SHADES OF GRAY
By Barbara Hill
This story first
appeared in the zine "Buns and Roses."
Pascal and Vincent
struggled with the heavy length of pipe being used to connect the older
section of the tunnel's communication system with a much needed newer
one. They worked in comfortable silence both intent on finishing the
task as quickly as possible.
Pascal reached out to
give Vincent the clamp he'd asked for and was surprised when his hand
instead met empty air. "What the …”
Pascal's words caught in his throat as he noticed the stark look
of worry that flashed across his friend's unique visage. "Vincent, are
you all right? You're as pale as a ghost."
The keeper of the pipes
stared wide-eyed as the reason for Vincent's sudden loss of
concentration flashed in his mind. Reaching for his arm, Pascal shook
him gently. Eyes the color of a calm blue ocean blinked at him in
confusion as he shook his head.
"Vincent, is Catherine
all right? Is something wrong?" Like the rest of the tunnel community,
Pascal was well aware of the special bond that connected Vincent with
Catherine, the beautiful topsider who now shared his life — and his
"What?" Vincent shook
his head again, trying to clear his thoughts. Zeroing in on the
invisible thread that connected him to Catherine, he tried to sort
through the jumble of emotions he could sense in her. Gazing at his
worried friend, he hastened to assure him.
"Catherine is all
right. She's in no danger, but something has upset her. I must go to
her, Pascal." He gestured at the repair work waiting to be finished. "I
am sorry." His voice held a note of apology.
"Yes, of course,
Vincent. Don't worry about the work. I'll get Winslow to help me finish
up here. He’s a night owl like me, anyway. Might as well make use of his
It was after nine
o'clock, so Pascal knew it would be safe for Vincent to venture Above.
As safe as it could ever be for him anyway. Reaching for his friend's
ever-present cape, he handed it to him, giving him a gentle push."
"Go, Vincent. See to
your Catherine. And give her my love."
Wrapping his cloak
about his broad shoulders, Vincent smiled gratefully and hurried to join
Catherine in her apartment.
Lost in her thoughts,
Catherine did not hear Vincent's booted feet as they landed softly on
the terrace floor. The door to the terrace was slightly ajar. He saw her
sitting at her make-up table, staring with disgust at something she held
in her hand. Pushing the doors open, he hurried down the steps to kneel
at her side.
"Catherine! What is it?
Are you well?" He watched her reflection in the mirror, his concern
escalating when she did not answer him immediately. "Catherine?"
Catherine swung around,
shoving the object of her disgust under his nose. "Look at this!"
Vincent pulled back to comply with her rather terse demand, but the
offending object simply echoed his movement as she determinedly thrust
it at him for his perusal. "Just look at this, Vincent!" Her voice was
filled with the same disgust etched on her pretty face.
Grasping her hand
gently, Vincent pulled it away so that he could focus on the thing she
held. When his vision cleared, he saw that the object was a brush - a
simple, innocuous hair brush. Looking more closely, he realized that it
was the same brush Catherine used every night before retiring.
brush her hair had become a nightly ritual for Vincent. The action
seemed to soothe and relax her and he derived a good deal of pleasure
out of watching her, or in taking over the task himself at times. He'd
seen her use this same brush almost every night since they had become
lovers three months earlier, and never before had she experienced such a
strong feeling of hatred toward it. Why now?
Vincent cocked his head
slightly, his curiosity piqued. "Catherine, why are you angry at your
Bright green eyes
glared at him. How could he not see it? He had the eyes of the graceful
creature he resembled. How could he possibly not see what she was so
"It's not the brush,
Vincent. It's what's in the brush. Once more she shoved the offensive
object dangerously close, and once again he had to pull her hand away.
Catherine didn't seem to understand that even he, in spite of his keen
sight, could not focus properly on something only millimeters away.
Sensing that he still
didn't quite get the message, Catherine shook the brush at her lover
angrily. "Look at what's in this damn brush, Vincent. What do you see?"
Once more Vincent
managed to dodge the offending object before it could make contact with
his sensitive, fuzzy nose. Barely! Catching her wrist, he pulled her
hand a safe distance away as he eyed the hairbrush curiously, still in
the dark as to why Catherine seemed to have developed a murderous hatred
toward an inanimate object.
"All I see is hair,
Yes, it's hair.
"Catherine, you were
brushing your hair. It's not so unusual that some of it would come out.
You have more than enough. Why should the loss of a few strands upset
deeply, her fingers toying with the wayward strands of hair that had
deserted her scalp. "You don't understand, Vincent." She stood and
walked to stand at the top of the steps leading to her terrace, staring
sadly into the darkness. Vincent felt a sudden sense of loss and
something akin to fear through their connection, and he had to strain to
hear her soft whisper. "They're gray."
