Dreams of Thee

Chapter 15

 

When Peter arrived, he cleansed Catherine’s arm then administered the hypodermic needle.  She had been totally hysterical when he had arrived, and as calm as Vincent had always been in any emergency, Peter knew his presence was welcome.  Within minutes the drug started to take effect, and Catherine’s sobbing started to cease.  Vincent sat opposite Peter, continuing to cling to Catherine’s hand as the tears steadily washed down his powerful features.  Peter had never seen Vincent look so disheveled, and seeing him like this was something of a shock.

After bandaging Catherine’s hand where Vincent’s belt buckle had split the skin, he cleansed her broken nails and bandaged them.  Peter gathered up his medical bag then touched Vincent’s shoulder, motioning him to follow as he headed toward the living room.  Peter told Vincent to sit and, opening the bag, he wordlessly began to cleanse the cuts on Vincent’s face.

“Cathy did this?”

“Yes.” Vincent’s voice was broken.  He sounded so unlike himself, Peter would not have recognized who was speaking if he had not been facing Vincent directly.

“Remove your shirt, please, so I may cleanse the rest of your chest.”  Peter realized how disdainful this was to Vincent, but he knew Jacob would never forgive him if his son developed an infection which could have been prevented.  Slowly, Vincent removed his shirt, his shoulders rolling forward and his arms involuntarily coming to rest around his ribs.  So long had he sought to hide his body, even from Peter, he could not control his actions.

Peter noticed Vincent flinch in pain as he reached up to pull off his shirt. “Vincent, would you stand for a moment, please?”

Vincent rose and stood unsteadily, swaying for a moment before he gained control of his body.  Peter gently probed his ribs, noting the spreading bruise near the top of his jeans. “Drop your pants.”

“It’s nothing.  You don’t need to worry.”

“Drop them anyway; I’ll be the judge of what I’m to worry about.”

“You sound like Father,” Vincent said as he reluctantly unzipped and lowered his jeans.

Peter’s fingers were gentle as they probed the rather large bruise which spread across Vincent’s waistline, the fingers of the bruise inching downward across the tight core of his stomach muscles toward the softly matted pubic hair. “Please tell me how this happened.”

Standing before Peter, Vincent began to shake, his legs trembling, his breath coming in gasps, and he fought to gain control over the emotions which were suffocating him.  Peter pushed him back into the chair and forced Vincent’s head down between his shaking legs.  “Try to breathe slowly, normally, and this will pass very quickly.”

After several minutes, Vincent raised his massive tangle of golden hair, his moist blue eyes coming to focus on Peter’s concerned face.  Vincent’s eyes silently begged Peter not to ask more questions.  “Vincent, believe me, I wouldn’t pry but I must know how you were injured and I’m sorry, but I also must know specifically what happened with Cathy.  If I am to help you both, I must know the details.”

Peter continued to apply antiseptic to the scratches and scrapes on Vincent’s body as he slowly told him all that had happened.  Vincent winced as Peter took two stitches to close the wound Catherine’s teeth had torn in his hand.

Peter switched off the light as he finished examining Vincent’s bloodshot, swollen eye.  “The eye is not damaged, but it will be sore for several days.  Your quick reflexes saved you from a more painful injury.  You may get dressed now; I’m all finished.”

Peter walked over to Catherine’s liquor cabinet, found a bottle of wine, poured a small glass, and handed it to Vincent. “Drink it straight down.  Doctor’s orders.  Stretch out on the bed with Cathy; try to relax and sleep.”

Peter followed Vincent to the bedroom as Vincent gently slipped onto the bed, taking care not to disturb Catherine’s sleep.  Peter noticed Vincent did not attempt to gather Catherine into his arms, but simply held her hand. Emotionally drained, Vincent fell asleep in spite of his resolve to watch over Catherine himself.

*************

Vincent and Catherine had been sleeping for over three hours when Peter heard the soft knock at the door.  He rose quickly and opened the door to allow Jacob to enter. Motioning for Jacob to follow, Peter headed toward the chairs on Catherine’s balcony and, in quiet tones, Peter filled Jacob in on what had happened.  Father listened, understandably shaken over the heartbreak Vincent must be experiencing because of his part in Catherine’s illness, and from what Peter had asked him to do.  He felt, too, his own guilt over his lack of compassion and understanding for the strain they had all placed upon Catherine since she had become a part of their world.

“I’m glad you sent for me.” Father looked warmly at his old friend.

