- III. –

 

Cathy awoke once during the night. She stared into the darkness and considered all she had seen and her lengthy conversation with the mysterious Maggie. Bewilderment engulfed her, threatening to sweep away any shred of logic she still held. Nothing made sense. She clearly remembered the nameless doctor injecting her with something; she could still feel the sharp, cold prick of the needle. After that...nothing, until she had awakened in the featureless white room to find that she had lost three months of her life.

 

She tried to go back to sleep. Vincent’s face appeared beneath her closed eyes. She reached for him but hesitated when Diana’s face superimposed itself over his. Moaning and thrashing, she fought off the surcease of sleep until at last it overcame her.

 

***

 

In her loft several hundred miles away, Diana also was engaged in a struggle. She had given up on getting any sleep and now, at midnight, she lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Moonlight glowed through the window, but it shed no light on her jumbled thoughts. After she left Vincent that morning, she had walked for miles through the city. For hours she trod the pavement, ignoring her need to eat or visit a restroom. Somehow she had ended up in front of her building. Once upstairs she changed into an old pair of sweats and curled into a chair with a cup of hot tea.

 

In the weeks following little Jacob’s naming ceremony, she had seen Vincent more often than she had dared to hope. He rarely asked for anything unless it was for the baby, and he seemed to enjoy her company. Apparently the baby concurred with his father. He had an attack of smiles and dimples every time he saw her. Diana sipped her tea and tried to sort her thoughts. Her grip on logic and reason slipped whenever Vincent entered her mind or her presence, a fact that had long ago ceased irritating her. Now it was just another cause for concern. Lying in her bed now, watching the moon glide across her window, she considered her feelings for Vincent. She thought of him as a good friend and knew he returned the sentiment. She had formed a strong attachment to the baby, not maternally but not entirely un-motherly, either. It would be impossible not to feel a strong attachment to the baby’s father as well, in view of everything they had endured together and considering-- Suddenly, disgusted with herself; she bounded out of bed and stood by the window, angry at the moon and the tears that had started again. Face it. Bennett, she told herself. You love him and he 1oves you, but we’re talking two totally different kinds of love here.

 

She returned to bed and buried her face in the pillow. Her feeble attempts at thinking things through were getting her nowhere, except deeper into a morass of feelings and possibilities she was unwilling to explore.

 

***

 

When Maggie returned to Cathy’s room the next day, she was not surprised to see her charge erect and thoughtful.

 

“I’ve been thinking,” Cathy said before Maggie closed the door.

 

“Indeed,” Maggie said, settling herself in a comfortable position on the table. Cathy’s body language intrigued her: She was sitting cross-legged on the table, and determination had strengthened her face and posture. Very good, little one. You’re a strong girl, and you’re going to need every bit of that strength to survive what’s ahead. “Tell me,” Maggie prompted. She silently rejoiced at the resolve in the young woman’s eyes.

 

“Vincent thinks I’m dead. I know it must have been difficult for him to hold onto himself and keep going, but he did and I’m glad he did. Diana saved his life, helped him find his son, and killed the man who murdered me. Vincent must be grateful to her.”

 

“And you?”

 

Cathy tried to smile, with little success. “I’m grateful to her, too. How could I not be? Without her, the two people I love most in this world would be dead.”

 

“Two people who either don’t know you exist or are trying to forget the fact of your existence.” Maggie detested playing devil’s advocate, but she had no choice.

 

Cathy nodded. “And that makes me furious. Not toward Diana,” she hastily added. “I owe her too much.”

 

“Listen to me,” Maggie said. “It would be strange if you didn’t feel at least some resentment toward Diana. Look at her! She seems to have moved into your territory, into the heart of the man you love and the child who has never even known your touch.”

 

“Yes, I know,” Cathy said. ”But I can’t help feeling that...well. She’s the only one I can turn to for help once I get out of here.” She gave Maggie a determined look. “And I am getting out of here.”

 

“Well, hallelujah!” Maggie cried, throwing her hands skyward. “The girl has even more sense than I gave her credit!” She laughed.

