Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage. – Lao Tzu
“All marriage is compromise, Cathy.”
That’s what Cullen advised.
Those words, his words, became the voice of Catherine’s every footfall on the sandstone and wet concrete walk to Peter’s.
Marriage, step ;
If she focused on that, what that meant, all it meant, other words, other voices, wouldn’t have space.
Keep your mind focused, focused on Vincent and the baby; keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself.
Except when it wasn’t. Except when it shouldn’t be…
…and that was the question.
When should we trust others’ judgment and when should we resist?
She might ask Vincent. He walked just an arm’s length away, beside her when he could, a step or two ahead when he couldn’t. He must have grappled with the same question, but this wasn’t a time to talk. His feelings pulsed stoic, steeled, but brittle. He wasn’t ready for this, and she didn’t want to push.
The children already had. She hoped for their sake Father wasn’t too angry his wishes went unheeded.
“Say your goodbyes tonight children. Catherine and Vincent will have too much to do in the morning to see you.”
If the past weeks had taught Catherine anything, it was that children don’t give in easily when they want something. They didn’t compromise—the baby certainly didn’t. She wasn’t surprised by Samantha, Geoffrey, Eric, and the others outside their chamber that morning. She also wasn’t shocked it was just the nursery children, the orphans. The parents of most of the others kept them away from her.
“We wanted to give you these,” Hannah had said, holding out papers in her small fist—secret notes written and drawn when the children should have been sleeping.
“I tried to tell them you could get them later…” Zach began, attempting to take the grown-up side, but Eric overrode him.
“They can’t,” Eric nearly yelled. “They’re leaving today!” As if Zach didn’t understand what that meant. “The last time…” The small boy’s voice evaporated as he turned back to her. His eyes, made larger by his glasses, bore into her heart until he found his voice again. “…you were gone a long time.”
His truth and accusation: Too many people had left him, and she’d left too many people.
“You’re right, Eric.” She knelt in front of the boy. “I’m sorry about that.” Catherine forced a half-smile. “I didn’t mean to be away so long.”
What had they heard? What did they know?
She turned at Vincent’s palpable heartbreak. He looked away, so they didn’t see, but even they could discern the aura of sadness in the room. Samantha’s face fell. Zach shifted from foot to foot. Hanna looked to her toes.
Catherine took the card Eric had held back to give her specially, but couldn’t read it. The ceremony reminded her too much of saying goodbye to Ellie.
She took time to hug each child in turn, Geoffrey nearly breaking her with the length and ferocity of his embrace.
“Jacob and Vincent and I will be back before you know it,” she promised, pushing tears away.
It was a lie. Any absence was an eternity to a child, she remembered that. It was a hopeful lie, an adult lie, meant to placate, but she sensed many in the room, including Vincent, found no solace in it.
After the group had scattered under Father’s disapproving eye had come his parting blessing, “Godspeed my children. Return to us soon.” And then they’d left to avoid any more goodbyes.
Vincent’s so close to the edge after last night…
So little sleep, and then, staying up, getting less…
No wonder everything is one step forward, two steps back.
They were moving forward…
They were learning.
They were compromising.
It was just…
The morning’s trip—ten minutes by car, perhaps twenty by bus, but walking, at least forty Father had estimated—this was her new reality. Vincent hoisted their bags while she carried the baby on the hard traveling east and up from Vincent’s chamber to Peter’s home on 72nd Street.
Not the first time, she remembered how far they had traveled before Jacob’s birth.
How did I do that?
I guess getting away, getting home, was enough of a reason.
Kipper gave her home…
That morning the almost-teenager had stood in the back, on the outside, different from his typical place in the middle of the group. After Eric and the cards and hugs, Kipper quietly rounded the others and held up a heart-shaped stone.
“I found this a while ago, but I thought you should have it.” He dropped the stone in her open palm. “It’s so you can have a piece of home while you’re Up Top.”
He gave her home.
So many people had.
