by Deborah Shanks
Catherine hurried down the ladder, wondering why Vincent wanted to see her. Not that she minded coming down to see him, but due to her busy schedule these past weeks, they had decided not to see each other until the weekend. Please, Catherine sent up a silent plea, don't let this be a cancellation of our weekend plans!
Geoffrey was waiting for her just inside the tunnel entrance.
"Hello, Geoffrey. Did Vincent ask you to wait for me? I had to stay late at the office, and I just found the note when I walked in my door. I hope you didn't have to wait very long," Catherine smiled down at the quiet boy in front of her. "Where is Vincent? Do you have a message for me?"
"No . . . no message" he whispered, then looked down at his feet and took a deep breath.
"Vincent doesn't know you're here. I'm the one . . . I need to talk to you," he said in a rush and looked up at her face. "Are you mad at me, Catherine?"
An audible sigh of disappointment escaped Catherine's lips, followed by a puzzled frown.
"Of course not, Geoffrey, I'm glad you trust me enough to want to talk to me. So tell me, what's on your mind?"
"Don't you like Vincent any more?"
Catherine was stunned. "Of course, I still like Vincent. How can you ask such a thing?"
Confusion evident in her expression and her voice, Catherine continued in a softer tone. "Whatever made you think I didn't like him, Geoffrey?"
"How come Vincent doesn't go above to see you any more then? He's been down here almost every night for the last two weeks!"
Catherine was perplexed at Geoffrey's tone of voice. It almost sounded as if he didn't want Vincent around. "Nothing is wrong. I've been working on a very important case, and I just haven't had a lot of free time, Geoffrey . . . "
"Couldn't you think of something to keep him busy? Just for a couple of nights? She's spent the last five nights with him." The boy kicked a pebble several yards down the tunnel. "She sits there staring at him all goofy-eyed." Geoffrey frowned and continued to take his frustrations out on the pebbles.
Catherine took off her coat; she was still dressed for work, having only changed her shoes before heading Below. Spreading the coat on the tunnel floor, she settled down to listen, "Now Geoffrey, let's talk. Start at the beginning."
Vincent was bewildered. Catherine looked angry and was busy tapping her foot in what seemed impatience, yet he felt no hint of anger through their Bond. In fact, Catherine seemed to be blocking off her feelings.
"Catherine, is something wrong?" Vincent inquired, as he put aside the book he held
and rose from his bed.
Never taking her eyes off the girl sitting at Vincent's feet, Catherine waited almost a full minute before she spoke. "We need to talk, Vincent," she said in a serious tone of voice, without once looking at him.
Vincent's guest stood up and started gathering her things, including the book he had just put down. As she edged toward the entrance of his chamber, she kept up a running commentary, "Well, I'll leave you two to your talk. Vincent was just reading . . . ah, helping me rehearse my . . . ah, memorize my lines for a play we're putting on." Holding up the book for Catherine to see as she passed her, she continued. "It's Romeo and Juliet and I'm going to be Juliet!" Catherine's unflinching gaze was making Samantha nervous. "Thank you, Vincent. Goodnight, Catherine," she called, as she rushed out of his chamber.
"Catherine, what . . ." Vincent stopped as Catherine placed one finger against his unique lips to silence him.
Eyes sparkling with merriment, Catherine went to the chamber entrance and very carefully peeked out the way Samantha had just vanished. When she looked back at Vincent, she motioned for him to come closer.
Vincent stood near the entrance, listening, perplexed. Even though Geoffrey and Samantha were talking farther down the passageway, he heard them clearly.
Samantha was saying, ". . . and I really need more work on my lines. Catherine must have finished the case that Vincent said was so important."
"Vincent must really be happy! You know how much he's been missing their time together," Geoffrey replied.
"He has really enjoyed our rehearsals. I don't think . . ."
"Oh yeah, your rehearsal. I guess I could go over your lines with you, for a little while."
Geoffrey smiled sweetly and continued, "Since Vincent is busy with Catherine."
Samantha paused for a minute. "Would you, really? It's getting kind of late."
'"I'm not tired. I was planning on raiding the pantry and going to the Mirror Pool after I deliver this message for Father."
"Well, why don't I meet you there? I can stop off and get us a fire built, while you get the food," Samantha offered.
"Great! See you there." Geoffrey headed straight for Vincent's chamber, as Samantha disappeared around a bend in the tunnel.
