Not Without Me
Vincent was dreaming.
He was running at great speed and with urgent purpose across burning sands, a desert; the sky a flat hot blue overhead; sunlight so intense he could not look up. He was dressed only in a sheer linen robe that revealed his physical form and whipped out behind him as he ran. Hot winds against his face, his feet bare on the blistering sand. Dark birds of prey screamed overhead as the baking heat turned the very air into waves of fire.
Just ahead, the oasis - green and cool, a sanctuary. Colorful tents to shade against the sun, smooth satin cushions to relax upon, potent wine and succulent fruits to quench and nourish. Ceramic jars spilling over with sparkling clear water. That voice, calling him, drawing him. So close . . . so close . . . panting, gasping, nostrils and tongue dry as dust, lungs ready to burst . . .
But no! It was only a mirage - vanishing . . . just as he was about to partake . . .
He woke abruptly, throwing off the covers. His night clothes were damp and he stepped from the bed to fetch a towel. He dried roughly across his back and torso and between his thighs where changes in his body revealed a longing he had long ago learned to ignore.
Suddenly, his empathic bond brought Catherine into his awareness. She was pleasuring herself again . . . in that secret way . . . utilizing him, yet alone in the act.
He could pinpoint the first time he had felt it. Deep in the night, all powerful, all encompassing. It was after their first year together, after she had committed to their love, limited though it was. He had feared it at first. Then, he began to hope for it, suffering and indulging vicariously. Sometimes his body swayed and rocked in rhythm to it, feeling drained when the act was over.
The currents through the bond snapped like electric wires; he could not pull away from them. His eyes closed, his head shook slowly back and forth, his brow furrowed as if someone were telling him something he did not want to hear.
The peak of her emotion left him breathless. There was an exquisite edge to it, painful, joyful.
He knew she did not lie with another. The passion he tasted through the bond, and the utter trust he held in her, assured him it was he, Vincent, who was woven into her fantasies. Desire and fear conflicted in him.
He wanted to speak to her about it. It seemed deceitful to have this carnal knowledge, so intimate, and not to tell her. Would it shame her? Excite her? Draw them closer or drive more distance between them? He felt as a voyeur, hiding his dark disclosure.
He sighed heavily, troubled with his thoughts. Wearily, he pulled a fresh nightshirt over his head. He would confess all to her – yes! That was it!
No, no! His way had always been avoidant. Her way – inclusive. There was the rub – they loved at cross purposes.
A lone candle sputtered in the stand by the bed, foreboding. Gazing at the dying flame, he murmured, "I cannot touch you; you are too near. Everywhere descending . . ."
Suddenly, Vincent felt short of breath. He stood, loosening the ties of his shirt.
His melancholy was ripped away by the old panic crowding his heart, rising up in his throat.
Memories flashed - the new boy in Tunnels - when they all went in nude swimming. The new boy glancing at Vincent’s anatomy and giving a thumbs up gesture.
"Hey, Vincent! Betcha good wid d’ ladies!"
Devin’s retort: "Shut up!"
Devin pushing the new boy down; a scuffle ensuing, which garnered both boys a stern lecture from Father and extra chores for the week.
But the questions remained . . .
The dreaded madness from his adolescence, his time in restraints. The confinement that prompted the primitive instinctual fear of the trap, the snare, the cage. Vincent understood why it was done. He blamed no one; Father, least of all, who had exhausted every medical and parental resource to help him.
How long had he been sick like this? His whole life it seemed, though he reluctantly acknowledged some happy moments in childhood. Mired in despair, Vincent felt immobile, despite his great physical strength.
He reflected on his conversation with Catherine yesterday: "It’s only two hours away. I wish you could see it . . . If only we could be there! Vincent, let me try . . . will you come?" The eager anticipation, the hope - in her eyes, her voice, her face. Her beautiful face . . .
"To share with you, would mean so much . . .!" The possibility in her eyes!
And he had answered: "Then we must try . . ."