“My concern is for both Vincent and Cathy; they have been through serious emotional trauma in the last twelve hours.  What scars will result from this trauma, only time will tell.  Perhaps I was wrong to use Vincent as I did.  His physical strength is enormous, and yet I think all of us forget his delicate make-up, the cost to himself to be the person we see.  I did what I felt professionally must be done, knowing Vincent was the only one capable of doing it.  I failed to realize I could heal one but might damage the other in the process.” Peter was morally bereft.

“Peter, God knows I have made mistakes with Vincent over the years, many of which I have made since Catherine came into his life.  However, I never made those mistakes intentionally.  Don’t belittle your professional judgment.  You did what you felt was right under the circumstances; it’s what we all do—the best we can, with the grace of God.”

They sat in companionable silence for several minutes, each lost within his own worries over the two people sleeping inside, and each wondered how to best help heal two aching hearts.

*************

Vincent tossed restlessly in his sleep as nightmares invaded his mind.  His dreams were of the night Catherine was attacked; he could smell the blood, hear her screams, see her face as the razor slashed again and again, and each time the razor slashed, the hand holding it was clawed and covered in fur.

The dreams became so vivid that Vincent woke with a jolt. He was disoriented, and it was a while before he was able to slow his wildly racing heart.  He stared at Catherine, trying to reassure himself she was merely sleeping safely beside him on the bed.  He rose, walking silently toward the living room, and he could only stand clinging to the door frame, clutching his chest.  He took two steps into the room, not trusting his eyes. “Father?”

Father rose quickly, moving toward his beloved son, gathering him in a close embrace. Vincent’s arms went around him and, for a moment, Father was stunned as Vincent allowed his weight to rest completely in his arms.

Father held Vincent tighter as he felt a shudder pass through Vincent’s body.  “Come, let’s sit down.  You look exhausted.  Would you like some tea?’” Father’s voice was filled with concern.

“Both of you sit; I’ll make the tea.” Peter smiled warmly at his two friends as he left the room.

Father was unsure who was helping whom to the sofa as he and Vincent made their way across the room and sank wearily into the soft cushions. “You are well, Father?”

“Yes, only slightly tired from the climb up the ladder in Catherine’s basement.  Peter indicated it would be wiser if I entered from Below rather than from the street.  I don’t believe he knew it would be such a difficult task.  I fear I was a burden to Cullen and Mouse in their efforts to assist me up that ladder!”  Father smiled as he remembered the efforts of his two friends.

Peter entered with the tea, placing it on the table, and then sat opposite Vincent and Father.  “Jacob, I have tended all of Vincent’s cuts and scrapes, but I would feel better if you were to examine him, too, particularly the bruise across his stomach.  You are certainly more expert than I on Vincent’s physical make-up, and your experience is needed, I feel.”

“Peter, there is no need to alarm Father,” Vincent’s voice rose slightly in protest.  “Your examination was thorough, and I will be fine in a few days.”

“Nevertheless, Vincent, if Peter feels I should examine you, I feel it would be wise to heed his advice.  Peter, would you allow me the use of your bag?  I did not realize mine would be needed.”

“Father, please.  Let us drink our tea while it’s hot. You can worry about me later.  The tea is much more appealing, I’m certain, than doing something you have done countless times before; and you know how quickly I heal.”  Vincent reached for his tea, unaware of the fleeting look of pain which flashed across his face as he bent forward.

Father knew, at this point, he would need to bide his time until his son was more receptive toward being examined again.  He, too, took his tea in hand and began to tell Vincent of the events which had transpired during the time Vincent and Catherine had been away.

The three men talked quietly over several cups of tea. Father continued to observe Vincent’s actions, noticing how often his eyes returned to the bedroom, trying to discern any movement by Catherine.  Father was aware of how worried Vincent was over Catherine’s condition, and he shared Vincent’s concern.

“I’m sorry, but I really must get ready to leave.  I have an appointment in a few hours, and by the time I get home and change, I’ll be cutting it close if I don’t leave soon.”

“Vincent, I think the time has come.  I may need Peter’s equipment, and I don’t feel we can detain him any longer.”

“Yes, I suppose you are right,” he replied reluctantly.

“Why don’t you go on with the examination, Jacob, while I clear away these tea things and clean up the kitchen?”  Peter gathered the cups onto the tray and walked toward the kitchen.  Both Vincent and Father were aware that Peter was allowing Vincent privacy.

Father brought the medical bag to the sofa and stared momentarily at Peter’s modern equipment, so different from his very dated, almost antique equipment.  “Vincent, would you please remove your shirt and trousers?”

“Please, Father, this really isn’t necessary.”

“Perhaps it isn’t necessary, but please do it just to humor an old man who needs to be reassured his son isn’t seriously hurt.”

