Classic Round Robin ~ Chapter 6

by  Ginny

 

As their kiss took on a less innocent feeling than when it started, both Vincent and Catherine realized that the timing for such things was less than ideal.  Breathing a little raggedly, Vincent rested his forehead against Catherine’s and held her for a moment before he moved his hands to her upper arms.

Standing straight and breaking contact with anything but her arms, he told her, “I see the beginnings of light, Catherine. I have to go.”

Not moving to make it easier for him, she asked, “Do you want to go?”

“No.”

It seemed the sudden change in their bond had brought out some honesty they both needed to acknowledge.

“Good,” Catherine answered. “I don’t want you to go, either…but I know you have to. May I come to see you tonight?”

“Yes. The threshold at seven?”

“I’ll be there,” she promised with a smile. “One more kiss before you go?”

This time Vincent complied with no hesitation. “Tonight,” he answered, as he lifted his head, sliding one hand down her arm to bring her fingers to his lips for a brief kiss before leaving.

Catherine leaned against the balcony wall, wearing a smile that she didn’t seem to be able to control. It was very early, but she wasn’t likely to sleep right then; so she decided to linger in a warm bath before getting dressed for work. If she went in early, she had a better chance of being able to leave on time; and she had no intention of keeping Vincent waiting that night.

Her workday seemed endless…one small frustration after another, but she plowed through whatever crossed her path to finish on time. It was her actual, contracted quitting time. Looking at the clock and then at Joe’s closed door, she grabbed her coat and purse, put the files in her desk drawer for the next day, and left before Joe could find anything else that needed her attention.

*****

Kay had taken Charles Chandler home with her the night before, to be sure that he was all right after the shock of everything that happened in the park. They had a battle of wills over coffee and breakfast. He obstinately had every intention of going to work that morning, in spite of Kay’s best protests.

“Peter said I was okay,” Charles argued.

“He also said you should take it easy for a day or two,” Kay argued back. “You’re allowed to take a day or two now and then to take care of yourself, you know.”

“I’ll be fine,” he assured her, taking her hand and softening somewhat. “Thank you for worrying about me, but I’ll be fine.” After a moment, he added, “Besides, I can’t let that young whippersnapper, Wyeth, think the boss can’t take the strain of a little excitement.”

“Well, the young whippersnapper doesn’t have a problem with his heart. You aren’t in your twenties anymore, Charles. Someone promised to marry me,” she said pointedly, “and I’d like him to live long enough to at least enjoy the honeymoon.”

“He’d like that, too,” Charles smiled. “I promise that if I don’t feel well, I’ll go home.”

“Or maybe to Peter?”

“Or maybe to Peter,” he agreed.

“You need to talk to Cathy, too.”

“I know. I’ll call today and invite her to lunch tomorrow. Would you like to join us?”

“Sounds nice. I haven’t seen her in a while.”

“I still think I should set her up with Wyeth,” he answered, smiling mischievously as he put on his jacket and gathered his things to go.

“Not without her permission, you don’t. If I were Cathy, I’d be furious if you did that. She didn’t pick up when I called her. Maybe that was because she was out with someone.”

“Okay, okay. I won’t do a thing without her consent,” he conceded, holding his hands up in defeat.

“That would probably be best for both of you, I think. My driver is waiting. No need to call yours. I knew I couldn’t talk you out of being at work . . . just had to make the effort.”

Charles laughed and kissed her good-bye.

*****

Sally and Chuckie had spent the night in their summer hiding place in the park. They had unrolled a sheet of plastic to keep the snow from soaking into their clothes, and Chuckie’s blankets had been placed on the plastic to keep what they could of the cold at bay. Sally’s blankets went on top, along with the heavy opera cape she had traded for the gloves Chuckie had given her. They huddled together…just for warmth, she insisted.

“You think any of those boys will be back?” Sally asked as they settled in close to one another.

“Nah. I think they’re gonna lay low for a while. I don’t know who that guy they were beatin’ on was, but he sure didn’t intend to go down without a fight.”

“I like this cape. It’s warm…and it’s pretty. I ain’t had nothin’ pretty in a long time.” 

