Dreams of Thee

Chapter 20

 

There was lightness in their steps as they walked through the tunnels.  The satchel containing their clothing was flung across Vincent’s shoulder.  The small bag in his hand contained the food from the refrigerator; neither he nor Catherine could allow it to waste away in her refrigerator.

The tunnel sentries allowed them to pass unchallenged, honoring Vincent’s tapped request not to announce his return.  Now and then, as they passed hand in hand through the tunnels, a warm, welcoming voice would hail them. Catherine was amazed - why, she did not know - that Vincent recognized each voice, greeting each by name.

Vincent traveled the tunnels with ease, slowing his normal long stride to accommodate her shorter one.  He took one step and realized she had stopped and was pulling his hand.  Wordlessly he turned, stepping back to stand beside Catherine, setting the smaller bag on the tunnel floor and gathering Catherine close.  Reaching up, she encircled his neck and, smiling into his quizzical face, she simply said, “Up.”

Vincent’s face lit up as he laughingly complied with her request, his hands circling her tiny waist, lifting her up until her face was even with his own.  Catherine slowly lowered her mouth, leisurely drawing his mouth into a kiss which deepened and left them both gasping when they drew apart.  She slowly slid down the length of his chest, burying her face there and hugging him tightly.

 “We will never get home if you do that again!” His voice filled with gravel as he fought to control the desire her touch caused to leap to a roaring flame within his veins.

“I know,” she said, “but I have always wanted to do that!”  She looked up, a silly smile on her face. “You don’t know the number of times that, when you guided me back, I longed to stop and kiss you.”

***********

William turned as they entered the kitchen, his joy evident upon his face as he greeted them.  Vincent stepped into his warm bear-hug and returned it with one of equal affection and strength. Looking at Vincent and seeing the slight inclination of his head, William walked to where Catherine waited.  Taking her tiny hand in his large one, William brought it to his lips and kissed her fingers.  “I have missed you both,” he said, looking over the tips of her fingers, “and I am happy to see you looking so well.”

“Thank you, William. I have missed all of my family here in the tunnels.”

“We brought some food down from Catherine’s refrigerator. I’m sure you can put it to good use. If you will excuse us, we must see Father.”

***********

There was a soft light coming from Father’s study, and Vincent knew Father had awakened early and was already hard at work. Vincent stepped aside, allowing Catherine to quietly enter, and together they stood silently for a moment, lost within their own thoughts of the man who occupied this chamber.  Feeling her nervousness, Vincent sought Catherine’s eyes and smiled his encouragement as he caressed the back of her hand with his thumb.

Catherine let go of his hand and pushed Vincent forward.  He quietly moved down the steps to stand beside the man who had loved and nurtured him.  He spoke softly, seeing that Father was nodding over tunnel maps. “Father.”

“Yes, what is it?” came the groggy reply.  His head came up; he rubbed his eyes and looked again, and then he realized he wasn’t dreaming. “Vincent, is that really you?”

Struggling to his feet, Father found himself supported by large, gentle hands and enveloped in those massive arms he had missed so much.

Drawing apart, they smiled at each other, basking in the warmth of their shared love.  Tears slowly filled Father’s eyes as he looked at his son.

“Oh, Father, please don’t; we are home, and everything is fine.” Tears continued to fall and Vincent felt tears sting his eyes, too, and he gathered Father to his chest. 

Moments passed and Father was finally able to regain control of his emotions.  Looking up into those ever-startling eyes, he asked, “How is Catherine?”

“Why don’t you see for yourself?” Vincent said as he stepped away, allowing Father to see Catherine standing on the stairs.

“Catherine, my dear child, how very good it is to see you.”

Catherine walked hesitantly down the steps, her face awash with tears, as Father moved forward to greet her. Father’s arms opened wide and she stepped into his waiting embrace.  His hand reached up to caress her face as he gently kissed her cheeks. “My dear child, I have missed you.  Are you well?”

