By: Trisha Kehoe
‘I thought that dreams belonged to other men,
‘cuz each time I got close, they’d fall apart again.
I feared my heart would beat in secrecy,
I faced the nights alone. Oh, how could I
have known, that all my life I only needed you?
It seems that perfect love’s so hard to find.
I’d almost given up-you must have read my mind.
And all these dreams I saved for a rainy day,
they’re finally coming true.
I’ll share them all with you.
‘Cuz now we hold the future in our hands.
And in your arms, salvation’s not so far away.
I feel it getting closer-closer every day.
Almost paradise, we’re knocking on heaven’s door.
Almost paradise, how could we ask for more?
I swear that I can see forever in your eyes.
Concluding the introductory part of the ceremony, the Buddhist priest carefully rewrapped the consecrated relics of his religion in the finest of white linen. Setting the objects aside, he placed one hand on the forehead of the baby cradled in Catherine’s embrace and bowed. When she duplicated his act of respect, he turned his full attention to the imposing figure at her side.
Using one hand to steady the brass gong Vincent was holding out before him, Master Po slid his free hand into the left sleeve of a flowing, citron-hued silk robe. Producing a carved, brightly polished, fluted rod, he stiffened his wrist and reached out to strike the gong sharply three times.
With the sounds echoing through the crowded chamber similar to a gently spiraling tympani, he met his friend’s shimmering turquoise eyes and bowed a second time, asking, "By what name shall this gift of heaven be known?”
After glancing to his left, momentarily observing the woman he loved and the baby she was holding, Vincent bowed deeply, then, straightening to his full height, softly proclaimed, "His parents have named this child Joseph Vincent Pei.”
Accepting the choice with a gentle smile and a slight nod of his head, Master Po turned to a magnificent, leather-bound journal. Picking up a plumed, goose quill feather, he dipped the sharpened tip into an inkwell and proceeded to meticulously inscribe the name of Lin and Henry’s baby in ancient, beautifully stylized symbols. Pouring fine granules of sand over the words, he waited a moment for them to absorb the excess ink, then swept the grains away, into a small, jade bowl emblazoned with dragons, lotus blossoms, and various other tokens that were thought to bring good fortune.
Turning around and holding his hands out in front of him with the palms up, the priest beamed at the people gathered in the room. "So begins this child’s journey. May his path be one of truth, bringing great honor to his parents, and may the measure of his days be as the stars in the heavens.” Motioning for the tunnel populace to move closer, he went on, "This firstborn son of the House of Pei is the fulfillment of a sacred covenant. Let us now rejoice with Lin and Henry on this most auspicious of occasions.”
With that, a series of nearly deafening cheers and the clapping of many pairs of hands could be heard from both levels of Father’s library.
"Way to go, Henry!” came a shout from the far corner of the room, followed by Cullen making a circle with his thumb and forefinger in a gesture of obvious male vanity. "After two girls, you finally made a boy!”
That was followed immediately by a feminine voice from the upper level. "Hey, don’t forget that Lin did the hard part, ya know!” Leaning on the railing, Jamie glowered down at her rude friend until Cullen grinned at her and shrugged apologetically.
Moving forward as Catherine awkwardly shifted the sleeping baby from one shoulder to the other, Lin reached out, offering, "Here, let me take him. Your poor arms must be just about ready to give out.”
Reluctantly surrendering her small charge to his mother, Catherine sighed and then turned to bestow a misty-eyed smile on Vincent. "It was a lovely ceremony, wasn’t it?”
"Yes, it was.” Leaning closer, he rested his mouth at the curve of her ear, softly observing, "Yet, it has caused you to be sad.” Before she could admit to that perception, or perhaps even deny it, he touched the left side of his chest. "I can feel it - here.”
"I know that you can. But, I’m not sad, not…really.” Swiping at her eyes, Catherine allowed her gaze to follow Lin and Henry for a few moments as they moved about the chamber, then she straightened her shoulders and glanced up at Vincent. Lacing her fingers through his, she smiled, explaining, "Even as a child, special moments and things of great beauty always moved me to tears.”
"Did they, my Catherine?”
"Uh huh.” Staring off into the distance, she kept the rest of her thoughts to herself. ‘And if I look at you right now, my Love, I’ll start to cry all over again.’
Seeking to close even the few inches still separating them, Vincent gently eased his arm around her waist and brought his Beloved to rest just under the curve of his right shoulder. Tilting his head slightly toward her, he inhaled deeply of her scent, and also kept his own counsel.