 

Cathy couldn’t resist joining in. “I don’t know why I’m laughing.” She caught her breath. “I figure I’m in a hell of a mess once I wake up.”

 

“You are, my darling, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.” Maggie placed a hand on Cathy’s forehead and smoothed away a lock of hair. “Oh, dear. I suggest that one of your of consciousness be a lengthy shower.”

 

Cathy grimaced. ”I can’t wait.”

 

“Seriously, here are the things you need to do. A man will come to you in the morning. His name is Stewart. Once he sees you’re fully awake, he will take care of your immediate needs and provide answers to your questions. Please prepare yourself, Cathy. The things he will tell you are extremely unpleasant. You must keep in mind that you are to blame for none of it. Any actions he took were of his own accord and were sanctioned by his superiors.” She spat out the last word.

 

“Will he let me leave?” Cathy asked. A fresh worry creased her forehead.

 

“Yes, but at great cost to himself. Remember that whatever he does is his own choice. The only thing that matters is that you leave here safely and find Diana immediately upon your arrival in the city. Here.” A pen materialized in her hand.

 

Cathy gasped. “How did you do that?!”

 

Maggie’s eyebrows wiggled. “Magic, my dear. Tricks of the trade. All guardians have them, you know. Now give me your hand.” She began writing on Cathy’s upturned palm.

 

“Is that what you are? My guardian angel?”

 

Maggie finished and returned the pen into thin air. ”I wouldn’t call myself an angel, although in your terms I am most definitely dead. But guardian? That is exactly right. I provide guardian services for you and a few other select friends.”

 

Friends? Cathy thought. “Do I know you?” she asked, forgetting all about the writing on her hand.

 

“Yes, my love, you do,” Maggie replied with a broad smile. “You don’t remember me, but I’m someone you helped long ago. Someone who owes you a tremendous favor, and God help me, I’m trying my best to repay you.”

 

Cathy scanned the woman, trying hard to discern her identity.

 

“After you leave this coma state, you will see me again. I can’t say when, but it will be when you least expect me. At that time I’ll reveal my true name. In the meantime…” She pointed to Cathy’s palm.

 

Cathy examined the tiny letters and numbers Maggie had written. “For Diana.”

 

“Yes. Show it to no one but her.” Maggie opened her arms and took Cathy into her embrace.

 

“Thank you,” Cathy whispered.

 

“Once again I tuck you in and once again you must sleep.” Maggie touched Cathy’s cheek. “I should warn you, your rest will be interrupted by a rather vivid dream.”

 

“About what?” Cathy asked, her eyes already closing.

 

“Actually it’s Vincent’s dream. But you get to look.” She leaned over and kissed Cathy’s forehead. “You must pay close attention, little one, and learn what you can.”

 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Cathy’s breathing grew slower and deeper.

 

“Oh yes, my love,” Maggie whispered as she closed the door behind her. She stood alone in the long, empty hallway. “In fact, it’s one of my best. So far.”

 

***

 

Maggie was true to her word.

 

Cathy dreamed, and in her dream she was resting on the table in the white room. Her eyes tingled. She blinked away the sensation, and when she was able to focus again, she saw that she was looking down into Vincent’s chamber.

 

She grew still as she watched his sleeping form. He was not resting peacefully. He groaned and muttered, tossing back and forth in his bed.

 

Cathy willed herself closer and was instantly rewarded with a clearer view. She could see every line in his face, every hair that curled out of the collar of his nightshirt. His breath came in great puffs, lifting the locks of hair that had fallen across his face.

 

For a moment Cathy forgot how to breathe.

 

She hovered closer, her body suspended over the bed. She glanced into the cradle across the room and smiled at the sight of her sleeping baby. He was undisturbed by his father’s agitation.

 

She returned her attention to Vincent, who was growing more distraught with each second. “Vincent,” she whispered, unsure whether or not he could hear her.

 

Suddenly his eyes flew open and he was staring at her or through her. She couldn’t tell. “Catherine,” he said in a hoarse voice. His eyes closed and Cathy felt herself dropping toward him, into him...

