Dreams of Thee

Chapter 24

 

Catherine stood perfectly still in the silence as her senses were assaulted with memories of the first time she had seen the Great Hall.  Stepping up to gather Catherine in his arms, Vincent felt her memories as strongly as if they were his own. “If we listen carefully, do you think we will still be able to hear the music?” he queried.  His voice was a soft, gentle caressing whisper against her hair and, for a moment, she imagined she had only thought she heard his words.

Turning in his arms to face him, Catherine put her left hand on his shoulder and slowly they began to dance to the music of their hearts.  The light brushing of their feet against the great stone floor gently echoed, becoming music of its own as they swayed in the darkness.

“The first time we danced, Catherine, the feel of you in my arms, moving to the echoes of the Winterfest music, is one of my strongest memories.  I wondered if our bond enabled you to share my love, the desire I felt, my wish to kiss you.  I felt that desire so strongly, then just as quickly I felt my own shame.”  His lips brushed against Catherine’s forehead.  His voice was slightly raspy as he brought light to a long-held dream and his secret shame.

“My own feelings were equally as strong.  Dancing with you was the fulfillment of a long dream; being in your arms was heavenly.  I wanted it to never end. I longed to stay in these arms.  I remember trying so hard not to let you know how much I desired you that night.”

Taking Catherine’s hand, Vincent walked through the darkness toward a table where candles and a small lantern were kept, and soon a soft glowing light pushed back the dark.  Leaving Catherine by the table, he retrieved the backpack from the floor beside the door, and when he turned Catherine was nowhere in sight, only the flickering candle remained on the table.

“Catherine?”

“Follow my voice, Vincent.”

Silently he moved across the Great Hall as Catherine talked until he came to the small recessed area beside the stairs which led to the balcony where the tapestries were hung. Catherine stood in the lantern light, a grin on her face like that of a small child caught with one hand in the cookie jar.

She stood beside a scarred, vintage large rocking chair, varnish worn thin on the arms by countless hands, the seat padded in a faded petit point—the design long since worn smooth.  Beside the rocker on a low table were several candles in varying sizes, and several books.  A small table, laid with place settings for two, stood between two chairs. The smallest fireplace of the Great Hall, some fifteen feet away, held kindling—waiting only for a match to bring its magic to life.  Behind the table, and closer to the fireplace, stood a small bed covered in an antique quilt of aging egg-shell lace against faded white.  The bed was piled with blue and green pillows of varying sizes.  On the far side of the bed, a table held a small container of flowers and two perfect red roses.

Vincent’s face echoed his emotions as his eyes slowly took in all that was before him.  As he moved to stand in this lovingly created room within the Hall, his eyes gently touched each item.  His brilliant blue eyes warmly traveled back to Catherine as the slow realization of all the items in the room dawned on him, filling his mind and heart with memories of his childhood.

The rocker he had not seen in years, not since it had been removed from Father’s study after he had passed the age of being rocked to sleep.  The table had come from Elizabeth’s chamber, where he spent hours over tea and finger sandwiches as she taught him to eat with the courtly manners she knew would befit the man he was to become. He had not seen the bed in years; it had been his own but had been removed from his chamber when he had grown too tall for its length.

“Catherine, how did you do this?  How did you find all these things?  Who brought them here?”

“I had help from your friends—all those people who love you. While you were off last evening arranging your special surprise for me in your chamber, I was equally busy,” she laughed, “with this.”  Her arms were extended and she whirled around, her face bright with laughter. “Cullen agreed to help when I explained I wished to recreate happy memories for you in a place of complete privacy, away from the community.  He suggested using the Great Hall because it was private and rarely used except for Winterfest and other celebrations.”

Vincent’s eyes momentarily filled with pain then, just as quickly, he tried to mask the pain.  His eyes were bright, revealing to Catherine’s steady gaze the depths of his soul: the pain created by his unique physical appearance, his quest for acceptance, and his struggle with his darker side—the Beast who dwelt within, who brought shame, guilt and horror to the gentle, scholarly man that he wished to be.

Hugging him closer, Catherine felt a slight trembling beneath the vest where her faced rested.  Reaching up to caress his hair, Catherine drew his face closer, then she felt herself moving up as Vincent lifted her, bringing her face even with his own.  Catherine’s arms encircled his neck; her fingers intertwined strands of his hair as Vincent brought his head to rest against her shoulder.  “Catherine.” His soft gravel voice was muffled against her neck. “No one ever did anything like this for me.  I have no words to tell you what is within my heart.”