Knowing her statement where beautiful things were concerned to be true, within his heart he also sensed that there was more to this that she chose not to speak of. How could he not know everything she was feeling? Everything. Glancing at her as a tumult of emotions swept through the bond, he knew that at this moment Catherine’s delight for Lin and Henry’s sake had been eclipsed by deep sorrow.
Greatly troubled by the disharmony he sensed with her, and certain that he knew its cause, Vincent tried to hold his focus as her unrest seemed to settle in around his heart. Taking a lingering breath and releasing it slowly, he stared down at the chamber floor, appearing to examine the faded elegance of the carpet at great length.
He and this beautiful woman were connected, bonded to each other in such a way that her pain was his, and his was hers. As her yearning had also become his these past years, a need that seized at the center of his soul, for he knew that she wanted desperately to have a child. His child.
"Oh, there’s Olivia with Matt,” Catherine observed, waving to them. Eyeing their friend and the sturdily built youngster she had just hefted onto her lap, she shook her head back and forth, murmuring, "I can’t believe the baby is nearly two years old already.”
"Neither can I,” Vincent acknowledged, his voice tinged with melancholy. Pursing his lips, he continued, "Those years have passed all too quickly. It seems like only yesterday that we attended Matthew’s Naming Ceremony.”
"Yet it was two whole years ago,” she sighed, watching as the rest of Oliva’s family neared her. "And just look at the size of Luke. I remember the night you and I baby-sat him, so that Kanin could surprise Olivia with their new chamber.”
Recalling that night quite well, and the intense feelings of envy that had rushed through him as he and Catherine lit candles in a chamber for another couple’s wedding anniversary, Vincent held his silence. At that moment, in that fine new home lovingly carved out of solid rock, he had been unable to fully subdue what he had been feeling and neither had the woman he loved. Watching as she had placed bouquets of lilacs on the white satin coverlet draping a magnificent white bed, he had felt her yearning rip not only through the bond, but through his soul as well. They had never discussed it, but he found himself wondering if she had been able to feel his yearning as deeply as he had felt hers that night.
Glancing up at him, Catherine murmured, "Kanin and Olivia seem very happy, don’t they?”
Nodding in agreement, Vincent watched as Olivia kissed her son on the top of his head. Eyeing Kanin, Matthew’s father, as he rested one hand on his wife’s shoulder and took his slightly rambunctious elder son Luke, in tow, he smiled wistfully. Watching the scene play out, he endeavored to contain the feeling of sadness sweeping through every part of him as his friend lifted both of his offspring into his arms, kissed them, and then proceeded to envelope the squirming children in a hug that would have done a bear justice.
Beaming at his wife, Kanin bent forward slightly to whisper something in her ear, settled Matthew back into her lap, and then set Luke to his feet. Taking him by the hand, he led him toward the refreshment table on the other side of the room.
‘How fortunate Kanin and Olivia are to have two such fine, healthy children.’ With that thought, Vincent swallowed the lump in his throat and forced his eyes away from the loving domestic scene.
"Please excuse me for a moment...” Letting go of his hand, Catherine started forward. "Olivia asked me to check out the prices of some quilting fabric for her. I nearly forgot to tell her that the material will be going on sale Monday.”
Allowing his gaze to follow the woman he loved as she left his side and walked over to speak with her friend, Vincent couldn’t help but notice that Catherine trailed her fingers gently through Matthew’s dark curly hair, smiling lovingly at him while she conversed with his mother.
Stiffening suddenly as an almost palpable envy swept through the bond before she managed to contain it, he thought that the sensation squeezing at his heart would surely cause it to burst. Knowing himself to be the cause of such an emotion rising in the woman who was the core of his very existence, as well as the best part of all that he could ever become, Vincent curled his hands into fists. Turning around to stare bleakly at the disheveled rows of books lining the nearby wall, he blinked away tears.
Although he and Catherine had been lovers now for nearly five years-five years next week, she had never voiced aloud the hope of them trying to conceive a child, nor had he. To his everlasting shame, he was immensely relieved that she had never asked to discuss that particular, emotionally charged issue. Even though offspring of one’s own was considered by some to be the highest affirmation of love, where he was concerned it was a possibility he had never even dared to dream of.
To become parents was one of the many things he and Catherine would never have, never share. Facing the reality of that, and coming to terms with it, was the most cutting, deepest pain of all-one that wounded to the soul. That truth hurt more than being unable to walk in the sunlight together, as other people in love did, to marvel at the simple splendor of a bright summer day. It hurt more than the loss of the diverse gatherings they would never attend above, or all of the concerts they would never listen to together, except here, in the music chamber, all of the parties, and the myriad celebrations they could never attend jointly in the city which he still considered to be Catherine’s home.