The friendships she’d made living in the Tunnels, the blessings they gave her: Olivia’s covering chatter, Lena’s quiet companionship, Old Jim’s hugs and kind words despite what she’d put him through, Father’s discussions and books, Laura with her clothes—too tight—but she was thoughtful enough to include panty hose and a razor. And Elizabeth…
Thank God for Elizabeth…
She’d have to retreat from the group…again. Second time, second chance, and it was going wrong already. She’d hardly stepped into the room, barely greeted the standing clutch of women before the overwhelming ringing started, the panic pull urging her out as surely as a safety line, as certain as the bond that would bring Vincent from his work to rescue her, again. How would that play in the Tunnel talk? What would they say? That she couldn’t stand large groups anymore. That she wasn’t getting better?
…but she couldn’t get through another gathering as the center of attention either.
“You come sit next to me, little mother.” Elizabeth reached for Catherine’s hand and ushered her through the crowd.
Catherine looked behind at the main group—Olivia, Rebecca, Mary, Kim, Brooke—hoping she wasn’t making a political mistake, but composure was a greater lure to the shadows than diplomacy. The small, white-haired woman shepherded her past a circle of chairs meant to include her, not to interrogate, despite what her darker thoughts warned.
They mean well. They do.
Elizabeth’s gnarled hand pulled her to a small smoothed-stone outcropping at the back of the chamber. A basket of old knitted sweaters and blankets lay before it.
“Now here, child,” Elizabeth said, removing her work from the bench, making space. “We’ll work back here on the yarn. I can’t knit these days; my arthritis can’t take it.”
What Elizabeth didn’t have to say — and you haven’t learned yet, have you?
You haven’t learned a lot of things…
…we’ll teach you…
…about the Tunnels, about the baby, about Vincent, about yourself.
The painter must have heard of Catherine’s last getaway, when the avalanche of her inadequacies finally caught her. At least, that’s what she presumed triggered her rude withdrawal and Vincent’s consequent rescue. Escape was allowed when warranted. Father said as much, and she had sensed Vincent’s understanding even as he guided her and the baby back to his chamber for an evening of silence he didn’t break. He always accepted, made the necessary apologies, but sorrow leached from his heart, a mute questioning of every choice they made.
As much as she wanted to leave, as much as she didn’t want to face the other women’s curiosity, Catherine couldn’t take his doubt again either.
She needed to stay.
“Elizabeth,” she said, trying to use small talk to override the lingering discomfort, “I barely ever see you outside the Painted Tunnels.”
“Well, that doctor,” she gestured out of the room, denoting Father’s omnipresence, “believes I need to rest my eyes once in a while.” The old woman sighed. “Since I can’t prove him wrong, I come here.” She held up a royal blue sweater, half unraveled into a ball of yarn. “I can do this without really looking. It’s useful to ‘em.” She motioned to the group now sitting in the round formation of chairs, talking amongst one another while sneaking furtive looks at the women and baby behind them. “I listen to the stories, the gossip, and let my mind wander on what I’ll paint next.” The older woman looked into her lap, the yarn unwinding into wavy lines that were drawn into a tight ball. Without looking up, the painter asked, “Do you have any stories you can tell me?”
Catherine reached for the baby’s fist and caressed the tiny fingers with one of hers.
“I don’t think so.”
If I open my mouth, what will come rushing out? I might start screaming and never stop, and I can’t do that. Jacob needs a mother, not a woman made of glass. Vincent deserves a wife, not an open wound.
“Well, never mind.” Elizabeth tapped the stone for Catherine to sit. When she did, the old woman huddled inches close to whisper, “And don’t let those ones bully you, either.” Mary and Olivia were now actively watching them between the clicking of their needles. “They may have their plans, well-intentioned, you know, but a painting comes stroke by stroke, not all at once, and you’ve got to have your materials,” the woman emphasized. “If I don’t have my paints, I can’t do a thing, and if they don’t have yarn, well, you know.” She brushed them off with a disdaining hand. “You stick with me, dear.” She patted Catherine’s leg. “We’ll start untangling these things.”
