TO THE OTHER SIDE
by Jo Fredericks
Catherine descended the ladder, careful not to
entangle the hem of her outfit as she took careful steps down its
rungs. Halfway down she tugged at the edge of the access door. It
sighed softly on its hinge until it clicked shut, just like the screen
door the hinge had once been a part of. She smiled to herself; Mouse’s
little addition had made it so much easier to close off her hidden
entrance to the Tunnels.
As she placed her second foot on the uneven ground
of the threshold floor she pivoted, an expectant smile on her face,
already anticipating the bear hug of Vincent’s embrace. Her smile
faltered a little as she saw the much smaller figure that awaited her
before recognition brought it back in full measure.
“Geoffrey! What a lovely surprise!” She approached
the youngster who even now was brushing dirt from the seat of his
pants, having obviously been sitting against the broken brick wall
He offered her one of his endearing shy smiles. “Hi, Catherine! Vincent asked me to come for you.”
Catherine tilted her head as she regarded the boy.
He was several inches taller than the last time she’d seen him. He had
that gangly coltish look that signified he was in the midst of a growth
spurt. She stifled a sigh. He was growing up. Still, that wash of
freckles on his face would make him look younger than his years for
some time to come.
She held out her hand to him. “I can’t imagine a better escort. Thank you, sweetheart.”
Even in the dim light she caught his furious blush
as he placed his hand in hers. Seeking to ease his discomfort, she
asked, “Do you often come down to this part of the Tunnels? I know my
apartment building is a bit off the main pathways.”
“Oh, sure. We explore all over.” He pointed behind
himself with his free hand. “Back that way, on the other side of your
Catherine turned to look over her shoulder as they
walked, the dim light from her threshold receding into the distance
with every step.
“The other side?”
Somehow it had never occurred to her that the
passageway in front of her threshold didn’t end at her access point to
the tunnels. In her mind, the path from beneath her building led only
one way: toward the Hub ... toward Vincent. She felt suddenly foolish
that it had taken a casual remark from this young boy to point out the
“I’ve never ... I didn’t realize ...” she stammered,
abashed to find she had no words to reply to his comment.
Unaware of her chagrin, Geoffrey continued to
explain. “There’s this cool cavern not far beyond it. It has this neat
waterfall. We swim there sometimes.”
All of this was news to Catherine, and suddenly she
was much more curious about the area surrounding her threshold. The
idea of a “cool cavern” so close to her apartment building intrigued
her, and she made a mental note to ask Vincent to take her there.
* * *
As they entered the gathering in the music chamber,
voices called out greetings to her, and Catherine waved and replied.
Geoffrey pulled her through the crowd, headed for a loveseat in a far
corner which was occupied by Eric. Eric was engaged in turning away a
potential occupant of the empty seat beside him. When he caught sight
of Geoffrey and Catherine, he blew out a sigh of relief.
“It’s about time you got here,” he said, addressing
Geoffrey. “It’s been hard holding onto these seats.”
“Please don’t blame Geoffrey, it’s my fault he’s late. Vincent asked him to escort me.”
Eric nodded, his long bangs falling into his eyes
behind the large lenses of his glasses. “He told me. That’s why I’m
guarding this sofa. It’s for you.” He jumped up and made a flourish
with one arm to indicate she was to sit.
Amused by the gesture and charmed by the thought
behind it, Catherine sat in the middle of the cushions and patted the
empty spots on either side of her. Normally only two people could sit
comfortably on the small sofa, but enough space was left on either side
of Catherine’s petite form for the two skinny pre-teen boys to sit
beside her. “Join me?”
Eric and Geoffrey looked at each other, each
apparently wondering if the other would accept the offer. Sitting
beside Catherine was a much-sought-after treat generally reserved for
the younger children and the girls Below. The glance they shared ended
in anticipatory smiles, and they nodded at Catherine in unison before
claiming positions at her elbows.
Even though they were slender, it was still a snug
fit for three, so Catherine draped her arms around the boys’ shoulders
and urged them to lean close to her. When Vincent entered the music
chamber some time later, he stood gazing at the trio, bemused at the
sight of two boys who were beginning to squirm away from receiving hugs
from their elders Below, now suddenly so content to be seen cuddling
... with Catherine. Then he began to notice the knowing looks from
those surrounding the trio. Rebecca was pointing at the boys and
smiling with Carole. Pascal was nodding and grinning as Austin nudged
him and indicated the boys with the quick extension of his chin. Cullen
was smirking as he imitated Eric, mimicking the boy’s position in an
exaggerated fashion with the fellow he was sitting near, much to the
amusement of several others close by.
Vincent’s bemusement soon turned into chagrin as he
realized that he likely wasn’t fooling anyone either. Just as with Eric
and Geoffrey, who everyone Below knew idolized Catherine, his love for
Catherine was the worst kept secret he had. With sudden clarity
he recognized that the looks Eric and Geoffrey were getting were
probably the same as those his family leveled in his direction when he
was thoroughly engrossed in Catherine’s company during events like this
Shaking his head at his own folly, he stood just
inside the entryway until intermission, watching his Beloved as she
enjoyed the concert, noting the beatific expressions on the two boys
beside her as they sat, eyes closed, their heads on her shoulders ...
and wishing he were one of them.
As the final notes of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique faded
from the chamber, Vincent detected tears on Catherine’s cheeks. The
sad, yearning quality of that piece never failed to move her. But
usually he was beside her, ready ... eager to give her comfort. He
pushed himself away from the cavern wall upon which he had been leaning
and strode quickly to her side.
Eric opened his eyes first and gazed at the looming
presence before him. “Vincent! Hi!” he squeaked. Geoffrey’s eyes popped
open a moment later, and he jerked upright guiltily. Catherine’s
eyelids fluttered open last, as if she were coming out of a trance into
which the music had lulled her. Her slow smile heralded a shiver of
delight through their Bond, a bright tendril that Vincent absorbed
greedily, although his eyes betrayed no hint of the thrill it gave him.
“Thank you both for taking such good care of
Catherine.” His voice was pitched low, the rumbling purr of it sending
a thrill up Catherine’s spine. One claw-tipped hand emerged from within
his cloak and he offered it to Catherine. “I’ll escort her to the
Eric rose and glanced at Geoffrey, an unspoken
message passing between them.”Why don’t you stay here and we’ll bring
you a slice of cake and some punch?”
Vincent nodded, then turned to watch as the
youngsters melted into the crowd queuing to claim pieces of Mary’s
apple cake, an old family recipe she shared with no one, liking to bake
the special treat herself on occasion throughout the year. He turned
back to Catherine, who had moved to one side of the loveseat. Her hand
was still clasped in his and she tugged gently. “Come sit. Tell me
about your day.”
He sank gratefully into the old cushions. Through
the layers of clothing he wore he could feel the residual warmth of her
body from the cushion she had just occupied. Her warmth - it filled him
from within and from without ... the warmth of her heart, her words ...
her hands. He dared to interlace his fingers with Catherine’s and
lifted her hand to his mouth; the merest brush of his lips met her palm
and he felt her tremble at it.