“Yes, thanks to Vincent, I am.”

Shyly, Catherine’s arms moved upward around Father’s neck, and she kissed him very lightly on the lips.  Father tasted her tears as her lips skimmed unconsciously across his, and he felt her trembling. Pulling away, Father smiled, seeing the pain and sorrow in her eyes as she silently begged for his understanding of what was to come. “You honor an old man greatly, Catherine.  It has been a long time since anyone as lovely as you has willingly kissed me.”

Vincent watched as the two people he loved slowly made their way through their first awkward moments together. He knew they would find their way just as surely as he and Catherine had found their destiny and fulfilled their dreams through their long, desperate struggle.

“May I bring some tea for both of you?” The warmth of Vincent’s soft voice filled the chamber.

Pulling away, each of them glad for the distraction, Father offered Catherine his handkerchief. 

“William would probably have coffee ready if you would prefer that, Catherine.”

“No, Vincent, tea is fine.”

Vincent moved up the stairs, but he stopped and looked over his shoulder at the sound of Catherine’s voice.

“Vincent.”

He had only a moment to brace himself as Catherine hurled herself into his waiting, outstretched arms.  Gathering her close, he waited, understanding the panic which had overcome her, causing her fears of this meeting with Father to rise; and he could feel her intense struggle to overcome those fears. “It’s all right, Catherine, everything will be fine.”

Catherine’s body trembled, and then she pushed herself away, shook her head, smiled up at Vincent and murmured quietly, “As long as I have you, everything will be fine.”  She turned and made her way slowly back to Father, who stood where she had left him.  She accepted his arm and together they moved toward the chairs.

“Your eyesight has fully returned?” Father inquired.

“Yes.”

“Have you experienced any other ill-effects from your other injuries?”

“No.”

“Your shoulder does not bother you?”

“No.”

“Vincent looks well.”

“Yes.”

“You will be staying with us for a time?”

“Yes. Father?  I . . . .”

Catherine looked down at her fingers, twisting the handkerchief she held as she tried to speak over the large knot that had filled her throat.  She suddenly bolted from her chair, pacing about the room as she sought to calm her fears. This is ridiculous, she thought, being afraid of talking to Father.  Fear never got you anyplace, Cathy, girl; get on with it, talk to him.

She moved toward the chair where Father was seated, sinking gracefully down and taking his hand at the same instant.  “You know how much Vincent means to me, how much I love him.  We, Vincent and I, can never be truly happy if there is a problem within the relationship you and I share.

“I remember every word you said to me the night I tried to kill myself, and the look on your face, the coldness in your voice, and the utter contempt you had for me.”

“But, Catherine, you must understand—the emotions of the moment, I . . . .” Father’s resonant voice trailed off softly.

“No, Father, you misunderstand.  I do not blame you for what you said, or all that you did.  I did something I never thought possible: I did something that would have caused Vincent pain, would have broken his heart and left him in agony.  The very things I swore to you I would never do. All the warning, the lectures, the words of protest were true; in the end, I did as you predicted: I wounded him, created a pain within Vincent that will never completely heal.

“Vincent’s life is dearer than my very own, yet within me I was capable of doing the one thing I never thought possible.  By killing myself, I would surely have killed Vincent in the process. 

“Oh, his body would have continued on, he would have lived out his days in a tortured, lonely, unhappy life because he is too noble, too courageous to do otherwise. But I would have destroyed his spirit, his soul, because Vincent believes he is responsible for my care, my keeping. He would have convinced himself my death was his fault.” Catherine’s voice rose and ebbed, her hands flying to her face to brush away the tears as she continued.

“I do not expect you to understand all the reasons why I felt death was easier than life.  The pain I felt was so overwhelming, all consuming. It’s not an excuse, because what I attempted was inexcusable, but hopefully, if I can give you some shred of what I was feeling, perhaps someday you will find it within yourself to forgive me.  Your forgiveness is important to me because, whether you believe it or not, I am very fond of you.  The love, shelter, and compassion you gave to Vincent as a child, all the things you did to create the man I love, are only a part of the affection I feel.”

