Beauty and the Beast Forever - Winds of Change
        Winds of Change 
       by Sharon Holtz




It had been a very long recovery for Catherine, and she had to deal with many things. The cruelty of the thugs who assaulted and disfigured her, the changes in the people around her...they treated her differently now. Carefully, carefully is how Catherine described it. Oh how she wished someone would yell at her... get perturbed with her, to just treat her normal. But she realized that it wasn't just the people around her who had changed....she changed as well, in more ways than anyone would ever know or could ever know. She couldn't understand what was happening to her...nothing's the same, what was once important to her, no longer was, the little things that she used to take for granted, now she cherished. What used to be black was now white and white now black...she mused to herself that her life now is like a negative exposure of what it used to be. Nothing was normal anymore...nor would it ever be again.. For she had met Vincent!

Vincent was ever present on her mind. Even after her plastic surgery to repair the scars left from the assault....her thoughts were not on the success of the surgery...but rather, on when or if, she would see Vincent again. The old Cathy would have been consumed with her looks, and how people saw her. Catherine was a single girl in York City, the daughter of a rich and successful corporate lawyer, Charles Chandler, and following in her daddy's footsteps; she also became a corporate lawyer. Not with the gusto that her father had for Law, but partly out of carrying on the tradition. She wanted to please her father. He was all that she had. They were close ...she was all that he had. Catherine's mother died when she was a young girl, and her father took over the reins of raising her.... He did so with much love. It was a heartwrenching time for him...losing his wife, and knowing that he could never replace her, she had such gentleness and such insight on raising a child. But through his heartache he rose to the occasion and as a result he and Catherine became closer than most fathers and daughters. Catherine's feelings on those dark days were memories of protecting her dad, and maybe being extra good so as not to add more anguish to his already exhausting day. So that the time they spent together would be happy...to try to give her dad moments that he could be proud of her. Catherine remembered wanting to please her dad...so that maybe he didn't feel so sad. The hurt eventually turned into bittersweet memories for Charles and his daughter...and a lesson in life ...to deal with whatever fate brought.

Charles had dreams of Catherine someday taking over his partnership in the practice...and Catherine really thought that too...but lately even before the attack...Catherine felt that she was missing something...not fulfilling all that she was meant to. She couldn't put it into words, but somehow everything seemed shallow. Even her relationship with her boyfriend, Tom, was waning. He seemed to be so career driven...she even wondered if maybe she was a stepping stone to his success. But none the less, after the fight they had at the dinner party, that fateful night before her attack, she knew it was over between them. How could he be so heartless, complaining about her spending time with a needy friend? Now that her face was restored to it's original beauty, all except for one stubborn scar, well, Tom wanted to pick up where they left off. Catherine shunned a few of his advances and let him down easily.

Catherine felt that she now was ready...strong enough to face Vincent again. All of her physical wounds had healed, and she never really felt that she properly thanked him for saving her life. Their parting at the threshold was cut short by passers- by above them. Catherine had given Vincent a hug as well as her promise to keep his secret. She hadn't expected to feel so at home in Vincent's arms. She was sure that Vincent felt the connection too......the way he leaned his head back and seemed to hold his breath, the way he gently placed his hand on the small of her back, the way held her close. It was for the briefest of moments...but for Catherine it was a memory that would last her lifetime.

Yes, she wanted to see Vincent again.... She needed to see him again! To hear his gentle, velvety voice. A voice that when her eyes were bandaged talked her back from the brink of insanity. Vincent made her feel so safe, and warm. He took such good care of her. Vincent patiently fed her... read to her endlessly to fill the healing hours with lovely stories and poetry. It wasn't only Vincent she needed to thank, but Mary and Father as well. Mary helped her with all her bathroom needs, and of course she needed to thank Father for all of his medical attention. Catherine noticed that after her initial care from Father, he was pretty much absent. Leaving her to believe that he didn't think that Vincent bringing her there was the best idea. She wanted to find a way to make Father see that he nothing to fear from her. That he could trust her. Catherine was determined to go to Vincent.... To go today. She couldn't bear to let another day pass without seeing him. There was another reason that she needed to see him. She had to make him understand that her reaction to seeing him the first time...was merely out of ignorance... He was like no one that she had ever met before...but she felt so bad knowing that she must have hurt him so. For now, her impression of Vincent was how beautiful he was. His blue eyes shone with such tenderness, and even now she couldn't wait to look into them again.

