by Beth Gualda
Clink. Clink. Clink.
"None in all the world to love me, none to count the stars that hung,
Then the moon came out above me...
And I saw that it was young.
I wished upon the moon
For something I never knew...
Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink.
I wished on the moon for you..."*
Catherine stirred. There it was again. Or had it ever stopped? That tapping. And now, there was music too. An old Billie Holiday tune, faint and scratchy sounding, like the vinyl records her father used to play before Catherine bought him a compact disc player two Christmases ago.
She sighed, listening. There was someone in the room with her. She wondered if it was the doctor or his son. What did he say his name was? Vincent? She could feel his presence and hear him moving about quietly. He was humming softly, pleasantly.
"Vincent?" she called weakly.
In a moment's passing, he was beside her, leaning over her. She knew this despite the fact that she could not see him. She reached out and tried to touch him, but couldn't and wondered fleetingly if he was avoiding her hand. She dropped it with a heavy sigh.
"Ah, you're awake," he stated. "How do you feel? Can I get you anything?"
Catherine tried to moisten her lips with her tongue. She felt feverish and weak. Her face ached and she felt the tug of numerous stitches whenever she moved her jaw. She shivered involuntarily partly due to the chills she had and partly at the thought of what lay beneath her bandages. Memories of her assault surfaced and her trembling intensified.
"Are you cold, Catherine?" He didn't wait for an answer and began pulling up the blankets, straightening them and tucking them in around her.
"A little," she managed. Her eyes stung with unshed tears and she frowned deeply. Her whole body was stiff. She tried to shift to a more comfortable position but that only caused her more pain. Then she felt the light pressure of his hand on her chest, holding her down.
"Lie still," he told her softly, but in a voice that insisted she heed.
She sighed, her lower lip trembling. She hadn't yet been able to reconcile the fact that she was in a stranger's home instead of a hospital; or the fact she was forced to rely on this stranger for her every need.
"My mouth is dry," she began somewhat bitterly. "Can you get me something to drink?" She inwardly cursed her bandaged eyes and broken body. She hated feeling so dependant and helpless, even though Vincent had demonstrated repeatedly his will to care for her with undaunted eagerness. His kindness seemed limitless and Catherine felt a little ashamed she was not feeling more grateful to him. She was still too wary. Too frightened to feel anything but the need to run and hide.
"I brought you some rose hips tea," he told her. "It will help."
Nothing will help, she thought despondently, but then wondered if he had just told her it was laced with something, some medication or sedative, that would ease her pain.
"That'll be fine," she said flatly.
He moved away from her to fetch the tea and Catherine's heart began pounding fitfully inside her. The anxiety she was feeling suddenly escalated. It was hard for her to surrender her trust in the way her present situation required, but she also felt a desparate longing to be able to trust somebody. Currently, Vincent was her only option. It would have been easier for her if she understood him. He seemed honest and caring enough.....but he was also mysterious and dark in a way Catherine couldn't pin down. His presence was comforting, but also disquieting.
"Don't be troubled......Please," he said in a low, tentative voice. "There's no need for you to be afraid anymore. No one will hurt you here. I promise." The tone of his deep voice grew in conviction with his assurances.
Catherine relaxed some. She wanted to believe him. He made it sound as if no one would dare harm her as long as he was near. He would protect her and care for her to all ends if need be. She began wondering about her mysterious benefactor. She tried to imagine what sort of face would appropriately match that heavenly voice of his; it had the rare quality of being smooth and raspy at the same time. Whenever he spoke, it was always with authority and assertion, but he never seemed to speak much above a whisper. None of the images she had of him seemed quite right.
The song that had been playing ended and for a moment, Catherine could only hear that metallic tapping. Then another song began, just as old and full of static as the last one.
Clink. Clink. Clink.
"When I fall in love...
It will be forever...Or I'll never fall...in love..."**
Clink. Clink. Clink. Clink.
"Where's that music coming from?" Catherine asked just out of curiosity.
"A jukebox," came a swift reply. "I thought it would give you something to listen to." Then he added hopefully: "Do you like it?"
"It's nice," she answered apathetically.
He sighed and Catherine tried to be a little more appreciative.
"I like it. I do. I'm just feeling pretty miserable right now."
He said nothing, but Catherine heard him pull a chair over to the side of the bed. It creaked under his weight as he sat down and she thought that he must be large in stature. Tall and strong, but not heavy. He moved about too quietly.