And yet, after outcries from the Tunnel community, he had sent her away, with her innocent dream crushed and thrown back in her face. How could he hurt her so? He was filled with remorse.
Father’s voice: "If they catch you up there, they’ll kill you! Or put you behind bars and make you wish you were dead!"
Vincent’s distress was too great. He put a call on the pipes for Kipper to take a message to Catherine and wait for her answer. The note, in his left-handed script: "May I change my mind? I’ll wait at the entrance you mentioned. V."
When Kipper returned with Catherine’s answer: "Yes!! Oh, yes!! See you soon! C.", Vincent began packing a tote with blankets, some food and clothing items, and books. He slipped out of his chamber without seeing anyone and made his way to the designated entrance.
* * *
Catherine was waiting, standing beside a dark van with the motor running and the rear door open. Without speaking, she embraced him. He could feel the joy in her. Though he stepped lightly as he entered, the van gave under his weight. Catherine leapt behind the steering wheel and pressed the gas pedal. They were off.
The two hours’ drive went by in slow motion. Catherine kept a news channel on the radio and concentrated on her driving. Vincent rested quietly in the back of the van processing all the possibilities and risks of this decision.
Catherine turned off the main highway onto a mountain road, then onto a gravel driveway. The van bumped along the rutted road, deeper into the woodland, until the cabin came into view. The pleasant scene included flagstone walkways between the cabin and two smaller utility buildings, a broken fence, and a water well with a low brick wall. The overgrown landscaping, flowers and fruit trees, and the general design of the area gave the impression of a once-lovely retreat, neglected for some time. Overhead, rain clouds began to gather.
Catherine pulled the van under the trees and shut off the motor. The quiet was acute and covered the two of them and all they surveyed. It was magic. It was terrifying.
Catherine climbed over the seats into the back of the van where Vincent sat waiting. They pressed close to each other, two scared children alone in the forest, a great adventure just ahead of them.
"This is it," Catherine said softly.
"Yes," Vincent answered.
Suddenly, the comic aspect of the situation appealed to them and they began to laugh. How could they fear this lonely place? Catherine shook her head, shaking off her concerns, and boldly opened the back door of the van.
"C’mon!" she urged, taking Vincent’s hand and stepping out of the van. He followed her. They stood outside, out in the open, under the gray sky, tall trees overhead – pine, sycamore, aspen, gray birch, oak, and hickory. They dared not breathe. They were exposed, in the fading daylight, out of the shelter of the Tunnels, out of the darkness of the balcony. It was unbelievable.
"Let me show you, Vincent!" Catherine exclaimed, tugging at his sleeve. "My special place!" They walked a little way off, marveling at the quiet, the vast green environment, the cool crisp air. Sounds of nature were all around; the rustling leaves, muted chirping among the branches, the light fluttering of bird wings, water moving somewhere off in the distance.
"This is it . . ." Catherine whispered, as they stepped lightly into a small clearing. "When the leaves are falling, you can see the lake from here . . ." she stood on tiptoe, her hand at her throat, her face poised to see . . . to remember . . .
Vincent could not stop himself. He reached for her, and she turned instinctively into his arms. They stood heart to heart, she gazing up at him, his face bent over hers, breathing in her breaths. The magic spell of the forest upon them, their lips met in a chaste kiss, barely brushing . . . Then, as the desire beneath the surface simmered upward, they pressed together in greater urgency. The privacy of the moment emboldened them and their contact became passionate, persistent.
Catherine felt the heat of Vincent’s mouth, his cool, sharp, canine teeth, his hot searching tongue. He had never tasted anything so sweet as her kiss. They melted into one another, exploring, devouring, consuming.
His great hands cradled her head, she clutched his thick mane. Their kiss was magic, fulfilling, and frightening. In time suspended, they conspired – breathing together.
Their kiss slowly transferred into a nestled embrace, Catherine’s face against Vincent’s chest where she delighted in the beating of his heart. Vincent’s cheek rested lightly against her hair as he held her slender body close to him, thinking how bold and fragile she was, and how much he loved her.
