Classic Round Robin ~ Chapter 1

by Crowmama

 

It was the first true snow of the year. 

Thanksgiving was over and the push before Christmas had begun.

Catherine’s father seemed somewhat placated after their long weekend together, finally secure in his knowledge that yes, he still had a daughter, and they were still a family despite their separate lives.

That wasn’t to say he was perfectly happy.  Her surface answers about her non-existent love life, and the shallow reports on her free time, didn’t satisfy him.  He didn’t bring it up specifically, but he worried more since the attack, and even more after her breakdown at the Grieg concert.  His frustration and unease were readily apparent after a couple of glasses of wine, with some pointed questions -and a lot of pointing - in her direction. 

Don’t you want someone in your life, Cathy?

The wine had made him braver, exasperatingly so.  The wrongness of his assumption grated on her nerves, recalling teenage years when there was so little he understood about her life that his guesses seemed preposterous and grasping.    And, just as then, there was little she would, or could share.  There was nothing to be done.  He wasn’t giving up as he had in the past, and she couldn’t think of a way of telling him anything without putting people she loved in danger. 

It took longer than normal to put him back at ease, but finally, somehow, they had come to a truce.  He apologized for being uncharacteristically blunt with her, an aspect of himself he usually saved for his professional life, and she let it all pass.  What he thought was her goodness was truly just relief.   Her forgiveness came quickly, but only after he promised to not speak of it further over the holiday.  They ended up having a good time, despite his questions and her dodging and stalling.

It was all she could give.   

Well, he would be proud, if he knew.   She was headed off to a date tonight, just one he couldn’t know about.  She wasn’t exactly going to The Four Seasons, but meeting, talking…that counted, right?  She could feel an ironic smile curl the side of her lips as she crossed the wet street in front of her building close to the park entrance. 

Coming back from the long weekend and all the work that awaited her when she returned almost made being away from the office not worth it.  Three new investigations - one involving drug thefts from doctors’ offices, and another incomprehensibly violent domestic, and then the Lowery case finally going to trial - all pulled her.  She was keeping a multitude of plates spinning, so many, between the depositions, interviews, and briefs, not to mention the upcoming hearings on her other cases, that dropping a few felt frighteningly inevitable.  She had gotten to the office today before the sun rose, and had left well after sunset so she could completely forget about them, at least for tonight.

The snow that should have coated the streets didn’t, the cabs’ and buses’ heedless wheels transforming it to rivers of water and gray slush. In the park, however, that world seemed unreal, held at bay, and a new one, simultaneously more civilized and more wild, took its place.

The snow here was pristine, still coming down, coating the grass, and sticking to the fences, the benches, the trees, the bushes.  It wouldn’t last, but it was cold enough right now to begin to blanket everything, allowing the deepening evening and quieting world to engulf her. 

Even the “city that never sleeps” was reconciling to the longer winter nights, so by 8 p.m. the buzz of the day dissipated, acquiescing to the dark hours.  Few people walked on the lightly whitened paths, and no one ventured where she headed.  The lonely lamps of the park illuminated only their small areas of influence while shading everything out of their reach, creating the strange illusion that the snow fell only in their light. 

It was quiet, the snowfall muffling sound.  Catherine felt as if she were walking out of New York and into a fairyland.  The only thing breaking the spell of the evening was a homeless woman, wrapped in blankets and bags, sleeping on a subway grate near the park entrance. 

Vincent had saved her, wakened her from her former life.  He had opened her eyes to the world, but the price of seeing was truly seeing

I need to get more flyers from St. Regina’s.  She probably knows about it, but, then again, maybe she’s new.  It’s so cold so early this year.  She’ll need a place off that grate, and they have a lot more beds now, and all because of Mouse’s treasure. 

She smiled at the memory of her necklace and how many meals for the needy Mouse’s gift must have bought. 

If that woman’s still here by the time I come back, I’ll tell her about the Siena House.  I wonder if the sisters need anything extra for the holidays.  I’ll call tomorrow.  And the crisis hotline that Rita works at is counting on more help near Christmas.  Dad is going away with Kay.  I could finally get some hours in over there.  I’ll have to remember to call them too. 

