Will you marry me?
It just seemed the most natural thing. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? And now that Father had received word that Devin was coming, the timing couldn’t be better.
It made perfect sense. It was the only answer, really. Married couples could be intimate, so that would be addressed. Married couples lived together, so that would be addressed. Married couples had children . . .
Vincent finished his dressing quickly and hurried to the dining area for breakfast, suddenly hungry and excited to begin the day.
* * *
Catherine sat up in bed, hugging her knees, full of joy at her decision. “I will!” she thought. “I will ask Vincent to marry me!”
Somehow, the decision seemed so simple. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? When Vincent had first brought her Below, saving her life, he had nourished her with soup and tea. Now those simple nourishments took on more meaning as she reflected how their relationship had been fed with the simplest, and strongest, things – honor, trust, and love. It only needed this one final thing . . . !
* * *
Slowly consuming wheat pancakes and fried apples, Vincent indulged himself in fantasies of proposing to Catherine. Pascal’s description of the new levels to be excavated simply provided white noise as Vincent agonized over the details of the marriage proposal.
How would he open the topic? Should he be traditional? Spontaneous? Creative? Oh, if Devin would only get here! Vincent needed brotherly advice right now . . .
* * *
What would be the positive and negative aspects of the plan? Catherine wondered to herself. It would solve many of their dilemmas – the intimacy; the living – and sleeping – arrangements. It could also open fresh conflicts – her employment, her friends Above, her life as she had always known it . . .
Moving woodenly through the day at the office, Catherine was relieved to see that it was lunchtime at last. She walked the city blocks to the park and found a private bench, where she settled and opened her tote to retrieve her carrot sticks and tuna in a plastic container. As she ate, she gazed out over the green landscape, and the sounds of the park became muted in the background. A fantasy formed in her heart and in her mind –
For our anticipated intimacy, I have bought new white cotton underwear and no man has ever touched me through them. I have prepared my body for you today. Only my usual bathing and grooming, but with the idea that it will be you who will breathe in my personal fragrance, you who will touch my lotioned skin, you who will nuzzle my near places . . .
How I long to feel you! To be close, as lovers are close; to taste and experience, as those who share every desire and longing, every fantasy and memory, taste and experience . . .
We progress to the place of privacy you have arranged for us. The entry is closed securely and the lights are shaded. You take me in your arms. My breasts crush lightly against your chest, and your hips automatically move gently forward to press my belly. Your beginning arousal is evident and I become moist in a secret place. The air stirs softly around us as we kick off our boots and shrug our top layers of clothing from our shoulders.
Your hands trace lightly up along my ribs to cup my breasts through my soft white cotton camisole and your thumbs casually caress my nipples, until you can see the evidence of your influence through the sheer fabric.
You slide your hands into the waistband of my skirt and push it down over my hips till it falls to my feet, revealing my white cotton panties; I step out of the pooled fabric and stand before you, clothed in soft white cotton, bare-footed and breathless.
I press my hands to your chest under your clothing, slowly thrusting my fingers in your body hair, drawing my nails along your skin. I grip your flanks and lean in to compress my upper body to yours. My hands find your belt buckle, and the lacings on your trousers, and I dispense with that garment.
Your tunic drapes low over your hips and I reach under the hem; my fingers carefully clutch your warm flesh, yielding below like ripe hanging fruit, and hardening and lengthening above. Darling, you are ready for me – and I for you.
Thankfully, the absorbent cotton of my panties soaks up the wetness you have stirred in me. My breaths come quickly now, as I fast-forward in my imagination to the moment of penetration.
However, as always, you are the patient one.
You lift the straps of my camisole off my shoulders with your fingers and draw the garment down to reveal the tops of my breasts. Gently pinning my arms to my sides with your embrace, you begin to nuzzle my cleavage, your warm breath exciting me greatly.
You bend over me, embracing me, and unexpectedly lift me off my feet to hold me in your arms. I feel like a virgin, like a bride, as I wrap my arms around your neck and snuggle against your shoulder, feeling protected and possessed.
We are eager, though controlling our collective desire. I nuzzle your throat; my lips, teeth, and tongue planting suckling kisses against your flesh, inciting that lovely low growling sound of your arousal.
You place me gently on the bed where you have drawn the hand-sewn quilt down to give us access to the fresh linen and soft pillows. The primitive textures stir me in an essential way, and I respond to you at every level.
I open to you with my body and with my soul – and still you hesitate, revering me, extending the moment. There is an exquisite, almost painful, edge to your courtly approach; you drive me insane! I feel I will die for want of you.
You read my emotion and you sympathize with my desire, and, slowly, you begin to give me what I want. My dearest, dearest lover, how can you pace yourself to this degree? I have never known a man with such passion and such restraint! Usually, one outweighs the other. I have no frame of reference for someone like you.
Your touch is new and familiar at once. I know you, yet I am discovering you all over again. We have history and we are navigating fresh territory; learning and remembering. I take you in, adoring you, folding you into myself; can I ever get enough of your slow-building intensity? You touch me in my deepest places.