“Father, when you phrase it in that manner, you know I can’t refuse.” Reluctantly Vincent removed his clothing and stood still while Father gently probed the dark, spreading bruise.

“Would you please lie down?”  Father and Vincent both looked at the abbreviated length of Catherine’s sofa and started to chuckle.

“A challenge if I ever saw one, but I’ll certainly try to accommodate your request,” Vincent said with a smile.  It was the first smile Father had seen on Vincent’s face since he had arrived.

Seeing the welts on his son’s skin and observing the teeth marks on his arm caused Father to shudder, as he was finally consciously aware of the force and the rage that Vincent had witnessed within Catherine.  Vincent’s eyes grew moist as Father continued to gently probe the area of the bruise.

Vincent kept his eyes closed the whole time Father tapped and probed across the bruise.  “Vincent, tell me if this is more painful to you.”

While previously his fingers had only skimmed the surface of the bruise, Father now probed deeper into the flesh of his son’s taunt stomach muscles.  A small groan escaped Vincent’s tight lips as Father’s finger probed deeply the darkest area of the bruise.

“I think I have seen enough.  Let’s sit you up, and then you may slip on your trousers.  Let me lift your legs; I’d prefer that you not put any more strain than necessary on your stomach muscles or ribs at this time.”  With Father’s help, Vincent swung his legs to the floor and then struggled into his jeans.

“Do you need my assistance?”  Peter called from the kitchen.  A knowing look passed between Father and Vincent, each aware Peter had purposely stayed in the kitchen and that he had listened to their conversation.

“No, Peter, I’m all finished.  Thank you for the use of your equipment. I appreciate it very much,” Father said as he closed the bag.

“If you have no objections, Vincent, I would like to stay for a few hours.”

“Of course not, Father. You know you are welcome.”

Vincent rose and walked Peter to the door. “I have left a needle and a vial with Jacob in case Cathy should awaken and become hysterical again.  But she should sleep for several more hours.  I have discussed the situation with Jacob, Vincent, and I feel comfortable about leaving with Jacob staying. I’ll call later.”

Peter reached to unlock the door then turned again to Vincent.  “You have done the very best for Cathy, and no one could ask more of you.  I realize only too well, Vincent, the cost to you in helping Cathy release all of her pent-up pain and sorrow.  Don’t judge yourself harshly; I asked you to do what you did, and you could have refused.  I truly believe that, while Cathy’s pain is acute now, had you not done as I instructed, it would have been far worse later.”

They said good-bye, and Vincent closed and locked the door then walked to Father. “Are you hungry, Father; could I get you something to eat?  We have plenty and it is no problem to fix.”

“Thank you, but no.  But, please, if you are hungry, fix something for yourself.  It should be light, though; you would quickly regret putting heavy food in your stomach.”

“No, I’m not hungry. I just thought you might be,” Vincent said as he sat down beside his father.

“Vincent, Peter told me all that happened.  Would you feel better if you talked about it?  I know this was very difficult for you, but talking may help to relieve you of the pain you are experiencing.” Father’s hand rested on Vincent’s arm.

“It is only now, Father, that I can begin to fathom the emotional pain you suffered during those dark days of my youth.  How did you do it?  The pain of watching Catherine suffer as she has during the last twelve hours has been unbearable.”  Vincent’s voice was choked with emotions.

“You endure the pain, the anguish, simply because you must.  What I experienced during that time was nothing compared to what you were suffering.  It is a pain which is unexplainable, and you survive because of the love you have for the person whose pain is greater; in my case, your torment was greater than my own.”  Father covered Vincent’s hand with his own.

“There is nothing I would not do to prevent Catherine’s pain.”

“I know . . .  I know.  Love gives such power and depth to our feelings.  One of the strongest is the wish to protect our loved ones from pain and suffering.  Those nights ─ and the nights were the worst ─ when you cried and begged to be released from your torment were the most difficult.  Watching you, the child of my heart, in such anguish, despair; I was sure neither of us would survive the ordeal.

“Yet we did survive; our relationship was forged anew in stronger steel.  Believe me, Vincent, the core of your love for Catherine—and hers for you—will survive this fire. What comes from these ashes of pain will transcend all you have known or experienced until now.”  Tears washed down Father’s face as the events of Vincent’s youth were replayed within his mind.

“Father . . . .” Vincent’s voice came falteringly, “Father.”  His chest heaved wildly, patterning the rapid beating of his heart. “I tortured her!  I tortured Catherine, Father. I cruelly, purposely tortured her.”  The words came in anguished sobs as Vincent could no longer contain the kaleidoscope of whirling emotions which assaulted his senses.

