TRY TELLING HER
He did not rise as they approached, rather he shook his head, annoyed. Angry.
Catherine’s voice unsettled the silence.
Long moments passed before he stood and said, “Mouse, you should not have brought her here. Take her back.”
His demand seemed to echo in the deep reaches of the cavern as he turned away.
Catherine touched the young man’s arm and mouthed, “Thank you. Go on. It will be fine.”
He offered a worried half-smile and trotted off.
Vincent’s acute hearing told him one remained.
“You can’t ignore ‘her’, the one you need to live. And so, Vincent, she is staying.”
His cloak swirled around him as he faced the woman who spoke … only truth. Always.
The woman he loved more than everything.
The woman he should never have let … into his heart.
Frustrated, he reasoned, “Catherine, you cannot …”, but she interrupted before he could finish.
“Glad you’ve remembered ‘her’ name.”
“I’m sorry for that.” It was a begrudging apology that he sought to temper. “I was …”
Gently she chided, “Surprised? Not much of an excuse, Vincent.”
His exhale was loud and labored.
“I was unforgivably rude. I let my anger overrule …”
This time there was no need to cut in because he’d stopped speaking to stare up at what must have been the highest of stone ceilings. She wondered what he saw. To her it was just endless obscurity. All around them, beyond the glow of the lantern she’d placed on the ground, was the same infinity of darkness. But he was light, her light, and she wasn’t afraid or concerned about what lay above or out … there.
She walked to him, and he spared her a glance before looking away.
“I know you’re angry with me, but don’t blame Mouse. That would be unfair and you are not that.”
He bent his head toward her. “Can you forgive me?”
She raised her arms to encircle his neck.
“Of course. I love you.”
At her declaration, he freed himself abruptly and strode a short way into the gloom.
She told him, “You love me as much as … more than I love you because you know me better than I know you.” Pausing, she thought aloud, “I’m not sure that would engender more love or less in some other man.”
“Then perhaps you need to find out from … some other man.”
She knew to ignore that.
Unafraid in the almost-dark, she walked to where he’d retreated, around him to where he studied the ground at his feet. She got as close as she could, toe to toe so that he had to see her boots nearly touching his.
He chose to look up at her … beautiful … face.
“You are … tenacious … and foolhardy, Catherine. And don’t say it. Don’t. You cannot love me. I should not love you. It’s all hopeless. We know that.”
“I know nothing of the sort. We, you and I, that which has never been, we are the definition of hope. We share a spiritually bonded existence. With such an amazing future awaiting us. My only wish, my dearest wish is to live it with you. Forever with you, Vincent.”
He clasped her shoulders, more to hold her away than in affection. “And so you’ve come here where I’ve little food left and the only water flows from a …a rock. How is your fairytale supposed to end well with such an ill-fated script?”
She had the audacity to grin and say, “Oh, I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
With that he pulled her against his heart.
“Catherine.” He said her name again. “Catherine, there is … nothing … I have no power … not even a prayer. I can’t conjure that ‘something’ …”
“It’ll be so good for us, Vincent.”
“What will? What are you imagining?”
“Believing,” she corrected.
He made some space between them.
“Tell me of your … belief.”
“It will take a while. We should get comfortable.”
His gaze dropped and he shook his head.
“I … should have been more insistent that Mouse take you back.”
“Why do you find me so troublesome? So hard to … ignore?”
“Only if I need peace. And crave breath.”
“Here …” she offered, leaning close to touch her lips to his in the sweetest kiss. “And here … “ she hugged him with all her strength. “I will gladly share my breath with every kiss, and in my arms you will find peace. There is neither for you without me, Vincent.”
“No. There isn’t,” he whispered.
“I don’t … know,” he spoke close to her soft hair.
Pressed tightly against him she promised, “Well, I do. We announce our desire to marry. Counter Father’s arguments together. It won’t be hard to get Mary and the others to help with that. And we plan a lovely ceremony, invite Father to officiate when, if, he calms down. After that we have a wonderful celebration with our family Below and then a honeymoon that will last all our lives and throughout eternity. I love you so much.” She paused. “Loving you has become who I am, Vincent.”
“And your love for me, mine for you is the essence of who I am.”
“I’d like to be kissed now.”
He moved to see her face.
“Are you sure of these … beliefs? Have you any doubts, Catherine? The slightest misgiving …?”
“Kiss me. And taste my certainty.”
“One kiss cannot tell all of my desire, the depth, the urgency of my need for you,” he confessed.
“I’ll try to keep that in mind.”
He ran a finger down her soft cheek.
“I’m so glad that telling ‘her’ to go back had no effect whatsoever.”
