THE DREAM MERCHANT
by Linda Mooney
She awakened to warmth, solid and comforting -- the feel of hip to thigh, her nose buried in a thick golden mass of fragrant hair and her arm encircling a softly furred chest. Sleeping like spoons definitely had its advantages, she discovered as she shifted slightly to press herself closer against the broad muscular back. A voice still gritty from sleep rumbled gently. ”Are you cold?”
She smiled into his neck as a large hand clasped hers and hugged it against the slow beating of his heart. Refusing to rouse herself into full waking status, she sent him a drowsy wave of contentment and allowed herself the extra twenty minutes of rest before the alarm went off and demanded attention. Vincent crawled out from beneath the quilts first, casting her a loving look as he pulled on a thick patched sweater and a pair of well worn cords. He went to light the small brazier in the corner of the chamber to help warm the room. The January cold had seeped through the bedrock, bringing its bitter chill to the tunnels, if not its fourteen inches of snow and ice. As he left her to get them a pot of tea and a bite of breakfast from the kitchen, Catherine watched him go, giving herself five more minutes to snuggle in the cocoon of body heat before reluctantly leaving the bed to face another day. At least -- thank God - it was Friday
She was zipping up her knee boots when Vincent re-entered, bearing a
tray. He placed it on the table beside the bed. “If I’m not here when
you get home, I may still be at
She warmed her hands around the cup. “Claude Benton? Doesn’t he live in
“He’s giving us the crop of potatoes he’s grown in an abandoned lot and I’m taking some of the boys to help cart them to the storerooms. I don’t know how long it will take but I’ll try to be back before too late.”
“That’s okay,” she replied and shrugged on her coat. “I’ll call Jenny and see if she can have dinner with me, or maybe get in a couple of hours of shopping.” Standing on tiptoe, she gave her husband a tender kiss. “Just be careful.” He cupped her cheek in his hand and gave her a loving smile before she placed her empty mug back on the tray, grabbed another cinnamon roll, and scooted out the doorway.
“No, it’s all right. Can I call you Monday? Sounds great. Thanks, Jen. Bye.”
Catherine hung up the receiver, frowning, she stuck her tongue out at the phone, thoroughly vexed. Today was one of those rare times when she could actually take her hour-long lunch break away from her desk, and no one was available to go out with her! Oh, well…maybe Saks was having a sale. She half-heartedly straightened the permanent paper chaos on her desk before collecting her coat and scarf. The phone rang unexpectedly, and she stared at it -- debating whether or not she should answer. Duty won out. She picked up the receiver.
“Hello Cathy! Am I interrupting anything?”
“Peter! It’s so good to hear from you,” Catherine said, sitting on the
edge of her desk. “I thought you were in
“Things got a bit warm down there, so Margaret Kay and I decided to cut the vacation short and come home. But the reason I’m calling is to see if you’re free for lunch.”
“Am I!” she laughed. “Where and when”
“Thirty minutes at Cricket’s?”
“Great. I’m leaving now; I’ll hold a table.”
“See you then,” Peter said and hung up
Sometimes when you least expected it, good things did happen to deserving people. But she wasn’t going to hang around the office any longer than she had to. Errant causes and good intentions had a bad habit of finding her when she least needed them to. She quickly made her way to the restaurant and was lucky enough to grab a table by the picture window; there she settled herself to wait for her old family friend.
Prompt as ever, Peter stomped his way in, blowing loose snow and cold air from his overcoat. Giving him an affectionate smile she kissed him on his frozen cheek and helped him with his chair.
“Mercy!” the older gentleman exclaimed. “When I left
105 in the shade. My old bones haven’t acclimated to this
Catherine beamed. “Thank you, Peter; but every now and then I keep expecting the other shoe to fall.”
She shrugged, looking out the window to see people bundled up and moving in little clumps through the gray, wet streets. “All this happiness, all the love and joy I have now with Vincent…does anybody really deserve so much in his life?” She turned to face him. “Isn’t there supposed to be an equal amount of sadness and tragedy to balance it out?”
“Maybe,” Peter reflected. “Maybe you’ve already had your sorrows, Cathy. You’ll have to admit those first couple of years after your attack were not exactly smooth sailing.”
She sighed. “You’re probably right. I shouldn’t dampen what we have - just accept it fully and quit looking for the darker side.”
Peter patted her hand, then leaned back in his chair, motioned to the waiter, and ordered for them both. He watched his goddaughter for a few more moments before placing his elbows on the table; he used his napkin to wipe his reading glasses, then slipped them back into his breast pocket. “Actually, I had an ulterior motive for inviting you to lunch.”
“Oh. Time to pay the piper, is it?” Catherine quipped over her glass of water.
“More like a favor and a request,” he replied. “Have you thought any more about what we talked about last month?”
“About the tests?” Catherine asked, remembering the earlier conversation. She took her water glass and made a pattern of rings on the tablecloth appearing deep in thought. He waited patiently, watching the play of emotions shadow her face, knowing her decisions were made not just for herself, but also for the man with whom she now shared her life. The young woman sighed and looked back at him. “Vincent and I talked about it when you first brought it up, and we’ve decided to place ourselves in your hands. So...you want to go ahead with everything?”
Peter smiled and toyed with his silverware before asking, “How soon can we begin?”
Laughing, Catherine clasped his arm and squeezed it affectionately. “I’ll call you. all right?”
A small grin revealed a dimple that sixty-odd years had not erased. “Ready when you are”
Late at night on the weekend, the medical professional building was deserted and dark. The glare of the street lamps reflected in the outer windows of the modern structure, effectively disguising the single glow of the fluorescent lights from the inner office on the first floor. Peter looked up when a faint rapping on the outer door startled him. He went over to it, pressed down on the bar, and opened the heavy fire-proof door.
“Come,” he said, gesturing them in.
Catherine and Vincent followed him into the small lab adjacent to the building’s pharmaceutical company. Peter took a sterile wrapped cup from the counter and handed it to Vincent. Wordlessly, the couple went into the adjoining room, shutting the door behind them. Peter finished setting up a space to work, readying the computer to help interpret and print out his findings. A little later, Vincent emerged from the room alone and handed the cup to Peter, his gaze never wavering from the older man’s face.
Dropping his eyes first, the physician took the container and turned to a microscope as the leonine man disappeared in the back room. The couple returned and stood by a short set of lockers while Peter was busy at the computer keyboard. Peter hit the print key, waited a few minutes, then tore the hardcopy he wanted off the printer, quickly glancing over the information.