“You had them gloves before you traded ‘em,” Chuckie answered. “But this thing is warm. It was a good trade.”

“I want to go to a shelter tomorrow and get a shower…clean up some,” she told him.

“Sure, if you want to. Where did that come from? You usually avoid those places like the pits of Hell.”

“We stink, don’t we, Chuckie?” she more stated than questioned.

“Yeah, I guess we do. We just been on the streets so long we don’t notice it much no more,” he agreed. “How come you’re thinking about it now?”

“This is so nice,” she murmured drowsily as she fingered the edge of the heavy velvet. “That grand looking lady walked over to me and talked to me like I didn’t smell worse than a pig sty. Respectful. We don’t get that much. Having something nice makes me remember when I wasn’t dirty all the time…when I didn’t always stink.”

“Well, I like you, stink and all; but if it makes you happy, we’ll go find a shelter tomorrow . . . see about a good bath and some clean clothes.”

Then they were both quiet, settling down to try to sleep in the cold.

*****

Catherine was at the threshold a few minutes early, and Vincent was already there. He took her into his arms and held her close, then he pulled back far enough to lean down to kiss her.

“I’ve dreamed about that all day,” he admitted.

“Me, too,” she answered with a grin.

They smiled at each other for a moment before they spent a few minutes experimenting with their kisses.

“I feel like a teen-ager again,” Catherine told him. “Hiding out in a corner and kissing.”

Vincent chuckled and took her hand, giving her one more quick peck on the lips before leading her farther into the tunnels. “What would you like to do tonight? Our evening is free.”

“I’d like to stop and see Father first. I could feel the weight of worrying about you bearing down on him. He seemed so tired…and resigned. He probably blames me…and he may be right.”

“Catherine, well before you came into my life, he was worrying about my wandering in the park at night.”

“Still, I’d like to see that he’s okay.”

“And there will be the added benefit that after we see him, he won’t have a reason to interrupt us later.”

“I like this new side of you. You’re a fast learner.”

“Always was,” he answered with one of his flirty little smiles.

Catherine laughed in delight at his new confidence, and they walked the rest of the way in comfortable silence, smiling at one another now and then.

When they reached Father’s chamber, they came down the few steps into the common area and found him reading that morning’s paper.  Peter had asked another helper to send down several of the morning papers so Father would know what had been reported about the incident in the park.

“Vincent, Catherine. What a nice surprise,” he said, looking at them over his spectacles.

Catherine was pleased to see that he looked more relaxed…seemed to be more himself.

“Anything interesting?” Vincent asked.

“According to the paper, one of these men is someone you might recognize, Catherine.” Father handed her the paper and waited for a reaction, which didn’t take long.

“Vincent, my father was in the park when everything was happening. He wouldn’t have been where he could see me, would he?”

“I don’t know. Does he seem to be hurt? We don’t know what those boys had done before we encountered them.” Vincent took the paper that Catherine handed him.

“In the picture he looks all right,” Vincent observed.

“May I see the other papers, Father?”

“Certainly.” He handed Catherine the other newspapers, all opened to the same story. “There was mention of an attack about the time Helena arrived, but there was nothing out of the ordinary in the report. It seems Catherine and Mouse got you away just in the nick of time,” he said, giving Vincent his best, stern fatherly stare.

“Dad called me today at work…asked me to meet him for lunch tomorrow,” Catherine mused out loud as she looked at the other papers. “I hope it doesn’t have something to do with this…or trying to set me up with another man.” She handed Vincent another newspaper. “He’s been relentless lately.”

Vincent took the other paper from her to look. “He appears to be well. At least we know he wasn’t hurt.”

“We stopped to be sure that you’re well, too, Father,” Catherine said, putting her concerns about lunch the next day aside for the moment.

“As well as an old man with a bad hip and two wayward sons is likely to be,” he answered good-humoredly. "Possibly a little better knowing that you care.”

Catherine smiled and kissed his cheek as she returned the newspaper to his desk.

Mouse chose that time to come bounding into the room. “Vincent! Mouse made more gizmos…like the park. Made some for sentries. Worked good.”

“Yes, it did,” Vincent agreed.

“Not too big,” he expounded. “Fits in pocket. Take one when I go Above. Vincent wants one, just ask Mouse.”