***
Catherine made her way down the steps at the threshold. She remembered how frightened she had been climbing up these same steps, up out of the tunnels, to pick up what was left of her shattered life. She hadn't given much thought about how to get back to the chambers, hoping she'd remember, but coming through the tunnels, guided by Vincent to the threshold, she was in such awe at this beautiful world below.

Catherine realized that she really didn't know which way to go. No sooner had she rounded the corner from the threshold when she saw Vincent. He was embracing Rebecca... Catherine met her briefly... but recognized her at once. She could hear Vincent telling her to lean on him, and to trust that all will be well. Oh my God ... . Catherine wondered, what am I doing here? I never should have came...I didn't know that Vincent and Rebecca.... I have no right to be here...I feel like such an intruder. ! She turned and ran.... hoping they did not see her.

Catherine climbed the steps as fast as she could, blinded by her tears...but why was she crying? Why couldn't she have just approached Vincent...? There were no answers. She just wanted to go home. Home...funny how for Catherine ... home meant something different now...it felt so empty.

The elevator doors couldn't open soon enough. She ran to her apartment and flew to her bed. Tears flowing uncontrollably ...Vincent was holding another. That would explain why there had not been any contact from him. She really didn't think that he could come to her, but a letter ...something.

***
There were so many things that Catherine did not know...could not know. There was no way of her knowing that Vincent did come to her......looked in on her ...made sure that she was safe. So often Vincent sensed fear from Catherine. But he found her safe in her apartment, realizing that she must have been having a nightmare. He was still sorting all these feelings out...these feelings which were illuminating from Catherine. All he knew was that there was a bond ...a bond between them. Yes, Vincent longed to see Catherine again. But what right did he have? What could he offer her... what kind of life? All he could give her was all that he was. Vincent wondered if he should dare go to her? What would she say? Or do? He thought it best to try to forget ... just as Father had told him. He knew Father was right. There was no future, no point in it. Why set himself up for being hurt?

Someone like Catherine could never...Vincent tried to forget, but he allowed himself to dream. The memory of their parting still burned deep in his heart, and ever since that day his arms felt so empty. It seemed like a dream. A dream that he didn't want to fade away. He realized there never could be anything between them...until today.

Why did Catherine seek him out? Why did she run away like she did? Vincent had looked up just in time to see her turn and run. He had been so caught up in consoling Rebecca that he didn't feel her coming. Rebecca had just gotten word from a helper that her grandmother had died. She couldn't be consoled. She felt so bad that she was not at her side. But she lived in California and there was no way that Rebecca could have afforded the trip. Now she was faced with trying to get to her funeral, and it all seemed so hopeless. Even though Vincent saw Catherine, he could not leave Rebecca at such a time. They were as close as any brother and sister, they were raised together after-all. Vincent took Rebecca to see Mary and Father. Together they sat down with some tea to try to iron out the details for Rebecca's trip. They did have some resources, and all was not so hopeless after all.


Now with Rebecca calmed.... Vincent wanted to go to Catherine. "Father I am going above tonight...I won't be long."


"Vincent! What possible reason for this. I don't think that you should take such chances".


"But Father I must. Catherine came below today, and I must see what she wanted. She came below when I was with Rebecca, and I could not speak to her. She ran away in tears. Father, please try to understand."


"Vincent, all that I understand is that this is bound to be heartache for you. Nothing but heartache. It is best to let it go Vincent. Let her go!"


"Father, I don't want to upset you. But I must go; I feel she is in much anguish. Try not to worry so, Father."


Father shook his head out of frustration, "Do what you will Vincent, but I know that nothing good can come from this. Nothing!"


Vincent put his hand on Father's shoulder, and turned and left him. He had to see what she wanted, and to find out why she ran away. He thought it best to send word via a helper to let Catherine know he was going to arrive on her balcony. If she wished him to visit, to have a candle lit in the window. That way she was not obligated to see him.

***
Catherine gathered herself up from her bed, and built a fire in the fireplace, then made her way to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. That always warmed her and made her feel better. She used to be a coffee drinker...stemming back from her college days. But ever since her time in the tunnels a cup of tea brought her such comfort, and ... memories of Vincent's soothing voice. A voice she longed to hear again.