“Let’s go upstairs,” he said. They took the stairwell to his office, where he gestured for them to sit in chairs positioned in front of his desk. He walked behind it, and collapsed in his own over-stuffed chair. Peter picked up a file folder, shuffled through more papers -- pausing often to study a page here and there, then cleared his throat before speaking.
“I got the first set of lab results back last week; you know, the ones we took on the blood cultures, the DNA and genetic typing. And we were only lacking the sperm count which I was able to complete just now. Both of you are in excellent physical shape.”
“Yet. the news is not good,” Vincent interrupted. He could feel the nervousness and dread radiating from Catherine as she gripped the arms of her chair, but her face remained outwardly calm.
Peter sighed. “No. The news is not good.” Biting his lip, he tried to phrase his next words carefully. “First of all, let me assure you that Catherine is capable of having children and you, Vincent, are just as capable, but..” He tapped the thick folder in front of him on the desk and looked at the man sitting across from him. “But you’re simply too different, Vincent.”
He hated saying the words, hated their affect on the couple who were so much in love; yet the truth was the truth, and it had to be spoken. Vincent’s metabolism, blood pressure, genetic makeup -- even his type of blood were so vastly different from “human” standards that the tests Peter had pushed through at the lab had created questions he could not answer. He’d had to discontinue normal lab procedures in order to stop the unwanted curiosity about the research he was doing, and finish the last tests himself. Watching Vincent literally withdraw into himself, Peter’s heart went out to him, he cleared his throat trying to ease the tightness in it.
Catherine’s eyes were bright with unshed tears and her voice quavered slightly. “Surely there’s some way Peter?”
Peter bent his head and sighing, spread his hands to encompass the amount of paperwork he’d been through. “I’ve tried to think of everything: artificial insemination, test-tube fertilization; I’ve even gone over all the latest medical journals and manuscripts that I thought even remotely affected your case. I’m sorry; I tried. God knows I’ve gone over every possible detail.”
Silently, Vincent stood and walked over to the door; he removed his cloak from the brass butler. Catherine watched him, knowing deep inside he needed to get away to be by himself to think, to try and reason out these last few minutes. It was so ironic, she mused, that it had taken her months to conquer his initial fear of creating another life, one that could possibly have his features, thus condemning the child to the loneliness and terrors to which he’d been subjected while growing up. And now it was a moot point.
There could never be any children human-looking or otherwise. She ached inside with the knowledge, but her heart bled for her husband. She let him leave the office; he’d return to her later at the apartment where they would hold each other tightly and let the tears fall without recriminations. Turning back to the doctor, she lifted her chin and asked in a stronger voice, “Where do we go from here? And don’t say adoption. We’ve already ‘adopted’ the children in the tunnels as our own, but it’s not the same.”
She leaned forward and set her elbows on the edge of the desk. ”Do you have any idea how long it took me to convince Vincent to have children? How long it took him to believe that I would love any child regardless of what he or she looked like, with all my heart, and that the child would also be loved and completely accepted by the community Below as fully as they have loved and accepted him?”
Peter matched her green glare with his own brown one. Catherine hesitated, then sat back again. “I’m not accusing you, Peter. I’m sorry if it sounds that way.”
“No offense taken, Cathy.”
“What if we run the tests again?” she appealed.
Peter pulled a particularly bulky folder from the top drawer. He stood up and walked around the desk to place it on her lap. There was no label on the slightly battered tab, but it had the look of being roughly handled. She gave him a curious glance before opening it and leafing through the paper. Some pages were typed while others bore extensively scribbled notes. She came to one sheet of vellum, bearing a familiar letterhead and paled.
“What is all this, Peter?”
“You know what it is. It’s Dr. Hughes’ research on Vincent. All the notes and results from the tests he conducted on him when he held him captive,” he answered quietly.
“Where did you get this? How?”
He closed the folder, taking it from her and placing it back in the drawer of the desk. She noticed that he locked the drawer. “It doesn’t matter where or how I got it, Cathy, just be assured that it’s in my hands now; safe.”
“How did Dr. Hughes’ notes compare with yours?”
Peter shook his head. “His findings concur with mine. Forgive me, kitten. If there was any way at all --”
Catherine stood, a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes on her lips. “We understand, Peter. We really do. It’ll take some time to accept, but we love each other. That” -- she sighed deeply, almost painfully – “is what matters. It is enough,”
There is only so much crying that the body can do before it gives up, leaving the eyes swollen and red, the face blotched and heated, and the spirit weak but calm. Vincent arrived at the apartment shortly after Catherine, who had locked the front door and thrown herself on the queen-sized bed. Stepping through the french doors, he dropped his cloak on the carpet and knelt beside her, taking the woman of his life into his arms, his tears mingled with hers. No words passed between them; their bond emptied the grief from their souls, giving them respite from their sorrow in a night of exhausted sleep. They lay together, intertwined, her face buried against the soothing rhythm of his heart.
Daybreak and bird song drifted through the half-opened doors, waking Vincent first. He carefully disengaged himself, and sliding off the bed, he padded around it to the wardrobe, pulling out a fresh set of clothes. The sound of his shower brought Catherine to consciousness. She stretched, crawled off the bed and went into the bathroom.
“Leave some hot water for me!” she called to Vincent as she stripped out of her clothes and put them in the hamper.
He eyed her past the stall door. “Then you’d better hurry,” he replied, stepping aside as she smiled at him, and stepped into the stinging spray. He hugged her quickly before relinquishing the shower. Through the frosted panel she watched him towel down, then wrap the large bath sheet around his waist. He was brushing his teeth when Catherine turned the water oft and reached for a towel.
“What say we stay here this weekend?” she suggested. “I’ll shut down the phone and padlock the door. We can even grill hamburgers on the hibacht out on the balcony and watch PBS, they’re showing Zefferelli’s La Traviata at seven.”
Vincent made eye contact with her in the slightly fogged mirror, and Catherine giggled at the sight of him foaming at the mouth. He caught her swell of mirth and bent over the sink to rinse his mouth as she walked up behind him, running her fingers over his broad muscular back. His muscles felt like corded steel beneath her hands. Gently she kneaded the tightness away causing Vincent to groan softly. He gave himself over to her supple fingers, enjoying her touch, letting it melt the stress across his spine. Kissing him between the shoulder blades, Catherine left the bathroom.
She put on a comfortable pair of jeans and an old cotton shirt before stepping barefoot into the kitchen to start a pot of tea. Dressed in jeans and a pullover shirt, Vincent joined her, watching her prepare them breakfast.