That slight tremor shook him to his core and he
struggled to formulate a reply to Catherine’s question. “A...a new
family came to us a month ago. You met them.”
Catherine nodded and squeezed his hand, lifting it
to return a brushed kiss against the furred back of it, her eyes never
leaving his face. Her warm breath stirred the hair at his wrist, and it
was his turn to shiver with delight.
This was not the place or the time to marvel at her
reaction to this rare intimacy. But telling himself that didn’t stop
his heart from suddenly beating faster.
For the briefest of moments, Vincent contemplated
the possible reactions of those in the chamber who might be watching
them, recalling his observations earlier when the subjects were
Geoffrey and Eric. Now he imagined Cullen rolling his eyes and making
kissing noises to those nearby or Rebecca’s mouth twitching into a
knowing smile, perhaps even Mary nodding in motherly approval or Father
frowning with parental concern. And he found that he no longer cared
what others thought - those who supported his relationship with
Catherine or those who might not.
That perception struck him with quiet force. His
actions were not bound by what others thought ... not even Father. It
only mattered how Catherine reacted ... and it was apparent to him that
she was just fine with it.
It took a major effort for him to return focus to
their conversation. After a deeply taken breath, he resumed speaking.
“The chambers Kanin was enlarging for them were finished this morning.
I helped him clear out the remaining rubble and move furniture from our
storage chambers into their new home. It took longer than anticipated.”
He smiled wryly with good-natured aggravation as he revealed,
“Geraldine was not sure about the best placement until each piece of
furniture had been moved several times.”
Catherine laughed, picturing Kanin and Vincent
trying not to roll their eyes as they heaved heavy bedframes and
armoires from place to place. “She’s satisfied now?” Her eyebrows rose
with the question, her smile holding a hint of skepticism.
Vincent shrugged and reply drily, “Kanin said it’s
hard to satisfy a woman for long.” He was rewarded by a delicate snort
from Catherine. “But for now ... yes, she seems happy with the
arrangement of her furnishings.”
“I”m glad. But did you have time for dinner? A slice
of cake isn’t going to fill you up after such a hard day.”
The anticipated piece of cake suddenly appeared
before him and Vincent looked up at Geoffrey and thanked him. Geoffrey
handed Catherine her piece, and with some reluctance she disengaged her
hand from Vincent’s to accept it. Eric arrived a moment later with two
mugs of punch which he set on the carpet beside them, just behind their
legs, to protect the mugs from being knocked over.
“Thank you,” Catherine said with a smile, “for this
and for everything tonight. You were both wonderful company.”
Geoffrey blushed hard and Eric shoved his glasses up
his nose self-consciously. “You’re welcome,” they both managed somewhat
mechanically, then drifted away to find their buddies and preen over
having gotten to sit with Catherine for half the concert.
“You mesmerize them,” Vincent confided to her.
“I seriously doubt that!” she replied, smiling as
she shook her head. “I’m just not around much. If I were, I’d be old
hat, like all the other ladies in the Tunnels.”
He was about to object to her ever being regarded by
anyone as “old hat” when Catherine changed the subject. “Now, you were
about to tell me, did you eat? Because if not, before I devour this
cake, I will begrudgingly share it with you.”
Her fork hovered over the slice on her plate as she
looked from him to the cake and back while she licked her lips in
exaggerated anticipation of her first bite.
“Your kindness overwhelms me, but it’s unnecessary.”
He smiled to soften his sarcasm and watched her happily dive into the
cake as he continued, “Kanin and I were late because we stopped to raid
the kitchen before stepping into the bathing chambers.”
“Well, you missed some lovely music, but I’d rather
you be here sated and smelling sweetly, even though it meant you didn’t
get to hear a beautiful rendition of Pathetique.”
“I only missed the first notes. I’ve been over by the entrance listening.”
Catherine gazed over at the entry, her eyes widening in surprise. “How did I miss seeing you?”
“You had your eyes closed. You were very focused on the music.”
“Ah, so I was.” She nodded, remembering. “It
happens, as you know well.” She popped the last bite of cake into her
mouth, then was nonplused when Eric’s hands reached out to take the
fork and empty plate from her. He disappeared before Catherine could
Vincent leaned toward her and whispered, “Mesmerized.”
Deliberately pretending to misunderstand him, Catherine responded, “Yes, I was, by the music.”
“Tchaikovsky does seem to have that effect on you,”
he replied, his lips twitching, resigned to having lost the battle.
He finished his cake, but no eager hand reached out
to carry his plate away. So Vincent rose to take it to the table.
Catherine used his temporary absence to drink her punch, and she was
just sipping the last drops when she saw Geoffrey slip into position in
front of her, one hand out to accept the empty mug. He nearly bumped
into a returning Vincent, who chuckled at Catherine’s floored
“I have groupies,” she admitted to herself as Geoffrey rushed off to deposit her mug with the other empties.
“What are those?”
The musicians began to tune up, so Catherine merely murmured, “I’ll explain later.”
* * *
They made slow progress on the journey back to
Catherine’s threshold that night, since they lingered here and there,
not keeping their usual steady pace. As they ambled through the
torch-lit passageways, Vincent gave himself permission to be more bold
in displaying his affection, rubbing his thumb across Catherine’s
knuckles when they were hand in hand, pulling her close when they
walked side by side, even nuzzling Catherine’s temple when she
impulsively hugged him after he had helped her over a large pipe
blocking their path. But too soon, it seemed, they approached the
familiar broken brickwork.
Catherine stood with her face buried against
Vincent’s chest, her hands grasping fistfuls of his cloak. She inhaled
deeply, savoring the aromas which always clung to him - the scents of
his world and his own unique one - and distinguished him from every
other man she had ever known.
“It’s late.” The regret in his voice was clear.
“Do you have an early class tomorrow?” She gazed up into his face, begging him to say no.
“I have promised to return to Geraldine’s chambers
to assist her with any last modifications to her furniture placement.”
Catherine groaned in sympathy as she buried her face
once more against his chest, and Vincent chuckled. Then he asked, ‘Was
there a special reason you asked?”
He could feel her nodding. “I was going to beg a favor.”
“Do,” he urged.
She sighed and stepped out of his arms. “No. As you
said, it’s late, and we both have early days.” At his intaken breath,
knowing he would protest, she added, “It will keep, I promise.”
Reluctance to accept the deferral of her unexpressed
wish shone in his eyes, but he could sense her resolve. He continued to
gaze into her face, ensuring himself that the request was not of real
importance. After a moment he conceded. “All right.”
They continued to face each other, both knowing the
moment for parting had come, both wishing to postpone it for a little
longer. Vincent thought about how the kiss he’d pressed to her hand had
been received earlier in the evening, and about the absurdity of the
pretense he insisted upon that their love was platonic. It wasn’t
fooling anyone, least of all her. Catherine had resigned herself to
moving toward love at his pace, which he recognized had seemed, for the
better part of a year, more like standing still. It was time ... beyond
time ... to move forward a step or two.
