When fall comes to New England
The frost is on the vine
And winter warnings race across the sky
The squirrels are on to something
And they're working overtime
The foxes blink and stare and so do I
'Cause when fall comes to New England
Oh I can't turn away
From fading light on flying wings
And late good-byes a robin sings
And then another thousand things
When fall comes to New England
--”When Fall Comes to New England,” by Cheryl Wheeler, as performed by Three Weird Sisters
“What's that, Vincent?” Catherine asked. They were in his chamber on a lazy Saturday with nothing but lots of time and the joy of being together stretching before them. Catherine was halfheartedly trying to tinker with the conclusion of a motion she was writing for court on Monday and Vincent was, somewhat more intently, trying to decipher young Geoffrey's idea of a term paper.
Vincent turned the package over in his hand. A bemused helper had delivered it just a few hours before, remarking on the odd return address. Odder still was that Vincent never got mail, unless it was from Catherine or Laura, and he certainly never got mail from someone calling himself “Jeff Radler, Etc.”
“Devin sent this,” Vincent said.
“Devin?” Catherine asked. “Are you sure it's not going to explode?”
Vincent's blue eyes danced in the candlelight. “Very sure. I didn't drop it, just to make sure.”
They both laughed. While they knew that Vincent's brother wouldn't send anything remotely harmful through the mail, he was unpredictable too. “Aren't you going to open it?” Catherine asked.
Vincent opened the flap of the padded envelope with one sharp claw. Abandoning her legal pads and books, Catherine scooted closer to see what it was. The contents of the envelope fell on the bed: a thick highway map, a set of keys, a gas card, a phone card and a short note:
Vincent and Catherine-
Someone told me that New England is best in the fall.
The keys belong to a van parked at Mr. Ang's Grocery. (Don't worry. He knows you're borrowing it.) I've added enough supplies in this envelope to get you up there and back. Chandler, it's up to you to get to your location.---your father's summer place, right?
It's in your hands now. Take a chance on this. Fuzz, don't you dare give in, not this time.
PS: Charles says hello.
“I don't believe it,” Catherine said.
“Nor I,” Vincent said, wondering who, precisely, had told Devin of their abortive trip to Connecticut two years earlier. So far as he knew, Devin wasn't in regular contact with any of the tunnel dwellers save for Father and himself, and Father wouldn't have mentioned it either. “It's strange. And mysterious. And so very like Devin.”
Catherine chuckled. “You're certainly right about that.” She looked at the objects on the bed, so innocent, so full of potential. “What do you think?”
“I promised you once,” Vincent replied, “that a sonnet would not always have to suffice. I don't know what prompted this package from Devin, but it seems like we've been given a second chance to make this trip happen. I don't want to waste it.”
Catherine stared at him in shock. Their relationship had advanced light-years since his illness the previous summer, but it was always slow, always cautious. Was this her Vincent talking, the one who'd waited almost two years before finally kissing her? He tilted his head and smiled at her reaction. “We cannot live on sonnets alone, Catherine.”
The breath was nearly driven from his lungs as she vaulted across the bed and kissed him hard. “I love you,” she breathed against him.
“I love you too,” Vincent replied, nuzzling against her neck and inhaling the scent of her briefly before releasing her.
Catherine looked at the objects again. “I can’t go this weekend, Vincent, not with the sentencing hearing on Monday. Next weekend?”
Vincent thought it over. So far as he knew, there were no repairs scheduled until the end of the month, no large projects which would require his skills. “A week should be fine, long enough for me to...prepare.”
Catherine chuckled. “You mean, for you to tell Father what Devin's been up to, for Father to storm around the chamber for a bit, and for him to get used to the idea after all?”
Vincent laughed his breathy laugh. “Most likely, yes.”
She leaned towards him again, and relaxed as his arm encircled her, drawing her close. “I love Saturdays,” she said.
Vincent nuzzled the top of her head, feeling her sunlight open the dark places in his life. “I agree,” he murmured.
The first thing Catherine did when she returned to her apartment that evening was to go digging through her address book for Devin's pager number. She wanted to ask him who'd told him about the failed Connecticut trip, but mostly she wanted to thank him. After all this time, he's still trying to make Vincent's dreams of travel come true.