She looked up. “Yes?”
“Forgive me for leaving you last night at Peters office. I –“
“Shhh.” She held a finger to his lips, then exchanged it for a quick kiss. “I understand.” And she did. He knew that.
“I did a lot of thinking,” he continued, dropping a sieve of tea leaves into a boiling kettle. “I looked into alternate solutions.”
Catherine was buttering muffins, but the knife paused in mid-air. “There are no alternate solutions,” she said flatly.
“There is one,” he countered, meeting her gaze. They locked eyes, even with their deep love and the power of the bond, there were times when they had to move carefully with each other. This was one of those times.
“What?” Catherine asked, afraid of what he had to say.
“Peter mentioned artificial insemination,” he reminded her.
Catherine put the knife down and reached for a towel to wipe her hands. “So?”
Vincent dipped his head, tracing the pattern on the formica counter top with one clawed fingertip. “It would not work with my seed, but you could become pregnant by another man’s...”
“Catherine, I’ve thought long and hard about this. I’m not saying for you to lie beneath another man, listen to me,” he begged as she mutely shook her head. “Go into the lab and have Peter impregnate you with seed that comes from someone more compatible with you -- someone more -- human.”
She threw her arms around him, denying his words. “I want your child, my love. No one else’s.”
“It’s a possibility we cannot ignore,” he murmured into her hair. “You may not agree with me now, but perhaps in a few days or months, you’ll see I’m right. And I would love the child with the same depth of love and devotion as if he had sprang from my own loins.” Pulling her gently from him and holding her at arm’s length, he sought her face. “I will speak no more of this until you are ready to hear me out. We’ve suffered a tremendous blow and need time to heal each other. Let’s enjoy today, we can tell Father of Peters findings tomorrow.”
Catherine shuddered. “Okay,” she agreed and turned back to breakfast, but Vincent was aware of the rigidity of her stance, her body sending out subconscious signals of denial. He moved up behind her and pulled her back against him, offering his immense love in a tender embrace. Catherine melted, but still she held fast to her conviction. I would give anything, she thought to herself to have his child. I would do anything. Anything.
The clock-radio on the night stand read 5:23 in bright green numbers. Catherine, wide awake, shifted to ease the cramp in her lower back and sighed. Vincent would be leaving to go Below in another hour, she would be left to get dressed for work, and for once, the prospect of her job did not excite her.
Dearest Lord, what have I done to offend You? You have given me the love of a man I never knew existed, never knew could be, and yet You still deny us our ultimate heart’s desire. You’ve given us a love rarely experienced by others, but while the lowest creature of the earth can reproduce, we cannot. Please help us to understand Your purpose for our lives. Show me an answer to our problem and give me the strength to endure, if it is not to be. But I would do anything to have Vincent’s child. Anything.
It began as a shimmer in the air beyond the foot of the bed, a wrinkle in the fabric of molecules as if a transparent veil had slipped into the room. The sight of the louvered doors behind it looked distorted, the slats not quite meeting each other like the reflection from a disjointed prism. There was no sound, no light from the abnormality. Catherine glanced over to see her beloved sleeping peacefully, oblivious to everything going on. And, incredibly, she did not fear what her eyes were seeing; calmly, she waited to see what would happen, curious as to the outcome.
The shimmer took shape, coalescing into the form of a diminutive, albeit, portly man. His skin was dark, but smooth, his hair thick, but snow white, his eyes had wrinkles at the comers, but glittered from the pale light coming through the balcony doors. He wore a heavy-looking overcoat over dark, loose trousers. He appeared old and young at the same time, new and well-worn -- a neophyte and a master of some mysterious power. He smiled past a mouthful of strong white teeth, and Catherine sat up in bed. “Who are you?” she whispered.
“Questions?” he asked, in an almost feminine voice. He looked about the room, then moved to the side of the bed, peering down at her husband. “He conquers much for one so weak,”
“What are you talking about?”
The little man grinned up at her. “I do not always talk in the literal sense, Catherine.”
Surprised to hear her name, she replied. “Either way I want you to leave. Now.”
“You’re not afraid of me at all? Very good. My name is unimportant, but you may call me a Dream Merchant.”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “I deal strictly on a one-to-one basis. I heard your prayer; I’m here to respond.”
Catherine blinked twice before answering. “You’re nuts. I’m giving you five minutes before I wake my husband.”
The little man smiled again. “Try,” he invited. “He won’t awaken unless I allow it.”
“What? Just who do you think you are?”
“I repeat, I am a Dream Merchant. I can grant you your heart’s desire -- for a price.”
Giving a little laugh, Catherine ran a hand through her hair, cupping her chin in her palm. “Okay. If you know so much, tell me what my heart’s desire is and what I owe for it.”
The Dream Merchant walked around to the foot of the bed and perched a knee on the settee there. “You wish to have your husband’s child,” he stated simply. “I can grant you that.”
Catherine snorted. “Your name wouldn’t be Rumpetstiltskin, would it?”
The Dream Merchant threw back his head and gave a hearty laugh. “That’s a good one! I’ll have to remember it. But, no, Catherine. I mean what I say.”
“Fine; I’m game. But how do you guarantee it?” she challenged.
He spread his hands. “Trust me.”
“And the price?” Catherine nudged again.
The strange man paused as if weighing his options finally answering, “Your sight.”
“My sight? You mean go blind?” She was astonished by his answer and his nerve.
He nodded, shoving his hands in the pockets of his coat. “That’s my offer. Do you accept?”
“I have to decide now?”
“My time is short,” he said tersely. “Dawn is approaching. I cannot and will not come again. As they say, it’s now or never. Take it or leave it.”
Half out of incredulous belief and half out of desperation, Catherine grabbed the chance. “I accept. Now what? Do I sign a contract or something?”
Already the Dream Merchant was growing transparent, a wavering curtain that floated toward the ceiling. “Don’t worry.” the high-pitched voice drifted. “I’ll soon be by to collect.”
The first orange arms of dawn reached over the balcony to hug the city and Catherine ducked the glare. When she looked back up, the apparition had completely disappeared, and Vincent began to stir from his sleep. The clock-radio now read 5:52. She shook her head, still not believing she hadn’t dreamt the whole episode, and climbed out of bed to shower the sleep from her eyes, seriously debating whether to tell her love about the weird little man or to drop the entire thing.
She chose to drop it.