Suddenly, she felt his hand slip between her shoulders and the pillows, urging her to lean forward.
"Easy," he breathed, as his hand supported her slight weight, his long fingers splayed across the span of her back. He placed another pillow behind her then, propping her up in a sloping, sitting position.
He withdrew his hand and she settled back into the pillows with a heavy sigh. She could hear him pouring the tea and the familiar rattle of a china cup and saucer. She raised her hands expectantly, letting him know she would not require his assistance to drink tea.
He sighed again, and Catherine wondered if it was in exasperation or amusement at her subtle declaration for some independance. Adhering to her wishes, he placed the cup in her hands with a gentle warning. "Be careful. It's hot."
"I like it that way," she said lightly and wrapped her fingers securely around the delicate cup and took a small sip. It was sweet and had an immediate soothing effect on her nerves. She could feel the warmth of it spread through her, enveloping her in a welcome peace.
Vincent remained silent, watching her from his chair. The music from the jukebox filled in the silence, but Catherine was disappointed that he didn't talk to her more. He was very quiet, almost to the point of being shy. Perhaps he was, she thought. She was just as much a stranger to him as he was to her. She turned her head and offered him a small smile, the best she could manage without pulling at her sutures.
"You make good tea," she said hoping to encourage a bit of conversation.
"Thank you," he said, sounding pleased, his voice nothing more than an expelled breath.
Catherine continued sipping her tea and waited, but he didn't continue.
"Say something," she urged. "Anything."
She wondered if he was being humorous. If he was, it was the first glimpse of humor she had gotten out of him. It was hard to tell though, since she couldn't see his face.
"Talk to me, I mean. Just until I fall asleep again. Tell me about yourself," she began, trying a different approach. "Tell me where we are."
"No," he answered gently. Then he added hesitantly, "I can't."
Catherine sighed. "But why? I don't understand. It frightens me."
He took a deep measured breath. "....I know."
Catherine's hands started shaking and she thought she better give him the cup of tea before she dropped it. He took it and got up from the chair.
"Why can't you tell me?" she muttered. She was feeling weak and suddenly very drowsy. Maybe there was something in the tea, she thought.
"Ssssh, don't worry," Vincent soothed. "Rest now."
His voice was more calming than anything that could have been in the tea and Catherine settled back into the pillows.
She listened to the song playing now and recognized it as one of her father's favorites.
"This is a pretty song," she murmured. "You must like oldies."
"Oldies?" He sounded as if he had never heard of the term before.
"Yea. Old songs. From the 50's and 60's."
"Oh," he said. "I didn't realize. I suppose everything in that jukebox is old. My personal preference for music however, lies in compositions much older than these. Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart."
Catherine smiled slowly. "Classical? Really? That's what I listen to." She was pleased he was finally talking to her, even if it was just about music, but also disappointed that she did not have the energy to keep the conversation going now.
"I like its complexity," he explained, sounding happy himself to have found something he could talk to her about. "It's emotion. It can be powerful. It can be tender."
"Yes," Catherine sighed. "Beautiful. So beautiful."
Vincent took a deep breath. "Like love."
"Love," she echoed. He must be romantic, she thought before dozing off.
"I'm here, Catherine."
She turned her head in the direction of his voice. He must be across the room from the sound of it. She became vaguely aware that the bandages around her head had been changed. They felt fresher, drier. It must have been done while she slept.
"How long have I been sleeping?"
He was walking towards her now. "Quite awhile. But that's good. Your body's healing."
"Oh," she sighed and shifted slightly. "I feel like I've been strapped to a board for a week."
"You are badly bruised," he stated tonelessly.
Catherine swallowed hard. She had a sour taste in her mouth. All this because of mistaken identity. Someone had screwed up, and now she was left to pay the consequences.
As if sensing her darkening mood, Vincent came and sat on the edge of the bed.
"I know you're scared," he began. "You're confused. And angry. It's only...normal...to feel such things, after what happened to you."
Catherine couldn't remember ever feeling more terrified in all her life as when the door to that van slammed shut. She took a deep breath.
"I suppose I should be grateful. It could have been worse, right? Is that what you were going to say?"
He sighed heavily. "What you went through, was bad enough. The helplessness you felt, will leave you more scarred than your wounds. But within you is the ability to heal those scars. Don't let those feelings of helplessness drown you. Push yourself back to the surface. It will be hard at first, but you can do it."
