Protectors

A Tapestry of Twenty-five Winter Moments from 1987

Second Sojourn: Roses in Winter

by Zara Wilder

I

25 January 1987
Sunday Evening

In love. People say the words carelessly. He is in love; she is in love. They are in love.

I am in love. It is the most wonderful—and the most frightening—place I have ever been. I am alight, aloft. I sleep, and dream of her. I wake, and thrill to know that she journeys through the city Above me. Everything seems new and unknown. I am alive as I have never been before. I smile at everyone because my life is good, and my heart overflows with joy. I feel beautiful.

Folding the wet cloth in my hand, I finish wiping one of the long tables in the Dining Hall. I bend to begin on the first bench. Porter is working on the opposite side of the table, a dark-haired seven-year-old, attending to his own length of benches. He's concentrating on doing a good job. At the next table, his slightly older friends Colton and Kylee are telling knock-knock jokes to each other while they work. Destiny and Shay, a little more than twice the age of these children, are going over the third table, while Benjamin and Toby mop the floor, the two young men humming a popular song from Above in excellent harmony. Shay is humming a completely different tune under her breath, but this does not bother anyone. Tonight's Kitchen Patrol operates at peak efficiency.

I have taken Zach's place among the after-supper cleaning crew. Zach worked for one of our Helpers, Emilio, this afternoon, spending about an hour cleaning, sorting, and stocking in Emilio's flower shop. For his assistance, Emilio gave Zach the item I requested, and I promised Zach I would complete in his stead three assigned chores of his choosing. KP tonight is chore number one. Zach will decide upon the others later. It is part of how we do things Below, especially among the children. We barter some of our assigned tasks, trade responsibilities, and exchange favors in order to arrange our daily routines to our personal satisfaction. I often turn to the children for help in acquiring goods from the world Above. They have greater access to that world than I do. And what I required today cannot ordinarily be found Below. I have used our process of exchange to purchase a gift for Catherine. The anticipation of delivering this gift infuses my buoyant mood with fresh delight.

When we have finished our evening duties, we return our cleaning supplies to the Kitchen. I tousle Porter's hair as we leave the Dining Hall. We listen to Benjamin and Toby singing a new song on their way to the Library:

"...I've never seen you looking so gorgeous as you did tonight
I've never seen you shine so bright, you were amazing
I've never seen so many people want to be there by your side
And when you turned to me and smiled it took my breath away..."

I have known that feeling.

Zach left the package from Emilio in my chamber. Entering, I take a small knife from a drawer in my sideboard and sit down at the table. I slowly unwrap the conical parcel's outer sheet of cellophane, then the inner layer of green tissue paper, to reveal a single long-stemmed rose. It's in fine condition. Zach was careful bringing it Below. Only one leaf is bruised. The dark red petals are all intact. I cup my hands around the stem—gentle, tender—and lift the flower to my nose. I inhale the rich, sweet aroma. I remember the advent of dawn which I shared with Catherine yesterday—and the long kindly night that preceded it. How her hair lay softer than roses beneath my hand. I brush the furled blossom across my lips, just once, just to feel the cool, crisp edges of the floral flesh. I suddenly imagine the touch of a woman's mouth upon mine. Surely it would be warmer than the kiss of the rose—

I let the dream take me no further. Catherine has not ventured in this direction, and I treasure what we already share. I will not risk a return appearance in any more of her nightmares. Better to nurture our greater dream. Far better to allow our reborn trust the time it needs to grow and bloom. Our friendship is young, our bond a beautiful mystery. My love is very young, very new, disturbing in its power. The woman I love is bravely beginning to love me. I find I am content and yet thirsty for more at the same time. Surely flowers must feel this way in the springtime, as they awake from winter's long sleep to drink the early rain. I am awakened. The rose is a fragrant miracle in my hands.

Now I take hold of the stem in my right hand and reach for the knife with my left. Starting from the base of the stem and working my way upward, I pare away every thorn. I also remove the damaged leaf. I examine the results of my work. It is a good rose, a good gift. I set down the knife and return the flower to its protective wrappings. All is ready.

I stand, don my cloak. I sense Catherine moving through the streets Above. Is she returning home from her Sunday excursions?  I can't be certain yet. But I will go to her apartment building. It takes a little while to travel between my chamber and her balcony. We shall see who arrives first at her home. Smiling, I pick up the rose and bring it with me.

II

25 January 1987
Sunday Night

I think he's been waiting for me on my balcony. I see his tall cloaked shadow outside the French doors before I switch on the living room lights. As I shut the front door and deposit my purse and shopping bags on the table behind one of my loveseats, I hear the quiet tapping of Vincent's claws upon the glass panes that divide my dining area from the terrace. My wonderful friend's hello.

Smiling, I go to him. We hug. Our touching is easy and warm. Vincent was right: Jace's shadow has lifted from my heart. "It's good to see you again so soon," I tell him.

"I won't stay late tonight," he replies. He knows I have work tomorrow, yes, but his comment also refreshes my memories of our languid Friday night. I smile at him, happy to be reminded. As I lean against his chest I realize he is holding me with only one arm. I reach for what I expect to be his free hand. He's grasping something in it.

"What's this?" I ask.

He holds up a red rose. "A gift. For you."

I take the thornless stem between two leaves and raise the flower to enjoy its fragrance. Simplicity. Courtesy. Desire. A passionate and eloquent I-love-you. Vincent watches me hopefully, drinking in my appreciation.

"It's lovely! Wait here. I have the perfect vase." I turn and hurry to the lefthand display cabinet in my dinette. I retrieve a slender Austrian crystal vessel and breeze into the kitchen to fill it with water. The rose enlivens the clear crystal. I position the vase at the center of my dining table. "A place of honor," I declare.

Vincent has tipped his head a little to one side. He looks boyish, charming. I return to him and take his hands.

"How doth my lady?" he asks.

I have to smile again at that. "She's had a good day. A good weekend. Thanks to you, mostly. Hmm. Or should I try to tell you so in Elizabethan English?"

He smiles back, his bright eyes crinkling, his large mouth forming a tight upturned bow above his chin.

I move closer to him, keeping our hands clasped above my heart, thawing the winter chill out of my fingers. "What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand / Of yonder knight?" I murmur. Looking up at him, I say in more contemporary parlance, "Know that she is fortunate, and grateful, for her champion's company."

He gazes at me for one long, wordless moment before offering a longer recitation than I could muster on the fly, from even this, my favorite of Shakespeare's plays.

"O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
 It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
 Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;
 Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
 So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
 As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
 The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
 And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand."

I bow my head, resting my cheek upon his furred and folded fingers. Vincent's voice is musical. I love to listen to him. "Is there more?" I whisper.

His reply comes so quietly I must strain to hear, despite his nearness. "Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."

Romeo has arrived on my balcony.

"Do you feel what I'm feeling right now?" I ask.

Low, heartfelt: "Yes."

"That's good." I want him to share this euphoria, this beautiful sense of being cherished and romanced. I feel him lower his head too. His breath frosts the air in a silver cloud. His soft lips are warm at the crown of my head.

"Thank you for the rose, Vincent."

"You're welcome." His mouth half-kisses my hair to form the words.

I wonder, do I dare to kiss him back? Give my mouth to his strange, animal countenance? The problem with kisses is that the gateways they open alter relationships forever. As it stands, Vincent and I have surpassed every ordinary level of intimacy apart from the physical. No one else has ever loved me like this, soul-to-soul without inordinate absorption in my outward appearance and circumstances. No one has ever loved him that way either.