Joe Maxwell made his way to the corner of the world that held Catherine Chandler’s desk, and tossed a bright yellow folder on top of the stack in front of her. She looked up from her legal pad to give him a cautious eye. “Unless it’s good news, I want that thing removed from my sight immediately,” she warned.
Joe grinned at her and leaned on the tall file cabinet against the wall. “Oh, it’s good news, Cathy; I promise.”
She reached for the folder and flipped open the cover to glance inside. “What is this? The Crutchley case?”
“Yep,” he smirked. “The one you’re gonna prosecute.”
Catherine gasped. “Me? But I didn’t do the legwork on this one!”
“But you remember me talking to you about it, don’t you? The nut case who wrote all those threatening letters?”
Faint memory came to her. “Yeah, now I think I do.”
Joe stood up and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Well, part of my prerogative as DA is to assign who gets to take our cases to trial, and I just happen to think you’ll get the conviction. Besides, Peterson’s presiding.”
“One and the same, so wear the blue dress of yours. You look good in it.” He turned to leave, but she called him back.
“Joe! What’ll I do with the
“Put it In ’pending. We can’t do anything until we can find the mother
“One more thing,” Catherine quickly blurted, laughing, and Joe raised an eyebrow in question “Since when have you decided to emerge from your den back there to visit us plebes? We all thought that after the election you’d be too busy hobnobbing with the mayor and commissioner to get down this way again.”
“Aww, Radcliffe, you know me better than that,” he said. “I still have to pass by the water fountain at least twice a day to make sure the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.”
Catherine giggled as he sauntered out, laying her pencil down and giving herself a good long stretch. Joe’s rescheduling of her itinerary was a welcomed respite, she didn’t have to worry about paperwork until tomorrow. Glancing at her watch, she noticed it was still early afternoon Oh, well - she deserved the rest of the day off. Standing, she grabbed her purse to sling it over her shoulder when her phone rang. Once…twice...three times.
“Hell,” she muttered and snatched the receiver. “Catherine Chandler.”
A moment’s hesitation then a soft voice, “Catherine?”
She stared at the phone for a split-second before placing it back to her ear. “Vincent?” she whispered back, “where are you?”
“I’m at Peter’s,” he said. ”Can you come?”
She closed her eyes and concentrated on him -- on his feelings, on his emotions at that moment -- and realized the tension and anxiety she thought had been hers was in reality an extension of his nervousness. “Give me fifteen minutes,” she promised and the phone clicked gently in her ear.
The reception area was empty when Catherine arrived, and as surprised as she had been to hear Vincent’s voice at the other end of her telephone, she was even more surprised to see Father beckoning her into Peter’s office. Speechless, she walked past him to see Vincent and Peter seated and waiting for her. Vincent stood and offering his hand, led her to the chair next to his.
“What’s going on? What’s happening?” She turned to her husband. “How did you get here in broad daylight?”
Peter spoke before the explanations began. “I called this meeting, although it’s not exactly an emergency, Cathy. It’s about those tests I ran on you two a couple of months ago.”
A glimmer of hope lit in her eyes. “What...did you find something?”
“Well” - Peter rubbed his hands together – “let me start by saying that after you left that night I sent the materials and specimens off to a friend of mine at John Hopkins who owes me a lot of favors, and asked him to corroborate my findings. It was partly my fault for telling him to take his time, that there was no rush.”
Exasperation was setting in, “Is this good news or bad, Peter?” Catherine asked. Vincent squeezed her fingers where they lay on the arm of the chair; she let the physician continue.
“I got the results back yesterday and I took them home last night to go over them. First of all, for the most part they simply repeat what I found before.”
“Then why this meeting? It’s obvious you’ve cancelled your appointments for it, she remarked, then -- after another repeated pressure on her hand she apologized. “Sorry. I don’t know why I’ve been so testy lately.”
Peter smiled and stood to circle around the side of his desk. “Cathy, there was an additional note in the files. For some reason, with all the tests and typing and specimens, I overlooked one specific step. But Mark ran it and dropped it in the folder. Cathy, he says you’re pregnant.”
She was more than stunned. Her field of vision tilted at a weird angle, becoming distant and fuzzy, bordering on completely graying out. Suddenly, Vincent was there coaxing without words, bringing her back to the present to face the news with joy and happiness. Slowly, her eyes refocused, she breathed deeply.
“Oh. God,” she mumbled, clutching Peters arm. “How? You said there was no way -- that medical science -- Then another thought hit her. “But I’m still having my periods!”
“Science has been wrong before.” Peter laughed gently. “According to science, bumblebees can’t fly, and although it’s not that common, many pregnant women still go through their cycles --they’re just not as heavy or as regular.” Catherine groaned, then began to giggle, and Vincent joined her, holding her tightly to his chest. “One more thing, Peter continued. “I’d like to run that particular little check myself, if you don’t mind. Just to verify it and to humor an old medicine man.”
Vincent helped Catherine to her feet, and she accepted Peters arm as he escorted her into the next room, closing the door behind them. Several minutes later, they returned and Catherine ran into the welcoming embrace of her beloved. Peter strode over to Father and took his hand, shaking it.
“Congratulations, Jacob. Looks like you’ll be a grandfather in about five months.”
Catherine took another look at the chocolate-covered cheese doodle before popping it in her mouth. To think they used to turn my stomach and now I crave the repulsive things. She ate another one, wiped her fingers on a tissue and turned back to the files on her desk. Rita came over carrying a report.
“Hey, little momma how’s it going?”
Catherine sighed, watching her friend perch on the edge of the desk, then smiled wearily. “The work’s no problem since Joe’s put me almost exclusively in the courtroom,” she said.
“Well, three convictions out of four cases isn’t a bad track record,” the woman complimented her. “Besides, in your condition, you don’t need to be walking the streets.”
Catherine laughed. “You make me sound like a hooker.”
“From looking at you, more like one who let her job get to her,” Rita quipped
“Is this a private party or can anyone crash it?” Joe asked, drawn by their laughter.
Catherine wiped tears from her eyes and blew her nose when a solid kick in her lower abdomen knocked the breath out of her. Instantly, her friends were concerned, but she assured them it was the baby just getting its exercise. A thread of worry wove itself around her heart and she closed her eyes, taking a moment to assure her love that she was well and fine and that the movements were natural for a healthy, growing fetus. He responded with an emotional caress before leaving her calm and contented.
Later that afternoon, Vincent met her at the
Being fond of chocolate, he had tried one once, then promptly washed his mouth out with a swallow of water. Now, Catherine gave him a squeeze about the waist, noticing that she wasn’t able to cuddle as close to him these days. “No, no” she grinned.” Those stay Above in the office where Joe can help me polish off the crumbs. Actually. I felt like some ice cream tonight. Care to join me?”
