Beauty and the Beast ~ Book 1

The Winds of Change

by Tee Hoagland

PART 1:

Once Upon a Time in the City of New York

CHAPTER 10 ~ REUNITED

 

Carol’s address took Catherine to a low-rent apartment building. Narrow, dimly lit halls led her to Carol’s door. She knocked, then waited.

“Who is it?” a woman’s agitated voice called from behind the door.

“Carol?” Catherine leaned close to the door.

The door remained shut for Carol’s frightened question, “What do you want?”

“My name’s Cathy Chandler. I’d like to talk to you.”

Carol cracked open the door, peering through the gap over the chain securing it, fear and worry twisting her features.

“What’s this about?” Carol demanded. “You a cop?”

Catherine shook her head, clarifying, “I’m with the District Attorney’s Office.”

“Look, I told you people to leave me alone! You’ve caused me enough trouble!” Carol tried shutting the door.

“Carol!” Catherine blocked the door open. “You’re not the only one they hurt.”

“What are you talking about?” Disbelief colored Carol’s tone.

Catherine paused, noting Carol’s fright, then said, “They got you and me mixed up.” She pushed her hair back, revealing the scar by her ear.

Carol gasped.

“I think this was meant for you, Carol,” Catherine remarked sympathetically.

“Go away!” Carol yelled, near tears, slamming the door.

Sighing, Catherine removed a business card from her handbag, saying through the door, “If you’d like to talk to someone who understands how you feel…” she squatted down, sliding her card under the door, “call me.” Then she walked away.

Catherine drove to Isaac’s gym, grabbed her bag containing workout clothes from her trunk, then entered.

“Ready to show me what you got?” Isaac greeted, grinning.

“As soon as I change.” She smiled back.

A few minutes later, they faced each other on the floor mat.

“I’m very impressed with your progress.” He smiled proudly at her. “So, today I’m gonna push you. While we don’t want to hurt each other, it may happen, so be prepared. Remember the number one rule?”

“‘On the street, there are no rules,’” she quoted his mantra.

“Excellent. You get started warming up. I’ll join you in a minute.”

Catherine began doing jumping jacks, watching him walk through the door at the back to the restrooms and changing area. She faced the door until he returned, donning a sparring helmet and chest protection, surreptitiously watching her as he circled the mat, ostensibly clearing up clutter while trying to get behind her. She began stretching, turning to keep facing him, and staying on her feet. Finally, he faced her, grinned, then charged.

It happened fast, though time felt slow as Catherine readied herself. Closing her left hand over her right fist, she ducked under his grappling arms, turning to drive her elbow into his lower back. Then she moved away, still facing him.

“OW! Good hit!” Isaac spun away from her elbow, lessening the blow.

For the next half-hour, Isaac led her through charge-and-evade exercises, cheering on her success, occasionally trying to distract her with questions.

“So, if you need a weapon, what can you use?”

Catherine, maintaining eye contact, replied, “There’s a bat on the table. Barbells on the rack. These suspended punching bags. To name a few.”

“Good, Cathy.” Isaac rose from his slight crouch, heading toward a table in the living area. “Let’s take five.”

Catherine followed him, standing straight and breathing deep.

“You’re doing a good job not letting me get behind you.” Isaac poured ice water into two glasses from a pitcher on the table. “But you need to show me you can get away when caught. So, that’s what we’re working on next. This might bring back some unpleasant memories. But facing them is halfway to conquering them.”

“Understood.”

Back on the mat, Isaac grabbed her forearm, pulling. She twisted free, hopping away. They spent the next twenty minutes tussling, Catherine freeing herself from several more captures. Then he gripped her upper arm, spinning her off balance and pulling her back against his chest, his arms wrapped around her, holding her tight.

Catherine felt her anger spike over the next few minutes, struggling against Isaac’s implacable grip.

“Can’t do nothing, can you?” Isaac goaded. “Hah, hah!” When Catherine struck out, grunting and kicking him, he moaned, losing his smile. “That’s good. You better bite me, though.” He groaned, trying to keep hold of her. “Or you better do something.”