As he thought of moving forward, his body responded
and did the same. Without conscious thought, he leaned toward her. Very
carefully he cupped Catherine’s face between his hands. His gaze took
in the delicate pulse at her temple, the raised flesh of her one
remaining scar, the invitingly soft lips, and with an ease which
surprised him, he kissed her. Her mouth beneath his was luscious,
responding to him with a tenderness which drew tears. His lips moving
gently over hers, and for a breathless moment their Bond rippled in
delicate undulations, like waves gently lapping at the shore of
The moment - delicious, promising, tantalizing -
ended. Vincent stepped away, stunned at his boldness, thrilled by it.
Catherine smiled, blew a kiss to him, and turned to go. At the ladder
she paused and looked back at him. The time was coming, they both
understood that, and the promise of it was enough ... for now.
* * *
She knew it was silly, but that wasn’t going to stop her.
Catherine descended the ladder, dragging a backpack
down with her before triggering the hinge which closed the door above
her head. After she got both feet on the ground she dug out her
flashlight and shrugged the backpack over one shoulder. It held water
and granola bars, extra batteries, a towel, and candles and matches in
case her flashlight completely failed. In one pocket of her suede
jacket she fisted a piece of chalk.
She approached the broken brickwork which separated
her threshold from the tunnels and took a deep breath. Intrigued by
Geoffrey’s remarks on the night of the concert about that “cool cavern”
somewhere down past this section of the passageway, she had been about
to ask Vincent to take her there. But she was glad she hadn’t. He would
have known where she wanted to go and would have led her there - all
she would have done would have been follow behind him. There would have
been little adventure in that. No, the thrill of discovery would be
hers only if she pursued her goal alone. And really, it was as safe an
adventure as she could imagine, going alone to a place not far from her
own threshold that was easy enough for the youngsters Below to find. So
instead of turning right at the intersection of her threshold and the
passageway as she always had to head to the Hub, she turned left,
flicking her flashlight on as she did so, and she set off on her
The path was rocky but walkable, the turns not as
twisty as she had anticipated, the forks fewer than in the part of the
tunnels with which she was familiar. Still, she tagged her way with
irregular chalk marks which she hoped would make sense only to her. She
didn’t want to make it obvious that someone had passed through this
area, but neither did she want to accidentally slip into a side passage
on her way back and become hopelessly lost. Having to call for rescue
from this far beyond the Hub would not only be embarrassing but would
pull someone from their duties due entirely to her impulsive desire to
explore. She didn’t want to think of what Father would have to say
The rock walls seemed to close in at points along
her journey, but they never narrowed to an uncomfortable degree. She
inspected openings as she went along and traveled short distances into
side tunnels to see where they might lead. She found only some
relatively shallow alcoves, nothing that remotely suggested a chamber,
much less a cavern, and she found no pools or falls.
From far off, the clacking of subway trains could be
heard, but the sounds were becoming fainter. She suspected she was
moving away from the subway lines as she angled downward, deeper into
the earth. The air was still fresh, although cool, and she was glad for
the jacket she still wore despite her exertions.
Catherine had explored for about two hours and was
on the point of deciding to take a break when she detected a new sound
just at the limit of her range of hearing: the rush of water. Whether
it was the harbinger of the mysterious waterfall that Geoffrey had
spoken of or just water moving through the sewers, she couldn’t
She followed the sounds, backtracking at one point
when they became too indistinct, then heading down a branch of the main
passage as they grew louder. The splash of water on rocks was clearly
distinguishable now from somewhere up ahead, but the passageway dead
ended. Catherine stared in disbelief at the solid rock. It was here ...
She closed her eyes, focusing on the tantalizing
sounds which seemed so close, and realized the waterfall was somewhere
behind her. She turned and, from the vantage point of the dead end, saw
what she had been unable to see until she’d passed it - a rocky
outcropping that hid a slender opening, noticeable as a blacker shadow
in the dimness ahead.
It was then she realized that the glow cast by her
flashlight was weakening. She dug fresh batteries from her backpack and
replaced the dying ones. Immediately the passage filled with brighter
light, the stark contrast between the outcropping of stone and the
opening very evident now.
Anticipation urged her feet forward, but she checked
her progress, knowing that care was needed in an unfamiliar place. She
slid her backpack from her shoulder and carried it in her free hand to
make her silhouette as slender as possible. Slowly she advanced, the
flashlight illuminating what was before her in sweeps from the ground
to above her head as she carefully placed one foot in front of the
other, ducking to avoid bumping her head on the irregular ceiling.
The entrance was deceptive. After two sharp turns,
she entered a maze-like series of tunnels. Running the chalk along the
rocks near her feet, she traced the correct path until the trail ended
in a large opening. The thrum of steadily falling water was very loud
now. This had to be the cavern Geoffrey had spoken of. Catherine took a
deep breath and turned the beam of her flashlight straight ahead,
shining it through the arched entry, playing it quickly from left to
right, then up and down. The beam revealed a cavern much larger than
she had expected to find.
Catherine used her flashlight with more deliberation
now, slowly running the light across the ground and ceiling just in
front of her to ensure there were no hidden hazards then, as she
stepped inside, extending the beam to once more take in the full
chamber. No evidence of humans occupying the cavern met her eye, nor
were there stalagmites or stalactites to run into or trip over. When
she was convinced there were no impediments to walking, only a soft
dirt floor, she advanced further into the cavern, intent on
The waterfall drew her attention as the most
dominant feature in the cavern. Water spewed in a rush from a fissure
in the ceiling, tumbling and crashing down over jutting rocks until it
cascaded, frothing, into a pool that extended the length of the rear
wall of the cavern. A thin mist hovered at the base of the falls, and
water droplets sparkled on the rock face for yards beyond it, evidence
of the tumultuousness of the waterfall.
Catherine traveled the length of the pool, playing
the flashlight beam over glistening boulders, and noticed small
rivulets descending from various heights and myriad crevasses to empty
into the main body of water. As she reached the far end, she sat on the
rough ledge of stone that edged the water at irregular heights. Here,
farthest from the falls, the pool was calmest. She put her pack on the
ground and look around her in awe, contemplating all she saw. It was
like a childhood fantasy, to find a hidden world - or, in this case, to
stumble upon a small version of the Chamber of the Falls here, so close
to her apartment building. She wondered what other secret places there
were in Vincent’s world Below.
Bending forward, she ran the beam of her flashlight
around the pool, wondering what kept it from overflowing into the
cavern. Not finding an outlet, she assumed it was draining into a space
beneath the level of tunnels she was in, possibly creating another
waterfall on a lower level as it left this chamber. Perhaps this water
eventually joined other sources to emerge into the Chamber of the
Falls, which she believed was several levels below her present
position, although several miles away. She would have to ask Vincent or
Mouse; with all the mapping they had done, one of them was sure to
know. But that information wasn’t important right now.
