The Other Man

 

by ChicagoTunnelKid

 

 

Catherine trudged wearily along the tunnel path, her feet more leaden with every step. She fixated her mind on a hot shower. It would hopefully refresh her enough to go see Joe this evening before collapsing. She needed to show him the courtesy of a face-to-face visit after all she’d put him through on short notice.

 

Catherine wanted to say the worst was over now, but one look at Father dispelled that thought. He explained Vincent’s last recovery from a similar bout, and it sounded long and arduous. But at least, he lived.

 

Father admired her courage, going into the cavern that held the roaring Vincent, when all his knowledge cautioned against it. And he was astounded when he finally braved the deed himself to find Vincent unconscious and lying on the ground with his head in Catherine’s lap.

 

After getting Vincent into his chamber and under his care, Catherine stayed. She wouldn’t leave until Vincent awakened. Father knew from experience that could take a while, and it did. His mind on awakening was scattered. Father could see Catherine’s crestfallen look, fearing Vincent would not recall her. But Vincent did not stay awake long.

 

So here she was, taking some time to attend to her own errands so she could be back before he woke again. The elevator seemed to take forever. Finally, her floor came. She managed to get in, strip off her clothes as she walked to the bathroom, and got her shower. She stayed under the spray just soaking in the heat, and camouflaging her tears.

 

She came so close to losing him. And what had happened, how would she ever be able to explain that to him so that he would rejoice in it rather than using it to once more solidify his thought that he wasn’t what she needed?

 

She shut off the faucet, towel dried her hair and body, got out clean clothes, and ran a comb through her damp hair. She headed back out before her bed seduced her into staying.

 

 

The light was still on in Joe’s office at 7:30, as she knew it would be. No one else stayed this late. She moved quietly, no energy to walk any other way. She stood in his doorway at least a minute before he sensed her.

 

He looked up, said not a word, but got up, walked over to her, and gathered her into his arms. She sobbed.

 

They stood together while Catherine cried out her tension and fear. Finally, she sniffed and pulled back. Joe offered his handkerchief and she gladly accepted.

 

“Your friend – is he okay? He studied her face as he asked.

 

She nodded. “He’s alive. He came to for a bit, and is sleeping again. I took advantage to clean up and come tell you I won’t be in for a while.”

 

She looked up at her friend and her boss. She knew he gave her more slack than any other employee, but everyone would agree that Catherine got more accomplished than any three employees combined, so the favoritism didn’t sting.

 

“I’m sorry, Joe. But I wouldn’t ask if he didn’t need me,” she swallowed, “and if I didn’t need him.”

 

He pulled her into his arms again. “I know, Radcliffe, I know. He’s some lucky guy, having you in his corner.” He closed his eyes briefly, imagining what that would feel like if he were on the receiving end. “Take the time you need. I know that you’ll work twice as hard when you get back. And I’m not worried about the work. I’m worried about you.”

 

He held her out from him. “You look exhausted.”

 

She nodded.

 

He grabbed his suit coat from the back of the chair, wrapped his arm around her shoulders and led her out of his office.

 

Come on, I’m taking you home.”

 

“Joe, I can ...  “ One look at Joe, and her utter exhaustion, told her to shut up and accept his gallantry. It would be nice, if only a few minutes, if someone took care of her.

 

Joe hailed the cab, got her in, climbed in after, and gave the cabbie her address. He settled her against his side, and she relaxed into the warmth and comfort. This was Joe. Bluster when bluster was called for, but in the end, a better friend couldn’t be found.

 

She never could remember the rest. Somehow, he got her up to her apartment, into her bed, and her shoes off. Thirty-six hours later, she woke up, feeling much more alive. Puzzled at being in her clothes, she got up and went into her kitchen to make coffee. She found the pot ready to go, and a note lying beside it:

 

I know you can’t live without the stuff, and the sooner the better, so I shaved off a few seconds for you!

 

Take care of yourself, kiddo. I’ll see you when I see you. Good luck with your friend.

 

Joe

 

She smiled. One day, she thought. One day, Vincent, you are going to meet the other man in my life.