“Thank you, Mouse,” Vincent answered, smiling at his friend’s excitement. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Mouse saw Vincent looking down at the newspaper again and sidled over next to him to see what had captured his interest.

Vincent pointed to one of the men in the picture. “This is Catherine’s father, Mouse.”

“Saw him. Didn’t know. Saw her, too,” he said matter-of-factly.

“Saw who?”

“Fancy lady . . . there,” he answered, pointing at the picture.

“When did . . . .”

“Went back up top. Looked for Vincent’s gloves. Saw man that helped us. Name’s Chuckie. Heard her say.”

“Heard her say?” Vincent asked, looking confused as he pointed to the opera star in the picture.

“Not her . . . other lady. Man gave her gloves.”

“Who did he give them to?” Catherine asked.

“Homeless lady. Saw him.”

“So the homeless lady has them?” Catherine questioned.

“Fancy lady has them. Homeless lady traded for fancy lady’s cloak.” Bounding out with as much energy as when he entered, Mouse moved up the steps, calling behind him, “Gotta go. Stuff to do.”

Father sat at his desk rubbing his fingers over his forehead, a small smile on his lips. “I believe the next hurricane should be called ‘Mouse.’”

Vincent and Catherine smiled with him in complete understanding.

“Too bad about the gloves, Vincent,” Father sympathized. “I know those were your favorites.”

“I wonder why someone would think they were worth trading for an expensive cape like the one she’s wearing in the first picture,” Catherine asked. “One paper did mention that she gave her cape to a homeless woman.”

“Perhaps she was only trying to allow the other woman the dignity of offering something of her own in return,” Vincent answered. “In any event, I shall have to find a substitute.”

“Dad and I are both patrons of the opera. I could probably arrange to see her about getting them back if she still has them.”

“You don’t need to do that, Catherine. I’ll find something else.”

“They suited you, though. They . . . I don’t know . . . looked like something you should have.”

“I sometimes forget how many connections you have Above, Catherine,” Father observed.

“Sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse, Father,” Catherine answered with a smile.

“I’m sure the two of you have better things to do than to spend the evening with me,” Father said, “but I appreciate your stopping in to check on me. Run along now. Enjoy your limited time together. I’ll sit quietly for a while and recover from Hurricane Mouse.”

“Goodnight, Father,” Catherine said as Vincent went and leaned down to kiss the top of his father’s head.

“Goodnight, children.”

Vincent led Catherine back to his chamber and pulled her close for another kiss. “I can’t seem to do that often enough,” he sighed, and pulled her back to his chest.

“Me, either,” Catherine agreed, wrapping her arms around him firmly. “Do you think it’s permanent…this new kind of bond between us? I’m not sure how I feel about it.”

“I don’t know.”

“It certainly made it easier to ‘say’ some things that needed to be said.”

“Yes.”

“Do you regret that they were said?”

“No…but it worries me.”

“Why?”

“Because I can feel that it drew you closer to me, and . . . .”

“Isn’t that what you want? To be closer?”

“Yes,” he answered, resting his cheek on her head. “I just don’t want you to ever feel trapped into this…obligated….”

“Vincent!” she scolded, moving far enough back to look him in the eye. “Knowing you feel the same way doesn’t make me feel trapped. It makes me feel liberated. I don’t have to hide anything anymore. You know me well enough to know how stubborn I can be. How many times have you known me to do something because I’m feeling coerced? Do you really think I would be here pushing myself into your life if I felt trapped?”

Vincent looked both surprised and amused at her argument and realized he had never looked at it that way. “No, I suppose not,” he conceded, smiling.

“Then kiss me again,” she said, drawing his face down closer to hers. “Be happy we have the rest of the evening alone, and enjoy knowing you have what you want.”

*****

The following day, Catherine told Joe she would be having lunch with her father. “If there’s nothing too pressing, I might extend lunch a little bit, but I’ll stay late if I do,” she promised.

“No problem, Radcliffe. Have fun.”

When lunchtime arrived, Catherine left to meet her father at a restaurant not too far from work…a bit concerned about his reasons for arranging this lunch at this particular time.

 

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