Vincent stood outside the chamber entrance holding the tea tray.  Not wishing to eavesdrop on a very personal, private conversation, he quietly returned to the kitchen area.  Their bond made it possible for him to feel what Catherine was experiencing and, knowing Father as he did, he knew the conversation would be long. 

Catherine’s face was awash with tears, but through the tears, Father could see the love and affection she had for him and his son.  “Catherine, my dear, your courage in opening this deeply personal subject so quickly upon your return to us is extraordinary.  I think, were I in your situation, I might be tempted to postpone such a confrontation.

“I have dreaded this moment, Catherine.  My anger at your actions stemmed from many emotional reactions; some of those reactions cause me deep personal shame and remorse.

“As a physician, I realize the value of life, and do all within my power to maintain it.  To have it willingly destroyed galls me.  And for you to consider destroying your life, well, to be honest, Catherine, I don’t recall ever being so angry.  Not just angry because you tried to throw away your life, but for what your actions would do—did do—to my son!

“I never wanted you in Vincent’s life.  I fought your becoming a part of his life, and our world, at every turn.  I knew your presence here would be a disaster.  And on any number of occasions, you proved me right!  None more so than the night you elected to end your life in my son’s bed!”

Father’s resonant voice filled the chamber and his harsh words caused Catherine to shiver.  Emotions rose, filling the chamber with vibrations that seemed to swell and ebb, charging the air with electricity.

“You did not witness the torture Vincent suffered after you were attacked, and just when he thought you would live and be returned to him, you sought to destroy yourself!

“Never,” Father exclaimed loudly, “have I understood the rage which consumes Vincent, not until then.  The rage I felt against you, Catherine, literally consumed me.  Had I not been able to save you, I could never have been certain if I had failed as a physician or if I had let my emotions sway my judgment!”

Vincent put his cup down with a crash as Catherine’s anguish filled him. He filled the entrance to the chamber, seeing Catherine huddled in the chair and Father towering over her, his words still ringing in the chamber.

“Enough, Father, enough!  I have never known you to be cruel.  This must stop. Catherine came in peace and your behavior is inexcusable.  It will stop now.” Vincent descended the stairs to stand beside Catherine, his eyes ablaze.

Catherine’s eyes sought his. “Please, no, Vincent, don’t. This is between Father and me.  We each need to be honest, no matter how painful it is for either of us.  It would be best if you left.”

“No! I will not have you subjected to such verbal abuse, not after all you have been through.”  His hand slid possessively around her shoulder and he felt her trembling.

“Please go, Vincent.”

“No, Catherine, Vincent need not leave. In fact, I would welcome his presence here.  I would like both of you to hear what I have to say.  Vincent, please sit down.”

“I will stand.” His voice was low, and he fought to control the anger he felt.

“As you prefer.  All I have said is the truth.  It is not a pleasant truth, but then, truth is often bitter, filled with anguish which threatens to choke us, rob us of our dignity, and proves that we are all fools when we surround ourselves with piety.

“For 34 years, Catherine, the safety of my son has filled my every waking moment.  Without being aware, this tiny babe took my fingers in his small hand, stealing my heart with his touch.  I have loved Vincent without reservation all his life, to the point where, for many years, I denied my own birth son.”

“Father, please, don’t.  This isn’t necessary.”

“Ah, Vincent, the child of my heart, you seek to shield first Catherine from my wrath and now, you seek to spare me pain.” Father reached out, touching the large hand resting ever so lightly upon Catherine’s shoulder.