The one night a year that he could venture above in ‘relative’ safety was on Saowen, a time when spirits were said to freely roam the world. Reflecting on that, Vincent grunted softly. As did…beasts. Yet, Catherine truly never seemed to miss the social whirl which had been so much a part of her life eight years before. She had insisted then that the loss of such things was as nothing; that what he gave to her meant more-it meant everything she considered important. And finally, after much soul-searching, he had come to believe her. Still, knowing that their dream existed at the cost of all her other dreams hurt. It hurt so much.
He knew her so well, perhaps even better than she knew herself. Although it was true that the loss of ‘things’ didn’t mean very much to her, to be denied a child, to be unable to leave the world a legacy of her own, was another matter. For daring to love…him, she had given up so much; far too much, in his opinion. Yet, if she should ever ask him to consider having a child, dear God, what could he say that would bring even the slightest consolation? How could he deny this exquisite dauntless woman the dearest wish of her heart with something as deplorable, as vile, as the word ‘no’?
At the beginning of their extraordinary relationship, he recalled Father warning him that ‘One day, the woman would surely break your heart.’
Barely containing the sobs burning in his throat, Vincent half-turned to peer at Catherine over his left shoulder, took a shuddering breath and exhaled it as slowly as he could. Father had been mistaken in his dire prediction, for this woman would never break his heart. How ironic to sense instead that his lack of courage was slowly breaking hers.* * *
Eyeing the gaily beribboned package that Catherine was carrying in her left hand, Vincent thought of an identical bundle now ensconced on his chamber desk and smiled remarking, "I was under the misconception that the child was the one to receive gifts on such an occasion, not the god-parents.”
"Lin explained that it’s one of their customs.” Letting her fingers trail over the object in question, she asked, "Did you read the card that came with your gift?”
"No, there wasn’t time, but I shall certainly read it when I return below.”
Unwilling to leave him yet, she leaned back against the tunnel wall just before the entrance to her basement and smiled mysteriously, announcing, "Well, I read my card, and the note as well, and I’m going to do exactly what I’ve been asked to do.”
"There was a note?”
"Yes, from Lin.”
Affording her a puzzled expression, which caused his eyebrows to form a stunning amber vee just over the bridge of his nose, Vincent lowered his gaze to the package. "And there were instructions of some sort?”
"Uh huh.” Capturing a few of the colorful ribbons encircling her gift into one hand, she twined them around her forefinger. "Whatever is in here, I’m supposed to wear it next week, for our anniversary.”
"I see.” Tilting his head to the left, Vincent eyed the present again, suddenly more than a little curious to learn what it contained. "Then perhaps I am supposed to wear mine as well.” Deliberating on that, he sighed, adding, "Whatever it is.”
Hefting the weight of her present in the palm of her hand, Catherine then jiggled it gently back and forth, her lightly teasing. "I wonder what’s in here?”
Knowing, of course, precisely what she was doing, and refusing to be baited, he shrugged. "I haven’t the vaguest idea.”
Arching an eyebrow in his direction, she asked, "Aren’t you even the least little bit curious?”
Allowing the question to go unanswered, Vincent stared at her for a moment as only he could stare, and then turned his full attention to the ceiling over his head and proceeded to study it intently.
Convinced that his curiosity was definitely getting the better of him, Catherine eyed her ‘disinterested’ soul-mate, admitting, "Well, I’m dying to know what’s in this beautifully wrapped box, but I promised Lin that I wouldn’t peek until I was alone, and a promise is a promise.”
"Hm.” Suddenly wishing that one of his special abilities included X-ray vision, the one she loved narrowed his eyes to glare at the object in question. "Of course, I would never ask you to violate such a pledge…” Hesitating, he eyed her hopefully.
"No, you wouldn’t do that,” she agreed, knowing that this was absolutely killing him, "…now would you?” Gripping the front of his cloak, Catherine rose on tiptoe to kiss the side of his face, then proceeded to add fuel to the fire of his vexation. "Well, if your present contains clothing of some sort, I hope you’ll wear it next week.”
"If it is clothing, and it fits…,” came that throaty rumble that did things to parts of her anatomy that was positively unnerving, "…then of course I shall wear it.”
Oh God, that voice should be outlawed around women known to have weak hearts and/or knees.
