Chapter 36: The Subtle Electric Fire 
The morning passed companionably as they unpacked the few remaining boxes of Catherine’s books. “Long-lost friends?” he asked as he placed a worn copy of Leaves of Grass on its shelf. Her enthusiasm as each book was removed from its battered box reminded him much of the children at Winterfest.
“Oh, yes,” Catherine answered. “When I was an English major at Radcliffe, these were some of my textbooks. After I graduated...I couldn't bear to donate them.”
“I understand,” Vincent replied, unearthing a book of Neruda’s sonnets. “I can’t remember the last time we donated anything from Father’s library. Even the books which were torn and battered had their uses---as doorstops in the kitchen or,” and he felt a wry grin escaping as the memory of the boyish thrill returned, “as paper airplanes.”
“You made paper airplanes?” she asked. “You?”
“Made them, and threw them in class too,” he answered. “Though to be fair, they were pages from books so damaged there was no way to mend them. It was something of a contest between Devin and me: who could get theirs to fly the longest before Father discovered them.”
“And who won?”
“Devin, usually. He was older and more…practiced at mischief.”
“Of course,” she said warmly. Her merriment---her laugh—rang as the purest song of joy in his mind. “How long has Father's library been so disorganized?”
He chuckled. “You mean, have we always lacked shelves? Yes, actually. The lumber would arrive but be needed for other things and after a time, Father gave up trying to get the books into any sort of order. But the stacks made such a wonderful forest; ever since I was a child, I can remember spending hours in them...traveling with Huck Finn---”
“And James Bond?”
“My own personal secret agent,” Catherine said, winking at him.
“Why did you choose English as your major?” he asked. Catherine had told him much of her life before their meeting, but they were still learning about each other, and every new thing he learned was one more thread in the tapestry of their lives together.
“Oh, well…” and incredibly, she blushed. “I wanted to be a writer. Or a teacher.” She brushed her hair out of her eyes. “Let me be honest. I was pretty aimless; I liked to read so English seemed like a good match.”
“You’re being kind, but you didn’t know me back then.”
“I know enough,” he said. “I know you.”
All too soon, Monday morning arrived. “It's time,” Vincent murmured in her ear.
She stretched and yawned. “You're better than any alarm clock, love.”
He was already dressed, she noticed, wearing a pair of soft pants---patched and darned and turned and mended again, and one of his oldest flannel work shirts. His amber mane was---to her surprise---tied back into a thick ponytail. “Kanin and I are planning a maintenance check on some of the pipes,” he explained. “And it could be muddy and wet.”
“But there's no leak yet?” she asked, sitting up and taking the cup of coffee he handed to her.
“There could be; I think we'll have rain before the week is over.”
“I won't ask how you know,” she said, smiling at him over the rim of her coffee cup.
“Good, because I'm not sure how I do either,” he replied equably. “At any rate, I don't want to get muddy hair in my face.”
“I don't blame you,” she said. “I have meetings most of the day today. I'll trade you.”
He laughed. “Not for all the tea in China.”
Catherine stared at her desk. Monday, for sure. Files leaned in unruly stacks; her phone was cluttered with messages taped to the receiver, and the name on two of the post-it notes jumped out at her: Elliott Burch. She placed her purse in the drawer and glanced up to see Rita holding a cup of coffee. “You’ll need it,” Rita began, “Joe’s on the warpath.”
“Elliot Burch has been burning up the phone lines trying to get in contact with you. And you know how much Joe loves dealing with Elliot.”
“About as much as he loves eating roast butterflies with Klingons, I’m sure,” Catherine quipped. “I wonder what Elliot wants.”
Rita shrugged. “No idea. Reception patched him through to me after you left on Friday; he said he’d call you at home. Did he?”
“He…might have. We had a busy weekend and didn't check the answering machine,” Catherine replied, trying to hide the grin which threatened to spread across her face. “I should probably let Joe know I’m here.”
The blinds on Joe's office window rattled ominously as he opened the door. “Too late,” Rita murmured. “Good luck.”
By mid-afternoon, the storm of work had calmed somewhat; between staff meetings, Catherine managed to update the attorneys who'd be covering her hearings while she was in Albany, and after a hasty lunch of a half sandwich, yogurt and crackers, sat down to call Elliot back. Joe had been firm--- “I don't care what you tell him, Radcliffe, but make sure he's available to testify”---and so, with a sense of trepidation, she dialed his number.
As before, Elliot picked up the line immediately. “Cathy, it's good to talk to you. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
As if you didn't realize why I'm calling, she thought, her jaw beginning to clench. “I'm returning your call, Elliot. I understand you've left several messages?”
“Only a few,” he replied. “I had to speak with you.”
“I'm traveling to Buenos Aires for a couple of months.”
Visions of Lisa and her fledgling ballet company in Buenos Aires flitted across her mind. Two of the most self-involved people I've ever met. They should get along famously. “Oh? Why?” she said instead.
“A hotel development I'm building. It's falling behind schedule. When is the trial date on Max Avery's case?”
“No date set yet,” she told him. “His attorney is now claiming Avery's unable to assist in his own defense.”
Elliot laughed. “Max Avery, crazy? No way.”
It was perhaps one of the few points they still agreed upon. “Yes, well, it's the latest tactic. I expect we'll have more details after the next hearing.”
“My secretary has instructions to pass on any message she receives from you,” Elliot said. “I'll be here to testify.”
“You could have told Rita, or Joe. Why the need to speak with me specifically?”
He laughed, a rogue's chuckle. “I wanted to talk to you. Is that so bad?”