“Catherine came with courage; I owe her that same courage. Foolish man that I was, I thought that if you would just survive the trauma of your birth and the illnesses which racked your tiny body, then my worries would be over! How very little did I know of parenting.” A slight half-smile tugged at Father’s lips as he spoke. “The worry and the fears never completely left.  When others treated you badly, Vincent, you treated them with kindness.  You walked and lived with a love for humanity, with wisdom beyond your years!

“The time after Devin left was agony, but together we slowly found our way, and our relationship grew.  All the things I loved, I was able to share with you, and my joy in them was returned tenfold as they expanded your mind, your horizons, molding you.”

His hand ran through his hair, causing it to become more disarrayed. “I wanted the world for you, Vincent.  My frustrations at not being able to give you the world, to share the beauty which it does contain, were echoed each time I looked into your eyes, seeing your pain; when I had to tell you no, it broke my heart, and I think I died a little each time I said it.  I wanted so to protect you, only to protect you.

“When you found Catherine, all I could think of was the safety of our world and the life we had built.  But I also think I was still very much lost within my own grief and pain because of my separation from Margaret.  Margaret was my life. One moment I was completely involved in research; the next, there she was, and I could think of nothing else.  I forced myself not to remember; and in doing so I cheated you, Vincent, of something very precious.”

Tears silently slid down Catherine’s face. This was a Father she never expected to see, a window on his personal pain and suffering hidden from public view.  Her hands instinctively sought to touch him, the previous hurt his words caused within her heart forgotten as Catherine realized for the first time the very private pain which was a part of the man they all called Father.

“I failed to remember the beauty, the joys of being in love - how ordinary events become special because they are shared; when the sight of someone’s face can bring supreme happiness and the absence of that same face breaks your heart.  This was the joy that Margaret and I shared; it is the joy, the love, I saw and foolishly fought against in both of you.

“After I left your apartment, Catherine, leaving my son to pick up the pieces and put your shattered life back together again, I realized to my own shame that I had been jealous of your love, the time stolen which used to be mine.  I began to doubt my own reasons for objecting so violently to your presence here, and your influence upon my son.  And I realized how, in my own way, I had contributed to your emotional distress.

“In my piety, I believed I was the only one capable of loving my son, that no other human being could conceivably see what I saw in him, love him as I did, give him all I could give—the friendship, love, encouragement, companionship. Perhaps I saw only your uniqueness, my son, and it was only when Catherine came that I realized I had, in my own way, contributed to your aloneness.  I sealed off my heart and my memories of Margaret; I learned to live in a world without the soft tender touch of a woman, the way your heart swells with the very sight of her, the feel of silken, soft hands within my own rough hands.  I learned to live without tenderness.  I denied that part of me which drew me to Margaret, that part of me that was a man.

“In sealing my own heart, I failed to realize the capacity and extent of your emotions, the part of you that longed for and needed the tenderness of a woman’s love.  How could I have expected you to be a part of this community, witnessing the family bonds, the interpersonal relationships, our marriage ceremonies, the naming ceremonies, and never fully share in that love?  It is a question I will never be able to answer, an action I will regret until I no longer have breath.”

He paused, taking a deep breath, as he sought Catherine’s eyes and was grateful for the softness he saw there.

“I saw the way the young girls of our community looked at you, the shy, innocent stages of love, and instead of allowing you to experience those first joys of shared affection, I stressed the reason why it shouldn’t be. I warned against dire, unnamed things, such as your genetic differences, never stressing or remembering your humanity and the very basic need your humanity brings to you.  And when Catherine came, heeding none of my protests, but loving you beyond all reason, I reacted with anger, hostility, and accusations.

“Seeing the devotion and love with which Vincent tended you, watching him bereft of all comfort because of the mental pain he inflicted upon you, humbled me beyond words, Catherine.

“It is not you who should ask for forgiveness.  It is I who must beg your pardon for doubting the sincerity of your commitment and devotion to my son.”