Catherine turned her face away from him. He was right. She couldn't let her fear keep her from living her life day to day. She also knew she didn't want to ever feel that helpless, should she ever be in that kind of situation again.
"What makes you so wise?" she asked him in a barely audible voice. She was surprised that he actually had heard her and responded.
"Not so wise, as truthful," he told her. "It's much more difficult to put bad experiences and negative feelings behind you. They eclipse everything that's good and positive in your life so effectively, it seems as though they aren't even there anymore. But they are. You only need to look beyond the darkness to see the light."He began quoting or reading a poem to her. She couldn't tell which.
I bade good morrow,
And thought to leave her away behind;
But cheerly, cheerly,
She loves me dearly;
She is so constant to me, and so kind:
I would deceive her,
And so leave her,
But ah! she is so constant and so kind." ***
Catherine listened and smiled to herself, wondering again at the sort of man Vincent was. She liked him, she decided, and thought when this incident was finally behind her, if it ever could be truly behind her, she would like to be his friend. He was so different from every other man she had ever known and she needed someone like him in her life. Someone stable whom she could rely on and draw strength from. Especially now.
"Vincent," she began, reaching out and touching his arm. "You're very kind." She smiled at him, but he rose slowly, sliding out from under her hand. Catherine pulled the blankets up under her chin to give her suddenly empty hand something to do. "Where are you going?"
"You need to eat something," he was saying, his voice sounding like his back was to her. "Do you think you could manage some broth?"
"I am hungry," Catherine admitted. The last time she had eaten had been at the party and that was just an hors d'oeuvre. That might have been days ago. Hot broth sounded good and would help warm her up, she thought. Maybe it was because of her fever but there was an ever present chill in the air and she couldn't seem to get warm, despite the heavy quilts she had covering her. The air seemed too damp for the room to have central heating.
Catherine wondered if there was a fireplace somewhere. She could just make out the sound of a crackling fire, just beyond the foot of the bed. Then there was the faint smell of smoke and burning oil from a lit oil lamp.
She heard Vincent approaching and tried to sit up some. He helped her, arranging the pillows behind her to support her back.
"Better?" he inquired. Catherine nodded. She could smell the broth even before he handed the cup to her. It smelled delicious and she took a long, savoring drink and licked her lips.
"How do you like it?" Vincent asked. He seated himself in the chair alongside the bed.
"It's wonderful," Catherine told him. It certainly tasted better than any of the canned broth she was used to. "Did you make it?"
"No," he admitted. "I can't take credit for that. But I'll pass your compliments on to the one who did." He didn't elaborate on whom that might be. Catherine guessed it must be the doctor since he was apparently the only one around besides Vincent. She wondered if it had medicine in it like the tea.
Almost as if on cue, Catherine heard the rattle of a plastic pill bottle as the correct amount of pills were shook out and then the snap of the lid being replaced.
"Your medication," Vincent explained. "Hold out your hand."
Catherine did and felt him drop two pills into her palm. She swallowed them dutifully with a gulp of broth. "What were those pills for?"
"They are an antiboitic," he replied. "To prevent infection."
Catherine smiled weakly. "You know, that was funny, I was just thinking about medication and wondering if there was any in this broth like there was in the tea earlier. It was like you read my mind."
"There wasn't any medication in the tea," he informed her, ignoring her comment on mind reading. "I promise."
Catherine frowned. "But I got so sleepy--just after drinking it."
"You're injured and you have a fever. It's only natural for your body to crave sleep."
"I feel like I've slept for a week already."
"You have. More or less," Vincent said softly. "But everyday you get better. You just need time, Catherine. When your fever breaks, you'll feel even stronger. For now, you need to rest."
"Doctor's orders?" she questioned and finished off the last of the broth in the mug. She held up the empty cup, but Vincent didn't take it and she wondered if he had left suddenly and listened for some clue.
"Yes," he answered after awhile. He was still in the room, but away from the bed. He was whispering faintly to someone, but Catherine couldn't understand what they were talking about.
"Vincent?" Catherine said and held up the mug once more.
"Forgive me," he said and Catherine was promptly relieved of the mug. "Would you like more?"
"No, I'm fine," she told him and snuggled deeply under the blankets. "Who were you talking to?"
"My father. He wanted to know how you were doing."
"Why doesn't he talk to me?"
Vincent sighed. "He's very busy with other things and he trusts me to look after you and take care of you. If I need him, he's close by."