Oh how she had looked forward to seeing him today. She was heartbroken to find out that Vincent had someone in his life. She knew she shouldn't feel that way, she should rejoice for him that he had someone to love and to share his life with. But she felt sad and empty. She had hoped that maybe she had a chance to be with him and get to know him under lighter circumstances. He was so smart, and the way he read was so lovely. He was truly gifted in the arts. When her eyes were covered, and all she had was his voice to cling to, she didn't even try to put a face to its velvety throaty sound. Catherine assumed that she would meet him ... and see him... but it didn't matter. It was the heart of the man that she was falling in love with. Oh my God ... Catherine hadn't realized how deep her feelings were... until just now.


"Way to go Chandler, you managed to fall for someone who is already with someone else." How could this happen to her? She has always been so careful, so picky! She had been caught totally off guard by this. Catherine too, was aware of the other differences, but somehow that was secondary, it didn't matter that Vincent was not like any other man. That was exactly why she did love him. His tenderness, compassion, his strength, and those blue eyes of his made her knees weak, just thinking about them.


Catherine started sobbing again. Her heart ached so badly. She had no one to talk to. She could never speak of any of this. She promised Vincent that she would never betray his trust. And she wouldn't. It was then she spotted the letter that had been slipped under her door. She quickly opened the door, just in time to see the elevator close. Who in the world....? She picked up the letter and read it. It was from Vincent.


Dear Catherine, 
I will be arriving on you balcony at 8:oop.m. Do not be frightened. I saw you leave the tunnels today and I am concerned about you. If you wish to see me, have a candle in your window. If not, I understand. 
Vincent


Catherine stood there.... excited, embarrassed, hopeful, then fearful. What if he was angry that she had re-entered his world without an invitation? ...What must he think of me? Why did I run like I did? It was 7:50. Catherine found her largest candle. She did not want Vincent to miss the flame. Better yet she would be on the balcony waiting for him. She went and washed her face for it was streaked from all the tears that she had shed. Then ran to open the balcony door.


He was already there. He stepped from the shadows and was speechless in her presence.


Catherine too, couldn't speak, but she had so much to explain. Where to begin? She didn't understand herself.


Finally Vincent spoke...."Catherine, are you well?"


"Yes Vincent. I am doing very well, I am all healed up, and getting stronger every day."


Vincent looking down upon her beautiful face, stepped closer. " Your face..,you are beaut..." His voice left him. He was stunned and silenced by her beauty.


Catherine wanted him to feel welcome in her world now. She took his hand and led him to her patio table. "Please sit down Vincent...may I get you some tea? I bought some from the Chinese restaurant. The kind that you fixed for me. You got me hooked on it"


"Yes, I would like that Catherine."


The beautiful star filled sky, along with the flickering candle that shone so brightly on the table, sent dancing shadows around the balcony. What an enchanting moment to behold, for both of them. Catherine returned with the tea and had some delicious shortbread cookies that she had picked up from the bakery around the corner.

Vincent poured. " So tell me Catherine, why did you run away today"


Catherine bit her bottom lip, unsure how to answer, because she didn't know how much to reveal about her feelings she had for Vincent. "Vincent. I wanted to see you. I needed to see you. I feel that I never properly thanked you for all that you had done for me. But when I saw you and your girlfriend Rebecca ..." Catherine couldn't stop her voice from trembling with emotion at these words...she was afraid that she had given herself away. " I felt I was intruding and hoped that I could escape unnoticed. Now I know I can rule out being a Secret Agent as a possible future profession. " she said, trying to be lighthearted with her joking ...but she knew that her quivering chin gave her away, and that her emotions were on the verge of totally blowing any levity she was trying to convey. "Anyway, I suddenly felt so silly for assuming that I could... you see... I thought that there was ...When we last parted I felt....something... and I...."


"Catherine what are you saying?"


"Vincent, I don't know. Please stop me before I make a total fool out of myself"


"First of all Catherine...Rebecca is not a girlfriend...she is like a sister to me, a dear friend."


Catherine couldn't believe what she was hearing...Rebecca was just a friend, Vincent continued... " She is going through a trying time, and just received word that her grandmother had died. What you saw, was simply a friend comforting a friend. But Catherine, did I see that you were crying?"