You expose my breasts, cupping each one in your hands, and begin a slow sexy suckling to my nipples that has me moaning and writhing on the bed. You indulge me a long time and I am liquid with pleasure.
Now, you shift your position to lower on my body, your hands at my hips, your face against my belly, you look up at me, smiling a slow smile full of promise. I smile in response as my breath catches a little. With your shoulders and upper arms, you push my thighs apart to make a space for you to lie between my legs.
I inhale with excitement as you press an open-mouthed kiss against my body through my panties. The heat of your breath and the sweet pressure of your lips penetrate the cotton cloth and begin a quaking tremor inside me.
You begin to stimulate me through my panties. You trace my swollen labia and tight clitoral bud with the tip of your tongue as I toss my head upon the pillow, grip the sheets and arch my back, gasping in desire. Your tongue saturates the material from outside as my juices soak from the inside.
Suddenly you pull my panties to the side and begin serious cunnilingus, flesh on flesh. I grab your head, my fingers in your long hair, circling against your mouth, and you match my every move. Now, now, NOW! Ahhhhh! Darling!!
I reach an explosive clitoral orgasm, melting in your mouth. You do not disappoint; I hear you swallowing as you lap up my liquor, not missing a drop. While I’m still in my throes, you tug my panties off my hips and toss them into a puddle on the floor by the bed, joined by my camisole and your tunic; any clothing is just in the way now.
You climb up on my body and I raise my legs to open to you. Fully erect, you penetrate me, immediately thrusting in a lovely scooping motion against my G-spot. Our mouths work in a fever as our hands grab all available flesh. We meet each other thrust for thrust with grinding and circling in between. I reach my vaginal orgasm and you are not far behind, spilling your passion deep inside me.
I contract tightly around you as our pace slows and our mouths meet in a sloppy kiss.
Whew! Break time over – must get back to the office! Catherine gathered her items, looking about self-consciously, and hurried out of the park.
* * *
Vincent was growing impatient. The work detail was late getting started to the lower levels and Father could not say with certainty when Devin would arrive Below.
Vincent returned to his chamber, retrieved a few articles for the day – his book of verses and his wineskin and compass, then turned to make the walk back to the Hub. He slowed his steps part-way, reluctant to let go of his emerging thoughts, yet obligated to attend to the work.
His mind began to wander into his hopes and fantasies. The idea of proposing marriage to Catherine had generated a scenario that he allowed himself to experience now . . .
I undress you and myself and lay you down across the bed; I part your legs with mine and support you on one arm with that hand behind your head.
I hold your other hand, our fingers laced, and straighten your arm out to the side so that we are holding hands locked together; you look into my eyes, I take your meaning, and all our words are unspoken; a blush spreads across your skin, evidence of your desire; I kiss your mouth as I pause patiently . . .
My length is at your entry; Catherine, you are wet-thighed with anticipation! I feel that you are ready to boil over; yet I want our simmer to be slow and deliberate; let us take our time; your kisses trail down my neck and back up to my mouth, and I feel your passion open and honest and true; you draw your knees up to accommodate me and so gently, with no hurry, I penetrate you so tenderly . . . I intend to exert such control and restraint that you will be ready to shatter from the sensation; you whimper into my kiss as I remain perfectly still inside you; I know you want to buck and cry out and rip the sheets, but I hold you, hold you, hold you until I feel you melting around me; your legs are shaking and I see tears forming in your dark green eyes.
Now I draw back, ever so slightly, and I sigh from my soul, speaking your name on the exhalation; I advance to my full length and withdraw once more and advance yet again; the heat from our bodies is radiant; I can smell you, Catherine; you are squirming beneath me, panting, begging me; now I take both your hands, intertwining our fingers, arms over your head and I begin to move in you; the pace slowly increases and we move in delicious circles between the long strokes; now you answer me and meet my every thrust with your own.
I love the sounds coming from both of us, yours a higher pitch to my lower tones; I release your hands and you touch me and grip my body; my head lowers to your breasts where I graze upon your tight nipples and rosy halos, and curl my tongue around the rigid tips, first one, then the other as you clutch me from the inside; this brings our simultaneous response and release; I lift you up from the bed to straddle my thighs and you press down upon me, a full body embrace face to face; our wine is flowing, and we taste it together –
Vincent suddenly inhaled and shook his great golden head forcefully, attempting to toss the erotic thoughts from his mind. He must prepare in time . . .
* * *
Catherine kicked off her shoes as she dropped her totes on the floor in her living room. She flopped unceremoniously on the loveseat, sprawling across the furniture, luxuriating in the end of the day, the end of the business week, and the weekend ahead to indulge in her fantasies. Her imagination picked up where she had left off earlier in the park . . .
Now it’s my turn; lay back and don’t move until I give you permission; I slowly pull the laces free from your pants and reach in to fondle you; you lengthen in my hand.