Catherine gave him a little squeeze and pulled back slightly to look up into his face. Her bright eyes and radiant smile reinforced her words as she said, "This is my dream, Vincent! Thank you! Thank you so much!" She was a child again, free in this charming place, earth and sky and green all around, savoring everything through all her senses. "Walk with me!" she entreated, clutching his hand and stepping away, leading him.
Vincent had never felt vulnerable in this way. The feeling was strange and liberating. The soft brush of the low foliage as they passed and the light crackling sounds of their footsteps accentuated the privacy of their surroundings.
They walked, hand in hand, immersed in their connection. Catherine reminisced, describing her childhood, and Vincent felt as if he had loved her all his life. They kept no account of the time, feeling light and free, expressing their true affection without fear.
As they neared the lake, Catherine became more animated, chatting on about swimming and boating. Vincent slowed his steps, hesitating to step out onto the open bank. Suddenly, Catherine remembered herself, remembered who she was with. She turned back, reaching for him, her expression and her tone full of apology. "Vincent, I’m so sorry! I forgot . . . of course, you wouldn’t want to go out there . . . Oh, please forgive my thoughtlessness! I was just caught up . . ." She did not know what else to say.
A slow drizzling rain was beginning to fall. "Perhaps we should turn back," said Vincent, looking up at the sky.
"Yes . . ., all right . . ." Catherine agreed reluctantly. Vincent opened his cloak and Catherine tucked herself inside under his arm. They walked along together without speaking, listening to the soft rainfall.
When they came back to the edge of the clearing, Catherine paused beneath the spreading tree branches, stepped in front of Vincent and took his face in her hands. "Now, this place has even greater, more special, meaning for me, Vincent . . ." she said.
"Where first we kissed . . ." he answered, surprising and exciting her by bending down to touch his lips to hers. Then, he drew back and whispered, "You create me new, Catherine," and kissed her again.
Lifting his mouth from hers once more, his voice a low rumble, he said, "Ten kisses short as one, one long as twenty . . ." Electricity crackled in the atmosphere, between the clouds, symbolizing the ardor between them as their kisses became deeper and longer and more intense. Catherine felt her body rise to meet his as Vincent wrapped his arms around her and she returned his passion, kiss for kiss.
Abruptly, the clouds opened and rain began to pour down. Thunder rolled over the sky and lightning flashed across the treetops. Catherine shrieked in mock dismay and tightened her grip on Vincent’s body. Laughing, they dashed toward the cabin.
Once inside, Catherine looked around, wiping raindrops from her face. "It looks a lot different than I remember!" she said. "Oh, my! There’s not much here, is there?" She inspected the cabin’s interior. The counter top featured an iron pump and sink, the fireplace seemed about to disintegrate, cabinets stood empty, a few pieces of broken furniture and a moth-eaten rug completed the picture. Meanwhile, the rain continued to beat down, picking up intensity by the moment. Thankfully, the roof seemed intact.
"Let me set things right," said Vincent, with an authority Catherine had not heard before. He darted from the cabin and Catherine watched through the window as Vincent brought in their bags from the van. Back inside, he hung up his cloak on a wall peg, and began to dismantle the tattered furniture to reassemble the pieces into a divan-type structure. Producing a large knife from his tote bag, he cut notches into the ends of each piece of wood, fitting the pieces together into a new structure.
Catherine watched, fascinated, as he assembled a frame in the middle of the room. His body was incredibly masculine, graceful, and powerful. He worked intently at his task, a skilled craftsman.
Catherine spread the blankets and quilts they had brought over the frame. Vincent stepped back outside, quickly collecting pieces of wood and fallen branches, and brought in fuel for the fireplace.
Soaked with perspiration and rain, Vincent changed his shirt, as Catherine watched him from the corner of her eye while preparing the food they had brought. She had thought to dress in layers and replaced her top garment with a dry sweater over her tee shirt. They pulled off their wet boots, padding around in their socks.
