A vague and indistinct figure, sheathed in darkness, stands unmoving beneath a charcoal and purple, cloud-cluttered sky.
A night-light shines feebly within the apartment behind her, shadow-lighting a bed, its pillows propped against the tufted headboard, blankets tossed and heaped.
She has tried to escape it in sleep.
She has tried sitting up to think it though.
In frustration, she’s come out to the balcony to find a measure of peace.
There is no peace … but she finds an oft-read and lovingly-worn copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The thin volume, clasped fiercely to her breast, sanctions the tears gliding silently down her cheeks. How many times has she tried not to cry … with Vincent when he came to ask for her help for Micha and the others … in the tunnel when she tried to explain Elliot to him … to herself … and finally today when she fled through a storm of raucous reporters outside Elliot’s office only to plunge headlong into her own tumultuous emotions.
Why does this feel … as though … my heart is breaking?
Is this all some delayed reaction to what happened to me that night?
A nightmare … supplanted … to become the most wondrous … and incomprehensible … experience of my life …
Should I lay this anguish at the feet of Elliot Burch … handsome, rich, charming … and ultimately disappointing. Do I care this much that he is more … fallible … than I am willing to allow?
Or … is it your fault, Vincent?
She shivers in the cool night air.
I must have been cold … lying there … waiting for you to come and save me.
What was I feeling … when I flirted with Elliot? Was that an attempt to be saved from you, Vincent?
She turns to go in, stops, walks back to retrieve the box cover for the book.
I ought to at least take care of it so that when I have to give it back … Please don’t ask for it too soon.
She clutches it covetously to her heart … and does not notice Elliot’s vase, which ‘… must have cost a thousand bucks …’ according to Edie, forlorn and forgotten on the credenza, ready to be returned via UPS in the morning.
She curls up on a couch in the living room where it is too dark to read, still holding tightly to her little treasure, a priceless reminder of the one who left it.
The same one who had the audacity to urge me not to “struggle so”, assuring me that there was “no need”. How could he say such hurtful things to me!
I know he was trying, in his own selfless way, to shield me from the despair I sensed in him, there in the shadows where he hid himself from me as best he could.
And I know he will let me go … to find happiness with someone else …
What if I want to struggle, Vincent? What if I wanted Elliot and all he seemed to represent, but not at the cost of losing you? What if you’re that important to me that I must struggle to keep you in my life … somehow balance you and … whatever … whomever else I need … or want … or only think … I need?
“It won’t change anything. I won’t let it.”
What was I suggesting in my desperation to make you want to … keep me … in your life?
What did I do to you, Vincent? I hurt you then even as I said I would not … as I promised I would not … and you let me … you will always let me hurt you.
Yes, I encouraged Elliot. The roses. The phone calls. The romantic attention. Even the ostentatious limousines. It felt … right … comfortable somehow … to be pursued by a man like him.
Or was it only that I wanted it to feel right, that I wanted to fall in love with a man … like him. He is … all things familiar … and I thought … perhaps he could put those pieces, the pieces I told you about, Vincent … back together. Was I that frantic to make them fit?
Perhaps they can’t … not in the way they did before … before that night.
You said something about dreaming another dream. You are even wiser than you know. My dream was not ‘ours’ after all, was it? Did I contend that it was ‘the most real thing in my life’? Who was I trying to convince? I dreamed I could keep what was … and have what is. I still … I need … some of what was … It’s all I know … it’s who Catherine Chandler is …
Or is it only the person she used to be?
I think I’m so angry with you, Vincent!
Those ten days I lay in your bed, eager for the sound of your step, the comfort in your words, the renewal I found in our conversations … they … you … changed me.
You did become a part of me … just as you said … but I wasn’t ready … I’m still not ready.
Your differences lie much deeper than your appearance. You have a fathomless depth … mysterious … it draws me … welcomes me … encloses me. But you aren’t … familiar. You aren’t from my world of advantage and money … sunshine and travel … parties and … men … like Elliot …
Who are you, Vincent?
How can I keep your secrets? Live with them? I picture you and … everything that was my world, my life, everything that was me … drifts away … a mist … impossible to cling to it … when I think of you …
You absorb me … but kindly … easily … I’m glad of it …
It frightens me.
You are too … much … for me to know … to understand … How can I live with you in my … life … in my … heart?
I tried to crowd you out of both, didn’t I … by inviting Elliot in …
A noise in the hallway beyond draws her glance toward the bolted door that protects her … and she senses again the aura of refuge, shelter and safety she knew in Vincent’s chamber, in his bed, in his company.
