IN THY SHADOW

Bruce Alen Klaiss



Foreword:

Logically, this story deals with another character I’m fascinated with: Laura, played by Terrylene in two episodes of "Beauty and the Beast." I don’t know if it’s also curiosity about the deaf, or about the incredible, beautiful language many of them use, which motivates me as well. I suspect primarily the latter; as a person with latent hackish tendencies, I’m curious about the use of non-standard languages (to users of spoken languages). The choice of typography in this story reflects the dichotomy between the two forms of communication, and my attempt to emphasize this fact.

Sign language is not a literal translation of spoken language into visual form, despite what the hearing are given in television and films. It is a language all its own, with its own syntax and grammatical forms. It may seem that Laura is speaking exactly these words with her hands. Perhaps she is, in a sense; though she may use hands instead of her mouth for most of her communication, this does not mean that she is restricted to lesser thoughts, feelings and conceptualizations. While sign languages carry far fewer elements in their vocabularies than spoken languages, their spatial and other rules of grammar bridge the difference in a most elegant way. At those times when a concept simply doesn’t translate &endash; or doesn’t exist in the local dialect &endash; the technique of fingerspelling comes to the rescue. (The aspects of dialect and fingerspelling can be found, for instance, in the party episode of the story, where Laura must ask someone else to translate for her as she is speaking about specific concepts of art. A technical dialect has arisen that Jerry is not completely familiar with.) Therefore, while my dialogue for Laura would not translate word for word into English in this way (when signed by a native speaker such as Laura or a child of deaf parents such as Jerry), the sentences are the total sense of what she is communicating.

There is, of course, a more obvious dichotomy within "In Thy Shadow": the tension that women in the modern world face. Society still wrestles with the role of women as breadwinners vs. caregivers, as do the women themselves. Whatever choice she makes, a woman is likely to be pulled in an opposite or tangential direction &endash; both by society and by her own conflicting desires. Laura doesn’t face the strong tug of desiring children yet (though that may come in its own time); but she is pulled by the desire to love and fulfill her lover’s wishes for her, offset by the need for personal creativity and fulfillment. As many women find today, to choose does not mean that the problem is solved.

The timeline of "In Thy Shadow" takes place in an alternative third season, and is loosely derived from the extensions created by Kathy Cox for her final stories in "Destiny III," one of her excellent ’zines. (If available yet, from her or on the collector’s bourse, get them! Checking out "Beauty and the Beast" on eBay might bring some results….) Parallel events are drawn from the main time stream to fit this alternate world, keeping Catherine alive and removing Gabriel from the scene, but also removing the ever-ghostly John Moreno from the background as well, and giving Joe Maxwell his chance as District Attorney of Manhattan. Diana Bennett appears as well, as a single mention of her existence towards the end of the story. (If I ever became interested in continuing this world, the Enringéd Huntress would be worked more fully into the history; I find the possibilities behind Diana fascinating.) Though this has been rattling around on my disks for over a decade, it has never been published.

 


Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand

Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore

Alone upon the threshold of my door

Of individual life, I shall command

The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand

Serenely in the sunshine as before,

Without the sense of that which I forbore --

Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land

Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine

With pulses that beat double. What I do

And what I dream include thee, as the wine

Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue

God for myself, He hears that name of thine,

And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sonnets from the Portuguese,

Number 6.

 

...Grow, Sarah, but not too much. Understand yourself, but not better than I understand you. Be brave, but not so brave you don't need me anymore....

 

James to Sarah

Mark Medoff

Children of a Lesser God, Act II.

 

 


The June sun was still an hour shy of setting as Catherine arrived home from work, and she glanced at the slowly-reddening orb through the French doors with annoyance. Late as it was, it was still not dark enough for Vincent to come Above! Once again, her life was coming up against its main frustration source.

It had become even more frustrating over the past year. In that time, since the days of Vincent's madness and her rescue of him from the cave, many things had changed -- most importantly, they had become lovers in all ways, physically as well as heart-lovers. The crisis had made them take a fresh look at their love, at their understanding of what they were, at what they did, and at what they meant to each other.

That was the most important part, for Vincent had now learned to accept himself and his self-worth completely, and his right to receive both Catherine's love and body. And Catherine now recognized how the dangers of her professional life had contributed to the near-destruction of Vincent's soul. She saw the need to remove that vector from her life. Just as important, she now fully understood and accepted the duality of Vincent's nature, and that she loved the Beast as well as the Man.

Now that they truly knew their love, they embraced it even more than they had before. Finally, tentatively at first until they overcame the final fears, they found delight in more than just warm embraces and shared feelings. They finally shared the joy of lovers in mind, soul -- and in body.

Now they suffered from the same old problem -- not enough time together with each other -- but with new dimensions. Catherine had requested a transfer from the investigations division of the D.A.'s office to prosecutions. This took her out of the dangerous situations she often was involved in before. Unfortunately, it also increased the already long hours she spent at the office. Vincent came Up almost every night now (when she did not go Down), sometimes to make love with her, or to just sleep with her, or to simply share a quiet hour or two before the fireplace on the loveseat. But more than a waking hour or two each night was rare. Even when she returned home relatively early on summer nights, the lateness before full dark shortened their time together.

In another way, though, she was grateful for the late sunset tonight, for it gave her a decent chance to wash and get supper ready. And, of course, there was always the anticipation of what might be done when Vincent did arrive.... Catherine smiled at those enchanting thoughts as she dried off from her shower, drew on shorts and a T-shirt and sauntered to the kitchen.

She had learned long ago to keep at least the basics of a fresh salad always on hand for workday supper. It made a good change of pace, especially when all the poor-quality fast food wolfed down in the name of Justice finally began to make her choke. Now she started dicing boiled chicken and mushrooms, adding the chunks to the bowl of Bibb lettuce on the counter. She glanced out the doors again while whipping up a light dressing. Maybe ten minutes, she estimated, until full dark. The anticipation quickly overruled all other emotions -- except one....

 

Vincent quickly checked about for signs of life before rushing down the alley behind Catherine's apartment building. Nobody was about, and nobody opened a window or appeared from behind a dumpster as he shot through, a black-shrouded shape on silent feet. Regaining the deeper shadow of her building, he slipped along his usual route to the rungs of an embedded service ladder in an alcove, and started climbing. Eighteen floors straight up hanging onto nothing but metal bars would, to say the least, severely tax the endurance of normal men. Vincent's strength was barely exercised as he reached the ledge between the eighteenth and nineteenth floors, the next stage of his journey.

On his way up Vincent only half-concentrated on his route; it was so safe, and had become such an automatic thing, that he need only make sure he kept a grip on each rung. The rest of his thoughts centered on Catherine; on her beauty, on their love, on the great gift she gave to him each night they were together, whether simply of her presence beside him or of her loving, living body. Vincent still could not help but regard it at times as a miracle. Every time they made love he silently thanked her for all she had done for him.

It was Catherine, after all, who saved him when he was drowning in the madness of his personal darkness. It was she who finally helped him accept himself in all his uniqueness, both man and beast. She made him see that he could receive as well as give. And it was she who then gave freely to him what he cherished most -- the unstinting fullness of her love and body.

He could sense her waiting for him; her anticipation was growing as the minutes passed. So was his own the farther he edged along the parapet toward the final stage, the clamber down the decorative slots of the wall until he jumped onto Catherine's balcony. He smiled ruefully, thinking, The trick, of course, is to arrive without breaking your neck or killing yourself!

After three years, though, Vincent was an old hand at this route. In only a few more minutes, the terrace thudded slightly from his soft impact. He rose from his landing crouch and tapped on the dining-room doors. In a split second the bond between the two thrummed wide open with love and joy and desire. Vincent smiled, his teeth gleaming in the light streaming through the glass. The impact of her emotions on him was this strong almost every time they met, but it was always both a surprise and a delight.

A few moments later, the doors were opened by an angel, and Vincent freely walked into his own private heaven.

 

They lay together in the contented weariness that followed their lovemaking, in tune with one another, happy to simply rest there side by side, sharing the touch and thought of each other. Frequently these quiet moments were even more joyful than their actual joining; their connection was wide open, giving them a closer togetherness than other lovers would ever know.

At these times Catherine could glimpse down the bond into Vincent's emotions. All she need do was open her mind, as she had gradually learned how, and let the play of his feelings flow into her perception. Quietly doing so now, she was not surprised to find the joy and peace that she expected. But there was something else as well, a kind of...Dissatisfaction? Puzzlement? Concern? she thought... which meant, she had learned, that Vincent was worried about something.

Brushing his arm as it lay across her breast, Catherine said, "Is something bothering you? You seemed a little distant at supper, and now.... Well, I think you know I've been peeking." She smiled faintly and shrugged a little. "Has something happened?"

She felt Vincent's emotions twitch as she spoke, then settle down to their previous rhythm. "No," he said. "I have just been thinking about someone."

She turned over to face him. "Is anyone having problems?"

"No," he reassured her, trying to cast what he had noticed that day into words. "It's Laura. She was Below for a while today to leave some food and magazines and visit.... I sense a restlessness in her, a need for something.... It is as if she were living in the Tunnels again, needing to know more of the wider world, as when you met her."