"What?" For a moment
Vincent thought he had misunderstood her.
"Some of the hairs are
... they're gray." She turned to gaze down at him, eyes filled with
sadness. "I'm getting gray."
Vincent stood slowly,
fighting to quell the sudden urge to laugh at Catherine's unusual
over-reaction to something so natural as graying hair — certain that
laughing was the last reaction she wanted or needed at the moment. Going
to her, he slipped his arms around her waist, hugging her gently while
he searched for a way to alleviate her concern.
gray is a natural phenomenon. It is nothing to be so worried about." He
nuzzled his face in her sweet smelling hair, relief flooding his very
soul that Catherine's problem was so very easy to solve — this time.
"Trust me, love, it
will in no way effect your beauty. Nothing could ever do that." He
nibbled her ear, his breath warm against her cheek as he whispered, "You
will always be beautiful to me."
leaning back against his sturdy frame. "That's easy for you to say,
Vincent. It isn't your hair. I bet you wouldn't be so nonchalant about
this if it was your hair turning gray."
softly. His words were muffled as he burrowed beneath her silky hair to
nibble the sensitive skin of her neck. "If I had any gray hair,
Catherine, I doubt that I would be upset over what is a natural part of
Catherine tensed, his
offhand remark chaffing slightly in spite of the tingles his nibbling
caused. She turned slowly in his arms, glaring up at her lover with a
mixture of curiosity and mild annoyance.
Vincent gazed down at
her lovingly. He sensed the sudden turn her emotions had taken, and was
surprised by the intense feeling of aggravation that coursed through
her. He was further startled to discover that her feelings were directed
"Are you saying that
you don't have any gray hair, Vincent?"
Vincent cocked his head
in the way that Catherine usually found very endearing and utterly
irresistible, but for some reason this time found oddly annoying.
"No." Blue eyes stared
at her with unabashed innocence, completely at a loss as to why his
Beloved would find his lack of gray hair so irritating.
reached for a handful of his long, thick hair, tugging none too gently
as Vincent shook his head. "Are you telling me that with all this hair .
. ." Her free hand rested lightly on the front of his shirt, fingering
the tiny buttons. "... Not to mention all the hair you have on that
gorgeous body of yours, that you do not have one single, solitary strand
of gray hair?"
momentarily before answering her, unsure as to how she would respond.
For the first time since he'd come to know her, Catherine had him
totally flustered. Finally, his innate propensity for honesty won out —
"No, Catherine. None
that I have ever seen."
“Have you ever looked?"
Vincent sighed softly,
his confusion increasing with every moment. "Catherine, searching my
body for gray hairs has never been a top priority for me. I have simply
never given it any thought."
"Oh, really? Well . .
retort died in her throat as she caught sight of the patch of curly
tendrils peeking over the neck of Vincent's shirt, and she realized
suddenly that searching his perfectly formed body for any sign of gray
hair could prove to be a lot of fun. Not to mention a delightful way to
take her mind off her unsettling discovery.
Vincent stared at her
in wide-eyed amazement as the sudden change in her mood assaulted him. "
The anger and frustration he'd felt in her earlier was replaced with a
sense of mischief and . . .
He staggered back
slightly as another strong feeling reached out to engulf him. Desire! He
stood, all but stunned into
muteness as Catherine unhooked his cape, slipped it off his shoulders
and began undoing the buttons of his shirt. Only when he felt her small
hands slide inside his shirt to caress his powerful chest did Vincent
find his voice. Barely.
“Catherine, what ..."
Ignoring him, Catherine
tugged the ends of his shirt free of his trousers to undo the last
buttons and quickly rid him of the encumbering piece of clothing. Her
nails raked gently through the dense coating of hair that covered his
chest, trailing slowly down to his belt buckle. Vincent grasped her
hands, staying them.
“Catherine, what do you
think you are doing?"
playfully at his large hands, once again fumbling with his belt buckle.
“You claim that you don't have any gray hair, Vincent. Well, I intend to
find out for myself." Her fingers eased the zipper of his trouser slowly
down over the bulge beginning to form.
"I am going to check
this gorgeous body of yours, Vincent, from head to toe." Her hand
brushed lightly against the ever growing bulge as she smiled up at him
lecherously. "Every beautiful square inch."
Vincent sighed in mock
defeat as she slid his well-worn trousers down over his hips. Her soft,
warm palms caressed his buttocks. He was more than willing, in fact he
was eager to have Catherine thoroughly search his body to her heart's
content. The prospect seemed to make her happy, and it would definitely
make him very happy. Even if her search would be for naught.