by Sue Glasgow
PART I "Silken Ties"
Catherine turned at the sound of her name, meeting Vincent's gaze as he reclined on the bed behind her. His voice drew her attention from the open packing crate near the entrance of his chamber, as she sat on the floor pulling sweaters and skirts from the box's depths.
Vincent lay watching her, resting his shoulders against the pillows. Two of the ties at the neck of his shirt were missing, and the resulting gap across his upper chest made Catherine vow never to mend that shirt. His right knee rested on the bedspread with his stockinged foot curled almost beneath him. The other knee was bent and raised, supporting his left hand. Faded denim stretched across his thighs in a manner which Catherine found pleasantly distracting. Vincent was totally unaware of his effect on her, and she refused to give him an opportunity to become self-conscious.
"Mmmmm?" She was not yet ready to risk her voice.
To her regret, he moved out of that captivating pose and swung his feet to the floor, his elbows coming forward and resting on his knees as he leaned toward her.
For an instant she was alarmed by his expression. If he changed his mind now . . . But then she gave a relieved sigh and renewed her smile. There was no denial in that look. There was only uncertainty and the need to be reassured.
She moved to the floor in front of him and nestled between his knees. His face was only inches above hers as she lifted her hand to touch his cheek. "What is it?" she asked. Her fingers traced the furrow between his eyes, and she wondered silently at the softness of the hair on the bridge of his nose. Stroking with both hands, she smoothed the hair with gentle fingertips, gliding up his brows and then downward to his cheekbones, framing his face between her palms.
Closing his eyes, Vincent savored her touch. When her thumbs whispered across his upper lip, he opened his eyes and reached for her hands, bringing them to rest against his chest.
"Catherine." His gaze lowered, refusing to meet hers. "Are you certain? Absolutely certain?"
Pulling her left hand free, Catherine smiled broadly. "Yes, Vincent. We settled this last week. We made our decision, and it is the right one."
She slid her fingers behind his neck, pulling his head lower. With her nose, she nuzzled the soft place between his eyes and murmured happily, " love you."
Unwilling to share his ambivalence, she moved her fingers through his hair seeking the secret which lay hidden beneath his mane. Gently, Catherine drew out the slender braid. Stretching herself upward, she caressed the lovelock against her cheek and sighed. "Hoped this was still there. Was afraid you might have combed it out."
Vincent shook his head slowly. "No. Needed it there, Catherine. Sometimes in the middle of the night, awaken . . . afraid our decision was a dream. Then touch this braid and feel your hands in my hair again . . . and hear your voice telling me that you . . ." He hesitated.
He caught his breath as Catherine placed a gentle kiss on his ear. Tucking the tiny lovelock back into place, she whispered ". . . that it is time for us to share our lives . . . together." She didn't share his hesitancy.
"Yes." His eyes still would not lift to meet hers.
"Yes." She affirmed as she lifted his chin. "There is no other choice for me."
Still sensing his insecurity, she tilted her head, willing him to look into her eyes. "Vincent, you are my life. For me, everything is here, in this place, with you. When I'm anyplace else, I merely exist, waiting until I can come back to you . . . until I can come home."
"Home." He whispered the word, attempting to grasp its full meaning.
"Yes, home." She touched his chest lightly. "My home will always be here, Vincent. Here, in your heart. And now, at your side."
Smiling, she laid her head against him. It was then that she sensed the depth of his tension, and she realized the seriousness of his discomfort. Pulling away, she looked up into his face. "Vincent, everything here is so perfect for us now." She returned her head to his chest, feeling his warmth through the lovely opening in his shirt.
A new disturbing thought came to her, and she again lifted her head to cup his face between her palms. "You are happy that I have moved Below?" she asked.
He rested his hands on her shoulders. "It is what I have always dreamed of."
"Then why do you seem so unsure?" Desperately needing him to share her joy, she stated emphatically, "I believe in us." She kissed his lips and pulled away before he could respond. "I believe we will be happy and in love forever. Why can't you believe that?"
Rubbing her shoulders gently, he shook his head. "I believe you feel that way now. But, Catherine . . ." He spoke with difficulty. "How can you be so certain you will still feel this way as the years pass? Our life here is so different from your life Above." He finally looked into her eyes. "Right now you are so filled with the newness of our dream. It is as if a marvelous fantasy has caught us in its hopes and desires." He paused. "I am afraid one day you will awaken from this fantasy and find that the years have brought disillusionment . . . and you will regret that you have bound yourself to a life of darkness," he whispered, "and to me."
