NOT EVEN THE RAIN
By Sue Haley and Amber James
When Vincent looked in, Catherine was sitting, motionless on her couch, her eyes open, unblinking, washed by a constant flow of silent tears. Her sorrow, coupled now with his own, was almost more than he could bear. He tapped on the window but she did not move. He knew that this time he must go inside and he did so.
He knelt before her. "Catherine," his voice was both pleading and consoling. "Tell me."
"It was a movie, Vincent," she remained still, her gaze unaltered, "It was just a movie." And then, as if an earthquake had ripped through her in a second, she convulsed and fell forward into his waiting arms.
When eventually she was able to speak, she tried to explain.
"It was a movie about deaf people but about one girl in particular and the man who fell in love with her. And I thought about Laura. I began to realise how much she misses by being deaf... music, the sound of waves... it made me very sad."
"I felt that sadness, Catherine. But this... this is more."
"Later in the movie," Catherine continued, "The young woman made a barrier of her deafness - a barrier that need not have been." She stressed these last words.
"Ah." Now Vincent understood.
"And I thought of YOU, Vincent." She was looking at him intently now, tears washing her eyes anew. "Of all that you cannot do because of who you are and all that you WILL not do because of..." She faltered, not able or not willing to put into words, her meaning.
"... because of who I might become." There was resignation in his voice.
Neither spoke for a while. Above this silence hung the same question which had hung there, just out of reach, for so long. Now, as each tried to grasp it and crush the answer from it, the solution was the same as ever: there was only one way to discover the answer and that answer may not be the one they wanted. If it was not, they might destroy everything - everything.
The effort of this conflict kept them locked - wanting to - needing to - but not daring to kiss as their dreams promised they could. He wanted to say, `I'm sorry for what I am'. She wanted to say, `It doesn't matter'. Neither could invest these thoughts into words, but promises were exchanged through their eyes that one day...
At last, Catherine ventured a question. "Vincent, are we Children Of A Lesser God?"
"I don't know, Catherine," and they huddled together, there, on the floor, clinging to their uncertainty as the safer alternative to what may be the truth.
I was thinking about you last night and as it is a while since I had any news of you I decided to write. Are you both well? I heard that you are teaching now and that Jerry has left the Police altogether. I do hope that you are settled now and happy.
Joe is keeping me running around much as he always has. His favourite trick is to drop yet more files on my desk, quite casually, when I am already swamped. I do enjoy my job though and I get a lot from it. I think that is important. How do you like working with children? Is it making you broody?
Vincent is well. We hope that you will both be able to come for Winterfest this year - everyone was sorry not to see you there last year but I know how difficult it can be to get time off. Still, it should be easier now you've been there a while. You must come and stay with me.
Do write and let me know all your news.Love
As Laura let the letter fall from her hand there was a tear in her eye. Jerry, having seen the sudden change in her expression, picked up the letter and read it through.
It was only a quip on Catherine's part, he was sure, but how true was her aim!
Gently he sat beside Laura, still holding the letter and he put his arm around her to comfort her. At first she stiffened; she would cope with this alone, but emotion overcame her and she accepted his embrace. Jerry was relieved. At last she had stopped resisting his efforts to console her. More than once during recent exchanges on the subject of children, she had pulled away from him. Now that Catherine, albeit unwittingly, had reintroduced the subject, perhaps this was their chance to lay the ghost which haunted Laura - that her children may be born deaf.
Jerry had told her many times that both his parents were deaf and yet he was not. That should have reassured Laura but the doctors had planted the seeds of doubt and they were flourishing in Laura's fertile imagination. Jerry retrieved his arm.
"Tell her," he signed. "Tell Catherine."
Laura nodded assent and, Jerry thought, she almost smiled.
Father knew that something was wrong. Vincent had hardly mentioned Catherine for over a week, yet he knew that he had visited her. He felt sure that they had not argued so it must be...
"Vincent, can I do, er... anything?"
"No... Thank you, Father... no one can."
"A game of chess then?" Father suggested more brightly.
"In the afternoon!" Vincent looked directly at him, a twinkle in his eye. "You clearly wish to seize your chance to beat me!"
"Er, not at all, Vincent. Even distracted as you are, I wouldn't rate my chances of winning to be very high." Then in a much more fatherly tone he enquired, "Is Catherine well?"
"Yes, Father, quite well." Vincent knew that she was also quite near, perhaps in the Park above them. "She has... We have a lot on our minds - but please don't worry."
Father hovered - not knowing whether to stay or leave - until Vincent said, quite casually:
"Catherine tells me that she has written to Laura."
"Oh good. How is she?"
"I do not know, Laura has not replied yet." Vincent's attention seemed drawn to the ceiling and Father decided that this would be a good time to leave.
"I'll see you later at dinner," he said as he left Vincent's chamber, but his words were not acknowledged.
It was one of those rare occasions when Catherine left the office early. It was a pleasant afternoon for the time of year and she thought a walk through the Park in daylight would help her to clear her mind, so she strolled along 5th Avenue to the 72nd Street entrance. Just to her left there was a children's play area, one of several dotted through the Park, and Catherine's attention was drawn to a little boy of about four years old who was swinging one-armed around one of the faded red and yellow poles. He was pretending to be an aeroplane.
Catherine walked over to the picnic benches and sat down there to read Laura's letter. There hadn't been time that morning so she had shoved it into her bag for later.
It is a long time since we last wrote to each other and I am ashamed to say that I didn't reply to your last letter. I am sure you know how fast the days speed by. Jerry and I are well and very busy. Jerry now works for the government on a drugs rehabilitation program with the deaf.