Vincent stepped back barely in time as the boy exploded into his chamber. Without even a nod to acknowledge him, Geoffrey ran straight to Catherine. "It really worked! She's going to meet me at the Mirror Pool. Thanks a lot, Catherine. You're the greatest!" He turned to dash out again. At the entrance way he stopped and asked, "You won't forget will you?"
"No, I know exactly what to do." Catherine glanced over at Vincent. "Trust me." Not looking away, she spoke to the boy again, "Now get the basket we packed and go meet Samantha."
A single word, "Bye," and Vincent and Catherine were alone.
Vincent almost lost himself in the green eyes watching him before he spoke. "Trust you?" He tilted his head and asked, "Can I trust you for an explanation?"
Smiling Catherine went to him. "Oh, yes, at the very least." Taking him by the arm, she led him to his bed, "You had better be sitting for this one." Once he was sitting, she took a pillow off the bed and settled down on the floor at his feet.
"It all started when I found a note under my door asking me to come Below. I must admit to being disappointed when I found it was from Geoffrey, not you. I think I went into mild shock when he asked his first question." Catherine paused, a small smile on her lips.
"What was his question?" Vincent prompted.
"He asked 'Why don't you like Vincent any more?'" Catherine said quietly. "Why would Geoffrey ask you . . . ?"
"Wait, Vincent," Catherine interrupted. A smile was on her lips and her eyes sparkled, "You have to hear the rest of this tale!"
" . . . I told Geoffrey if he waited outside your chamber Samantha would be leaving shortly after I entered. End of story. Any questions?" Catherine asked as she finished.
Vincent shook his head, the suggestion of a smile showing at the comers of his mouth. "Why did Geoffrey go to you? I don't understand, Catherine. If he wanted to see Samantha, all he had to do was ask her. I am sure she . . ."
Catherine was amazed. How could someone as empathic as he was be so totally blind in some areas? "Vincent," she interrupted him, changing to the position Samantha was sitting in when Catherine has arrived. Then she tilted her head to gaze up adoringly at Vincent with Samantha's same wide-eyed dreamy look. "I seriously doubt if Geoffrey came in here and asked to take over for you he would get any further with me than he would with Samantha." Catherine continued in a husky whisper, "You are a hard act to follow, and you completely outclass Geoffrey, my love."
Seeing Catherine imitating Samantha's expression, the light suddenly dawned for Vincent. He thought back over the last two weeks, only now realizing how often Samantha had "happened" to be in his vicinity.
Catherine watched Vincent as a very distinctive blush rose becomingly under his gold-tinted fur. Knowing he had honestly had no idea of the devastating effect he presented to any female did not stop a quick stab of jealous possessiveness from hitting Catherine with full force.
As Vincent felt Catherine's reaction through their Bond, it shocked him out of his embarrassment. "Catherine! You cannot be jealous of Samantha."
"I am jealous of every female living down here. They get to see you anytime: day or night," Catherine spoke in a subdued tone of voice. Then, with a twinkle coming back to her eyes, she continued. "The hard part is knowing that every female down here has been, is, or will be in love with you at some point. Perhaps, I should hire Geoffrey to look out for my interests on a permanent basis." Catherine laughed. "Maybe I should get a supply of baseball bats."
The picture of Catherine chasing Samantha with a bat in hand left Catherine holding her sides and even got a few chuckles out of Vincent.
"I am sorry Geoffrey bothered you with this, Catherine. I have felt your weariness these last few days. You need your rest." Vincent sighed, "I suppose I shall have to try to talk to Samantha about this situation. How could this happen?"
"Vincent, there is nothing logical, nothing so overpowering as a young girl's first crush. I'm only surprised it hasn't happened more frequently. Give Samantha a few days before you talk to her. Maybe it won't even be necessary if we handle the next few days correctly."
"You have something in mind, Catherine?" Vincent asked.
"I just think we should remove the temptation from Samantha's reach. Besides, I promised Geoffrey I would think of something to keep you too busy to have any time for the young lady." She smiled mischievously, "I guess you will just have to come up to my place every evening, just to help Geoffrey out."
"What about your case, Catherine? I know you're working late every evening. That is the only reason we agreed to wait until this weekend," Vincent reminded her gently.
"I know, Vincent, but I think we can work it out. Right now, most of my work is searching for bits and pieces of information through several cartons of back files." Catherine lowered her eyes before she continued, "I was thinking I could bring some of the files and work at home in the evenings. If you helped me, I might even get enough done to ask Joe to free me a few hours early Friday"
"Of course, Catherine, I would be honored to help you, in any way. I will see you tomorrow night at nine." Vincent sat up. "You are tired. I should take you home."