Catherine took a deep, satisfied breath as she
looked around. She smiled triumphantly, with a flush of pride, mentally
patting herself on the back for finding this place. She felt she
deserved a reward for the success of her solo exploratory mission and
for the blossoming of her adventurous spirit.
Dipping her hand into the relatively placid water
beside her, Catherine was surprised to find that it was not very cold.
While it wasn’t exactly warm either, any pool Above would have been
deemed comfortable if it maintained this temperature. She decided what
her reward would be: a soak in the pool. It would feel good to lean
comfortably against some of the flatter boulders and immerse her tired
muscles while the turbulent waters frothed around her like a Jacuzzi.
She had brought a towel with her, determined she’d at least get her
feet wet once she’d found the falls, having assumed the water would be
too cold to do anything else. A nice relaxing soak sounded
Catherine pulled out the candles she’d brought and
set them along a shelf of rock near the sheltered area she’d decided to
bathe in. To conserve her batteries, she turned off her flashlight and
traded it for the towel in her backpack. After zipping up and tucking
the backpack tightly into a niche close to her designated bathing area,
she shed her clothes and folded them neatly next to the backpack.
Lastly, she set the towel where she could reach it handily once she got
out of the pool.
The ambient temperature in the cavern was
comfortable while clothed, but a bit chilly now that she was naked. She
quickly entered the pool then felt gingerly with her feet for a shallow
spot on which to sit. A long rock shelf just a foot below the surface
seemed perfect; it wasn’t wide enough to sit on, but gave her enough
purchase to lean her elbows on so she could keep her head and shoulders
above the water. Soon she had done just that.
The roiling water eased the aches that had blossomed
in her lower back and the soles of her feet after hours of exploration,
and Catherine sighed with pleasure, smugly happy with herself for
having accomplished her goal. This cavern was indeed, as Geoffrey had
She still couldn’t believe she had never before
followed the passageway that led to it. What else had she been blithely
oblivious to for the past few years? She knew the answer. Her lack of
inquisitiveness lay in one direction: Vincent. He consumed her
imagination, leaving no room for such mundane concerns as the world
The candlelight cast flickering shadows against the
rock walls, a hypnotic effect that brought to mind the quiet comforts
of Vincent’s chamber. It was so peaceful, Catherine let her eyelids
drift shut as the water bubbled deliciously around her bare skin, and
she allowed the sound of the falls to lull her into a reverie of
sharing the pool with an equally naked Vincent ....
A sound other than the rush of water penetrated her
consciousness. Shocked into alertness, Catherine turned to lean her
forearms on the rock shelf and bent low to hide below the level of the
boulders edging the pool as she strained to catch the sound again.
Catherine strove to contain her panic as she blew
out the candles, plunging the cavern into deepest darkness. She felt
incredibly stupid all of a sudden, having assumed she was completely
safe in an environment with which she was not fully familiar. Now here
she was, about to be caught in a cavern with only one exit, naked, wet
and vulnerable. Although her clothes and backpack were a short distance
from her, they were useless because she couldn’t access them without
calling attention to her position. She’d be found before she could even
pull the only weapon she had - her heavy flashlight - out of the depths
of her zippered backpack.
Cursing herself as seven kinds of fool, she crouched lower in the water.
The voices grew louder.
Boys’ voices, entering the cavern.
“... haven’t been here before.”
“Well, now you have!”
“Wonder who made those chalk marks we saw?”
“Oooh, this is neat!”
Flashlight beams fluttered all over the cavern.
Catherine held her breath. The voices echoed eerily, bouncing off the high ceiling.
“Over here!” called one, and she heard several sets
of footsteps scuffing along the cavern floor, coming closer. “The pool
isn’t real cold. Come on!”
There was a sound of metal creaking gently - lanterns? Perhaps.
Muffled noises that to Catherine’s ears sounded like
things being thrown to the ground were ... rocks? Shoes?!
Suddenly, “Last one in’s a rotten egg!” came a
shout, followed by the sound of running footsteps. Something flew over
Catherine’s head and cannon-balled into the water several feet behind
her with a huge splash. She turned, agony in her heart, to face almost
Other bodies flew over the rocky barrier and dove or plopped into the water.
A head popped up, mere inches from hers. Dripping
hair streamed into the face of a young boy whose eyes finally opened
... to stare straight into hers.
Whose surprise was greatest, Catherine didn’t know. She screamed at the same time as he did.
It was Geoffrey.
Startled, he gulped in water through a wide open,
astonished mouth, then flailed for a moment before dog-paddling
frantically sideways, paying no attention to where he was going.
Catherine tried to shout a warning, but he didn’t seem to hear her, and
he cracked his head on an outcropping of stone. His eyes rolled up and
he sagged bonelessly into the water and sank beneath the
The others were slow to realize what had happened.
As one by one the boys discovered their unexpected interloper, they
A long moment passed.
Geoffrey didn’t rise to the surface.
Catherine recovered first and dove into the deeper
water. She was in full-scale panic, searching frantically, reaching
around blindly in the murky depths until, finally, she found him,
motionless, far beneath the surface. She grabbed one of his arms and
hauled him upwards, breaking the surface and carrying him with her as
she swam to the edge of the pool.
With no thought for her nakedness, Catherine lifted
herself onto the ledge, then pulled Geoffrey up and out of the pool and
eased him onto his back on the dirt floor. She felt for a pulse and
realized he wasn’t breathing. Immediately she started CPR, crossing one
hand over the other and pressing stiff-armed on his chest below his
breastbone. After a few compressions, Geoffrey began to cough up water.
She turned him on his side and held him as he cleared his lungs and
regained his breath.
The silence around her was dismaying. As Geoffrey
recovered, Catherine chanced a look over her shoulder. There stood
Eric, Jonah, Carlo and Ali, freshly emerged from the pool, mouths
hanging open and staring not at their friend who was until so recently
in distress ... but at her.
Chest heaving from breathing heavily in exertion and fear.
Suddenly a roar filled the cavern, echoing madly and
causing the youngsters to wince and shove their hands against their
Catherine’s eyes closed as she realized what was
happening. She could feel the rush of blood to her face as she
imagined the picture she presented to the man who had undoubtedly raced
at full speed for two miles or more to “rescue” her from this
When she opened her eyes, there before her stood a
gasping, growling ... very confused Vincent. The rumbling in his throat
slowly subsided as he took in the tableau before him in the light of
several lanterns: four pre-teen Tunnel boys, naked, wet and wide-eyed,
and Catherine, also dripping wet ... and so very ... very ... naked ...
so completely ... naked .... Finally his gaze dropped to the trembling,
coughing youngster in Catherine’s arms.
Catherine managed to gasp out, “He ... almost ... drowned.”
Vincent whipped the cloak from his shoulders, ready
to drape it over Geoffrey. But he hovered in indecision, wondering if
he should instead wrap Catherine in it.