I am glad that Joe is finding you plenty of work, it will keep you out of mischief. As for my new job, it certainly keeps me on my toes. I love being with the children and have started a drama group two evenings a week after school with the older children.
This year we will not miss Winterfest, Jerry and I will be coming to New York, so can I take up your offer of somewhere to stay? I would be only too happy to stay with my family Below but, Jerry is going to find it all very strange. Vincent told me that he hoped to meet Jerry one day so, now he understands the need for secrecy, the time seems to have presented itself. We were sorry to have missed last year's celebrations but perhaps the delay has given me the time to prepare Jerry.
You say Vincent is well, but no more. Haven't you two decided to `name the day' yet? Jerry keeps telling me we should marry and have a family, but I am unsure. Not unsure about spending the rest of my life with Jerry, there is no one else I would want to be with. I find it difficult to think of having children without a great sense of fear. How I miss having you and Vincent to talk to when I am worried. Jerry just doesn't understand.
Did Vincent ever tell you how I was found abandoned in the Park? For my parents, the thought of raising a deaf child proved too much. How can I make Jerry understand what it feels like to know that my own mother and father rejected me then dumped me like a bag of garbage? The doctors tell me it is likely that any children we have will be hearing-impaired in some way. For most of my life I have lived alone in my world of silence, there was no one Below like me. How can I condemn any child to that same loneliness? How can I bring a child into a world which will give only rejection as a return for the child's differences? Jerry cannot understand my reluctance but then it is not surprising, he is a hearing man in a hearing world. Jerry is not reminded every day of the things which set him apart as I am, he is not like me, he is not deaf.
Catherine shivered. Laura's fears and her own were running parallel. She looked again at the little boy, in a world of his own. He seemed quite happy but she wondered if he could be happy for the rest of his life, alone, pretending to be something else.
She continued reading.
Can you understand, Catherine? Perhaps not. Jerry and I don't argue about this, but there are times when it stands between us like a solid wall and I worry if it will eventually push us apart. I love him so much and I know he loves me. Perhaps in time we will resolve things and both be content in our decision. Our love will help us find the way. It must!
"Oh yes, Laura, it must!" Catherine surprised herself. She didn't mean to say that out loud. She looked to see if the little boy had heard - but he was gone.
I have talked far too much about myself. I should offer my congratulations about the Nolan case. It made the newspapers here and I proudly boasted, `Catherine Chandler is my friend', to everyone at work. You did well to get the second degree murder conviction. Does this mean you will be doing more court work and less leg work now? If so, I know Vincent will be much happier, he has never liked the risks you take when you investigate these difficult cases. Still you don't need me to tell you that, do you?
I can't tell you more about Jerry's job, I know so little because of the confidential nature of the work. However I know he often works with the families of his deaf clients and he enjoys that.
We shall be with you in a couple of months for the celebrations, that is if the offer of accommodation still stands. Do write soon and let me know how everyone is. Give my love to my family and friends, tell them all they are often in my thoughts and always in my heart.Until I hear from you,
With much love,
As Catherine finished reading Laura's letter a small voice broke into her thoughts.
"Now I have told you before, if you don't behave you will be sent to bed AT ONCE."
Looking up, Catherine saw, at the other end of the bench, a little girl wagging her finger at her doll. A pretty little girl with curly blonde hair and blue eyes. Such blue eyes!
Quickly, Catherine folded the letter and stood up to walk away. She began to go left, towards the zoo, but there were sure to be more children there so she decided instead to walk the other way across the broad sloping lawn towards the model sailboat pond.
As she walked, she thought of Laura and Jerry with children - it didn't seem to matter whether the children were deaf or not - they would be loved. She had to tell Laura that her children would not be `condemned' as she put it, to loneliness as long as they had love. Being deaf was an `acceptable' difference. You can't tell that someone is deaf just from looking at them. But Vincent's children... what would they be like? Would she ever know?
As she reached the far end of the pond she came to the bronze group `The Mad Tea-Party'. A young boy had climbed The Mad Hatter and was sitting on his hat, whilst a little girl was crawling in and out of the giant mushrooms under the table. Not far away there was a small group of children listening to a clown, dressed in motley and full make-up, singing to them. Catherine had seen him there before on weekday afternoons. She walked around the pond to the other side where the bronze figure of Hans Christian Anderson sat, book on knee. His audience today, besides the duckling, were two small children, brother and sister, Catherine thought, and their mother. Another brother was sitting on the statue's right knee and reading from the open book in his best theatre voice.
"`What sort of a one are you?' they asked; and the Duckling turned in every direction and bowed as well as it could. `You are remarkably ugly!' said the Wild Ducks. `But that is indifferent to us, so long as you do not marry into our family'."
Catherine couldn't bear it. She ran, she ran towards home because she couldn't risk going to Vincent in broad daylight.
At home she couldn't settle. She put on some music; Schubert's Unfinished Symphony and as she remembered that wonderful night in the rain with Vincent, when they had been so happy, she gradually relaxed and fell asleep.
Long slender fingers moved silently.
"Stop!" they signed. "Enough!" Tears of mirth ran down Laura's cheeks as those same fingers lifted a tissue to dry the dark expressive eyes. Joining with her laughter the small group of teenagers sat around the stage.
It was said that the greater the disaster at the dress rehearsal, the greater the success of the performance and the school drama group hoped this would be true for them. This whole afternoon had been one mishap after another and as the scenery toppled around them, Laura had been forced to call a halt. Poor Janice! She had struggled so with the yards of skirt which made up the period costume she wore as it caught on everything. Props had been swept aside, trees felled and now a whole building had tumbled as she had tried to walk gracefully through the doorway. She looked at Laura.