"Trying to get rid of me already? Then Samantha would come wandering by, accidentally on purpose, and we would be back at square one." Catherine rose to her knees in front of Vincent and smiled. "I think not. I promised Geoffrey I would keep you busy, and I have thought of something to do just that." Catherine moved closer, until she was directly in front of Vincent. "Do you remember when I came Below after my father died?
"Indeed I do, Catherine." A look of puzzlement appeared to trouble his features.
"Do you remember when I decided to return Above?"
"Yes, I do, Catherine." Vincent's answer was slightly choked.
"And do you recall when I thanked you?" Catherine's voice had softened to the texture of velvet.
"I do, Catherine. It is imprinted in my heart, forever." Vincent's voice was a hoarse, husky whisper.
"Well, I did promise to think of something to keep you occupied tonight, and I think I have the perfect idea to keep your attention engaged. I realized the vast amount of services you have done for me, and I have never even thanked you for any of them." Catherine placed her hands on the bed on either side of Vincent, leaned forward and kissed the soft down on his left cheek. "Thank you for saving my life." She tilted her head and kissed him on his right cheek. "Thank you for giving Eric and Ellie a home." Catherine took Vincent's head between her hands. She felt him start to tremble at her touch and saw him close his eyes as she angled his head down. Gently she kissed each eyelid. "Thank you for our concerts in the rain."
Vincent was lost in a torrent of emotions. A delightful fresh frontier of unexplored sensations cascaded through him. The entire world dissolved around him and crystalized itself into the touch of Catherine's lips on his face. He was unable to think clearly, to speak, or even to move for a time which seemed to his heightened senses an eternity. Each contact melted, changing into superheated steam searing his heart. He started to quiver and closed his eyes.
Catherine shivered, her breathing turning to deep gasps, while a deluge of emotions engulfed her through their special bond. A small sound of surprise escaped from her.
Vincent's head jerked up. Two anguished blue eyes locked with two shocked green eyes. Time froze, while he struggled to force air into lungs which had forgotten how to work. "Catherine," he whispered. Vincent carefully grasped Catherine's hands, pulling them away from his face and then releasing them. "Catherine," he tried again in a stronger tone of voice. "It is late." Even though the tone was formal, his eyes and heart pleaded for her understanding.
Catherine was still amazed at the intensity and clarity of their bond. She had not only experienced the kisses from her side, but also Vincent's reactions to them. Although her heart was overflowing, she smiled and answered Vincent's silent plea with a question. "Would you walk me home?"
Except for the one time when Vincent had helped Catherine to her feet, they did not touch at all on the walk to her basement entrance way. They were silent for the first half of the walk. Finally, they started talking. Catching up on what each other had been up to in the last two weeks. All too soon, they reached Catherine's building. No word was spoken of what had transpired between them.
"You must be tired, Catherine."
"Not really. However, I doubt I will feel the same when my alarm rings at 5:45 in the . . . " Catherine paused, looking down at her wrist watch, "this morning."
Vincent opened his arms and embraced her. "Good night, Catherine. Sleep well."
"Goodnight, Vincent." Catherine raised her head from his shoulder, looking into his eyes.
"Will you come to see me tonight?"
"Certainly. You did make a promise. And we must not disappoint Geoffrey."
Catherine stepped back and started for the ladder. As she reached it she turned and called, "Vincent. Pleasant dreams."
Vincent called to her when she set foot on the third rung of the ladder. "Catherine, wait." He came forward, arriving at the base as Catherine stepped down. She turned to find him directly in front of her. Catherine's back was against the ladder, and she tilted her head back to ask Vincent a question, but what she saw in his face made her heart pound in her chest. Vincent's unique mouth descended over her half-opened lips. It was not a passionate kiss; it was much more a sharing of trust . . . a promise of their future . . . an acceptance of two bonded hearts. It was a beginning. It lasted a minute&endash;and forever&endash;and ended when Catherine's knees buckled. Vincent caught and held her until she grabbed the ladder for support.
Vincent was astounded at Catherine's response to his kiss. Their bond assured him he had caused her no pain. A delighted smile lit his face, as he whispered, "Thank you, Catherine, for helping Geoffrey." When he finished speaking, Vincent spun around and disappeared into the tunnels.
Catherine held onto the ladder and sank to the floor. After a minute, a soft "Wow!" escaped her still parted lips.