By Katie A
It was cold here on the Whispering Gallery bridge. Catherine never noticed that before. Well, every other time she had come here, she’d been wearing a jacket, and had Vincent with her. Impossible to be cold when she was with him. At least, she’d always thought so.
They had had yet another frustrating setback in their relationship, all because Vincent was afraid to keep hold of their dream. He was afraid of how much he wanted it. Yet again trying to tell her it wasn’t fair to her, to tie her to himself, to what he perceived as his limited existence. She had pushed back hard this time, tired of trying to make him understand how much she wanted him with words alone. She had pulled him close and kissed him with all the passion she could muster, and though he started to respond, he suddenly put her from himself, and in a colder voice than she had ever heard from him, told her not to do that, that he wouldn’t be forced on this issue. He turned from her then, and she just couldn’t stand it, she had to leave. She clamped down on the bond, and just ran. She was still holding the bond shut, even as she stood here shivering and listening to a man somewhere Above arguing with a child about homework.
Why couldn’t he see her side of things? Why?
Gone! She was gone! Oh, what a fool he had been. That other side of him that he tried to deny kept replaying her kiss, and telling him he was an idiot. Enough! he told himself, I KNOW I was 900 kinds of fool to treat her so coldly.
And now she was gone, fled from him, the bond silent, frightening him horribly on top of his already tumultuous emotions. Where is she? Why is she closing the bond to me? Is she safe? He knew she had not gone Above, no sentries had reported that; she had to be Below somewhere, but WHERE?
She looked so lost standing there, and Mary could tell she was shivering, and possibly trying not to cry. Jacob had been right to send her. He had suspected Vincent and Catherine had a row about something when he saw her storming from Vincent’s chamber. He had sent for her and told her which way Catherine had gone while he gave Vincent a few moments to calm down before going in to see if he could help. Mary smiled to herself. Jacob had come a long way in his opinion of Vincent and Catherine’s relationship. He finally saw how wrong he had been about Catherine. He loved her, too.
“Catherine,” Mary called softly. “Here, Dear, I brought you a shawl. Father said you had headed this way without a jacket.”
Catherine turned her head as Mary stepped close and put the shawl around her shoulders. She saw the love and concern in Mary’s eyes, and it was her undoing. “Oh, Mary,” she said as the tears began in earnest, “why doesn’t he think he deserves to be loved?”
Mary pulled Catherine into a hug, and said, “I don’t know, Dear, but be patient a while longer. He’s had so many years of thinking such a love could never be, he’s no doubt still having difficulty believing it’s real. We can all see how much you two love each other. He’ll come around. Father is going to talk to him.”
Catherine gasped at that and pulled away to look at Mary with horrified eyes.
“No, Dear, don’t worry, Father’s on YOUR side.”
“What, how…?” Catherine stammered.
“Oh, he’s been feeling differently about you for quite some time. He loves you, Dear, we all do; you’re as precious to us as Vincent himself is.”
“Mary, I love all of you so much, too. You’re my family now. I feel like I BELONG here, and that world Above is just somewhere I have to go for my job.”
Meanwhile, back in Vincent’s chamber, Father cautiously approached the entrance. “Vincent?” he called.
Vincent sighed. “Come in, Father,” he called. As well to get the lecture over with, he thought. Besides, maybe Father knew where Catherine was.
Father observed Vincent for a moment, and discerned that he felt sorry for whatever had sent Catherine flying from the room. “I saw Catherine leave your chamber in rather a hurry, Vincent.”
The sigh was evident, even though Vincent didn’t actually sigh. “Yes, Father. We had a disagreement.”
“So I gathered, Son. Are you ready to apologize to her yet?”
The response brought Vincent up short. “Father?” he asked, looking incredulously at his parent.
Father shook his head, chagrinned at himself. “I know, I know, you expected a lecture about how unwise your relationship is, and perhaps her leaving is for the best, but Vincent, I’m tired of fighting the inevitable. You two are meant to be together; the more I see you two interact, the more I realize I was wrong. Catherine is right, Vincent, you won’t hurt her. Even when the Other has been close, you’ve calmed immediately at the touch of Catherine’s hand, sometimes just at the sound of her voice. I saw it over and over again when you were ill.”
Vincent winced at the memory of that time, several months ago, when he had nearly lost the battle to remain a civilized being. Catherine had been with him through it all, taking a leave of absence from her job to stay Below and help care for him. He had regretted that he had caused such an upheaval in her life, but she brushed it aside, saying that caring for him was FAR more important to her than any concern Above. He had been stunned, and sure he shouldn’t get too used to her feeling that way, sure that she would change her mind if she HAD to stay Below. There was also the nightmare of losing her that he had so often during his illness. He must NEVER let that come to pass, never. How could he agree to pursue their dream if it might lead to THAT? To someone taking her and keeping her in order to get his child, his and Catherine’s?