"Crying? Why yes Vincent I was. Please don't ask me to explain". 
 

"Catherine please try. I want... I need to understand"


"Vincent. All I know is that you are all that I think about. I wonder how you are all the time. I long to hear your voice again. You're lovely, beautiful voice. And I have been worried that I hurt you with my reaction to you when I first saw you. Please understand I was reacting to just seeing my face. When you came up behind me, I was startled, not by your appearance but rather by your arrival. But Vincent I never met anyone like you before...that looks like you. Please say that you for give me. To me you are so beautiful, and I longed to see you again and gaze into those beautiful eyes of yours. Since I have come back above, I feel so alone now, even when I am with my friends or my father. I feel like I am missing a part of me... "


"Life is different for me now Vincent. I miss the moments that we shared, I miss the sounds of the tunnels, the pounding on the pipes, the books and the poetry that you shared with me, the coziness of my chamber, the smell of the burning candles, but mostly I have realized that I miss you Vincent. " Catherine finally doubled over with convulsing watershed of tears. She had been holding all this in for so long.


Vincent's heart broke for the pain she was feeling, but couldn't believe he was hearing all the wonderful heartfelt words from the woman that he had realized that he was in love with. He knelt down at her feet and put his arms around her.


"Catherine, dearest Catherine... ever since you left the tunnels, I can't explain it, but I will try. This bond, this connection that binds us...I feel what you feel. I sense your pain, your joy, and your fear. I don't want to frighten you but I know that you are part of me, and I am part of you. I know this to be. Now to hear you say some of the same things that I too am feeling... you Catherine, such a beautiful woman... But dear Catherine, you must know, as I do, that this can only be a dream......A wondrous dream, a dream from the heart... a dream that can only have an ending, and Catherine, yes it must end."


Slowly Vincent bent his head, hoping to hide the flow of tears that were streaming down his face. "Catherine...I have nothing that I can offer you..." sobbing and choking out these words that tormented his heart and his soul.


Catherine gathered his chin in her small hands and lifted his face to look at her. She tenderly brushed the hair from his eyes, and asked " End? Why Vincent...why must it end?"


"Because Catherine. Look at me! How can you ask why? How dare I ever even hope or dare to expect...anything more. Don't you know that even now, if you were to bid me goodbye forever....what you have given me has been more than I ever dreamed possible. Oh Catherine... what must you think of me?"


Catherine was still crying, but this time for Vincent's pain...knowing that she could never imagine what life must be like for him. She looked down at Vincent, his head bent down in shame.


Still shedding tears, his voice quaking with emotion, he said, "Catherine, when I told you in the chamber that I never regretted what I am ...that was not entirely true. there have been times in my life I have regretted my differences. Times when the other children were allowed different boundaries than those that were set for me. Times when conversations were overheard...I would hear Father or someone say, 'but if they were to see Vincent'. Times when as I was growing older and beginning to have feelings ...feelings about girls...knowing that I could never fullfill my boyish dreams of being in love. These times I saw myself as different, truly saw who I was, fearing what I was. But down in the tunnels, I've lived a good life, I was a happy child on the most part, like anyone, I had painful moments, but I didn't always think about the differences Catherine...I do have many who love me...I know that, and I have a life filled with family, all of us helping each other. Until I met you... that was enough, I never thought that there could be more. I never expected to want more...until... now".


Vincent, still at Catherine's feet...she looked down at his soft cascading tresses and ran her hand over his bent, sorrowful head. "Vincent, Oh beautiful Vincent..."


He slowly looked up into her gorgeous green eyes, that were so full of compassion for him. He couldn't believe that he just revealed his inner most heartaches to her. Vincent didn't want her to pity him. He couldn't bear that. But his emotions were so raw and he needed her to understand, that he dare not expect more. "Catherine, here and now is where things must end. Before it becomes any more unbearable. Father says that it is best this way."


"Father?" Suddenly Catherine's tears subsided, "Father talked to you about ...me... us?"


"Catherine, Father fears for what lies ahead...Father knows things..." Vincent's voice broke away. How could he explain his dark side to Catherine? "Catherine...it is only fair that you know everything about me. You don't know all of me. There are times when I am alone, it is unbearable to live with what I know to be the dark side of my soul."