“Well, usually I prefer butter pecan, but I found I was more in the mood for rocky road.”
Vincent’s eyes twinkled. “Chocolate?”
Catherine nodded. “A whole gallon of it. Just you, me, the ice cream and two spoons. Game?” He hoisted the sack on one hip and offered her his arm, escorting her back to their home Below. That evening they sat on their bed, propped up against pillows, facing each other knee to knee: alternately dipping spoons into the softening ice cream while Vincent read aloud to her in his smoky voice
”You and I by this lamp with these
Few books shut out the world. Our knees
Touch almost in this little space.
But I am glad. I see your face.
The silences are long, but each
Hears the other without speech.
And in this simple scene there is
The essence of all subtleties,
The freedom from all fret and smart,
The one sure sabbath of the heart.
The world-- we cannot conquer it,
Nor change the mind of fools one whit.
Here, here alone do we create
Beauty and peace inviolate;
Here night by night and hour by hour
We build a high impregnable tower
Whence may shine now and again,
A light to light the feet of men
When they see the rays thereof:
And this is marriage, this is love’”
Catherine lightly massaged her protruding belly, letting her contentment flow from unborn child to spouse as she bathed in the warmth of her husband’s voice.
Securing the large post against the damp earthen tunnel wall, Vincent
held it steady as Raymond and Cullen drove the wooden spikes into the
Moor to hold it.
Catherine! The baby! He could feel, simultaneously, a double cry for help and he was filled with wonder that he had established a small, tenuous bond with his child. Mumbling a curt apology, he ran for the apartment sub-basement, knowing his wife would meet him there so he could help her to the hospital chamber Below.
When the first pre-labor pain hit her, Catherine had been standing at the foot of the steps leading up to the Criminal Courts building, trying unsuccessfully to hail a cab. It was late afternoon and she had been silently wishing she could drop the deposition she still needed to get, and go home to a hot bath and a foot- and back-rub. The vise-like grip that squeezed her abdomen robbed her of her breath. She doubled over, tears rolling out from under her lashes as she bowed to the pain. The instant the agony receded, she was filled with fear -- she was still six weeks from her due date! Without realizing, she sent out a mental plea for help.
A taxi bounced to a stop in front of her and a pair of hands grabbed her
arms. Unable to straighten up, she allowed the driver to place her in
the back seat. Catherine took a deep breath to fight the beginnings of
another contraction when she looked up to see the face of Frank Finchley
watching her in the rear-view mirror. He gunned the cab’s motor and
pulled out into the
Her apartment was not as close as the
Father and Mary were waiting; the table and room cleaned and ready when Vincent rushed through the doorway. He lay his wife on the delivery couch. “You knew,” he panted, throwing Father a quick look while cradling Catherine’s head.
“Cullen called me on the pipes after you left,” Father replied. How far apart are the contractions, Catherine?”
She rolled her eyes up to the physician; her face pale and glistening with perspiration. You mean there’s supposed to be a lull?” she gasped, smiling feebly.
Father nodded to Mary and they began removing her clothes, then covered her with a soft cotton sheet. Father instructed the older woman to ready the instruments in case Catherine should need a C section, then turned to Vincent once Mary had gone.
“We may need more blood than I have in supply. Put a message on the pipes calling for donors.” Vincent hesitated, glancing down at his wife. “There’s still time, if you go now.” Father assured him and the younger man bowed his head in acquiescence before rushing out.
”Father...is there something wrong?” Catherine asked wearily.
He gave her his hand to clench and said, “There are so many factors we have yet to know about. By human terms you’re early, but we can’t assume...”
“The baby is human,” she finished for him. A sudden stab made her cry out and she bit her lower lip, drawing a drop of blood.
Father tenderly brushed the hair out of her eyes and tried to comfort her. “I’ve got to set up outside so Mary can begin accepting donors. Don’t worry: we’ll be right back.” He patted her hand once more, then left the chamber through dark, heavy drapes.
Catherine shivered from the chill, taking a deep breath to face the fresh waves of pressing agony, she felt the calming presence that was Vincent sending her love and expectant joy through their bond; sharing the birthing process in every way he could, and his solicitude warmed her.
“It appears I’m just in time.”
Catherine threw her head around to see the Dream Merchant standing in front of a blank rock wall. “How did you get in here? What do you want?”
The odd little man smiled, stepping closer. “I’ve come to collect what is due me.”
Fear raced through her, its intensity stronger than her labor. “Oh, God.” she whispered. ”Not now. You can’t collect now.”
He moved to the table, nearer her head. “A deal is a deal, and I’ve kept my end. Now it’s time for you to ante up.”
“But I want to see my baby,” she pleaded. “Please let me see my child. What’s a few more minutes?”
Shaking his head, the Dream Merchant intoned, ”That was never part of our original agreement.”
“Our agreement was for you to take my sight. Exact time was never specified,” she spat at him. Her fear had been quickly replaced by anger, the knowledge that she would be denied ever seeing her newborn child giving her strength to rebel, to argue her case like the prosecuting attorney she was.
The Dream Merchant studied her. She watched his thoughts flash across his face as he mulled over her statement. Quickly reaching a decision, he turned to walk back to the wall as sounds beyond the partition drew closer. Father and Vincent were returning, the latter moving with more speed and concern over the turmoil of emotions he was receiving through the bond.
“I’m sorry,” Dream Merchant said. ”I cannot leave without my price and I must leave now.” His form began to shimmer in the air, then darken, and the torches in the chamber moved between gold and amber in the graying air. With rising horror, Catherine realized her sight was fading with his departure. She screamed in pain and anger.
“No! Let me see my baby! I want to see my baby! You have no right, no right!” Hands cradled her head, a voice tried to calm her. The feel of the infant beginning to move in her, through her, jerked breathless gasps from her lungs, and Father was there coaxing her to ”push, push” the child into the world. Vincent was a glowing nearness in the almost inky blackness, and she struggled against him, reaching out in the direction where the Dream Merchant had vanished. She yelled futilely, desperately.
“Let me see him, dammit! It won’t hurt you to let me see him just once!”
She felt herself ripping below, becoming numb in the all-encompassing heat of pain; she was sinking into the void that promised healing -- yet, she fought to stay awake, fought for her right, for the agony she was bearing for the sake of the enormous love she had for her husband, then she felt the child sliding from her body. Her words were hoarse screams, pleading…begging…demanding.
