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CLASSIC ROUND ROBIN


Chapter 8

by SandyX


Although Vincent had been grateful for the outpouring of good will and concern regarding his well being, he was glad to see the visitors go. He had not yet let the others know that his memory was coming back. He knew and remembered Father now, and he was regaining a sense of belonging amongst this community, a sense of family, but the details eluded him still. Certain memories haunted him, confused him, and he wanted to understand and be sure they were, in fact, memories and not fragments of a dream.

Vincent sat alone in the almost dark room, exhausted and in need of a respite from the well-intentioned prodding. The silence felt good and the sporadic tapping on the pipes, reassuring. He stared at the flickering flame of the lone candle that still burned on the small round table across the room, and he drifted off to sleep.

A balcony, high above the city, awash in shimmering light - the night’s darkness solved by fragile candlelight. Shadows vanished in radiance … white warmed to ivory … the sheerest of lace … a rose.

Vincent stirred, his hand instinctively grasping the pouch on his chest. His fingers caressed the precious thing inside as he drifted back to sleep

His hand trembled over the rose, so fragile in his palm. He didn’t dare close his fingers around it, lest the delicate petals shatter under his grip. The candlelight around him wavered, then flared, the light suddenly blinding … and he heard her voice call out his name.

* * *

Drenched and shivering, Catherine stared at Melissa’s listless form. What could be so awful to make you do this? she thought. Tears, mixed with soot, stung at her eyes, and she knew. She knew what would be so awful.

She had managed to pull her friend from the room as the sprinkler system extinguished the flames. Smoke now spilled into the hallway, lingering near the ceiling like a dusty layer of clouds, and the fire alarm droned in an insistent, ear-splitting wail.

Catherine knelt next to Melissa, taking her hand and feeling for the pulse in her wrist. The pulse was weak but steady; her breathing appeared shallow. Catherine looked up at the sound of running footsteps and saw several firefighters moving quickly down the hall. “Over here,” she called out.

“Is anyone else in there?” one of the firefighters asked as he radioed for assistance.

“No, it was just us,” Catherine replied.

“Did she fall?” he asked, examining Melissa’s eyes.

“Pills,” Catherine said, stepping out of the way as two paramedics arrived with a stretcher. “She told me she took a bunch of pills. I don’t know what.” Catherine blinked back tears at the sight of her friend lying there on the stretcher. “She was drinking too,” she added. “Champagne.”

“We’ll take care of her, Miss,” one of the men said, looking up at Catherine. “You need to get out of this smoke … him too,” he said motioning behind her.

Puzzled, Catherine turned to see a familiar face. “Mouse!?”

* * *

“Vincent …”

He followed her voice toward the source of the light, catching brief glimpses of her at each bend of the winding tunnels. She was beautiful, a vision in gossamer silk, pausing to beckon him at each turn. The way seemed familiar but uneasy, yet he followed … determined, unhesitating.

Then … finally … daylight. She crossed over the threshold and Vincent followed.

* * *

Catherine stopped at the foot of the stairs, her direction suddenly hazy.

“Catherine?” Mouse queried. “Ok?”

“I think so,” she replied. “What are you doing here, Mouse?” she asked as they stepped into the hotel lobby.

“Followed,” Mouse replied. “Worried.”

“Worried about me?”

“Saw you leave,” he said, toeing at the grout between the large granite tiles. “Found Vincent … can’t lose Catherine.”

“Chandler!”

Catherine turned at the sound of her name to see Officer Greg Hughes approaching. “Hello, Greg.”

“Why are you all wet?” he asked, peering at her.

“Oh,” Catherine said, looking down at her damp sweater and hoping this was going to be a brief exchange, “sprinklers ... a friend was in the fire.”

“The o.d. they just took out of here? You were with her?”

“Yeah,” Catherine said, her focus on the ambulance idling in front of the hotel.

“Sorry. I hope she makes it through ok,” Hughes said, following the direction of her gaze. “Do you need a ride? I can have a car drop you at your building.”

“No thanks. I’ll catch a cab,” she said as she wearily headed for the front door.

Catherine scanned the area and spotted Mouse sitting on a bench next to a tiny sidewalk garden with a sign that read, “curb your dog.” She settled next to him.

“Why did you leave?” Mouse asked.