"The last time I saw her, she seemed happy, though she was a little worried about bills. Of course, that was two months back; I haven't seen her since. I may have shed a lot of people I thought were friends three years ago, but the damned job won't give me time for the real friends I've made since." She gave a rueful little sigh. "You know, there are times I wish I was June Cleaver, or some other Wonder Wife from a 1950's sitcom; no job, no responsibilities, just keep the house clean, cook the meals, care for the kids and visit the neighbors. I'd throw Gloria Steinam and the 'independent woman' out the window in a moment and turn into a complete homebody."

She fell silent at that point. Yet Vincent sensed the undercurrent in Catherine's feelings, which were nowhere near as light as her words. He gently combed back the hair which fell over her eyes and asked, "What is it, love?" though he thought he knew.

Her smile turned wistful. "It would give me more time with you, too." Then she grabbed his hand and kissed it soundly. "Don't worry, Vincent; there are no regrets. I know you feel that longing yourself."

A few moments passed. Then she said, "I'll make some time to see Laura on Saturday. Maybe we can help if something is wrong. Right now, though," she grinned, "I have other things on my mind."

"You do?" Vincent asked.

"Mmhmm."

"Catherine!" Vincent said in mock shock, then smiled. "I was wondering when you would remember...." He pulled her closer to tenderly kiss her, feeling the pleasured tingle in both himself and her at the brush of their lips. "But may I ask something?"

"What?"

"Who is June Cleaver?"

 

Vincent and Catherine were not the only lovers coming together this night. Many others across the City were returning from a long day's work, or stepping out for their supper, or perhaps simply falling into each other's arms for a few minutes before turning out the lights in search of even more closeness....

Jerry Burowski trudged up the stairs to his apartment around 6:30, flexing his shoulders to drive a kink out of his back. Whoever said the life of a police detective was not physically demanding should have been stood in front of a firing squad of .38 specials! Gradually the pain eased away until it was only a slight catch. He sighed in relief and fished in his pocket for the door keys. A beer, some supper and a night's rest in his lover's arms should take care of the problem.

As he closed the door, he reached for the light switch and flicked it on and off a few times. A few seconds later he heard two stamps on the floor from the direction of the kitchen. He smiled and walked in the sound's direction, smoothing his black hair straight as he went.

A young woman clad in jeans and a T-shirt decorated with the Statue of Liberty stood over the stove as he entered, tasting a spoonful of homemade spaghetti sauce. Noticing Jerry out of the corner of her eye, she twitched her brows in greeting, then set down the spoon to come to him with a hug and kiss. Then she began gesturing in a pattern that Jerry translated as How was your day?

The woman was Laura Williams, whom Catherine and Vincent would speak of later that night, and the gestures she used were the American Sign Language spoken by many of the deaf in the United States. A year and a half had passed since she helped to save Jerry from being killed in the deaf-gang case; having fallen in love with him during that time, she moved into his apartment.

Answering Laura's question, Jerry said in both sign and voice, "Typical cop's day; long, hot and thankless."

 

Poor thing, she said, but with a gleam in her eye. Well, at least I'll thank you.

"I may take you up on that later," he replied with a mock leer. "Do you need some help there?"

 

Would you start the spaghetti up? Jerry nodded and set to work.

Later, after the meal was over and the table was cleared, they settled in together on the loveseat; Jerry closed his eyes and let out a groan of contentment as he lowered himself onto the cushions. Laura, sitting down beside him, caught his grimace out of the corner of her eye. She tugged at his sleeve to get his attention.

"Huh?" he said as he opened his eyes back up. Laura asked, Are you feeling all right? Jerry nodded. "The captain's had me going up and down a block in Flatbush questioning witnesses, that's all. It just caught up with me."

That's worse than my day. At least I get to sit down once in a while. Things weren't boring for me, though.

"What happened?"

 

Two men tried to pick me up today after I left the Outreach Center. At Jerry's horrified stare, she added, Don't worry; nothing happened. Once I figured out what they wanted, I knew how to get rid of them.

"How did you do that?" Jerry was still leery of the idea.

 

I talked to them, Laura said casually.

"You...talked to them? How could you tell they knew sign?"

 

I didn't use sign. I just talked to them. She placed her hand at her throat so she could feel the movements of her vocal cords and muscles, and spoke softly and slowly instead of signing, "Ah takhd lakh thes," then signed, but without checking myself.

That brought Jerry up short. Laura almost never used her voice because whoever raised her could not afford the expensive speech therapy that might have improved her vocal skills. On top of that, Laura was born profoundly deaf, with almost no vestigial hearing. Amplification did not help her; she could not pick up any audial cues to associate with mechanical movements. Now here she was, talking aloud to a pair of jerks! He chuckled at the thought of how they must have reacted. "I wish I could have seen their faces!" he said, then he turned serious. "But you see now why I still worry about you out there by yourself."

Laura's face went set and stubborn. Don't start that again. I need my job, Jerry; I can't stay shut up here. I need the world around me, not to hide from it. I learned that the hard way; I'm not giving up on it now.

"I know. I was there, remember?... I just wish there were a way I could always be with you, so these things wouldn't happen. It could've turned into something else."

I understand. But I can take care of myself. They teach me how at the center. Anyway, we need the money. She leaned over to plant a kiss on his cheek. Thank you for worrying, though.

He shook his head resigned. "Okay. By the way, how are the art classes going?"

 

Mr. Andrews keeps saying there is no more he can teach me. He asks me why I keep coming.

"He's right, you know; you're damned good," Jerry said, which Laura answered with a tolerant look. "Okay, okay," he chuckled. "Don't believe me if you don't want to. Could I talk you into grabbing me a beer before you hit the canvas?"

Laura punched him in the shoulder in amused exasperation and got up to go to the kitchen, returning with a long-necked bottle; she handed it over, then went to a corner of the living room near the windows.

Some shelves hung on the wall here, containing books on art training and instruction, or collections of work by renowned painters old and recent. Most of the books were second-or-more-hand, obtained from used-book stores or lent to her from the Tunnel library -- though Jerry, of course, did not know about that particular source. There was also a selection of brushes, a plastic palette, the largest tubes of acrylic paints Laura could afford in a variety of colors, a box of pastels, jugs of artists' turpentine and fixative. Several sketchbooks were stacked up in a corner. A few blank low-cost canvases leaned against the wall next to a chair and a homemade easel, which held a roughed-in painting. Laura examined this as she pulled out the palette, preparing her tools and thoughts.

Art was Laura's passion. It helped her relax, releasing the tensions of the workday and the frustrations of a world that was too often cold and misunderstanding of her condition. During her free time, she could usually be found walking about the neighborhood looking for ideas, or sitting in a park sketching. At night, she would work on transferring the drawings to canvas and pigment.

Laura had started drawing while living in the Tunnels. Children Below were always encouraged to find a way to express themselves artistically; when she was first given a pencil and paper and shown what you could do with them, she took to it instantly. She would fill her time drawing pictures of the words she was being taught in books, or whatever took her fancy around her. Still, her skill never quite grew far beyond a child's stage.

Then she discovered Elizabeth. Vincent happened to mention "Painted Tunnels" one day as they were sitting down to lunch together; the eager thirteen-year-old instantly started bombarding him with questions. He agreed to lead her to Elizabeth's domain and interpret for her.

Between Elizabeth's skill and motherly manner, the fire within Laura was raised from a low burn to a great blaze. She became Elizabeth's apprentice, learning form and perspective and color -- all she needed to begin flying on her own. Laura herself could not explain why the old woman's instructions inspired her so much more than anyone else’s did; they simply did, and she was forever grateful.

When she moved Above, Laura found herself under far more strain than she had ever known. Below, she was accepted as herself, a person who was forced to speak and receive information in comparatively unusual ways, but no different otherwise. Above, she had to deal with strangers who all too often were unwittingly cruel or insultingly patronizing. These frustrations made Laura lay aside her artwork as she sought to cope. She began looking for those who seemed to truly understand her anger... and she found them in the gang of deaf youths run by Lincoln, where she also met Jerry.

At the time, it seemed a betrayal when Jerry, out of love for Laura, revealed to her that he could hear and that he was an undercover cop. But her love was stronger, and she was able to forgive him in the end. She moved in with him two months later, and had lived here ever since. He provided a needed centering for her, an understanding haven during those times that still occasionally came when life seemed to choke her. And as this new peace was found, the desire to create returned.

She was already wonderfully talented, but her self-confidence had been badly shaken after being duped by Lincoln, and she was finding it hard to believe in her ability. She felt the need for more formal training, so she enrolled in an art class at the New York Deaf Outreach Center; that was three months ago. What few rough spots remained in her technique had been smoothed out in that time, yet she still did not find it easy to believe in her capability.

But, despite her low in confidence, Laura knew one thing, and she reaffirmed it in her thoughts as she mixed a small quantity of bright orange for her canvas. Her artwork, no matter the quality, was the most vital thing in her world. Except for Jerry, of course, she quickly amended herself. But sometimes, she admitted in her thoughts, even her love for Jerry took a back seat when she was working intensely, and she would not come to bed until one or later, after he was fast asleep. He always seemed to understand, though, and she thanked him for that.