Glancing up at Vincent from beneath her lashes, she noted how tired he looked and was suddenly reminded that he had been awake since well before dawn helping to organize the evening’s festivities.
Putting one hand on his shoulder, Catherine squeezed it gently, sighing, "It’s very late and you’re tired. I should go.”
"Yes, it is late,” he agreed, echoing her sigh with an even deeper one. "And I am a bit tired.” That said, eyes tinged with regret met hers.
Urging her closer, Vincent cupped the left side of her face in his hand. Brushing the pad of his thumb gently back and forth across her mouth, he barely managed to get the words around the lump in his throat, his voice turning husky, and so endearingly shy. "You must be tired as well, but must you leave…right now?”
"No, I don’t have to leave ‘right now,’” she replied, smiling up at him. "Why, is there something you want to discuss?”
"No, there is nothing that I wish to discuss.” Hungered turquoise eyes imprisoned hers. "But there is something I…want.” Gently curving the fingers of his right hand to the small of her back, Vincent exerted the tiniest bit of pressure there and brought her forward in his embrace. "And you know perfectly well what that ‘something’ is.”
"Yes, I do.” Allowing her parcel to glide slowly and carefully to the tunnel floor, Catherine wrapped her arms around Vincent’s waist and waited expectantly. Sometimes, it was nice to have the words.
Although they had come a long way in sharing their feelings these last years, some things never changed. Some words, some needs, were still very difficult for Vincent to voice aloud. Using their connection to send all of her emotions soaring on ‘love’s light wings’ to caress him in a very special way, as only she could, she nuzzled happily into the warmth and safety of his tall, heavily-muscled physique. When he tightened his embrace, she went almost entirely limp. Oh, his arms were so powerfully built, and the rest of his body was absolutely astounding.
Finding it a bit disconcerting to know that she admired those aspects of this gentle being to such an extent, Catherine snuggled even closer to him. Burying the tip of her nose into the front of Vincent’s cloak, she grinned, wondering how he would have reacted if she ever told him that he’d look splendid on the cover of a lusty Harlequin ™ novella?
‘Fabio, move over!’ Biting down hard on her lower lip to contain a fit of giggles, she was suddenly curious to find out exactly how far he would allow her to go tonight before all hell broke loose? Trailing one hand under her true love’s softly tumbled hair, she scraped her fingernail gently along the nape of his neck, and then allowed it to stray upward to the curve of his ear. Pinching the lobe gently between her thumb and forefinger, Catherine leaned forward on his chest and held her breath, trying to gauge his reaction.
Murmuring something she couldn’t quite make out, Vincent pressed his body forward into hers for a moment, then pulled back slightly and gripped her by the shoulders. "Please, stop now, before I…” Tilting his head back, he panted open-mouthed, struggling desperately to rein in his passion, then shook his head frantically from side to side, groaning, "You know full well what such caresses…do…to me.”
Before he could say anything else, she lifted on her toes to begin licking delicately at the warm, highly sensitive notch in his upper lip, murmuring, "And I know what this does to you, too…”
Unprepared for such an extremely intimate caress, Vincent seized her around the waist and yanked her forward almost roughly. As deep shudders seemed to journey the length and width of his body, he closed his eyes and bent toward her until their foreheads touched. When he groaned her name a second time, his breath had the scent of honey, and was deliciously hot upon her skin. "I want to kiss you, and to do so much more than kiss you.”
Opening his eyes and cupping her face in callused, trembling palms, he stared at her for the space of a single beat of her heart, then angled her chin up to breathe the rest of the words into her mouth. "I love you so deeply, and want you so much, one day I shall surely die of the ache. Will you…” The remainder of the words came out a breathy gasp, "…remain below tonight?”
"Of course I will. You know that I would do anything for you, and with you.” Wrapping her arms around his neck, she smiled up at him. "I was hoping that you’d want me to stay.”
"’Want you to’,” Vincent echoed, his voice gruff with emotion. "Oh yes, I most definitely want you to.” A clawed finger lifted to edge slowly and gently back and forth along the outline of her breasts. "I ‘want’ so many things of you at this moment-perhaps too many.”
Studying him lovingly, Catherine swept Vincent’s hair away from his eyes; such wonderfully expressive eyes. Well aware that the gesture would arouse him even further, she leaned forward to slowly stroke the tip of her tongue along the deep furrows at the sides of his mouth.
Pressing her body the full length of his as two massive hands curved possessively around her hips, she clasped her fingers together behind his neck. "And if needing someone as much as I need you right now can indeed destroy you, then I shall certainly die of it, too, my Love. My dearest, most precious…”
Those were the last words she managed to voice for several extremely passionate moments.