"Do I have to wear this dress?" she pleaded.
The swift hands of the teacher replied, "Sorry, but we can't have George Washington's wife in jeans and a sweatshirt."
Calling Peter over, Laura asked if anything could be done with the scenery to anchor it at the base and hold it from above. She was told not to worry. He assured her that he would sort something out. He also pointed out that the play was supposed to be a comedy anyway. Laura gave him a playful push, whereupon he overbalanced and ended up on the floor at her feet! This was the final straw for everyone. Giggles and laughter filled the large hall, echoing around the room, mocking the deaf ears on which it fell.
No more would be achieved by continuing now and there was always tomorrow afternoon.
"Can you all come in for one o'clock tomorrow?" Laura asked. Everyone could so it was decided to run through it again then.
Laura felt exhausted but she thought that walking home might be more refreshing than a journey on crowded public transport. As she strolled along she received a few puzzled stares as she chuckled to herself about the events of the last few hours. Soon she was turning the key in the lock of her own front door, longing for a leisurely soak in a hot bath.
Jerry was already home and hearing the front door open, he walked to meet her. She looked so weary as she stepped into the hallway, but her bright eyes still danced when she saw him waiting there.
"Hard day?" he questioned.
"That bad!" He wrapped his arms about her and kissed her on the top of her head.
"Vincent always did that," she told him, disentangling herself from his arms so that she could use her hands.
"I'm glad I'm going to meet him at last. You mention him so often, I feel I ought to know him," Jerry signed.
"There is a lot more you need to know about him before you meet him," Laura replied, as she took off her coat and kicked off her shoes.
Leading her towards the bathroom, Jerry answered, "Then you can tell me all about him whilst you soak away your aches and pains."
The fingers wove their words in a slower tempo now. "How is it that you always seem to know just what I need, Jerry?"
He beamed at her. "That is my secret and it's staying that way," and he lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bathroom while she snuggled against him.
When Catherine stirred it was already dark, but even before she opened her eyes she was aware of the gentle fragrance of leather and candlewax. She lifted her eyes towards the balcony where she expected to see Vincent waiting - but she was disappointed.
"Catherine," the gentle voice came from inside the room. Vincent was standing in the corner, just beside the door. "I wondered when you would wake."
"Vincent! How long have you been there?"
"Not long, Catherine... forever."
"Why didn't you wake me?"
"You needed to sleep." Vincent remained rooted to the spot.
"Come here," Catherine urged. "I need a hug." Then, as he hesitated, she added, "It's quite safe!"
Vincent stepped forwards and as she stood up he took her in his arms and held her close. "What was it that upset you this afternoon?" he asked softly.
"Oh, nothing much," she lied. "Just something I saw in the park. I'm okay now."
Vincent knew that she was keeping something back but he was prepared to let it pass if that was her wish.
"I've had a reply from Laura," Catherine went on. "She and Jerry are both coming to Winterfest!"
"Wonderful. At last I can meet him."
"They are going to stay with me; Laura thought it best as it's Jerry's first time."
"Yes, I think that is wise."
"I'll take some time off work while they're here, if it's okay with Joe." Just then, Catherine noticed that the stereo was still switched on and it gave her an idea. "Vincent... I was listening to something earlier. Will you sit down with me now while I play the record again?"
"Er... yes... all right. What is it?"
"Just listen," and she ushered him to the couch. She watched him closely from beside the stereo as the opening bars played. He lifted his head slightly as he recognised the piece, then he turned towards her and his face lit up in a broad smile.
"Come and sit with me," he invited and Catherine's heart turned a somersault, not because of what he said, but because of where he was when he said it.
Vincent sensed the joy in her at that moment and it pleased him.
It was very late when Vincent sauntered back along the tunnels. He too, felt that the evening's events had been something of a milestone. A week ago he would not have entered Catherine's apartment unless pressed. But tonight they had spent the evening listening to music and talking as though his presence there was commonplace. He was actually smirking with the satisfaction of this when he encountered Mouse, scurrying along in a world of his own.
"You are about very late, Mouse. Is something wrong?"
"Nothing wrong." The young man fell into step with Vincent. "Couldn't sleep. Went for a walk." Then, after a pause he asked, "You been with Catherine?"
"Yes," Vincent answered lovingly.
Mouse's face took on the kind of expression one associates with the sight of a kitten or a small puppy - or in Mouse's case a baby raccoon!
"Catherine has heard from Laura," Vincent added.
"Laura!" Mouse's enthusiasm was obvious.
"Yes. She and Jerry are coming to Winterfest."
"Neat! Like Laura."
"Yes, I'm looking forward to seeing Jerry too."
"Seen him," Mouse announced. "...Didn't see me though."
"Oh, when?" Vincent enquired.
"Long time ago," was all the information given. Then Mouse added, rather seriously, "Better warn Pascal!"
"Oh yes, of course, I hadn't thought of that!"
Vincent thought it was probably too late tonight but he might stop by the pipe-chamber as Pascal had been known to fall asleep there. Mouse, who was already preoccupied with some plan or other, turned to Vincent and with a brief "Got to go. Things to do," he was gone.
"Pascal... Do you ever leave the pipe-chamber?"
"Hello, Vincent. I like to stay here late some nights. You can hear things when the pipes are quiet that can't be heard during the day. The tone has a different quality at night.. And sometimes one of the helpers sends a message.."
"...And you don't want to miss anything." There was laughter in Vincent's voice. "I have some news for you," he added, still smiling. "Laura is coming for Winterfest. Mouse thought I should `WARN' you!"
"Oh... yes... It will be good to see her but I'm going to be in trouble! Will you help me, Vincent... please?"