So there are no landmarks for us beyond the moment when lips do what sainted hands do, praying lest faith turn to despair. I do not know what we can hope to find on the other side of that boundary. I cannot imagine where our love can possibly go. I'm struggling to build a well-spent life in my world—and Vincent can never pass beyond the borders to fully enter into it. I cannot enter Vincent's world without abandoning all my achievements, which currently includes the most fulfilling work I've ever undertaken. And even if I tried to insert myself Below, I would not belong to the Undercity, as Vincent does. It's an impossible impasse. What we share is amazing, beyond belief. But everything we cannot share eclipses our time together. We have a heavenly now—with no hope of a future together.

I let my impulse go. Our now is enough. Perfect and peaceful. I want to savor the night, and Vincent's love. I trust that he understands. And he does.

He does.

III

26 January 1987
Monday Night

My time Above tonight has not gone as anticipated.

I visited Emilio at his shop after he closed up for the evening. A pleasant visit with a good friend. His nephews are well. He's looking forward to February and the income Valentine's Day will generate. I am to convey his regards to Zach, who, Emilio privately told me, is his favorite Tunnel kid. Emilio said, "He reminds me of my older brother, when Rob was Zach's age." I agreed that Zach does indeed possess all the best qualities of a devoted elder brother.

Afterward, I traveled west through Chelsea, intending to climb onto the retired freight railway beyond Tenth Avenue to take in the views it offers of Manhattan and the Hoboken waterfront across the Hudson River. I thought I would walk the High Line northward, then descend to the streets again and use one of our Hell's Kitchen entrances to return Below. But on my way, the distant sound of music captured my attention. Everything that followed has caused me to jettison my plans for a leisurely journey home.

I stopped in an alley behind a dingy brick apartment building. Through the basement window, I saw an elderly man sitting at an upright piano, playing the second movement of Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathétique. I cannot resist beautiful music. It nourishes something vital deep inside me. I stood in the shadows, a secret passerby receiving the pianist's unexpected gift. And then things went badly wrong.

I consider tonight's events as I stride through the Tunnels. My cloak is scorched and sooty. Burns on my hands and the right side of my face throb with each beat of my heart. I've been cut by shards of glass. Some of the sutures closing Jason Walker's signature assault have broken and the torn flesh aches beneath my clothes. My mind registers the pain—my body informing me that it is injured—and then it dismisses these sensations. I'll tend to my wounds when I return home. Somewhat harder to ignore is the viscid stink of ignited gasoline and motor oil. Anger and fright pursue me. Two men screeched a car into that alley and threw Molotov cocktails through a transom window into the basement of the pianist's apartment building. When I spoke to him later, the pianist, Mischa, called the attackers punks. He explained that they had been hired by the new building owner to drive the tenants away from their homes.

The arsonists fled the scene of their crime. I heard the man in the basement shouting in terror. He had been trapped by the flames! I smashed through what remained of the shattered window. Mischa and his neighbors are lucky that outside help was close by tonight. I removed my cloak and beat a path through the blaze to reach a haphazard pile of old chairs on the far side of the room. I yanked off the heavy furniture drape covering the chairs and used it to smother the fire. That done, I propped open two other windows overlooking the alleyway to ventilate the smoke and fumes.

The old man's immediate danger had ended, but mine continued. I pulled on my cloak and drew the hood up. Meeting Strangers is always perilous for me. But I could not keep away from Mischa. In the middle of his initial explanation for tonight's fire bombing, the white-haired man began to choke on the thick smoke that still whirled in the air. He could not rise from the floor where he had fallen. I moved to assist—and he saw my face.

Mischa took it well. He gasped but did not scream. Not wanting to frighten him any further, I turned to go. He caught my elbow. "Wait!" he said in lightly accented English. The accent is, I think, Polish. "I owe you my life. Please, stay a moment." I turned back, not understanding the swift comprehension I sensed in him. His immediate compassion startled me. It is not common.

The man spoke to me in a gentle way. "I know what it's like to be hunted, to be afraid," he explained. Getting to his feet, he pulled the cord dangling from the light socket overhead. The bare bulb flickered on. Then the man pushed back one sleeve of his shirt. I saw a line of numbers tattooed across his left forearm. One of our Helpers bears similar marks. I know what they mean. Mischa Langer survived Auschwitz.

We looked at each other.

"The tenants who are left, those who refuse to run, or to be bought off...we all remember the camps." He went to the piano, examining its panels and keys, assessing the damage. "Auschwitz. Dacchau. Buchenwald." He sighed, and coughed. "We were there. We understand much. You don't need to fear me." He glanced up from the instrument, his brown eyes twinkling behind the thick lenses of his eyeglasses. "Besides, you have also saved my piano. You have my thanks. I think maybe we'll be friends."

He sat on the piano bench and I took a chair from the uncovered pile. We talked. The police cannot keep them safe. They only advised Mischa's friends to hire their own guards. The tenants cannot afford to pay for private security. Tonight's violence has escalated the two full months of harassment they have endured. Heat turned off, elevator shut down, plumbing stopped up. Also ambushes and beatings. Vandalism and robberies. The bandits like to steal the tenants' pension checks. Mischa's people suffer cold and hunger—and helpless fear. Mischa told me with quiet pride, "But we are like trees planted beside streams of water, that bring forth their fruit in its season, and whose leaves do not wither, and in whatsoever we do we shall prosper."

"The first Psalm," I said.

"A scholar!" Mischa chuckled, delighted with me.

Our conversation ended abruptly when a woman's voice called down the basement stairs. A draft from the floor above brought me the friendly scents of recent baking and rose skin cream. Mischa called the woman Sophie, a neighbor and dear friend, but not someone skilled in the art of keeping secrets. He urged me to go. I left, promising Mischa I would send help.

So now I go to Catherine's home, to leave a message for her in the hope that she will investigate Mischa's situation. If she cannot become involved herself, she will at least know what to do. These people desperately need protection.

Catherine. Focusing on my sense of her halts my progress down the tunnel. She—glows. She's intrigued, flattered, admiring. Catherine is feeling the first blush of burgeoning affection—

For someone she has met tonight.

I blink at the concrete wall beside me. I don't know what to do. My first instinct tells me to withdraw, to avoid invading her privacy. It is what I do in my own world to respect the bonds of intimacy that others reasonably expect to keep to themselves. No one wants an empath nearby when they are spending time with a lover—and I have no right and no desire to intrude in such a way. At times, though, intrusion cannot be prevented, for some people project their psyches more strongly or directly than others. Hence, my practice of absenting myself as soon as I recognize erotic intent.

However, physical distance does not seem to affect my connection to Catherine. And part of me suddenly wants to know who has so captivated the woman I love. Why is she feeling for him—instinct and our bond tell me it is a man—things I've only known her to feel for me, and me only, during these past nine months?

Something is changing inside me. It feels wrong. I shake my head, fight my way through the unfamiliar emotions. Too much has happened tonight. I must not allow myself to become confused or distracted. Breathing deeply, I settle my thoughts upon my love for Catherine. Whatever she needs, if it lies within my power to grant, I will provide.

I listen for her need. There it is. She longs for acceptance and reassurance. She wants recognition for her talents. Her companion is fulfilling this latter desire. Catherine is lighthearted, a little flirtatious, having fun. And she's grateful for this chance encounter.

Be happy, Catherine. May this night bring you all the joy in the world. I resume walking, tired, troubled. In my mind, I turn to Beethoven's Pathétique for comfort. The music keeps me company.