"Oh," she said quietly. She passed her hands over the cotton gown she wore, grateful for its soft thickness. She wondered just who's gown it was considering there were no women here. Maybe, at one time, there had been.
"Are you married, Vincent?"
He didn't answer at first, then simply said, "No."
"Were you married?"
Again, "No." Then: "Why do you ask?"
"The nightgown I'm wearing. I was wondering about it."
"Ah. It...belongs to a friend of mine," he explained. There was a long period of silence before either one spoke again.
"How is it, that someone like you hasn't been down the aisle yet?" Catherine gently teased, hoping to flatter him.
"How is it that someone like you hasn't?" he retorted, evading her question. His tone was unreadable, but Catherine knew he didn't sound flattered.
Catherine paused and took a deep breath. "I started to. But things just didn't work out."
Vincent seemed to be considering her admission. "Didn't you love him?"
"I thought I did," she said and swallowed uncomfortably. She added bitterly, "Now I guess I missed my chance."
"Why do you say that?"
Catherine could feel the sting of tears in her eyes suddenly. "I have an idea of what happened to me. You saw what they did. You shouldn't even have to ask that." Catherine knew Tom Gunther wasn't the sort of man to be seen with anyone he considered less than perfect. She already knew that relationship was over now, but the thought of that did not bother her as much as it should have. She knew things were strained between them even before all this. Now she was certain he would send her flowers and get well wishes, and move on to the next debutante in line for his attention. "No, I don't stand a chance now." Her voice cracked and she turned her face away from Vincent.
He sighed heavily and sat down beside the bed. "Do you think yourself somehow unworthy of being loved because of the way you now appear in the eyes of others?" Catherine didn't answer. "Has the marring of such fair features also marred the fair person beneath them?" He waited, then answered for her. "No. I know it hasn't and you know it in your heart. Any man worthy of such a heart as yours, would easily see the beauty within it."
"Right," Catherine said at last. "Beauty is only skin deep."
"You haven't lost your true beauty, Catherine. They didn't take that from you. But if you persist in believing they have, then they have succeeded in taking your spirit. Which is a much greater loss."
"Oh Vincent," Catherine whimpered. "How could you possibly understand?"
He leaned forward and placed his hand on her shoulder in a careful, but firm grasp. "I don't read minds Catherine, but I can read hearts and I understand much more, than you realize." He rose suddenly, brushing by the side of the bed and Catherine knew he had left the room.
What was that supposed to mean, Catherine thought angrily and shifted positions in the bed. She didn't want to talk anymore anyway even though she knew he was only being honest. But he didn't know her; he didn't know who Cathy Chandler really was. Cathy, the wealthy social butterfly, would be wallowing in self pity right about now. But Catherine felt ashamed of doing so. She didn't want Vincent to think she was shallow and superficial. She knew she never wanted to be seen that way again by anyone.
She woke with a start, perspiration soaking throught the heavy cotton gown she wore. The fear felt in her tormenting dreams lingered as her mind struggled to break through the thick murky haze of deep sleep. For a moment she forgot where she was until she heard the faint sound of tapping on metal that seemed to be the musical accompaniment of her time spent in this room.
She turned her head, straining to hear anything else. She wondered how long she had been sleeping. Her body felt so heavy and stiff, she thought perhaps she had been in the same position the entire time.
"Vincent?" She waited. "Vincent, are you there?" There was no answer and she realized she was alone. Was he still angry with her? Wasn't he coming back? She tried to sit up. Where was he? "Vincent, please," she called again weakly.
She began to panic. Why would he just go off and leave her like this? There was no way she could take care of herself yet. He knew that. A terrifying thought suddenly occured to her. What if those men who attacked her had found out about this place? Maybe they had discovered she was still alive and came back to finish the job. What if something had happened to Vincent? Maybe they already killed him. They could be here, waiting, plotting. She had to get out of here. Before she could stop herself, a scream tore from her with such intensity her whole body shook with raw emotion.
"Catherine!" Vincent's voice pierced through her screams. He swept into the room and was at the side of the bed in an instant.
Catherine felt a surge of relief upon hearing him, but burst into tears, releasing a torrent of emotions she could no longer keep inside her. It was painful to cry, but she couldn't seem to stop for pain's sake. She felt the bed move under Vincent's weight as he sat on the edge beside her. She clawed at the bandages covering her face, despising her forced blindness and wanting to be rid of them. It was with some surprise she felt Vincent's gloved hands encircle hers, lowering them slowly to her lap.