Witnessing his son’s torment, Father felt his own heart breaking as he watched the pain etch deeply on Vincent’s majestic face.  Reaching out, Father drew Vincent’s shaking body toward his own.  Instinctively, Vincent was enfolded in the arms of the man who had nurtured him his whole life.

“I tortured her,” his voice came again, buffered against Father’s chest as Vincent’s mind sought release and warmth from the cold he felt within his heart.

“Yes, I know.”

Vincent’s head rose, and he saw only the constant undeniable love in Father’s eyes.

“Father . . . I . . . .”

“It’s over Vincent.  Let it go.  What you did was done with the greatest love.  Please, Vincent, be careful not to build a new, larger wall by destroying yourself with needless guilt, a guilt which, left to fester, could become insurmountable.  Catherine may not possess the strength necessary now to destroy such a wall!  None of us, specifically, are responsible for what has happened to Catherine; yet each of us, everyone within our world, must accept a partial blame.

“You, Vincent, had the greatest courage of all: the courage to inflict deep pain upon the person you love more than your very life, the courage born of love beyond understanding, a love without boundaries, a love willing to suffer any personal pain in order to free your love of a deeper, more consuming pain.”

The whole time he spoke, Father’s hands continued to stroke Vincent’s hair.  “Whatever you did to Catherine, Vincent, was the consummation of your love.”

Father’s words slowly touched the heart of Vincent’s pain—a fear that, in some perverse way, the beast within him, not his consuming love, had ruled while he had tortured Catherine, as he had pursued relentlessly Catherine’s shadows of fears in a manner which had been repulsive to his gentle nature.  As Father’s compassionate words of wisdom and love washed upon Vincent’s bereft aching heart, he was able to release the pain which consumed his soul.

Vincent clung to Father as his tears created large wet stains upon the wide lapels of Father’s old suit.  Father continued to hold and gently rock his son, praying the rocking would soothe him as it had when Vincent was a young boy.  Father remembered other times he had done so, and when he had longed to hold Devin but the anger and pain had kept them apart.  Devin, I do love you, no matter what you may think; I have always loved you, my son - child of my body - I love you.  The words had become his daily litany to God, one Father repeated without conscious knowledge as his mind filled with thoughts of his other son.

Father sat, quietly holding Vincent, aware the sobs had ceased but reluctant to release him.  Years had passed—and how many more would pass again—before he might have the opportunity to hold the special, gentle man who was his child.

Vincent stirred, aware, as he always was, of his size and strength.  He eased his large frame from Father’s chest where he had drifted into a peaceful bliss for the last hour.  He felt Father’s gentle kiss upon his forehead as he raised his head.  Father’s hand caressed his face as Vincent’s eyes met Father’s.  “You need not move; you should rest and regain your strength”  - words Vincent had heard many times from Father’s lips.

“I’m too heavy; I will hurt you.”

“No. I may be an old man, but I will always have the strength to hold my son.  And you, Vincent, do not have the strength to ever hurt me.”  The love in Father’s voice rose to surround Vincent.  Vincent understood Father’s need to comfort him – and his own need to strengthen the bond of unbroken love and trust between them—and he turned, drawing his legs up until he was curled into a tight ball, his head resting in Father’s lap, one long muscular leg draped over the end of the sofa. Father stroked his hair lightly and, after several minutes, Vincent again drifted into sleep.

Father noticed the change in Vincent’s breathing, and even though his eyes remained closed, he knew Vincent was awake.  He remembered other times in Vincent’s youth when he had lain so, awake but unwilling to rise to face a new, difficult task.  “Would you like some tea?”

Reluctantly, Vincent opened his eyes, and immediately he was warmed by the love on Father’s face; and slowly, he drew himself upright.  He rose, stretching his cramped muscles, then turned to assist Father, who was struggling to rise.  They smiled warmly at each other, then looked again at the short sofa and laughed, each shaking his head.

“I’ll put the kettle on. If you would like to wash, the bathroom is through the bedroom,”  Vincent said as he headed toward the kitchen.

Vincent was sitting on the edge of the bed as Father walked from the bathroom.  Just the way Vincent looked at Catherine, the way his eyes worshipped her, caused Father to blush slightly, almost as though he had witnessed something far more intimate than the innocent look of love on Vincent’s face.

From years of habit, Father reached past Vincent’s hands to take Catherine’s pulse.  His thin smile told Vincent it was normal; as Father went to silence the whistling kettle, Vincent sat for several moments longer, filling Catherine’s mind with his love and willing his strength into her body.  “Sleep well, my love, sleep well. I love you, Catherine.  Please come back to me. I need you, you are my life.”  Vincent lowered his mouth to kiss her, then rose and retreated to the kitchen.