I withdraw to reach up to pull your tunic over your head, I pause with the garment over your hands above your head tantalizing you with temporary capture; we smile at each other, relishing the fun we have together and the strong emotion between us; I thank all the stars I have this chance with you; I don’t want to waste any second of our time together; I nuzzle your chest, caressing your skin with my fingers and my lips; I find your nipples, one by one, and nibble, lick, bite and suck the erectile flesh; my secret space begins to throb, heated and ready.
I grip your belly as I press light kisses down your abdomen to your pubic thatch; I nestle my face at the base of your erection inhaling your intoxicating fragrance; my hands curve down under your scrotal sac, cupping you lovingly, feeling how full and ready for me you are; you groan and growl and begin a slow thrust with your pelvis that warns me of your desire simmering beneath the surface; my chivalrous, slow, languid lover; how I desire you!
I reach up to the top of your trousers and draw them down over your hips, watching with delight as your stiff phallus springs free; I dispense with your pants quickly, stopping only long enough to stroke my hands over your ankles and feet, just to give a reminder that I will return to pleasure you there at a later time; there is no part of you I don’t want to please.
Now I position myself over your straining erection grasping your burning column with both my hands; I want to taste you; I open my lips over the pulsing head; I draw you into my deepest kiss, bathing your flesh with my tongue, swallowing your length deep into my throat; I would trade my very breath for your pleasure; you are building, I know it; I want it; I live for it; I am ready to consume you, swallow every drop you have for me; just at that instant, you snatch me up to lie on top of you and press a deep soul kiss against my mouth; our tongues meet between our teeth and our breath mingles in a spiritual exchange; your erection is compressed between our bellies and your liquid passion spills out across our flesh; we grind our hips over the sweet juices almost weeping with pleasure; you reach down to my clitoris and gently clutch it between your fingers and thumb, effectively stroking me to my peak and I am falling, flying, soaring, crashing, dissolving in you . . .
Shower!! Time for a shower! Catherine leapt up from the sofa and scurried into the bath.
* * *
Finally!! Monday morning and the pipes announced Devin was in Tunnels! Vincent felt like an adolescent again, excited to see his brother, and more excited to discuss the intimate details of his plan.
* * *
“Vin-cent!” then “Ooof!” exclaimed Devin as Vincent collided with his brother in a rush of enthusiasm , sending the two tumbling against the cushions in Father’s quarters and rolling to the floor as they did once upon a time.
“What’s the big deal?!” barked Devin, pushing back against Vincent’s clutch to face his brother, impressed and surprised at the ferocity of the welcome.
“Well, I’m simply pleased to see you, Devin,” Vincent replied, brushing the dust off his clothing as the two got up from the floor.
“Something tells me this is more than pleasure – or maybe it is pleasure that has you so wrought up!” Devin remarked, straightening his clothing and smirking at his sibling.
Now the conservative Vincent returned, dropping his gaze and choosing his words and stepping back to create space between them. “I . . . ah . . . I simply mean that it has been some time and I . . . um . . . I am anxious . . . rather, eager, to spend time with you . . . that’s all.”
“Oh yeah . . . that’s all . . .” Devin replied with a wry smile, smoothing his sleeves and turning to draw Father into the conversation. “So! Pops! What’s been going on here?”
If the old doctor sensed the tension between Devin and Vincent, he didn’t let on and said, “Oh, we have several new excavations, and the repairs to the lower bridges and . . . well, Rosemary is here . . .”
Vincent caught Father’s cautious look and then Devin’s pause and realized he did not know himself who Rosemary was.
“What do you mean she is here? Here in New York or here in Tunnels?” Vincent could not help notice how Devin hung on Father’s reply.
“Here in New York – her art is on display at the new Leslie/Lohman Museum – you know her . . . passion – for truth . . .” Father replied carefully, watching for Devin’s reaction.
“Yes, I know!” Devin replied, then, turning abruptly, drawing Vincent in, exclaimed, “Well, little brother! Let’s be about that exploration you talked about!”
“Yes . . . let’s . . .” answered Vincent, participating in the ruse without forewarning, trusting Devin in his obvious need for subterfuge. The two linked arms and departed from the chamber.
Once in the outside passageway, Vincent confronted his older brother. “What are you up to, Devin?” he asserted.
But Devin countered, “What are you up to, little bro? Tell me this has nothing to do with a certain Ms. Chandler!”
Vincent acquiesced, looking downward and sighing heavily. He clasped one hand into the other and admitted, “Yes, it’s about Catherine. Devin . . .” Vincent turned his full gaze and imploring affect onto the older man. “I need your help to ask Catherine to marry me.”
“Oh, is that all?!” responded Devin, throwing his arm around Vincent’s shoulders and propelling his brother down the corridor. While Vincent slightly resented the minimization of his request, he felt the need in Devin to address the presence of the mysterious Rosemary.
“Yes . . . that is . . . all!” Vincent huffed, then, more kindly, “Now tell me about Rosemary . . .”