IV

27 January 1987
Tuesday Morning

Well, I can see why Vincent is worried about his friends in Chelsea. First thing this morning, I went to the address Vincent gave me. Mischa Langer is a fighter, that's for sure. It's tragic that he has to fight this battle, however. He seems to be the glue holding his little community together right now—although he couldn't hold on to Herman and Sylvia Weinstock, who moved out this morning. Sylvia clutched her vintage silver menorah to her bosom as though it could shield her from her bewildering displacement. I ground my teeth when I saw Herman's bruises. The poor man had been badly beaten.

It's outrageous. The laws which protect these people's residency in a rent-controlled building prevent the owner from overtly throwing them out on the street, but nothing stops the owner's managing company from sending Mundy Security to intimidate the tenants and make the building uninhabitable. Walking to my desk alongside my friend and co-worker, Edie Tyler (who is talking through the details of what computer operators legally can and cannot do with data files), I decide to give Mischa's case top priority, above even the major Taylor and Ehringer cases I'm working on. I hate it when people hide behind the letter of the law in order to defeat the spirit of the law. And, God, but Vincent's appearance on my balcony last night unsettled me.

I know he fills many roles in his world. We've talked here and there about his work as a teacher, a counselor, a nurse, a community councilman, a general laborer. Now it seems I can add firefighter to the list. I think he felt terribly embarrassed to be discovered on my balcony in torn and filthy clothes, his face and hands sporting painful-looking cuts and burns. He tacitly refused my offer of first aid and kept to the darkest shadows of my terrace. I think, too, that he was unhappy about burdening me with a new crisis at the end of my otherwise glorious evening. He asked me anyway, "Can you help?"

I’ll try, of course," I told him.

"Good," he said, and added, "You have a generous heart, Catherine."

It's not the kind of praise I'm used to. "Something I learned from you," I deflected. A year ago, my "generous heart" would not have been so open to getting entangled in the affairs of impoverished crime victims. This knowledge shames me.

Vincent shook his head. "No. It can’t be taught. It’s from the soul." He continued earnestly, "And you have so much to give."

I had to look away from his face then, wondering how much he knew about my evening with Elliot Burch. Vincent's words tend to encompass many subjects within a minimum of syllables. He may have been addressing my work for the DA, or my love-hungry heart, or whatever gifts he has found and enjoyed in our relationship, or my newfound strength to be generous—a strength I've only started exercising on a regular basis since my accident last year—or he could have been talking about something else altogether. With me, there's always something else going on. Vincent's a brave person, to stay involved in my problematic life.

"It’s all still very new," I said. I meant the long-term act of rising from the ashes of an incinerated reality. Vincent listened, understanding everything I said, understanding everything I left unsaid. "Sometimes I wonder how all those little pieces will ever fit together again."

He accepted my uncertainty and offered a reassuring faith in my powers of self-determination. "Follow your heart, Catherine. Follow your heart. You must."

I can only do my best.

Now Edie interrupts herself with a cordially envious exclamation. "Woah-ho-ho! Girlfriend!"

I look up from Leo Mundy's background file and see the bouquet waiting for me on my desk. Two dozen red roses in a cloud of baby's breath. The flowers fill an exquisite crystal vase.
Smiling at the welcome surprise, I hurry to read the accompanying gold-foil card. Yes, it is from Elliot.

"You must be a great first date," Edie says. I've told her about meeting a gentleman at the Met last night. I deliberately did not mention his name, nor the fact that he is both a self-made multimillionaire developer and one of New York's most eligible bachelors. I was attending a gallery opening for the fine art collection Elliot donated to the museum. He was confidently elegant, energetic, enigmatic, and he quickly gave me his full attention. It was easy to talk with him, share things about my life. Elliot did not respond to my recent career reorientation with discomfited silence, masking a desire to change the subject. Many people in these circles, men and women both, perform that little ritual whenever the subject of my job comes up. Instead, Elliot expressed genuine interest in my work—and in me.

After the reception, he took me to Girasole, a very exclusive Tuscan bistro in Little Italy. We talked for another hour over an incredible zuccotto, sipping aromatic cups of specially imported Trinci caffè. We could have been sharing dessert in Arezzo. I discovered that I love Elliot's sense of humor. And he's very good to look at. His light-green eyes are magnetic, his wide lips sensual and always ready to smile. He wears his brown hair swept back from his forehead and stands a steady six feet tall to my 5' 5". His body is fit and muscular; he said his house contains an indoor pool and he swims every day. I told him I work out in a Pell Street loft with a personal self-defense trainer who regularly beats the stuffing out of me. That did not put Elliot off either.

"So, you know you can take care of yourself when you need to," he said.

I liked how he said "when," and not "if."

He took me home in his limousine and walked me to the front door of my building. I gave him my business card, inviting him to call me. And there our evening ended, sans good-night kiss. But our mutual attraction surged between us. We both felt it.

Edie comments, "This vase alone has to cost about a thousand bucks. I'll bet it's Waterford. Who's this guy? Come on, what's the story? Does he have a darker brother?"

Elliot's handwritten card reads:

Dear Cathy,

Passion, humor, danger— Elements of the magic two people create together. I've fallen under your spell. Thank you for transforming my evening into a truly unforgettable adventure.

Enchanted,

Elliot

As Edie might say, where has this man been all my life?

"Hmm. I expect all the juicy details at eleven," Edie tells me.

I close Elliot's card. "There are no juicy details. Yet."

I settle in behind my desk and send Edie back to her computer station with a request for more information on "security" consultant Mundy and the area's recent real estate transactions. I'm racking up a big IOU with my friend. I'll need to think of a good way to say thank you for all the help she gives me.

My phone rings. I pick up. It's Elliot. The sound of his voice transports me to a fantasy starlit avenue dividing rows of cultivated rose bushes. I thank him for the beautiful bouquet. He asks whether I am free for dinner tonight, or if I've already made other plans. I hesitate, thinking first of my staggering caseload, then concluding that I have more than earned a night off. I deserve a date with a handsome man who seems determined to sweep me off my feet. I say, "No, I don't have any plans."

"I'll make eight-thirty reservations at the Quilted Giraffe. Are you in the mood for a little ostentation?"

Try A LOT of ostentation, I think. But I find the novelty of our destination enticing. "I'd like that," I tell Elliot.

"Until tonight," he says. I hear the suave warmth in his voice. "I'll pick you up a half hour before dinner."

"Okay, eight o’clock then," I reply.

I hang up the phone and turn back to my work. The roses on my desk smell fabulous. I open file folders, smiling to myself.

V

27 January 1987
Tuesday Night

I arrive on Catherine's terrace knowing she is home, cheerful and active in her living room. Light streams through her latticed French doors. I raise my hand to tap the glass. I am hoping she will have news to share about Mischa and his people. I want to know whether I should stay near their building tonight, in case I am needed again. Catherine's voice speaks and I stay my hand. Is she with a visitor? I step back from the doors.

"No, nothing like that, Jen. He's a perfect gentleman." She laughs. "Okay, that too. Being rich doesn't hurt his cause at all."

Catherine is talking to a friend on the telephone.

I look into her living room. Through the sheer voile curtains I see Catherine sitting on one of her small sofas facing away from me. It has taken me a few seconds to find her. I had to move a little to my left to clear my view of the obstruction on Catherine's dining table. Having found Catherine, I take a closer look at the obstructing object. It is a lavish bouquet of pristine roses standing in a large transparent vase. I think the vase must be expensive crystal, and it is new. I have not seen it among Catherine's possessions before tonight.