She glanced over at Jerry as she finished her preparations. He seemed absorbed in whatever was on the TV; then he looked up, smiled and toasted her with his beer bottle. She smiled warmly back, thinking Thank God we found each other, and settled down to business.

A group of boys had been playing stickball in the streets of her Queens neighborhood last week, and she had been drawn by the action, the color of their shirts and hats, the older people watching from the shade of buildings along the street. Now she tried to capture some of that impression here so that she could come back to it whenever she desired. It was a hard task, and required concentration to make the feeling she remembered come out of pigments and a two-dimensional space....

A touch on her shoulder roused her from her work. She looked up to find Jerry standing there. "I'm heading for bed, Laura," he said. "You going to be a while yet?"

Laura glanced ruefully at her watch: midnight. She'd done it again. A longing look rested on her canvas, then she shook her head with determination. Not tonight; the painting felt close to done. I think I'm ready for bed myself, she signed in answer. Though I'm not feeling too tired right now.

Jerry smiled, and stretched over to turn off the lamp behind Laura's back.

 

 

Saturday was bright and warm, sure to become warmer in the June Manhattan heat. Catherine came up from the Tunnels at the Storm Drain Door at 11:00, having spent the night Below in Vincent's chamber. She strolled down the grass and paths, enjoying the day and collecting sights of Above to share with him later. But no matter how much she wandered, she kept moving in the general direction of a newsstand on Central Park South.

She arrived near 12:30, knowing that the stand's workers would be closing up for the day after their half-shift. In fact, Laura was just counting change for deposit at the bank when Catherine walked up. Catherine politely waited until Laura was done, then stepped up to touch her on the shoulder.

Laura looked up at the contact; her face brightened on recognizing Catherine. How are you doing! she asked. Catherine said, "I'm fine," signing the words as well; since their last encounter in the line of work, she had started taking lessons in sign language from Vincent.

 

Can you hold on a few minutes? I have to finish here, Laura said. Catherine replied, "Yes, I'll just step back and watch."

Fifteen minutes later the day's receipts were counted and bagged and the sides of the newsstand locked down for the weekend. Laura signed goodbye to Sam, the Helper who ran the stand and with whom she had lived when she first moved Above; she grabbed her shoulder bag and a large sketchpad. "How'd you like some lunch? My treat," Catherine said as Laura joined her.

 

Sounds good. Let's go!

They walked down the street to a diner Catherine knew was decent, talking about the past few months on the way. They quickly chose their meals and Catherine passed on the orders to the waitress. Then she noticed Laura trying to settle the sketchpad where it would not flop open or catch a spill. When it was finally positioned right, Catherine said, "I see you're keeping up with the art. How are you coming along?"

Laura smiled. Doing good, I guess, she said. At least my teacher tells me I am.

"May I take a look?"

Laura hesitated a second, then shyly nodded. She passed the sketchbook over to Catherine.

Catherine flipped through the pad, growing more pleased with each page she saw. The views of the young woman's world, done here in pencil, exhibited a skill and eye for detail that made the scenes come alive for the viewer. Was the work so good, Catherine speculated, because Laura's condition emphasized the visual even more than the "normal" world did?

Catherine handed the pad back and signed, "You're very good; you don't need to blush."

 

You really think it's good?

"Yes! Haven't you shown this to anybody?"

 

Just my teacher and Jerry. Jerry likes it, but that isn't surprising. Mr. Andrews is always encouraging, too. And I've shown Elizabeth, of course.

Catherine smiled at her own memories of visiting the elderly artist in the Painted Tunnels. "I'm not surprised you're so talented; she's a good teacher.... Do you have any more? I'd love to see them."

From the smile on her face, Laura was definitely pleased by her sketches' reception. She said, Yes, back at the apartment. She glanced down the aisle, and her eyes turned amused. But let's wait until after we eat.

Catherine turned to follow Laura's gaze, saw the waitress coming with their hamburgers. "O.K., I can hang on," she grinned.

 

"Laura, these are wonderful," Catherine signed, turning away from the paintings to face her host. Laura beamed with pride at the compliment. "You started these only after coming Above to live, right?"

 

Yes, Laura answered, I started doing the paintings then. Elizabeth offered me whatever paints I wanted when I was living Below, but I figured she needed them for her own work. So I stuck mainly to drawing. A thoughtful look passed over her face, then she went over to a closet. She opened it up and rummaged around on a top shelf, returning with a battered storage cylinder.

Catherine accepted the tube and pulled out a sheaf of drawings, somewhat curled from their long storage. All the subjects were from Below; the difference in style and quality marked them as some of Laura's earlier work. Catherine could see the emerging talent grow into the skilled draftswoman Laura had become as she leafed through the pages.

Father sat behind his desk in one picture, books scattered in front and a thoughtful hand brushing his beard. In another, Tunnel children were swimming in the pool beneath the Triple Falls; one was caught frozen in midair, legs tucked underneath for a cannonball landing in the water. Mary and Sarah busily crocheted shawls in the next, the texture of the patterns in the yarn perceivable to the eye.

There were fifteen or so more pages in the bundle, but two especially caught Catherine's attention: a study of two hands one above the other, one wearing a ring like the costume gem Laura sported on her own finger, the second a hand with large strong fingers, heavily-haired wrist and clawed nails; and a full-face portrait of Vincent, one of her more recent before leaving the Tunnels, judging by the quality. The spokes of the old ship's wheel in Father's chamber were behind him as he sat on the floor. And his eyes.... Laura had drawn the portrait in pencil, but Catherine swore that she sensed the depth in those eyes despite the lack of color.

Catherine felt a tapping on her shoulder as she admired the portrait; she looked up to see Laura, who said, All these are yours to keep.

"Oh, I couldn't," Catherine stammered, forgetting to sign the words as well. Laura read the expression in her face; she quickly placed one hand over Catherine's, raised the other in a silencing gesture. Your lips say 'No,' but your eyes are not straight. You will love and cherish this more than I ever could...especially those two. It isn't safe to keep these here anyway. Take them; they are yours.

Another shocked moment went by before Catherine blushed with happiness and said, "Thank you." She reached out to hug the younger woman in gratitude. Then a new thought came to her. She stared at the paintings for a moment: "Laura, have you ever thought of selling some of these?"

Now it was Laura's turn to be stunned. Finally, she replied, Who would want to buy these? They're not that good.

"Yes, they are! Why do you keep putting them down? You may not be some old Italian master, but you're not a kid with a crayon either. And you said you were needing some money. I know someone that might be interested in looking.... Why don't you think about it, talk with Jerry?"

 

You really think I have a chance?

"I do. It's up to the gallery owner, but I know a man Vincent and I found some other pictures for one time." Catherine smiled mysteriously, recalling just how she and Vincent discovered those paintings. "He asked me to watch for anything else."

A few seconds more passed until Laura nodded with decision. Yes. I'll talk with Jerry tonight. But I want to try! She chuckled audibly then, and continued, It might even clean the apartment out some.

 

Laura told Jerry when he came home about her afternoon with Catherine, what their friend thought of her art, and the idea of selling it. I really want to find out if I can do this, she finished. I want to find out just how good I am, if all this is worth anything or just a hobby.... And it's exciting!

"I'd be excited, too, if I were you," Jerry said with a smile. "Sure, why not? It's really your decision anyway, you know. Shall I call up Cathy?"

 

Yes; yes!

Chuckling to himself at Laura's eagerness, Jerry dialed Catherine's number and translated for Laura as she "told" Catherine her choice.

"That's great! I'll call up Scott on Monday and set up the appointment, OK?"

 

Fine. Thanks again, Catherine.

"My pleasure, Laura."

 

 

Laura kept busy during her free moments for the next week deciding and re-deciding which paintings she would show to the art dealer. Being her own worst critic, she constantly found fault with her choices; she almost drove Jerry up the wall as she continually shuffled canvasses. He finally took her aside early Thursday night and said, "Laura, why don't you ask someone to help you choose before you run out of time, or we both go crazy, or both of the above? Why not Cathy; she got you started on this."

Laura saw the sense of his idea quickly; she was too close to these pieces to think straight about them. So a call went out to Catherine, who waffled a moment staring at the case files on her coffee table. But Lord, she was tired of briefs and citations. She needed a rest! "To hell with the law, Jerry; I'm coming over." Thirty minutes later, she was in their apartment with a fresh eye and no emotional ax to grind. She and Laura spent that evening, and Friday night as well, carefully considering until they narrowed the field down to eight paintings they felt were the best of the lot.

On Saturday afternoon Laura, Jerry and Catherine loaded the group into the back of Catherine's car and drove down to the Eccles Gallery in Greenwich Village. The owner, Scott Eccles, was the dealer Jenny Aronson suggested to Catherine when she "discovered" the work of Kristopher Gentian; he had dealt well and fairly then, and Catherine knew he would do the same with Laura.