When Vincent’s mouth came down on hers open and surprisingly hard, his tongue seeking the moist heat of hers as though trying desperately to capture her very soul in a kiss, all thought mere words fled Catherine’s mind as drops of rain would when consumed by the fierce incandescence of a blazing August sun.
As longing forged into an all-encompassing ache that could no longer be turned aside, his need of her roaring through every fiber of his being, as urgent and powerful in his shaking fingers as it was at the juncture of his thighs, Vincent lifted his most precious treasure into his arms, turned on his heel, and started back to his chamber.
There, to her utter delight, Catherine soon discovered that he wasn’t as tired as she thought him to be. Oh, at times wasn’t it absolutely wonderful to be wrong, especially when your mistakes were repudiated in so many sensuously delicious ways?* * *
Sitting up and sweeping his tumbled hair away from his mouth, Vincent glanced down at the slender form sleeping next to him and smiled with infinite tenderness. At times like this, he still found it difficult to believe that such a woman existed, and that she loved him. Him.
Bending forward, he gently eased Catherine’s hair away from her face and studied her for a moment, enjoying the sensation of her breath softly stirring the hair on his chest. Watching as her mouth curved up at the corners into a slight smile, he wondered where his Beloved’s dreams had taken her, and if those imaginings included him?
Settling back on his pillow, he cautiously edged closer to her until they lay chin-to-chin. Dear God, she was so lovely, so feminine, merely looking at her caused renewed desire to explode through him in every direction at once. He wanted her again. No, not again-still.
The urge to fuse their bodies was so strong at the moment it was consuming him. Moving a little away from her, he took a deep breath and exhaled it as slowly as he could. Inhaling again and placing his left hand over his heart, he fought to restrict the shudders inundating his body, and vanquish the carnal images invading his thoughts.
Clad in one of his ample nightshirts, his angel lay curled up on her left hip, facing him. With one hand tucked under the edge of his thigh and the other one embracing her pillow, Catherine looked so very young, so utterly at peace with her surroundings, and with him.
Staring down at his claw-tipped fingers, Vincent studied them from every possible angle. That she allowed these to touch her at all astonished him. That she exulted in his touch completed him as nothing else ever would. Her capacity to trust and to love, gave him everything, including his sense of humanity. Shaking his head back and forth, he found himself thinking back to a time when he believed with absolute certainty that no woman would ever want him, love him, or trust him so completely, especially in a physical way. Yet, Catherine had accepted him as he was, and all that he was, without reservations of any kind. ‘Without reservations of any kind.’
With that thought, Vincent bowed his head, wondering if there would ever come a time when he would have the confidence in himself that his Beloved had in him? She placed no conditions on the extent of her feelings where he was concerned, nor any on her love. All that she offered him, her affection, her understanding, and her depth of commitment, he accepted gladly, willingly, with the greatest of joy. Yet, what did he give her in return if not a life and love which had so many limitations; a love with thresholds he dare not cross; with offerings he dare not give - and wishes and dreams he dare not speak of, much less ask her to share?
Carefully easing over the rise of Catherine’s hip, Vincent slid out of bed and reached for his bathrobe. Slipping into it, he moved to sit in the chair beside his desk. Settling back on the velvet seat cushion, he slung his left leg over the wooden arm of the chair and rested the nape of his neck on the ornately carved cross-section.
Contemplating the woman fast asleep in his bed through eyes blazing with emotion, he considered the last eight years slowly and carefully, for a very long time. Reliving all that he and Catherine had shared, the pain as well as the joy; all they had endured to get to this point in their relationship, he tried to find the strength from within to vanquish fears and self-imposed limitations which had shadowed his heart for so many years.
With love as their shield, he and this fearless woman had ‘gone with courage, and they had gone with care’. In the end, the rewards had been worth all of the pain - all of the heartache. Yet, there remained one journey down a path he had never thought to travel. Within his heart, Vincent knew that the time had come when he must either brave that unknown and perhaps dangerous threshold, or turn away from it, and never explore its possibilities again.* * *
Just before dawn, Vincent reached toward the desk, unscrewed the cap of his fountain pen, and opened his journal. Studying the blank page, he took a moment to gather his thoughts, then, shifting the slim manual to an angle that would accommodate his left-handed script, he leaned forward and began to write:
. . .