"Two dozen roses and dinner for two at the Quilted Giraffe," Catherine says into the receiver of her telephone. "No, I've actually never been. Lutèce is more my style. The beggar's purses? Oh, I've heard they must be seen to be believed. Mmm-hmm. Caviar and crème fraîche filling."

A spot of red beyond Catherine's dining room draws my eye: a lone rose graces its narrow-necked bud vase. The rose I gave to her has been removed from its place of honor to the right hand corner of her mantelpiece, sharing that space with a stack of opened envelopes. Some desolate voice arising from my inner depths whispers, Did this man remove the thorns from HIS roses?

Catherine's voice lilts through the ringing darkness that surrounds me. "Vichyssoise? Not if it's served cold. Jen, it's January. I like my soups hot in January."

In the Tunnels tonight, William served hot kale and lentil soup for supper, accompanied by boiled potatoes, pan fried mealworms, and toasted brown bread. I cannot eat potatoes, which is why he cooks them separately from his soups and stews. We had baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon for our dessert. I thought it good wholesome food. What would Catherine think of our daily repast? I brought her trays of convalescent fare during the days she stayed Below last spring. For the first time I wonder whether she liked our food or merely tolerated it.

Inside, Catherine rises and half-turns toward the balcony. "If you're so curious about the menu, why don't we just go together sometime?" she asks. She listens. Her most ironic smile appears on her face. "We Cliffies can always find something to celebrate."

She stands there in her evening attire and words fail me. Last night she stunned me in her scarlet and lilac finery, a bejeweled wedge-shaped brooch glittering at the bodice of her gown between her breasts. She had pinned up a portion of her honey-brown hair in a waving style and her delicate cloak and scarf floated around her. Catherine's face radiated hope and satisfaction. The intensity of her beauty so overwhelmed me that I stared like a fool and stammered as I have not done since my childhood. She was gracious. She spoke to me as she always speaks to me and I regained my bearings. But tonight—

Tonight she is magnificent.

Her hair is knotted into a complicated swirl. She wears geometric gold and silver earrings, diamond chips dangling from beaded fringe below heavy inverted triangles. Her dress is high-necked, long-sleeved, and slate-green, encasing her in silk to mid-calf. Tiny knobs of black pearl descend in a line from her collar, gleaming through the worked buttonholes along the front closure of her gown. Her matching gloves fit her hands like a second skin. Emerald-green high-heeled shoes accentuate the finely toned muscles in her legs. Every angle, every curve, of her body is displayed to alluring perfection. The hues of the fabrics emphasize Catherine's brilliant green eyes.

I want her. This imperative is fundamental and undeniable. I hunger for her. I want to be standing beside her. Touching her. Appraising the texture of silk that has been warmed by her smooth white skin. Breathing the air she breathes and walking the paths she treads. I want to be the suitor who has given her an armful of roses in winter, the man who has promised her a meal at one of the city's most luxurious restaurants. I want to be able to give her compact discs that play Mozart and Rachmaninov on her stereo system. I want to give her jewels to decorate her ears and throat and fingers and bodices. It's what she expects from courtship—what she deserves.

I tear my gaze away from Catherine and glimpse the bedraggled shadow of my own reflection in the glass panes of her terrace doors. I know what I am. I accept what I am. The image of my face holds no terror for me. Yet a flood of desire drowns my soul in—by the stars, what is its name? It commands me to dream of being something I am not, so I can possess all that I do not—cannot—must not—own—for such goods and currencies are not mine and are not of my world. I am tempted to assert my desires over Catherine's, and over those of a man I have never met. I wish Catherine would prepare herself for me the way she has prepared herself for him. My feelings are wrong, terrible. My heart has been tainted—by envy.

"Jen, I have to go now. Elliot will arrive any minute, and I want to be ready for him in the lobby. Okay. Okay, great. Talk to you later. Bye." Catherine returns the telephone receiver to its cradle.

She is eager to meet this man. She enjoys her own anticipation. Catherine is halfway in love with him. I watch her slip into a jet black coat and drape a scarf of flashing metallic colors around her neck. She takes a black handbag from her glass coffee table and goes to the front door, where she switches off the lights and departs. The door closes. The deadbolt clicks. Catherine has gone. I stare, forlorn, at two dozen honored roses.

Until this moment, I did not understand the meaning of poverty. I have never known such pain. How can I be part of her when I know I must let her be part of someone else? Someone who can give her all that she desires, all that she needs. What can I do but stand at a threshold I cannot cross—and watch her love and her joy grow without me?

I love Catherine. I want her to love deeply and truly, to celebrate her liberty and to rejoice in the life she leads. I value her happiness more than anything. Oh, let my love alone instruct me now, and not envy's deranging gloom!

My prayer foremost in my thoughts, I take my leave. I will go to Mischa's building and keep watch for a while. I will try to guard my heart as well. It is all I can do.

VI

29 January 1987
Thursday Evening

I walk through Central Park to the Tunnels entrance inside the drainage culvert. There's a spring in my step as I sail along. I'm glad I can bring Vincent good news, and I'm ecstatic about the ongoing admittance of so many juicy details into my life. No, I have not poured out my heart to Edie. I've been saving all my heart-to-heart discussions for Elliot, and relishing every exquisite minute I spend with him.

It's more than the meals and the gifts, although these are lovely indicators of Elliot's esteem for me. After the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Girasole on Monday night (followed by the vase of roses), he's besieged me with the Quilted Giraffe and a pair of ethereal solitaire alexandrite earrings on Tuesday; dinner at Lutèce, a four-ballet program performed by City Ballet at the New York State Theatre, and a bottle of Opium perfume on Wednesday; a catered lunch brought to the DA's office today, along with a tasteful assortment of Georgio Armani silk scarves. I could not accept the lobster and champagne luncheon; I told him I did not have time to dine with him in the middle of my day, and quite apart from my embarrassment at so public a display of affection, I told Elliot the truth about my schedule. But I did receive the more discreet package he left for me on my desk, and I quietly stroked the folded fabrics after he departed, thinking of how the scarves will add marvelous new accents to my wardrobe.

I will see Elliot again tonight, after I finish speaking with Vincent. This time we'll dine in, at Elliot's house, and the something more he's bringing to my life will perhaps shine brighter in this private setting than it has yet shone while we've been out and about in the city. I think we are most enchanted by the easy affinity between us. It's a kind of magic, just as Elliot first described it to me: passion, humor, danger, all happening at the same time. His magic has restored to me a giddy energy that has been missing from my universe for years. My father is absolutely thrilled.

Tonight, I feel ten years younger and ten times happier. Elliot and I can talk about everything, hopes and dreams and passions. And when Elliot kisses me, my spirit nests within a hollow place inside me, replacing emptiness with tenderness, and all my fears dissolve.

Ahead of me, I hear a low rumble as the secret door opens. Vincent and I arrive in the Junction Chamber at the same time, both of us ducking past the low mouths of our respective entrance tunnels. I pass through my entrance and straighten. Vincent pauses where he is, hunched over beneath the brick archway. We see one another by the dim light that filters into the underground space from a street lamp on the park pathway overhead, mingling with the richer underworld glow illuminating Vincent's tunnel. All my thoughts of happiness and triumph instantly vanish. I feel like someone's dashed a bucket of cold water over my head.