“Really?” Catherine gasped, then latched her teeth onto his arm.

“Ow!” Isaac jerked his arm, trying to dislodge it.

Catherine used his movement, getting loose enough to squirm, wrenching her torso, then hiking her leg high, kicking him again. With a few more twists, she freed her arms, elbowing him in the ribs, then flipping him over her shoulder while dropping a knee to the ground. She stood, quickly following his roll. When he rested on hands and knees, she kicked his chest, forcing another roll. She followed him again, but this time he caught her foot when she kicked him, twisting her leg to overbalance her, throwing her to the mat. She rolled out of his reach, lying on her back when he came after her. Using both legs, she kicked his chest, shoving him away, then stood and charged him, forcing him backwards over a table, which fell with him. Grabbing the baseball bat, she raised it high.

“Hold it!” Isaac raised a hand in defense and surrender.

Catherine stopped, huffing hard, glancing at the bat, startling herself.

“Was that you?” Isaac grinned up at her. “Huh? Is that you?! Hey!”

“Yeah,” gasped Catherine, laughing, exhilarated, proud of herself. “Yeah!”

Isaac laughed with her, celebrating her success.

* * *

Vincent felt an exultant grin spread across his face. He had sensed Catherine’s fierce determination during self-defense training, her jubilation in triumph, her pride when she refused to succumb to fear. He happily joined in her merriment.

“Yes!” he roared, thrilled for Catherine. He paced in his chamber, his excitement seeking release. Picking up Great Expectations, eyeing the cover, he remembered her in his bed, smiling contentedly, listening to him read.

He had to see her. He would take her the book, give it to her. Taking a pen, he wrote an inscription in the cover.

* * *

Catherine went to what would be her last dinner with Tom. He talked about his projects and plans; she waited, ignoring his openings for her to offer praise. Finally, he paused, looking at her as if really seeing her for the first time.

“You’re very quiet tonight, Cathy.”

Catherine held his gaze a moment, then said, “Thank you for the time we’ve spent together, Tom. But this isn’t working.”

He chuffed a laugh, retorting, “I don’t know what you mean. I thought we were fine.”

“I mean that I’m ending our relationship.”

“What? Why? Is this some latent effect of your incident? First, you quit your job to go on some crusade, now you want to dump me?”

“Well.” Catherine eyebrows rose as the corners of her lips pulled down. She folded her napkin, set it beside her plate, and looked at the waiter. Then she snapped, “I can see you take me as seriously as ever.”

Their waiter approached, asking, “Can I get you more wine?”

“No, thank you,” Catherine said, smiling, cutting off Tom’s response. “We’re done and just need the check.”

“Very well.” The waiter smiled and nodded, then left.

“Cathy, we’re not done here. And I don’t just mean with dinner.”

“We are, Tom. Our lives are going different directions now. I don’t appreciate the way you treat me. My work is important, I’m doing something meaningful, really helping people, but you dismiss it as a phase. I’m a different person now, a stronger person. I refuse to be with someone who doesn’t respect me.”

The waiter returned, handing Tom the check. Catherine stood, grabbing her coat and purse, and headed for the door. Tom quickly paid the bill, then followed her, handing the valet his ticket. He waited until they were seated in his limousine and moving before continuing.

“Look, Cathy, I don’t mean to be dismissive. But you must admit, this is rather sudden.”

“Not at all. This has been coming since your party, when you presumed to dictate whom I could and couldn’t talk with. Your behavior that night was arrogant and small-minded. Since then, I’ve only seen more of the same.”

“So, I have some quirks. Surely you can admit we both do. It’s no reason to throw away a relationship.”

She stared at him for a moment, then laughed incredulously, shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, Cathy, but I can’t help feeling there’s something else going on here.”

Schooling her expression as Vincent’s face, Vincent’s voice, Vincent’s touch floated through her mind, she simply stated, “The only thing going on is that we’re through.”

