THE LIST

by JoAnn Baca

 

"Here's my list."

Vincent looked uncomprehendingly at the piece of closely typed paper which had been thrust into his hands, then up at Catherine. He had been sitting at his writing table, wrapped up in his latest journal entry, when she had burst in without so much as a "May I come in?" His discomfiture was compounded by the fact that he had been thinking about her to the exclusion of all other thoughts, and had been so immersed in his musings that he hadn't realized she was Below until she was almost upon him. It was disconcerting to him, even though such occasions were blessedly rare, when she managed to surprise him like this. He always needed some time...perhaps "advance warning" was too strong a phrase...to prepare for their encounters, to steel himself against the onslaught of emotion which always filled their Bond whenever she was near. But not only was this visit completely unexpected -- it was entirely bewildering, at least so far. What was she talking about? What list?

"Catherine? I...do not understand...."

She plopped herself unceremoniously onto his bed, so that he was forced to turn and regard her from a rather awkward angle. She would not budge. Ultimately, he was compelled to rise and move his chair so that he faced her. Because she was perched on his bed, which was set on a raised platform, he had to tilt his neck slightly upward to meet her eyes. He had lost the subtle advantage of height which improved the odds when dueling for control with this strong-willed woman, and he was distinctly aware that she was inwardly congratulating herself on having stolen his physical "high ground." Catherine increased her upper hand by leaning forward on her elbows, causing him to press further back in his chair in his desperation to maintain a proper distance between them. She was enjoying this entirely too much, but he was at a loss as to what to do about it without conceding defeat by standing and walking away. He decided to, as Kipper would so gracelessly put it, "suck it up" and deal with it.

"I know you don't understand, Vincent, but you will. Remember my friend Edie? Whenever she has a difficult decision to make, she makes a list. On one side she writes down all the reasons for a certain decision, and on the other all the reasons against it. It helps her to see in black and white all the arguments which otherwise would be spinning in her head very unproductively. She says it often clarifies a situation so readily that the right decision becomes immediately obvious. It's an excellent idea, and one I think might help us with an important decision we've been avoiding."

His confusion now complete, Vincent looked down at the paper in his hand for enlightenment. What he saw astounded him.

Across the top was written Decision to Make: Shall I Move Below?

Below that, the page was split into two columns, headed "Reasons against" and "Reasons for." His eyes moved to the single item listed in the Reasons against column.

1. Vincent's stubborn and frightened and thinks my life Above should mean more to me than it does and I'll have to put up a tremendous battle with him to convince him he's wrong &emdash; about everything but his love for me.

The Reasons for column had many more items listed.

Reasons for:

1. I love Vincent.

2. Vincent loves me.

3. We should be together.

4. I'm not truly happy when I'm not with him.

5. I don't believe he is truly happy if he is not with me.

6. Vincent is more important to me than anyone and anything else in my life.

7. I am willing to make any adjustments in my life to accommodate being with him.

8. I am strong enough to battle with Father over this -- with Vincent's help.

9. I deserve the best in life, and Vincent is the best.

10. Vincent deserves the best in life, but he'll probably settle for me.

11. I have skills I can contribute to my family Below.

12. My family Below is just that -- my family.

13. I love candlelight, William's tea, discussions at Council meetings, the children's recitals, the waterfalls, the best seat in the house for concerts in the park, the sound of Vincent's voice late at night (and early in the morning).

14. There would be less risk for Vincent if I spent more time Below.

15. I love my job, but it's taking too much of a toll on both of us; I have marketable skills and can find another job easily.

16. My apartment is a dangerous climb (Vincent's not getting any younger).

17. I'm not getting any younger.

18. I love Vincent.

19. I love Vincent.

20. I love Vincent.

As he stared at the bottom of the page, Catherine leaned forward and whispered, "Actually, the 'reasons for' list is longer, but it was kind of getting repetitive there at the end, so I cut it off at 20." She was so close to him as she spoke that her breath stirred the ends of his bangs. They fluttered against his eyelashes, causing him to blink. When he blinked again, it was to keep the tears which suddenly welled in his eyes from spilling. But when she knelt before him and softly kissed his trembling eyelids, the tears overwhelmed his control and slipped unheeded down his cheeks. When he opened them again, he saw that the bravado which had carried Catherine this far had deserted her now -- she was gazing at him with a look of such naked pleading that his heart constricted. There was really only one thing to say.

"Catherine...I fear...you have made a mistake."

Her eyes closed and she braced herself for the inevitable disappointment, for the fruitless argument to come, for the despair which threatened even now to overcome her. Vincent raised a hand and gently stroked her cheek, causing her eyes to open wide in astonishment. Banishing her introspection with that touch, he had her complete attention now.

"This list is incorrect. I will fix it for you."

He stood then, and moved back to his writing table. He took up his pen and marked upon the paper, then sat again and handed it back to her. Catherine willed herself to face whatever he might have written.

Across the "reasons against" column, Vincent had drawn a heavy black "X."

Brimming blue eyes met overflowing green ones, and the list was dropped forgotten to the floor.