"Of course I will, but we don't have very long. I expect you will want to have your lessons here!"
Pascal just smiled and nodded. Vincent continued,
"I will ask Rebecca to help too - she may have some time to spare and it will do you good to practice with different people."
It's great news that you're coming to Winterfest. Everyone Below is pleased about it; Vincent says Mouse retreated to his chamber and won't let anyone near, so I don't know what he's cooking up for you! Pascal is working hard so you won't be cross with him and Father is delighted that at last he can welcome Jerry into the family properly.
I wanted to take some time off work after the celebrations in the hope that you could stay on for a week or so but Joe is going to be away that week so I can't. Could you come for a week before Winterfest? I know the schools will be off then so you should have no trouble but of course it will depend on what Jerry is doing. I do hope you can come early and of course you will stay with me - in fact I'll move out into the living room so you can feel at home. I want you both to feel comfortable here, treat the place as your own.
I have some plans for our time together but I will also leave you some free time to go out or stay in, whichever you want. I know how important my time with Vincent is and I expect it's the same for you too.
I'm sorry that you are worried about having children in case they are deaf. If I remember right, Jerry told me that both his parents were deaf so there is every chance your children won't be. But I expect he has already told you that. Anyway Laura, even if you have a child that is deaf, that child is not going to be lonely or isolated because it will have the love and care of two wonderful people and the understanding which your own parents couldn't give to you. I think they were probably more frightened than uncaring, afraid that they couldn't give you all that you needed. Please don't hate them for that and please don't punish yourself and Jerry for what they did by denying yourselves children.
When I look at Vincent, knowing how much we love each other and knowing at the same time that our love can never be made into a person, I think I know real loneliness. I never knew that it was possible to be secure and happy in someone's love and still be lonely. Once in a while I feel that just a small step towards togetherness has been taken but I can't push Vincent or I know he'll pull away. You see Laura, we don't know what may happen if we `marry'. Vincent hasn't said so but I believe he's afraid he would hurt me. And any children we might have - well who can say? I've never discussed this with him because if I did I think it would do more harm than good. He cares about me so deeply that if he thought he was causing me pain he might go away - or send me away. He did that once before and I couldn't bear it to happen again.
You and Jerry have so much going for you. You are in love and happy - there is no reason for you to build walls between you. You say Jerry doesn't understand but have you tried to explain? Can I help at all? I'll talk to Jerry if you think it will help, but I won't say anything unless you ask me to.
Maybe the break here, away from work, will help you both to resolve things. I'm really looking forward to seeing you both again. Have you told Jerry about Vincent? I thought he could be here to meet him when you arrive, if you like. Let me know if you think it's a good idea.Write soon
Vincent was intrigued as he followed Mouse to his chamber. Nobody had been allowed near for days and Vincent was curious to know the `secret' that Mouse now wanted to share with him.
"Promise not to tell," Mouse commanded.
"Not even Catherine," Mouse added more gently, as though he knew how difficult it was to keep something from one so dear.
"Not even Catherine," Vincent assured him.
"It's for Laura," the young man announced triumphantly as they entered his chamber.
"I thought so."
"You knew!" Mouse looked suddenly deflated.
"No, Mouse, I guessed - but I have told no one, I promise you." Vincent knew that Catherine had guessed too but he wanted Mouse to enjoy his secret so he said nothing.
Mouse bustled off to the corner of his chamber and came back with something wrapped in a piece of cloth.
"Found it. Thrown away. Mended it. Painted it," he said as he slowly unwrapped the precious gift and placed it on the bench for Vincent to see. "Works now," he added as he picked it up, turned the key in its back and replaced it on the bench.
As Vincent watched, the little tin soldier began to move his arms so that the tiny drumsticks beat alternately on the tin drum. He was unable to speak, his eyes welled with tears and he turned to look at Mouse.
Mouse smiled disarmingly. "Will she like it?" he asked.
"Mouse, she will love it," Vincent said and he hugged his young friend close. "It's beautiful, really beautiful."
I was so pleased to receive your letter. Jerry and I are both looking forward to Winterfest, although I think Jerry is feeling apprehensive. We would love to spend a few days with you before the celebrations and expect to arrive at your place on Tuesday evening about nine o'clock.
Perhaps you are right about my parents, but I will never know, will I? This will always cause me doubts. Sometimes, not knowing can be worse than the truth. From your letter I can see that you do understand the loneliness I feel at times. I love Jerry very much, yet these fears eat away at me. I had not realised that problems existed between you and Vincent, but you should never doubt his love. Remember, I saw the man who walked alone, witnessed the change in him after you came into his life. He changed, Catherine, when he realised that you loved him there was a new confidence, a new assurance. He knew he would no longer be alone.
I think it is sad that he will not allow you nearer than you are and I am sure this hurts him as much as it hurts you.
Jerry and I do need time to resolve our differences. Thank you for the offer to speak to him but, no, I have to find my own way.
I have tried, as best I can, to prepare Jerry for all the unusual things he will see, including Vincent. So yes, please ask Vincent to be there when we arrive, it will be wonderful to see him again.We will be with you soon,
"What time did Laura say they'd be here?" Vincent asked for the third time.
"Around nine - Vincent, please - why don't you just sit down and relax?"
"It's foolish I know... but I'm nervous!"
Catherine couldn't hide her amusement. Never had she seen Vincent so agitated. It reminded her of the boy who took her to her Senior Prom, just before he met her father!
"Vincent, I know how special Laura is to you and you want Jerry to like you - but you needn't worry - really." Catherine tried to think of a way to make him relax. "Here, come and sit down," she soothed. "There is something you can do for me."