Catherine kneeled beside Father’s chair.  Taking his worn hand into her own, she brought it to her cheek tenderly, rubbing it across her face then slowly bringing it to her lips, her eyes never leaving the care-worn face that had become so dear to her.  “Father, your love for Vincent makes the honoring of your eloquent request easy; what he is, he is because of your love.  He is my life and through you, he gave me life.”

Trembling hands touched Catherine’s face, cradling it delicately, deep grey eyes holding green as unspoken words passed between them, and slowly Father leaned down to kiss first one soft cheek and then the other.  “Catherine.” And with his spoken word, Father’s tightly controlled emotions broke, tears spilling down his face.

Catherine reached up, throwing her arms around Father’s heaving shoulders, drawing herself up until she sat in his lap, holding him and being held as she buried her face against his neck; when they finally drew apart, the chamber was empty.

***********

Vincent stood with his back pressed against the rocky wall, trying to control his wildly beating heart, to still the swell of emotions which racked his body.  Head thrown back, dragging in air, he fought to gain control.  He was again assaulted by emotions which he had fought for so long, emotions so newly released within that they battered his mind for the right to be there.

He sank slowly down the wall, his legs no longer able to support him.  Father had always loved him—that he knew—but to hear the depth of his love verbalized was an emotionally draining experience which left him shaking.  For Father to have questioned so deeply all of his teachings about unknown genetic problems shook the core of Vincent’s world.

Minutes passed and slowly he rose unsteadily to his feet and made his way along the tunnel.

“Vincent, I was just coming to look for you.  William told me you had returned.”

“Pascal, it is good to see you, old friend.”

“Are you well, Vincent?  You look as if something were wrong; it’s not Catherine, is it?  I thought William said she was all right.”

“Catherine is well. It is just...” Vincent’s voice trailed away.

“You know, Vincent, once when I went Above it took me hours to return because I got lost, and when I got back here, for days I could not get over the wonder at being home again.”

“Yes, home is wonderful when you are surrounded by your family and those you love.” Vincent put his arm around Pascal’s shoulder, his heart lightened by the wonderful gift of his quiet, gentle understanding friend.

“Shall we go see what gastronomic delight William has prepared for breakfast?”  Vincent asked.

“Gastronomic delight, my foot.  He has probably tried again to perfect his inability to make oatmeal and the whole community will suffer his indignity if we refuse to swallow it.”

Shared pictures of all previous failed attempts on William’s part to be able to produce a simple edible bowl of oatmeal filled their heads, and their mirth filled the tunnels.

Reaching the communal dining room, they took one look at the bowls sitting before people and collapsed in laughter. Tears rolled down their faces and, holding their sides, they slowly made their way towards the tables.  They sat, trying to control their laughter amidst the stares of the community.  When they were joined by Jamie and Mouse, who carried their bowls, they erupted again in laughter.

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

Hours later, Father and Catherine appeared in the now very deserted dining room.  Hearing voices, William yelled, “You’re too late,” from behind a mound of pots, sticking his head around the stack to see who had dared enter so late.

“Catherine, Father.”

“William, I am so sorry we were delayed and missed breakfast. If you would allow me to use a pan, I will fix something for Father and me.” Catherine’s smile dazzled him and the joy within her shined, drawing him into its warmth.  He stood unable to speak for a fraction of a second, then hearing Father’s warming chuckle, William’s face turned a deep pink.

“Beauty like Catherine’s is blinding, I agree,” Father said warmly, offering his hand in welcome to William.

“Catherine, I would be honored if you would allow me to fix something special for you.  Perhaps a nice warm bowl of oatmeal will put some meat back on your too-skinny bones.”

“How very sweet of you, William, thank you.  I have always been fond of oatmeal; when I was a little girl my mother use to fix it for me, making clown faces with brown sugar.  I can remember how I loved to watch her and how much fun we had eating around the face in the bowl until only the wonderful warm chewy sugar would remain.”

“Tell me, Catherine, did your Mother have a special, secret recipe?”

