom in their brownstone was wood paneled, and simply not suited to her modern-looking bedroom furniture.Besides, with his size, Vincent really needed a larger bed.So she had been searching for “new” furniture.She had finally broken down and ordered an antique look alike in king size, but in deference to the re-use philosophy of the Tunnels, she had been determined to find old furniture that could be refinished.The dressing table had been the last piece.And she had discovered she had a good eye for pieces to be bought cheaply and refinished for use or resale in a Helper’s shop, adding to the community’s accounts.
The bright sunlight slanting through the window reflected on the dust particles floating lazily in the air.Suddenly, a tickle began high in her nose.Before she could raise her hand the sneeze exploded out.Her mouth quirked at the sight of the dust motes dancing away in the air.She glanced upward, “Yes, Sir.I get the message.Dusting should be done more than every six weeks!”
A twinge of guilt pricked at her as she thought about Jacob crawling around on the floor with his truck the night before.After a few minutes the knees of his jeans were dusty and several sneezes were heard from under the end table beside the couch where he had gone after his run away truck.The final straw was when he emerged with his dump truck sporting a load of dust bunnies in the back!Vincent had had tears running down his cheeks as he covered his mouth, trying not to laugh.
Yes, she did need to do a better job of cleaning.Finding a service to do light cleaning wasn’t a problem in this town.Keeping her private life totally private, however, was.Sometimes the interest the society column threw her way caught her by surprise (and the thought of what might slip out and into the papers made her blood run cold).The old Cathy would’ve only considered all the publicity her due; the new Cathy found the attention unwelcome at best.Maybe one of the teens Below, or a Helper, might want some extra spending money?On the rare occasions she and Vincent planned a “date”, she was careful to remunerate their babysitters at a rate not insulting to them or inflammatory to Father.He didn’t want them to get too used to having a lot of money to throw around.Often she made up a basket of personal items; he couldn’t complain about shampoo and body wash…even if it did come from a popular bath shop.
The thought continued to move through her mind as she wiped down the frame of the mirror and moved to the surface.She wiped at the tops of the tubes of lipstick in the organizer them picked it up to wipe under it.Then her hand reached for a heart-shaped glass box.Through the faceted sides she could see a flash of red and her movements froze.Her face softened into a smile.She laid down the cloth and took the lid off the box and looked inside.Her thoughts took flight
She rested her head against Vincent’s shoulder as he snuggled her against his side where they lay in the pile of pillows and quilts.Life was slowly getting back to normal after those horrible weeks in which they all feared for Vincent’s sanity, if he managed to live that long. Better than normal, actually.Before the only way she could have snuggled with him like this would if he had been out cold.Which he had been a time or two.She’d tell him one of these days.She closed her eyes and let the music of the string quintet wash down on her from the park above.She had to agree with him; she felt blessed, too.
Eventually, the concert wound down and the sounds of the audience leaving drifted down to them.Vincent heard her sigh and knew it for the regret it represented as their evening was drawing to a close…she thought.He sat up with her, but when she looked at him, expecting him to rise and help her up, he motioned for her to stay where she was.He reached into the pocket of his vest and pulled out a small bundle wrapped in an old, flowered handkerchief of the type she had seen her grandmother use.Without a word he reached for her hand and turning it palm up placed the parcel in her hand.
Catherine looked into his eyes, but they gave away nothing.She unfolded the cloth to reveal the very light object within.It was a red plastic heart of the sort sold as a novelty at Valentine’s Day.But it was the print on it that caused the catch in her throat:“Fragile: Handle With Care”.Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes as she threw her arms around his neck.
Vincent held her tightly for a moment before pulling back slightly, but he wouldn’t let her leave him completely yet.He leaned down and kissed her softly, then harder, until they were locked in a passionate kiss.Their fates and futures were sealed.
Catherine came back to the present as two strong arms wrapped around her waist and pulled her close.Vincent nuzzled against her neck before whispering in her ear, “What are you thinking, love?”
For an answer, she held up the heart and smiled.“Ah.That explains it,” he said.“You can’t imagine how much courage it took to put that in my pocket.But when it came down to it, I never hesitated in handing it to you.”
“You’ve given me so much, but this means just as much as my expensive jewelry because, well, just because.”Catherine couldn’t put into words what that plastic pin meant to her, but he knew.Sometimes words were unnecessary between them, her emotions winging their way unerringly to his heart.
Vincent began to kiss along her jaw line and down her neck.She tried to protest the interruption in her chore, showing him the dusting cloth.He took care of that by plucking it out of her hand and tossing it over his shoulder.Soon his kisses drove all thoughts of protest out of her mind.
As things were heating up, Vincent was slightly surprised to hear her laugh.Looking up into her face with an inquisitive look in his eyes, he saw a very mischievous grin.
“I think,” she said, running her hands through his hair, “I’ve discovered why I never seem to get the dusting done!”