Vincent did as he was asked and watched Catherine disappear into the bedroom. She returned almost immediately holding a hairbrush. Vincent looked worried; what was she planning? He held his breath but Catherine sat on the floor at his feet and handed the brush to him over her shoulder. Without looking at him, she said softly:
"Please, Vincent... I love having my hair brushed... When I was little, I would sit... like this... at my mother's feet. For so long there's been no-one I could ask."
Vincent smiled as he took the brush from her. Uncertain at first, he gently allowed the bristles to glide over the back of her hair.
"You won't hurt me, Vincent," Catherine assured him.
He marvelled at her trust as he looked at his hands. Against the smooth softness of her hair they looked out of place - but she trusted him - he knew that. He summoned his courage and with one long smooth stroke he brushed a column of her hair so that it lay across the palm of his other hand.
"Your hair!" he breathed. "It is like silk!"
"Thank you. I'm glad you like it," Catherine replied, trying to sound casual - but as he laid the hair down on her shoulders his fingers brushed her neck and she shuddered. Vincent was acutely aware of the reaction provoked by his touch but his own response was controlled as usual. He resumed his task, reverently and with wonder in his eyes. Catherine wanted to see that look but could not do so without foregoing his touch and she was not willing to do that.
Neither wanted this new nearness to end.
All too soon, it seemed, there was a knock at the door and Vincent froze.
"They're here!" His voice was barely audible.
"Stay there while I let them in," Catherine instructed as she rose to her feet. She peeped round the door to see Laura and Jerry smiling at her. "Yes, it's them," she said, turning towards the empty couch. "Vincent! Where have you gone? Oh well..." and she undid the chain and opened the door wide. Laura launched herself at Catherine and hugged her for a long time.
"Hi, Jerry," Catherine said over Laura's shoulder. "Good journey?"
"Not bad I s'pose, but New York cabbies don't improve!"
Laura let go of Catherine to ask, "Where is Vincent?"
"I think he's gone out on the balcony," Catherine replied and Laura hurried out to find him. When they came back in, both were laughing with their arms round each other - and Vincent was still holding the hairbrush!
Catherine watched the look on Jerry's face change from surprise to pure awe.
"Jerry, meet Vincent. Vincent, this is Jerry," she said gently as Vincent stepped towards him.
"I am delighted to meet you at last," Vincent said, with remarkable composure. Only when Jerry offered his hand did Vincent to the same. Jerry became aware that he was staring open-mouthed at Vincent.
"I'm sorry," he said suddenly, shaking his head in disbelief.
"It's all right," Vincent replied. "But didn't Laura tell you I was... different?"
"Yes... but not how big!" and Jerry began to laugh. "We shall be GOOD friends," he said. "I wouldn't want YOU for an enemy!"
The ice was broken. Laura moved to stand between Catherine and Jerry and placing an arm around each of them she pulled them close and beamed at Vincent.
"Do you want to settle in first, or go Below now?" Vincent signed. Laura chose to stay put for the evening so that Vincent and Jerry could get to know each other better and she and Catherine could catch up with their news.
Catherine suggested phoning for a pizza and they all agreed - although Vincent wasn't sure, he said he'd try it. Much later, when Catherine went with Vincent onto the balcony to say goodnight, he said that he liked Jerry very much - but he wasn't too keen on pizza. Then, as he held Catherine close, he spoke softly into her hair.
"Catherine... will you do something for me?"
"Of course I will."
"Not now, but sometime... will you... brush my hair for me?"
"If we set off early we can go through the basement without being seen."
"Okay," Jerry agreed as Catherine left two cups of coffee by the bedside. He slowly turned to put his arm round Laura. As she snuggled into his embrace she opened her eyes and smiled, `good morning'. She glanced past him at the clock and grimacing, she closed her eyes again.
"Come on," he shook her gently and she sat up.
"Okay," she nodded, then signed, "Race you for the bathroom."
Catherine was already showered and dressed and was rolling up her bedding. She paused to smile when she heard the rumpus coming from the other room. Jerry emerged, defeated.
"What's the drill?" he asked as he sipped his coffee.
"We can get into the tunnels below this building. Vincent will meet us and walk with us - it's quite a long way but you'll love it! It's like nothing you've ever seen... What has Laura told you about the tunnels?"
"It's not so much what she's told me as the... change that comes over her when she thinks of `home'. She `glows', y'know?"
"Yes! I do!" Catherine said dreamily.
"So do you!" Jerry added with a grin, then after a moment, said, "I've tried to picture the world Below in my mind, but I can only think of the Batcave and Ninja Turtles!"
Catherine laughed with him. "You'd better not tell Father that!"
Laura put her head round the door.
"I think the bathroom's free now," Catherine told Jerry and he went through to get ready.
As Catherine stepped off the ladder, Vincent was already greeting Laura and Jerry. "We are to go straight to Father's chamber," he said. "No doubt others will arrive to meet you later on."
That journey was for Jerry, the most magical journey he had ever made. He could now see and feel the `glow' for himself. Laura kept looking at him and nudging Catherine and smiling at his reactions to her home. Jerry spun round as a brick was replaced in a peep-hole.
"What was that?"
"Just a look-out," Catherine explained. "It's important to keep this place safe - we have to know if anyone is here."
"Do not be alarmed," Vincent added. "The pipes are already speaking of our approach."
"The pipes..." Jerry mused. "Laura told me about the pipes. The thought of them fascinates me."
"Well!" Vincent laughed, "Pascal will take great pleasure in telling you anything you wish to know about them."