“Hey, little bro! I’m ready for a swim! Meet you at the jumping-off place in ten!” Devin tossed over his shoulder as he departed hastily, and Vincent could only comply, turning back towards his chamber to ready for a swim.
* * *
Catherine slammed the telephone receiver down, cursing to herself. “Morons!” she exclaimed, pushing her chair back from the desk. She got up and rushed to the window, pressing her palms against the glass, gazing down into the busy street below.
The previous phone conversation replayed in her mind. A young man, a promising, talented city photographer had recently died by suicide. In his work, he had documented a lush tableaux of gay male desire on New York’s West Side social fringes and the dilapidated ruins of Pier 34. One month later, the photographer’s partner had attempted to donate the photograph collection to the Leslie/Lohman Museum, and he had been found murdered in his home. Now it was a case for the District Attorney’s office. Somehow, though, the photographs had found their way to the museum and were currently being readied for display.
Catherine’s intolerance for social injustice raised her ire as she simultaneously grieved the loss of an artist, a poet, a contributor to the collective community. And, a child . . . someone’s son, someone’s lover.
She needed to be Below. She could not know that a certain Rosemary Dorien had been instrumental in the photo collection donation – and held the key to the murder of Travis Reilly, partner of Jody Jackson.
She only knew that she needed Vincent and never dreamed she would need to compete with Devin for Vincent’s attention.
* * *
The bathing scenario was a vivid scene from the past, with Vincent and Devin diving and plunging and splashing, laughing and enjoying each others’ company without a care. Only when they were toweled off and resting upon the rocks did their conversation turn serious.
“Soooo . . .” Devin opened, “you want to ask the amazing Ms. Chandler to marry you . . .”
“Yes,” Vincent answered, his emotion evident on his face and in his demeanor. “I believe it will solve . . . most of our . . . issues . . .”
“Your . . . issues?” Devin replied, smirking at his brother.
“Devin! Must you make this difficult?!” Vincent got up and began to pace along the rocky ledge.
“Vincent! I apologize! C’mon . . . Sit down . . .” Devin reached up to grasp Vincent’s arm and draw him down to sit on the waterside boulders.
Once seated, Vincent pressed his hands to his forehead and huffed out a sigh of frustration. Feeling remorseful, Devin offered, “I realize you and Catherine have not . . . consummated . . . your relationship. But that doesn’t mean you both don’t want to . . . or can’t . . .”
“I can only believe that a true joining – a marriage – will create the situation for us to fully express our love,” Vincent said with conviction.
When Devin did not answer, Vincent’s empathic abilities took over and he looked at his brother with compassion. Putting his own concerns aside, he said, “Devin . . . what’s wrong?”
Uncharacteristically somber, Devin hesitated before speaking, then weighed his words. “Did you know I once asked a woman to marry me?”
“Why, no, I never knew that. You didn’t tell me, Devin. What happened?” Vincent responded gently.
Devin gave a short little laugh, more an aggravated breath of defeat, and raked his fingers through his wet hair. “She turned me down. She was committed . . . already . . . to someone else . . .” Devin rested his head against the rocky wall, staring up into the cavernous ceiling.
“There was another man in her life?” Vincent asked.
“Another woman!” Devin retorted. “How could I have not known, not seen?”
“Perhaps she kept her life . . . secret,” Vincent offered, understanding how someone would do that.
“It was years ago,” Devin acknowledged ruefully, “people really didn’t blab about ‘alternate lifestyles’ at the time.”
Vincent kept quiet; he knew how to allow emotional space to another.
“She told me she really loved me,” Devin went on. “She was – is so beautiful, creative, smart, brave . . . She said a traditional marriage would not be honest for either of us. She begged me to understand. She begged me to believe that she really did love me . . .”
“I can hear how difficult this was for you,” Vincent said.
“I was a jerk about it!” Devin confessed, close to tears. He rose from his seat to pace along the stony walkway. Vincent felt full empathy for his brother.
“I said – things . . . things I can’t take back . . .” Devin continued. “I was not understanding, not in the least! I regret . . . everything . . . everything about that time!” He flung himself down again, head in hands, weeping and struggling not to weep. Vincent sat without speaking, loving his sibling, understanding the exquisite pain of impossible love.
* * *
Catherine returned to her apartment, puzzled that Vincent had not responded to her calls for a visit. She trusted him; he had needed to postpone their times together before and he always got back in touch with her. She would just wait . . .
Checking her telephone messages, Catherine was intrigued to hear that interviews had been set up regarding the Travis Reilly murder; one meeting with the deceased’s mother, another with his colleague, Rosemary Dorien. A packet of information to prepare her for the interviews was being messengered over tonight.
After receiving the information packet and tipping the messenger, Catherine settled herself in bed with a cup of tea and the voluminous package. Mrs. Reilly seemed the portrait of decorum, a regular church-goer, volunteer, and neighborhood dignitary. Documents on one Rosemary Dorien bore a stark contrast.
