NOT ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY

by Nancy

 

October, adorned with all the colors of fall foliage and the resonant chant of crunched leaves underfoot, graced this, the third anniversary of his first visit to her balcony.

That time, armed only with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, he’d sheltered no real expectations in his heart.  Perhaps there was one timid hope, were he to admit it, and that was simply that she would … remember him and not be displeased to see him. Okay, maybe there were two. But of course she would remember him.  How could she not, granted his features, so unusual, to say the least.  And those ten days spent together.  Underground.  Whether she might actually be glad to have him present himself, intruding unannounced into a life worlds-removed from his … That was a huge leap of daring or idiocy or just reckless longing on his part.  After all the months that had passed, all the changes in her life, he might be a very distant, awkward and unwelcome memory.

Or …

 

“Were you honestly concerned that I wouldn’t be glad to see you that first time, Vincent?”

“Honestly.

They sat on the small couch in her living room, the fire having died, the celebratory dinner a delicious memory, tea gone cold and the cheesecake … mostly eaten.

“I had no way to know that you hadn’t tried, for all the months since I’d … left you … to forget everything.  All of it.  Me.”

She moved from beneath his arm to put both of hers around his neck and kiss him.  “I was so pleased to think you’d come to check on how I was managing.  And, Vincent, I’d been wishing that somehow you’d find me again.  I even thought of climbing down but I was afraid, I guess, that the way would be bricked up, or that I’d get lost if I set out, or that I wouldn’t be welcome.  Father didn’t want me Below.  That message came through loudly those days he cared for me.  Mary was wonderful but uncomfortable around me, too.  And though you’d had to run off when we heard the voices, I‘ve always believed that you left me something of your generous, kind spirit to keep close to my heart.  I dreamed of us while they fixed my face.  I dreamed of you many times while I healed.  And, when I left Dad’s practice, I was so scared.” She rested her head against his chest and cuddled closer to him.  “It’s the courage that you found in me that enables me to do the work that’s needed in the DA’s office.  I feel your confidence in me.  I really do.  And I was remembering you all those months, Vincent.”

“Catherine, from the beginning I have … reordered your life.”

It sounded regretful.  It always did.

“I, we, changed our lives, yours every bit as much as mine.  For the better.  And gladly.”  She paused to look up at him.  “Right?”

“You’ve made me into a new … being.  Yes, the changes are for the better.  I know myself loved by you.  My love … valued.”

“Treasured above all else.”

He squeezed her gently.

She closed her eyes to rest in the peace of the moment.

 

A little while later she heard his whispered, “Catherine.”

She’d fallen asleep in his arms.  “I’m sorry, Vincent, I didn’t …”

She sat up to see his small smile as he smoothed a silky strand of golden hair behind her ear.

“You’ve given six very long days of your week to the job that requires too many hours, too much hard work, the job I … unknowingly …  encouraged, empowered you to seek.“

“I don’t think you should take all the credit,” she teased.  “Admit that you didn’t know about the office nor that there was an opening for a position there.”

He leaned forward to touch his lips lightly to hers.  “I do know you were the very best candidate.”  Drawing back he said, “You always forgive me.”

“No, I don’t. There’s never anything to forgive.”

“Ah, my innocence is presumed?”

“Of course.”

He moved away to stand. “I should be going.”  It was a declaration of regret.

She made no reply but he saw the sadness that slipped in, replacing the joy that had shone in her eyes all evening.  He reached for her, gathered her into his arms.  “Please don’t look so … unhappy.”

“Shall I lie then? Okay, I am not pained at our parting.”  She rested her head on his chest.

“What can we do, Catherine, but suffer the separations even as we joyously anticipate the next meeting?”

Leaning away enough so that he could see her face, the longing in her expression, she said, “There is … something … we can do to ease the pain of parting.”

He was still, unsure and half fearing what she would suggest.

“Vincent, I want to find and buy a house that will accommodate a Tunnel entrance.  A house where you could come and go in safety at all hours.  What do you think?”