As they stepped into Father's chamber, Jerry's mouth fell open. His eyes slowly traced a path from the mountains of books piled on the ornately carved desk in front of him round bookcases that were overflowing. There was every size of candle in candleholders of all kinds, from a single stem to elaborate candelabra. There was an oil lamp, a Tiffany lamp, a figurehead, something that looked like a small telescope, and in the centre of the room, a spiral staircase leading up to more shelves piled high with yet more books! And the whole room `glowed'. Jerry blinked.
"Forget the Batcave - THIS is fantastic!"
"I beg your pardon?" Father's voice was puzzled.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Jerry realised what he had said.
Catherine rescued him. "Father, may I introduce you to Jerry Dinelli. Jerry, this is Jacob Wells but we..."
"Please, call me Jacob OR Father, whichever you prefer," Father cut in.
"Pleased to meet you Sir. I already think of you as Father... if that's okay?"
"Yes, of course... Please come in and make yourselves at home. Laura, welcome my dear. How are you?"
Vincent undertook his usual role as interpreter for Father whilst Jerry signed his own part of the conversation. Catherine's signing was still rather basic and Vincent helped her out. Laura was also a very good lip-reader so she didn't miss anything.
Mary brought tea and stayed. As Vincent had predicted the numbers gradually swelled as the time passed. William came to ask if Jerry had a favourite kind of cake - and stayed. Jamie brought a message from Mouse - and stayed. It was late morning when Samantha came to ask Father when he would take their lesson.
"Goodness, I forgot. I'm sorry, Samantha. I will be there directly." Then Father asked Jerry, "Would you like to sit in? You and Laura?"
Jerry looked for Laura's approval and she shrugged a `yes', so the three of them made their way to the school chamber.
"No Laura, don't shut me out because..." She read no more as her eyes closed making it impossible for the argument to continue. When she opened them again, Jerry had gone. Now she was alone and frightened, just as she had been the first time she had stayed in Catherine's apartment. Tonight Catherine was still Below and Jerry? Laura knew that she had effectively sent him away. The silent hours dragged by. She waited, watching the fingers of the clock creep quietly through the tear-filled minutes of the night. This was the first time they had actually exchanged anger and bitterness over their future. As soon as children had been mentioned Laura had closed herself inside the safety of her silence.
When Jerry returned home some hours later, he was drunk. Laura began to cry again - this was a Jerry she did not know.
"Why?" she signed.
"Why what?" he questioned. "Why did I go out, or why did I get drunk?"
"Because it's the only way I can cope with this. You refuse to even discuss the possibility of a family. Whenever I try, you use your deafness against me, to distance me, and there is nothing I can do."
"You don't understand!" her hands told him.
"NO. No, Laura," he replied. "I don't. You know I would do anything for you. If I could tear off my ears I would do!"
She turned away. Jerry moved unsteadily to stand in front of her again.
"If you love me now, if you have ever loved me, then you MUST let me tell you how I feel!"
Laura sat on the couch and turned her tear-stained face up to search his eyes. She nodded her assent and he knelt at her feet.
"There is no way for me to enter your world of silence," he continued. "Just as you can't be a part of the hearing world I was born into. It is not you who's different, we're both different, different from each other. But there is one place where we stand together, where we are equals, where neither language nor silence divides us. That place is in our love - and that is the place where any child of ours would live and grow. It's not the world's rejection of our child that worries you so much - it's mine. Whether you accept it or not that is the truth. You don't have enough faith in me, in us, to believe the three of us could live in our love and be happy there."
Jerry's eyes filled and tears began to trickle down his cheeks as he rose to his feet and made his way to the bedroom.
When Jerry woke next morning there was a note on Laura's pillow.
"I do love you. I need to think. Have gone Below, but I'll be back before lunch.
Love, Laura xx."
Only the gentle tapping on the pipes could be heard as Laura greeted Pascal.
"Hello, Pascal," she signed. "I hear you have been studying at last!"
"Hello, Laura," he signed back. "Good to see you. Are you well?"
"Yes, thank you. Are you?"
"Yes, I'm well, but nervous - this is like an exam!" Pascal thought to himself, That's it now - everything I've practised - if she wants more, I'll be lost!
"Very good!" Laura was laughing now. "You HAVE done well. Vincent tells me you are training Zak to `conduct' the pipes. Where is he?"
"Oh," said Pascal as he tried desperately to think what the sign was for `kitchen'. "Z-A-K ... with... W-I-L-L-I-A-M... helping... with the food," and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"Can I just stay here for a while?" Laura asked. "You don't have to talk to me. I'd just like to feel the pipes - I do miss them!"
"Do you?" Pascal was more than a little surprised that someone else felt as he did.
Laura just smiled and nodded.
"Of course you can stay," Pascal said as he just signed, "Yes, please stay."
Some time later, safely in the Mousehole, Laura gazed in wonder as with a theatrical gesture, Mouse took the cloth away. Beneath it, on a once silvered cake stand `he' stood waiting. His red coat gleamed with the gloss of new paint, the dark trousers tapered to black shiny boots. The neat moustache curled at the ends onto a skin-toned face. Drum ready he stood waiting to display his talents and Mouse's ingenuity.
The young man leant forwards, gently holding the soldier steady, he turned the key in his back. The spring tightened. The soldier was released from his repairer's hold and his arms began to beat out an even rhythm on the small tin drum he carried. Laura was delighted. She placed a finger and thumb on either side of the tiny drum and felt the steady pulse beating beneath her touch.
Quickly, she threw her arms around her friend in a wordless thank you for his thoughtfulness and his love. Communication between them had always been easy and Laura's tears spoke with such strength that Mouse felt her delight reverberate through the chamber with a deafening intensity.