Scott greeted them warmly, ushered them into his office and passed the time in talk for a few minutes. Catherine had informed Eccles of Laura's deafness; she was now glad to see that he treated Laura with respect, including her in the conversation and addressing her directly as Jerry interpreted. This courtesy helped put Laura at ease, unwinding some of the tension she felt.

Eventually, Eccles said, "So, what do you have to show me?" Laura signed These, and handed over the borrowed portfolio cases. The dealer opened them up and spread out the paintings in chairs or leaning against the furniture.

Laura watched Eccles with renewed apprehension as he fell to studying her work. Why did she let Catherine talk her into this? She was a hobby artist, someone who drew and painted to relax; she wasn't anything serious. She felt nowhere near as skilled as the people who did the wonderful work out in the gallery rooms. This man would probably thank her politely and encourage her to keep on trying, while inside he'd be annoyed or laughing at her feeble attempts.

She did not realize she had sighed, wrapped up as she was in gloomy thought, until Catherine looked up at the sound. She read Laura's emotions in a glance, whispered to Jerry, then signed silently to Laura, Let's you and me walk out there for a bit.

They passed out to the gallery floor. When the door closed, Laura finally vented her frustration. Why is he taking so long? Why doesn't he just say yes or no??

"Hey, easy, you lost me!" Catherine grabbed Laura's hands, halting the rapid flow of her eloquence. "You know I can't read that fast."

 

Yes, Laura replied. I'm sorry; I'm just --

Catherine stopped her again, finished her sentence for her. "You're nervous. I know; I would be too if my blood and sweat were sitting in there. Come on, let's look at some of this stuff." Keeping up a flow of "talk," Catherine led the way around the walls.

Fifteen minutes later they were discussing something that looked like a batch of tomato heels slung at the canvas when the office door opened and Jerry came over. He said to Laura, "He's made up his mind. Come on back in." Laura stared at the door for a second; then, taking a breath and mentally bracing herself, she led the way back.

Eccles motioned them to empty chairs as they reentered. Facing Laura, he asked, "Do you have any more paintings at home for me to look at?"

Laura glanced at Catherine after the question was interpreted; Catherine merely shrugged and nodded. So she answered, Yes, and some pastels, too. Do you want to look at more?

"I'd like to if I may," Eccles replied, his face brightening in a smile. "I'd like to see how much I can make for us overall -- and I think it will be a very nice amount."

It took a few seconds before his words sunk in. Laura finally fumbled out, You mean...? Eccles merely smiled more broadly as Jerry spoke her words, and nodded. She spun around; Catherine was beaming at her. Then Jerry seized her in a bear hug, saying something. It did not matter; she could not focus on it anyway. She suddenly felt ready to burst with pride and happiness; everything swirling around her just made it more so.

When the good wishes finally died down, Laura said to Scott, Thank you so very much. Can you guess what this means to me?

 

Eccles replied, "I can; I used to paint myself. You have a talent, Laura, and you're probably going to make quite a mark in this town."

Laura, Jerry and Catherine discussed with Eccles the basics of how he would handle Laura's work, and made an appointment for him to come by the apartment after the gallery closed. Then they said goodbye for now, Laura again thanking the dealer deeply.

Once they reached the street, Laura could not hold it in any longer; she jumped as high as she could, slapping the air and shouting "YEH!!" She grabbed Jerry around the neck, completely taking him by surprise; before he knew what was happening, she was crushing her lips to his in a kiss, while Catherine stood by, laughing for Laura's sheer joy and craziness.

Jerry finally managed to put his wits together and pry his face away from Laura's. He gasped out, "Maybe you should sell some paintings more often!" Laura, reading his lips, laughed and pulled him back for a softer, less sudden kiss.

When they finally broke off, Catherine cleared her throat slightly to catch their attention; Jerry turned at the sound, Laura following him, to see their friend standing there with dancing eyes. She said to them, "I was thinking of inviting you two to celebrate a little...but I'd say you've started without me."

Laura smiled sheepishly at the jest, then turned to Jerry: Do you have the time to?

Jerry shook his head. "I wish I did, but I gotta get in to the station soon. The captain wasn't happy about my trading shifts." He bent down for one more kiss of farewell, signed "You did good, lady," and waved goodbye to both women.

As Jerry walked off, Laura asked Catherine, Where would you like to go?

"Do you like champagne?"

 

I don't know. Let's find out!

"Okay, let's go pick up a few bottles, and then you have some other friends to tell."

 

 

Eccles accepted three more paintings of the five Laura had left to offer that night. He bought one for himself for $150, and took the remaining ten to deal on commission. The money for the one piece was as much as she could make in a week and a half at the newsstand, and came in very handy. Scott told Laura and Jerry that he would gradually introduce the paintings, raising the price on each to see how much acceptance she would find with the buying public.

In a month, they had an answer. Three paintings sold in that time, the most expensive for $350. The odds looked good, so Eccles chose to push their luck and set the next painting's price at $750. It, too, sold within a few weeks of being hung. Even after the gallery commission was deducted, Laura had cleared as much as she was paid at the newsstand in the same time.

The cash was important, and made things more comfortable, but the sales also gave Laura's self-confidence a needed boost. She downplayed it; still, those who knew her well saw that there was a new assurance about her. Questions had been answered for her at last, and the answers were very satisfying.

Shortly after this, Eccles called to see if Laura would come in to talk about an idea he had. Jerry could not come with her to interpret, so Laura arranged with the Outreach Center to find someone for a Saturday morning.

Once they were seated comfortably, Scott said, "Laura, you've been doing well so far. People have been willing to pay whatever I ask, and a few have come back to see when your next painting will be out." Laura glowed at that comment. Eccles went on, "It feels like the time may be right for a big step."

 

What's that?

"A full gallery show."

Her eyes shot wide open. What???

"It's logical. People are buying your work; you have a reputation now that's growing. I've even had a few other gallery owners ask me about this fantastic new artist I'm handling; I think they want to horn in on the action." Laura laughed fiendishly at that, and Scott joined her, then: "Anyway, I'd like to really get the momentum going, give you a coming-out party to let the world know you're here. The way the New York art world moves...well, if you don't establish yourself in people's minds fast, you're forgotten in less than a year, when the next trend comes along."

Laura had hoped for a good response for her work, but this was beyond her wildest dreams. This man believed in her enough to risk the time and expense of a gallery show on her. That was quite a testimony to his confidence in her abilities. She finally asked, What would you need to do it? Shouldn't I have more pieces for you to hang? There's only a few left of what you bought.

 

Eccles nodded in agreement. "I only have five left besides the one hanging now, and someone's been eyeing that one. Unless my judgement's gone bad, they'll buy it soon. So you don't have anything else on hand, huh?"

Laura shook her head no, then turned thoughtful for a bit. Suddenly, she signed out, How about my pastels? I showed you them when you visited. You could exhibit some of those along with the paintings.

Scott's face rose at her suggestion. "That would do it! It makes for a good selection, and shows your versatility as well. Let's take another look at them, okay?"

 

Yes. Let's go for it! And she took his hand to shake on the deal.

She convinced her interpreter to stay with her for a few hours, and they returned to the gallery with a portfolio full of unmatted pastel drawings, which she did when paints were outside the budget. Eccles went through them with her, selecting the strongest in the batch for exhibit. Laura still wanted, though, to show more acrylics, her preferred medium; she was determined to come up with a group that would knock their socks off. She set to work that same afternoon.

The trick was to create more good work without turning into an assembly-line artist. Her perceived need to produce must be tempered with the desire to create, and Laura's concentration focused increasingly on maintaining the balance. Her evenings and Saturday afternoons filled more with painting as time closed in on the show, and she started staying up late more frequently. It was no worse on her physically than making her a little bleary in the mornings more often. However, she was guilty enough about deserting Jerry that she asked him how he felt about it after a few weeks. Jerry assured her that he was fine and to go ahead. Laura smiled then and kissed him and went back to her palette. She did not notice the slight darkening in his eyes as she turned away.

Finally, the new work was finished and framed, the pastels matted. The night of the opening had arrived. In Queens, Laura sat in front of her dresser mirror, fighting a last-minute bout of nerves. She wore a simple black dress Catherine had helped her choose, and a pair of plain cherrywood cuff bracelets and matching oval earrings made for her by Cullen for the occasion. Catherine was there also, helping Laura with her makeup. Jerry, meanwhile, was stalking back and forth in the living room. He checked his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes and glared at the bedroom door. Why do women take so long getting ready for something? he groused in his head.

Finally, he could take it no longer; he strode over and knocked on the door. Catherine's head poked out a few seconds later, a cool look on her face but a twinkle in her eye. "Yes?"

"C'mon, Cathy, will you two hurry up?"

"If you want perfection, don't rush it," she retorted sweetly, and closed the door. She giggled as she turned to Laura: "He's more nervous than you. You'd think he was the one opening tonight!"

 

I half-wish he was, Laura replied. She shrugged her shoulders. I guess I'm stuck now, aren't I?

"Afraid so. You'll just have to get used to being famous." Laura shot her a look of amused scorn in reply, to which she only smiled and said, "You'll see. Now, let's finish you up before Jerry breaks down the door."