Vincent is a wreck. He looks haggard, sickly. His dark mantle hangs like a shroud from his ordinarily robust frame. His blousy tunic-like shirt is belted low across his hips but he is not wearing fabric gauntlets on his arms tonight and the ragged sleeves bell out around his wrists, making his hands seem small and withered. He just looks at me, shrinking back a little against the brickwork, a shy, wild creature caught out in the open.

"I'm glad you came," I whisper, because I find I cannot speak above a whisper. My shock is too great. "I...wasn't...sure you would..."

Because after Mischa and Sophie gave their statements today and identified Mundy's leg-breakers in a lineup, Mischa took me aside and explained the rest of the story about what happened last night, how Vincent fought off the men who bloodied Mischa's nose and blackened his right cheekbone and jaw. How Vincent kept them from doing anything worse to Sophie than shoving her at an alley wall. How Vincent snatched the dropped wallet of the younger thug, and chased both men into their car and out of the alley. He sent the wallet and its contents to me this morning, giving me my first tangible lead toward unraveling this criminal enterprise. I certainly hoped and expected that Vincent might meet me tonight to hear my glad tidings regarding the case, but Mischa said Vincent might have been hurt during the altercation, and I did not want my friend to show up if he's nursing fresh injuries.

Are those shadows darkening Vincent's face, or are they bruises? At least his cuts and burns from earlier in the week appear nearly healed. So, my God, what has happened to him?

Vincent leaves the shelter of his tunnel and crosses the floor, head down, steps uneven. He enters a patch of darkness and leans one shoulder against a concrete wall. "Have you been well?" he asks. His voice is hoarse.

It's this gentle, polite greeting that tells me what is wrong. He knows I've been well. More than well—blissful. He once told me, "Catherine, I feel the things you’re feeling, when you do." Also, "Your pain is my pain. Sometimes almost as if we are one."

And my pleasure?

Creeping dismay slithers into the pit of my stomach.

I answer him, "Yes. I'm well. And we’ve been able to help your friend, Mischa, and his friends."

Vincent looks up at me, a spark of interest animating his eyes for a few seconds.

"We’ve already put some men in jail," I continue. "It’s only the beginning, but the violence should stop."

He nods, almost smiles. "Good," he says succinctly.

He's holding something enormous in check. I can feel it. Some vast internal tempest or whistling void. I start to walk toward him. "Vincent—"

His breath catches, and he turns his face away, as though I've made a move to strike him. I stop. I don't know how to approach him. A black chasm has opened at my feet, separating him from me. Or, no, I suppose it opened Monday night and has only grown wider since then. Vincent bridged the divide the last time we spoke, but now his tentative architecture has collapsed. It's up to me this time to reach out to him, make the connection. If only I knew what to say that will pull him back to my side.

"Follow your heart," Vincent told me that night. I follow it now, searching for words, offering truth. "I don't want to cause you any pain," I say.

My attempt at connection fails. It's clear the pain is already caused and may continue indefinitely. "Don't struggle, Catherine," he rasps. "There's no need." The resigned tone of his voice pinches my heart.

"No need! Why?"

His gaze scalds me. "Because we know—we always knew—that this bond between us...was only a dream we shared."

Oh, God, no. This is—unthinkable. It's like I'm witnessing Vincent in mourning. Vincent releasing our love, letting me go. I stand aghast. Just last weekend, he was Romeo on my balcony. I've casually dated several men since he's known me. Granted, I'm not dating Elliot casually, but we're only a few days into our relationship. Vincent's—relinquishment—makes no sense to me. Our priceless bond? Our bond, a—

"A dream?" I step forward again. He looks away quickly, flattening his back against the wall, and I have to stay where I am. It's almost more than I can bear, to see him wince because I've come near to him. I feel myself beginning to cry. "No, Vincent! Our bond is the most real thing I’ve ever known! More than anything in my life!"

"Do you love this man?"

The direct question completely disarms me.

My thoughts swarm through the silence Vincent has created. Out of the pregnant stillness, a sober inner voice spells it out for me: my bond with Vincent is more real than anything in my life—except, now, for Elliot. Do you love this man? Maybe I should have asked Vincent's question of myself, hours ago. Days ago.

"I don't know," I tell him truthfully.

He listens, maintaining the silence with eyes downcast.

"But if I do...love him...it won't change anything. I won't let it."

This time when he meets my gaze, I think Vincent's sensitivity to my unanticipated hurt and sorrow overcomes his own anguish. "Love changes everything, Catherine. Therein lies its power . . . its beauty and its terror. And we must move through both the wonder and the fear if we are to know . . . peace . . . the perfect rightness and union of two hearts freely bound to one another."

"Two hearts?" My dismay is nettling its way into self-conscious remorse.

"Love is always specific. There is only ever one heart and one heart, making a pair. Parents and children. Brothers and sisters. Friends and companions. Lovers, husbands, and wives."

"Vincent, our dream makes us a pair. Our bond unites us, gives us—gives me—new life. A life I share with you!"

Tears fill his eyes. He speaks without any doubt whatsoever. "Someday...someone will come...and you'll live another life...and dream another dream."

Vincent smiles. My lionhearted friend venerates my freedom and consents to his destiny without showing his teeth. It is the most beautiful and the most terrible expression I've ever seen. For a moment, his measureless love washes over me. Familiar, foreign. Not merely friendly or companionable. Not merely romantic. Not the least bit like a dream. Vincent's love is ardent. Devoted.

Exclusive.

He is in love with me. I wish I could hold him without hurting him. I wish he would hold me.

"I don't want to lose you, Vincent." I can think of nothing else to say.

I guess he can't think of anything either. Vincent stands up from the wall and walks around me toward the secret door, weaving a little, unsteady on his feet. At the threshold he staggers. In reflex, I rush forward, arms outstretched to support him, or maybe to postpone his departure. But he puts a hand to the brick arch and looks back at me over his shoulder. Galaxies of emotion revolve in his exhausted blue eyes. Paralyzed, I watch him enter the tunnel and trigger the door. It slides shut, leaving me alone in the semi-darkness.

Aloneness. Vincent's word. It's a good one. It perfectly encapsulates what I am feeling right now.

I leave the Junction Chamber. I do not run. The ground outside is icy, and running would be stupid. Running would be an admission of my formless dread.

So I walk—albeit at a brisk pace—to my apartment building. Elliot is picking me up at seven. I just have time to shower and dress. Nothing formal tonight. A comfortable cream-colored blouse and gray wool skirt. I accessorize with only my favorite white cashmere sweater and a sleek chocolate-brown belt, to match my boots—although after some consideration I also put on the earrings Elliot gave me. I have retreated into numbness. It's safer than my bewilderment. All those little pieces rattle along their fracture lines.

Autopilot gets me out past the doorman and into Elliot's limousine at five minutes past the hour. He takes my hand to escort me into the car, closing the door once I'm settled. A moment later, he's beside me on the leather seat and we're riding through Manhattan. I gaze out the window at Central Park as we pass.

"Would you like champagne?" Elliot asks.

I nod, watching the procession of stark silhouettes in the park until Elliot's driver turns us westward toward the Henry Hudson Parkway. It must be hard, living rough in New York in winter. Above all, the unrelenting cold must be a constant burden. Layer upon layer of haphazardly tailored garments cannot reduce by any significant degree the danger of freezing to death. And life underground is cold too. Not as cold as ice or snow, perhaps, but also not a comfortable environment. I suspect Vincent's body benefits from a full coat of the same sort of fur that covers his hands, and still he wears those thick layers of Tunnels vesture.