See. You can do it. Breathe.
Finally ready for the lesson, Catherine sat forward on the ledge, hitching the baby in the carrier higher into her lap. He stirred a bit, then went back to sleep.
Growing in a dream world, Catherine thought, looking at the most gorgeous thing she had ever made. The only thing she seemed able to make.
“Elizabeth, I was meaning to thank you again for the picture of my family. It’s truly beautiful.”
“Well, thank you child. I’m pleased you like it, but it isn’t my best. I wish I’d painted you with the eyes I had fifty years ago.”
“You didn’t paint then?”
“Lord bless you, no. I wouldn’t have dreamed of it. I was very respectable at the time. I had a husband, a fine apartment, a big city job, although I was really only a secretary,” she said, dismissing herself under her breath. The painter let go of the yarn in her lap to focus on the past.
“One day, oh, thirty years back now, I was walking past this gallery and I saw these paintings in the window. I didn’t like them very much. Just lines, boxes—no truth there, no life, no story. I hadn’t painted a thing since grammar school, but I couldn’t stop being angry about those paintings.” She was still offended, thirty years on. She still held the passion for her art. “I looked around,” she said her hands aloft as if asking for an answer, “but no one was painting the things I wanted to see. So, the next day, I went to the library and the art store and came home with enough books and supplies to try my hand at it, just to see what would happen. The first one wasn’t so good, and neither was the second.” A jerk of her head shook them off, then, chin lifting in salute to her own tenacity, she continued, “But I scraped them off or covered them up and tried again until I finally liked what I saw.”
Her voice lowered. “You should have seen the gesso on that first canvas. The final picture looked like a Van Gogh, the paint laid on so thick…and heavy! The picture hooks wouldn’t hold it. I had to prop it up on my dresser.”
She laughed until she said with finality, “So that’s why I started, because I thought I could do better.”
Catherine could think of only one analogous experience.
“That’s how I ended up at the D.A.’s office. I thought I could do better…”
“Mmmhhmmm…” Elizabeth agreed, but decided it was time to move on. “Now, let’s see here.” She delved into the basket of at her feet.
Looking closer, Catherine saw some of the knitted pieces were snagged, or cut, or simply too fragile for life Below. After a few moments scrounging, Elizabeth unearthed a large, yet delicate open-weave, green sweater. “This one is perfect: silk and wool.” She held it up. It was out of date, but what did that matter here? “Rachel said she found it in the garbage, can you imagine? Of course, it doesn’t suit anyone—not warm enough—but it will make some nice gloves, I think. Now, first we start at the seams….”
Elizabeth pulled the sweater inside out, and with tiny scissors showed Catherine how to cut the bindings…
…pull the cord…
…take off the arms…
Elizabeth placed the sleeves in Catherine’s hands and focused her now unheeded lesson on the body of the sweater.
Catherine couldn’t stop looking at the arms. They lay there, pressed up against Jacob’s carrier, slack and lifeless.
I’m going to run…
Catherine started to rise.
I need to go!
Elizabeth’s hand shot out, grabbing the one that held the sleeves in a numb grasp.
“It’s all right, child,” Elizabeth whispered, experience seasoning her words warm and decisive. An anchoring hand held Catherine’s shaking one.
Catherine looked into the old woman’s eyes; everything else in the room narrowed to only them.
“Sometimes we unravel, we scrape off… it’s all part of it. “
Her heart slowed.
Only when flight wasn’t a risk did Elizabeth let go.
“Later on we figure out what we need to make next.” The old woman continued to soothe. “I promise, dear. Stick with us, you’ll find your way…”
The other women hadn’t noticed what went on, and the baby, seemingly oblivious as well, started his pre-feeding fuss, a diversion and reminder.
Between Elizabeth’s sage kindness and Jacob’s empty belly, Catherine steadied and stayed. She’d got through, made a showing, had fun even. She laughed at Rebecca’s tale of Mouse and the lost candles, congratulated Olivia on her official pregnancy announcement, even finished twining up that damn sweater and best of all, Vincent didn’t have to rescue her.