 

She braced herself for an impact that never came. When she opened her eyes, she was sitting in a chair in a shadowy corner of the room, untouched by the wavering light of the room’s single candle. She looked toward Vincent, and what she saw made her grip the arms of the chair tightly enough to sprain a finger.

 

Vincent was sitting up in bed. Now he was naked to the waist, and his hair cascaded across his shoulders. Cathy couldn’t see his face; it was buried between the bare breasts of a woman who resembled Cathy.

Suddenly she exhaled and relaxed her stranglehold on the chair arms. She remembered now: she was an observer in this dream. Am what had Maggie said?

 

“In dreams you belong to me,” she whispered fiercely. She leaned forward in her chair, eyes shining, and watched.

 

They were making love again, as they did nightly in his dreams. Part of him knew he was dreaming. The part of him that didn’t care turned its back on reality and reveled in a wealth of sensation.

 

He gently stroked her arms and shoulders as he breathed in her essence. She murmured his name and he pulled away from her breasts to begin kissing her.

 

He kissed her everywhere. First her nipples, which grew hard and erect under his gently probing tongue. Then her shoulders, the skin as silky and fragrant as an exquisite rose. His hands cupped her breasts as he raised his lips to caress her neck, her earlobes, her temples. The smell of her hair and the feel of her small, warm hands caressing him in turn were edging him toward a state of near madness.

 

He pulled away to see her eyes, try to gauge her emotions. It was unnecessary. Her face was flushed, suffused with the same urgent desire that ignited beneath every inch of his skin as if a million candles were burning their way through him.

 

His mouth melted into hers, and he felt their hearts race in tandem as their tongues mingled and the sweet taste of her filled him. He barely noticed as she pushed away the covers and drew closer to him. She reached with one hand to stroke his thighs, then upward, slowly, touching him, teasing him until he crossed a line of sanity that no longer held any meaning.

 

With a ferocity that belied the gentleness of his hands, he lay back and lifted the woman above him, mindful of his sharp nails even as a fog of mindless pleasure drifted over him.

 

She covered him and he entered her, glorying in the warm, moist weight of her body.  She never stopped kissing him; her hands never ceased roaming across his body as she moved above him. Slowly at first, she picked up the tempo and increased the rhythm, only to slow again to a full stop, causing him to cry out in anguished ecstasy. She leaned forward and once again his lips found her breasts. She moaned deeply, a sound of pure contentment. She moved faster above him, and he joined her movements with his own thrusting body.

 

He stopped thinking altogether and gave himself wholly to his love. He opened his eyes, watched her face. A drop of sweat fell from her forehead and landed on his waiting tongue.

 

Something broke free inside him, and with a crashing roar he flung himself off the bed, carrying the woman with him. They tumbled unhurt to a thick rug at his bedside. Now he was over her, perspiration streaming from his body and bathing them both in a glowing sheen. She arched her back and wrapped her arms and legs around him, digging her nails into his thighs, his back, his shoulders.

 

They were both groaning now, their voices joined in a passionate chorus of cries and half-whispers. He felt himself nearing an ending, something he had never touched but never lost hope believing in, something that had eluded him every night for months on end, and now he could feel it she could feel it please God let them feel it together…

 

“NO!” he screamed as her wet body was torn from his grasp. He felt his nails rake across her skin, heard her shriek with pain and rage as she was pulled into the night.

 

He curled into a ball on the rug and wept. “No,” he repeated, a whisper now. He rocked to and fro like a damaged child, feeling the sweat dry into a cold blanket against his skin. “Not again,” he sobbed. “Please, not again.”

 

Before long, he cried himself into a merciful sleep.

 

Cathy watched Vincent as he huddled on the floor next to his bed. Her hands were twisted together in a knot and she thrust them into her mouth. Tears scalded her eyes, blinding her.

 

His pain washed over her with sickening intensity. She longed to go to him, comfort him, but knew she couldn’t.

 

God. Vincent, do you go through this every night? I wanted you to remember me. but not like this!

 

She closed her eyes, unable to watch anymore. When she reopened them, she was lying on the table in the white room. She struggled to stay awake but soon drifted off into her own troubled dreams.

 

Chapter 4