An hour, seven splinters and half a tube of antibiotic ointment later, Vincent was able to gingerly put on his pants and walk downstairs for his second cup of coffee. Catherine had put away the first aid supplies and was in the middle of pouring her own cup when the phone rang. Vincent sensed her alarm quite clearly through the bond as she picked up the phone. “Oh, hi, Father,” she said and Vincent's eyes widened. Father? Calling them here?
“Oh, I'm so sorry, Father. We'd have gotten a message to you sooner but we had some mishaps on the way up; we just got here yesterday. No, nothing serious....I don't know when we'll be back, actually---the van is at the shop. Yes, we hit a deer. Or the deer hit us. But the front end is damaged, regardless. I'm going to call Mr. Ang this afternoon and let him know what's going on once I hear from the mechanic. Vincent? He's right here drinking his coffee. Do you want to talk to him?”
Catherine handed him the phone. Vincent picked it up. “Hello, Father.”
“Vincent,” Father's voice said. “Catherine tells me you've been having some adventures.”
Absently, he rubbed his backside, which was throbbing lightly. “That's one way of putting it, yes.”
Surprisingly, Father chuckled. “Was it still worth it?”
“Oh, yes, Father,” Vincent replied. “I've seen the sunrise and the colors of the leaves and a thunderstorm and...” seen the green passion in Catherine's eyes, felt the feel of her body surrounding mine, smelled the scent of her arousal...”and it's almost too much to describe.”
Vincent thought Father was smiling, but couldn't be sure over the miles separating them. “I'm glad, Vincent. I used to fear the day you'd decide that our world was not enough for you and want to see all the colors you'd only seen in books.”
“And are you still worried, Father?” Vincent asked.
There was a pause, then, “Yes, and no. It's a parent's prerogative to worry. But I know you're in good hands.”
Vincent smothered a chuckle at how literally true that had been, just hours before. “Yes, Father. I am, indeed.”
Catherine had called the mechanic and left a message, then called Mr. Ang to let him know about the damage to his van. When she hung up the phone, she turned to Vincent. “What would you like to do today?”
“Something that doesn't involve sitting,” Vincent said. “I think it's clear enough for a walk.”
“It is, but your cloak isn't even close to being dry.”
Vincent laughed. “Catherine, if there's one thing we learn in the tunnels, it's how to dress in layers.”
The storm had cleared the sky somewhat; but the leaves and the bark of the trees were still damp with rain and cold to the touch. She looked over at Vincent, who was totally absorbed by the woods and the lake around them. His hand completely covered hers as they walked and she could feel the faint hammering of his pulse through the contact.
“What are you thinking?” she asked, as a rain-drenched crow alighted on the trees, scattering raindrops around them.
He glanced up at the sky, at the clouds gathering in the far distance, at the lake so near to them. “I feel as if I am walking in a dream,” Vincent said, “but then I realize my eyes are open. And I never dreamed something this beautiful.” They walked under a narrow copse of trees, and a sudden gust of wind blew a layer of sodden leaves around them. A few landed on Vincent's mane and one slid down his face to land gently in his hand. The leaf was crimson, startling among the golden tones of his skin. Catherine smiled. “Keep that one, love. I have an idea.”
Vincent looked at her, bemused, from under his ragged bangs, but did as she wished. Soon they had a whole collection—red, gold, brown, even a few last lingering green ones. “What are we going to do with them?” Vincent finally asked.
Catherine grinned. “You know what they say about curiosity, Vincent,” she teased. “You'll see.”
They walked in companionable silence for a few minutes. Catherine glanced over to look at Vincent's face; the wind blew his mane behind him in long copper strands. “What does this place feel like to you?” she asked.
His eyes, wide and blue in the autumn sunlight, met hers. “Freedom,” Vincent said.
They returned to the house just as the evening chill was beginning to set in. After they ate a late lunch and cleared the dishes away, Catherine gathered the leaves from where Vincent had placed them on the counter. “What are you going to do with them?” he asked. Through the bond, he sensed nothing but excitement and joy.
Her face revealed nothing as she led him into the library, which was nearly dark now that the sun was setting. “There should be some stick pins in the cabinet there by the lamp," Catherine said.
Vincent pulled at the reluctant top drawer, and turning, held up a cardboard box. He gave it a little shake. "Are these the ones?"
She nodded. “We're going to pin these leaves on the curtains. Tomorrow morning, you won't believe what they'll look like.”
“You've done this before?” Vincent asked, handing the first leaf to her.
“Yes,” Catherine said. “This cottage was my grandmother's house; when we came to visit her in the fall, she'd always have me do this.”
“What was she like?” He'd heard so little in the way of family reminiscences from Catherine, aside from her stories of her mother and father.
Her mouth quirked as she pinned the first leaf to the curtain. “Like Father, only crustier.”
He chuckled, a raspy laugh that stirred the edges of the leaves. “I find that hard to picture.”
“Believe it,” Catherine said, pinning the second leaf on the diagonal from the first. “She was old money and quite proud. And fierce too; she'd take anyone on over a principle. I can still hear her arguing with my father.”
“Over what?” Vincent picked up another leaf, a green one just turning auburn, and handing it to her.
“She wanted to be a lawyer, you see,” Catherine replied. “But women just didn't do those things when she was a girl. So when my mother---her daughter---married a lawyer, she would debate him endlessly over dinner.” She laughed. “Poor Dad. He thought he was getting a vacation, coming up here.” Catherine's eyes danced merrily. “Grandmother didn't like to lose.”
Remembering how fierce Catherine had been in their relationship, how often she'd fought Father, her own fears, and himself to keep their dreams alive, Vincent thought her grandmother would be proud. “What of your grandfather?”
“He died quite young,” Catherine responded, pinning another leaf to the curtain. “My mother was seven and her sister---my Aunt Jane---was 14.”
“I didn't know you had an aunt,” Vincent said.
“I never told you about Aunt Jane?” Catherine asked.
Vincent shook his head. “She's a college professor in England,” Catherine said. “And she also got a good dose of the family crusty genes. Every few months I get a call from her asking when I'm going to settle down. Dad used to say she had a one-track steamroller. They never did get along.”
Vincent tensed slightly, feeling the ghosts of ancient fears rising within him like a far distant storm. “And what do you tell her?” he asked, hoping his voice sounded calmer than he felt.
Catherine placed the leaf she'd been about to pin to the curtain on a side table instead. She turned to him and placed one small hand on the side of his face. “Vincent, what I tell her is the truth. I'm happy and content in the life I've chosen.”
It was true, it had always been true; he could feel that through their bond. Whatever obstacles they'd conquered to come to this place in their relationship, he did neither of them a favor by holding on to the shadows of old pain. “I'm sorry,” he said softly, turning his mouth to the palm of her hand and pressing a quick kiss there.
“Don't be,” Catherine smiled. “I did enough questioning for both of us, as you well remember. But all the Aunt Janes in the world can't change what I feel for you. You need to trust that.”
He smelled the rain-fresh scent of her hair and it was a balm to his worries and his fears. Vincent touched the raw silk of her hair and kissed her gently. “I do."
Click here for Chapter Ten....