He leaned back, watching her for a moment, then tried a different tack, asking earnestly, “So, you’re really serious about working for the D.A.?”

She stared at him again, then shook her head, rolling her eyes as the limo stopped at her building.

“Okay, okay.” He raised his hands in surrender. “I understand.”

Tom exited the limo, holding the door for Catherine. He followed her up the steps to the door into her building, standing down a single step from her.

“I’ll walk you up.”

“No, that’s all right.” Catherine turned to him with a friendly smile.

“No, no, no. I’ll walk you up.”

She observed him for a long moment, then said, “You haven’t heard anything I’ve said tonight.”

“What? That your work is important to you? I understand that. My work’s important to me. But that doesn’t mean we can’t see each other.”

“Good night, Tom.” Catherine knew he would let go soon. His pride, which could not believe she was breaking up with him, would not allow him to pursue someone unresponsive. She knew he would find someone he considered more worthy than her, however skewed his misperception, but she bore him no ill will. She gave him a last kiss, kept it brief, then turned to go inside.

Tom grabbed her elbow, pulling her around to face him, and took the last step up to be level with her, if a little taller. He grasped her other arm, holding her there. Catherine’s friendly smile faded into a stare of warning.

“I’m not going to let you slip away,” he stated firmly. “I’m not going to let that happen.” He held her arms, leaning in slowly, giving her a longer, more serious kiss.

Catherine would not let him, pulling away almost as quickly as before.

“Good night, Tom.” Catherine spoke sternly this time.

He frowned slightly, then released her, going down the steps.

She watched him go, knowing they were finished, that he finally understood, then entered her building.

* * *

After nightfall, Vincent used the shadows to make his way to Catherine’s building, taking Great Expectations, hoping he could read the last chapter to her. He found a place to wait until she came home before going to her balcony to see her. He knew that she approached, that she felt relieved and introspective about ending her relationship with a man she had been seeing, and that the high of her afternoon success had dwindled.

As he waited, his own emotional high dissipated. He wondered if he was doing the right thing. Perhaps it would be better to leave things as they were. Could his desire be merely selfish, maybe ultimately ruining them?

Still, he could not come this close and not see her. He would wait to catch a glimpse of her, ensuring her well-being. Then he would deposit the book on her balcony, leaving her in peace.

* * *

Catherine prepared for bed in a nightgown and robe, grabbed her briefcase off the chair beside her nightstand, and sat on her duvet, pulling a file out and opening it to do a last bit of work before retiring.

A brief noise drew her attention to her balcony. After a moment, she dismissed it, turning back to her work. Then what sounded like steps drew her eyes back to the balcony door.

She gazed out, then pulled her revolver from her nightstand drawer. Gun in hand, she went to the door, looking out, then stepped outside. A book lay on the floor in front of her door. She picked it up, seeing that it was Great Expectations. Looking up, surprised and hopeful, she saw Vincent standing in the shadows of her balcony.

“Vincent?” Catherine smiled her pleasure at seeing him, rushing to him, then threw her arms around his shoulders.

Vincent gladly returned her embrace, holding her close, saying, “I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’m sorry.”

“No.” Catherine leaned back, looking up at him. “I’m so glad to see you.” Soothed by his presence, she stared at him, holding on so he could not slip away.

Vincent could not bring himself to release her. He stared at her, hungry for the sight of her, for her touch. Her face showed no sign of her trauma, save a single scar by her left ear.

“Your face,” Vincent said in wonder.

“They fixed it.”

“Yes.” Vincent fought his volatile inner self, which urged him to declare himself hers and shower her with his love, terrified of frightening her, or worse, hurting her. He remembered that other time.

“Come inside.” Catherine pulled him toward the door.

“No.” Vincent said softly, backing away, determined to go before he succumbed to the desires of his inner self. “I have to go now.”

“No! Not yet!” Catherine refused to lose him so quickly and could not understand his desire to leave.

“I should never have come here.” Vincent turned away from her. Her warm reception had sparked hope and a dream in him – a dream he believed could destroy them both.