Catherine made the decision for him. She stood and,
with as much dignity as she could muster, walked back to where she had
left her towel. As she was wrapping it around herself, Vincent dragged
his gaze from her and over to the youngsters, calling their names until
they looked from Catherine to him, then holding their attention as he
barked, “Boys! Come here!” Keeping his eyes in them, he tucked the
cloak around Geoffrey and began to rub his arms and legs through the
Eric led the other boys to Vincent, and they formed
a semi-circle around him and Geoffrey, facing away from Catherine. She
used the opportunity to dry off quickly and shove herself into her
jeans and sweater. She then sat on an outcropping while she dried her
feet and pulled on her socks and shoes. The towel she wrapped around
her sodden hair, then surreptitiously tucked her underwear inside her
backpack as she pulled out the flashlight. Finally able to face the
others, Catherine took a deep breath to brace herself and returned to
“Go dress now,” Vincent ordered the boys, and they
swiveled away from Catherine with an alacrity born of deep
embarrassment. Catherine knelt beside Geoffrey and murmured, “It was my
fault, all of it.”
“I doubt that,” he replied.
Catherine shook the towel from her hair and began to
dry Geoffrey’s sopping mop with it. By now the youngster could sit up,
and Vincent asked Ali, the first boy to finish dressing, to bring
Geoffrey’s clothes to him. Catherine returned to her backpack and
stayed beside it, gathering her candles to take back home, as Vincent
helped Geoffrey dress. She heard Geoffrey mumble, “I’m fine, honest” as
Vincent tried to lift him in his arms to carry him back to the Hub.
Vincent set him on his feet, watching his balance
critically. He seemed to have recovered remarkably quickly, and Vincent
had to admit that he seemed well enough to make the journey back to the
Home Tunnels with only minor assistance.
“We’ll help him, Vincent, don’t worry,” a subdued
Eric told Vincent, and the other boys nodded vigorously. None of them
glanced over at Catherine. In fact, they seemed in a hurry to leave.
Ali approached Geoffrey and put one arm around his back, ready to help
his friend walk. Jonah and Carlo grabbed the lanterns while Eric and
Geoffrey picked up their flashlights. Vincent called, “Leave one,” and
Carlo obeyed, handing a lantern to him. Then the sober troop walked
single file out of the cavern, tugging at their jeans and sweaters,
which had been donned in haste, without concern for proper fit.
Their exit eliminated any other distractions. The time had come for Catherine to face Vincent.
Vincent rose and shook out his damp cloak. His face
was turned away from her, so Catherine couldn’t gauge how angry he was.
She sat heavily on a flat rock, lowering her head into her hands. “I’m
so sorry,” she moaned. “I’ll never live this down.”
Vincent took up the lantern and moved close to her.
He set it down then knelt in front of her, sitting back on his heels.
She barked a sardonic laugh. “Oh, trust me, it’s a
tawdry tale.” Forcing herself to look him in the eye, she related how
Geoffrey had mentioned this interesting cavern fairly close to her
threshold, how after the concert she was going to ask him to take her
there, how she decided that instead she wanted to attempt to find the
place herself, thinking it a simple adventure where nothing could go
wrong. By the time she got to the shocked look on Geoffrey’s face when
he’d come out of the water and seen her, Vincent head was lowered, his
shoulders shaking in barely suppressed amusement.
Catherine wasn’t exactly sure what kind of reaction
he would have to the situation, but in considering the likely options,
amusement had not crossed her mind. Still trembling slightly from the
shock of all that had happened, she glared at him. “It’s not funny!”
He did his best to curb his response, but as he
lifted his head to face her he couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth
from curling upward just a little. Catherine was relieved that he
wasn’t the least bit upset with her about being taken from his work to
rush to her “rescue.” Grateful for that favor, she turned to her other
worry: she couldn’t help feeling humiliated about what had occurred.
“Geoffrey nearly drowned because of me. And all those boys got an up
close and personal sex education lesson which Father will not
appreciate, I’m sure!”
Vincent snorted once, softly. He composed his face
into a serious expression, although amusement still glinted in his
eyes. “You are a goddess, Catherine. The boys could have done much
worse than see you in all your glory. Besides, they’re old enough to
know ... at least theoretically ... about female anatomy. We went over
what is what in science class last year. True, they may not have seen a
naked woman in the flesh, but there are ...magazines ...circulating
among the young men in the Tunnels and those boys are at an age when
they will see them soon enough, if they haven’t already. And having
just experienced what they did, I can attest that you will be a
difficult act to follow.”
Catherine relaxed a little, hoping he was right,
although still not convinced that Father would see it the same way.
“I don’t intend to report this to him, and I somehow
doubt those boys are anxious to either. When you think about it, nobody
did anything wrong - neither you nor them. What happened to Geoffrey
was an accident, and he seems to have suffered no lingering effects,
although I’ll ask Mary to check him to be sure.”
He rose to sit beside Catherine, drawing her into
his arms. She exhaled a long sigh, allowing herself to fully appreciate
his nearness, his warmth. His arms pulled her closer, and hers extended
to wrap around his waist. They sat quietly, listening to the crash and
rush of the falls, feeling the dewy spray that rose from the churning
He kissed the damp crown of her head. “Of all the
ways I dreamed of seeing you that way, I confess this scenario never
crossed my mind.”
She smiled against his chest. “Surprise!”
She could feel more than hear his rumbling chuckle.
“Indeed. A glorious, happy surprise. When I entered this chamber, I
feared you were hurt or in danger. After it became apparent you were
neither, I could have taken you into my arms and kissed you. It was
only Geoffrey’s condition ... and the other boys’ inability to tear
their eyes from you ... that kept me from it.”
She hesitated for the briefest of moments,
considering his surprising revelation, then risked saying, “They’re not
He stilled beside her, then murmured, “No.”
As she pulled away to gaze into his face, he turned
to her. They regarded each other in silence for a breath ... two. Then,
as if such intimacy had long existed between them, they melted
together, welcoming each other with a long, slow, deep exploration of
lips and tongues that was a sweet anticipation of what was to come.
Vincent broke from the kiss first. He sighed gustily
and leaned his forehead against Catherine’s. “I want to make love to
you so much, Catherine. But this place ...” He looked around, then back
at her. “It’s not what I would have chosen.”
“It’s perfect,” she responded. “We’ll have plenty of
privacy. “ She smiled as she added, “Now that the boys are gone.”
He smiled back. “And are unlikely to return.”
“So, you see, we have all we need - a quiet space
... and each other.” She reinforced her response with another kiss as
she claimed Vincent’s mouth-watering lips once more.
Savoring the newness of the experience, neither of
them was in any hurry to move past the moment. Kiss followed kiss.
Trembling fingers delicately stroked cheeks and eyebrows. Blue eyes
gazed into green, amazed and humbled by all that was reflected in their
Catherine buried her hands in the thick golden
tresses which obscured her view of the cavern as Vincent’s head was
bent to hers. He responded by cupping the back of her head with one
large, strong hand, his fingers playing against her damp hair, ruffling
They relished the languid minutes of freedom to
touch, their need subsumed for the moment in their burgeoning joy.