She had a good number of guardian angels that made the days away from Vincent bearable: Elizabeth, Father, Kanin, Kipper, Jim, Mouse, Olivia, Pascal, Jamie…
And then there was Cullen…
Cullen, strangely enough, had become a close friend and her font of marital advice. He loved talking of his wife, and Catherine enjoyed hearing of their happy marriage. It was as if seeing through to the end of the story allowed him understanding of every major theme.
“Look out, Vincent,” Cullen called from the level below his companion as Catherine and the baby rounded the corner with lunch in hand. “Here comes trouble.”
The men were fastening new ropes and laying support beams to the Whispering Gallery bridge. Vincent’s bridge obsession, as Father had coined it, manifested in the first few weeks after Jacob’s birth. Weaknesses and rot could not be overlooked. Every board, rope, and bolt of the Tunnels had to be tested. Safety wires and new rails were scrounged and installed. It was a near military action against entropy, but added to the already crammed schedule of winter repairs, the only troops Vincent had managed to muster for the campaign so far were Cullen and sometimes Mouse.
Cullen, hands full of planks and his drill, used his long legs to kick his tool bag out of her reach. Smirking, he announced, “No sharp objects for you young lady.”
She shook with hot laughter while trying to keep the baby still in his carrier. If anyone could make a joke of her, of that[i], it was Cullen. Inappropriate, Father would say, but funny, and coming on the heels of another uncomfortable encounter with William—a small “boo” from her still would have sent the large man six feet straight up—all the more welcome for its impropriety. Laughter meant forgiveness. In Cullen’s joke she heard her wish—he’d been pardoned for his breakdown, his failures, his violence; maybe she could be too.
Chuckling she lifted the sack of apples and sandwiches. She had quickly chosen the cheese, not the egg salad for them, hoping she chose correctly; she hadn’t wished to linger in the kitchen.
“I swear,” she said, putting her other hand in the air in surrender, “I just came for a visit and to bring you some food.”
“And about time too!” Cullen mock-scolded, as he dropped his supplies and rubbed his hands together dramatically.
Vincent took a moment to watch her from the rock above before readying himself to meet them. He grabbed the anchor rope and using only using his arms, descended hand over hand, effortless.
Vincent defied gravity. She knew his weight (missed it, ached for it, she could confess), but his strength allowed for him to cascade down as if he weighed nothing at all. His grace mesmerized. She didn’t notice Cullen again until the tall man’s arm circled her shoulders.
“So, ’just bringing food,’ huh?” Cullen repeated, looking at her suspiciously and making a show of patting her down. With an exaggerated swipe, he snatched the bag to inspect inside. “Sure, that’s what they all say,” he teased, rummaging through.
Vincent jumped from the rope to the outcropping just a step from her. He said nothing, clearly unsure whether to leave Cullen to his teasing or defend her. Her smile reassured him, although his eyebrow, pitched to a skeptical angle, spoke volumes.
Cullen took the hint, bent around her again, and asked in seriousness, “Really, Cathy, how you doing? Feeling any less…under the microscope?”
“Somewhat,” she said truthfully, the good outweighing the bad, but the bad still there.
Cullen understood contrition and concession and, above all, regret. Although Catherine had many companions in the Tunnels, she and the woodworker had become friends in the way those who shared something awful could. He seemed to recognize her hope of moving past everyone’s pity and fears. Despite the possibility that she might repeat her performance, Cullen never once treated her like a lovely calamity.
Also, he understood that marriage, even between her and Vincent, was a compromise.