“Vincent!” Catherine stepped in front of him, grabbing hold of him, trying to keep him there for a little while longer. “I’m glad you did. Come here.” She stepped near the balcony rail. “Sit down.” She sat on the raised balcony ledge, pulling him down beside her.

Vincent went easily with her promptings, partly not wanting to hurt her in pulling away, mostly hating the thought of leaving.

Catherine set her revolver on the floor, leaning close as Vincent drew near to her.

“I wanted to see you,” Vincent said longingly. “There are so many things I wanted to tell you.”

“I have so many things to tell you.” Catherine took his hands.

“I know.”

Catherine looked away, huffing a sigh, then said, “It’s been hard, Vincent.” She looked back at him.

“Yes.”

“I’m learning to be strong.”

“I know.” Vincent smiled softly. “Catherine… I feel the things you’re feeling when you do.”

“How do you mean?”

“Just know that it’s true. And that your pain is my pain. Sometimes… almost as if we are one. I came here… because I wanted to see that you were well. And because I wanted to see you… one last time.”

“I’ll never see you again?” Dismay filled Catherine’s voice.

Vincent looked out over the city, his attention focusing on a feeling deep within, then said, “I’ve seen your world. There’s no place for me in it. I know what I am. Your world is… filled with frightened people.”

Catherine looked away, contemplating his words.

He continued, “And I remind them of what they’re most afraid of.”

“Their own ignorance.”

“Their aloneness.”

She faced him, nodding, then whispered, “Yes.”

“So, now I have to begin to forget.”

“Forget me?!”

“No.” Vincent’s eyes turned back to hers. “I’ll never forget you.”

Catherine smiled softly, partially mollified.

“But I must forget the dream of being a part of you.” His inner self wailed when she sighed sadly at his words. “Find someone, Catherine… to be part of. Be happy.” He watched her frown, resistant to his declaration, as his inner self roared in protest. “Goodbye,” he whispered. He rose to go.

“No, not yet,” she pleaded, holding his hand and stretching her other hand up to stop him. “There’s still time. It’s still dark. Don’t leave.”

He slowly brought his free hand to hers, grasping it, surprised and pleased when she smiled at his touch. He sat back down, unable to refuse her.

They talked for a long time. Catherine shared the changes in her life, the struggles, the progress. She asked after Father and Mary; Vincent told her they were well. When he tried leaving once more, she stopped him again.

“Wait! Let’s finish Great Expectations.” She picked up the book, opening it to the last chapter, then began reading.

Vincent let her voice wash over him, soothing his inner self, which insisted he belonged to her and roared an angry protest against leaving her. He wished he could foresee if this would help him let her go or make it harder.

“‘And, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.’” Catherine closed the book, looking at Vincent. She reached out, grasping his hand. When he met her gaze, she smiled softly.

Vincent longed to pull her into his arms and hold her close, but he knew the time for parting had come. He rose, pulling Catherine up with him, their hands still clasped.

“It’s time for me to go. You need your rest.” He smiled when she offered him the book, saying, “That is for you. Keep it.”

Catherine set the book on the edge of a planter, requesting, “Tell me I’ll get to see you again.”

Vincent could not bring himself to tell her no. He gently squeezed her hand, then tried to pull away.

“Vincent!” Catherine stepped into him, stretching her arms around his neck. He was so much taller, she ended up pulling him down to her.

Vincent slid his arms around her waist, indulging just this once in holding her tight. He buried his face in her hair, pressed his nose to her head, and breathed her in, memorizing her scent. When his inner self began craving more, he forced control into his breathing, relaxed his muscles, and gently pulled away.

“Catherine,” Vincent’s voice was a deep, rumbly growl, “I must… go now.” Her feelings at his words surprised him.

Catherine saw what Vincent tried to hide. She smiled softly, flattered, unafraid, intrigued, and took a step away.

“Until next time, Vincent.” Catherine’s tone held more hope than certainty. She picked up the book and her revolver and reentered into her apartment. She never heard him leave.

 

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