She carried paper plates of bread, cheese, grapes, and smoked fish to set before the hearth where Vincent was building a fire. She retrieved a bottle of wine from her bag and inserted the corkscrew to open it. Vincent struck a match to the tinder in the fireplace and a small flame started up into the kindling and the wood. "The wood is wet, but it should catch soon enough," he said.
"Plastic cups don’t seem to do the occasion justice," Catherine said as she poured the wine.
"It’s perfect," Vincent replied, taking a cup from her hand.
They sat by the growing fire with the rain beating down outside, sipping the wine and taking small bites of the food. After a while, Catherine broke the silence. "Vincent, tell me your thoughts," she said.
"I was thinking of my time in restraints," he answered solemnly.
"What do you mean?" Catherine asked, alarmed.
"It was during my adolescence, after the . . . incident . . . with Lisa," he answered slowly, gazing into the fire. His eyes grew large and dark as he remembered and relived the experience.
He stretched his arms out in front of him, spreading his fingers, studying his large hands. "I can still remember the cuffs on my wrists and the straps across my chest and legs," he said. "My heartbeat was . . . erratic; it was . . . very difficult to breathe. Father said my vital signs arrested." His hands closed into fists. "I know that Mary positioned my head, opened the airway. I think I remember Father tugging at my clothes to begin compressing my chest . . . at the . . . final moment . . ."
Vincent sighed, pressing his fingertips to his temples. "I believe my psyche made the decision for me," he said softly. "To save my physical life, I had to turn that other part off. Use that . . . energy . . . elsewhere."
"That energy . . .?" Catherine asked cautiously.
"My sexuality," Vincent replied flatly, without bitterness, though Catherine felt the sense of loss in him. "Otherwise," he went on, "it would have destroyed me. I traded it away . . . so that I might live." His head dropped low, his golden mane shielding his face.
Catherine’s eyes swelled with tears. "You were just a boy!" she cried, feeling extreme compassion for him.
Vincent flashed back: "Father, am I a man?"
"Part of you is."
"And the part that is not . . .?"
"I don’t know . . ."
Turning to face her, Vincent said, "Control became everything to me - except when those I love were threatened. Then, extreme emotion seemed justified." He sighed heavily, moved away from her to stoke the fire. "I have never been able to reconcile . . . emotion . . . for myself . . ."
"Vincent!" cried Catherine, clutching his arm. "I feel so selfish! I’m sorry I’ve stirred all this up . . .!"
"I am the one who should apologize," he responded, taking her hands in his. "You ask for so little and I owe you everything . . ." He paused, released her hands, and regarded her from a little distance. "Catherine, I must confess. . . I have been aware of . . . your private imaginings . . ."
She sat without speaking, staring into the fire, for a long while. When she looked up at him, tears glistened and spilled from her eyes. She brushed impatiently at her cheeks and reached for his hands. Gently, she led him to stand by her as she sat on the make-shift bed.
"Let me tell you, Vincent, how it is for me."
"I feel your hands," she said, kissing each of his hands in turn. "Your body moves over mine . . . I become heated with anticipation." She opened her sweater and slipped it off her shoulders.
"Let me show you, Vincent," she said, drawing his hands into position over her breasts. He hesitated slightly, then pressed his palms against her body, feeling her rise up firmly under the soft cotton of her tee shirt. Outside, the rain beat down upon the roof.
"First, I imagine you caressing my neck and my breasts . . ." Her head fell back, exposing her throat.
"Vincent, let me . . . show you," she breathed. She drew her tee shirt off over her head, exposing her body, and her vulnerability, to him.
The sight of her body, the visual effect of the firelight on her skin, enchanted him. He gazed upon her, speechless.