“Oh, my dear, sweet, beautiful love, I wish only to give you happiness, to replace sadness with joy, to fillyour heart with my love. You are so special; I want to spoil you with happiness, to erase the traces of loneliness that have walked so closely with your soul.”

Lifting his head, Vincent stared into the endless depths of Catherine’s green eyes, lost within the love he found there. “This is a place of wonder for me, filled with such opposing memories—those which have filled me both with shame and the warmth of love.”

“Tell me about these,” she gestured with her head to the room which had been created.  “These are the special pieces from your childhood, filled with your memories. I would like to hear about them, if you are willing to share.”

After allowing Catherine to slide down his chest, Vincent brought her hand to his lips in a gentle kiss then, taking her hand in his, he walked toward the rocker.  His fingers stroked the glowing wood, delicately touching the worn surface. “When I was little, Father would rock me to sleep in this chair almost every night.  He would put me to bed but I would get out, walk down the tunnel passage to his study, and beg for one more story or, when the council was meeting, I would simply climb into his lap, look at him, and patiently wait for him to agree that rocking was the easiest way to get me to sleep.”

“You were a shameless blackmailer!”

A smile played at the corners of Vincent’s mouth. “Yes. I was also a stubborn, headstrong little boy who loved the warmth of his Father’s arms and who liked being rocked to sleep.  He told me once that he kept it in the study long after he felt rocking was necessary simply because my intrusions often forced a decision quickly rather than the council continuing in heated debate.”

Moving to stand beside the table and chairs, Vincent ran his hand across the chair back. “This is where Elizabeth poured countless cups of tea for me—sharing the mysteries of drawing as she taught me the finer points of good table manners.   When I reached puberty and my body changed so much and my voice had not found its proper home, I stopped going to drink tea with her.  But she would not allow me to hide from her.  One day, after weeks had passed without my going to have tea with her to study the world of art, she came to me.  She did not reprimand me for my absence, but gently told me how all bodies change during puberty and that in time my voice would settle into its rightful place.  And with that quiet strength she possesses, she explained to me that while the changes in my body were unique, she would be willing to help me become comfortable with them in the presence of others.”

A slight frown appeared on Catherine’s face. “I don’t understand.”

“By then,” he flashed his canines, “these had fully formed and their presence made eating in the company of others very difficult.  She left me then, telling me that she would expect me for my art lessons the next afternoon and she would have tea, if I should happen to find myself free.

“I went back the next day and continued until Elizabeth told me there was nothing else she could teach me.  Her kindness was something I shall always treasure.  Within days after I started going back, with her gentle encouragement, I was able to begin to master eating with others again.”

Catherine shivered slightly and immediately Vincent was at her side, settling his cloak over her shoulders.  He moved toward the fireplace and soon had a fire going. “You will be warm shortly; the Hall walls have many of the same properties as the cave on the beach in that they hold warmth. The fireplaces were here when Paracelsus and Father discovered the Hall.”

“Oh, Vincent, look.” Catherine pointed toward the floor in front of the bed. “How very thoughtful of Cullen and Pascal.”

In front of the bed was a small area rug and sitting on the rug were two pairs of slippers.  Seeing them pushed so closely together, Vincent chuckled warmly. “Mine do seem to dwarf yours.”

Catherine sat on the bed to begin removing her boots but Vincent knelt in front of her, indicating by his silence presence that this was his responsibility and one he enjoyed doing.  Her boots off, Catherine moved to stand on the rug, carefully folding back the lovely antique quilt.  Beneath the quilt lay an envelope bearing Vincent’s name.

“It’s from Father,” he said as he glanced at the envelope before slipping out the note.

My son, I could never bear to part with this, though I knew others could use it.  May the warmth it gave to my small son give as much warmth to my grown son and the gracious, beautiful lady who loves him.

Father

“Seeing this quilt on my bed is one of my earliest memories; it stayed on my bed until I was given the large bed which now stands in my chamber.”  His hand touched the quilt in a lingering gesture of fond remembrance and momentarily, scenes of his childhood filled his mind, transporting him to long-forgotten memories. “It was crafted by Mary and given to me on my fourth birthday.”

Quickly removing the bindings, Vincent pulled off his boots then settled himself among the pillows.  Drawing Catherine down beside him, he threw his cloak over her. “This should keep you warm until the heat from the fireplace begins to warm the room.”