Apparently Ms Dorien was under surveillance by the FBI for a time suspected of un-American activities, though the scrutiny was discontinued after a few years. After that time, Ms Dorien seemed to frequently make the news with her artistic endeavors and gay rights activities, then she basically disappeared from public view.
Catherine closed the file and leaned back against her bed pillows. She gazed out the French doors upon the starry night and found herself wondering what was going on Below.
* * *
Calls to Rosemary Dorien’s message machine were unanswered by midday, so Catherine turned her attention to Mrs. Reilly. “Oh, of course, my dear girl,” intoned the grief-stricken woman, “I’ll receive you at tea time today.” Catherine heard Mrs. Reilly sniffle on the other end of the telephone line, then add: “Please arrive promptly at 4,” before hanging up.
Catherine arrived at the Reilly mansion at exactly 3:50 p.m., driving along an extensive, manicured driveway up to a wrought iron gate where a uniformed guard stood in attendance. He stepped from his sentry booth and stiffly requested her identification and reason for the visit.
When Catherine furnished both, the guard stepped back inside and opened the gate by a mechanism, scowling after her as she drove through.
She was met at the front door of the mansion by another rigid minion, who wore a gray waistcoat and bowed a greeting to her. The man motioned to some unseen staff member who stepped up to park Catherine’s car and she was ushered inside.
The foyer was lavish with ornate chandeliers overhead and cut glass mirrored and polished mahogany coat racks on either side of the entry. Thick Oriental carpets were underfoot and there was the faint fragrance of lemon verbena in the air.
Mr. Gray Waistcoat was replaced by Mlle French Maid who smiled sweetly at Catherine and reached out to take her coat. Catherine felt like she was in a movie from 1932.
“S’il vous plait . . .” the maid said softly, gesturing toward the hallway and turning to walk away from Catherine.
Catherine followed for what seemed a long way through darkened halls past closed doors until they emerged onto a bright sun porch with green plants standing in large pots on the floor and trailing from hooks suspended from the ceiling. Muted birdsongs could be heard from outside and Catherine was struck by the sad beauty of the place.
“Over here, Miss Chandler,” came a thin voice from behind a giant white hydrangea potted in a huge mosaic urn. Catherine stepped around to see a tiny blue-haired woman dressed in a black high-necked dress sitting in a wicker rocking chair. Enormously thick glasses sat on her small face anchored by a beaded chain around her neck. Another wicker rocker was positioned across from the woman and a low wicker table was placed between the two chairs bearing a silver tea service.
“Please sit down,” said Mrs. Reilly, reaching for the teapot. “Do you take sugar and milk?”
“No, thank you, just plain,” Catherine replied, taking a seat. “Please accept my condolences for your loss,” she added.
“Thank you. I assume you mean Travis,” Mrs. Reilly responded, her voice breaking a little on the name, “Though I am recently widowed as well.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry – I didn’t know . . .” Catherine responded, genuinely apologetic, and making a note to follow up, “had he been ill?”
“Yes . . . no, not the way you mean . . . . not that we knew about,” the older woman was clearly distraught, rattling her teacup in the saucer as she set it down. “It has been a . . . trying time . . .”
“Are you up to the interview?” Catherine asked with true concern, “We can reschedule . . .”
Mrs. Reilly straightened herself and smoothed her hair, giving Catherine her full attention. “No, Miss Chandler, let’s get this done,” she said with no small effort.
“All right,” Catherine said cautiously, taking out her notebook. “Please start with the events of the night of March 4th . . .”
* * *
Vincent was discomfited that he had not answered Catherine’s messages. He felt her distraction and also her sense of urgency to be with him. He sent a message over the pipes to let her know he would soon be in touch and retired to his chamber. As he prepared for bed, he allowed himself another fantasy.