She unfastened her bra and dropped it on the bed. "I touch myself . . ." She demonstrated her words. Her nipples peaked up tautly on her pale breasts in the chilled air and the excitement of the moment. A blush spread across her skin. Vincent cupped her breasts together, tracing the cleavage with his thumbs. He knelt on one knee and kissed her gently at the collar bone. "Catherine . . ." he murmured.
Her hands slowly, gently, sought his body, unfastening a buckle here, loosening a tie there. He submitted to her attention. When he was undressed, she rose from the bed and pressed against him, her arms around his neck, her face to his face. His body seemed chiseled from marble, his skin cool and burnished, his body hair thick and soft, red-gold in color, darker gold and thicker at the pubic thatch where his arousal was evident.
She reached down to the waistband of her sweatpants and underwear, pushing the garments down over her hips. She slid back onto the bed. "I open my legs . . ." She again demonstrated her words, looking up at him, reaching out for him. "I fantasize . . . I imagine . . . I’m thinking of you . . ." He knelt beside her, silent, his expression unreadable. There was only the rain and the beating of their hearts.
"Vincent, I am not a saint, not a sacred object to be carefully kept and never touched. I am real, a woman, flesh and blood! I am your woman! As our spirits are joined, so I want our bodies to be." Her hands moved over his face, his torso, his belly. "Maybe you don’t love yourself enough to love me . . ."
Vincent was educated and well read, though not experienced. His sexual innocence conflicted with his desire, intimidating him, inflaming him. He was driven by a force he had long denied, continually struggling to maintain equilibrium.
He wanted not a trial-and-error attempt with Catherine, but a perfect first encounter. It was all pain to him, but he dreamed of a connection that would be completely fulfilling for her. He gripped her upper arms carefully, holding her away from him.
"Catherine," he breathed, "Forgive me . . . as I have told you, there is much I wish to give you, and so much that I can never give you. In my life there has been only violence or control . . . nothing in between."
"No, no! No more apologies!" Catherine cried. "Stop hurting me, Vincent!"
She sprang up and ran to the door, simultaneously realizing she could not go outside in the rain, undressed as she was.
Vincent was shot through the heart by her words; he was terror-stricken at her withdrawal from him. He leapt up to catch her in his arms before she crashed herself into the wall.
"Let me go! Leave me alone!" Catherine yelled, kicking against his legs and struggling to break free.
His right hand was pressed against the rough hewn wall, grounding himself. With his left hand, he held her away from the wall, his hand flat against her chest above her breasts, his thumb and forefinger on either side of her throat touching her pulse points. His soft chest fur was against her back, and she arched her hips up to meet his. His erect phallus thrust between her thighs, curving its rigid length upwards along her soft belly, gliding between her labia. Not entering her, but stimulating her bodily core. Within a few moments, her passion seeped out onto their hot skin. He remained erect as she turned to face him.
The firelight flickered across her face, or was it the lightning? Her expression was one of torment. "Vincent!" she cried, clutching at his chest. "You must hear me, you must know me! When I . . . pleasure myself . . . I start out stroking all over my body, I can smell myself, I feel engorged with my life’s blood, sanguine, heated . . !" Her hands stroked low on her own body, caressing between her thighs.
She broke free of his embrace, moving to the bed, pushing herself back across the quilts. Her eyes never leaving his, she displayed her excitement openly, flushed bright rose, fevered with emotion.
He beheld her intently. "These changes happen in your body because of your thoughts of me?" he asked in wonder.
Her head back, eyes closed, she responded, "Yes, my darling! All you! Only you!"
He watched her shudder and gasp as she self-induced her pleasure. The height of her excitement neared, and Vincent knew it was to be followed by the lonely void after. He realized now why he could not leave her alone in this.
"Catherine! No more! Not without me!" He climbed onto the bed with her and placed his large hands on her inner upper thighs, where her legs joined her body. His hands formed the shape of a diamond, framing her glistening entry. With his fingertips, he gently drew her pubic mound upward revealing the clitoral rosebud. With his thumbs, he carefully pulled her labia outward, opening her womanly body. He gazed intently, intoxicated with her fragrance and her form.