Snuggling against his chest, she absently murmured, Home,then sighed. “Tell me more about the quilt,” she said as she looked into his smiling face.

“I’ll tell you about the quilt, but first, tell me what ‘home’ meant,” he asked shyly.

Catherine laughed at being caught in what she had thought had been an inaudible remark.  “Being in your arms, the feel of your heart beating so comfortably against me, creates lovely warm feelings inside me—the feelings of coming home.”

Vincent felt the sudden pull of his heart as the implications of Catherine’s words, the comfort and love she derived from his arms, caused a knot to form in his throat.  “Catherine, no one has ever honored me as you do, that you compare my holding you with a word which is synonymous with love, is...”

Catherine was aware of the whirling emotions she had created within Vincent by her simple remark and understood how long the emotional need for personal love had been denied within him.  “Home is the place where our heart resides and my heart resides now and forever with you.”

Vincent was only capable of staring into her beautiful green eyes, knowing that Catherine was aware that her words had rendered him speechless.

And in understanding that emotion, she did the thing which she had always done for him when his emotions overwhelmed him: she reached to hug him tightly.  They lay together for several minutes then slowly Vincent began to tell Catherine the story of his quilt.

“The quilt was given to me on the fourth anniversary of my birth and was done by Mary.  She told me I would not be a small boy forever and that she wished to create a quilt which would keep me warm and be suitable for a young man.  When I received the quilt I felt it was an acceptable gift, but not a book, which even at that young age was what I wanted most.  Then, a couple of months later, I was confined to bed with some childhood illness and Mary came to read to me.

“She told me how long it had taken to design the quilt and why she had selected specific things to include in the design she created: the stars so that I might have guidance in the dark; trees of green, gold and red so I would have visions of things to come and to know all things are not as they appear; a morning sun, so I would have hope and warmth to guide my waking hours; a large sailing ship to hold all my dreams; and tucked in the corners were carefully stitched book titles so that I would always have knowledge.

“Once she explained this wondrous quilt to me, I knew how much love had gone into its creation.  I would snuggle beneath it, warm and secure, knowing that even when Father refused to tell me one more story and I could hold off sleep no longer, I could still have a story of my own making just by touching the pictures on my quilt.”

“How wonderful that Mary made such a beautiful quilt for you.”  Her voice was wistful.

“When I was given the large bed, I put the quilt away in the chest in my chamber.  It stayed there for years, then several of the lower chambers were flooded, making it necessary to gather extra bedding and clothing to help the families who were evacuated.  One of the children in the group was very ill and, thinking to brighten Stuart’s world, I took the quilt from the trunk and allowed him to use it.  He was a very frail child, always ill, and it wasn’t long after that Father and Peter felt that if he was to survive, he needed to live Above in a warm, sunny climate.

“They moved and my quilt went with them then, several years later, the quilt was returned to Father along with a note from Stuart’s parents telling him how much the quilt had meant to him during his life and that he had died still clutching the quilt.  I asked Father to keep the quilt then give it to another ill child who needed it.  I saw it once, being used in the hospital chamber, but after that, I lost track of it.

“I did not realize Father was so sentimental about it, but obviously he was and he kept it, rather than allowing it to be used.”

“I’m glad he kept it and he returned it to you. It’s such a beautiful keepsake and the story behind it is lovely.  Mary realized very early how special you are.”

“I do not know about the lace covering the quilt, I have never seen it before.”

“I have an idea of how it arrived here.  I believe it was made by Cullen’s wife.  When I told him what I wanted to create, he told me he had something he wanted to contribute for the bed and, since you can’t identify this covering, I just assume it is something his wife Betty had.”

“Cullen told you about Betty?”

“Yes and no.  He brought a lovely sweater to keep me warm during my illness.  I returned it; he told me that she had designed and made the sweater.  I did not pry because it was obvious that speaking of her is still painful to him.”

“Cullen rarely talks of her.  What they shared was beautiful and I thought he would not survive her death.  Father and I worried about him but finally, he has reached a place where he is able to live with the loss.  He is far more of a recluse now and while he willingly works for the good of the community, he doesn’t often take advantage of the family and friends who love and respect him.  He remains alone in spite of all our efforts.”

Vincent felt Catherine’s sudden sadness over Cullen. “How very sad for Cullen to have loved so deeply and lost Betty.  He told me how much I looked like Betty, how painful it was for him to even be around me in the beginning, but now I am simply Catherine to him.”