Catherine could sense the battered, cracked walls of Vincent’s
resistance crumbling ... giving way. He was finally and forever fully
committed to this path they shared, their Bond thrumming with his
passion, a passion she could feel inside of her, deep within her heart.
Slowly they pulled away from each other, and by
unspoken agreement they rose to prepare. Catherine reclaimed her
candles, matches and towel as Vincent gathered his cloak and the
lantern and moved to a shallow grotto beneath the towering rock face
from which the falls emerged. He spread the cloak on the soft dirt;
Catherine handed him the towel, which he folded and laid down like a
pillow. As she lit the candles and placed them in niches in the rock
walls beside the cloak, Vincent lowered the flame on the lantern until
it was just a muted glow.
All beyond the flickering light of the candles was
dusky darkness, the cascading waters a veil of sound masking any others
from within or without. Vincent knelt on the cloak and extended a hand
to Catherine. But she didn’t take it. Instead she began to undress,
sliding off shoes and socks, unzipping her jeans and rolling them down
her legs, then tossing them to one side, and finally slipping her
sweater up and over her head and sending it to join her jeans. This was
not a seductive interlude, for there was no need to tease or titillate.
She was just readying herself for him.
Vincent sat back on his heels watching her. The
unpracticed ease with which Catherine undressed relieved whatever
residual strain he had been feeling over the moments to come. For
Catherine, baring herself to him was simple, easy - she was certain of
his desire, his acceptance. Surely he could take her lead and do the
As she finished, Catherine took the hand which was
still extended to her, allowing Vincent to steady her as she sank to
her knees. He fixed his gaze on hers and began to unlace his vest,
pulling the ties free and shrugging it off. The thermal shirt he wore
beneath it had a lacing closure at the neck; this he worked open before
tugging the shirt free of his jeans. Catherine stayed silent, not
watching his clothes come off, just holding his gaze until he pulled
the shirt over his head. After he shook his hair free, he found her
eyes again, waiting for his. His hands fell to the buttons of his
jeans; he forced the sudden trembling of his fingers to subside and
pulled the buttons free from the worn buttonholes.
He hesitated the merest moment, gathering his
courage. He had not been naked in front of a woman since he was a
child. And this was not motherly Mary, but the woman he adored beyond
thought, the woman whose approval and desire he desperately needed.
Taking his courage in his hands, he shoved the jeans and his underwear
down with one effort, lifting first one knee then the other to allow
the garments to slide the length of his legs. He sat back, tugging the
boots and socks off his feet and removing the clothing that now pooled
at his ankles.
Catherine’s eyes had never left his; she had not
moved to assist him or even touch him as he had undressed. Still as a
statue, she had waited for him. When he rose to kneel again, naked and
vulnerable, she finally moved, edging up to him until a deeply inhaled
breath would have allowed their bodies to touch. She leaned into him
then, pressing her body to his as her arms came up and around his neck
and her lips found the underside of his chin.
Vincent groaned at the intimate contact, his mind
reeling from the sudden sensory overload. His arms flexed and he
reached out to pull her closer still. She reacted with her own moan,
muffled against his neck, and her lips parted as her tongue flicked
across his jugular, following the line of it to his collarbone, then
slipping across it to the indentation where his clavicle met his
breastbone. She sucked lightly here, drawing a gasp from him.
Catherine reached behind her and gripped Vincent’s
forearms, gently tugging them from around her and placing them down by
his sides. She loved being held so tightly, but right now she needed to
be free to explore, to lavish him with all the love she had been
holding inside for so long. Now, finally, she could do what she’d
longed to, what she’d dreamed of.
Sitting back on her heels, Catherine concentrated
her attention on the furred chest, bare shoulders and strong forearms
she had imagined caressing night after night. Her fingers stroked the
outlines of each muscle, relishing the rock hardness, running her palms
over the length of his arms, the tips of her fingers drawing shivers as
they slid up his sides, accepting each sharp intake of breath from him
as proof he relished her touch. As she roamed the planes and valleys of
his torso, with reverent lips she pressed soft, lingering adorations to
flesh and fur alike.
Vincent’s eyelids drifted shut with the exquisite
agony of his need as it battled with an immeasurable gratitude that
Catherine found his body appealing, desirable. He stayed in a state of
taut stillness, muscles tight with wanting her caress, anxious to know
where her fingers might stray next, how her lips might follow. Her
hands, her mouth were traveling lower, both of her palms now flat
against his sides, now sliding together to meet at his stomach, now
reaching back to slip around his buttocks as her tongue and lips slid
When her cheek brushed against the rigid steel of
his erection, the tension within him was too much to bear any longer.
With one hand he grasped Catherine’s shoulder and gently pulled her
backwards as his other hand drifted downwards to cup her bottom. Her
head lolled backwards, her eyes heavy lidded as she panted through
parted lips. Vincent saw the growing pool of black crowding out the
green of her irises, and a thrumming growl leapt from his throat in
response. He laid Catherine carefully upon the cloak, sliding his hands
from her buttocks and shoulder before straddling her in a kneeling
position. They both looked down at the same time, noting the length and
thickness of his erection. With a question in his eyes, he met her
gaze. She responded by reaching out for him, her arms straining upward
in the welcoming gesture he sought.
With a gusty sigh of relief, Vincent sank into her
embrace, pressing his body to hers, reveling in the heat of her, the
softness of her skin, the tension of overpowering passion flowing from
her into their Bond. He pressed hot kisses against her forehead, her
eyes, the scar at her temple, her chin, then slid his body downwards as
his hands cupped her shoulders. On his knees, he lifted his torso so
that he could take in the beauty of her lying naked beneath him. His
nose twitched, sensing her need, her readiness. He was needy, too, and
oh, so ready. But he held himself back, prolonging the pleasure just a
little more to make the coming fulfillment so much more intense, so
His head bent to her breasts. For so long he’d
dreamed of kissing them, caressing them. Her dusky nipples were taut
and taunting. She was even more tantalizing than his dreams had allowed
- so delicate, so delicious, so responsive beneath his hand. His thumb
brushed a nipple and Catherine squirmed with delight, a soft moan
escaping her lips. With his lips and hands he worshiped her, Catherine
arching her back to meet him, one hand cradling his head against her,
holding him to her breast.
Catherine reached down between their bodies,
trailing her fingers along a torso created by the gods just for her -
those chiseled muscles taut with restrained passion - until her
fingertips found what they sought: the sleek hot thickness of his
erection. She slid her fingers down its substantial length.
Vincent gasped and raised his head, staring down at
her in unabashed surprise at the intensity of the sensations she
wrought within him with that touch. His lips pulled back from his teeth
as he struggled to pull in enough air, panting with barely suppressed
need, revealing sharp canines which glinted in the candlelight.