"Cathy?"

"Hmm?" I glance around, dazed.

Elliot holds out a flute containing effervescent wine. "Your champagne."

I accept the glass, smiling ruefully. "Thank you, Elliot."

He gives me a questioning look, trying to gauge my mood, and pours a glass for himself. I like watching his hands, the way they handle objects and sketch gestures. He has clean, short nails—not hooked yellow claws. His fingers are straight and fine—not long and gnarled at the joints. His palms are smooth—not leathery and calloused.

It's wrong to be making these comparisons. The wrongness gradually pushes me out of my numb retreat. I'm thinking about Vincent, which is not fair to Elliot. I'm falling in love with Elliot, which is torturing Vincent. I have no one to blame but Catherine Chandler. I put myself—and them—in this position, and rode a luxury car to get here. I have arrived at my evening with Elliot and I need to commit to the engagement. Maybe I also need to let go of my persistent doubts and commit to Elliot himself. It is the most sensible destination. The most hopeful.

A life with Elliot promises daylight as well as starlight, with no secret meetings in drainage tunnels, no cold and hasty interludes on my balcony, no danger of outraged discovery and condemnation. Indeed, news of our whirlwind romance is presently being publicized—and applauded—in the city's society columns, not to mention the everyday breakroom banter at the DA's office. Elliot Burch may not be listed in the Social Register, but my father and I both know he is the most suitable romantic prospect I've ever entertained—and there are, alas, many failed prospects littering my personal history.

Is Vincent destined to number among them? I study Elliot's cleft-chinned profile and clear gray-green eyes. Was Vincent ever truly a contender for my affections? I don't know. Vincent exists completely out of bounds, beyond all the rules and definitions that I've always depended on. Have we only imagined a possibility—a dream—that cannot in reality come true?

Elliot notices my abstracted scrutiny. "What is it?" he asks, turning toward me.

"I missed you," I say.

He smiles. "Long afternoon?"

"The longest."

He pulls me close. I rest my head on his shoulder. "Well, let's see what we can do to make the night enjoyable," he says.

I sigh gratefully.

"You're very tense."

I offer a segment of the truth that is safe to share. "It's this case I'm working on. I've got a building full of old people who are being harassed by some company that wants to buy up their block. There's a hired thug making their lives hell right now. Leo Mundy."

"Sounds sleazy."

"He's as sleazy as they come. Getting his men off the street has been at the top of my to-do list this week."

"Making any headway?" Elliot asks.

"Yes. Finally. The police made two arrests today."

"No doubt due to your tireless effort and dedication."

And Vincent's, I think, remembering those might-be bruises and his firefighter's battlescars. "Not tireless," I say wearily.

"Persistent, then," says Elliot. He raises his glass. "Here's to a job well done."

I smile at him. We toast the day's successes. We are drinking Louis Roederer Cristal, I realize, as I recognize the sublime balance of flavors and confirm the label with a glance at the bottle in Elliot's ice pail.

"So," I say to him, "when do I get to meet the everyday Elliot Burch? There's got to be an interesting someone lurking within this opulent master of great first impressions."

"Are you saying you're impressed?"

"Oh, yes." I lean back, returning my head to his shoulder.

"Music to my ears," he says, tightening his arm around me. "Just bear with me a little longer.
One everyday, ordinary evening at the Burch residence, coming right up."

"I'm finding everything perfectly bearable so far," I murmur.

He laughs.

The car ride north to the village of Briarcliff Manor relaxes me. At Elliot's request, the driver takes a route through Sleepy Hollow, just so Elliot can quote Washington Irving for me.

"Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air."

We have half-emptied the bottle of champagne by this time. "More magic?" I ask him.

He kisses my cheek. "You're magic," he replies.

Elliot makes his home in a Tudor revival style country estate. There is no moon tonight, but lights from the house and curving drive reveal a serene wonderland throughout the modest three-acre park surrounding the central buildings. The brick and stucco house welcomes us into the warm interior beneath its steep, gabled slate roof, towering chimneys, and rolling eves.

We dine on an arugula and Bib lettuce salad topped with pear slices, pecans, and Gorgonzola curls. A sourdough baguette follows. Red snapper and herbed mushrooms. The delicious raspberries and cream from today's ill-fated lunch. We finish the champagne.

"Not too exotic or overblown?" Elliot asks as we stroll into the library, where a merry fire crackles in the hearth. We have toured the house and I have admired Elliot's hard-won habitat. His tastes are Edwardian, blending Empire influences with Art Nouveau and adding unique modern touches that keep his home solidly present in the 1980s without resorting to the slick flamboyance or angular minimalism that seem to obsess other contemporary architects.

"Refined but not complicated," I assure him. "Classic but not old-fashioned. Everything's wonderful. The food, the house, the garden. You'll have to show it to me in the daytime."

"Of course."

We stand between the fireplace and a dark leather couch, flanked by tall mullioned windows and mahogany floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Elliot reaches out to touch a wisp of my hair. "Refined and classic. I suppose we're a good match for each other."

I smile.

He leans close and kisses the lock of hair he has separated out from my shoulder-length tresses. I caress his cheek, encouraging him to find my neck and set further kisses there. His hands rest lightly on my shoulders but his mouth is passionate. I make a sound that is half sigh and half moan. He steps back, regards me with fascinated eyes. One thumb rubs a tiny circle-shape near the base of my throat.

"I should be more gentle with you."

"I'll wear a turtleneck tomorrow."

"Always planning ahead."

"When I can." I weave my fingers into his hair. Short, brown, brushed into soft waves: ordinary hair. I refuse to see any vision except that of his clean-shaven face. I refuse to remember a flowing golden mane beneath my hands. I kiss Elliot's wide, mobile lips.

The kiss evolves. He is the spiced citrus caramel of the 1970 Cristal, the starched cotton-blend shirt he is wearing, and mature Floris Elite aftershave. His fervent hands slide downward as mine lock together at the nape of his neck. We experiment with points of friction. Limbs and joints and torsos touch, shift. Longing winds into a coil inside me. The spring tightens, draws my ravenous awareness inward even as I reach beyond myself for more of Elliot. Yes, this can happen without removing a single stitch of clothing—the body's deep crescendo ascending, soaring, cresting, finally breaking into song that only hearts can hear. I need that music tonight.

Elliot pulls me closer. His slim swimmer's body hears the same primal melody. Then his erection dimples my skirt and interrupts the rhythm we are building. I am interrupted because my muscles and bones suddenly recall the embrace of a larger, warmer—stranger—form. For all his strength and elemental power, never once have I felt Vincent's body deliver this response. There are a thousand reasons that might explain why—but I am certain of none.

I am certain of nothing.

"Should we take this to the bedroom?" Elliot murmurs in my ear.

I shake foggy misapprehension from my mind. Maybe I've had too much champagne. My earlier bewilderment returns. I ache with coiled craving. But I blurt out: "No, I don't want that. I mean...I don't know what I want. I'm sorry. I—"

Elliot simply readjusts his stance to move his hips away from mine. He presses one finger to my lips. "Cathy. Don't apologize. Forget I asked that question. This is fine. This is perfect. Anything else can wait. Cathy, I love you."

His eyes are palest green, and not a sapphire blue that flashes amber in the dark. His reserve conveys honest respect for me. And love. Surely it is love. Elliot has been lonely too.