They snuggled closer, aware of how fragile life was, exchanging light caresses and kisses, thrilling to the exquisite joy they felt in touching. “I could stay here like this, Catherine, for days, just holding you.  I don’t think I will ever get used to how wonderful this feels.”

“Since there is no time limit in creating these happy memories for you, my love, we could stay like this for as long as you wish.  We have everything here we need—food, water, warmth, light and books—what more could we possibly need?”

“I can think of nothing, except perhaps one thing.”

“And, what my love, would that be?”

“Perhaps you would read to me?  It has been many weeks since you have read to me and I have missed the quiet, gentle sound of your voice.”

Turning, Catherine reached for the books on the bedside table.  Looking at the titles, she selected one and began reading.  Vincent placed one pillow behind his head, one long muscular leg extended, the other drawn up in what was his favorite position as he listened and enjoyed the sound of Catherine’s voice, the comfort and peace he felt as she transported him to another world.  She had read for nearly an hour when she handed the book to Vincent.  The vast space in the Great Hall filled with the sound of Vincent’s voice as he picked up the threads of the story.

Catherine closed her eyes, trying to calm her racing thoughts. He actually asked me to do something for him; he asked for something he wanted - a small thing, but it was something he wanted for himself.  Catherine’s heart pounded and happiness filled her. Please, dear God, let this be the beginning; help him to know he is worthy and has a right to ask for what he wants, please.

He glanced down at Catherine and, thinking her asleep, he smiled and folded the book across his chest.

“I’m not asleep,” she protested, “I was simply thinking and enjoying the beautiful sound of your voice. I have watched you soothe frightened children with your gentle voice. I was scared and the gentleness of your voice made me less frightened.  I think I fell in love, just a little, with that sound during those first days.  Then as we grew to know each other, the very sound of your voice became another dimension of you, a constant reminder of how beautiful you are.”

Softly, he brought his lips to rest gently against hers in a tender sweet kiss.

“Your lips are so soft, Catherine, like the petals of a rose.  Do you remember when I walked you home after you had come below to mourn the passing of your father, and you started toward the ladder, then you came back and kissed me?”

“Yes,” she whispered against his lips.

“I felt such joy I thought my heart would burst, it beat so rapidly.  My legs refused to obey and when I tried to move, they wouldn’t support me.  I finally sank to the floor and remained there for a long time. When I was finally able to control my shaking, I returned to my chamber, though I recall nothing of the journey.  I could still feel your lips upon me.  It was as if it had happened only in that instant.

“I was unable to sleep; all my thoughts were of you, the feel of your lips upon me.  My heart wanted to go to you, tell you of my love, to explain why I had not returned the warmth of your kiss.  All that I had read, everything I knew…nothing prepared me for the sweet intimacy of your lips upon mine; it was the most beautiful experience of my life.”

“I, too, spent a sleepless night filled with anxieties because of what I had done,” she answered.  “Wishing, longing to have done more - much more - and frightened that my actions had spoiled what we had.  I was afraid you would simply shut me out of your world because I had stepped across the wall you had built.”

The book slid to the floor with a loud thud, causing them to laugh.  Reaching to retrieve the book, Vincent looked down at her. “I’m sorry, but I had no bookmark.  I may have lost our place,” he said with a slight shake of his head.

Catherine slid across Vincent’s body, causing a delighted groan to escape his lips as her hips rolled over his.  Slipping from the bed, she walked over to the backpack, bent to retrieve a small package, and returned to sit beside Vincent.

“The afternoon of my accident I had dressed to come to you. I wanted to have time alone with you, away from Father and the children.  A few days before, as I was returning from having seen a witness, I found an antique store and, since I had nearly an hour until my next appointment, I stopped in to browse.

“I was about to leave when I found something which made my heart sing with joy.  There is so much which I would like to give you, Father and the community, but I know how you, especially, feel about my spending money on you.  If you would allow it, I would give you all that money could buy.” Her eyes held his.

“Catherine, there is nothing your money could buy which I do not already possess,” he assured her.  “The thing which would give me the greatest happiness in the whole world you have already given me.  You gave of yourself. You gave me dreams which I never dared to have until you.  And, most importantly, you gave me courage to believe in my value as a man and in your love for me. That is the greatest gift of all.”

Vincent lifted Catherine’s hand, bringing it to his lips, and gently kissed her palm.  Her fingers reached to caress his face as he lifted his head, touching his lips as he said, “I love you, Catherine.”