“LET ME SEE MY BABY, YOU BASTARD!”
Her body clamped down, she fell into the abyss of the ill and injured as echoes of healthy wails followed her down the spiraling funnel; and Vincent released her into sleep with a last thought, it’s a boy...
She was blind; completely and irrevocably. Awakening several hours later, she felt Vincent by her side and his worry was a bitter weight on her heart. He knew of her loss before she could tell him, and she cried against the soft corded wool of his vest until she drifted off into exhausted sleep once more. Sighing, Vincent left their chamber where she lay on their bed and walked the few steps into Father’s chamber. Near the smaller entrance, leading into the older man’s bedroom, stood a cradle of hand-carved oak, polished to a rich, dark gleam and set on an arched pole that allowed it to sway freely with a gentle push. It was Cullen’s gift to the child, as yet unnamed until Catherine could regain her health. Then the three of them would stand before the community and honor their son with his birthright.
Still in awe, Vincent watched the swaddled infant asleep and content after his bloody and terrifying entrance into the world. He traced the smooth pink cheek with the back
of his lightly furred finger.
“He is a miracle, Vincent.”
The new father turned at the sound of his father entering the room. “Yes,” he agreed, his tone soft. He turned to his son again, wanting another look before joining the elderly patriarch at his desk where tea had been set out.
Father poured, handed Vincent a cup, then waited until they were seated. “I have some worries about Catherine,” he began.
Vincent waved a hand to acknowledge he was aware of the path the man was taking. “I already know,” he said. “Catherine is blind.”
Father’s face paled. “Blind? But how? As far as I could tell, there were no complications in the delivery.”
“Nevertheless her sight is gone. Perhaps a nerve was pinched, we don’t know. But she wanted me to assure you that she does not blame you for her condition.”
“But her screams..”
“Were brought on by her pain and by the fact she realized she was losing her vision. Her words were not directed at you.”
Removing his glasses, Father rubbed his face with his handkerchief, relieved. After the initial shock of Catherine’s behavior during the birth, he had seriously wondered if he had inadvertently caused her undue stress to cause the outburst. Her venomous screams had not only shocked him, but also nearly caused him to lose his hold on the slippery child when he’d finally popped from her body. Father had lost count of how many children he had brought into the world. He’d seen and heard the thrashings and cries brought on by the rendering pain of labor many times, but he had never been the brunt of such anger and hatred as when Catherine had writhed on the delivery table, unaware of either Vincent or her son. It had frightened him terribly. Now, there was the bitter fact of her blindness.
He was sitting by the bed when Catherine awoke; he watched her adjust again to the fact that opening her eyes did not banish the darkness. She shifted, paused, and let her other senses begin to compensate for her loss. Finally, she smiled, turning her head toward him. “Father.” It was not a question but a definite statement.
“How can you tell?” he asked.
“I feel Vincent farther away, but I knew someone was in the room with me. You still smell of alcohol and soap. You also have that nervous habit of tapping your fingernails on the arm of the chair.”
He chuckled, leaning over to take her hand in his. “How do you feel?”
“Emotionally or physically?”
She contemplated a moment before answering. “There’s a dull soreness below. I supposed I’m doped up.”
“I would say,” he agreed.
“But emotionally...I can’t change what has happened. I know that and I accept it. I don’t like it, but sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the things we want most in life. I have given Vincent a son, a child to carry on his destiny and responsibility when he grows older.” She looked him straight in the eye, her own green gaze amazingly accurate, if not seeing. “I’m sorry if I hurt you when I screamed. It wasn’t you...I mean, you weren’t...” The pressure on her hand told her he understood completely. She sighed, now at ease. “I want to hold him. May I?”
Father went to the cradle and picked up the sleeping infant, then laid him in his mother’s arms. With an almost reverent touch she traced the contour and shape of her son’s head and face; her fingers trembled slightly when she spoke again, her voice filled with tears. “He looks like me.” She caressed the tiny hands and feet, feeling the soft smoothness of the round tummy. Reaching back to the baby’s head, she ran her fingers through thick hair. “What color is it?”
”Blond,” Father whispered.
Overwhelmed, Catherine snuggled the child closer to her, buried her face in the fragrant warmth of that living, breathing miracle and sent heavenward a silent prayer of thanks. Resolved, she found she could live with her handicap if it meant she had a part of Vincent and herself combined in the little body; she rubbed her cheek in the boy’s hair. A tenderness covered her heart, tendrils of happiness and cautious optimism shining like threads of light. Catherine grasped the feeling within her as the love of her husband flowed in to her, growing stronger as he neared their chamber. Entering the room, he hurried over to kneel beside the bed and enclose his wife and son in the protective circle of his arms. Deeply moved, Father backed into the doorway leading to his chamber.
They named him Jacob Winslow Wells at the Naming Ceremony two weeks later, and when Eric inadvertently began referring to the infant as J.W., the rest of the tunnel community immediately picked up the nickname. J.W thrived on the love and attention afforded him. Mary appointed herself as Catherine’s third arm, helping the new mother with learning to nurse and care for her newborn and teaching Vincent the fine art of changing diapers. Vincent found he had a special gift for calming his son when the child had trouble going to sleep or had an upset stomach. The new father knew he had a type of bond or connection with the baby, but it was weak and tenuous like smoke, yet steadily strengthening as the child grew and became stronger.
In the meantime, Catherine regained her strength and soon returned to work on the arm of Doctor Peter Alcott, who had been adept at covering for her when she’d gone into labor, then disappeared from the face of the earth. After the initial shock, surprise, and words of sympathy, Joe assigned her to prosecution full time, knowing her blindness would not handicap her bulldog approach in the courtroom. His no-nonsense ‘go-getemdammit’ attitude was refreshing and Catherine dove head-first into the backlog of cases with help from Rita.
At night Vincent tutored her in reading and writing Braille so she could take notes for herself on her special punch pad. The going was slow and often frustrating to the point of tears, yet she kept pushing herself, knowing that she couldn’t let her blindness get the best of her. Catherine felt her other senses heightening; lovemaking became sweeter, more sensual. She traced the beloved planes of Vincent’s lightly furred face, recalling the sight of his lapis blue eyes in her memory. But she was not happy, and he would try to comfort her as best he could; letting his love cradle her heart, protecting and healing, even as he held her tightly against him.