You’ve just stepped from your shower when I arrive on your balcony; you sense my presence and come to greet me, wrapped in your bath towel; I take the towel from you, exposing your body to my gaze, my eyes immediately darkening with desire; I begin to towel your wet hair and walk you backward from the door to the bed; I remark on your fresh smell and clean skin and ask if you’ve had a chance to put your lotion on; you tell me you haven’t and invite me to help you with that; I wrap your hair loosely in the towel and lay you down on the bed; I go to get the lotion and when I return I am wearing only my lower garments with my chest and feet bare; you are instantly aroused at the sight and reach for me, but I take your wrists and turn you over on your belly, telling you I’m starting from behind; you’re not sure what I mean and your breath catches a little; you know I will never hurt you and I know you will give me anything I ask; I straddle your legs and begin with your hands and arms, warming the lotion in my hands before stroking it on you; I work your hands, flexing all your fingers and massaging each one, then the palms of your hands and your wrists, flexing and stretching gently as I work my way along your arms to your shoulders where my grip becomes stronger and more forceful, my thumbs stroking up and down your neck on either side of your spine; my fingers reach across your throat in front and I can feel your pulse quicken at my touch; you swallow, your breaths are coming faster now; I whisper your name as my fingers push up into your hair, massaging your scalp; I curl my fingers in your hair to tug your head back so I can kiss you with my lips and my tongue and you respond with passion; I kiss along your jaw and neck and down across your shoulders until my face is nestled against your underarm, now moist with perspiration; I breathe in your personal fragrance and taste you there with the tip of my tongue; I cannot stop the sounds you are drawing out of me; I reposition myself further down on your legs to lotion your back; my hands sweep over your shoulders and down to your lower back and slide around your hip bones, long slow strokes with just enough pressure; the lotion is cool and my touch is hot and the combination is exciting you to a fever pitch; suddenly, I change strategy and begin smoothing the lotion on your legs quickly; I flex your knees so that your feet are positioned above your hips and I massage both your feet with both my hands at the same time; I squeeze your toes, heels and ankles up and down and over again working the lotion into your skin; now I grasp each ankle and place your legs out straight on the bed, spread apart with your toes turned in; I am moving purposefully now and I take the pillow from your head and tuck it under your hips; I lean in so close you can feel my breath; then I draw back and begin to knead your lovely flesh, I trace the curve of your spine to your low cleavage and begin a circular massage that has your pelvis moving against the pillow where a little wet spot is forming; I reach underneath to cup your sex in my hand, closing my fingers over your mons with my thumb at the rear; I murmur something about a sweet handful and your flower blooms in my hand; I shift my contact and you began to squirm and moan and press against me, but I still you with one hand against your backside; my fingers loosen their grip and I kick off my clothing; I position myself above you and thrust so far into your body that you reach your first pleasure upon the entry; you clutch me with your internal muscles and I rise up on my knees to grip your hips and you climax a second time; I am holding off, pacing myself, watching your body move; you are clutching the sheets, gasping for breath; now your next peak approaches and I ready myself to fill you; Catherine! I want to give you, give you everything; fill you up; empty myself into you; come to me come to me my love come to me; I feel the heat first, spreading intensely through your belly along my length, and then the liquid surge of our mutual release and I fold myself over you cupping your breasts with my opposite hands as we tumble against the bed linens onto our sides in a spooning embrace; your legs wrap around mine and your feet curve behind my ankles, hugging my body to yours, keeping me inside you, so that we do not lose one precious drop of our passion; now my gentle kisses drop along your shoulders, enchanting you, as we rock slowly together in the afterglow -
Aaaarrrhhhhhhh! Catherine!! Vincent sprawled across the big bed, spent and alone . . . and planning a future . . .
* * *
Catherine did not usually return to the office after hours, but tonight she felt she needed the business environment to help her focus on the facts of this evolving case. Ohini, the evening janitor, greeted her as she stepped off the elevator on her floor, assuring her he would be around until midnight if she needed anything.
Catherine opened her office door and dropped her briefcase and papers on her desk. Noticing messages waiting on her phone, she pressed the replay and heard a low, urgent voice: “Ms Chandler, this is Rosemary Dorien returning your calls. I’m not sure how I can help you, but Travis Reilly was a friend and colleague of mine and I will try . . . call me back at the number you have . . . no matter the hour . . . I work late.”
Catherine heard a smile on the last words and took an instant liking to this woman. Catherine was also working late and suddenly had an urge to speak to Rosemary Dorien.
Rosemary answered on the first ring. “Yes, I’ll be there,” she responded to Catherine’s proposal to meet at the all-night diner on West 14th Street.
* * *
Catherine spotted Rosemary immediately sitting alone in the last booth on the right. Rosemary was dressed in sweat pants and suede boots, a long sweater over a white tee shirt, glasses pushed up over short-cropped hair, thick silver earrings and silver wrist bands left and right. She gave a friendly wave in Catherine’s direction.
Catherine took her seat; they both ordered coffee. Two steaming cups were set on the table by the detached waitress. “You can get right to the point,” said Rosemary, “we both have things to do.”
Catherine pulled out her notebook. “You knew Travis Reilly . . . and his family?”
“Yes,” Rosemary answered, tearing a sugar packet open. She stirred her cup absent-mindedly, frowning. “My family and his were . . . in the same social circles. Country clubs, corporate clutches, golf tournaments, that sort of thing.”
“You and Travis became friends?”
“Yeah,” Rosemary gave a low laugh, “once we discovered we were both gay.”
Catherine waited for her to continue.
“Travis was always interested in recording, documenting, things— such as protest marches, police brutality, demonstrations. He wasn’t popular with . . . certain people.” Rosemary paused, collecting herself. “When he met Jody, it was obvious they were soul mates. Jody had such a passion! He would shoot anything, anyone that embodied a concept. Even if it was dangerous. You may be surprised, Ms. Chandler, how many people – famous people, important people – want to remain anonymous in their . . . pursuits of happiness.” Rosemary met Catherine’s gaze as they commiserated in their awareness of human nature.
Maintaining eye contact, Catherine asked directly, “Who do you think killed Travis?”
“I think it was someone close to him,” answered Rosemary without hesitation.
“Someone who loved him?” Catherine countered.
“That’s not what I said,” Rosemary clarified.
