Vincent stumbled from the gate of the tunnel opening. On the other side stood Catherine, her plaintive “Wait!” echoing in his ears as the door slid shut. Wait he could not. One step. Another. And another still, until walking became thoughtless.
No, no, no, no, no. His mind and heart screamed
in unison. How could he let her go? She, who was his whole life, his
heart, his everything. Gone. His feet plodded onward, a staggered slap
on the tunnel floor. Careening off walls that dared get too close,
vision blurred by tears, he finally reached the falls and collapsed upon
How had everything gone from happiness to
devastation in so short a time? What signs had he missed? What lies,
hissed the darkness, had he told himself to keep from seeing the truth?
What? His head whipped up, head cocked. Not lies.
Never lies. He saw the truth … didn’t he? Doubts whispered into his
mind. You knew this day would come, they whispered. You knew … Not this
soon! his mind screamed. Not today, not now! his heart pleaded.
He leaned back against the cavern wall and
replayed every moment, every sound, and every sight.
Her face as she crumbled in front of
him, bent under the weight of her feelings and fears. Her voice as it
quivered full of tearful emotion. Her heart-piercing words. “What are we
going to do? We have to do something before there’s nothing left for
either of us.” Then, the end, disguised as a doubt. “Vincent, I don’t
think I have the strength to continue.”
His response? “Then it must end.”
The sound of the falls couldn’t drown out his
His head dropped. He stared down, seeing the
hands that fought for her. He remembered the first touch of her with
those hands – when she surprised him with a brief hug at the tunnel
entrance of her building. Startled, he’d barely thought to bring his
hand to her back. He almost missed the chance to feel the heat of her
through the silk of her cape. He held his hand up, turning it this way
and that. This hand had easily spanned her lower back that night,
pointing out how small she was compared to him. How vulnerable she could
be. How much she might need his protection. And protect her he did.
Until in the end, he protected her from himself. He won the battle, and
now he was lost.
Live, Catherine, and love again. Your
happiness is what matters. Know this: I will always protect you until my
Shutting the door on her, on his heart, took his breath away. Would he ever breathe the same again without her?
Numb and unsettled, his mind tried to absorb the
events of this evening, yet his heart rejected them. He leapt up,
breaking into a run, desperate to be again on Catherine’s balcony. That
place that had been a portal between their two worlds; that place where
they had shared the few measured moments they could have together; that
place where they had shyly spoke of ‘us,’ the plural of their hearts as
one and not his singular aloneness. He would say his final goodbye
there. Then he would begin to heal the hole in his heart.
Vincent lay in his bed more from convention than
from sleep. He stared up at the darkness having extinguished all but one
candle, now flickering faintly across the chamber. His first day without
Catherine loomed large. By now, word had leaked via the sentries that
something was wrong. He fully expected a parade of well-meaning friends
offering comfort and support. His stomach clutched at the thought.
Father. Vincent winced. How ever will Father be
able to refrain from saying “I told you so!” even though he admitted how
much he had come to love Catherine himself. Vincent felt the tunnel
walls close in on him, further narrowing the boundaries of his world. He
took a shuddering breath. “How am I meant to go on without you,
Great gulps of air didn’t seem to help the
suffocating closeness. He got up from bed and hastily dressed. He would
not be found here when his friends came to pay condolences.
paced the confines of his chamber.
did he need? Where was he going?
He grabbed the first book his hand found, his
cloak, and strode down the tunnel. Where he was going mattered little.
He just needed to be gone.
As he walked, he thought about visiting
Narcissa. He stopped and contemplated the idea. He loved Narcissa. He
loved her unwavering love and acceptance of him and his ‘special’
skills. He never felt odd in her presence, nor did he find her odd. They
had an understanding and appreciation of each other. But, and yes there
was always a ‘but’ with Narcissa. She would have an enigmatic message
for him which would likely boil down to his being a fool and that he
should go claim the girl. “How can you explain to her that which you
aren’t convinced of yourself?” his darkness taunted him.
Visiting Narcissa was no longer an
His feet started again and led him deeper below. How far must he walk to forget the pain? The pain he carried with him in his heart. The pain he knew he would never be without because he would always love her. His heart ached, physically ached. How would he endure?
He tried standing straighter, as if his posture
would pull him from his morass. “I must, for to do otherwise would be a
false testament of my love for her.”
Vincent swallowed and found such a lump of regret
in his throat that he nearly choked. His love. He had never told her.
Never spoke the word. Oh, he talked around it and read her romantic
poetry and stories. But the word had eluded his voice. He thought he had
time. When he was sure. Sure of her love and she of her sacrifice. Then
he could free that word that had changed him from the moment he picked
her up in the park. Now, some other man would have that moment when he
looked into her eyes and spoke to her heart. Some other man would see
her happy, would hear her disappointments, would ease her mind of her
troubles. He sat where he was. The full import of his thoughts hit him.
Some other man.
Tears ran down his
face. He cried. He couldn’t seem to stop the flow of tears now that it
had started. Why try? He let the tears fall, rolling down his cheeks,
then plopping like little raindrops onto his vest. Finally, he wiped his
eyes with the back of his hand. Still heartsick, he now could add
thirsty to his troubles. He broke a cardinal rule of Below when he left
without bringing water with him. He hadn’t been paying any attention to
where he was so he wasn’t sure how near a water supply might be.
good. That gave him something to do
to get his mind off Catherine.