She finally found the number stuck in the back of her address book with the cryptic notation of “J.R.” Ever since Vincent and his world had come into her life, she'd gotten paranoid about leaving too much in her apartment that could be easily connected to them. After dialing his number into the phone, she reheated some soup from yesterday's lunch with Jenny, and waited for the phone to ring.
About an hour later, it did. “Hi, Chandler,” Devin said.
“Wait, you know my number?” she asked.
Devin laughed. “Of course. How else was I supposed to get in touch with my brother without going through the Old Man?”
“True enough,” Catherine replied. “Devin, about this trip---”
The amusement left his voice. “Who interfered this time? The Old Man?”
Catherine grinned, realizing they were crossing wires. “No, Devin. We're going. I just wanted to say thank you and---”
“And ask who I talked to?” Devin responded wryly.
“Well, that too,” she said.
“I'm not telling. Because whoever it is doesn't want to get in trouble with the Old Man, and I can understand that. I'm glad you're going, but I'm not going to tell you my source.” He paused. “Chandler, will you do something for me when you come back?”
“Sure, Devin. What?”
“Tell me how it was for him. I don't need details,” he laughed, and Catherine blushed, grateful that Devin couldn't see her, “but I always wanted him to see the leaves in fall. I can't take him now, but you can. So call me and tell me about it when you get back, okay?”
Catherine thought of all the tales Devin had told Vincent as they grew up, tales of a world no one believed Vincent would ever see. “I will,” she whispered, touched by his generosity. “You better believe I will.”
“Hey, I have to go now, Chandler,” Devin said. “But take care, okay. And enjoy.”
“We will,” she promised. “We will.”
Her next call was to the Palmer's, long-time friends of the family who owned a cabin five miles away. In the past, they'd come in and turn on the electricity and restock the pantry before Catherine and her family arrived. “Why, hello there, Cathy!” Gertrude Palmer said. “It's so nice to hear from you.” There was a pause, then: “We're both so sorry to hear about your dad. We wanted to make it to the funeral but Matt was in the hospital that week.”
“Thank you, Gertrude, that means a lot. Matt's okay, though?” Catherine asked, remembering Matt Palmer as a giant bear of a man who didn't seem like he'd ever be felled by something as mundane as illness.
“Oh, yes,” Gertrude said, laughing. “Up and about and raising hell as usual. It was just appendicitis, nothing serious, thankfully.”
“That's good,” Catherine replied. “Say, Gertrude, a...friend of mine and I are coming up to the cabin next weekend. Would you and Matt mind getting the cabin ready?”
“Sure, honey,” Gertrude said. “A 'friend,' huh? You never brought any of your other 'friends' up here.” The woman's voice was teasing and Catherine was reminded that Gertrude had known their family since Catherine herself was a teenager.
“Well, there's friends, and then there's friends, Gertrude,” Catherine said lightly. “He's never been up to Connecticut before and I wanted to show him what fall was like.”
“Oh, he'll just love it. Sure, we'll get the cabin ready. Anything particular you want in the pantry? Chocolate, oysters...?”
“Gertrude!” Catherine laughed.
She could hear Gertrude's wide grin over the phone. “Just checking. Oh, by the way---you'll have the lake pretty much to yourselves this year.”
“Why is that?” Catherine asked.
“One of the main access roads is closed for resurfacing, though why they'd choose to do that now is beyond me. Anyway, most of the cabins aren't being rented out, so it's just those of us who own who'll be here. You'll have to bring your...friend by to meet us.”
“We'll see, Gertrude. He's...pretty quiet.” Catherine thought of all the euphemisms she'd used over the years to keep Vincent a secret from her curious friends. Jenny was a helper now, but even before Jenny had been brought into the secret, Catherine knew she hadn't really fooled her friend. Small wonder if she wasn't really fooling Gertrude either.
“Oh, a quiet type, eh? Well, bring him up here and Matt and I will be here. See you next weekend, Cathy.”
“Take care, Gertrude. And thanks.”
Catherine hung up the phone, grinning. Next weekend was going to be so much fun.
Click here for Chapter Two....