You begged me not to be afraid and somehow I wasn’t. Blinded with bandages. Pain in every breath. Hellish banging noises that seemed never to stop. I’d been kidnapped and terrorized, slashed and left for dead somewhere. And here … where was here? … I lay … totally helpless … alone with a stranger … a man … who asked only that I not be afraid. Were you already a part of me, Vincent, so that I should know, recognize you in my heart, trust you, and surrender myself to your care so completely? All the panic, all the apprehension and hopelessness … all … faded to calm in your voice, in your words, in your care.
But who was it that rose from your bed … returned to this elegant apartment … thinking she needed … wanted … to reclaim this life?
I don’t know me … the me who left Daddy’s office to work for the District Attorney eighty hours a week … who tries to face her fears with courage and strength … as you said I could.
Am I a better person because of you? Or am I lost … between worlds?
Now I’m even talking like you!
And I am living between two worlds … thinking about you one minute and, in the next, kissing Elliot for all I was worth.
Did you feel it, Vincent? I’m sorry …
But I liked kissing him … I wanted to kiss him … in that open, obvious place … to proclaim to my world … to assure myself … that I was back where birthright and privilege says I belong …
And afterwards I thought of you in your world and felt … ashamed.
You don’t kiss women in public places, even down there, do you? No. I think not. And that makes me wonder … are there … women … is there a woman … you dream of kissing … a woman you do kiss? I’m going crazy and it’s all your fault, Vincent.
“Follow your heart, Catherine. Follow your heart. You must.”
You didn’t tell me how to understand where my heart wants to lead me. And what if my heart is … unworthy … if it’s not a true guide? I thought … I wanted Elliot. But he didn’t … he couldn’t … Vincent, no man can compare to you.
You haunt me.
You exist … you are real … you are … a part … you have … a share … of me.
But if I truly wanted to return to my old life you would back away into the shadows, disappear into those tunnels where I could never find you.
You would let me go.
And that is breaking my heart.
Her thoughts drift to a chamber barely lit with flickering candles, and she pictures him asleep upon the bed where once she lay.
I feel something from you.
I feel something for you, Vincent.
And something that is me coalesces with something that is you.
Are you my heart’s destiny?
She lights a lamp, opens to the sonnet he marked for her, and begins to read it.
“When in despair with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state …
Haply I think on thee …
… thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings …”
Very gently she closes the book, sets it reverently on the coffee table, extinguishes the lamp.
Whose ‘sweet love’?
Did you know my despair and send me these words to speak my feelings for Elliot? Do you believe he loves me?
Or are these meant to be his sentiments for me?
I don’t love him.
She reconsiders that, discovers she can accept it without regret, moves on …
Whose ‘sweet love’, Vincent?
Should I know that you love me? Are they to be my words?
Do you love me?
Have you taken the sonnet to be your own then? Do you know that I love you? I don’t … love you … do I?
Can you know … that … about me?
Surely I’d know if I were in love with … someone.
Then why did I admit, “I don’t know”, when you asked me if I were in love with Elliot?
I don’t know anything anymore.
She sits a moment longer, then resolutely strides to the bedroom, strips off the robe and pajamas and digs underwear out of a drawer. From the closet she chooses a sweater and jeans, sneakers, a light jacket. Dressed, she rummages until her purse yields keys and, sweeping the book into its cover, she is out the door and into the elevator … descending to his world.
You know my secrets, Vincent. Maybe I can get you to share them, tell me who I am, who it is that I love, who loves me … what this is that is happening to me!
Boxes jostled and stacked out of the way, she looks over her shoulder to be sure the storage bin is locked from the inside before climbing onto the ladder.
She thinks she ought to be frightened by the careful strength of the large hands encircling her waist, helping her down the last few rungs, but it is Vincent, his touch imperative … desired … cherished.
She fits herself to him and they embrace one another for long moments of blessed serenity.
“Catherine, what is it?”
Pressed against his beating heart she mumbles into his vest, “Nothing. It’s all right now.”
She senses the feathery caress of his fingers upon her hair and melts into him. He holds her more tightly to himself.
“Something troubles you.”
His barely whispered statement requires no response, she could ignore it, but his concern and doubt and confusion plead for her attention.
He feels her acquiescing nod.
“There is a place, not far, where you can rest. Will you come with me?”
Again a nod.
He doesn’t hurry her and only when she begins to move out of their embrace does he reach for her hand, take it comfortingly in his own, and question her once more with that inquisitive tilt of his head that she’s come to treasure.
“I’ll come with you,” she says, and sees that he is pleased.
They walk in silence down a long tunnel to a small open area where a stream of water giggles in the half-darkness. Vincent lights a torch, settles her on a stone bench, and finds a place near her feet where he can lean against the earthen wall opposite and look up at her face. He will not disturb her reverie.
“The water stumbles and falls.”
“It flows smoothly as well.”
“Further along that way. I’ll take you to see it.” He begins to rise but she shakes her head and he resumes his position, drawing up one knee and propping his arm atop it.