Their heads together, neither noticed Father’s choked laughter nor him slinking quietly away.

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

His hand brushed at his face and Vincent settled back into sleep.  Again he felt the sensation of something brushing across his face and he swatted again at the object which disturbed his slumber.  Reluctantly, one eye opened, seeking to find what had caused this feeling, and he looked into Catherine’s smiling face.

“I didn’t awaken you from your slumber; why have you awakened me?”  Try as he might to feign anger, Vincent found he was unable to keep a straight face.  A deep, rumbling laughter started in his chest, making its way upward, spilling over them and filling the chamber.

“I’m sorry.  You looked so boyish, I just couldn’t resist.” Catherine carefully poked at a special spot on his back and was rewarded by new mirth which surged through him as she found the spot where he was ticklish.

Vincent rolled onto his back, seeking to escape her darting fingers, only to find that he had left his ribs open to her attack.  The bed shook as Catherine’s fingers sought to tickle further and Vincent moved to evade this never-before-experienced attack upon his body.

Vincent twisted and turned, seeking to avoid the hands that seem to be attacking his flesh from every angle.  He moved further toward the edge of the bed, only to feel himself sliding over the edge.  Catherine made a wild grab for the belt of his robe, but the weight of her body lunging to save him sent Vincent sprawling onto the floor.

Catherine slid backward, stricken that her actions should cause this.  Gingerly, she peeked over the edge, seeing Vincent lying in a very undignified heap, his hair falling over his face, his robe in disarray and his chest heaving.  Slowly, one finger moved to part the hair which covered his face.

“Oh, Vincent, I’m sorry.  One moment I had you and the next you were gone.”  The laughter bubbled up from Catherine’s throat.

Vincent lay there shaking with silent laughter then, before Catherine could blink, he jumped up, grabbing her before she had time to react or escape.  “Fair is fair,” he purred in her ear as he carefully turned his sharp nails inward and, using only his knuckles, attacked her ribs, then her feet.

Their laughter rose, Catherine’s high giggles filling the chamber as she sought to escape.  Vincent’s longer arms gave him the advantage and soon Catherine collapsed, begging for mercy.  Vincent drew her close and together their laughter continued.

“My stomach hurts.”

“Mine too.”

“Is being awakened like this something I have to look forward to in the years to come, Catherine?”

Her eyes quickly filled with tears, her lower lip quivered, and she buried her face in her hands. Her arms flew around his neck, holding him tightly as she stared into his deep blue eyes. “You, me, us together. I have dreamed of this for so long, being with you,” her voice filled with emotion, “and to envision waking up beside you for all the years to come, is...is....”

“Catherine,” he whispered as he moved to kiss away her lone tear, “without you, I would cease to be.”

Catherine looked deeply into Vincent’s eyes, memorizing the look of complete love and faith on his face; she drew his beloved face closer until his mouth covered hers.

“Catherine,” he breathed against her neck, causing her skin to warm, “is it like this for all couples?”

“No, I don’t think it is so for all couples. Just the special few - those who dream so long of being united are blessed with such joy.”  Her hand stroked his hair, her arms holding him tightly, as she held him against her breasts.

Vincent stirred, raising his head to look at Catherine. “We should dress and join Father.  The message on the pipes leads me to believe something special is being planned tonight in our honor.”

Sighing, Vincent rose, walking to the étagère to take out clean clothing.  Dropping his robe onto the chair, he stood surveying his wardrobe, trying to determine what he should wear.  Catherine’s arm stole around him, her face pressed against his warm back.  “If you go like this, we are likely to embarrass ourselves, not to mention Father and the whole community, because I won’t be able to resist you.”  Her voice was warmly husky as she softly rubbed her face across his back.

Her hands trailed across his broad muscular chest as Vincent leaned back into her embrace, enjoying the feel of her breasts pressed against his back.  “You are tempting me greatly, love of mine,” she murmured as her lips pressed kisses against his back.  Catherine’s hands moved across his taut stomach in lazy circles.