She met his eyes with determination. "There is no darkness, Vincent, when you are with me." The familiar words brought a warmth of recognition to his eyes as she continued to hold his face between her hands, tenderly emphasizing her words. "We talked about this last week. Peter and I have a tremendous amount of work to do establishing the Winslow Shelter. I'll be Above almost every day." She smiled slightly. "And as for being bound to you . . ." She leaned forward and with another kiss she assured him. "Vincent, you and I have been bound from the moment you found me in the park. Neither of us has ever had a choice. I have to be bound to you . . . in the same way I have to breathe air to live." She nuzzled him again. "Your love moves through me, nourishing me, giving me warmth and life. I am bound to you the same way I am bound to my own heart."
"And as for this being a fantasy . . ." She pressed her palm and fingers against the span of his left hand. "This is real and solid . . . and forever." She interlaced her fingers with his. "Vincent, your very existence is a magical mystery, but here you are. And if I can believe in you, I can certainly believe in the magic of our love."
She smiled. "From the beginning you have insisted that you are different. But it's more than that. Vincent, we are different. Other couples worry about losing their love, but our bond sets us apart from all other lovers." After a pause she continued, "You were right. We truly are something that has never been." She pulled his hand to her face and rested her lips against it. "Maybe it is magic, but it is not fantasy."
To her relief, she saw a slight smile play across his eyes. And at that moment, a phrase played through her thoughts. "Fantasy's hot fire."
She didn't realize she had spoken aloud until Vincent responded. "Sir Walter Scott."
"Yes!" Catherine almost jumped to her feet. "Scott. Vincent, where is your copy of "The Lay of the Minstrel's?"
Vincent leaned back to the shelf behind his bed, easily locating the book and allowing Catherine to take it from him. He watched with gentle amusement as she rapidly flipped through the pages.
"I know it's here." She ran her fingers down several pages and finally located the passage she sought. "Here it is. You read it to me months ago, and I loved it then. Now it says everything I'm trying to say." She put the book into Vincent's hands and curled up between his knees with her back against him. "Read it aloud . . . here." She pointed to the verse, then wrapped both her arms around his thigh, resting her head against his leg.
Vincent accepted the book. Her hair tickled his chin and he smoothed it, allowing the fingers of his free hand to continue to play through her hair as his words caressed her.
True love's the gift which God has given
To man alone beneath the heaven:
It is not fantasy's hot fire,
Whose wishes, soon as granted, fly;
It liveth not in fierce desire,
With dead desire it doth not die;
It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie,
Which heart to heart and mind to mind
In body and in soul can bind.
Catherine sat silently while his words confirmed all the truths which Vincent had taught her. But as he read the last three lines something ignited within her. The silent stillness gave way to an eagerness. Abruptly, she released her hold on his leg and turned to face him.
After he read the last of the passage, he stared down at her. The look in her eyes reminded him of a schoolchild who had been challenged by a difficult question and had suddenly stumbled upon the answer which had been so obvious that it had eluded her. Usually he could anticipate her responses, but he was completely unprepared for her next request.
"Vincent, braid my hair."
He closed the book in confusion. "What?"
"Here." She pulled a small lock of her own hair from behind her ear. "Braid this. I want you to make a lovelock just like the one I put in your hair."
Wondering at the irrational pattern of her thoughts, Vincent put the book down and gently took the long lock of honey-brown hair between his fingers. With care, he wove the strands into a braid, and at her insistence he firmly tied the end back upon itself creating a knot so tight that he doubted it could be undone.
"Catherine," he asked when he had finished, "How will you untie it?"
She smiled widely, "I'm not going to untie it . . . and neither are you."
She motioned for him to lead forward. Without a word, she removed the rubber band she had used to fasten the lock she had braided into his hair. Taking the end of the braid, she tied it into a hard knot and gave it a final tug, making certain the knot was permanent. When she was satisfied, she nodded as she said, "Now. You are committed to keep that lovelock . . . just the way you are committed to keep me. And when the braid grows out, I'll tie another one. This is forever. Do you believe me?"
He nodded silently.
She took both of his hands into hers. "Vincent, you said you needed the lovelock there, to help you believe in our decision, to feel me close." Pulling his fingers to the new lock in her hair, she smiled. "I need it, too. When I am Above, or when you must be away, for those times when distance comes between us. Vincent, these little lovelocks will be the link, the silken tie."
She threw herself into his arms, whispering against the warmth of his neck, "The silken tie, which heart to heart . . ."
And Vincent returned her embrace with a great sigh of surrender as his voice joined hers in the blend which had become their destiny.