Everything about the day ahead of them—going to Peter’s house, meeting the FBI in borrowed clothes, leaving the baby…
In the law, especially criminal law, Catherine reconciled to bargaining – ten, not twenty years for homicide, two years instead of fifteen for beating out an eye, an A.C.D.[ii] for a drunken assault. Most of the cases she spent hours investigating, weekends prepping, nights organizing, ended up being pled out or down. It was a grinding and burning fact of life at the D.A.’s office, but that didn’t mean she had capitulated. The rocks—lack of jail beds, no budget, and burnout—met the hard place, what the office called the Maxwell axiom:
Ask for a trip to the moon…that way, you’ll probably get a weekend in Hoboken.
The ironic thing was her father—as different from Joe’s breed of lawyer as another lawyer could be—had a similar quote hung in his office, the chestnut frame and gold-painted letters declaring its importance:
“When the final result is expected to be a compromise, it is often prudent to start from an extreme position.” [iii]
So when she recovered enough from Jacob’s birth, from her imprisonment, from her guilt, to begin negotiations with Vincent on their future together, she did what any good lawyer would do…
She started from an extreme position.
This is me, barely functioning, damaged in ways you don’t even know, but everything that I am, everything that I will ever be, I give to you. I know you’re scared. I’m scared, but I’m in love with you. You worry that this can’t possibly be the life I was meant to live, but if given the choice I would endure everything to have this life with you. I loved you, I carried your child, the one I didn’t tell you about because I worried you wouldn’t want him, or at least reject him out of fear for me. I didn’t know if the baby would be ordinary, or like you, and after a lot of thought realized I didn’t care. I didn’t get to tell you all these things because New York is an awful place, and between the incompetent and corrupt law enforcement and the criminals they can’t handle, we are most likely going to die or get locked up for the rest of our lives.
So let’s get married.
And Vincent, despite his misgivings, compromised.
He tried to banish a lifetime of doubts and dive heart first into marriage and parenthood. Part of him seemed made for it, like he had always been husband, father.
Lying face to face, body to body, the baby cradled in between—Vincent’s presence, scent, love, surrounded her entirely in the pure and impossible space. He caressed her shoulder with the backs of his furred finger, then journeyed along her arm over the bones of her hand to Jacob’s tiny fingers grasping one of her own.
His enraptured smile, wonderment, sparkling eyes…
“Sacred mathematics…” Whispered words of awe.
You, plus me, equals three…
Like that day, there were perfect days, but there were others…
…ones when he left her sleeping without mentioning plans or instructions, leaving her to guess whether to seek him out or leave him to his duties. The times of modesty and hesitation, like the night she woke to shared discomfort, forcing his unhappy confession that her breath on his fur sometimes kept him from sleep (the last omission earning him a stern, “I’m your wife. You should have told me”). The times of conflict when he wouldn’t understand why she would rather be lost than ask for a guide.
The parts that foundered, well…he worked on those. It was something she marveled at and loved him all the more for. He tried. He had only a few days to figure out how to somehow meld their lives. Despite the odds, he had done an amazing job.
Not to say they always succeeded, that the learning curve wasn’t steep. They worked hard. They organized schedules, figured out washing together and bathing a baby who hated to be cold in a place that was arguably chilly at the best of times. They’d done their fair share of tripping over each other, figuring out boundaries, scraping against what was undiscovered and misunderstood. But all in all, they worked. She accepted Vincent’s life-long habit of privacy and tried to give him what she could, and he recognized the times she needed space to think, never pushing too hard, allowing for the unknown, which was good…
…because she’d started seeing them again.
Winslow, arms folded, standing in the corner at the Common meeting;
Ellie running after Eric and the other children;
Her mother, sitting on Father’s desk.
The people who should and shouldn’t be there.
She sensed Vincent’s concern that she wasn’t healed, that she was regressing, and maybe she was. She should tell him, but if she did and he told Father, and Father told Mary, and so on, what then? Already they were a public commodity in ways neither one of them was comfortable with.
They just had too much pressing to deal with this now.
It’s all right to keep some mystery, Cullen had offered.
“We’ll be there soon.”
Vincent’s words brought her back to their present course and hard pace.
Catherine hitched the baby up, which pulled her blouse sideways and shifted her bra.