"Vincent, there is not one of us on this earth without a dark side. I fear that you judge yourself too harshly. Vincent I do know you. You saved my life, you treated me so tenderly when I was injured, and I know that you would never harm me. I know your heart, and your eyes reveal to me the beauty of your soul."


Vincent stood up, he started pacing...he had to make Catherine understand that there was a part of him to fear...He knew it to be true, and Father reminded the adolescent Vincent so many times that he still could hear Father's warnings ringing in his ears today. Father would say... 'Vincent, you must not let your feelings out of control... remember what happened when you let yourself go, and what happened to Lisa? You must never loose control Vincent!'


How those words have stayed and haunted Vincent, and now somehow he must reveal this ugly part of his life to Catherine. "Catherine this is not easy for me to tell you. But I must."


"Vincent, I feel that you can tell me anything. Anything, and it would not change how I feel about you....I am listening."


"There was a time when I was a boy, and I wanted to dance with this beautiful girl, like the boys would do. They would choose a girl of their liking and ask them to dance. She used to live in our tunnels. Her name was Lisa. She was so beautiful, and I wanted to be like the other boys...simply dancing with a girl. Even a simple thing as that, is not simple for someone like me. Catherine, she came to me and when I went to hold her, she suddenly pulled away, and I hurt her. I scratched her, and to this day, I look at these hands and I am so ashamed, I look at these hands and try to imagine what others must think when they look at them. They are so hideous, and Catherine there is more...there have been times in my life when I lose myself to my dark side, I have such anger, I can not bear the thought of revealing this side of me to you ever. That is why we must end, I could not bear it if ever you feared me."


Catherine took his soft downy hands in hers, and she held them and looked at them and then gazing into Vincent's tear filled eyes, she brought them to her cheek and with her eyes closed, she felt their softness and then she brought them to her lips and she kissed them.


Vincent could not breath, he had never felt such tenderness before, he felt as if his legs might give way. This beautiful woman was kissing his hands that he for so long thought of as ugly!


Looking up at Vincent, she told him "Vincent, these hands of yours are beautiful. They picked me up when I was injured, they patiently held a spoon so that I could eat. They tirelessly turned pages of novels that you read to me. But my most beautiful memory is when you held me at the threshold - when I hugged you. You brought your hand up so tenderly and returned my embrace. I knew then, that although we were parting from one another, that it couldn't be goodbye."


"Catherine...may I ask you something."


"Anything Vincent, anything!"


" Can we sit down before my legs give way? I feel like they're made of jelly!"


Catherine's tear streaked face broke out in the biggest smile...and Vincent realized that he had never seen her smile before. Not really smile, and he was so happy that he was the reason for it. He made a funny after all.


"Vincent, let us go inside. I have a cozy fire going and we can be more comfortable." Catherine led the way. She could feel Vincent's hesitation, but she continued to tug.


"Catherine I... should go."


"Oh no you don't...Vincent not yet ...please ...it is still early."


Vincent glanced inside at the dimly candlelit livingroom, and thought that it did look inviting and he liked the idea of not having any bright lights on.


They settled on the floor in front of the fire, and watched the flickering flames. "Vincent, you have told me many things tonight about youself, and I believe that I care more for you at this moment than I did before, if that could be possible. Believe me when I tell you Vincent, I am a very rich woman. I don't tell you this to brag, but to let you know that money does not bring happiness. I have never felt so happy, not in my whole life, as I do right now. You have given me that Vincent."


Vincent, with his arm resting on his bent leg, his other leg stretched to its full length in front of him, then he turned to face her. This bold move totally surprised Catherine. Was he going to kiss her or what?  


"Catherine, we have shared much tonight. And I would like to share one more thing ... if I may?" 
Catherine could not breath, she wanted to swallow, but she was afraid that Vincent would hear this huge gulp of gasping air, that she was certain to be there, hovering in her throat. " What Vincent?"


"Catherine may I kiss you, kiss the woman that I love?"


"Vincent, yes, there is nothing that I want more... than a kiss from the man that ....I love."


And as Vincent bent down to kiss this lovely woman , touching his lips to hers he realized that somehow...Heaven must have heard his bootless cries!

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