Five minutes later, Jerry turned around as the door opened. He began, "It's about -- " and froze when his eyes focused on the women coming out.

Catherine looked stylish as always, in a midnight-blue dress that complemented her green eyes and honey-brown hair. Jerry, however, saw mainly Laura, completely different from the woman he was used to. The dress that gracefully revealed her form, the light touches of eyeshadow and blush which she normally did not wear, the hair moussed and restyled in a fashionable tangle -- all these things gave Laura a new sophistication she had never shown before.

He gazed at Laura for a few long moments, until his hand slowly rose and passed in a circle before his face and folded shut. Catherine smiled at them both, for she knew that sign well; it was the first she had learned from Laura: Beautiful. And she was.

Three hours later, Catherine decided for herself that the night was an unalloyed success for Laura. The gallery was filled with people interested in the new artist who was breaking into the field. Laura spoke a few words about herself and her gratitude to the party after Eccles introduced her; her former teacher at the Outreach Center, Newel Andrews, served as her interpreter. After that, she was the center of the room wherever she went. Someone was constantly coming up to complement her on a piece, or ask her questions about her style or training.

She was kept so busy that, though she tried, she spent almost no time during the evening with Jerry. He would have normally interpreted for her; but he was unfamiliar with most of the "technical" dialect signs that Laura was using, and fingerspelling became cumbersome after awhile. So Andrews remained with her for most of the evening.

Later, Catherine saw Jerry sitting off in a corner with a glass of beer, looking alone and forlorn. A little puzzled, she wandered over to ask facetiously, "What's wrong, Jerry? Not feeling sociable?"

Jerry glanced up, then back to the party, shrugging his shoulders. He said, "I'm doing okay. Just not interested in talking much."

"Mmhmm. That's why you look so lonely, right?"

Jerry looked back up at her remark. "I'm that obvious, huh?" he said ruefully. His eyes turned away for a few moments while Catherine sat down beside him. Then he quietly admitted, "I don't feel comfortable around these people, Cathy. They all do things I've never done...they talk about things I don't know about.... I can't tune in to them."

"They're just people, Jerry, like you and me," she said winningly. "Give them a chance. Why don't you try talking about the Mets' game last Sunday, or something like that?"

"I tried once. The guy hung in for a few minutes; then he changed the subject when he got a chance. We just don't have anything in common." His eyes focused on one spot, and he added, "But she seems to have plenty in common with them."

Catherine followed Jerry's gaze over to Laura. She stood with Andrews and three other people, apparently having a spirited, enjoyable discussion. Andrews' hands and fingers flew to keep up with the conversation. Laura would read the signs, occasionally glancing at the speaker; her answers were crisp and prompt, only a few seconds delay for thought. She was completely at ease in this world.

Jerry was still staring at Laura when Catherine turned back. She took the time, while he was unaware of her, to study him. Her trained eye saw loneliness, uncertainty -- and was there resentment there as well? Whatever it was, it left her uneasy. She quickly looked away as he glanced up and sipped her champagne to cover her expression.

 

Catherine was at her desk a few days later checking her notes for an upcoming trial when she heard someone walking toward her. As she focused on Joe standing there, her eyes bugged out; he looked absolutely stunned, as if he were trying to cope with some incredible notion. She said, "Joe, what's wrong? Are you feeling all right?"

Joe shook his head yes, but she had her doubts. He asked, "Would you come on in, Radcliffe?"

Concerned, Catherine followed him into his office and closed the door. Joe sat down behind his desk, still struggling with whatever this was. Catherine said, "What's on your mind?"

Not looking at her, but at some point on the wall, Joe quietly answered. "I just came out of Moreno's.... He wanted to tell me something." He finally focused on her face. "Cathy, John is retiring."

"What!?"

"Yeah, I know. It hit me the same way. But it's nothing sudden for John; he's been working toward this for a few months -- clearing his calendar, discussing with the mayor. He has a deal set up with an uptown firm. He'll get a nice salary, and partnership offers in a few years, and they'll get the former District Attorney of Manhattan as a rainmaker and prestige partner."

"It is hard to believe," Catherine said. "I thought John thrived on the work."

Joe said, "He does; he told me so. But he finally got tired of the political battles, so he's handing it off to someone else.

"Cathy, that's what the meeting was about. He told me that he put my name at the top of his list of recommendations to the mayor to fill out his term. And his friends inside the selection committee say I'll probably get it!"

"Joe, that's wonderful! When will you hear for sure?"

"It should be tomorrow afternoon the announcement is made. Moreno told me to be ready for a press conference on Friday."

Catherine smiled warmly. "Well, it'll be a shame to see John go, but I can't think of a better person for the job. Good luck!"

"Thanks," Joe said, eyeing her speculatively. "You know, if this happens, I'll have to think about some changes."

"I can think of one right away...you'll have to find someplace else to hang your dartboard!"

Joe gave her a long-suffering look: "Very funny, Radcliffe. Don't you have some work to do instead of gabbing with me?"

Catherine could not help but laugh at his tone. "Yes, sir! You sound like the boss already."

"Just getting practice, Radcliffe."

Catherine's good wishes for Joe paid off. The entire office was glued to the television set as John Moreno held his press conference announcing his retirement and appointing Joe to replace him. Then the other shoe fell on Monday.

Vincent was with Father inspecting Mouse's plans for his latest scheme. Mouse proposed a waterwheel along the banks of the Great Underground River to turn a motor and supplement the power carefully stolen from the Con Ed lines. Vincent was trying to think of a place where the Tunnels could scrounge the needed wood and cable when he suddenly went rigid, staring into space.

"Vincent? Vincent!" Father called him back to the here and now. "What is it?"

Vincent forced himself to focus on forming words instead of on the bond-sensation he felt. "It's Catherine," he whispered. "Something has...thrown her into turmoil...into doubt."

"But is she safe?" Father asked, silently whispering a prayer. Catherine tried to insulate herself from dangerous situations since the days of Vincent's madness; still, the monsters of her world might seek revenge upon her someday....

But Vincent nodded. "She is well, merely confused." He sighed heartily; their bond was such a miracle, yet at times like this it was hard not to rush to her and discover what troubled her.

Fortunately, Father understood this. "And you wish to... allay her confusion." Vincent remained silent, but the longing in his eyes as he looked up was answer enough. "Well, you can do nothing now, but you can tonight...or even this afternoon. Why not write a note to her and simply invite her down when she finishes for the day. Then you can discuss it with her."

In a few minutes, Jeremy was on his way with Vincent's request. When he returned, he carried a reply: "The Park at 6:00. I want to talk about something. Love, Catherine."

Prompt as always, he was waiting with an embrace and kiss when she tripped open the curtain door in the Storm Drain. Greetings were exchanged and small talk made as they walked together; nothing was said about what bothered her. But, instead of heading for the Home Chambers, Catherine turned aside to the path leading to the Triple Falls. Vincent was not surprised; she knew of his fondness for thinking and talking there. Perhaps she sought comfort from that place herself.

They seated themselves on the Far Perch to watch the distant cascades. After a time in silence together, Catherine spoke up. "You know that something happened today. Remember that I told you Joe has been promoted? Today, he asked me to consider taking over as assistant D.A."

Now he understood. "And you are having trouble deciding." Catherine nodded, and Vincent went on: "It's a wonderful opportunity."

"I know," she moaned. "It would give me chances I can't find where I am now. I would have more say in what direction we move, who we go after...."

"Then you should accept if this much good may come of it."

"There's a cost, Vincent," Catherine said darkly.

Vincent took her shoulder in a gentle squeeze. "I know.... There will be less time together for us if you accept."

She nodded, her eyes misting over at his touch and the knowledge of his sympathy. "I'm torn, Vincent, torn between duty and friendship to Joe, and my love for you! I want justice, but I want a private life, too. Is that too much to ask?" She kicked at a loose stone in frustration, watching the chunk of granite fly off the ledge and plop into the water below their seat.

Vincent sighed silently. He had long ago vowed that he would personally slay any dragon that crossed her path; but these wyrms were particularly nasty, and fate had chosen not to make his job an easy one. Still, he would do what he could. "Would you like some advice?" he offered, still holding her shoulder.

"You want the truth?" Catherine replied, turning back to face him with moist green eyes that threatened to spill over. "I'd like you to tell me, 'No, Catherine; I cannot stand the thought of more time lost for us, and you should just plain quit.'" She gave him a watery smile, trying to make light of her words. But he could tell the seriousness she truly felt underneath. Part of her really did want him to say that.

Once again he sighed, audibly this time, and smiled quietly at her. "Sometimes I want to say that to you.... We share something no other pair knows, yet it is not enough. I want you beside me as well as within me so often, yet it is not always possible.

"But I understand and accept this...and I don't let it interfere with the time we do have together. It rather makes what time we share all the more precious.

"I don't ask you to refuse an opportunity, or demand that you leave your job. To do so would interfere with your life unjustly...and if you gave in to such a demand, it would lessen you. Your work, your desire for justice, is a part of why I love you. If you set your work aside on a whim, without thinking carefully, you would regret it in the end."

"Then you're saying I should take the offer?"