Nearly eight years ago, Catherine reached into the shadows of my despair and touched her soul to mind. In that sweet moment, that span of a single heartbeat, she changed me, and claimed me-forever. How could I not love her? How could I not desire her? To my eyes, she is fearless, and all that is beautiful in this world. To my ears, the sound of her voice contains the songs of angels. To my heart, she is all of the flowers that have ever bloomed. This woman has truly become the touchstone around which I have built my life. When she reaches out to me, or to caress me, her slender hands and gently questing fingers create fire-storms of sensation upon my skin.
Her taste, her scent, the way she moves beneath me in the act of loving, has become the very sustenance that sustains my existence. To realize that I can bring such pleasure to a woman, and find my own in that moment of ecstasy is astounding. In a way, it’s as though I had been knocking very hard, for a very long time, on Heaven’s door; and finally, one of the angels opened it, allowing me to behold Paradise. The urgency to join my body to hers never ceases to torment me, but ah, this is such sweet torment, one that I joyously lose myself in as often as I can.
Even now, sitting here sated and utterly; wonderfully exhausted. I know that I would take her again if she were to awaken, as she would welcome me again, and yet again, until we are both left giddy by the effort to form coherent thought. At times, I find myself wondering if this fierce ache within, this need of her that obliterates anything and everything that would stand in its path, will be with me unto the end of all things? Oh,I pray this to be true.
Although I care deeply for my friends and family, and know full well that I am loved in return, as I matured there were some things that they were unable to give me; needs they could not meet; questions they could not resolve. Those needs are met now and all the questions are well resolved-gloriously resolved.
If colors could be used to define one’s existence, then my tints would have to be gray and brown, or they were until Catherine coaxed open the doors of my mistrustful heart and drew me into the radiance of her love, and her colors. Now, my life, as well as my chamber, is filled with such extraordinary items from my Beloved’s apartment above. Elegant silk dresses in a veritable rainbow of tints now hang in the chiffonier next to my clothing, and a disconcerting array of lacy, feminine garments in a kaleidoscope of pastels lay neatly folded in drawers alongside my more utilitarian under-things.
But, first and foremost, there is the most wondrous color of all, Catherine’s eyes. When she agrees to stay the night with me, the following morning I sometimes awaken to find myself being studied lovingly by eyes the shade of new spring grass. Sparkling as it locks to mine, her gentle gaze comforts me, arouses me, and reassures me once again that my solitude is indeed only a memory.
Knowing it gives me the greatest of pleasure for her to leave some of her more personal possessions here, with me, when my lady comes below she usually brings with her yet another of her treasures. A collection of gleaming marble and crystal eggs now grace a curio cabinet, porcelain figurines and perfume bottles of various shapes and sizes sparkle on the mantle next to my bed, their vivid tints greeting me at each new dawn.
I find it curious, and wonderful, how the simplest things can change the drab familiarity of a room. Sometimes, when I am alone here, I glance around this chamber and smile, wanting to shout my joy aloud, sensations of utter contentment gliding through me to find myself surrounded by such a wealth of colors!
If the truth be told, I seem to smile so much more now than I ever did before. At times, those ‘lop-sided, addle-pated grins’, as Father privately delights in calling them, knowing full well that it galls me, have proven to be immensely disconcerting - especially when they overtake me without warning at council meetings, or when I’m toiling alongside other members of a work crew. On more than one occasion, Mouse has asked me Why I’m grinning?’ I cannot explain such things to him, not to anyone, yet I believe some of the men understand, particularly those who are loved as I am.
Yes, I’m certain they know what I’m feeling, yet my friends have the good grace not to taunt me about it, for which I am eternally grateful. There have been moments when I believe that the ardor I feel for Catherine is finally under control, but then she will move in a certain way, or look at me, or merely smile at me, and I realize that my seeming ‘control’ is as nothing when put up against the sheer force of her love. If I glance up to find her watching me, her expression one of obvious invitation, I am lost, and I know it. When she touches my body in ways only she ever will, I feel as though I may shatter to bits from the consummate ecstasy such caresses bring. Ah, to have such an unexpected and splendid knowledge of passion is not only extraordinary; for me it is a true miracle, one I shall continue to give thanks for until my dying breath.
As a child, I read the stories that began "Once upon a time, ‘and dared to dream of having a ‘happy ever after,’ too, one day. To my sorrow, as I matured the reality of who and what I am obliterated those dreams, those expectations, turning them to ashes; to constant reminders of what I could never have. Many years ago, I reached out for a young woman, wanting only to hold her, but only served to frighten her, and hurt her. Horrified as I watched the blood oozing from Lisa’s torn flesh, at that moment l knew, or thought l knew, exactly what I was. It was then that I came to believe that for me, the unknown pathway to intimacy with a woman, any woman, was yet another dream that must be set aside; one that had to be buried deeply within my consciousness, and my heart, never to be explored again.