"Which heart to heart, and mind to mind, in body and in soul can bind."
And the lovelocks fell forward and intertwined as he kissed her.
* * * * * * *
PART II - "Breathless"
"Aloha." Catherine claimed a kiss as she lowered a bright purple lei around Vincent's neck. Patting the flowers into place, she murmured seductively, "Aloha can mean either I love you or good-bye, and this is definitely not good-bye." She grinned as Vincent gave her a slow smile. Lifting his hair from beneath the lei, she kissed him again as she considered abandoning the chore that waited for her.
With a conviction that he didn't feel, Vincent replied, "You promised yourself you would finish unpacking this evening, and this is the last box."
Remembering previous pleasant interruptions, Catherine sighed. "Later?"
"Later." His nod was accompanied with another smile which assured Catherine he was aware of her temptations, and his eyes promised that this postponement was temporary.
Pulling away reluctantly, she rose to her feet.
Vincent had been lounging on his bed watching her as she unpacked girlhood treasures which now lay on the floor in disorganized piles. The discovery of the aging Hawaiian lei had given Catherine the opportunity to take advantage of the island traditions.
Still enjoying the taste of Catherine on his lips, Vincent returned his attention to the floral necklace. Lifting the blossoms for inspection he asked in amusement, "Plastic flowers, Catherine?"
Looking down at him, she loved the way that even plastic could be beautiful when it was tangled in Vincent's hair. Responding to his question, she answered, "I was eight years old when Mom and Dad took me to Hawaii. They bought me that lei . . . and this." She bent down over the box and retrieved a brief grass hula skirt which she held to her wait as she swayed provocatively. "I thought I was quite charming in this."
Vincent sat silently, visualizing the charms of a miniature Catherine in a grass skirt. He watched as she threw the skirt aside and knelt beside the box, reaching for something which had captured her attention. Sitting on her heels, she held the object up for Vincent to see. "It's my babybook."
"A babybook?" Vincent leaned forward with interest.
She nodded. "A new mother has a book where she keeps a record of what her baby says and does, and she keeps special mementoes. See, here's my birth announcement." She handed Vincent the book, and as she did so, a small parchment folder fell from between the pages. Catherine lifted the envelope and drew out a narrow flaxen braid.
"What is it, Catherine?"
"My baby hair." Straightening the lock, she extended it to its full fifteen inches. Mother let my hair grow when I was a baby, and I asked her to cut it when I was five years old." She smiled at him, "I was starting school and I thought I would look more grown up." Handing the lock to Vincent, she continued, "she braided the clippings for a keepsake."
Vincent fingered the hair gently. "It's beautiful. I can imagine your mother braiding it . . . and saying good-bye to your babyhood."
Catherine pushed away a trace of nostalgic loss, refusing to let it dim the joy she was claiming with Vincent.
As Vincent lingered over each page of her book, Catherine wished for a similar insight into his youth. She asked, "What about your babyhood, Vincent? Was Father sentimental about keeping things?"
He shook his head slowly while he tucked the little braid back between the pages. "No, not really. I kept some toys and some favorite books." After a hesitation, he added, "I am certain there is mention of me in his journals." Still fingering through her book, he paused at a page full of baby pictures. "But nothing like this."
Catherine put her hand on his knee. "There are Elizabeth's paintings. Perhaps her walls are your babybook."
Vincent looked up with a smile. "Perhaps." He put the book down.
Pulling the box nearer, Catherine took his hand and motioned for him to join her. "Come down and sit with me?" She fluffed two of his pillows and leaned them against the bed.
His great form slid to the floor, and she rested her shoulder lightly against his side. Catherine reached into the large crate again and removed a smaller box which she put into Vincent's lap.
"Here, see what is in this." She nestled against him, encouraging him to open the box.
Removing the lid, Vincent discovered a collection of scrapbooks, high school yearbooks, aging corsages in cellophane sacks, and school pennants and pom-poms. He removed the items one by one. As Catherine watched, she realized how truly foreign all of these things must be to a being who had spent his youth in a world totally removed from her own.
He was silent, examining her treasures as Catherine explained the day and place when each keepsake had become important enough to deserve preservation. At last, only one item remained in the bottom of the box. It was a faded and frayed length of braided floss tucked carefully into a small plastic bag . . . a mere scrap, seemingly of no value at all.
Vincent turned the bag in his hands and looked inquiringly at her. "Catherine. What is this?"
Her green eyes shining, she opened the sack. "It's a friendship bracelet."