“Are you praising ‘her’ for being stubborn?”
“I’m grateful beyond telling, that you, as you are, Catherine, are mine.”
“For always, Vincent.” She hesitated for a breath. “Are you … ever … going to kiss me?”
He smiled and drew her close.
* * *
you love me more, Hank
One month after the events of “The Outsiders”…
With a mechanical-like reflex, Vincent put another spoonful of the contents in the bowl in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed without tasting. It was chicken and white bean chili, one of William’s best, and it might as well have been ashes. The conversation levels in the dining hall had almost returned to normal – almost.
It had been one month. One month since Cullen had led a crew to dispose of the bodies in the Abyss. One month since the feral child had been spotted running towards an exit tunnel like the forces of Hell were after him and not looking back. One month since Randolph, and Matthew, and Simon had been laid to rest. One month since Frannie had not said a word as her mother wept over Matthew’s bier, and had simply held her mother as she watched her father be placed in the catacombs. One month since Frannie had stopped speaking. To anyone.
One month since the Council meeting where Father made a point of looking at the floor as he cleared his throat and talked about how they had all grown too dependent on Vincent and needed new security measures. One month since the ways changed. One month since he had told Catherine to go away.
She hadn’t, of course. After leaving him alone in his chamber, she returned Above to call the other Helpers to give the all clear to return the other groups of children and to lock her gun back in its safe. She’d come back down to bring him a tray of supper he hadn’t touched, gone to scrub the food storage chamber walls, went to Ang’s to replace all the lost food, and spent the rest of the evening resettling Mary in her chamber. Mary crying hot tears of shame for being so foolish and Catherine biting her tongue and replacing the quilt on the bed.
She had stayed the night in Lena’s chamber, Lena too terrified to sleep lest the Outsiders somehow crawl back out of the Abyss to take her baby away. Catherine had soothed her into lying down to just try to close her eyes for a little bit, promising to watch over Cate, and exhaustion soon took Lena into slumber. Catherine was too tired and angry and everything to sleep so she watched Cate peacefully sleep in her crib. Oh, baby girl, I thought you had the luck in a million to be born in a world where things like this don’t happen, I’m so sorry, little one.
The next day she’d brought him a breakfast tray he wasn’t going to touch either but an instinctive urge to never waste food made him choke down a few bites of toast with tea. He looked at her then, exhausted, in rumpled clothes. He wanted to hold her, he wanted to hold her until the pain that bit and scratched and flicked and fluttered around in him like a trapped bird stopped.
He looked away. “When are they holding the ceremonies for Randolph, Matthew, and Simon?”
They had attended the ceremony in the catacombs, they had stood by the Mirror Pool and burned their letters in turn, Vincent noticing Simon’s widower Jason dropping in a photo that curled before he could see the image. Catherine and Vincent had talked stiffly of safe subjects like the children needing new boots, and he had seen her Below a few times since then. But he had not gone to her balcony.
He could still see the traces of the graffiti in the food storage chamber. Zach avoided the tunnels where he’d stumbled across Randolph, and was starting to carry his backpack with him everywhere. He was going to run away if they weren’t careful. If I can’t convince him something like that will never happen again. If I can’t lie to him that it will never happen again, that is. And the food in his mouth turned to glue and he pushed the bowl away.
His afternoon classes passed uneventfully. The children were still careful around him. He read June Jordan to his teenage poetry class and felt like there was a sheet of glass between him and one of his favorite poets. He talked to his composition class about narrative and how Brigit O’Donnell had used personal testimony to create a macro view of the situation in Northern Ireland in her latest essay that had been published in the magazine sent down by Peter. Brooke had asked several thoughtful questions and he had given answers, though as the class shuffled away he couldn’t remember a single word he had said.
The day dipped into evening and then night. Vincent sat at his desk to plan tomorrow’s classes and the pen felt like a snake in his hand. He dropped it and stood, throwing his cape on and striding towards Catherine’s basement.
Catherine heard the soft sigh of fabric against the balcony’s wall that meant Vincent. She carefully walked to the balcony doors and opened them. He stood there looking at her. She was in a peach silk robe over a slip of black satin, flowers all over the robe like laughter, and her feet bare. She watched him without reproach, without asking why he’d stayed away so long. The air between them was heavy like things are when they’re sorrowful. Or holy. He knelt at her feet; she did not move away. He wrapped his arms around her waist; she did not flinch. He pressed his face into her stomach and began to weep. She gently placed her hands on his hair and murmured words of comfort. And somewhere deep inside him he could feel the glass shattering into glitter, and a bird flying away until it was only a pinpoint of white against an endless black sky.