Thinking that to survive, I must turn away from such needs, lest they surely destroy me, I taught myself the most cutting, cruelest lesson of all: for such as I, some dreams would forever remain only that-hopeless, empty dreams. Then, at a time when my aloneness was crushing me, I found Catherine. ‘I found Catherine ‘. I find it curious, and wondrous, how three simple words can change one’s life so utterly, so miraculously. Or perhaps fate guided my footsteps that night. There is no way of knowing for certain. My Dearest chooses to call it destiny; and I gladly yield to her on the matter. Yet, whatever or whomever commanded me to look up precisely when I did to observe a dark silhouette laying there, so still, so forsaken, on that grassy, mist-shrouded knoll, I thank them with all that I am.
In the ten days she spent below, recuperating in my world, I learned to care deeply for this woman. Too deeply; I fought these emotions as hard as I could, but there seemed to be no way of confining them for more than short periods of time. The need to spend every moment with her became a living, breathing thing reaching out from within to undermine all of my good intentions. Even knowing that when she was sufficiently healed, she would return to her own world, and her own life, I still allowed my heart to lead me on a path toward consummate despair. She would heal, and then she could be gone, forever, or so I thought then. Wondering how I would be able to endure the pain of that separation, I became…lost to myself.
Dismissing everything Father had taught me, including the dictates which had guided my life for well over thirty years, I denied his counsel and also ignored the misgivings pressing against my heart, by falling deeply in love for the first time in my life-for the only time in my life. It was then that all of the physical longings rose again as specters to haunt me, and to taunt me as never before.
Catherine’s inherent femininity called to a part of me I had never fully acknowledged, nor could I face the truth of it eight years ago, believing that just beyond my carefully erected facade of humanness were things that would truly frighten her, or perhaps put her very life at risk. Yet, even knowing that the dream of becoming a part of her life, and of her, was impossible, still I clung to it with all of my strength.
Until the first moment I felt the power of her love encompass my heart, I had never fully grasped that such depth of emotion truly existed. Never having been loved by a woman before in that way; how could I have known. I know now. The ability to love absolutely, without reservations of any kind, is the strongest force in the universe. Love gives everything, it demands everything. When you love, really love, then it must be done wholeheartedly, with every part of your being, or not at all. This too, my Beloved has patiently taught me.
Growing up in a world filled with books, I had read all of those in which poets and the more candid publicists wrote about the force of physical love, and its power. Intellectually, I understood the words, but my heart couldn’t feel them, truly feel them. Unable to comprehend, how could I trust such words to be factual? In truth, asking me to trust in such emotions, was much the same as asking an agnostic to suddenly believe in the existence of angels. Although it had taken me many years, I have learned to believe in so many things, including angels-for I am loved by one.
For eight months, I managed to dominate the need, the frantic hunger, to see Catherine again, for what I considered to be one last time. For her sake, as well as for my own peace of mind, I struggled mightily to tear her out of my thoughts; to rip the sound of her voice from my heart, and the image of her face out of my soul. Yet, some commands simply refuse to obey even the most ardent entreaties. It was then that I was forced to face an inescapable truth: She had become a part of me for always-forever. Even if I never saw her again, the union of our two spirits would endure unto eternity, and perhaps even beyond it.
In the end, my heart gave me no other choice. Dear God, how I missed her! No matter how hard I fought to turn the need aside, no barrier I erected would contain the emptiness roiling through me. I had to see her again. So, gathering up all my courage, all of my hope, and swallowing my fear, eight months later, on a tranquil, starlit night, I climbed over the railing of a terrace in the world above. And there, I found my destiny.
When Catherine greeted me, and embraced me, I wanted to crush her to my breast and never let her go; to absorb her in some unknown way into my very blood until we were truly one. With the fragrance of her hair and scent of her body assaulting my nostrils and bombarding my other senses, I recognized the urgency for what it was, and what it longed for. Oh yes, I knew. And the part of myself which I considered to be most male ached to unravel the mysteries of that most intimate of needs.
It was then that I felt a merciless heat arise from within. Consuming me, lust pounded through my veins, my desire for her nearly shattering the calm facade I had so diligently erected, thinking to keep her safe from the side of myself I had always considered to be not altogether human.