No, it gave him something to do as he thought
He trod on until he finally came to a place
that he recognized and knew that water would be available a short
Feeling a mixture of relief and
chagrin, he walked on.
What was she doing now? He had clamped down
on the Bond when he turned away from her at the gate. He couldn’t bear
to feel her pain on top of his own. The combined pain would be
overwhelming. He knew he must keep it closed for his own sanity and for
If she were ever in danger, that
heightened emotion would be enough to alert him. But anything else he
would not allow through. It would be an invasion of her personal life to
which he was no longer entitled to be a part.
He reached the water at
the way station and drank until sated, cooling his throat. He stared
down at the cup, now empty. Like his life. He lifted his head, closed
his eyes, and scolded his thoughts.
must quit thinking about her! You must live your life as you did before!
You must go on! He sighed heavily,
He remembered the book
in his pocket and decided to read a bit. Perhaps reading would pass the
time faster than woolgathering. He brought the torch from its stanchion
and stuck in in the ground. He sat down on the floor and pulled out the
His eyes closed in supplication.
the books in my chamber, I had to grab that one?
Those first ten days replayed in his mind. He felt anew the joy he
experienced as they came to know each other. He felt the wonderment of
the beginnings of the Bond forming, amazed and astounded that such a
thing could happen to him. He heard his voice, grown hoarser from his
constant reading to her, yet vowing to read to her until she was well
again. He felt most profoundly the possibilities that he had kept buried
for so long set free at last. Such hope was born during those ten days.
The book fell from his hand as he leaned back
against the wall. He stared, un-seeing; he sat for so long in such
stillness that one might mistake him for dead. Dead inside was what he
His gaze broke and he glanced at the book on the
dusty tunnel floor. He couldn’t read this book. Probably never would
again. He rose up, put the torch back, and started to head back the way
he came when he suddenly stopped. He retraced his steps and retrieved
the book, dusting it against his pants. He might not ever read it again,
but he wasn’t ready to part with it … yet.
Whirling around, he resumed his trek back. Perhaps by the time he reached his chamber, he would have successfully lived his first day without Catherine.
The early morning hours found Vincent back at the
falls. He stared blankly at the water. Resignation hung around him, far
heavier than his cloak. He shook the ivory rose from its pouch and
cradled it in the palm of his hand. What wonders she had given him! He
stumbled to put into words what her love had given him. There were no
words; there were too many. He couldn’t do it justice. But he would
never forget. He could take solace in the thought that he loved well
enough to set her free to find her happiness.
He stared at the rose. He became transfixed by
it, sitting in stillness until, suddenly, he startled. Through the Bond
came a feeling of elation, a surge of loving thoughts so strong he was
nearly knocked over. She was coming home! Home to him! Vincent scrambled
to his feet and raced to the park culvert. Joy and elation surged
through him. ‘She’s coming back!’ His footsteps beat out the mantra than
ran through his heart. He cleared the entrance and skidded to a stop.
She flung herself at him as he braced himself for
her impact. “Oh, forgive me…forgive me for doubting! What we have is all
that matters. It’s worth everything!”
He held her tight, and
then they pulled away and stared at each other. Did they kiss? Vincent
would swear it happened, yet neither of them moved. But they kissed,
they did. She did not pull back or resist. She kissed him, as he
imagined a man and a woman would kiss. As he dreamed
“You felt it, too!”
Feel it? Their kiss? Her love? His heart reborn?
His world had shifted on its axis. Her eyes shone with a gladness he
could not mistake, but he had to ask.
“What brought you back?”
“I realized that there are many paths to love,
Vincent, and ours is just one. It needn’t be like any other. It can be
what it is. As long as we’re together, walking that same path, is all
that matters.” Nestled in his embrace, her heat beat in rhythm with his.
“Catherine, I … we are …” He tried, but could
only stammer, his heart too full of love to speak.
“Just say what’s in your heart, Vincent.”
Her hand lovingly
cupped his cheek. Her touch was healing, freeing his words. “You
my heart, Catherine. Never doubt that.”
“And you are mine, Vincent. I know our way
forward will be slow, must be cautious. But promise me,” she whispered,
taking both his hands into hers. “Promise me that we can share whatever
concerns we have, whatever questions we wish to ask. Promise me that we
are in this together.” She pressed a kiss to his knuckles, her head
bowed over his hands as if in prayer.
Her lips so soft against his hand brought a flush
to his face. Could he be flying? Meeting the stars he only glimpsed late
at night? How else could he deserve her love, less the heavens deem it
so? He resolved to evermore be worthy of it.
Whatever happened, whatever might come … “I
They stood embraced until the dawn began to
“I must go back.”
“So must I.” She hugged him tightly once more
before starting to turn away. She smiled broadly.“To think how I went
from being absolutely miserable, to happy contentment all in the space
of one night!” She smiled again.
She looked radiant standing there in the hazy
dawn. She looked like a woman in love. His woman. His heart swelled with
“We will never be ordinary, will we, Vincent.”
“I think not,” he replied. He realized at that
moment that ordinary was a word he no longer wished to be.
As he watched her walk back toward her apartment building, he repeated his vow, “I promise, Catherine.”