“Yet another … alteration … to your life, Catherine?  Have there not been too many already?”

She almost laughed.  “By what measure do you count too many when the changes are undertaken for love?”

He could only stare at her, his Catherine, so eager, almost pleading with him to agree to another step that she was willing to take for their happiness.  He felt ashamed.  What had he ever done to ease the life he required them to live?  She knew loneliness, having withdrawn from friends for the sake of their secret.  She paid with pain every time she had to deny their love. He knew and shared her heartache at each separation when there was … no need.

No need.

They could live within the Secret.  Together.

Live their Dream. Together.

If she wanted it.  Wanted him.  Wanted … them.

“Vincent?”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea.  As long as you’re sure?”

Laughing to hear his surprising words, she managed, “Oh, I am so sure.  I’ll go out in the morning and get all the Sunday newspapers.  When you come tomorrow night we’ll spend the rest of our anniversary weekend studying the real estate listings.  You can choose homes located within reasonable distance of a tunnel.  I’ll arrange to see them and bring back photos for you.  Vincent,” she grinned and hugged him, “thank you for agreeing.”

“Won’t you miss … here?”

“No.”  She was adamant.  “Living here I have to miss you and I don’t want to miss you.  I want us to be together and wherever that is … is where I want to live.”

“Together.  Your wish is for us to be together?”  He seemed to be conversing with himself until, holding both her hands, he went down on one knee, looked up at her and began to explain, “I know this is the traditional way of … proposing marriage.  Catherine, I kneel before you not only to keep tradition.  I kneel because I am unworthy of you, of your love, your strength and generosity, of your beauty and goodness and … given all of that I can still dare to ask that you would honor me with …”

Tears were slipping down her cheeks as she drew him up to promise, “I am yours, Vincent, forever joined to you in one heart.  One body.  In one … blessed love.”

As he urged her close for his kiss, he said, “Thank you, Catherine, thank you for loving me into this new life with you.  I love you. Forever.”

 

The next morning he sat, pillows at his back, gray sheets pulled to his waist, watching her dress.

“You look well pleased, my love.”

“I am enchanted with you, Catherine.  This is the happiest, the most … unanticipated anniversary that I could never imagine.”

They grinned at one another.

“I’m not sure that made sense,” she told him.

“How am I to make sense?  I am beyond awe, astounded, grateful for all we had, shared, knew last night.”  He held out his hand and she took it in hers, kissed it as he drew her to sit at the edge of the mattress.

“And I, Vincent, I am deliriously happy at the sight of you so … enchanted.”  She ran a warm palm across his muscled chest.  “You look as if you’ve always shared my bed.”

“I look comfortable in my new surroundings?”

“Definitely where you belong and you must stay right there until I get back.  You know, I’ve imagined how it could be to read the New York Times here, beside you, on a Sunday morning.”

“Have you?”  That she had envisioned such a scene … “Catherine, I do love you.”  He gathered her for a kiss.  “Be careful. Hurry back.”

“I will.”  She stopped at the bedroom door to share a smile with him.

 

Catherine returned to find the dining table set, the tempting aroma of eggs and bacon, steaming coffee, even a silk rose, in one of her crystal vases, sitting in the center.  She placed the newspapers to one side.

“Our breakfast, my love,” he announced from the bed.  “And I’m right here,” he said, looking even more pleased than before, “as you requested.”

“So you are.  And in a minute I will be right there with you.”

“Breakfast?”

“Are you hungry, Vincent?”  She’d begun to undress.

“Don’t trouble with pajamas.”

“Wouldn’t think of it.”

 

Happy 59th, Hank
September 12, 2023

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful story, full of joy and hope❤️ Lovely celebration, much clarifying conversation, I can imagine this every moment and I really like what I see… plus the subtle caresses. I am enchanted.

    Reply
  2. What a wonderful story, Nancy! So true to character, so believable, so the way it should be. Thank you very much for writing it. It truly is a gift.

    Reply

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