The rest of the community went to great lengths to downplay Catherine’s problem. Mouse even came up with an ingenious method of hanging pre-punched strips of shoulder height leather at tunnel conjunctions to guide her when she needed to travel alone. It was Father who eventually went to Vincent and Catherine to discuss the possibility of running some tests to see if there was any way she could regain her sight.
“I’m sick to death of tests,” Catherine remarked late one evening as the three of them shared conversation over apple turnovers and hot tea. “Between you and Peter, I feel as if you know me inside and out, better than I do myself.”
“I can sympathize, Catherine; but I received a note today from Peter.
He’s flying a specialist in from
Vincent added softly, “If he fails to give us hope, then there is nothing else we can do, nowhere else we can turn .” Our last option….the thought floated unspoken between them. Catherine bowed her head and relented, but in the far recesses of her mind, behind an iron door of resolve, her memory of the Dream Merchant laughed at her. delighting in her unhappiness. She felt a questioning touch and she gently smiled at her husband. Someday she would have to tell him the whole story. Someday... Soon.
It came, in fact, four days later.
Catherine was nursing J.W. when she heard a rustling just beyond the outer tunnel, followed by the soft chime of the small Chinese gong that had been a wedding present from Lin and Henry. Placed on a narrow ledge outside their bedroom, it served as a doorbell, allowing would-be visitors to announce themselves before entering, thus preventing any embarrassing interruptions. Catherine covered herself before bidding whoever it was to enter. She wondered about the caller, as the hour was late and most of the community was asleep. The soft rustling noises entered the room and she smiled.
“It’s late Mouse. Did you need to see me? Or Vincent?”
The young man moved closer to her. “How’d you do that?” he puzzled.
Catherine laughed softly and explained. “You drag your feet. You also smell like wet soil and machine grease. It’s very descriptive of you. Now, what is it you need?” She placed her son face down over her lap and gently patted his back to burp him.
“Got a note. For you and Vincent,” Mouse said, watching her care for the baby.
“From whom?” she asked. “Could you read it to me? My hands are full.”
Mouse unfolded the paper, pausing to scan the handwriting. ’Dear Catherine and Vincent. I wanted to bring you the news personally but I’ve been suddenly called out for emergency surgery. I met with Dr. Jurisch this evening and his findings, though not conclusive, are as final as he believes they can be. Physically, Catherine’s eyes are perfectly healthy. There are no signs of infection or disease; the retina shows it is receiving visual stimuli. Therefore the problem must be when the signal reaches the brain. As your CAT scan failed to show any ab-no.,.ab-nor...”
“Abnormalities,” she prompted.
“Abnormalities, Dr. lurisch proposes you make an appointment to talk with a Dr Leonard Glasgow. He’s an excellent psychiatrist, Catherine; the best in the field. Maybe your problem is not physical. Think on it and let me know. I’ll come see you as soon as I can get away. All my love, Peter.” Mouse cleared his throat. “Too many big words,” he mumbled.
“You read very well,” she praised him. Pointing in the direction of the writing table, she asked him to leave the note for Vincent to see when he returned, and Mouse placed it under the edge of a book before wishing her and the baby good-night and shuffling from the chamber.
Catherine felt her way to the cradle that stood by the wall on the far side of the room. Laying her son down on the sheepskin pad, she covered him with a nubbly cotton blanket, then made her way to the bed to await her husband’s return. She mulled over Peter’s message, realizing that things had taken a turn in a direction she didn’t wish to pursue. Her blindness was not psychosomatic, yet Catherine could see that with all the other avenues closed, this was a new path they hadn’t travelled, but it was one she didn’t wish to. Peter and Father would put pressure on her, but she just couldn’t take any more.
Vincent would question her reluctance and argue her reasons, but in the end, he would let her make the decision. She sighed heavily. The charade could go no further. As long as there remained the possibility of a cure, she’d have to continue to feign faint hope, subject herself to God knows how many more tests only to suffer the disappointment of those around her. The worst of course, was Vincent. He placed no blame on himself, or anyone, yet knowing the woman of his heart would never see the sun of her child’s smile was a dark gray burden he bore for her sake.
The sound of air flowing past fabric broke her concentration, and she readied a smile for her beloved entering the chamber. She heard his warm chuckle as he laid his cloak over the back of the chair by the table. “I’m beginning to believe your hearing is becoming more acute than mine,” he teased her.
“You used to be able to startle me when you’d come up behind me so quietly. Like Sandburg’s fog.”
Vincent chuckled again. “My feet are not that small. Is J.W. asleep?”
“I just laid him down. Vincent...” she tried to gather her courage before proceeding, and felt his patient, silent question, “We need to talk. I need to talk. There’s something I must confess.”
In the lower tunnels the rich smell of damp earth was thick and cloying, the humidity clinging to the lichen-painted rocks with warm fingers. Vincent walked carefully through the narrower corridors, feeling uncomfortable in the heat. He held the lantern in front of his body and followed the inexplicable inborn knowledge that would lead him to his goal. After Catherine had broken down and told him about her strange nocturnal visitor, he’d held her in his arms, soothing and rocking her, until she’d fallen asleep.
The hour was very late, but he knew he would be unable to rest. He reviewed several options then, left to seek out Narcissa. If anyone knew about the Dream Merchant, she would. Her world was steeped in magic and fantasy, it thrived on spells and incantations. She was what father called an Old Soul, she was ageless and revered by everyone in the community. Vincent finally arrived at her chambers and stepped carefully into the gloomy room. Being blind, the old woman had no need of light, but a few candles burned dimly on a makeshift altar.
With his excellent eyesight, he spotted the old woman easily, she was hunched over a woven tray and throwing a handful of shells upon the matted surface. A slight straightening of her spine told him she was aware of his presence. “Vincent,” she intoned slowly.
“Forgive me for the lateness of the hour, Narcissa...”
“But you have need of this old voodoo woman, hmm?” She turned smiling. “Your Catherine has made a pact with the Dream Merchant, and now you wish to remedy the situation.”
Always amazed by her astute insight and bluntness, Vincent sighed, glad he didn’t have to give a detailed explanation of the problem. “Can Catherine ever regain her sight? Is there a way we can bring the Dream Merchant back?”
“Back? My child do not call on the devil. When he gives, he must receive; and the price you pay will always be a painful one. No, Vincent. Do not bring him back.”
“We must try,” he insisted.
“The risks are too great.”
“Our life together was a risk I believed was great, yet Catherine’s love overcame that risk. Now, I am more than willing to call upon the spirit if it means she can see once more,” Vincent persisted.