"All I say is that it is your choice in the end. I'm glad you wished to discuss it with me...that you felt it affected me too, as it does. And I will advise you, if you wish.... But the final decision must be made by you, nobody else."

Catherine reached up to clasp his hand, still resting gently on her shoulder. Staring off to the falls, she said, "I guess life was never meant to be easy, was it? Our life especially."

"Perhaps.... But please know this, Catherine. Whatever your choice, to accept or not, I will support you...and love you."

As she faced him again, she could see the devotion burning in his eyes, and knew what he said was the simple truth: he would be there for her, unconditionally. She smiled for the first time that afternoon. "Have I told you lately just how much I love you?" she said.

"Yes," he replied, smiling in return, "but I wouldn't mind hearing it again." She finally laughed then, and leaned over for a hug and a long kiss. Afterwards, Vincent asked, "Would you like to talk more about it?"

Catherine considered for a moment, but shook her head. "No; you're right. This is my decision to make, and I think I can do it now. I just...needed my balance restored a little.... I'd like to be by myself for a while, if you don't mind."

Vincent nodded, rising instantly. "We will save some supper for you." He passed his hand through her hair, kissed its top and departed, leaving her to stare across the water and think.

That Friday, Vincent and Father found themselves standing in the Whispering Gallery. Vincent prowled up and down the bridge as Father checked his watch and said, "It's almost time." Suddenly, Vincent stopped at one point, cocked his head to listen. Nodding, he said, "Here, Father." Jacob hobbled over and stood beside his son; they spoke no further, but concentrated on the sounds from the World Above, borne on the winds.

"Are you ready to take the oath of office?"

"Yes, I am."

"Then please place your left hand on the Bible and raise your right, and repeat after me.... Do you solemnly swear...."

"I, Catherine Julia Chandler, do solemnly swear...."

"That you will uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the State of New York...."

"That I will uphold the Constitutions of the United States and the State of New York...."

"And the Charter of the City of New York...."

"And the Charter of the City of New York...."

Catherine had asked for this one favor when she accepted Joe's job offer: to be sworn in on the porch of Gracie Mansion, so that Vincent could "be" with her as much as possible. Now he stood here in the Gallery with Father, staring into the stone of the chamber, listening with his ears as Catherine spoke, listening with his heart to the determination that sang in hers. He knew what this cost her; but he also knew that she had come to terms with the cost, and accepted it as a part of her life.

"So help me God."

"Congratulations, Ms. Chandler."

The confused sound of applause rose then. Vincent glanced down at Father, smiling quietly, then back at the vision within him. And he, too, whispered, "Congratulations, Ms. Chandler."

 

Catherine's workload almost doubled, as she feared, yet skillful use of her new privileges allowed her to keep her head above the surface. Her time with Vincent suffered, but she compromised by frequently bringing work Below with her to finish, often with Vincent's help. His sharp intelligence and logic made him a great asset, and Catherine privately believed that he would have been a fantastic trial attorney if fate had allowed otherwise.

Laura, too, was busier than she had ever been -- and enjoying almost every minute of it.

Scott Eccles' show launched her career like a space shuttle rising from the pad. Half of the displayed pieces sold that night, at greatly higher prices than before. And the news of a breaking artist spread quickly; Eccles never told Laura before the show, lest she become so nervous that she stayed away, that a newspaper critic would be attending. That critic left impressed, and his review of Laura in his next column was most flattering.

Within a few days, a steady flow of clients came into the gallery, looking for the work of Laura Williams. Her reputation was established, and she set out to fulfill it, quitting her job with Sam at the newsstand. It was not without regret, for he had been a good friend and a help to her in the bad days. Sam, though, understood her drive, and wished her the best of luck.

The area she traveled in to find subjects expanded as she sought inspiration; instead of only Queens, she now went into Manhattan and Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Village -- from the Battery almost to the Cloisters. The size of her activities grew as well, until she had outgrown the corner in their apartment. So she asked Newel Andrews for advice; he suggested another young woman, Michael Rubens, who was also looking for a larger place to work.

Michael was a hearing woman who, like Jerry, was a child of deaf parents, and signed as well as spoke. The two women hit it off from the start, and quickly found a studio in an artists' co-op that they could split the rent on. They not only worked well together, but Michael served as Laura's intermediary; she interpreted in person and over the studio phone, and delivered messages from the answering machine when any were left for Laura.

Her income kept growing until she and Jerry could afford to move to a new apartment in a better neighborhood. And along with more money came invitations to parties and openings, which she frequently accepted. She always asked Jerry to accompany her, and he came along willingly the first few times. But he would leave feeling uncomfortable, while Laura blended in easily with her new friends. So he began begging off as much as possible for various reasons, mainly work. He never mentioned to her his real feelings, for he did not wish to hurt her with a blatant refusal.

Laura usually understood his absence; she had lived with Jerry long enough to know that a police detective's schedule was often irregular. Yet, as the frequency of Jerry's turndowns increased, it began to sting. The demands and enjoyment of her new career cut into their time together; she often missed his companionship. Now, when she came home, he would often be long asleep or not in the mood for lovemaking. But she said nothing about it, for she, too, did not want to hurt his feelings.

And then, as time passed by, she noticed it less and less. It was not intentional, and it had nothing to do with Jerry; Laura was simply focusing more and more on the world she was creating for herself. She frequently worked past suppertime, until there was no more natural light. Even on Sundays, which she tried to reserve for herself, she found it hard to resist popping up to the studio for an hour or two. The growing distance between them drifted gradually from her thoughts as her independent life enlarged.

Except for one night which happened to be restless for her. Jerry was working late and had not returned home when she went to bed. But sleep eluded her; she could not stop thinking about an important meeting coming up the next day at the gallery. So she was awake to see the glow of the living room lights come on, reflected in the vanity mirror from under the doorjamb. They flickered at first in Jerry's signal, stayed on for a few minutes, then snapped off. A moment later Jerry's shape appeared in the mirror as he came in; he began to undress near the closet. A shaft of light from the window revealed his face, and the thoughts written there.

Laura tingled with excitement and desire. It had been weeks since they made love! Tonight would make up for that. Indeed, she could see the same need in his eyes within the reflection as he made his way to the bed. The mattress grumbled as he lowered himself onto it. The shadow of his arm stretched out toward her; she closed her eyes then, anticipating the sweet sensation within her body of his touch.

But it never came. Laura finally opened her eyes, puzzled, and she gazed once more into the mirror for her lover. Jerry was half-reclining now, holding himself up on his arms. His face was again lit from the street, but now the desire was overlaid with longing, disappointment... bitterness??

She reached out to snap on the nightstand lamp, wincing and groaning at the shock of the light on her eyes. She turned over to Jerry to ask, Is anything wrong?

In the time it had taken her to accustom her eyes, Jerry's face had become carefully neutral. He answered, "No, nothing's wrong. I hope I didn't wake you up."

Laura shook her head. I couldn't sleep, been lying here awhile. I've been thinking of what we could do when you got home, she added temptingly.

"Not tonight, I think. It was a long night, and I'm tired."

She raised her hand to continue the conversation, then hesitated a moment and nodded. Good night, she said, giving him a light kiss on the cheek, and she turned out the light again. However, while Jerry quickly dropped off to sleep, Laura was still restless...now for different reasons. And as he lay there, with his back turned to her, her hand crept toward him, hesitated to touch, and finally drew back.

There's a wall growing between us; why? she thought. She searched within herself, but found no answers, so she resolved to talk to Jerry in the morning, one way or another.

The next morning Michael called to remind Laura of the appointment. All thought of talking over problems fled from her mind as she rushed to get ready.

 

 

If Laura and Jerry had spoken to each other then of their growing distance, their life together might have been different. Instead, they held their silence, and so the pressure grew until something released it.

The beginning of the end came in the late part of the next year. Laura returned home to the apartment one Friday, excited about her conversation with Scott Eccles that afternoon. She shut the door, hung up her bag and went to tell him the news.

He was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading over a case file. He looked up as she came in. Seeing the glow in her eyes, he said, "Hey, something good must have happened."

Laura's grin widened further as she sat down. She said, I was talking with Scott. He says he's ready to do another show with me, and we scheduled it.

She was so excited that she did not notice Jerry's face close at first. But, as she finished, she distinctly caught the new tenseness in him; his mouth was flat, and he averted his eyes. "No, thanks," he replied, "I don't think I can make it."

Jerry's lack of enthusiasm brought Laura up short. She frowned in perplexity. In the meantime, he had turned back to his file; she shook his arm to get his attention. Why, Jerry? I haven't even told you the date yet.

"I just don't know if I can make it. Something might come up; you never can tell. They could suddenly call me in."

 

And how often do they call you in? They don't need you so much that you don't dare plan in advance.

"I don't want to figure on that, Laura. I'm sorry; maybe it'll be different when the show comes around." He started returning his attention to the file, but was stopped by her hand clutching his wrist -- hard. He looked back up, into brown eyes now flashing with anger, something Jerry rarely saw in Laura. Her signs turned abrupt and choppy as she demanded, Why are you doing this? Why are you shutting me out??

"What are you talking about? I'm not shutting you out!"

