Since I posted two chapters at once, please don’t forget to read Chapter 14
“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”
― T.S. Eliot
“Catherine, are you all right? You’re as white as a sheet,” Olivia declared as Catherine shuffled into the short corridor at the entrance to Vincent’s chamber, returning from her third and latest trip down and back from the facilities just that morning.
“What’s the matter, Cathy?” Lena asked as she turned, stopping her soothing dance with baby Kate. The women stood around Vincent’s table, a study in contrasts, a slight and fragile sun and a raven-haired, grounded moon. On the table lay a pile of tiny clothes and between them a breakfast tray filled with cakes, cups, a teapot, and a mug with what looked like coffee in it.
Trays of food left in tiny sunlit rooms…
Eat for your baby…Vincent’s baby. Eat for him…
Even when you want to throw up all the time…
Even when you want to throw it in their faces…
Even when you want to fade away…
Olivia walked into the little corridor and took her slightly shaking hand, leading her to the table. “Really, Catherine, you look like a ghost just walked over your grave.”
Catherine tried to smile, but Olivia’s vivid imagery wasn’t exactly welcome, although little Kate squawked from her sling in what sounded like agreement. Lena wrapped one arm around the baby and started bouncing and patting her with the other.
Catherine didn’t know how to bring the color back to her face or what to say, but maybe it was a good thing Lena and Olivia were here. Maybe they would know. “When I went to the bathroom, there was this…glob…. It was thick and…a little bloody.”
The two women looked at one another and Olivia smiled.
“It’s just your mucous plug, Catherine,” Olivia explained. “I lost mine a couple of days before I went into labor with Luke.” The older mother was glowing. Kanin’s return truly agreed with her, and although Catherine wouldn’t ask and the smock Olivia wore would have hidden just about anything, Catherine was fairly certain Olivia had a new baby growing inside her like a new promise.
Lena laughed in her shy manner, smiling her delicate smile. “I’m pretty sure mine went when Father was walking me home for the first time. I think I made it down here by the skin of my teeth.”
Olivia added, “It’s good news, Catherine. The baby will be here soon.”
Catherine’s heartbeat sped into an excited rhythm of shock, all-encompassing and loud to her ears.
“Cathy, sit down or I think you’re gonna fall down.” Lena pulled Vincent’s chair out as best she could with her one free hand while still holding the squirming child in the carrier with the other.
Catherine eased her way down; the velvet heaviness of the chair felt right. It was the first time she felt right all morning.
Olivia fussed, “William gave me this tray for you. He sent coffee and the cakes he promised. He said you used to like coffee, but I also brought you some of my tea if you want.”
The rough and fearful night – after Peter’s news, and the dreams, and without Vincent – had passed into another unsettled day. Catherine felt depleted, vulnerable to everything. For all the waiting she had done, all those endless days, now everything seemed too fast. Time was hastily converging on one inexorable point. The baby was coming, soon…
She looked at the tray. The cakes, the ones William had promised her only last night…he must have been up half the night, she thought with regret for all the fuss they were making over her. It was very thoughtful. The coffee, however….
“’Used to like’ is the operative statement here.” Catherine smiled a half-hearted smile as she pushed the coffee mug to the furthest end of the table. “Ugghh.…” Months of bland food, or maybe just the baby affecting her tastes, but the idea of drinking it made her instantly sick. Just the smell was making her nauseous.
“I was the same way when I was pregnant with her,” Lena commiserated with Catherine, trying to take the coffee away as the baby reached for it. She placed it on top of one of the high bookshelves. “Super sensitive smell – I think I first trusted you at that diner because you didn’t wear too much perfume.”
Catherine’s eyes looked back into another time. “I stopped wearing perfume almost altogether when I started…seeing Vincent.” Catherine sipped the tea that Olivia offered. It tasted of spearmint, and lemon, and fresh green things. It was very good.
“Where is Vincent?” Olivia asked, looking around the chamber.
Lena said nothing. She wouldn’t have asked. She had already noticed his things weren’t there. The room seemed colder than when he occupied it. A million little things told her he had spent the night elsewhere. She wondered, too, where he was with Catherine being so close to having their baby, but she wasn’t going to bring it up. Olivia, however, still had the openness of a woman raised with loving, honest people. She didn’t seem to understand the danger of particular subjects.
Catherine didn’t know what to say. So she too stayed silent. It had been her most effective defense of late.
“Well,” Olivia soothed, “I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”
Lena took Catherine’s hand and looked into her friend’s haunted eyes, eyes like those Lena had seen in her own mirror in the not so distant past. The last year had brought so many changes, so much good she couldn’t have dreamed was possible, and this woman was the reason. Catherine had been the first person in her life who had loved her without taking, the first person who saw her worth, who trusted. Although the hand that now squeezed Catherine’s seemed small and fragile-boned, it had been tempered, toughened, strengthened by the woman whom it now lent its strength back to.
For a flickering moment Catherine took some comfort from the girl. She truly felt happy for this girl who had never been a child. It had been the right decision to bring her to the Tunnels.
An uneasy silence fell on the party, but thankfully Lena had brought the baby. Babies were always the perfect distraction when a conversation waned or took an upsetting turn. Who had written that? Catherine vaguely remembered something…Austen maybe?
Catherine forced the smile, but it didn’t need too much of a push. “Lena, she’s getting so big.” Catherine tentatively reached for a tiny hand that seemed to be searching for something to manipulate into submission.
“You’re tellin’ me.” Lena smiled. “No walking yet, but she’s crawling everywhere. Sarah brought me this lovely old quilt to put on the floor so she can play, but she just crawls right off of it and tries to climb the furniture. I can’t take my eyes off her.”
Catherine worked hard to push everything else away and to laugh at Lena’s simple joy. Lena deserved it.
The young mother gestured at the little outfits. “Here are the clothes. She doesn’t need them, and truthfully, I’m glad to have the space.”
Catherine extricated herself from the baby’s grip and unfolded a little cream-colored cardigan. It was gorgeous, and precious, and she couldn’t quite believe that she was going to need it soon.
“So, where should we put them?” Olivia asked, looking around the room. She was clearly dismayed at the lack of baby preparations.
Catherine too looked around Vincent’s chamber. She yearned to ready for the baby, but nothing felt settled about them. They hadn’t had the time, and this was still his room. She didn’t feel right rearranging his things without his approval.
“I have no idea. Just…why don’t you leave them there, but please, have some of these,” motioning to the cakes on the tray. They were flaky and soft, and still warm, filled with fall apples, cinnamon and nutmeg, sweet but not achingly so.
They all ate for a few moments, commenting on Olivia’s delicious tea and William’s prodigious culinary talents, but when the small meal was over and the conversation waned again, Catherine felt too restless to stay. She needed to move. She needed to get out.
“I think I should go talk to Mary about this momentous turn of events,” Catherine said sardonically as she worked herself out of the chair and got ready to leave.
Lena hugged Catherine, squeezing the baby between them enough that the little girl protested. “Don’t be afraid,” Lena advised, letting her go so Olivia could hug her also. “It’s going to be fine. Just don’t fight it, let it happen.”
“Well…I guess I’m pretty good at just letting things happen,” Catherine replied, sarcasm thick. “This should be a piece of cake.”