She tugged the blouse lower, hoping not to dislodge the fabric stuffing meant to stop any leaking milk from showing. She should have changed when they arrived—she was sweating and uncomfortable—but she didn’t want to greet Joe again in Tunnel clothes. There were no right answers.
“Catherine, are you all right? Do you want me to take him?”
Not the first time he offered that day, but he had enough to carry, and holding the baby made her strong.
“No, I’m fine, Vincent,” she answered, knowing he wanted to ask further, but wouldn’t. She could ask him the same, but didn’t expect an answer any different from her own.
She wasn’t trying to lie. He wasn’t either. They shared what they could, but moving on, moving forward, necessitated mysteries.
“How do you keep your emotions from me?” he had asked as they lay in bed. She rested in his embrace, his arm wrapped around her, her head on his shoulder. Both were tired from a full day—he from repairs and classes, she from cataloging books, and both from baby needs—but not yet too sleepy to give up conversation.
“Hmmm,” she replied, not expecting the question.
He sat up slightly, earnest interest lighting his tired demeanor just as the night candles illuminated his features. “You can hide from me. I don’t understand how you do it.”
“But…” she argued, “during the birth you shut off the bond…”
“I muted your emotions, yes, but I am not certain it went both ways, Catherine. I’ve never had to safeguard my feelings from another before. When Paracelsus took you, you broke off our bond. You kept your emotions from me.”
She guessed what else he was thinking: You are doing it even now, to keep your turmoil from me, to keep the past in the past.
“I tried not to feel the fear, at least to keep it from you. You needed to focus.” She argued for herself.
He nodded, agreeing with her tactic. “It wasn’t wrong, Catherine. Paracelsus meant to lure me in a certain…state, but you protected me. You wouldn’t let my anger work against me.”
He caressed her shoulder as if in thanks.
“Catherine, our son seems to have inherited our bond, perhaps my empathetic abilities as well.” His face curled into his chest in an almost timid way. “There are emotions I do not want to share with him.” But then he looked up with respect for her. “You seem to be able to hide your emotions with ease.”
She smiled and kissed his chest. His nightshirt was soft with body heat and age.
“Well, I can’t always do it. I don’t always have to. I try to keep him ‘out of the loop’ if I can. He and I aren’t as connected as we used to be,” she confessed, both grateful and saddened by the fact.
”When I do have to keep things to myself, I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but…” She raised up from Vincent’s shoulder to look over his body to the swaddled baby in the cradle next to them. Because Vincent had no pressing morning duties, he would diaper Jacob tonight so she wouldn’t leave the bed, just nurse and place him back in the cradle. On the days he had morning work, she would care for the baby through the night and Vincent would take him later in the day while she napped. It was one of their best compromises.
She settled into Vincent’s shoulder. “Did you ever crawl into bed with Father when you were little?” It seemed as if she changed topics, but she would come around.
By his relaxed manner, and easy answer, he probably gathered that as well. “No, I don’t believe so. Father was rather strict on sleep. I remember only a few times, perhaps when I was ill or very troubled.”
“I guess I was a spoiled child then, because I did it all the time.” She patted his chest. “So look out,” she warned.
He tightened his arm around her more as if to say he would indulge their son if possible.
“When I was little my parents had this blanket chest at the foot of their bed. I used to put my doll in the drawer, or open the top and drop her in, then I’d crawl in bed with them. I don’t know why I did it. I remember it being a big accomplishment—that I opened the chest all by myself and didn’t hurt my fingers when I let it close.” She lifted his hand and threaded her fingers through his. “I could do it so quietly they didn’t wake up.” She chuckled with her new parental perspective. “Or at least they didn’t let on.”
She settled back onto his shoulder, thinking for a few moments. “It’s strange, but when I want to keep something to myself, the image of putting it in that chest always comes to my mind.” She looked up at him from her place on his shoulder. “Does that make any sense?”
He kissed her forehead. “Perfect sense, Catherine, thank you.”