 

Then why aren't you telling me the truth? But he remained silent, struggling with his thoughts. Laura refused to drop the subject; WHY!

 

Jerry's temper finally snapped at that. "Because I don't want to go!!" he shouted back, whipping his hands viciously. "I don't know how to get along with this crowd of yours, and I can't adjust to them."

She stared, stunned, at him. But you got along fine before --

 

"Did I? Do you ever see me talking with anyone at these things? Or were you too busy getting on with your new friends to notice me?"

 

What do you mean? Just because I'm having a good time and talking with other people doesn't mean I'm ignoring you!

 

"How about time after time? You're ignoring me, shutting me out...out of your life."

 

I try to take you with me every time. I can't help it if you don't like to come!

 

"Yeah," Jerry said sarcastically, "to your parties and get-togethers. You don't have time for any of our old friends, either."

Laura tried to explain: I have other things to do, commitments to complete --

 

"And you keep at them so long that I hardly see you anymore! Laura, since your art took off, you hardly have time for anything else. When it was a hobby it was all right, but it's an obsession now!"

That shot hit too close to a vital spot. Any thoughts of conciliation were given up. No, it's not -- it's a career! It's my career!! It's something I've needed for a long time, and if you think I'll set it aside, you're mistaken. I love you, Jerry, but not so much that I'll stifle my life for your sake!

It was Jerry's turn to be rocked by his partner's anger. "I don't want you to stop completely," he said, "I just want it to be like it was before."

 

Right, she said with a derisive glare. You only want me to cut back on something that gives me individuality, a life outside you and your caring arms. Well, I don't need you to care for me like that, thank you! I can take care of myself now.

"How??? You even need Michael to answer the phone at the studio! You'll always need someone to help you out, just like my parents did."

 

Not in the smothering way you're thinking of. The times have changed on that from the days of your parents. You learn to cope, and I've learned!! I may need some help, but I'm not a china doll to be kept on a shelf.

Jerry stared at Laura for a few moments, then he said, "Fine! You want to take care of yourself? Be my guest. You can start now -- I'm gone!" He pushed past her and strode out of the kitchen, leaving a startled Laura in his wake.

It took a second before her mind kicked in and made her rush to the kitchen doorway. She saw Jerry pulling his jacket on savagely and throw open the front door. In her desperation to stop him, she called out, "Jeh-y!" But he either ignored her or was too angry to listen. The door slammed shut hard enough for her to feel the shock wave of disturbed air.

 

Catherine groaned in relief as she lay on Vincent's bed. It had been a long week, leaving her wound up tight. Then again, it was often like that lately; ah, the joys of Fighting Evil! Vincent, caring as ever, was now gently massaging the tension from her back and neck, careful not to scratch her or snag her blouse with his claws. The backrub, usually followed by both of them swimming in the thermal pools, was turning into a weekend tradition for them...indeed, the beginning of a most pleasant tradition.

"I'm meeting some interesting people on this case I'm working on...." Catherine said as she relaxed under Vincent's fingers. "Including the special detective who is investigating for the police. Her name is Diana Bennett, and she's...extraordinary. There's a look in her eyes every time I meet her...."

"What is it?" Vincent paused, curious as she faded off.

She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know for sure. I was going to say that they remind me of you at times, but your eyes are so peaceful. Hers are deeply sad. She's very private; I've never been able to ask her about it."

"I'm sure you will find a way to eventually. You have a way of making people release their pain."

"I'll admit that, right now, I only have one person's pain on my mind...and the pain is right through the shoulder blades."

She heard Vincent chuckle as he gently worked strong thumbs over her muscles. Then he said, "There is an easier way to do this, Catherine."

"How?"

"Take off your blouse."

She smiled to herself with both humor and joy. If he had said that to her a few years ago, her jaw would have dropped through the stone floor of the chamber. That he was at ease now with seeing her naked was one of the miracles of their new life together. Of course -- and this was the funny part -- he only had the backrub on his mind right now. Even today, comfortable as he was now with flirting, there was rarely a double meaning to his words. In desire and love, as in all else in Vincent's life with her, he was completely above the board.

Ah, well.... There was always later.

Out in the corridor, a pipe rang with Vincent's identity code. He froze again to concentrate on the message. Catherine listened too, catching some of it, but even now not adept at all the complex intricacies of pipecode. She became more puzzled when she saw Vincent's eyes darken in concern. She said, "All I heard was someone's coming down. What was the rest?"

"It's Laura who is coming. Pascal said that her hand sounded different as she was sending the message. She is coming to see me." He crossed the room to scoop his cloak out of the wardrobe. "I'm going to meet her; something may be wrong."

"Wait," Catherine cried out as he started away, "I'm coming too!" She quickly pulled on her sweater while Vincent tapped an acknowledgement to Pascal.

It did not take them long to find Laura. Within ten minutes they turned a corner and saw her walking across the Bridge of Souls in the Whispering Gallery. One look at the pain in her face brought them hurrying up to her.

Laura grabbed Catherine as soon as she came close enough, almost crushed her in a hug that Catherine returned automatically. She did not need to turn to Vincent to show her concern. The women stood there in that embrace for a few minutes, until Catherine tapped Laura on the back to get her attention and released her. "Tell us what's happened."

 

Jerry's gone!

"What do you mean; where has he gone?"

 

He's left me! Laura flung back, wanting to scream at her; didn't the whole world know? Couldn't they understand her pain just by looking?

"Laura," Vincent said, stepping in, "come down with us. Perhaps it will be easier below for you to speak."

Laura nodded yes; she let Catherine put an arm around her shoulders and fell into step behind Vincent. The three went to Father's chamber and sat at the Council table, where they gradually coaxed the story of the fight with Jerry out. When Laura finished, she asked, What's happened to us? Why are we so bitter with each other now?

"Because your lives are not adjusting to each other's," Vincent said after a moment's silence. "There is a part of you that is so caught up in your new world...that it has blinded you to Jerry's needs. But it is not just you...part of him is afraid that he'll lose you completely...because you now have a life beyond him."

 

What am I to do, then? I do love him, but I want to be myself as well.

Catherine glanced at Vincent, shook her head and sighed: "If the two of you can...find a middle ground, where you're both happy, then maybe it can be as it was before. You'll have to think hard about what you really want...and then talk with Jerry."

"He will listen if he truly loves you," Vincent added. "You have told us often of his love; perhaps this is the test of it."

Vincent and Catherine led the way to a spare chamber for the night, for Laura turned down Catherine's offer of using her apartment, preferring to stay with "family" for now. They left her curled up on the bed in a borrowed nightgown from the Tunnel "guest chest," and returned to Vincent's chamber, lost in thought until they were nestled together on his bed. Then Vincent asked, "Which is more important, Catherine.... To be true to yourself, or to your love?"

Catherine gave him a wry smile. "Are you talking about Laura, you and me, the world at large, or just women in general?" At Vincent's bewildered stare, she went on. "I'm sure you know that each person is a different case; when they must choose what to give priority in their life, their decision will be each for their own reasons. But women are in a worse position in my world. Life Above is so complex for a woman...whether to have a career or children, to work or stay home...that many feel guilty or torn even after they choose.

"You and I went through this on the day I was offered the promotion, remember? I thank God you were so supportive of me then.... You made it much easier for me to accept the job, and the compromises that came with it."

"How could I do otherwise? Your happiness is mine." He hugged her closer to his chest in demonstration. "And Laura?"

She remained quiet, but the intensity of her troubled thoughts increased within his mind.

 

 

 

Catherine went back Above the next morning to call Jerry. The phone at their apartment was picked up on the first ring: "Hello! Is Laura there???"

"Jerry, this is Cathy. Laura's all right; she's been with me at a friend's all night."

"Thank God! I've been worried sick all this time. I tried everywhere I could think of."

"She wanted some time to get over the fight -- "

Jerry interrupted sheepishly, "She told you about it all?"

"Yes, she did," Catherine said, "and she wanted to do some thinking about things...about her and you."

Silence at the other end before tenseness and fear crept into Jerry's voice. "And what's she decided?"

"She wants to talk with you about it. Can you meet us in the Park in front of Hans Christian Andersen at three?"

"I'll be there."

"And, Jerry.... Between now and then, you need to think some too...about where you want your relationship to go, and how much you're willing to work for it."

There was another silence before she heard a quiet "Okay. Good-bye, Cathy," and the click as he hung up.

The statue of Andersen, the Danish storyteller, was a favorite among children who played in Central Park. The sitting figure's broad lap made a wonderful perch to climb into and look over the world during the spring and summer. Mid-November, though, was usually too blustery for such antics -- at least the parents said so. This day, however, was only chilly, not windy, and just a light touch of snow coated Andersen's lap, easily brushed aside with a gloved hand.

Laura did so now and pulled herself up into the bronze seat. It appeared to Catherine that Laura's face and eyes were as neutral and lifeless seeming, as she sat there looking around her, as the bare trees and patches of brown grass of the landscape. Then, gradually, her expression softened as something came to her. Eventually she signed, I used to come up to the Park to play when I was little. This was one of my favorite places. I used to get up here and pretend signing to him, and he'd understand me. I'd imagine him telling all his stories to me...speaking to me, and I'd hear every word! It was fun...no worries, no problems, Father and Vincent Below waiting for me...and a friend here Above who understood everything in me.