Catherine was mesmerized by the sight of her
savage-looking lover, knowing he was anything but that. She had dreamed
so often of a moment like this, but the reality of him - his uncommon
beauty, his mane of hair in wild disarray - was more than any dream. He
Wrapping her hand around his erection, her
face reflecting her awe at the impressive girth she held, she stroked
him from base to tip, again and again, as she murmured his name with
mingled adoration and passion. Her thumb flicked across the tip and
then around the underside of the broad head with each upward stroke;
her hand squeezed the shaft lightly on each downward one. She felt him
tremble as he held himself on stiffened arms so that he could watch her
touch him so intimately.
Vincent always loved to hear her say his name, but
he’d never heard it sound more wonderful than coming from her
passion-swollen lips. He watched in awe as she grasped him so
intimately, amazement widening his eyes. He had never even dared to
imagine what she was doing now, her fingers flaming his desire beyond
thought. A tremor ran through his body, his need escalating to fever
pitch. Reason fled as, head thrown back, he gave himself to the heat of
Unable to wait any longer, Catherine urged him
towards her, guiding him to her core. She was so ready, and he was
almost beyond the point of no return. As the head of his erection met
the moisture at the juncture of her thighs, they both gasped in
anticipation, anxious for the joining that was now a breath away.
Catherine’s hand released him and Vincent nudged
himself forward, a worry still swirling beneath his own desperate
desire - could she accept all of him? Tentatively he parted her nether
lips with the tip of his penis and pressed an inch of his length within
her. The feeling was exquisite - silken and hot, an invitation to
continue. He was amazed at how her body welcomed him, enveloping him
within a fluid embrace, and as he entered her he closed his eyes,
concentrating on the subtle messages of her body’s reaction to him,
waiting as it made minute adjustments, slowly opening for him further
and further as he continued to bury himself more deeply inside her.
He knew he was large - possibly too large for any
woman, let alone one as petite as Catherine - and he tried to prepare
himself for the possibility that their joining would be too painful for
her, too much for her body to accept. Even now, as much as their Bond
told him she wanted all of him inside of her, her body was unable to
admit him further.
Catherine had never been with a man as endowed as
Vincent, but she felt sure that her internal muscles could accommodate
his impressive girth. She put aside her own need for fulfillment to
focus on that. Yet relaxing was not what she wanted to do - the urgency
to move against him, to relinquish control to him and let him drive
toward his own completion was so intense. She longed for all of him, to
give him all of herself. But her body was betraying her, her core
unaccustomed to releasing tension after her long period of celibacy,
and it was stubbornly struggling against her desire to be open to all
he had to give. She could have cried with her frustration, which only
made her internal muscles clench more tightly.
“It’s all right,” Vincent whispered in her ear,
their Bond reflecting the increasing strain within Catherine. She
already had given him so much...as much as she could. He knew he was
different from other men in so many ways ... why had he hoped for a
moment that he would not be different in this way, as well. He couldn’t
help the pang of disappointment that lanced through their Bond at that
moment, although he struggled to suppress it.
Catherine whimpered, “No!” when Vincent began to
withdraw, rolling her legs up and around his waist, trapping him
against her. “Wait ... if you can. I just need a little more time.”
Tears sprang to her eyes as she realized she wasn’t sure if more time
would tame her insubordinate body. But she couldn’t give up, not yet,
not after these long months of patient waiting for the man of her
dreams to believe enough to try to make them come true. Vincent was
here now, with her, willing to accept that this was part of their
destiny - to be a couple, complete in every way - and she was not going
to let this moment end in defeat ... or it would never come again. She
knew that in her soul: it was now or never.
Vincent hesitated then nodded against her cheek, and
she hugged him more tightly. He was as unwilling to give up as she was
... a moment of grace. It quieted the panic that had been growing in
her heart, giving space to a kernel of an idea.
She took a deep, deliberate breath and focused on
the sound of the water crashing against the rocks. The flow was
constant, unending ... just like her love for Vincent. The rocks seemed
impervious, but the water was slowly, relentlessly breaking them down.
Yet the water flowed without tension, strong because it fell openly,
with abandon. She closed her eyes and became like that flow, letting it
fill her senses, feeling it rise up within her, the surging waters
spreading through her, bearing down against the rigidity of her
internal muscles, loosening them ... and within herself she felt at
last a slow stretching, a freeing of tension.
Vincent felt it too, felt himself drawn
deeper, his gentle thrusting meeting no resistance, until he was fully
sheathed within her. It startled him, the ease with which those last
inches were received. Her body held him fully now, as he had hoped, had
dreamed. They were one in body as they had always been in heart and
spirit, their Bond flowing with unrestricted emotion between them,
fully open, tendrils of passion and joy and love swirling together, as
inextricably interwoven as their hearts were.
Catherine had been right all along: he was only ... and gloriously ... a man.
Catherine sighed gustily in mingled relief and joy.
She opened her eyes to find Vincent gazing down at her, tears filling
“I never believed ... never imagined ....” He choked
on the words, abandoning them, letting his body express his joy,
beginning to move now, first cautiously, then - feeling no resistance -
more forcefully. Catherine clung to him, her hips moving against his,
driving him forward to what he had so long desired. Each thrust
thrilled him anew - astonishing, exquisite, life-changing. His climax
almost caught him by surprise, its strength shuddering through him,
pulling a growl from deep inside him as he crested a massive wave of
inexpressible sensation until he finally fell from its heights,
tumbling back to earth to find himself safely within Catherine’s arms.
“Oh, Catherine,” he murmured, pressing kisses upon
her hair, her lips, her eyes, his own eyes glittering with unshed
tears, too overcome to spill the contents of his heart, to pour out all
the words he needed to say.
“I love you,” she whispered. She clung to him,
tightening her grip on him to keep him close, to keep him inside. But
despite this, Vincent slowly lifted himself away from her, ignoring her
whimper of protest. Leaving the welcoming embrace of her body was
almost painful to him, yet he knew with certainty now that he could ...
and would ... return to her, for that welcome would always be there.
He lay on his side beside her and placed an index
finger against her lips. She stilled, awaiting his words. When
they came, they were a whisper brushing against her ear: “Now ... you.”
Carefully he traced his finger across her lips,
along her cheek, over her chin, down the side of her neck ... kissing
everywhere his finger drifted. ...her shoulder ... her upper arm ...
slipping across to her breasts. His hand closed over one breast very
lightly, weighing it in his palm, squeezing it ever so slightly,
sighing as he did so. The softly exhaled breath tickled Catherine’s
sensitized flesh, causing her nipples to pucker even more tightly. The
sight nearly robbed Vincent of breath, and in a haze of desire he bent
his head to press a kiss to the ruddy tip of one nipple, then gently,
languorously he lapped at it, nuzzling and suckling.
Catherine struggled to control the urge to press
herself bodily against him, knowing he wanted to be in control now,
that he needed to offer her what she had just given him. She wanted to
fill her eyes, her hands with his beauty - to heal him of his aloneness
forever. But despite a nearly overwhelming desire to push him back atop
the cloak and ravish him, she lay still, her eyes half-lidded, just
watching him give her this pleasure, accepting the gift fully, knowing
it meant almost more to him than the delight he was given by her.