They had finished their tea and soup when Vincent felt Catherine’s first stirrings.  He dropped his napkin and quickly covered the distance to the bedroom.

She whimpered in her sleep as Vincent sank down upon the bed, his fingers caressing her arm as he sought to soothe her with his words.  “I’m here,” he breathed into her ear. “Sleep. You’re safe. No one will harm you . . . sleep.” His voice lulled her back to sleep, and he continued to sit.  He was aware of how petite she looked as she slept, the weight she had lost since she had been ill, and in spite of all this, her incredible beauty. Vincent was awestruck by Catherine’s beauty and how unaware she was of it or how it affected him . . . the way his heart skipped several beats when she spoke his name, or looked at him with her expressive, soul-capturing green eyes.

Vincent leaned down, placing his cheek against hers, feeling the warmth of her face against his.  He felt so lost, his world so empty without the gentle presence of Catherine.  Vincent realized the void in which he had lived before Catherine. He had survived, but was not truly alive; he gave worth to his community, but within the depths of his soul, he wasn’t a part of his community.  Catherine’s love had freed him to live life to the fullest and he was able, at last, to be truly a part of all the emotions of life, living and loving. “Catherine,” he said softly into the air, “you have given me life.”

Drawing on his cloak, Vincent pulled up the hood and went to join Father on the balcony.  As he walked out, Vincent saw the startled look upon Father’s face.  “I use the cloak when I come out, and by sitting with my back to the building, I am able to enjoy the fresh air without danger.”

“I suppose I will never stop worrying about you and what would happen if you were discovered here.”

“I know. Catherine’s balcony is our private world.  I believe the other apartment on this side is leased by a company and is rarely occupied on a regular basis.”

“How does your stomach feel, now that you have eaten?”

“I’m really all right, Father. Please don’t continue to be concerned.  I would tell you if anything were wrong; surely you know that.”

“Do I worry too much, Vincent? I suppose I do.  Our resources are so limited and my greatest fear is that something would happen to you and I would not have the resources or the skills to save you.”  Father’s voice was heavy with emotion ashe spoke.

“Until now I never truly understood your fears for my safety, the reasons you tried so hard to prevent me from being hurt, why you guarded or wanted to guard my every movement.  So many things are clearer to me now.  I feel far closer to you here, now, than ever before—if such a thing is possible.  I truly feel I am now able to comprehend things you did and the reasons you did them, when before I could not.  Nothing you could have said or done would have prepared me for the pain which has been a part of my life these last weeks.” Vincent reached for and held Father’s hand as he spoke.

“I always tried, Vincent, to guide you only with love and not allow my fears to overrule what I felt were good, sound values for you to live by, both as a child and as a man.”

The phone rang and they both looked up. After the second ring, the answering machine took the call and they could hear Peter asking one of them to come to the phone.  Vincent winced as he rose and quickly strode to the phone.  He talked for several minutes then put the phone down and returned to the balcony.

“Peter has been detained and feels it will be very late before he is able to get away.  In fact, he is not at all certain he will be able to return tonight.  He wishes to talk with you, to know Catherine’s current condition . . . and if you plan to stay the night, or if you wish to return Below, so he might send word to Mouse and Cullen to return for you.

“You are welcome to stay the night, Father.  The decision must be yours, and you must do what makes you the most comfortable.”

Father rose and moved toward the phone.  He spoke with Peter at great length, and after hanging up he returned to where Vincent sat.  “Vincent, I know I am welcome to spend the night, but before I make such a decision, I need to know how you feel.  Peter will call back very sh0rtly.  You have been through so much turmoil in the last 24 hours and my professional decision must be based upon how you’re feeling.  How well do you feel physically? Are you mentally prepared for another emotional outburst from Catherine?  Are you completely comfortable being alone with Catherine under these circumstances?  And most importantly, would you consider returning Below where your family is, where there are people to watch over her?”

Vincent silently weighed his options before speaking. “I wish I could allay your concerns easily, but the situation is more complex.  Certainly I would prefer not to endure another emotional maelstrom. But if it takes another and another to truly free Catherine, then I will do it.

“When I was growing up, you always told me strength of character comes from adversity and a willingness to grow from our sorrows.  I realize there are certain areas of my life, things from which I failed to learn and to grow.  I will do whatever is necessary to help Catherine, Father, no matter what the cost.  I feel it would be best for Catherine to be here when she awakens, but we will come Below soon, Father, soon.”

“When Peter phones, I will tell him to alert Mouse and the others of my return.  Professionally, I know you will handle this far better than anyone else; as your Father, I seek, as always, to spare you pain.”

 

Chapter 16

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