‘Not altogether human.’ As that perception rose to strike at my soul, jolting me back to reality, I was consumed by a mounting anger fused with humiliation. How had I dared to presume that this beautiful woman would ever want, or need my friendship? Unwilling to have Catherine bear witness to the rage that was ripping its way through me, I turned to leave.
Lifting her hand toward me, she entreated me to remain there, with her, for just a ‘little while’ longer. Leaving me trembling, her gentle petition overwhelmed me, dividing and then shattering all of my carefully erected barriers. I wanted very much to stay; yet the defenses of a lifetime were exceedingly difficult to disregard. In the end, perhaps my soul had already made the decision for me-the only one that it could make.
With my heart pounding fiercely, I hesitated for a moment, then slowly reached out to clasp her hand in mine. Standing there, willing myself to remain absolutely still, and praying not to frighten her, I remember searching the tenuous new connection vibrating between us, wondering if this woman could sense my emotions as deeply as I could sense hers? To know everything that she was feeling, to sense her emotions washing though me, each in turn clutching gently at the threshold of my lonely, incredulous heart, brought me the greatest joy I have ever known, yet an anguish deeper than I thought could be endured without utterly decimating one.
To feel the thoughts of another person that deeply, that completely, was something I had thought impossible, especially for me. When I finally found the courage to meet Catherine’s eyes, she smiled at me with such trust, such acceptance. That simple gesture on her part undid me. At that moment, I could deny her nothing she would have. So, with the warmth of her delicately boned hand clasped in mine, and her scent heating my blood I sat down on the bench next to her and struggled to focus my thoughts. Trying arduously to contain my joy at seeing her again, I attempted to explain my reasons for being there, but my words were only half-truths-shadows of feelings. I told her that I wanted only to know that she was well. Oh, how that lie burned in my throat! I already knew she was well. For some time, her emotions had already been a part of mine. They were imprinted on my consciousness, as well as upon my soul.
The words I wanted to say to her didn’t come without great effort on my part. For me, it had always been thus. Words others use so freely, I have always found impossible to voice aloud. To be so close to her again struck me momentarily dumb. I felt disoriented, disconnected, my thoughts pitching wildly as leaves would when consumed by the intensity of a fierce winter storm. Struggling to give voice to all of the things I wanted to tell her, I found that I couldn’t think clearly, could not speak without stumbling over the words, yet I knew somehow that she understood, and would be patient with me. Over the years, I have come to know that my Beloved is an extremely patient woman-notably where I am concerned.
From the moment she first spoke my name, the sound of her sweet voice captured my heart. Fearing such an emotional pull, still I loved her; still I desired her. In time, to my surprise I discovered that she not only accepted my devotion, she welcomed it. She actually desired me physically. Catherine wanted my love. She wanted me. There are no words to define how that knowledge affected me, and how much it frightened me; yet it aroused me in ways which cannot be inscribed - not in mere words. . .
Laying his pen on the desk, Vincent shook the cramps out of his fingers and sat back in the chair. Glancing toward the bed, eyes glittering with adoration, they studied the woman laying there, then darkened as self-reproach engulfed him again. Sighing, he bent forward over his journal again, reclaimed his pen, and continued writing:
. . . On more than one occasion, I have voiced my hope of giving Catherine everything within my power to give, yet through all my fear I withhold from her; from both of us, the dearest, most precious gift of all-the legacy of a child of our very own. To know she gives me every part of herself and that I return her gifts half-measure, shames me to the soul. My inability to trust as she does mocks our love; it mocks our dream of a life together-‘truly together.’
So, do I sever our union and break both our hearts by ending what we share? In truth, could I learn to endure without her? My life truly began the night I found this astounding woman. If I ever lost her, then my life would close again, for how long can one endure without a heart? Catherine is my heart. And even if I could survive, is mere survival enough to sustain a life? No, it most certainly isn’t-not anymore. Not for me.
Five years ago, at the time of my greatest inner struggle, I lay unconscious for many days. In those desperate hours, I dreamt of a child; Catherine’s son, and mine. His name was Jacob, and he was very beautiful. Yet, was that angelic babe merely a part of my wild imaginings, or was he the promise of what ‘could’ be, if I ever gather the courage to follow my heart instead of my head? For her sake, as well as for my own, I must try to have faith in dreams again. I have to try. But those expectations cannot be based on ‘Once upon a time’ as they were in my youth. Now, I must learn to believe in ‘Once upon a rose.’ And for me, that rose is, and shall ever be-Catherine.