Vincent or Elliot. I can't have them both. That's what I've learned tonight. Each dream is a separate entity, canceling the other out. How am I supposed to choose? How do I determine the difference between what's real and what's imaginary? How shall I discover what is possible for me, and what is not? And what happens when both my would-be lovers are equally real, but not equally possible?

Follow your heart.

My heart wants everything Elliot offers. And he's here, and he's real, and he's safe—a man who honors boundaries. Elliot is wonderful.

I breathe, "I love you too, Elliot."

We sink onto the couch. Firelight dances over our skin. We do not remove a single stitch of clothing. Our passion traverses a scenic byway within the guard rails we have established for it tonight, leaving us free to explore every other facet of our present perfection.

I close my eyes. The spring unwinds. We ascend.

In Elliot's arms I can almost convince myself that I do not feel a faraway torrent of despair.

VII

30 January 1987
Friday Morning

"Alas, my love, you do me wrong,
To cast me off discourteously;
For I have loved you well and long,
Delighting in your company."

My heart is dying.

"Greensleeves was all my joy,
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but my Lady Greensleeves?"

Shay is out of her chamber today, singing as she wanders the tunnels. I know she drifts from one torch to the next, one ensconced candle to another, like a moth searching for just the right deadly flame to woo. I lie motionless in my darkened chamber and do not shut my ears to her song. Shay has a beautiful voice.

"Your vows you've broken, like my heart,
Oh, why did you so enrapture me?
Now I remain in a world apart
But my heart remains in captivity."

The dreamy singer floats away, trailing her timely music after her in a diminishing echo.

I am supposed to be sleeping, but I cannot. I have not eaten or slept since Tuesday. Father is very worried. He's told me that if I do not rest and eat today I will endanger my health. I hurt too much to care about my health. I will try to care tomorrow. Father has directed someone to watch over me. A non-intrusive presence comes to my chamber entrance every hour or so, and then leaves without disrupting my solitude. It could be Michael or Rebecca. Whoever it is, I'm grateful they keep their distance.

I know I should rejoice. I should be celebrating Catherine's prosperity. She deserves every happiness. But this morning I lack the strength, perhaps the courage. I am immersed in ugliness. I do not attempt to escape it. As my friend and teacher Judge might remind me—as Mischa and Sophie might remind me—Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil? I accept all that Love has to offer, and I cannot reject anything that gives goodness and life to Catherine. But I must fight every threat to love's momentum, especially if the threat arises from within me. I must do battle. I must protect what I love in myself, and in others, and in the greater world that holds us all suspended between birth and death. It is my nature. I know this. Even so, my struggle is bitter, and I am tired.

In the world Above, something surprises Catherine. She has been in a good mood until now, but startled recognition begins to chill her heart. I feel no curiosity. I have no strength for that either.

Last October, when I first told Father about the existence of my bond to Catherine, he begged me not to let my love for her destroy me. I wondered then if I had any choice in the matter. I no longer wonder. It is obvious to me now: I do not know how to live without her. Catherine gave life to a dream that has enclosed me. My life is now contained within hers forever. The gift is tremendous. I receive it hour by hour, minute by minute, in reverence and thankful awe. But even the most splendid rose brandishes thorns that cannot be ignored.

Catherine becomes annoyed. Something has gone awry in her workday. This happens often. Suspicion seeps into her annoyance.

I feel as though I have fallen into the spiny heart of a rose briar. Every movement ensnares and draws blood. Pain accompanies each perfumed breath. Yesterday, the savage magnitude of this symmetry nearly drove me mad. Father is very worried about that too. As he should be.

Reading Keats ultimately safeguarded my sanity. He has written:

For instance suppose a rose to have sensation, it blooms on a beautiful morning, it enjoys itself, but then comes a cold wind, a hot sun—it cannot escape it, it cannot destroy its annoyances—they are as native to the world as itself: no more can man be happy in spite, the worldly elements will prey upon his nature. The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is "a vale of tears," from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitrary interposition of God and taken to Heaven—What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you please "The vale of Soul-making." Then you will find out the use of the world...

O my Soul. Bite and bloom and bleed and breathe and become, O my Soul—

Rage slams down from Above like a Medieval sparth axe, embedding itself in my chest.

Snarling, I leap to my feet. This action is costly: my heart immediately bumbles a lethargic protest and my head swims. I pay the price and concentrate on Catherine. She is afraid for others and furious with herself. Where is she? South. Downtown. Her office at the City Building. Outraged—but safe.

I lean upon the back of a chair.

Somehow, I must collect myself. Catherine may need my help soon. I feel her preparing herself for war. What on earth has happened now?

The minutes pass. She travels uptown. Lexington Avenue, I think, judging the distance by instinct and intuition. Catherine storms through the city. I pity anyone who stands in her way.

She goes to him. She is angry—nay, appalled—at him. She feels her trust has been betrayed. Her battle begins.

I retreat, raising a battered shield in my mind. It does not block out Catherine's emotions, but it screens my awareness a little. My humble powerlessness can give her that much, at least.

A footstep in my entryway announces the return of my caretaker. I see it is Rebecca. My friend stands with her hands folded in front of her, merciful in her silence.

I softly ask her, "Please, could you bring me something to eat?"

Rebecca nods and leaves me.

I need my strength—to be there for Catherine. To be there for them all. I tell my heart to die later. There is no time for it now. I must savor the rose and endure the thorns.

Above, Catherine's heart is shearing into jagged slivers. She walks away from this man she has tried to love, devastated by disappointed hopes and demolished expectations. Her joy has ended. I weep for her pain. She has lost another dream.

I close my shielding distance through our bond and channel Catherine's grief into my own. The combination crushes me beneath its weight—I tremble into my chair—but I will bear this with her because I cannot forsake her. She's part of me now, come what may. Our hearts live and die together. But love will sustain us. It will. It must.

In the wake of tears, I try to think of what comfort I can offer her tonight. I don't know if I can meet her in person, but I can leave a message for her to find. Something to remind her that she does not suffer alone, in the same way my family has gently reminded me through their kindness these past few days. We all need reminding, when our moon and stars grow cold and dim. I take thorny hold of myself and find I have faith that love will guide me toward the consolation Catherine needs. This thought imparts at last the first rays of the solace I have sought for myself. What solace I can gather, I will share with the woman I love. With Catherine.

VIII

30 January 1987
Late Friday Night

Elliot is waiting for me when I get home from the brawl in Chelsea. I went to Mischa's building after work to warn the tenants of their renewed danger and to lend my support to Mischa's cause—and also, if need be, to serve as a witness that the city authorities would not be able to ignore. Leo Mundy showed up with his goon squad and tried to kill me, and Mischa, during an all-out assault on the building. Vincent saved my life. Vincent saved us all. Again.

"Catherine!" Elliot calls from the other side of the street. My taxi drives away as Elliot jogs across the asphalt from his limo. "I've been waiting here for you. Look, there's been a terrible misunderstanding." He tries to touch my hand.

I jerk my hand away and glare at him. "Only on your part."

His handsome face registers frustration. I couldn't care less. I look into his eyes and feel only hatred for him. Today I've learned that the only boundaries Elliot honors are those that protect his own agenda.

Elliot owns the building in Chelsea. Elliot is the developer trying to buy up the block down there. Elliot's money paid Mundy to bully Sophie and Mischa and all the others. Elliot's lawyer bailed Mundy's thugs out of jail very early this morning—probably around the time Elliot was taking me home in his limousine while I sat drowsily cuddled at his side, admiring the diamond tennis bracelet he had given me.

So much for not too exotic or overblown.