* * *
Once back in her apartment, Catherine made a pot of tea and spread her notes out on the dining room table, too stimulated to sleep, though the hour was late.
Summarizing her notes, Catherine found that the night Travis found Jody dead of an overdose on antidepressants and sedatives there was a suicide note: we can never be together never be happy so long as your father has power over us he says he’d rather die than be the father of a queer I never blamed you I love you I always loved you
A book of poetry by Jim Morrison opened to the page with the words:
Those lean sweet
Time searched the hallways
for a mind.
Hands kept time.
The climate altered like a
Wondrous sacraments of doubt
Sprang sullen in bursts
of fear & guilt
in the womb's pit hole
The belt of the beast
Catherine recoiled at the last line, then shook off the emotion, it couldn’t be about her and Vincent . . .
* * *
Days had passed since Vincent and Catherine had seen each other. This had happened before, but this time seemed different … like there was a new distance between them.
A phone message from Mrs. Reilly had Catherine back at the Reilly mansion by 8:00 that evening.
Escorted by the staff into the library, Catherine waited to be received by Mrs. Reilly. When she appeared, Mrs. Reilly appeared wan and anxious.
“Are you all right?” asked Catherine, honestly concerned.
“I’ve seen my doctor today,” replied Mrs. Reilly, “I’m diagnosed with cancer, inoperable.”
“I’m so sorry,” Catherine replied, rising to assist Mrs. Reilly to her seat.
“Miss Chandler, I want to tell you . . . something . . . what happened the week after Travis died . . .”
“I’m listening,” Catherine answered.
Mrs. Reilly took her time settling onto the brocaded divan, drawing a crocheted shawl around her shoulders.
“I was still in bed,” she began. “I was devastated – incapacitated - after my son’s death. Jeffery knocked at the bedroom door. I told him to come in, thinking he would be a support to me. A support!” She laughed bitterly. “I reached out to him. I said, 'Our beautiful boy! Oh, Jeffery, whatever will we do now?!'
He couldn’t look at me. He began to pace in the room. He said, 'It’s done, that’s all. I should have done it a long time ago when he wanted to dance instead of play football.'
I . . . I lost my mind. I was screaming, 'How dare you! How dare you change his very nature - his beauty - his soul!'
Jeffery just said, 'He was sick . . . sick! No son of mine . . .!'
I said, 'Well, you are right about that!'
Suddenly Jeffery clutched his chest and asked me to fetch his medication, his nitroglycerin. I had such hatred for him at that moment. I held up the little brown bottle. I said, 'You mean this?' I held it at arm’s length while he struggled. I said, 'You need this to live.'
He cried out, 'Evelyn! Please! If you ever loved me . . .'
I actually laughed at him. I said, 'Yes, if I ever loved you . . .' I watched as he slid to the floor, his eyes rolled back, and he drew his last breath as his fingers gripped the collar of his shirt. Mrs. Reilly stared off into space. 'I felt a sense of justice . . . and peace . . . and not a shred of remorse.' She inhaled deeply.
“The police report indicated Travis may have been murdered by an intruder,” Catherine said, incredulous at the older woman’s confession.
“Yes . . . Jeffery could be very convincing . . . he contributed to many . . . causes . . .” Mrs. Reilly’s voice trailed off into a whisper.
“Mrs. Reilly . . .” Catherine began carefully, “your statement to the police indicates you were away from the house that evening of your husband’s death – and you came home to find him lying on the floor in the upper apartment.”
“I was out with Travis’ friend, Miss Dorien, making arrangements to donate Travis’ work to a local museum,” Mrs. Reilly replied, avoiding eye contact with Catherine.
Catherine rose from her seat, preparing to leave. “Please take care,” she said with emotion, clutching Mrs. Reilly’s hand one last time.
The hour was close to 10:00 p.m. and Catherine took a chance and called Rosemary Dorien, who answered and agreed to meet at the diner.
When the women were settled with their coffee, Rosemary began, “The night of Jeffery Reilly’s death, his wife was with me at a play. We had tickets – Broadway - the revival of “All My Sons” - a story of moral and legal idealism. Jeffery died of natural causes that night - a week after his son was killed.”
“So that’s the story?” Catherine asked pointedly.
“That’s the story,” replied Rosemary, her gaze unwavering.
* * *
Devin was one of the few Tunnel dwellers who read the newspapers from up top. Finding the story of the Reilly family and the photograph collection donation to the Leslie/Lohman Museum, Devin read with interest. The tragic tale seemed to have drawn to a natural end, with Mr. and Mrs. Reilly both dead, and their son reportedly killed by an unknown intruder shortly after his lover had died by suicide. At least the art would live on . . .
Seeing Devin absorbed in his reading, Vincent quietly took a seat next to him, pressing shoulder to shoulder. Devin turned to face his little brother. “Let me share your pain,” Vincent said kindly.
“I will if you will,” Devin responded.
Vincent straightened and moved a little away from Devin. “I want to ask Catherine to marry me,” he replied lightly.