Even more curious, Vincent tilted his head. "It is nothing but a piece of string."
Catherine shrugged, "Now it is . . . but when I was thirteen that was probably my most prized possession." Smiling at Vincent's bewilderment, she explained, "Scott Linton braided it for me."
Moving back through her memories, she fingered the frayed threads. "The summer after seventh grade my best friend and I went to summer camp. Scott Linton was the archery instructor. He was eighteen and gorgeous, and Shelley and I both developed terrible crushes on him. Scotty never knew it, but we called ourselves the Scott Linton Adoration Society. Of course, he had a girlfriend at home, but we never worried about her." Catherine looped the faded string around her wrist and snuggled closer to Vincent. "On the last evening of camp, Scotty made friendship bracelets for Shelley and me and tied them on our wrists with a hard knot, so they wouldn't come off. We thought it was terribly romantic, but I'm sure Scott was just giving nice memories to a couple of little girls. Well, the next day we waved good-bye to the camp and to Scott, and we cried all the way home on the bus and swore never to take the bracelets off." She smiled. "Mine lasted longer than Shelley's. She lost hers at Thanksgiving. Mine fell of during Christmas vacation, and I cried."
Vincent took her hand. "And you still have it." His furred fingers traced a path around her wrist. "Do you still have feelings for that young man?"
Laughing, Catherine turned her hand to grasp Vincent's fingers. "I went back to camp the next summer and fell madly in love with Kevin Matthews on the first day. I didn't even sign up for archery."
"You appear to have been somewhat fickle, Catherine."
Squeezing his hand, she grinned. "There is nothing in this world more fickle and self-centered than a teenage girl. Surely you must know that."
Suddenly a fleeting shadow darkened Vincent's eyes, startling Catherine with its intensity. As fast as it had come, it was gone again, but it had lasted long enough for Catherine to realize how her words had effected him. How could she have been so thoughtless? Of course, he was only too familiar with the shallow ways of a beautiful young girl.
"Vincent, I'm sorry." She lifted his hands to her lips and kissed them. "I didn't mean to . . . "
"Catherine," he interrupted, placing one finger on her lips, silencing her gently. "Shhh. It's all right." His smile returned, genuine and reassuring. "I need only to look at you, and old memories are instantly forgotten."
Examining the truth of his words through their bond, Catherine sighed with relief and pulled his hands around each side of her, enveloping her in his embrace. She wrapped her own arms around his neck and pulled his head down to retrieve a kiss.
Determined to replace his painful memories with new and beautiful ones, she settled against him and sighed. "I can imagine the young tunnel girls whispering about you in the dark, making up fantasies about your great strength and charm . . . and your lovely eyes."
He shook his head, uncomfortable with her generous praise. "I seriously doubt I was ever the object of schoolgirl fantasies."
Gazing up into those lovely eyes, she assured him, "Vincent, if an ordinary boy like Scotty Linton had an adoration society, there is no limit to the fantasies you could inspire."
Then Catherine blinked with a new inspiration of her own. Reaching for her babybook, she located the lock of her hair and took a tip of it into each of her hands. "Vincent, give me your wrist."
With a look of bemused curiosity, Vincent offered his arms and watched as Catherine brought the braid around his wrist, tying the ends firmly in a hard knot.
"Catherine, what are you doing?" He cocked his head, watching her bend over his arm in studied concentration.
When she was certain the knot was tight, she met his eyes and smiled sweetly. "I'm responding to your inspiration."
Vincent sighed in amusement, lowering his head, and looking at her through his hair. "A friendship bracelet, Catherine?"
"Much more than that. Now it is official." She grinned as Vincent waited for her to explain. "I am now the charter member of the Vincent Wells Adoration Society." She paused, then an impish gleam came into her eyes. "The Society has only one purpose and goal . . . to love and adore you."
She nuzzled against his chest and removed the plastic lei, then lifted her face to his neck, nipping him lightly at his throat. Vincent gasped and she felt his hands come around her, his fingertips pressing against the small of her back.
When she found her own breath, she continued, "And, my love, I'm no longer a fickle little girl. This membership is for a lifetime." Pushing the boxes and mementoes out of the way, Catherine lay back against the pillows, pulling Vincent with her.
Taking her into his arms, Vincent offered no resistance as she began to loosen the ties of his shirt, and she whispered, "I'm calling a meeting right . . ." The rest of her words were lost in his kiss as he left her breathless.
And she adored him.
It is a beauteous evening, calm and free.
The holy time is quiet as a nun
Breathless with adoration.
- William Wordsworth