Catherine shook her head and shrugged. “I don’t know,” she replied.

“Afraid?”

“Maybe.” Catherine studied her rumpled companion. So boyish, with his innocent face and tousled blond hair. “Maybe I didn’t want to know what it would feel like if he didn’t remember me.”

“He’d remember,” Mouse assured her.

Catherine nodded and suddenly a chill passed over her.

“Of course, he’d remember.”

Kristopher

“You two are an unstoppable force! Nothing can stand in your way! You must be freezing!” he said as he wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.

She’d know that voice anywhere … and had come to expect it anywhere.

* * *

The sun’s rays narrowed to golden points in the inky heavens, and Vincent was safe again under the sheltering harbor of the cool night sky. He walked familiar streets … paused at the window’s warm glow … watched a child’s first wobbly steps … and froze at the sound of her laughter as she scooped the child into her arms and stroked his wild blond hair.

* * *

“Well, Kristopher … you’re continuing to serve and protect, I see,” Catherine said with a laugh.

Kristopher was looking sharp in a New York City Paramedic's uniform. Mouse eyed him, wariness evident in his expression. “I’ve heard about you. Supposed to be dead.”

“I’m not dead!” Kristopher said, “What’s with everyone and the dead thing? Here … feel!” he offered, extending a hand toward Mouse.

“He’s not dead,” Catherine said. “At least I don’t think he is.”

Both Kristopher and Mouse turned to Catherine on hearing her words. “Hey! Cathy’s unsure about something!” Kristopher exclaimed with a grin.

“Let’s just say I’m less certain of some things than I used to be,” she replied.

“There are things you’re meant to be certain of,” he said, sitting next to her on the bench, his grin fading.

“Sometimes I worry that I’m dreaming all of this and that at some point I’ll wake up.” Catherine pulled the blanket around her and noticed that her clothes had suddenly dried.

“Dreams are true while they last,” Kristopher said. “And do we not live dreams?”

“Kristopher …”

“Come on, Cathy … BELIEVE,” he urged. “A dream is a wish your heart makes!” he sang to her in a sweet tenor voice.

Kristopher …”

“That was Tennyson, by the way,” he said, nudging her with an elbow. “Well, not that … that was Cinderella … but the first thing.”

Catherine smiled and shook her head. She didn’t know what to believe, but she knew what she wanted, and where she wanted to be.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Kristopher turned to her and said, “Go to him, Cathy. He’s looking for you.”

Catherine looked past him to the ambulance.

“She’ll be ok,” he added. “Now go!”

* * *

Vincent tried to shake himself from the dream. A trill of laughter filled the air as the child, his child, continued his unstable progress around the room, aided by his mother’s loving encouragement.

Could such a being as this walk the world your Catherine lives in? The question echoed through the empty street as he stared at his reflection in the window’s glass. He knew in his heart what the answer was. This was something that shouldn't be, a gift he couldn’t accept.

Overwhelmed, Vincent stepped back from the scene and fled. The single shaft of light from the window faded into the distance, and darkness surrounded him once again. Asphalt streets became dirt paths and trees shrouded the sky. The silence and night that had comforted and reassured him now loomed ominous.

* * *

Catherine and Mouse had determined that the culvert in the park was the fastest way to return Below, and they quickly covered the two city blocks to the 77th Street entrance.

“Wait,” Catherine said, holding Mouse back by the shoulder.

“This way,” Mouse said, pointing to a path in the distance. “Catherine knows … right?”

“That’s the way,” she agreed, “but something doesn’t feel right.” She squinted into the distance. Tree branches swayed in the wind, silhouetted by the sparse lamplight that illuminated the walkway.

Almost there …” Mouse whined impatiently. “Mouse knows the way.”

“OK,” Catherine said, taking a deep breath and scanning the area for signs of trouble. “Let’s go.”

* * *

The woods closed in around him, unyielding … his growl rumbled through the night. A faint light pierced the darkness and he struggled toward it ... each step entangling him more as brambles and vines clung to him, holding him back. He was unable to run any further … unable to move … trapped.

Vincent woke from the dream with a jolt, his heart pounding. “Catherine!”

* * *

Father rushed to Vincent’s chamber, having heard him call out. “Is something wrong, Son? I thought I heard you ...”

He was gone.


~


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