He pressed his mouth over her slick tissue; his top lip fit perfectly over her clitoris, cradling the sensitive nub, his lower lip nestled against her flesh. His tongue was wide, rounded at the tip, and slightly rough across the surface as he lapped directly into her vaginal opening.
Catherine convulsed with pleasure as he began long strokes of his tongue from top to bottom, lingering at the top and thrusting directly into her heated core. "Vincent!" she pleaded. "Give me all yourself!" She reached down to push her hands into his hair, tugging him towards her. "Come to me, Vincent!"
He carefully withdrew his mouth and hands and moved upward to cover her body with his. His knees instinctively pushed her legs apart bringing their bodies into loving alignment. His sex was like a column of heated bronze, as wide at the tip as at the base. He spread her delicate tissues; he gently pressing, she yielding fully, inviting him, allowing him, surrounding him.
His endurance was incredible. Each rhythmic thrust and caressing withdrawal filled her anew, over and over again.
As Catherine reached her climax, Vincent watched her response intently, as if he were removed from the scene. "Vincent," she gasped, sensing his restraint, his inability to release. "Can you not . . . is this not pleasurable for you?"
His expression was one of regret, as he slowed his movements within her. "How I love you, Catherine," he said. "I cannot dominate you in this way . . ."
He tenderly disengaged from her body, the heat rising from his flesh. "It will subside," he said with a resignation that tore at her heart.
Catherine could not bear this dismissal of his pleasure. She climbed gently onto his lap, straddling his great golden body, sliding herself onto his erection. Her knees were against his hips, her feet, toed in, curved over his knees. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pushing up against his shoulders with her forearms to draw upon his rigid phallus with her internal muscles contracted. She moved fully down his length, the soft pad of her mons compressed against his pelvis, filling herself and gasping as she did so. She repeated the motion, the ancient rhythm, panting with excitement.
Face to face, he held her head in his hands. He looked into her eyes, reading her expressions intently, feeling her breath against his face. His eyes glowed, luminous, crystal blue. His skin flashed copper in the firelight.
The dream returned to him, in this waking moment. The heat of the desert sand, the baking sun. Suddenly, he understood the blistering pain, the parching thirst, the birds of prey waiting for his death.
Now he understood the cool oasis, the sparkling waters, the restorative shade. She was the answer, she was the quench. To deny her was confinement, to refuse her was to burn. He felt the captivity of the restraints dissolving into her love.
As their bodies moved in a heated sexual rhythm, as he beheld the full frontal view of her, as they loved in equality and in harmony and in full consent, Vincent released his pent-up passion into her open acceptance.
To be released within her was to be free. To accept her was to be reborn - and to live again.
His head rolled back, his tawny mane swirling across the expression of ecstasy on his face. Bodies clutching, convulsing, his roar filled the silence and her passionate cries answered as their love was consummated at last. Filled, and fulfilled so deeply, so completely, denied no longer. All was surrendered and received. It was done . . . it was done . . .
* * *
In the morning mist, Catherine and Vincent stood quietly, turning to take in the panorama before entering the van for the trip back to New York.
"I’ll never forget this open, gracious place," said Vincent. "The magic – the risk -and the opportunity."
Catherine pressed close to Vincent’s chest. "You are everything to me," she whispered.
"As you are to me, my Catherine," he answered. He stroked her hair, lifted her face to his, kissed her lightly. "I see you as every woman throughout history – Sojourner Truth for advocacy, Juliet for passion." Kissing her forehead, "Cleopatra for intellect, Helen for beauty, Eve. . ."
Catherine pulled back to search his beautiful face. "Eve . . . ?" she questioned. "Because I . . . tempted you . . .?"
"Eve," said Vincent, looking at her with love, "because . . . you were made for me."
And with desert desires resolved, memories of restraints dispelled, and dreams of the future before them, they drove back to the city, back to their new lives.