“For so long I have prayed for you to believe how beautiful you are—the beauty which dwells within you, your spirit, as well as your body.  I prayed you would accept the feelings which had always brought you a sense of a shame as not being shameful, but as normal feelings we all have.”  Her voice quivered, fighting down the knot in her throat.  “And now, twice since we have been here, I have heard you answer my prayers. You told me you ‘wanted’me to read to you, and now you have said your ‘value as a man.’”

Holding her close, he tried to calm his own whirling emotions as his heart absorbed Catherine’s words. The vastness of her love, the depth of it, continually astounded him, and he realized that he would probably always be awed by her love.

“Your love is everything, Catherine.  Your courage has given me the strength to look more deeply within myself.  Feeling your love as it wraps around me each waking hour has given me strength to believe that what for years I called a weakness, an emotion which caused me shame, is in reality the oneness I share with all men.

“When I see the delight upon your face as I touch you, when I worship your body with mine, I feel no shame.  My desire for you is endless, an ache in me that is only quenched when residing within your body.  It is in the oneness of our souls, joined, that I know I am well and truly a man.”

They held each other closely, sharing their pleasure at being together.  Suddenly, Catherine remembered the gift and wordlessly she picked up the slender box and handed it to Vincent.  He slowly examined the box, savoring the anticipation of the mystery of what the box could contain.  He lifted the tissue paper and stared in shocked silence at the contents.

“Catherine, it is exquisite!  Priceless beyond words...I have never dared to dream of anything so beautiful still existing. The workmanship is extraordinary.”

Slowly he lifted out a thin silver bookmark of the finest filigree he had ever seen.  Intertwined within the filigree was a design of tiny interlinked hearts and roses.  The design was surrounded on either end by thin bars of silver which Catherine had had engraved. Vincent’s voice trembled as he read the inscription: Vincent, Happily, I think on thee, my love, Catherine.

His face told her of his pleasure as his fingers traced the engraving then moved to outline the delicate filigree scroll work.  Tears splashed down his face as his fingers traced again the words of love.  “It is a gift I shall always treasure.”

“When I saw it, I thought it was going to be thicker.  But when the owner removed it from the case and placed it in my hand, I knew it was perfect for you.  It is so thin it won’t mar the pages.  See the circle at the top?  The store owner said that when he received the book mark as part of an estate sale, braided through the circle was a lock of hair.”

“When we have scissors, Catherine, I would be honored if you would allow me to cut a lock of your hair so that I might braid it.”

“It is I who would be honored.”

“Catherine, I, too, have a gift for you.  Rather, the return of a gift to you.”  He drew his cloak aside then, reaching inside one of the many pockets to withdraw an object.  “It is with the help of Mouse that I am able to return this to you.”  He opened his fist to disclose Catherine’s crystal necklace.

“Oh, Vincent, I thought it was gone forever!” She gently reached out to caress the outward symbol of Vincent’s love; so dear had the necklace become to her, she had not been able to speak of its loss.

Picking up the necklace, Vincent carefully placed it around Catherine’s neck, allowing the crystal to gently nestle between her breasts.  The soft lights of the flame, lantern and candle caused the crystal to reflect the warm colors of Catherine’s sweater.

Her smile was joyous as her fingers touched the crystal, reassuring her that it was real. “How did Mouse find it?”

“He, Jamie, and Cullen went back to your garage searching for your attacker.  Mouse has never told me how he found it, but he did.  Days later, when I went to see him, he showed it to me, only the chain was broken and there was a small chip in the crystal.  He promised he would repair it and he gave it to me last night during the party.”

“I’m so happy he found it and was able to restore the crystal.  It means so much to me.  When we are apart I can touch the crystal and I feel your warmth surrounding me.”

“We have traveled a long road, Catherine, filled with dangers and problems which have tested our bond, our oneness and our love.  We have survived, grown, endured, and found a strength which surpasses all that has gone before.”

“I never thought coming here to the Great Hall could bring such happiness.  I thought only to create happy memories for you, to erase the loneliness and some of the hurt which still causes you such deep pain.”

“Catherine, you have done all that and more, but there is still one hurt which needs your healing touch.” His eyes caught hers. “Will you help me?”

“Vincent, you know I will do anything to help you - anything.”

“Catherine, would you dance again with me?”

 

THE END

(Revised 2013)

 

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