Her slender fingers moved through the air in a silent `thank you, he's beautiful', then she lifted the little tin man from the bench and held him up to study him. She marvelled at the care with which he had been renovated and smiled at the stern little face looking blankly back at her.
But as he moved, the candlelight flickered and she was sure as the light played across his features, her little soldier winked at her, just once.
Vincent looked up from the book as the figure of the young woman appeared in the doorway. She looked a little lost, he thought.
"Come in, Laura," he beckoned.
She was cradling her present from Mouse, wrapped in its piece of cloth but she did not offer to open it. Clearly she had some other purpose and Vincent could not guess what it might be. She placed her precious parcel on the table and drew an envelope from her pocket.
"I think you should read this," she told him as he took the envelope from her and studied the familiar writing.
"From Catherine," he observed. "But this is addressed to you, Laura."
"I WANT you to read it," Laura urged. "Please."
Vincent began to read. As he did so he wondered what was so important, then he came to `...please don't punish yourself and Jerry for what they did by denying yourselves children.'
"Are you punishing yourselves?" he asked gently.
"Read on," she instructed.
Tears stung Vincent's eyes as he heard Catherine say, `I never knew that it was possible to be secure and happy in someone's love and still be lonely.' He blinked and looked up, not at Laura but at a point above them where he knew Catherine to be. Laura watched, sharing his torment. Vincent finished reading. He knew Catherine's pain - the reason for it and he wept. Laura stood beside him now - she put an arm around him and gathering her parcel she moved to leave. As she looked back there was a tear in her eye too.
"Thank you, Laura," Vincent managed as she left him to his sorrow.
How could he endure this? He MUST - somehow.
`He might go away - or send me away. He did that once before and I couldn't bear it to happen again.' Catherine's words were swimming in his head. He was not angry though, nor bitter. He felt tremendous compassion for the way in which she bore her sorrow - hid it from everyone - even him.
But what could he do? Through the mist he looked at his hands, turned them over and back again. What COULD he do to banish her loneliness? He felt helpless. He, of all people, helpless! As the mist cleared, his eyes focused on the book, lying there innocently all this time. And he saw the words:
`What is all this sweet work worth,
If thou kiss not me?'
Vincent picked up the book and held it close - held it as if it were Catherine.
Jerry was in the shower when Catherine returned from shopping. Laura looked up as she spotted her out of the corner of her eye. As she carried the bags into the tiny kitchen, Catherine noticed the small toy on the table in front of Laura. Once the groceries were safely stored away she draped her coat over the back of the couch and knelt down to take a closer look. The little tin soldier beat his steady rhythm, slowed, then stopped.
"He is beautiful!" Catherine said, forgetting, in her admiration, that Laura would not hear.
Laura lip-read well and signed, "From Mouse."
Jerry came into the room, dressed in a grey tracksuit and rubbing his hair with a towel. "Saying hello to our new family member?" he asked.
"Yes, I am. Isn't he wonderful?" Catherine replied.
Laura turned as she saw Catherine speaking to someone behind her. She stood, picked up her gift and gazed at Jerry. A clear message of love passed between them. Laura signed something but Catherine missed the meaning, so she looked to Jerry for an interpretation. The young man smiled.
"Laura wants to know if you have a suitable box she could have for her little friend."
"Yes," Catherine signed. "Please wait," then she vanished into the bedroom.
Jerry walked over to Laura and taking her chin in his hand he said, "I love you." These were words Laura knew well and needed no sign. Her eyes gave the affirmation of her love for him and he bent his head and kissed her. Catherine stopped in the doorway, then made a noisy entrance so that at least Jerry would know she was there. She gave Laura a box and some tissue paper. The soldier fitted perfectly into his new home.
"Thank you," Laura signed.
"Well, we wouldn't want him to get damaged on the way home," Catherine told her. Jerry translated and again, Laura's answer was too fast for Catherine.
"She wants the box to put him away at home," Jerry explained. Then he turned to Laura. His question: "Why?" needed no translation.
Nor did Laura's reply. "To keep it safe for the baby."
Jerry's eyes filled with tears and he threw his arms around Laura, lifted her off the floor and spun her round. The little man almost fell, box and all, so Catherine rescued it and placed it safely on the table.
"When?" Jerry signed as he lowered his precious burden to the floor.
"Straight away," Laura answered, beaming.
Catherine picked up her coat, her bag and her keys and quietly left - just in case Jerry decided to take Laura's words literally.
Three tricolour candles lay on the coffee table. Catherine tenderly lifted one and studied it. `Can you hear it?' she remembered and music played in her head. Music that only she and Vincent had heard - the sweetest music because only they had heard it. Her heart danced.
She felt a hand on her shoulder and she looked up. Laura's expression echoed her own thoughts.
"I love Winterfest," Catherine said as she carefully replaced the candle and rose to face Laura. "You look wonderful!" she admired. "That colour really suits you."
Laura feigned modesty, then twirled round for Catherine to see the full effect.
"Will you be warm enough?" Catherine asked. "I have a spare shawl if you would like to wear it."
"Yes, please," Laura answered.
When Jerry made his entrance he looked very smart indeed. "Well!" he said, stopping in his tracks. "Look at my date! Isn't she gorgeous? Oh... not that you don't look terrific too, Cathy," he added apologetically.
"That's okay," Catherine forgave him. "I understand. I just hope Vincent is as impressed with my dress!"
"Oh, he will be!" Jerry assured her.
"I'll just get our shawls, then we're ready to go. We are a little early but I expect Vincent will be waiting anyway."
Catherine descended the ladder first and Laura made Jerry wait a minute or so before they followed.
