FUTILITY

By Joan Stephens


"You love him." The softly spoken words shattered the cryptic silence that had settled between them.

She gazed back at him defiantly, apprehensively, and he wondered what she was thinking. Stiffly she rose to her feet, laying aside the book she had stared at for the past fifteen minutes, not seeing a word. Wandering over to a book-covered table, she began to trace the title of the top volume. A picture of Vincent doing the same thing flashed through his mind. He'd had no success with him then, and he feared it would be the same with her now. With studied nonchalance, she scanned the title of the novel she had just picked up. "Why do you say that?"

"I'm not so old that I can't see the signs: the way your eyes follow him when he's not looking, the way you search for him when you enter a chamber, the way you almost touch him but not quite. In the few years that she was with us, Catherine taught me well." He paused for a second. "He doesn't know, does he?"

Wordlessly, she shook her auburn tresses, answering his question.

Heaving a relieved sigh, Father exclaimed, "I'm glad. It would devastate him."

"Why?!" she burst out, unable to believe his words. Suddenly she knew why he had asked her to visit with him before she met with Vincent, and she wondered what he had said to Catherine in the same circumstances and what her reaction had been. She thought that she knew, and she knew what she was going to do

His next words surprised her. "My dear, it's still too new."

"New!? It's been two years."

"I'm not sure that ten or even twenty years would be long enough. Diana, you must understand."

"I understand grief," she maintained, placing her right hand over her heart and leaning intently toward him. "I've been through it. I lost my father to a slow, painful death, and I lost a fiancé in a botched bank robbery. I went through all the stages of grief but eventually . . ."

"There may never be an eventually with Vincent," he interrupted.

"But there has to be or he will never be free of his sorrow."

Pulling a chair close to his desk, he said, "Come. Sit beside me and I'll tell you about Vincent and grief."

As she settled into the chair, she looked at him warily but expectantly. Folding her hands in her lap, she waited for him to begin.

He began with a question, "You think that you understand their love?"

"Yes," she nodded. Unconsciously her hands began to twitch, and she laced her fingers together to them still.

"I don't think any of us that watched their devotion grow understand the quality and quantity of their love. It is like no other that I have ever seen or read about. They seemed to blossom, to grow, to become more together than they could ever be alone or with another. It took Vincent longer to realize this than Catherine, and I'm afraid he only realized it when he lost the bond. He was suddenly alone again, and without Catherine, he will be alone for the rest of his life. I believe he has accepted this and has turned to Jacob for the love that he can give him."

"I know he can never love me as I love him," she said quietly, looking down on her writhing hands. "But I can make his remaining years less lonely. I would never leave him." Her voice held the same resolve that Catherine's had when she had given him that assurance.

As he leaned back in his chair, he sighed sadly, "Ah, Diana, that's what Catherine always said. As you know, it was a promise she couldn't keep."

"Then I'll move down here. I'll never go above," she continued, resolutely finding all the ways she could think of to keep Vincent safe.

"Don't make promises you can't keep," he cautioned, knowing he needed to bring her back to the main topic of their conversation.

"All right, I agree; I can't make that promise, but I can make his life less lonely. No?" she asked shocked, seeing him shake his head. "But I'll always be here."

"Don't you think that we&endash;all of us," he swung his arm out, indicating the tunnel world, "including Jacob&endash;are here for him, try to ease his pain, to fill the lonely hours? We are . . . during the day, but then there is the night."

"I could be with him during the night."

"If he would have you."

"Even if he wouldn't, I could still be near in another chamber, and I could comfort him."

He slowly nodded then added, "But his dreams? Can you enter his dreams and make them right? Can you take away the feeling of incompleteness that he feels? Can you make him whole?"

Feeling as if she was drowning in a sea of unanswerable questions, she cried out, "All I can do is try."

"Yes, that is all we can do, but don't you see you can never take her place in his heart?"

"I know that, but I will make a place for myself."

It was as he feared; he wasn't getting through to her and again he shook his head. "He has told me that the heart that keeps him alive is Catherine's heart. That she gave it to him with their first embrace. If it was his, he would have joined her long ago. So you see, there is no room for anyone else."

A set look came over her face and she sat up rigidly. "You're not going to talk me out of loving him. I'm aware of everything that you have said to me, but it doesn't change a thing." Already she was shutting him and his words out. She was intent on not listening. "I love him and I will do anything for him."

"Can you hide your love, not let him know?"

"As long as I think it is necessary, but I will tell him someday."

"I hope you know that when you do, that will be the end of your relationship."

"So you say." She tossed her head in denial.

"Yes. You may think that you know my son but you don't. It will hurt him deeply to know that you love him and that he cannot return that love, that your love will only bring you pain."

"But you're assuming that he can't. I have to believe that he can." Reaching over and gently touching his arm, she said, "I know you're only trying to protect him and me, but I assure you that I will do nothing to hurt him." She stood abruptly, ending their conversation.

He watched her hurriedly leave the library on her way to find Vincent. Shaking his head wearily, he murmured, "Oh, but you will, Diana, you will." Despairing, he dropped his head on his folded hands. And knowing there was nothing more he could do, he resigned himself to picking up the pieces of the shattered friendship that would result when she confessed her love to his son.