Father knew about the nightmare, and he could tell Vincent was likely thinking of that now. “Vincent, it is NOT likely that anyone will be able to get Catherine away from you if she is carrying your child. I know that young woman well enough to know that she would get herself down here and ask for sanctuary immediately, no matter HOW you felt about it, ESPECIALLY now that she knows about that nightmare of yours. Besides, Vincent, Catherine wants to stay here, to be a part of us. She already is, in so many ways. I love her dearly; so does nearly everyone here."
“Vincent, don’t you let her get away from us!”
There, THAT put a new spin on Vincent’s thoughts, Father could see it in his face.
Vincent was getting ready to speak when, suddenly, his head came up, and he looked toward the passage in the direction Catherine had gone.
“What is it, Vincent?” Father asked. “Is Catherine all right?”
“I don’t know, she had closed the bond when she left here, but I just got an impression of cold, and now there’s a comfort, and a sadness. She’s crying, Father, but someone is with her. And she’s fairly near…” Vincent said.
“Yes, she ran toward the Whispering Gallery, and I sent Mary after her before I came here. I figured you could both use some comfort,” Father said.
“Father,” Vincent said, going to him and putting his hands on his shoulders, “can you possibly know how happy your words today have made me? To know that you no longer believe Catherine and I are being foolish to allow ourselves this love, as if we could avoid it, and to know that you have accepted Catherine as one of us, truly, it warms my heart, it gives me hope.”
“I’m glad, Son, and now, I suggest you go to your lady and see if you can make things right. I’d like to see her back with us before dinner. You KNOW how William gets if you two aren’t here to enjoy a meal he’s worked so hard on…”
“Yes, Father, I will do my best.” Vincent hugged his father, and walked out of his chamber toward where he now knew Catherine was.
Oh, I do hope that young woman is as smart as I think she is. I hope she makes the most of this opportunity, Father thought to himself. Oh, of COURSE she will, Jacob, you ninny, she loves him, and she loves this place, and all of us, too. She’ll stand by him.
Vincent approached the Whispering Gallery bridge with a bit of trepidation. The bond was more open now, but Catherine was still holding tight control of herself, trying not to push him again, most likely. He sighed to himself. At least she was still here Below, and Mary had helped her calm down considerably.
As he collected his thoughts before walking out onto the bridge to make his presence known, a poem was brought to mind, one he hadn’t thought of in years. It was by an African American poet named Langston Hughes, and though short, it fit perfectly the feelings he needed to express to Catherine to let her know he was not rejecting their dream. Catherine was still feeling a chill, emotionally and physically, so this poem fit particularly well.
Vincent stepped out onto the bridge. “Catherine,” he said.
Mary and Catherine turned at the sound of his voice. With a final squeeze of Catherine’s arm, Mary left her, walked toward Vincent, and said with her best motherly look, “Now, you get this straightened out, Vincent. That girl really loves you, and all of us love her, and you, too, so please, work this out.”
“I shall do my best, Mary,” Vincent said, hugging her before letting her pass by. “I love you, too. Thank you.”
Mary smiled approvingly at him, and went on her way.
Catherine stood watching them, and a slight smile touched her lips. Vincent could sense the affection in her for Mary, and surprisingly, after all this, for him.
He came to her, reached out, and took both her hands in his. “Catherine, please, please, forgive me? I was wrong, and it was absolutely vile of me to put you away from myself the way I did. It hurts me to think that I could hurt you that way.”
She looked up into those fathomless blue eyes, her own deep green and reflecting her love for him. “Oh, Vincent,” she said, and dropped his hands to reach her arms around his waist and hug him tight.
He put his arms around her, tucked her head under his chin, and said, “I love you, Catherine; I can’t hide from it anymore. I love you so much, so very much, and I want you, as much as you want me. I want you to stay with me here, in my world. Go Above to work if you must, but please, Catherine, be here with me, be my wife?”
Catherine was stunned. To go from that cold, hard denial to this was almost beyond her ability to grasp. She pulled back and looked him in the eye.
He was serious, and now he was a bit worried. “Catherine?” he asked, sensing her shock, but then he felt her overwhelming joy.