The sight of Catherine as she stepped into view took Vincent's breath away. He could remember every occasion when she had either arrived or parted from him through that shaft of light and each one had its own special joy... or pain. He wondered how she could possibly be more beautiful than before. He wanted to hold her and keep holding her... forever.
"Vincent?" Her voice was soft as a breeze. "Can I take that as a compliment?" She slipped her arms inside his cloak and he gathered her to him.
"Catherine... you are beautiful... so beautiful." He could find no other words to express all that he felt and hoped that she would understand. She did.
"Thank you, Vincent." She stepped back to look at him. "So are you." Vincent smiled at this, then Catherine added, "Wait 'til you see Laura!"
Jerry took Laura's hand as she stepped off the bottom rung and escorted her to where Vincent and Catherine stood.
"Isn't she gorgeous?" he repeated proudly. Vincent smiled and nodded - he too, felt pride in seeing the young woman that Laura had become. "I must be the luckiest man in New York," Jerry boasted.
"Almost," Vincent answered, very softly, as he looked into Catherine's eyes.
The unspoken love that passed between them did not go unnoticed. Laura took Jerry's arm and gently steered him along the tunnel so that Vincent and Catherine could follow. As they walked she explained to him about the candle ceremony that would begin the celebrations. Jerry didn't notice that Vincent and Catherine were lagging further and further behind.
Catherine realised that Vincent's pace was slowing but it wasn't until her guests were almost out of sight that she understood the significance of this - and only then when it was `too late' - something she kicked herself for afterwards!
Vincent stood still and turned to look at her. She searched his eyes, wondering why he had stopped. At first he looked as if he was going to speak... but then changed his mind... then he bent his head towards her and she thought he would speak after all... but he didn't. Very gently, Vincent pressed his lips to hers in the most tender of kisses. A chaste kiss. As he raised his head again and opened his eyes Catherine was gazing at him - stunned.
"Catherine?" he said, as if to wake her from a dream.
"Yes?" she replied - convinced that it WAS a dream.
"I believe... I should have... I HAVE wanted to... but..."
"I understand," Catherine soothed, having realised she was not dreaming. "You don't have to explain."
Vincent let out the breath he had been holding and smiled at his love. "Of course," he said, bowing his head slightly. Catherine never really understood this response but she did not question it.
The couple resumed their walk, slowly at first, she nestling under his arm. Vincent sensed the joy in Catherine and it pleased him. The thought crossed her mind, I must wear this dress again.
Ahead of them, Mouse, having summoned all his courage, had come to meet Laura. He expected Vincent and Catherine to be with her aswell as Jerry and looked a little put out when they were not. He almost turned back but Laura had seen him and her face lit up. Mouse hadn't the heart to go away and deep down he was proud to know he was so welcome.
"This is Mouse," Laura told Jerry.
Jerry held out his hand but Mouse took a small step backwards and put both his hands behind his back. Jerry was accustomed in his work to this kind of reaction and responded with kindness.
"I was admiring your work earlier today," he said warmly. "I wish I had your skill and patience. Your present to Laura is beautiful and so thoughtful."
Mouse was visibly `preening' himself as Jerry spoke and he grew an inch taller as he received these compliments.
"Nothing really," he answered modestly. "Laura's my friend."
"I hope that one day you will count me as a friend too," Jerry told him.
"So do I," Laura signed as she nodded to Mouse.
Mouse looked from one to the other then with a slight skip he smiled broadly and said, "Okay good... okay fine."
Laura and Jerry were both laughing when a black and white tail came into view along the tunnel, then just as quickly disappeared.
"Did you see that?" Jerry said in disbelief. "It looked like... a racoon!"
"Arthur!" Mouse looked worried. "Shouldn't be out... Promised Father," and he scurried off in pursuit of his `pet'.
Jerry couldn't believe it. "He keeps a pet racoon... down here?"
"Yes," Laura replied. "But he's not so much a pet - more a room mate."
Vincent and Catherine were now quite near.
"Where did Mouse go?" Catherine asked as they caught up and the four began to walk together.
"He went to catch Arthur!" Jerry told her.
Vincent laughed. "I hope he does. Father made him promise there would not be a repeat of last year's incident."
Laura looked puzzled. "Why - what happened last year?" she asked.
"Hasn't Catherine told you?" Laura shook her head. "Well..." Vincent continued. "I'm not sure of ALL the details... and there ARE two sides to the story..."
There was almost a queue in the dimly lit passage when Vincent and Catherine arrived to begin the descent of the stone stairway.
"Ah, Vincent, Catherine, we are all ready and waiting," Father announced.
Taking the lead, Vincent walked to the end of the tunnel with the woman he loved by his side. Behind them, Jerry gasped as he saw the grandeur before him. Laura squeezed his hand gently. Nothing could have prepared him for the vastness of this cavern and the steps leading through it, they seemed to reach downwards forever. Their progress was slow as he gazed in awe about him.
At the entrance to the Great Hall, Vincent lifted the huge beam from its brackets and pushed the doors open wide. The wind howled around them, telling its story of a timeless journey through caverns and passages long forgotten by man. Now it was Jerry's turn to squeeze Laura's hand. She beamed at him, then turned to Catherine. The two women exchanged a meaningful smile, conveying many unspoken messages between them. Laura was in no doubt - something had been said or taken place between Catherine and Vincent which had changed them. She raised an enquiring eyebrow at her friend and Catherine's silent nod confirmed that she was right.
Vincent turned from the doors and held out his hand to his love. She took it eagerly and reached also for Laura's. And so, hand in hand, lovers and friends, the four stepped forwards into the darkness and a future of infinite possibilities.