She didn’t know if he had learned from her description. Judging from the last few days, the dreams—of ice-covered tunnels, terror and loss—and the waking aftermath, where Vincent gave her nothing of his feelings but verbal assurances—he must have, at least in part.
She taught Vincent, but he taught her too: how to swaddle, diaper, and dress, Tunnel ways—making tea, washing clothes, meal times, meeting etiquette—the customs and manners visitors were excused from, but not residents.
It wasn’t all perfect and easy…no marriage ever was, hence, compromise.
He was hers, her husband, although, sometimes she had to remind him, as if the word was so new he didn’t know what to do with it. Emotions were shared—sometimes battering like sudden gusts, other times, barely gentle breezes. Their feelings united, but not the thoughts behind them.
He was good and kind and strong, but also exasperated and tired, the father of her child, and her husband….
…in every respect, save one.
One step forward, two steps back.
They had…almost…. But in the days it had been safe to try they hadn’t made love, not since before the baby’s birth. Between the healing and the stress of the upcoming…meeting…she hadn’t pushed when he pulled back.
Ironically, the closest they had come happened during a fight.
She didn’t want to involve Peter. It was dangerous to meet at his home even if the doctor was where their worlds collided. Joe had met Peter during an old case. There were too many triangles: Peter, Vincent, and herself; Below, Above, and Gabriel’s criminal world.
And Joe, Vincent, and me–a nice, risky triangle, possibly related to the one near Bermuda.
Peter’s an old family doctor, the father of my friend, a friend of my family. What does he know about organized crime and corruption? Not enough to make an informed decision.
There was another way, if they would only take time to figure it out, yet Vincent wasn’t willing to try.
A week back, he’d been getting ready to leave for work, and she’d just put the baby down for his morning nap.
“When you must go Above we will all stay with Peter.”
His pronouncement (that sounded enough like Father to instantly unsettle her) met her disbelief, yet she sensed his resolution. This was the plan—put together and packaged by unseen hands—and Vincent’s fait accompli attitude tread very close to, Don’t worry your pretty, tormented little head about it…
“Peter?” she had questioned. “No! We are not including him in this.”
“Vincent, you have no idea what these people are capable of!”
No, because you’ve never told him. He might have thrown that back in her face, but he hadn’t.
In the calmest voice that betrayed that he was anything but calm, he continued. “Catherine, you will be watched over from the time you leave until you return. Everything is taken care of.”
Taken care of…
That was the problem.
His caring, everyone’s caring, became the security blanket she’d been wrapped in since the night he had found her. Love had kept her safe…and muffled her voice—from being hardly a person to one encircled, watched, protected all the time. The caring of her husband, friends, and family were blessings she could never repay, she recognized that.
Everyone was so…conciliatory, thoughtful…
“What do you mean, ‘taken care of’? Do you really think the people who kidnapped an A.D.A. from an elevator at gunpoint, who blew up Joe, are going to be afraid of…who? Jamie, Cullen, Mouse? I can’t believe you didn’t ask me!”
She walked away, trying to suffocate her anger. She realized it was out of hand and he would think so too, which only fueled her resentment.
“Who’s watching me? Who did you pull into this? I don’t want to put anyone in danger because of me…”
“Catherine, please…” he begged her.
She should have understood, but she was tired …
And the truth that circumvented her sympathy—she didn’t want to compromise; she didn’t want to understand.
She wanted a fight.
“I don’t want to be taken care of!”
And like a good husband, a considerate husband, a compromising husband, he gave her one.
“And why shouldn’t you be taken care of?” The powerful rasp echoed in the chamber, exposing a part of him he tried to keep hidden. He wasn’t out of control or violent. He was angry.
“You made a promise to accept help, yet you balk at every instance!” He walked away and back, also trying to get a hold on his anger. It worked about as well as it did for her.
“You are my wife, a part of my world, as you so often remind me!” His body jerked, hands opened, exasperation pulsing through him. “Yet you seem to forget when you choose to!”
And because of how they were now, how connected, she saw it—or sensed it—before he spoke.