Before Vincent had found her, she’d never been in direct contact with the homeless or needy.   The entitled assumed that philanthropy was good, but there was a level, a donor level, and that was well above the fray.  She had always thought - always been told - the problem was too big for one person to make a real difference.  It was a mantra in her former social circle, and from their gilded floors above the city, a wonderfully convenient lie.  It was true.  There weren’t easy answers to the problems of the homeless in New York, and the mental illness and substance abuse that accompanied them, and there wasn’t a lack of danger in interacting with people whose existence defied society and “normal,” but those weren’t excuses not to try.  It was a balance, like all things in her new life.  If she didn’t help, then who would? Father had been homeless before he was led to the Tunnels, Mouse and Laura also.  Vincent had been, too, in a way. 

One life, saved by another, saving others in return, and everything could change.    

She walked faster, her feet leaving footprints in the undisturbed snow.  There was a feeling following her, overtaking her as she walked the trail, akin to a coming lightning storm, a long arc of energy suffusing her body.  It suggested anticipation, rightness, but also danger.  Almost unconsciously, she grabbed the mace in her pocket and looked for hiding spots along her route.     

Catherine hurried through the cold and hushed park. 

Down this path, turn, straight, then across the field – God, I hope my boots hold up – down the hill to…

Vincent

He stood in the shadows near the drainage tunnel, hood up and hidden from the snow and wind, awaiting her as if he had always been there.

She ran and clasped him to her with only slightly less force than when she had returned from Nancy’s just a few months before. 

“Oh, Vincent, I’ve missed you.”

“Catherine.”  He held onto her name as he held her, ardently, reverently, only slowly letting the word finish its journey, and then answered, with the slightest hint of guilt within his devotion, “I have missed you as well.”

Their embrace lasted a few breaths more than friendship, and a heartbeat longer than usual.  Things were progressing between them, by inches, true, but leading somewhere, moving.

She let go as he did, trying to gauge second to second where they were.  “I wanted to see you before Thanksgiving.”  The love, she knew, was so apparent, even to her own ears, hiding it would have been almost impossible.   It frightened her and left her vulnerable in a way she wasn’t used to.  It was completely unfair that he knew what she felt, but she could not discern any of his feelings.  This time, the open love might be too much for him, and he might cut their visit short because of it.  She wanted him happy, not wary.  She continued, but tried to lighten the conversation.

“I wanted to see you so much before the holiday, but Dad needed more help than he thought.  He was determined to cook a dinner for us this year - turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, oyster stuffing - everything.  It only took him until last Tuesday to realize he was completely over his head.   Please tell me what would drive a perfectly sane and distinguished man to decide to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the very first time at the slightly senior age of sixty-three?”

“A grandiose sense of adventure, perhaps…possibly, a hint of masochism?”  Vincent chortled easily.  If there had been any awkwardness because of her earlier words, he had dismissed it.  He didn’t appear to care or, more to the point, he cared enough not to care.  It was like he was giving her a present. 

She laughed at his reply. “Well, between the two of us outstanding cooks, there wasn’t much left to salvage.”  She looked down at her coat-wrapped body. “Do I look thinner?” 

He grinned. “You look beautiful, as always, Catherine, but cold.”  His sincerity cut through his humor.  “I am sorry to have asked you here tonight.  I thought we might stargaze.  It should have been easy to see Orion, possibly Lepus, but it is a busy time of year in the Tunnels, and I neglected to check the weather again.   I did not expect this,” he said, looking up to the clouded sky, his hand outstretched, catching the snow that steadily fell all around them.   “By the time I realized, it was too late to reach you.” 

“Oh, don’t be sorry, Vincent.   No one expected it.  It was a freak storm, just cold enough for it to snow, but it will probably be gone by tomorrow,” she countered.  “And I was so happy to get your invitation.”

“I know,” was all he said, and she could have laughed at the tome’s-worth of meaning in his simple words.  He seemed torn between unease and satisfaction at his ability to perceive her feelings.

“Vincent,” she placed her hand on his arm, trying to reassure him, “I would have come, no matter the weather, and we can still walk in the park.  It looks so different tonight.  I’ve never seen it so beautiful.”