"No Catherine...don't cry. Please don't cry," he soothed. "What has frightened you so?" He began to stroke the length of her arm in an effort to calm her with his touch.
"I had a bad dream," Catherine struggled to explain. She fought hard to keep from crying. The pain was becoming unbearable. "Then when I woke up and I was alone..." She shivered, unable to voice her worse fear.
"I know, I'm sorry," he apologized with profound regret. "I was out and my father was called away. Neither one of us thought you would wake again so soon. If he would have known, he would have come to you in my absence."
"Wake so soon? I feel like I've been asleep for days."
"Only hours," he corrected. "But you slept deeply and your fever has broke. That's a very good sign."
Catherine took a deep pain wracked breath, releasing one last ragged sob, then sniffed loudly. She reached out for him, hoping to find his hand again and hold on to it for an added measure of comfort. When she found it, she was pleased that this time, he did not pull away, but took her hand in a secure grasp, lacing his long fingers through hers. Catherine adjusted her grip; her fingers crushing the ply of velvet. He is wearing velvet gloves, she thought. How strange. But how wonderful to be holding his hand finally. To connect with him in this small physical way was both comforting and distracting for her. Her fears had quickly faded because of the mere touch of his hand.
"Catherine," he began, his voice a whispered breath. He was leaning over her, his face seemed very close to her ear. "Do you trust me?"
Without having to take a moment to think about it, she nodded.
"Do you believe me?" he went on.
Again, she nodded.
Satisfied, he sat back. "No one will harm you here. There is no cause to fear. You are safe."
Catherine swallowed hard. His ever tender voice was nonetheless fierce with conviction. She sighed.
"I believe you."
Now he sighed, slowly, deeply. "Good." He gently pulled his hand from her grasp and Catherine reluctantly released him. He stood up.
"Are you leaving again?"
"No. I'll be right here with you, I promise."
Catherine could hear the rustle of his clothes, the muffled thud of something heavy being placed on a wooden table, and then the sound of liquid being poured into a glass.
"Is she all right?" came an unexpected second voice that Catherine recognized as the doctor, Vincent's father. She hadn't realized he had come into the room.
"Yes," Vincent answered. "Her fever has broke."
"Here. Give her two now and two more in four hours."
"Thank you, Father."
Catherine knew she would soon be getting more medicine and within seconds, Vincent was back at her bedside, lifting her hand and placing a small glass into it.
"Take these," he instructed. Catherine obediently held out her hand for the pills and swallowed them with the water he had given her. Then he took the glass and set it on the table.
She listened expectantly and was surprised to hear him yawn deeply. He sat down in the chair by the bed, turning it slightly for some reason, and sighed wearily. He must be exhausted playing nursemaid to me day and night, she thought. She waited for him to talk to her and when he didn't, she wondered if perhaps he had resigned himself to sleeping in the chair next to her so she wouldn't be afraid.
Finally she told him, "I'm feeling better now. You don't have to stay here if you don't want to."
He shifted, perhaps to face her. "Would you rather I go?"
"No," Catherine was quick to say. "But I don't want you to have to just sit there..."
"I wasn't. I was reading."
"But I don't want you to be uncomfortable."
He laughed lightly. "I'm not. I'm very comfortable here. This is my room."
Catherine hadn't even considered that. "This is your room? Your bed?" She couldn't help feeling like she was suddenly imposing on his hospitality and became uneasy.
"Yes," he answered simply.
"Well, where are you sleeping then?"
He took a deep breath. "Catherine...there's no need for you to worry about me."
Catherine shifted. "Why did you bring me here? Why didn't you take me to the hospital when you found me?"
"It was easier for me to bring you here, to my father," he answered truthfully. "I knew he could help you."
"Easier?" Catherine didn't understand. Certainly it would have been easier to just call an ambulance and be done with it. Why would anyone go to such lengths to take care of her personally? Even if there was a doctor in the family. Of course, she said to herself. They did know who she was after all. She was constantly in the social pages of the paper. Her father's firm was well known. They had helped her because they expected something monetary in return. A reward or compensation. Well, it was the least she and her father could do. But the idea that this was Vincent's motive for kindness just didn't sit well with her.
She sighed heavily. "I want you to know, I am very grateful for all you...and your father have done for me. I can assure you, you will be...compensated for your trouble."