He had another reason for railing against fate.
He was so capable and strong. He could destroy steel doors, run miles without tiring, fight gangs of men…
…yet felt as powerless as she did.
“My friends, my family, our family, wish to keep you safe, in ways I cannot. Can’t you let me do this one thing, to plan this one thing?” His eyes pleaded, his arms still open. “You will be in danger, in the daylight, and there is so little I can do!”
Understood, chastened and exposed, she burst into tears.
A beat later, after dismay took anger’s place, he had wrapped his arms around her. She cried all the harder.
His chest rose and fell with a sigh, rumbling with his quiet words. “I know you feel helpless, Catherine,” he said, interrupting her tears with the insight that had both saved and infuriated her.
Was she that transparent to everyone? Would she be Above? Her sobbing suddenly strengthened as her knees weakened. She was a mess. He just held her, waiting out the storm.
Finally, after most of the rage and emotional chaos was spent, Vincent righted her, firmly, but with tender hands, so he could see if she believed him. They didn’t need this, she realized, to see if their words connected. Eyes were the windows of the soul, but he was her soul. To understand him she might look into his eyes, yet she couldn’t help but see her reflection, the double emotion proving too much. She had to look away.
“Oh, Catherine,” he breathed. “I know.”
He gathered her into an embrace again before continuing. “I feel the same vulnerability,” he admitted. “We both must rely on others to heal, to gain strength…for protection, but we mustn’t stop believing in ourselves.” He waited to see if she would protest. She didn’t. He looked into her eyes again before he finished his thought.
“You were held, Catherine, but you have never been helpless.”
He always knew what to say.
She nearly tackled him. Her body launched, pressing up and pulling him down. It couldn’t beg more for what she wanted. The lacking part of her had found what it needed to be assured of their future…simply Vincent, her husband. She believed in him, in them together.
She pulled his hair as she attacked his mouth, gathering, demanding him to come closer with her body and hands. He didn’t seem to mind. He matched her movements, tightening his arms, and searching for the sensitive parts of her with his lips and then his slightly rough, perfectly rough, tongue.
He had some demands of his own.
His lips attached to the curve of her neck, causing her head to fall back and her legs to weaken. The ache—she’d almost forgotten, yet it pulsed so deep she knew she’d lived with it her whole life. A silent howl echoed through her empty spaces, the reminder of longing, as if her body had always needed, needed.
He growled as she fell into him, another thing she wanted, another desire fulfilled. To break the barriers imposed—by him, by their situation—and hear, feel, taste, experience the core of him.
He held her up by breast and hip, far enough away to circle her nipple with his hand, while pulling her lower half against him. He was hard for her. (Did it happen suddenly, or was he already, from before, from their fight?) As if in response, she was wet instantly, between her legs and at her breasts. She didn’t care. He didn’t care. His hands went behind her, lifting her, gathering up her skirt. It wouldn’t take long…
If the baby hadn’t chosen that time to cry from hunger, or gas pain, or their residual upset, they may have been more than married just in Father’s book. At the sound Vincent pulled away from her as if burnt by her skin.
Since then, nothing that close…
He was cautious, caring, but stayed at a distance. He gave kisses— beautiful, tender, and conclusive—leading nowhere. He offered touches—on her back, stroked her hair, grazed her arm—but only when circumstance ensured nothing would come of them. She tried to love him, to advance them, but a gentle restraining hand or a quick retreat told her they had still a lot to learn. Although loving with each other, they hadn’t come close to making love.
For now it was enough (had to be enough) to wake up in his bed to his eyes filled with such love, such infinite adoration, knowing that they would share their day, share the night. After so many nights alone, it was enough.
In the last few weeks they had learned so much, so much by living day-to-day with one another, as husband and wife, sharing books and meals, sharing sleeping, and sharing their son.
And today, to save them, she would learn how to leave them.
That was the compromise.
Every step a compromise between her and Vincent, between them and the world.
[ii] Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal
[iii] John Maynard Keynes