“Catherine.”  His voice was a mixture of a low growl and a moan which seemed to be suspended, filling the chamber before fading, only to be replaced by the sound of his panting.  Vincent was overwhelmed by his sudden arousal at Catherine’s light playful touch, and his body shuddered, alive and aflame.

They drew slowly apart, shaken by the intensity of their emotions.  “I know what you meant about uncontrollable desire,” Catherine whispered huskily against his chest.

He smiled down at her upturned face. Vincent, knowing they were expected in Father’s chamber very shortly, fought to control the desire which inflamed him. “There do seem to be certain advantages to the solitude of your apartment,” he said in a very shaky voice.

“Yes,” Catherine managed to say, her voice far from calm.

Vincent continued to hold Catherine gently in his arms as he tried to slow his racing heart and gain control of his emotions.  Catherine attempted to move away, aware of his arousal which pressed firmly against her stomach.  Vincent refused to release her, continuing to hold her lightly against his trembling body. “Don’t move, please, just let me hold you,” he moaned against her hair.

“Oh, Vincent, I didn’t mean to do this—to tease you—I only wanted to hug you, not cause you this pain when there isn’t time. I didn’t...” She buried her face deeper against his chest.

“Hush, Catherine, I know.” He leaned down, scooping Catherine into his arms and strode toward the bed.  Laying her gently down, he eased in beside her and drew the quilt over them, pulling her into his arms.

Catherine tried to scoot away from him but Vincent only moved closer as she retreated.  She finally stopped, allowing Vincent to hold her as close as he wished. 

Vincent stroked her back. “It will be all right, Catherine.  This isn’t a new experience for me.  There were many nights when my dreams of you caused such reactions, but I never had you to hold, to ease the intense longing and desire which shamed me.  Now...now, I have you.  Come closer, please, let me hold you.”

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

“I don’t know what could be keeping Vincent and Catherine.”

“Jacob, you’re not so old that you don’t remember what it is like to be young and very much in love.   They will be along in due time.” Peter’s voice was serious, but there was a ring of laughter to it.

“Yes, you are right.  I still am trying to resolve my remaining objections to their, ah, new relationship.”

“They are strong individuals, Jacob, and they will face the future and whatever it brings them together.  All his life, Vincent has had your support and love.  Their love is pure, so beautiful the very essence of its purity evokes envy within all of us because it is what we all long for and, sadly, most will never know.”

“Father, I see hope springs eternal.  Has Peter turned out to be another of your brilliant students?’’ The warmth and love in Vincent’s voice filled the chamber as he and Catherine stood in the entrance way.

“Vincent, Catherine, do come in.”

“Yes. Do come in and save this poor man.  How many other innocent victims have fallen for his ploy of teaching them chess, only to suffer his indignity when he’s defeated, Vincent?“

“Peter, Father is a brilliant instructor of the game.  It isn’t his fault he teaches so well his students often excel, surpassing his abilities and defenses on the field of battle.” Vincent’s eyes were alight with love as he teased Father before enveloping him in a heartfelt hug.

Father held Vincent’s face briefly before kissing his cheeks. Softly, in a low voice meant only for Vincent’s ears, he said, “My son, I have missed you.”

“Peter, how are you?”

“Cathy, I need only to look at the glow which surrounds you to tell me you are well.  You look especially lovely tonight.”

“Thank you, Peter. You always flatter me.”

“Catherine, Peter does not flatter, he speaks the truth.  You do look lovely tonight.”  The depth of Father’s smile as he made his way toward Catherine warmed her heart. Catherine opened her arms just as Father reached her, and he stepped into her welcoming embrace.  Over her shoulder, Father watched a smile spread across Vincent’s face as his eyes met and held Vincent’s.

“Come along, you two, I’m starving,” Peter said from across the room where he stood watching his two friends.

 

Chapter 21

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