Chapter 58: Roots and Wings
When they entered Father’s chamber, it was to see Laura carrying on what appeared, to Catherine’s eyes, to be a stilted conversation; Laura was an excellent lip-reader but Father knew very little sign language. “Ah, Vincent, Catherine,” Father said, “I’ve been looking all over for you two. Laura’s come below to visit.”
Catherine made sure she was within Laura’s line of sight before she spoke. “Laura, it’s so good to see you. What brings you down below?”
Laura’s hand rested on her swollen belly, and her wedding band glinted in the candlelight. Vincent stepped into his usual role as interpreter. “I wanted to ask Father’s permission to introduce Jerry to the community,” he translated, Laura’s hands dancing like the flight of birds in the air. “He's busy all weekend for training, so it was a good time to come visit.”
“What is Jerry doing now?” Father asked, and Vincent’s hands moved in an answering dance of motion.
“He’s working as a police officer in New Rochelle, doing community outreach with troubled kids.” Laura grinned a wry half-smile. “Like I was.”
Vincent spoke for himself, signing as he spoke. “You were never any trouble.”
Laura smiled. “You’re very kind to say that, but I know I gave you and Father some grey hairs.”
Father glanced between the two of them. “What have you told Jerry about where you grew up, Laura?”
“I told him I was adopted and I grew up in a commune.”
“And he was satisfied with the answer? He never asked you anything else?”
Laura shook her head. “No. And I’m sure he’s wondered about what commune could be operating these days, but Jerry’s never asked me.” She folded her hands again over the curve of her stomach. “It’s important, now that our baby is on the way, that he get to know the rest of my family.”
“All right,” Father said. “I’ll have to put it before the council, but…I don’t think there’s any reason why your husband shouldn’t be trusted with our secret.”
“It surprised me that Father agreed so readily,” Catherine said sometime later in the privacy of their bedroom after Laura had been settled in the guest chamber. “I always thought he’d put up more of a fight.”
Vincent unlaced the worn leather fastenings at the collar of his sweater and pulled it over his head, the fabric briefly muffling his voice. “For most people, he does, but with Laura...”
“He blames himself for many of the difficulties she encountered transitioning to living Above.”
Catherine hung up her jeans and pulled on a pair of sweatpants. “Why? Does Father think he could have prepared her better?”
“He couldn’t even talk to her,” Vincent said. “I warned him many times after Laura came to us that he wouldn’t always want to rely on my translations or Laura’s ability to lip-read. Father…pronounced himself ‘too busy’ to learn sign, and never really gained any fluency.”
“And Laura was frustrated?”
Slowly, Vincent nodded. “Yes. Everyone else here learned to sign, some of us even became skilled enough to translate, but not Father. Until she learned to lip-read, they simply couldn’t communicate beyond a very basic level. And it was frustrating for her, and it made her angry and defiant at times. When she left, Father told me his failure to learn sign might have given Laura the wrong idea about how he felt about her.”
“I can see the justice in that,” Catherine said gently. “Sign was what Laura knew and Father refused to learn it. What was she supposed to think?”
The old bed creaked under Vincent’s weight as he sat down. “Rebecca made the same point. As did Mary. Father didn’t listen then. Now…” he shrugged. “Laura has a generous heart. I hope she understands Father’s acceptance of Jerry is his way of making amends.”
Catherine pulled back the quilt on the bed. “Well, it’s not as if Father’s taking a huge risk by allowing Jerry into the secret. He’s a police officer, and a good one if I remember right. And he loves Laura. Doesn’t sound like he could be much more trustworthy.”
“No,” Vincent agreed. “Jerry is a good, decent man.”
“Which reminds me…”
“How did you learn to sign?”
“Our woodworker when I was a boy, Solomon, was mostly deaf and he taught Devin and me.” Vincent gave a slight wry, devilish smile which reminded Catherine of the child he’d once been. “Father was initially glad we learned, but not at all happy with the results.”
It didn’t take much for Catherine to put two and two together and get five. “Oh, Vincent…you and Devin…during class?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes. Father…spluttered, said we’d learned all the wrong things from Solomon.” He sighed. “There are exactly fifty-seven tiles in the backsplash above William’s kitchen sink. Ask me how I know this.”
Catherine chuckled. “I’ll bite. How do you know this?”
“Because I installed every last one of them. Devin mixed the grout---which got in his hair and in my fur---and we both worked on the counters.”
She recalled the inside of William’s kitchen, every spare counter surface covered in gleaming, if mismatched, tiles. “Father must have had a royal snit.”
“Father was…not happy. But we were both old enough to know better than to talk---in whatever form---in class.” He tilted his head. “What about you? Surely you were disobedient, now and then.”
Catherine leaned against him, the clean spicy scent of him warm and comforting. “Nope. I always did exactly what my teachers told me and I never, ever talked in class.”
He raised one eyebrow. “Somehow, I find that difficult to believe.”
She grinned and kissed him. “You should.”
Vincent escorted Laura above early the next morning; the faster of the two routes to her hotel's basement had been changed the week before, he explained. As they walked, they talked of her work with deaf students in the local schools, Jerry's fumbling attempts to put together a crib. When they reached the access ladder leading into the basement, Laura tugged on his sleeve. It was an old gesture: Wait. I need to tell you something.
“Yes?” he signed.
“I didn't tell Father the entire truth,” she said.
He nodded, not entirely surprised. Her body language had been subtle, but telling, as he had translated her words. “And...?”
She smiled. “I want Jerry to meet my family, yes, but I mostly want him to meet you.”
Vincent blinked. “Why...why me, and not Rebecca, or Mary?”