“Life is stumbles and falls, isn’t it?”
“Some of the time. And some of the time it is … tranquil … exquisite … all one could wish for it to be.”
She looks up to find him gazing at her, a fire sparking in his eyes. Or is it a reflection of the flame on the water?
“Vincent, I don’t know what’s happening to me.” Her thoughts land haphazardly, awkwardly, between them. “I am really angry with you tonight. And … and I am mortified … by some of the things I’ve done to hurt you.” She pauses to look away from him, then rushes on. “I’m confused … disoriented … lost … I don’t know who I am or who I should be or even who I want to be.”
Their connection is alive. She feels it … electric … skimming across the nape of her neck, her arms. Or is it the chill in the air down here?
“Catherine, you have overcome … so much … and have emerged from your living nightmare with greater compassion, new goals, strength, courage and determination. Terrible damage was done to you … you had to change … or be destroyed by it. In time these changes will become more …”
“Don’t say ‘familiar’! Vincent, nothing is familiar! Everything is different from before. I don’t know the way …” She was about to say, “I don’t know the way … home” but she remembers the feeling … when she first turned into his arms … belonging . “Am I … whole … yet?”
“You are, Catherine. Your heart was always safe … strong. Let it lead you forward … let it reveal the woman you are ... the woman you are becoming. Welcome her. Trust yourself.”
She stares at him, into blue eyes that hide nothing, hold nothing back from her, and the furrows across her brow begin to soften and disappear.
He remains quiet, watching and listening, all his attention given to her, waiting for what more she will share with him.
“But whose love is it?” she whispers, leaning toward him, her plea so earnest.
And her look … beseeching him for wisdom he does not possess. The tears on her cheeks … how to help?
“Whose love, Vincent?” She demands it now, wiping mercilessly at the despised wetness.
“I don’t understand, Catherine … ‘whose love' …?”
She slides the book out, opens to the page, points to the line, and offers it to him.
“… for thy sweet love remembered …”
His baffled expression draws a very distinctly pronounced, “Whose love? I need to know whose love we’re talking about here. Why did you choose this for me tonight? You feel my feelings. What did they tell you? How did they lead you to these words, Vincent?”
He drops his eyes to close the book, looks up at her and hesitates … “Yours.”
He thinks she seems almost to wilt … is it relief … or despair?
“Catherine, I don’t mean that you … rather … the words speak to me … a dream … perhaps … yes … not that such dreams come …”
“Vincent.” She silences him with his name though it is but a whisper … and extends her hand.
He places the book lightly on her palm.
“I have to go back. There’s work tomorrow … today …” she corrects herself, slips the sonnets into their cover, and, he is profoundly encouraged to see, presses it to her breast.
Along the way back to the threshold he is fearful.
She seems oblivious to him, wholly possessed by her own thoughts.
He does not hold her hand.
At the base of the ladder she hesitates, looks back. “Good night, Vincent.”
“Good night, Catherine. Be well.”
They stand in waiting silence, separated by an endless yet brief space, until she asks, “Do you know … if I love you?”
Breath shudders out of him but he replies, “No. I do not know that.”
She nods once, accepting his words, then tells him, “I don’t love Elliot.”
He says nothing, blinks once, but otherwise there is no outward reaction. His heart hammers hard in his chest.
She takes hold of the ladder and begins to climb.
He waits until he hears the boxes being moved into place, then slides down the wall to sit at its base.
She doesn’t love Elliot. She doesn’t love him.
He closes his eyes to better know the torrent of gratitude … and yes, the frightened hope … surging through him.
In the elevator she presses number 18 and rides up alone.
Laying the book on her night table she goes out on the balcony, into the waning night. Even traffic noises seem hushed by the hour but she tries to absorb it all … the near silence … the solitude … the expectation that vibrates around and through her.
It’s decided then.
Did I think I could turn away from you … take breath in a place where you did not breathe …contemplate a life that you cannot live … with me?
I’ve come home … to you, Vincent.
I suppose I was ready after all … for you.
She watches the sky begin to brighten.
And one day I shall have to tell you, Vincent, so you will know the proper response should anyone ever ask …
You must say that your Catherine loves you … certainly, completely and forever, and with all her being …
And … if he asks why … you must say it is because she sees in you all that is Beauty and Goodness …
And because she knows you love her with all that you are, as perfectly as she ever dared to dream any man could …
So that her world should know … and to hear herself say them … she speaks the words aloud, softly, confidently …
I love Vincent. I love him.
I love him.
With a contented smile she closes the balcony doors behind her. She’s not tired. There’s an hour before it’s time to get ready for work. She climbs onto the bed, sits back against the pillows she arranged in a different life, and, starting with the first sonnet, begins to read.
She will find a special one to mark for him.
as I love you, H