“Be-caaause . . . .?”
“Because . . . that is the only way I know . . . the only way I can think of . . . to allow . . .” Vincent was struggling.
“Vin-cent!” admonished Devin with affection in his voice, “you are more conservative than Father! Don’t you realize two people can be intimate – make love – without being married?!”
“I could never . . . impose . . . myself on Catherine unless she knew it was to be forever!” Vincent answered with strong emotion.
Devin shook his head making a “tsk tsk”sound, smiling and rubbing his jaw.
“You big furry fool,” he said lovingly, taking hold of Vincent’s tunic. “My guess is that the lady Catherine is quite smitten with you – though I can’t see why – and she would welcome your, er, advances.”
Vincent looked so forlorn that Devin was taken with true compassion for him.
“Listen, big brother, your Catherine really loves you – take it from a man who knows women – ha ha! I mean take it from me! At any rate, ask her to bed with you, ask her to marry you, hell! Ask her to try to figure you out! Anything you ask her – she will say yes!”
Vincent could only suppress his smile and admit to himself that Devin was probably right.
* * *
When Rosemary was admitted to Tunnels, Devin felt a million conflicting emotions. His mouth was dry with anxiety when he greeted her, the shame and guilt of long ago clouding his joy at seeing her again.
“Devin . . .” she said, her arms extended and her face full of acceptance. Devin received her into his embrace and Rosemary kissed him full on the mouth. Their eyes were open in a kiss so full of love and respect, so forgiving and so connecting, that they both felt at peace.
Devin had never related to a woman without sexuality. All the old regrets, all the anger and all the blame melted away at her touch. He felt light, content, and unburdened. Rosemary was his equal, his soul-connected Other. A new relationship, that had truly been there all the time, was revealed to him in that one moment.
“I guess it was the best and worst of times,” he offered with a sad little laugh.
“The worst it ever was, was wonderful!” she said.
* * *
Later, as Vincent and Devin sat together discussing things, the contrast was clear. Vincent had never dared to include sexuality with love and Devin had never considered love without sex.
“I think both of us have wasted time,” Devin remarked ruefully.
“But, no longer . . .” Vincent replied, rising to leave.
Devin caught at Vincent’s sleeve. “Give Ms. Chandler my best,” he urged.
“That I will,” Vincent replied warmly.
* * *
Catherine leaned upon the half-wall of her balcony looking up into the stars, wistfully thinking on Vincent and what might be delaying his communication with her these last few days.
Suddenly, he was there beside her; his magnificence overwhelming and delighting her as it did that very first time he came to her.
“Vincent!” she gasped, clutching his cloak and turning her face up to his.
He looked down upon her, his lips close to hers, his breath warm against her face.
“Catherine,” he said with conviction, “I have something to ask you.”
“And I have something to ask you!” she responded.
Just then, the dream came true, the fantasy came alive as they each spoke at once: “Will you marry me?”
And answered simultaneously, “Yes!! Yes, I will!”
Stricken, the two pulled back and stared at each other, incredulous.
“Do you mean it?” she asked, belief and hope warring within her.
“With all my heart! With everything that I am!” Vincent seized her little hands in his bringing them to his lips. Eyes closed, he paused and pressed light kisses against her palms, inhaling her warm fragrance. He pulled her hands to his chest, and even through his layered clothing, she could feel the thudding of his heart.
His head was stilled bowed down over their clasped hands as he opened his eyes and focused his crystal blue gaze upon her. “And you . . ? You don’t want to take it back?” he whispered. Catherine’s breath caught in her throat and she was flushed with desire. Her full lips formed the words Oh Vincent though no sound came out.
And then he began to caress her. There was a quiet sincerity about him now and he was intent on his action. His large hands slid up her arms to cup her face, then his strong fingers thrust gently into her hair. Unhurried, he stroked her glossy locks and began a slow massage along her neck. Intimate contact with Vincent created a wildness and a comfort that Catherine had only dreamed of. Electricity coursed through her limbs, the lovely heat causing her breasts to rise up and her hips to move forward. She was fluid in his touch, her head dropping back to receive his kiss.
At the first taste of his mouth on hers, the marrow of her bones warmed within her. Vincent felt the changes in her and slowed his approach even more. For him, this was his long-denied chance to express his adoration of this woman, his one true love.
She relaxed into his care and began to savor this new-found serenity. Their lips parted, allowing their tongues to meet in a languid, smoldering kiss that deepened and consumed and restored them one to the other. Their very breaths seemed to exchange between them, giving and receiving life. A new life, the blossom of promise.
At some point, they ended up sitting on the balcony floor, Catherine draped across Vincent’s lap, his cloak off his shoulders, the leather ties of his tunic pulled apart, her cheek resting against his heartbeat.
“There’s a ceremony to plan,” she murmured.
“And a chamber to ready,” he added.
Loving hands moved easily over body parts, as impeding garments fell open and slipped away.
“And a wedding night . . .”
“Oh, Catherine . . . every night . . .”