"Those people are not moving!" I tell him in a grating voice I hardly recognize as my own. "I’ve got enough on your management company to stop the project."

"No." Elliot speaks this one word with blatant condescension, certain that he's got every contingency covered. It's the same way he spoke to me in his office earlier today, when I confronted him with the results of my investigation.

Men on your payroll have tried to murder people!

Honey, that is a pretty wild accusation.

How dare he call me "honey" and tell me "no" after everything he's put those people through!

"Yes!" I hiss at him.

Because of Elliot, three men died tonight—Mundy and two of his toughs. Because of Elliot, five building residents—two men and three women, all elderly—were taken to the hospital after being beaten with baseball bats and lead pipes. Because of Elliot, Vincent had to reveal himself to an entire crowd of people in order to protect thirty-three innocents, me included, from our assailants. Because of Elliot, I'm worried about Vincent all over again, for my friend fought with the same bestial ferocity he displayed the first time he saved me from armed men, but this time he was slower, weaker, and I know his opponents struck him with their clubs before they met their grisly end. And all for Elliot's implacable dream of a vast apartment complex near Madison Square Garden, a building that only people who move in Elliot's social circles could afford to live in.

We’re talking about human beings!

Listen, I’ve been very, very generous with these people

Generous?!

As generous as he's been with me?

"The building stays." I turn on my heel and march away.

I feel him watching me. A heavy cleaver of regret carves through my fury. I'm disgusting with sweat and grime, and I'm beat-up and infuriated, but I stop and look back at him. The ambitious, industrious, ruthless, impassioned self-made multimillionaire. He stands at the curb holding his leather gloves in one hand. I see he can't understand why it's over between us.

This is the man behind all the magic tricks. He looks like a stranger to me. The man I thought I knew—the man I thought I loved—was only a figment of my imagination. I did it again: fell head-over-heels for an idol's empty promises. The worst of it is, part of me still wants to believe that it meant something. I want to believe that a man who can devalue the life of a single human being is still capable of genuine love. I want to believe it because I want my idol back. Now I despise my desire for Elliot—which means what we had together couldn't really be love, after all, could it? Underneath playing at love, I think it was only infatuation tinged with lust—all of it polluted by my own damning fear. I traded Vincent's uncharted love for more familiar ground Above, feeling safe as I dropped into a pit trap of Old Cathy ideals. I hate myself more than I hate Elliot Burch.

But still, I'm not the arrogant prick who hired a bunch of urban mercenaries to terrorize Holocaust survivors.

I turn my back on him and go home.

After my shower, I dress slowly for bed, thinking about love and hate, trying to make some sense of my life. All those little pieces sizzle with self-reproach. Why can't I be more like my friend Nancy Tucker, with her comfortable house and growing family out in Westport, Connecticut? Or Jenny Aronsen, a lifelong New Yorker dedicated to her career as an editor for Harwick Publications authors? Or else why not like Sophie Pless and Mischa Langer, who have faced nightmares I cannot begin to imagine, yet who chose to stand up for themselves and their friends in their distinguished old age, saying "no" to evil? Or why can't I be more like my mother, who was wise and beautiful at all times, and who maintained a loving marriage to my father for sixteen years? I want to be able to share all of my heart with close friends. I want a home to share with a family—with children and a noble, passionate man who loves justice the way I do. I want simplicity and stability and a safe place to discover this New Cathy I'm becoming. I want to make a real difference in the world. I want all the nightmares to stop. I want so much, and have so little of what I want.

I think I let myself fall in love with Elliot because I needed to taste a life where all the pieces fit together. I'm so afraid I will never have that kind of life. I want to love and be loved. Yet I took for granted the one person who truly loves me as I am. In my determination to keep playing the dating game—out of habit? out of a sense of social obligation?—I've trampled Vincent's monogamous overtures. God, what have I thrown away? I see so much more of the whole picture now. If only I had seen it sooner.

The whole picture shows me this: Vincent loves me with a pure fidelity that does not demand fidelity in return. Nonetheless, his love requires the safety of an equally loyal and trustworthy partner before it can reach its full fruition. A partner he has not yet found in me. Perhaps he will never do so. Perhaps my heart is too shattered and stunted to house our beautiful bond. Maybe he'll give up on me, forget his dream of being part of me. I wouldn't blame him. I wonder now as I have wondered many times in the past: will I ever see him again? I want to see him more than anything in the world. But I'm learning I cannot—even should not—have many of the things I want.

I walk to my terrace doors and gaze out at the night. The familiar shapes of the furniture on my balcony greet me, but no unearthly shadow waits for me there. I sigh and start to turn away. Then I stop. A flat shape on one of the balcony tables is not familiar. I go outside to investigate.

It is a sleeved hardcover book. The printed label pasted to its burgundy cover reads, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare. I handle the book carefully, knowing it is a treasure from Below, offered with all of the giver's heart. Vincent must have brought it here before the brawl tonight. He may even have hastened to Chelsea from my balcony.

I slide the book from its sleeve. Opening the cover, I find a slip of paper folded between the end pages. Vincent's elegant left-handed script states: Shakespeare knew everything.

Three words, and I know Vincent's love has proven greater than all my doubts and fears. His message includes me within his worldview, and draws me back into his confidences—if I ever left them. His gift is infinitely comforting.

There's an inscription too, written across the front flyleaf.

  With love's light wings
did I o’erperch these walls;
  For stony limits cannot
hold love out...

   Vincent

My healer and my bridge between two worlds. My beautiful steadfast lover. My Romeo.

A thick bookmark bulges the paper farther along in the book. Open-mouthed, I turn the pages and find a pressed flower marking "Sonnet Twenty-nine." The flower is a dark red rose.

I still love you, says the rose. I will always love you.

My journey continues. I read the poem and feel its truthful lines cleanse all hurt and hatred from my spirit. I hear Vincent's voice speaking to me through these words, for the poem conveys his situation in the world with poignant immediacy. I also hear my voice, expressing in verse some of my darkest emotions. Shakespeare speaks for both of us. Our poetic unity of heart and soul restores life to our dream, and the dream is real.

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
Protectors – Second Sojourn: Roses in Winter
Works Referenced

I

I've never seen you looking so gorgeous as you did tonight...
Chris de Burgh, Into the Light (1986), "Lady in Red"
http://youtu.be/8AUVkQs_Nxw

II

What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand...
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1590s), Act I, Scene V
http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/full.html

III

Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, Pathétique – II. Adagio cantabile (1799)
https://musopen.org/music/778/ludwig-van-beethoven/sonata-no-8-in-cm-pathetique-op-13/

But we are like trees planted beside streams of water...
Psalm 1:3, paraphrased by Zara Wilder from the JPS Tanakh (1917)
http://biblehub.com/jps/psalms/1.htm

VI

Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power...
Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-1920), "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820)
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/41

VII

Alas, my love, you do me wrong...
Traditional English Folk Song, "Greensleeves" (1500s)
http://greensleeves-hubs.hubpages.com/hub/FolkSongGreensleeves-Greensleeves

Should we accept only good from God and not accept evil?
Tanakh,Job 2:10, NJPS (1985)
[text not available online]

For instance suppose a rose to have sensation...
John Keats, Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends, edited by Sidney Colvin (1925), "XCII. – To George and Georgiana Keats" (1819)
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35698

VIII

With love's light wings did I o'erperch these walls...
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1590s), Act II, Scene II
http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/full.html

When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes...
William Shakespeare, "Sonnet XXIX" (1609)
http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/29

 

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