But you have to grow up, don't you? And things are never simple again.... Especially once you fall in love. Desperately, she asked, How do you and Vincent do it, Catherine? How do you keep together?

Catherine shrugged. "It hasn't been easy; you know that. We almost gave up a hundred times. It took courage and pain, and a lot of luck...and love that wouldn't die. We never thought we'd share a bed, or make love physically... and here we are! In the end, we learned to simply let our live exist."

The click of heels came to Catherine's ears; she turned and saw Jerry approaching up the sidewalk. Laura had followed her gaze and was now stiff with tension. She slid down from her seat, came over beside Catherine as Jerry stopped in front of them. Catherine nodded hello to him, said, "I'll leave you alone," and walked down the path a distance.

Uncomfortable silence hung behind for a moment as they stared at each other, until Laura finally sketched a Hello to Jerry. "Hi," he replied, then, hesitantly, "You doing okay?" She nodded yes; You?

 

"Yeah.... Laura.... I'm sorry if I hurt you yesterday. I love you... I don't want to lose you, ever. I was acting like a damned fool; please forgive me."

 

You had cause to.

 

"Not that much. If you'll...if you'll have me back, I think I could learn to live with your career."

A shudder passed through her, and she closed her eyes and swallowed hard before replying, No.

 

To Jerry, it seemed as if something exploded in his head at that one word. "No??" He reached out for her, but she stopped his hands and drew back. Finally, he fumbled out, "Why?"

 

Because it would not be fair to you. Jerry, beyond the pain and the hurt, there was truth in what we both said last night. You were right -- I've spent more time in my artwork than I did with you. I shut you out of my life more and more as I went deeper into the career. And it hurt you, badly.

What I said was right, too. The way you've loved me until now has been a choking way. You wanted to keep me safe, to make sure nobody hurt me or made me cry. You preferred me to never do anything for myself, earn any money unless I had to -- I'd be dependent on you. And I rebelled against that.

 

"Yes," Jerry said, "and we can see that now. We can learn to work with each other so our life is balanced."

 

No! Laura insisted. You can -- maybe. But I've been searching myself. I can find love for you; I can find a need for you; yet this new life I've also found is just as important.... She drew a deep breath before adding, Maybe more so.

Jerry turned away, trying to control the pounding in his head and ache in his chest. It was some time before he could face her again, and only with an effort. "Please...won't you at least try? There are people out there with careers who have made it work! Why are you so different from them?"

 

Laura trembled, but not from the cold. Because I know me.... I put all of myself into my art, and it's at your expense. I could handle both you and the career equally for a while. Eventually, though, I'd lose control, lose perspective again...at your expense. I need you, Jerry, but I need my art and my freedom more right now. We should leave before we truly hurt each other.

 

Jerry made to say more; Laura caught his hands again, shaking her head. She took him into her arms and hugged him tightly. Then, before her determination broke, she let go and strode quickly away, toward the waiting Catherine. As she came up, Catherine said, "Are you all right?"

 

No, Laura responded, then quickly added, Let's get back Below before I start crying in public, and rushed off. Catherine looked back to Jerry; he was staring after Laura as she hurried down the path. It may have been only sun-gleam from a shiny face, but Catherine thought she saw a sparkling point on his cheek.

 

 

 

"My heart was breaking for them both, Vincent," she said to him that night, curled up in his arms on his bed as she finished the story. "I tried not to read their signing, but I couldn't help it; and I could see their faces as well. I couldn't stay to talk to Jerry; Laura was moving so quickly that I had to run to keep up with her. I did catch a look at him.... I think he was devastated."

"His world had crumbled about him," Vincent said moodily. "I can imagine how he must have felt...the pain...the emptiness."

"I know that...and what you're thinking of," and she held him more tightly. The years of their "courtship" had been rocky, and neither could deny that their occasional separations seemed like small deaths. "We always came back together, though," she went on. "But I wonder if Laura and Jerry ever will?"

They stared into the candle flames flickering on Vincent's desk, until he suddenly recalled something. "Someone once said that you cannot make love work...you must let it work. We are proof of that."

Catherine slowly nodded. Some of their worst times had been when they fought against the bounds of the relationship. Vincent's doubts over his worthiness for her, clashing with his normal desire, especially created pain. Only when he gave up struggling with himself and simply let his love be did they move past the final barriers, into full intimacy.

That was what Laura meant in the Park. She saw that trying to make their love work by a forced compromise would tear them farther apart in the end. Better to end the pain now than worsen it in the future, making them forget what happiness they had known. Catherine finally said, "We are so lucky to have figured that out, aren't we?"

A knock sounded from the doorway; Laura stood there, wrapped in an afghan shawl. In the golden candlelight the lovers saw her puffy cheeks and red eyes; she had been crying for some time after returning Below. Am I interrupting? she signed. Vincent shook his head no and waved her over to a chair.

 

I just wanted to ask a few things, she said, settling in. I would like to stay for a little while longer, until Jerry has a chance to move out of the apartment. I'd be willing to let him have it, but he can't afford to live there by himself.

"You're welcome to stay for as long as you wish," Vincent said, speaking gently as he signed; "...but are you trying to avoid Jerry?"

Laura shrugged slightly as she replied, Maybe in part.... But it is really less painful for us both. She faced Catherine. Would you mind calling him to tell him he can take his time moving?

"Of course. I'll do it tomorrow," Catherine said. Laura nodded, said Thank you, and started rising to go; but Catherine checked her with a touch on the wrist. "How are you doing now?"

Confusion was uppermost on Laura's face as she thought about it. Hesitantly, she said, I don't...I don't really know. It's all a jumble, what I'm feeling...sadness, pain.... But there is more...things that I am afraid of.

"Like?"

 

Like release...and excitement! Why is this?

"Perhaps because your problem is solved, hard as it was to do," Vincent said. "This has plagued you for a long time. Now that it is over, it no longer troubles you."

 

Maybe, Laura said thoughtfully, but she set consideration aside for later; other things came to mind. I wonder if either of us was really more to blame for this.

 

Catherine looked at her in puzzlement. "I guess this may sound cruel, but does it really matter?"

 

Probably not. Maybe I'm just wanting someone to say I am not at fault. I keep going over it, looking for an answer. And it bothers me that perhaps we could have found it again if I gave it a chance.

 

"You seemed to understand it this afternoon. What you said to Jerry was true and honest."

 

It was. The things we did made us feel as if we were in each other's shadow. But was it enough to break up over? She sighed and shook her head. Perhaps I'll understand one day. Then she smiled wryly and added, You know, I have you to blame in a way.

 

Vincent was shocked by Laura's words; then he was even more surprised when he felt not anger through the bond, but a small lacing of sadness and guilt, mirrored in Catherine's face. She said, "I know. If I hadn't suggested that you sell your paintings, you and Jerry might still be together."

 

Hold it! I was joking; I don't blame you at all. It was not a very funny joke, I guess. But you could grin a little; please? she mock-pleaded.

It was impossible to resist. Catherine slowly grinned, then she chuckled. Laura nodded in relief, then frowned slightly and signed, Jerry and I were starting to drift apart even before this. I think the career simply speeded it up. I have been searching for something ever since I moved Above; I might have found it by myself eventually. She shrugged. Anyway, 'might have been' doesn't matter. We are apart now. I hurt now. Yet I must go on now; if I let the hurt stop me, it will have been useless...in vain.

Vincent smiled proudly at her. "Father was once afraid that the World Above would batter and break you. But I think you have just proved that fear groundless. It has made you stronger. I wish it was not this way...but you will endure."

Laura smiled sadly, nodding her head in thanks. Embracing them both, she left for her own chamber.

 

 

Laura did endure the pain of leaving Jerry. Her next show, the one that caused the fight, was even more successful than her first, and her reputation as one of the finest artists in the City was cemented. As the years passed, her pieces became the pride of many collections and competitions. And she continued as a Helper, supplying the Tunnels with both goods and teaching; she possessed the gift of imparting Elizabeth's skills as well as using them, and many Tunnel children benefited from her instructions.

It took time, and Laura passed through a few affairs first, but she eventually found love again. He was a man who understood and respected her complexity: a woman, a deaf person, and a gifted artist with a driving need to grow and challenge herself. But, until this man came to her, she kept a custom; she insisted that the name of Gerald Burowski be placed on the guest list at the door of her shows. And a part of her always hoped that, someday, her interpreter would say that he was calling on the phone for her. In a sense, Laura was still in his shadow, and would probably always be.

 

THE END


Bruce Alen Klaiss is a librarian, living in Brent, Alabama. He was working on his bachelor's degree when "Beauty and the Beast" was first broadcast, and used his writing classes for things other than school papers. Bruce was a founding member of South of Oz, the Central Florida B&B group, and president of South of Oz 1991, the B&B national convention held in Orlando, Florida. He is married to Kitt, an osteopathic family practice doctor, whom he met because of the show. They share the work of raising their two children.