She had no wish to hurt him but the longing in his voice was clear under the veneer of armored cynicism. “Elliot, I got married last month.”
“You----” The shock was thick in his tone. “But I didn't hear about it.”
“It wouldn't have made the society pages, Elliot. We eloped.”
“So...there's no chance.”
Catherine remembered not Elliot, but Stash Kazmarek, the man who was and was not Elliot Burch, and their nightmare on the docks. Would things have ever been different for them, if there had been no Vincent? “No, Elliot, no chance at all.”
After his work with Kanin was completed, Vincent found himself wandering to the Chamber of the Falls. Two weeks. Two weeks Catherine would be gone and if something happened, he would not be able to go to her aid, nor was there even the slim hope of a helper in the area. Her words from a few days before came back to him: You have to find some way of dealing with this. Almost unnoticed, his fists clenched. It’s true. I cannot let my fears hobble her.
He was halfway up the worn stone steps to their outlook when he heard the faint sounds of a pebble being thrown into the waters. His view was partially blocked by the curve of the rock; Vincent relaxed his mental barriers just enough to realize it was Valerie, sitting on the ledge in front of the hidden cavern. “Valerie?” he called, not sure if she would hear him over the roar of rushing current.
Her head turned. “Vincent? What are you---oh, did you want to come up here? I can leave.”
“No,” he said. “I'll go somewhere else.”
“Don’t be silly,” she called. “There’s room enough for both of us.”
“Very well,” he replied.
“So,” Valerie said, “you like coming here to think too?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s a lovely spot.”
“It is,” she agreed.
The breeze, blowing in from parts unknown, shifted somewhat and Vincent became conscious of a change in Valerie’s scent. It was subtle but...unmistakable…rich and ancient. Life. “How are you feeling?”
She snorted delicately. “Funny you should ask…or perhaps not. That’s why I came up here. I’m pregnant. Father confirmed it this morning.” She rested her chin on her bent knees. “Drew didn’t want to have children. He liked them, but...”
“I remember he grew up in an abusive home and feared repeating the cycle,” Vincent said, not saying what they both knew; Drew had been stubborn and unyielding on this point and many others. “And Cullen said...?”
“I haven’t told him yet.” She sighed. “We haven't talked about kids and we weren't expecting this and...” She swiped at her tears with an impatient hand. “This is stupid. He loves me. Why can’t I just go to his workshop and tell him?”
“You’re afraid he will turn from you?”
“No…yes…” Valerie shrugged. “I’m not making any sense.”
“No,” he agreed, prompting a watery smile from Valerie. “Go to him. Tell him the truth. But also know this---whatever Cullen decides, you and your child will not be alone.”
Valerie nodded. For a time they watched the rainbows arch over the waters---light from some unknown source, the breeze that brought the salted moisture of far-distant oceans, waterfalls in a place no waterfalls should be, Vincent mused. This place was a miracle, no less than the miracle of Catherine’s love. “It’s so beautiful,” Valerie said. “But you didn't come here to look at the scenery.”
He blinked, startled. Had he been that obvious? “Call it feminine intuition,” she continued, with a wry, knowing glance. “You’re worried and thinking you might sit up here until an answer comes to you.” She touched his hand lightly, and then withdrew. “Vincent, you’re not alone either.”
He’d often thought Valerie was a fitting counterpart to Cullen’s amiable brashness but although Vincent had known her for years, he’d never fully appreciated her quiet strength. “Thank you,” he said. “One part of me…wishes she’d stay. The other part…understands she must go and reminds me she will return.”
“Of course,” Valerie said. “Every time Cullen goes Above for supplies, I worry. He hasn’t lived Above for seven years. Never mind he's got a helper's address to give as his own. I keep thinking of all that could go wrong. And then there’s the matter of Jonathan Thorpe. If Cullen should be found somehow….”
“Yes,” Vincent agreed. “He might be linked to Thorpe’s disappearance and there would be questions.” He tilted his head. “I thought I was the only one with these fears.”
“Oh, no,” Valerie said. “I hate to tell you, Vincent, but you’re completely normal.”
Her comment broke the tension of his thoughts and stopped their incessant churning. Vincent felt a smile emerge. “You’re…something else.”
Valerie laughed. “You’re one to talk.” She rose to her feet in a graceful motion. “Any idea where Cullen is?”
“Probably his workshop, at this time of day,” Vincent said, rising as well.
She grinned impishly. “You might want to tell Father---Cullen may need CPR once he gets the good news.”
He chuckled, thinking of how he would react in a similar situation. One day. “I'll talk to Father.”
Catherine descended the basement stairs almost on time for dinner. Almost. There had been a last-minute conference with Benitez over the Torres matter he would be covering for her on Wednesday, and a meeting with Joe and Rita regarding travel arrangements, but finally...finally...she was able to start heading home. Vincent was waiting for her, leaning up against the wall with his arms folded---relaxed, but alert. The wave of longing hit her and she jumped down the remaining rungs of the ladder. “Oh, I missed you.”
Vincent kissed the top of her head then followed that up with another kiss. “I missed you too,” he murmured against her mouth.
“How are we going to survive being apart for two weeks?” she asked in a rush, the warm solidness of him comforting and reassuring.
“I’m not certain,” he answered honestly. “It will be our longest separation since you went to Los Angeles. But you must go and do what you were meant to do.”
“All noble sentiments,” Catherine said, toying with the edge of a decorative patch on his sweater. “It’s going to be…a very long two weeks.”
“True,” he replied, and the wry devilment in his eyes was something to see. “Just think of the reunion.”
Click here for Chapter 37...
 “O You Whom I Often and Silently Come,” by Walt Whitman