There was a long moment of silence and everything was so still in the room, Catherine wondered if perhaps Vincent had gotten up and left. Finally he spoke and she was startled to find he was still right beside her.
"There's no need for you to feel obligated," he rumbled. His voice deeper and quieter. "I watch you getting stronger everyday and know you are healing under my care. That is compensation enough." He paused, then continued softly. "You would have died, had I not found you when I did. I have been able to give you back what others have sought to destroy. I was able to help. There is nothing material that you or anyone could offer me that could compare with how knowing that makes me feel."
Catherine was warmed and touched by his words. "Surely, there is something I can do for you?" She truly wanted to give him something now.
"Your conversation, your companionship, these past few days," he began somewhat falteringly. "Your trust in me has meant more to me than you could know."
Catherine swallowed uncomfortably. His silky voice betrayed an abiding loneliness and she couldn't help but feel a little compassionate for him.
"Rest now," he said suddenly, effectively turning the conversation in another direction. "Would you like me to read to you?"
Catherine sighed and nodded slowly. "That would be nice."
There was a brief pause, then he rose, walked a short distance, and came back to the bedside chair and sat down again.
"What would you like me to read to you? You have three titles to choose from. There's a rather ponderous textbook on social psychology, a compilation of poetry of Byron, Keats, and Shelley. And Great Expectations."
Catherine smiled slightly. "Whatever you are reading."
"This is what I'm reading, presently," he explained.
"At the same time?" Catherine was intrigued.
"Yes, well, I teach...literature. I read a great deal."
"I could start something else, if you don't find any of those books appealing," he offered.
"It's been a long time since I read Great Expectations. I wouldn't mind hearing that."
"A good choice," he said with a smile and settled back comfortably in his chair.
As he began to read, Catherine could feel herself being carried away with the sound of his exquisite voice. He read so beautifully and fluently, it was as though each paragraph had been memorized long ago and the words on the page only served as written cues. A deep peace settled over her that she had not felt in a long time. She knew as she drifted off to sleep her dreams would be of a different kind from now on.
This time, when Catherine woke, she was immediately aware of Vincent standing next to the bed.
"You need to walk," he announced. "I'll help you."
Catherine smiled to herself. He certainly wasn't the type to beat around the bush. She nodded and struggled to raise herself up on her elbows.
"Where are we going?" she inquired, still a little groggy.
"Just around the room. Nothing too strenuous at first."
Catherine felt his gloved hand slip into hers, his other hand moving behind her shoulders, urging her to sit up.
"Careful..." he advised.
Catherine tightened her grip on his hand and forced aching and protesting muscles to move. He shifted positions, moving to her right side. He took her hand and placed it around his waist on his lower back.
"Take hold of my belt," he went on. "Pull yourself up with it. I'll steady you."
Catherine's heart began beating wildly inside her and she knew it wasn't just from the exhertion. She carefully worked her fingers around the thick belt and tried not to think too much about where her hand was. He put his left hand between her shoulder blades and grasped her free hand with his right.
"Whenever you are ready."
Catherine pulled herself up as he advised, using him as leverage. She pulled so hard she was afraid she might topple him over, but he remained solidly rooted to the spot where he stood. All her weight against him did not seem to effect him at all.
"Good," he told her and straightened to his full height.
Catherine felt momentarily dizzy and still quite weak, but determined to walk now that she was up.
"All right. I'm ready," she said, trying not to rely on him too much. She took a bold step forward and sunk towards the floor. Her legs did not support her. Vincent's secure hold on her was the only thing that kept her from falling completely. She fought to get her legs back under her and paused, waiting until they stopped shaking before stepping out again.
"You can lean on me," he offered. "I can support you. I won't let you fall."
Hesitantly, Catherine wrapped her arm around his slender waist, shifting her weight into his side. She had been right all along, she mused. He was tall and strong. Just like she had imagined. His body felt like a wall of muscle against her own and the heat emanating from him made her want to draw into him even closer.
"Just take your time," Vincent said, putting Catherine's mind back on the task at hand.
"Okay," she said, resolved. "I can do this."
"I know you can," he responded. He squeezed her hand gently. She squeezed back.
Slowly, Catherine shuffled forward, her steps growing more sure as they progressed around the room.
"Easy," Vincent said slowly, drawing the word out from deep inside him.
It felt good to be walking, Catherine thought. Once she was balanced, she loosened her hold on his waist and tried to rely on him only to guide her.