The candlelight played with the highlights of his
hair, illuminating it in glints of gold as he lavished her body with
attention, moving on from her breasts, after long minutes of adoration,
stroking and kissing down to the concave of her stomach, the curve of
her hips, then positioning himself between her
thighs. He lifted and parted them, and Catherine let
her knees fall open, obeying his silent request. His hands caressed her
shapely legs from ankles to thighs, bending to press kisses to the
dimples in her knees.
She trembled with anticipation as she realized what
her lover was about to do for her. No flame could have burned hotter
than the touch of his fingertips as they glided slowly up the inside of
her thighs, no fire throw off heat like Vincent’s gusty breath as he
bent his head to her center. When he finally tasted her, his tongue
swirling hotly against the hard bud of her clitoris, she moaned aloud.
And when his thumb pressed against her to add friction to his loving,
she sobbed his name over and over, uncontrollably.
A small part of Vincent’s mind was shocked at his
boldness. The intimacy of this touch seemed forever beyond dreams -
with his clawed hands and fangs, with his strangely formed mouth, he
had always doubted he could truly give Catherine pleasure in this way.
Yet it was undeniable - from the evidence of his eyes, from the intense
emotions rippling through their Bond, he knew that Catherine was near
climax. He gloried in the knowledge, even as the greater part of him
gave himself up to the sensations of loving her this way - the texture
of her slick flesh, the taste of her longing for him, the aroma of her
arousal that called to the wildness inside of him ...
Catherine’s back arched and she grabbed handfuls of
the cloak beneath her, her head thrashing from side to side. She moaned
his name more loudly and he increased the intensity, driving her higher
and higher, until her climax shattered through her with such force she
collapsed, limp and exhausted, gasping for breath.
Vincent rose and lay beside her, wrapping his arms
around her tenderly, and held her as she trembled. She clung to him,
aftershocks of her orgasm shuddering through her, while he gentled her
with kisses, stroking her back. She pressed herself hard against him,
burying her nose against his chest, savoring the closeness and the
quieting of the storm within.
As her breathing slowed to a semblance of normal,
she opened her eyes and pulled her head back so she could look at him.
The candlelight shone through his tousled hair, giving it the look of a
golden corona, and she smiled.
“What is it?” he asked.
“You. You’re so beautiful in candlelight.” She
reached up to brush a few stray sweat-slicked hairs from his forehead.
“It’s you who are the true beauty, Catherine.” He
cupped her cheek with one palm and placed a reverent kiss upon her
brow. “Your trust, your belief in me ... in us ... humble me.”
She rose on one elbow to look down into his face.
Heaving a relieved sigh and blushing, she said, “Thank you for being
patient. My muscles picked the worst time to tighten up and I .... ”
He stopped her words with a kiss. One led to
several, each slower and more languorous than the one before. When he
was sure she wouldn’t add to her apology, he said, “You have waited for
nearly three years for me to come to my senses, Catherine. I only had
to be patient for a moment.”
“Still ...” she began.
“No.” He shook his head, unwilling to entertain her apology. “Besides, it’s all my fault.”
Thinking he was about to apologize for his size, she
opened her mouth to protest, but then he added, “If I hadn’t made you
wait so long for me to come to you like this, you might not have had
that little problem.”
Catherine’s jaw dropped, then her mouth snapped shut
in surprise. She began to smile. “That apology I will accept!”
He bared his canines with his answering grin.
* * *
Catherine and Vincent spent the rest of their
afternoon as it had started ...once the boys had left. Now, even after
a break for water, a snack and a restorative soak in the pool, both of
them were pleasantly exhausted, a little sore, and ravenously hungry.
They dressed and re-packed Catherine’s backpack and languidly made
their way to the Hub.
Dinner was well under way when they arrived, and
they stopped only to deposit Catherine’s backpack in Vincent’s chamber
and to run a brush through their hair before entering the dining
Those eating said their hellos as Catherine and
Vincent grabbed bowls of chili and cornbread and looked for an empty
table. But the only seats available were beside a couple of youngsters
who seemed to be hunched over their dinners, spooning food into their
mouths rather quickly.
“Shall we?” Vincent prompted Catherine, who had
stopped short when she realized the only two unoccupied chairs in the
room were beside Eric and Geoffrey.
“Don’t you think it might be awkward for them?” she
asked, smiling with mingled compassion and humor as she indicated Eric
and Geoffrey with a tilt of her head.
“Vincent! Catherine!” Pascal, who was sitting at the
same table as the boys, was waving them over. “There are seats here!”
Catherine nodded, resigned, realizing the encounter
was inevitable - whether now or later. She followed Vincent to the
“Hello, everyone,” she said, smiling at the adults
at the table before turning to the youngsters and acknowledging them in
a kindly, affectionate tone of voice. “Hello, Eric ... Geoffrey.”
“Hullo,” Eric mumbled, eyes on his cornbread.
Geoffrey waved one hand while he shoveled chili into his mouth with the
Rebecca eyed them disapprovingly. “You’ll get stomach aches eating that fast, you two. Slow down.”
Both boys obeyed, but soon after Catherine and
Vincent had settled into their chairs and begun eating, the boys
excused themselves and left the table.
“Don’t you want any apple pie?” Pascal called disbelievingly to their retreating backs.
“They must have schoolwork to do,” Vincent offered diplomatically.
Rebecca shook her head in wonder. “I’ve never known
those two to skip dessert. And Geoffrey left most of his cornbread. He
Vincent and Catherine spared each other a quick
glance, lips twitching with the effort to control their smiles. Then
they resumed eating.
* * *
Bedtime found five friends in a corner of the boys’
dormitory, sitting on their bunk beds whispering to avoid being
overheard in the commotion of tooth-brushing, horseplay and
“So it’s agreed. We never tell anyone what happened, right?” Geoffrey pleaded with his fellows.
Ali nodded vigorously. “I don’t even wanna think about the trouble we’d be in if Father ever found out.”
Jonah shuddered. “You think she’ll tell? Or Vincent?”
Eric considered the question, then said, “They’ve
been back a couple of hours now, and nobody’s yelled at us. I don’t
think they want to tell either.”
“I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to face Vincent
in class again,” moaned Carlo. “I mean, we saw his girlfriend butt
The boys subsided into quiet reflection. Nobody
spoke for a long while, until Geoffrey broke the silence. “She’s awful
All the boys nodded in solemn agreement.
* * *
“There’s another concert this coming Friday,
Catherine. Would you like to attend?” Vincent was leaning against the
brickwork of her threshold, his arms around Catherine’s waist, nuzzling
a curl near her cheek.
She turned her head up and kissed his lips, a long,
lingering kiss full of promise and passion. When she was able to take a
breath, she smiled. “Only if you promise not to send one of the boys to