“YES! Yes! A thousand times, YES!! I’ll stay, I’ll be your wife, it’s what I’ve always dreamed of. Oh Vincent, just HOLD me! Tighter!” she said, as she flung herself against him with great fervor.
Vincent smiled, and kissed the top of her head.
“Not that I’m ungrateful, but what prompted this abrupt change of heart, Vincent? Mary said Father was going to speak to you…”
“He did, Catherine, and he told me he had been wrong about us, and about you. He loves you, Catherine, very much, and he told me he believed I would NEVER hurt you, that even when the Other has been close, it appears the Other loves you, too. I know that other part of me does indeed love you, Catherine, and he’s been telling me since you left that I am the world’s prize fool if I let you go.”
Catherine smiled to herself. “I love ALL of you, Vincent, the dark and the light, for both make up the wonderful being that you are. Your Other self is the part of you that keeps those you love safe; of COURSE he loves me, too. I am so happy to know Father believes in us now. I love him, too, you know. He’s very much my father now, especially since my own is gone.”
Vincent hugged her tighter at that, and then he recalled what had crossed his mind moments earlier.
“I have a poem I must share with you, Catherine. It seems to fit my epiphany of this afternoon. I remembered it as I was nearing the chamber entrance here. It’s by Langston Hughes. It’s called ‘Dreams.’
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
“It’s beautiful, Vincent,” Catherine agreed. “ Langston Hughes was one of America’s greatest poets, and a gifted playwright.”
“Yes,” Vincent agreed. “But today, Catherine, I felt that frozen field in your heart, as soon as the bond opened to me again. I was so frightened, Catherine. I knew you were still Below, but I didn’t know if you were safe; I was beginning to panic when Father came in. It occurred to me he might have seen where you went, so I decided to put up with the lecture I was expecting in order to gain information.”
“I am SO sorry I did that to you again, Vincent, after I promised you long ago that I never would.” Especially in light of those nightmares you had of losing me by losing the bond, she said to herself.
“I understand why you did it, Catherine; you were angry, and frustrated, and afraid of hurting me even more with those feelings. I have often done the same to you. In fact, I must confess, I believe you could feel more of the bond if I could get past my subconscious fears about frightening you with my desires, or my moods. In any case, I have decided to hold fast to our dream, Catherine, hence my proposal. I need you, and you need me; keeping apart from one another is not doing either of us any good, and it stands to cost us our dreams.”
Catherine pulled back and looked into his eyes again. “I do love you SO much. I am SO happy to know that you believe in our dream still, and want to live it with me.”
He looked deep into her eyes, so very full of love, and said, “I do indeed, Catherine, for as many years as we are allowed.” He then leaned down and kissed her, really kissed her, as a man would kiss the woman he is to marry.
As they separated after that kiss, he said, “I hate to break this beautiful mood, Catherine, but William will be expecting us for dinner…”
“Oh, yes. He’s making pot roast, just for me, because I like his pot roast so much, and he knew I’d be down today. We must NOT disappoint William!”
“Perhaps, if you agree, we could announce our news at dinner?”
“I most definitely agree! I want to share our joy with our family. Something tells me they will all be VERY happy to hear it.”
“I believe you are right about that, Catherine.”
So, off to the dining chamber they went, and Vincent had a quiet word with William, who got teary- eyed, pulled Vincent into a bear hug that almost bruised his ribs, and said not to say anything until dessert, when he’d decorate a special little cake he’d already made for Vincent and Catherine to share.
Catherine was with Father and Mary. When Vincent left her at the table, she had gone around to sit next to Father, and surprised him by hugging him fiercely and saying, “I love you, Father. I love you so much! Thank you.”
“Why, my Dear, of course you are welcome. I take it Vincent made his apologies, and you have accepted?” Father said.
Catherine beamed at him and Mary. “Yes, and I accepted even more than that, but I’ll wait until Vincent is here. We both agreed William should know so he won’t miss the announcement, but we wanted to tell you next.”
Father’s smile was bright, and tears were in his eyes. “Oh, my dear girl, I hope your news is what I think it is!”
“Me, too.“ said Mary, with a smile.
When Vincent joined them and explained that William wanted them to wait until after the meal itself to make their announcement, he took in the joyfully expectant looks on Mary and Father’s faces and said, “As you may have surmised, I finally came to my senses and asked Catherine to marry me, and she very graciously accepted.”
Mary hugged him, and Father hugged Catherine again. “At last, I’ll have a daughter!” he said.
“And maybe we’ll have a chance for some grandchildren around here,” Mary added.
Of the beginning.
Dreams, By Langston Hughes, From the Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Vintage Books, New York, 1994