"Wait," he said and stopped her abruptly. Catherine thought perhaps they had reached the bed again, but she felt him move sideways into her a little and then heard something on the floor sliding away from her. He must have moved it with his leg, because he still held onto her with his hands.
"What was that?" she asked for curiosity's sake. They started walking once more.
"A steamer trunk," he informed casually. "The corner was out too far. You might have bumped into it on your present course, so I moved it."
"You moved a steamer trunk with your foot?" Catherine said incredulously. It didn't sound to her as though he had particularly exherted himself.
He laughed gently. Catherine could feel it more than hear it. It made her smile.
It was strangely comforting to be close to him like this. To lean on him and feel his strong arms securely around her, supporting her every step. She wondered why she felt that way. Why she wasn't more leary of him. There was still so much about him she did not know, that he would not tell her. So much more to learn, she thought, even though little by little, he was opening up to her. Confiding in her as she confided in him. She would just have to wait to see how this story ended, because no matter how hard she tried she couldn't imagine an ending. All she knew was because of her time spent here with him, her life was never going to be the same again.
She took a deep breath and stopped walking. She felt tired, but pleased with her progress in more ways than one.
"Are we still in the same room?"
"Mmm hmm," he responded as if roused from some deep thought process. "We're half way around it." He paused, then said, "We can rest here, if you feel the need to."
She turned her head. "I am tired. I'm still feeling a little shaky."
"It's understandable. Don't be disheartened though. You're getting stronger. I can feel it." He sighed softly. "Before you realize, you'll be ready to go back home."
"Home," she echoed tonelessly. She was surprised she hadn't given more thought to 'home' since she had been here. She wondered if her father even noticed she hadn't been around lately. They rarely ever saw much of each other despite working in the same firm. She thought about Tom. He'd probably assumed she was off sulking somewhere. She would most likely be in for a stern lecture about responsibility from both of them. She sighed heavily.
"What troubles you so?" Vincent asked quietly, not wanting to intrude.
Catherine swallowed hard. "My life. Or rather my lack of life. There's no point to anything I do. Or who I am. It's completely meaningless. And motivated by all the wrong reasons."
Vincent took a long measured breath. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I'm going to change it. I want to be more like you. I want to do things because they are the right thing to do. Not because this corporation has more money to hire out than that one. I want to help people out of compassion, not duty. Be strong for them. Encourage them to better themselves." She paused and inhaled sharply. "When I think of all the time and money that was invested into making Catherine Chandler who she was, I want to be sick. If you really knew who I was before, you would have probably left me right where you found me. You would have just stepped over me and thought, 'No great loss there.' "
Vincent released her suddenly. "Catherine," he seemed to growl her name. "How could you think such things?"
"A lot of people would think them as well, Vincent. It's true. That's the type of person I am. Weak, superficial, and pointless."
"That's not the Catherine I've come to know," he gently admonished. "Look into your heart. Find the woman you really are. The woman you can be. You have the conviction. You have the courage. Just follow your heart. It will lead you to where you are."
Catherine's bottom lip trembled. Tears stung her eyes. She drew in a ragged breath and began to cry. She stepped forward and wrapped both arms around Vincent, burying her face against his chest. Slowly, tentatively, he folded his arms around her and began rocking her gently, murmuring soothing words in her ear.
"Oh Vincent...I don't know what I would have done these past few days without you," she sniffed. "You've been more than a friend. Thank you. Thank you for everything."
She rubbed her hands over his back and felt him tremble slightly. He stepped back from her and took her small hand in his.
"Come. It's not much further. You need to rest."
They finished their walk in silence and Catherine was grateful when they reached the bed. She felt drained. Vincent pulled the blankets over her and carefully seated himself beside her.
"Are you hungry?" he asked after awhile. "I could bring you some soup. Then, afterwards, I could read to you again, if you would like."
Catherine nodded. She felt his hand rest lightly on her arm.
"Good. I'll be right back." He rose from the bed.
Catherine moistened her lips. "I've never known anyone like you. I've never had anybody believe in me the way you do."
He didn't reply. He simply stood motionless at the side of the bed for a minute or two, then turned and walked quietly out of the room.
*Lyrics from "I Wished On the Moon" written by Parker, Rainger
**Lyrics from "When I Fall In Love" written by Young, Heymen
***Excerpt from "Endymion Book IV" written by John Keats