“Is her loss of sight such a bad thing?” Narcissa questioned softly. Her milk-colored eyes looked directly at him and Vincent felt a sense of shame.
“I grieve,” Vincent tried to explain, “that she can never see our son’s face. I grieve for the beautiful things she will never again be able to enjoy, and for the sights I will never again be able to experience through her. If it is selfishness that drives me, then I gladly accept the blame. However, I can’t sit idly by and watch Catherine slowly wither inside.”
Narcissa nodded. Making her way to a shelf carved in the rock wall, she picked up a small covered wooden bowl. She lifted the lid to show Vincent it contained a white powder. “Put a tiny amount in her drink and the Dream Merchant will come to her. But remember, Vincent you are powerless to help her. She alone deals with the minion of the devil.” Vincent took the bowl, thanking her, and made his way back to the main tunnels and his wife.
The following night Catherine swallowed a cup of tea containing Narcissa’s powder, then waited for the little man to appear. She had spent hours going over what she would say, what she would do, but realized only one truth held firm -- the Dream Merchant would not strike another deal unless he felt sure he was getting the better end of the bargain. Vincent had told her of his visit to Narcissa and explained the risk she was taking, to which she reminded him of something that she had said many months before: her life and subsequently their lives were full of risks and complications, but those had been steps they’d both accepted and gladly taken for the sake of their love. What she planned to do now was hanging precariously on a single deal of the cards, and if the Dream Merchant gave her the wrong answer, all her hopes would instantly vanish, leaving her with an empty hand and an even darker heart.
She sighed, tuning out the sounds of underground life, aware of the gentle breathing of her husband next to her in the bed. Laying a hand on top of the covers, she felt the warm rise and fall of his chest, the slow beating of his heart. His soothing strength flowed into her…calm and trusting. Absorbed in her love for Vincent, she was startled by the voice that spoke out next to her.
“This better be worth my while.”
Catherine’s expression hardened. “I believe I can strike a fair bargain,” she replied. She tracked the sounds of the little man as he perched himself at the foot of the bed.
“You have powerful friends,” the Dream Merchant informed her. “It is rare that I revisit a client.”
“But, at the same time, I’m intrigued. What could you possibly offer me?”
“I know what you want,” he interrupted. “You want your sight back. However, because of the suddenness of my reappearance, I’m not prepared with a price.”
“May I make a suggestion?”
”You?” he sounded genuinely surprised.
Catherine felt over Vincent’s face and let his hair run between her fingers; she closed her fist in it. “Yes, me,” she stated firmly. “But first I need to know a few things.”
Dream Merchant snickered softly. “You’ve captured my interest. Please continue.”
Taking a deep breath, she took the plunge. “Can you foresee the future?”
A short pause. “If I can… so?”
“Tell me…who will die first? Me? Or Vincent?”
“What does this have to do...”
“Humor me,” she snapped. Her nerves were already raw, the stakes too impossibly high to banter back and forth.
“The man will,” he mumbled.
Oh God, she prayed, give me the strength. The chamber felt suddenly chilly, and she hugged her arms. “Can you tell me…how?”
“You want details?”
She knew he was baiting her. “Just tell me if he dies as bravely as he lived, or will it be a senseless death.” She felt the odd little man looking her over as he contemplated her question, obviously enjoying the verbal cat and mouse game.
“He will die protecting those he loves,” he finally answered.
Catherine nodded. The sting of tears in her eyes went unnoticed. “Then…please tell me...how long will I live after him.”
“How long after he dies do I survive?” How long will I have to bear the cold ache of living without him? How long will I have to suffer? She didn’t know the kind of answer she expected, but the truth, if it was the truth, shocked her.
“Two years, eight months, and ten days. Now, do you want to know how you’ll die?”
“That is the future that could be,” Catherine pointed out, ignoring his last question. “The past is done and cannot be altered; the present is as it is. Am I right?”
“Correct on both counts.”
“But the future…can the future be changed?”
“Death cannot be changed,” he began.
“But can the time of death be altered?”
Another moment’s hesitation. “Explain.”
“Here is my offer. Listen carefully. I will give you two years eight months and ten days of my life in exchange for having my vision restored.” She heard the man choke.
“You are trading away life for sight?”
“That much of it, yes. Do you accept?”
“Are you mad?” the Dream Merchant barked. “Your life is a gift even I cannot trade for!”
Catherine felt her hope failing. “What do you mean?”
“I mean I can’t request any term of life in exchange for a wish.”
“You are not requesting it! I am offering it to you. And only a portion of it, at that. Can you accept?”
“Are you sure, Catherine?”
“Why?” She gave him a malicious grin. “Will it get you in trouble with the boss?”
“You can’t call me back after this,” he warned her. “No potion or spell, no wish regardless of how passionate you may dream it, will bring me back. Ever. Do you understand?”
“Very well,” the Dream Merchant said, his voice already becoming fainter. “I accept your proposal, just remember it was your offer.” The voice died out. Catherine remained still, listening, waiting for the first fuzzy images to come to her. Laying her head on her pillow, she turned her face in order that the first thing she saw would be the expression on her beloved’s face. Sleep took her with cotton gentleness.
Morning crept into the tunnel world. Exhaustion had taken its toll on Catherine so that when she finally awoke it took several moments before she realized her eyes were wide open -- and she could see the room! Relief washed over her, drowning her with the sudden flow of happiness and tears as she buried her face in the pillow beside her to inhale Vincent’s scent that still clung to it. Throwing back the quilts, she jumped out of bed, ran over to the cradle against the wall, and stood staring down at the face of her infant son. Tears dropped on the hand-knitted coverlet and she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Catherine felt a tug on her heart; she responded with a glow of purest sunshine, drawing her husband back to their chamber where he stumbled in to stop and gaze at her with unconcealed hope etched on his face. Giving him her most loving smile, she teased. “The maroon shirt is new. Did Bernice make it or you?”
“Catherine!” He pulled her against him and covered her face and eyelids with a thousand feathery kisses. “How? How? Did you see the Dream Merchant; did he return?”
She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and murmured into his ear. “Yes. He returned, and I won.”
His body tensed. “But at what cost?” Drawing back, Vincent looked long and deep into her face. “What did you give up, my Catherine?”
Lovingly she ran the tip of a finger over the silky brows, down the length of his unusual nose, around the cleft mouth, and smiled secretively. “I gave up an eternity of terrible loneliness, my darling.” At his worried, puzzled look; she laughed softly, happily. “Never mind,” she assured him. “Trust me. I won.”