Vincent was still sleeping the next morning when Catherine awoke. His headache had faded somewhere around midnight, but his sleep was restless. She pulled the quilt up over his bare shoulders and padded from the room.
It was beginning to get warm in the kitchen. Indian summer, Catherine thought. She poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the oak table. A vague sense of unease prickled. Closing her eyes, she could see the morning chaos of her office, hear the chattering of co-workers as they staggered in from the weekend, see the files on their desk, smell the burned coffee and Joe's chocolate cheese nuggets. This was the world that awaited her when they returned, as they must. Cath, her inner Jenny chided. You're doing it again.
Overanalyzing. Be honest. What are you really worried about? And it's not your work. You know as soon as Joe hears from you that he'll understand. So, be honest with yourself. What is it?
She opened her eyes, watched as a couple of winter-hungry crows fought over an incautious earthworm. I worry that when we get back, all of this will have been a pleasant dream...but nothing will really have changed. Catherine snorted into her coffee. I'm being foolish.
Perhaps, her inner Jenny piped up. But what do you think will happen? That Vincent, of all people, will want to go back to how things were between you?
No. I don't think that.
Yes, you do.
Catherine sighed. Her conversations with her inner Jenny were turning out to be just as provoking as her conversations with the real Jenny often were. All right. Father's been telling him for years that our dreams are impossible. When we go back to our separate worlds, what then?
That's not the real question, Cath. The real question is: what do you want to happen?
I'm tired of seizing moments out of every day and pretending it's enough. It's not. It's not nearly enough. But at the same time, I'm not ready to move below full-time. Maybe I never will be. I don't know how to make this work.
Well, it isn't just you who has to find a way to make this work. Vincent has to want it too, and I'd say he's pretty committed to the idea. When he wakes up---why don't you just ask him?
“That's an excellent idea,” Vincent's voice, rougher with sleep, murmured. He walked into the kitchen and sat beside her.
The sight of him, dressed in a pair of old, worn sweatpants and with his hair sticking up in all directions, brought a smile to her face. “I don't think I'll ever get used to you doing that,” Catherine said.
In the sunlight, his mane seemed haloed with fire. “Doing what?” he asked, gathering her close.
Catherine leaned up against his solid warmth. “Hearing my thoughts so clearly. Could you do that...before?”
His voice vibrated against her chest as he spoke. “Before my illness? No. But our bond is changing.” He tilted his head to look at her, that azure gaze that had calmed so many, many storms in her soul. “What worries you so?”
“What's going to happen to us when we leave here, Vincent?” Catherine's gesture took in the kitchen, the house, and the forest beyond. “As lovely as this is, as happy as we've been here, this isn't the real world. The real world is files that get lost and witnesses who disappear and hearings that get continued for the millionth time and pantyhose that run just as I'm leaving for work---”
“And pipes that rupture and classes that have to be taught and bridges to repair and chambers to carve out and children who need soothing,” Vincent finished. Gently, he turned her to face him. “Catherine, those are parts of our real life, yes. But do you think I could forget this, forget us?”
“It's one thing I'm afraid of, yes,” Catherine said, not wanting to hurt him but knowing the words had to be said. “Vincent, I don't want to go back to the way things were. But it would be the easier path. This journey we're on....I don't know how we're going to go forward.” She ran her hands through his dense, wavy hair, something she knew he found soothing. “But what I'm most afraid of is not seeing you every day. I'm tired of the few stolen moments we do get, because they're not long enough.”
His eyes crinkled as he smiled at her. “And are you sure you see no way around this?”
Surely he couldn't be...could he? Their bond was dancing thread of joy, but she couldn't make out anything else. “Vincent, what are you trying to say?”
“You wish me to make things clearer? Very well.” He took her face between his hands and she stared up into the shimmering blue of his eyes, unable to look away. “I want to wake with you in the morning and welcome you home to our chamber at night. I am tired of days and nights spent without you. I don't want the easier path. I want you. Catherine, I love you. I want to marry you.”