“Rebecca is my sister, Mary my mother. But all I learned of how to be strong I learned from you.” Impulsively, Laura hugged him and he had a sudden memory of a small dark child, rushing into his arms. “Please don't worry about Jerry. I'll prepare him.”
Vincent chuckled, the thought of their upcoming conversation no longer as painful as it once would have been. “Make sure you have the smelling salts ready.”
Laura laughed—an atonal, barking laugh---but it made Vincent smile in return. “Don't worry,” she signed, “I've taken CPR too.” She frowned. “I'm so sorry I missed your wedding. I had some complications early on and I wasn't able to come.”
Vincent shook his head. “Your baby's health is more important. Everything's fine now, though?”
“Oh, yes,” Laura signed. “Doctor says I'm fine.” She smiled at him. “So, you and Catherine? What did Father say? Did he stomp around and fume?”
“No, not really. Though the shock of our trip to Connecticut might have had something to do with that.”
Laura tugged at his arm again, forced him to stop. Her signs were faster, in astonishment and joy, Vincent thought, the waves of her delight buffering him. “You? You went to Connecticut?”
“Yes,” he replied, unable to keep the grin off his face. Connecticut, their beginning, and where they might once again return. What a world of possibilities Catherine had opened for him, for them. “We went a few months ago, in the fall.”
“I'll want to hear the story,” Laura said as she hugged him again, “when I return.”
“You'll have it,” Vincent promised.
She nodded. “Jerry has Monday off; I'll bring him below then.” Laura placed one foot on the ladder and as she had done over a year before, and made one sign behind her back: I love you. Then she was gone, returning to her world.
Vincent entered their chamber and quietly closed the door behind him. It was still early in the morning and he fully expected to find his wife asleep but the faint scratching sounds of a pen against paper told him she was in the study. He hung his cloak on its hook by the door and toed off his boots and walked into the small hallway.
Deep in thought, Catherine hadn't noticed his presence nor sensed his approach. She capped her pen and rose, stretching, her back arched towards an unseen sky. Vincent stood still for a moment, enjoying the grace of her motion, the golden spill of her hair as it flowed down her back. Her hand went to the back of her neck---a tension headache, he recognized, the press of it all too familiar---and she turned her head to ease the pain.
Catherine gasped a little as she saw him standing there. “Vincent I didn't---”
“Obviously,” he said dryly. He stepped forward and rested his hands on the bunching of muscles at the base of her neck. “May I?”
“You have to ask?” she asked, breathing out. “Oh, that's...right there.”
Her smooth skin shivered under his touch. “What are you working on?”
“The hearing on Monday. I've been away for almost a month and I just want to make sure everything is fresh in my mind.”
Vincent looked at the stacks of notes, the outlines, and smiled. “You know this case, Catherine. No one knows it better.” His hands stilled. “When will you return above?”
She leaned against him, her hair brushing his neck. “Tomorrow night. Joe said he would have Greg come by and make sure my apartment is secure first.” She looked up at him. “I need to be at work early on Monday; it's best that I...”
Vincent nodded. “I understand your need to focus, to prepare,” he said gently. “We knew this time would come again, Catherine. Your duties, and mine, will separate us at times.”
“I know,” she replied. She gestured towards the wild stack of papers on her desk. “I just worry. What if I've missed something? What if--”
She turned to face him. “Yes?”
“Just like that?” Catherine spluttered. “Stop? Don't worry? Vincent, I can't---”
She was so beautiful in her mock outrage and a wild current rose---the need of her, deep in his bones. How many nights had he feared this want, rising inside him like a barely banked flame? No more. Vincent touched her mouth with the tip of one clawed finger, stilling her words. “You can,” he said softly.
Catherine smiled and kissed the tip of his finger. The gesture was so erotic, so unexpected that he shivered. “Why, Vincent, are you cold?” Her voice...gone softer, silkier...
“No,” he managed. “I'm not.”
“Well, that's good, because I'm feeling a bit...warm.”
“Are you?” he asked.
“Yes,” Catherine replied. “I...might be wearing too many clothes. Of course, so are you.”
Vincent glanced down at himself, seeing the patched, worn leather vest over his chambray shirt, the faded corduroys and thick leather boots, and knew he was wearing far fewer layers than was his usual wont. “We'll have to do something about that, then,” he said and felt the low rumble begin in his chest, a sound of desire, of love.
Catherine heard it too; her eyes darkened to emerald and her pleasure shot through their bond. Once he had feared the sounds, feared anything which marked him as different...but Catherine...ah, Catherine...He jumped a little, startled; her hands had pulled his shirt free of his trousers and her hands were cool, even through the longer strands of fur on his back. “So that's your solution?” he murmured.
She grinned up at him. “If the shoe fits...”
Her hands brushed a ticklish spot over one of his ribs and he stepped back slightly, capturing her wandering hands. “Enough,” he said before a truly undignified giggle could erupt.
Catherine batted her eyelashes---a ridiculous, flirtatious gesture--and he laughed. “Are you sure?” she asked. Her hands rested at the waist of his trousers, fumbling with the button fly.
“Well,” he said, hiding his answering smile and tapping a finger against the papers on her desk, “maybe we shouldn't...your work...I wouldn't want to disturb you.”
She glared at him, though the effect was ruined by the twinkle in her eyes. “If you stop now, I'll show you 'disturbed.' ”
“We can't have that.”
“No,” Catherine agreed. “Come here.”
“Here? Our bedroom is---”
Her hands touched him, freeing him. The breath left his lungs. “Here.”
His protests fled, banished by the reality of her nearness, her need and desire for him. “Yes. Now.”
Click here for Chapter 59....
Click here for Chapter 59....