-V.-

 

Diana trudged home in the fading light of early evening. The streets were crowded and noisy, and she was tired. She walked faster, wanting nothing more than to stand under a hot shower for twenty minutes and let the clean water sluice away her exhaustion.

 

It had been a frustrating day. She had visited the tunnels again to deliver a package of medical supplies to Father. She had developed a comfortable friendship with the older man, and she stayed to chat with him a few minutes before leaving to find Vincent.

 

She found him in his chamber, pacing with a shrieking baby hunched on his shoulder. One look at Vincent’s haggard face and instantly she knew what was wrong.

 

Little Jacob was suffering from colic again. Vincent had tried many different formulas, but with no success. The poor baby always ended up in his present agonizing condition.

 

Speaking of poor babies...

 

Diana grimaced at the thought of Vincent’s reaction to the baby’s distress. Vincent, normally a pillar of strength and reason, fell apart when his son became ill.

 

Shortly after Diana’s arrival that morning, Mary entered the chamber. Pressing her lips in a thin line, the nurse hurried to Vincent’s side and persuaded him to give her the baby. “You’re no good to him in your condition,” she scolded. “Let me take him; you get some rest.”

 

Vincent silently acquiesced, then collapsed into a chair. Tears streamed down his face.

 

Holding the squalling baby, Mary motioned Diana to the door. “Dear, would you get him some tea, then talk to him for awhile? Maybe you can get him to relax a bit.” Her voice rose above Jacob’s strident wailing.

 

“Sure, I’ll try,” Diana said. The two women exchanged a worried glance, then Mary left with the baby.

 

Diana took another route. She returned with a pot of Vincent’s favorite tea and two cups. She placed the tray on the table and sat in a chair opposite Vincent.

 

Look at him, she thought as she poured the steaming tea. He’s not used to feeling this helpless with children. She pushed one of the cups across the table. “Vincent.”

 

He blinked and looked at her.

 

“Drink your tea,” she said, lifting her own cup to her lips. Her eyebrows lifted over the rising steam, and he responded by cradling the cup in one huge hand.

 

Despite all the things she needed to do at home, she stayed with him the rest of the afternoon, talking, listening, drinking cup after cup of fragrant tea. She tried to reassure him that Jacob would be all right, but he had other ideas.

 

“Vincent,” she blurted in frustration, “give yourself a break! He has you, me, Father, Mary, everyone looking out for him. He’ll get through this and so will you.”

 

“He has everything but the person he needs most.”

 

Diana nodded. ”His mother.”

 

“Catherine.”

 

“I thought you didn’t want…”

 

He slammed his fist on the table, rattling dishes and candles and freezing the words in her throat. “What I want,” he said, “and what I don’t want have little meaning anymore.”

 

“Vincent,” she tried again. “You know there’s nothing you can do to…”

 

“Bring her back?” He rose from his chair and paced the room. “Why try to bring her back? How can I? In my mind, my soul, in here…” he pounded his chest “She has never left. I dream of her every night, every night, and in the daytime, my God!” He pressed his palms to his forehead. “A hundred times a day she appears in my thoughts, and each time I try to cut off her memory as if it were a stream of water I could dam and control.”

 

“But I can’t.” His voice thickened as the words poured out. “I just can’t. After all these months of deceiving myself, I just...can...NOT.” He fell into the chair and covered his face, his shoulders heaving in uncontrollable sobs.

 

“Vincent,” Diana whispered. She knelt beside his chair and gripped his arm. “I’m so sorry. What can I do?

 

“Nothing. There is nothing. Please, leave me.” He continued weeping.

 

Slowly Diana rose, sliding her hands to his shoulders. She placed a gentle kiss on his forehead and walked from the room.

 

Night had fallen by the time Diana arrived home. Before she reached her building, she caught a glimpse of a brown sedan rounding a corner one block up the street. She squinted at the license plate, but it was too dark and she was too late. Once again she had missed it.

 

She stared down the street for a few moments, then entered her building. In the entryway she keyed on a hidden switch, bathing the small foyer with light. She was glad the elevator couldn’t be seen from the street, allowing her one crucial bit of privacy.         After she reached her loft she headed straight for the bathroom. She was brought up short by her reflection in the mirror. Not a bad face. She leaned closer to the mirror and scrutinized each feature, every angle of fine bone and flawless skin. She loosened her hair from its customary braid and shook it until it floated around her in a gossamer cloud.

 

You look wild, an inner voice teased her.

 

“Yeah, right.” She turned on the water and stripped out of her clothes. That shower sounded better all the time.

 

***

 

Cathy awoke when the bus was an hour north of the City. Slowly flexing every muscle, she tried to dispel some of her stiffness. After a few minutes she used the bus’s tiny restroom, which was just a few steps away.

 

Returning to her seat, she glanced around the bus. Nine or ten people were scattered at random throughout the cramped interior. Dim overhead lights barely disturbed the gloom.

 

A small groan escaped her lips as she shifted in the seat, trying to find a comfortable position.  Every muscle and bone in her thin body felt tender, battered beyond normal endurance by the demands she’d placed on herself that day. What choice did she have? She knew time and rest would help her regain her strength and energy; for now, she was running on raw nerve.

 

She leaned back in her seat and gazed out the window. Ghostly images of trees and an occasional billboard flitted past her vision. Scurrying clouds danced across the sky, blurring the light of the full moon.

 

She closed her eyes. A long hot bath...yes, that sounded wonderful. Clean clothes that fit. She lifted her plastic bag, hefting the weight of a solitary orange. She tilted one corner of her mouth. A decent meal...add that to the list.

 

She clasped her hands over her chest and took a deep breath. Add this: the chance to touch Vincent, hear him speak her name.

 

One tear slid down her cheek: to hold her little boy in her arms...

 

Her heart hammered inside her chest.   At that moment everything she wanted, everything she desperately needed, crystallized: Vincent. Her son. Her family. That was what mattered.

 

***

 

Deep below the city in a room lit by flickering candlelight, Vincent sat alone and wrestled with his conscience.

He shouldn’t have spoken to Diana as he had that afternoon. All his pent-up anger and helplessness spilled out, and he knew the toll his words had taken. He saw it in her eyes. Cobalt blue eyes framed by one of the kindest faces he had ever seen.

 

Diana was not Catherine.

 

“No one is,” he said aloud.

 

But at least she was there.

 

He ground his teeth as a low growl escaped his throat. Was this what he had come to, then? Unable to have what he most desired, he would “settle” for a reasonable substitute? That was unfair to Diana, and to Catherine’s memory.

 

Vincent grabbed his cloak and hurried to Father’s study. He found Father and Mary fussing over little Jacob, coaxing him to eat. The baby was calmer now and seemed to enjoy his bottle.

 

“A new soy formula,” Father said to Vincent as they watched Mary rock the baby. “Jamie bought it today.”

 

“Do you think this will work?” Vincent asked.

 

“I don’t know. But I have hope. This is the second bottle he’s taken and so far he’s kept it all down.” He gave Vincent a reassuring smile. “Try not to worry, Vincent. He’ll be fine.”

 

“So everyone says.” Vincent pulled on his cloak.

 

“You’re going Above?” Father asked.

 

“Yes. There’s something I must do. Something that can’t wait.” He tore his eyes from his son and left before Father could question him.

 

Chapter 6