The hug she gave him nearly knocked them both off the narrow seat. And when she tilted her head up to kiss him, she found that they were both crying.
Breakfast turned out to be a chaotic and messy affair; Vincent spilled his coffee and Catherine dropped her toast, startled. Vincent's hands, his whole body, shook with a wild, tremulous joy and Catherine smiled as she helped him clean up the coffee and picked up her toast and put it in the trash can. “Sit down, love, before you fall down.” She led him outside into the bright welcoming sunlight of an Indian summer. “So,” she said, “nervous, are you?”
He shook his head. How to explain the joy coursing through him, the joy of possibilities finally realized. “I never thought to know such happiness, Catherine,” he said softly.
She took his trembling hands in her own. “It was always right in front of you, love.”
Vincent kissed her then. She tasted of hope and all the dreams he'd once thought would never be his. The sunlight was warm on his bare shoulders as she settled next to him. “So, Vincent,” Catherine said, playing with his chest hair, “are there couples who...commute in the tunnels?”
“You mean, where someone works above and then comes below? Yes, there have been a few. It's not common, but it's been done.”
“Who?” Catherine asked.
“Well, Marisol---one of our weavers---is part of one such couple. Have you met her?”
Catherine shook her head. “I don't think so. Wait, was she the one who was helping Samantha on the loom the other day?”
“Yes, that was Marisol. She came to the tunnels a few years ago; her husband Miguel is a bus driver up top. He comes below after his shift is over. Miguel's a good man and a good helper.”
“And the other couple?”
“Well, there was Pascal and Janelle.”
Catherine pulled back to look at him in shock. “I didn't know Pascal was married.”
Vincent nodded. “She died of cancer the winter before I met you. Janelle was born in the tunnels, but she went above and became a musician. She commuted while they were married.”
“Her loss must have been horrible for him,” Catherine murmured.
“Yes, it was. I sometimes think that's why he stays in the pipe chamber all the time. Janelle couldn't stand the constant noise so their chambers were located elsewhere. After she died, I don't think he's slept in their chamber more than a couple of nights, if that.” He paused. “Do you know what Pascal said to me before we left?”
“No. What did he say?” Catherine asked.
“'Don't think there will always be time enough to say what you want to say.'”
Catherine smiled. “Pascal's a wise man.”
“He is,” Vincent agreed. “Do you wish to commute between our worlds after we're married?”
“I think so, yes,” Catherine said. “I'm not ready to move below full-time, Vincent. I love you and I love your world, but what would I do there? You don't need a lawyer much, do you?”
He gave a short chuff of amusement. “No, but there are many council meetings where we could use a referee, to say nothing of a penalty box.” Vincent looked into her eyes, serious once again. “Catherine, you do so much good in the world above. If you wish to commute as Miguel and Janelle did, I can't think that anyone would object.”
She nestled further under his chin. “You make it sound so simple.”
“Perhaps because it is, Catherine. You have no wish to live below full-time and I have no wish to make you. We will simply make a place for us to live below. How is that complicated?”
“Perhaps,” she murmured. “But at least we got there in the end.” Catherine kissed him and a heat that was warmer than the sun began to spread through him. He pulled her into his lap, needing to feel her weight, the reality of her, in his arms.
“What is it?” Catherine asked, brushing one small hand along the short fur of his cheekbones.
“I never thought I would ever make plans for a wedding, for a future,” Vincent replied. “I find myself astonished. And blessed.”
She leaned her forehead against his, close enough to ruffle the jagged edges of his bangs. “I'm glad to hear it. I never want you to doubt that you have a right to a happy life too.”
Her lips touched his and before the last need for words fled, Vincent murmured against her mouth, “Do you want to discuss the wedding?”
He felt her smile. “I'd rather practice for the wedding night, wouldn't you?”
Click here for Chapter 15.....