He answered her with not so much a smile but a look of serenity and good fortune in his eyes.  He gazed at her, into her, with such affection.  She was certain he would speak, but he hesitated, and instead offered her his arm.  She took it, and they walked into the landscape that was at once foreign and familiar.

The snow reflected the city lights, creating strange but stunning orange and purple hues in the night sky.  The snow began to slow to flurries that danced on the icy wind, shimmering when the light hit them, like glitter on one of the children’s drawings.  It was as enchanting as being with him.  She thought of what he had wanted to give her tonight…the myths in the sky...

“What makes you happy?” he asked.  He always seemed to want to know her thoughts.  How different from her former…boyfriends?  No.  Suitors?  Maybe, but still not the right word for him.  They hadn’t invented the word that Vincent was to her yet, Catherine mused.  The men from her former life all seemed more interested in what they could say to her than what they could hear from her.

She let go of Vincent’s arm and walked to the nearest tree, a sycamore.  The knots and undulations of the windward side were coated with the heavy snow.  She ran a gloved hand over some of the peeling bark. 

“Your stars and these trees reminded me of when I was a little girl.  I thought these had people inside them. I must have been about six, or maybe seven.  Dad had read me the myth of Daphne and Apollo from Edith Hamilton.  Did you have that one?  That book?”

“We did, but Father wasn’t happy with some of her ‘modern’ interpretations and translations.  We were read the story from Ovid...mostly in Latin.”  He crossed his arms and gently rested against the tree, mirth clear in his voice for Father’s superiority and adherences.

Catherine couldn’t help but chuckle.  “Father sounds like my Classics professor in college.  No texts past mid-nineteenth century need apply.”

Vincent laughed as well. 

“I was clearly the wrong gender for pondering the Trojan War or examining the Oresteia, in his studied opinion, anyway.   I’m amazed I made it through that class without losing all interest in ancient civilizations.”

“It sounds like your father bred it into you, if he was reading you Hamilton at such a tender age,” he said lightly, but the way he looked at her, like there was something so perfect about her, something so astounding, completely caught her off guard. 

Catherine studied the snow-covered branches, and nodded, making an assenting sound, continuing her story to cover the bubbling feelings inside her. “After I heard about Daphne wishing herself into a tree, I couldn’t help but see magic in all of them.  I was certain she was here in the park.  I was sure there were some trees that still held people inside them - these sycamores, for example.  Don’t they look as if someone danced, threw out their arms, and became a tree?”  The one she focused on gave the distinct impression of hands raised in supplication to the sky, and with a little imagination you could see a body elongated in the main trunk.

He nodded.  “They do, but…”  He leaned into her, and spoke in hushed tones, as if telling her a secret, “I believe Daphne transformed into a laurel tree, hence the laurel crown of Apollo…and also, that was a long time ago and somewhere far away from New York.” 

“Well, yes, I know that now,” she said, laughing.  “But how many seven-year-olds know what a laurel tree looks like?  All right, don’t answer that.”  She put a hand up in defeat.  He probably knew many seven-year-olds with such esoteric knowledge, if Father had anything to do with their education.

“All I knew were the trees in Central Park,” she began, looking around at the sycamores lining the deserted path, “and these trees look like people who decided to become something else.”

He contemplated their tall companions, seeming to take them in, their branches covered in a soft blanket, their hollows filling.  Then he looked past them to the far-off buildings and the low violet-orange sky.   He was quiet for a long time, the mood suddenly shifting from jovial to melancholy as sure as a pendulum’s swing.  His mood, his entire body, appeared diminished, as weighted as the trees under their wet snow when he finally spoke.  “I, too, was interested in those myths at that age.”

He looked as sad as he had been happy a moment ago.  What was wrong? 

He finally went on, looking down at his hands rather than at her. 

“I wanted to believe in the magic, in metamorphosis.”

Oh god, of course.    Stunning job there, Chandler, bringing up that subject …  How on earth am I going to fix this?  

But before she could say anything, before she could even begin to gather any comforting words, he drew in a breath, drew himself taller – tensed, alert … seeking. Without warning, he pulled her close, urged her behind him, stepped out with one hand raised. Shielded her from what he saw …

Or thought he saw …

 

 

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