'TIL IT BE MORROW

 

Catherine sat cross-legged on the floor of her apartment, packing books into a box with one hand. With the other, she balanced Charles on her lap, rocking him gently in an attempt to placate him long enough to finish emptying one more shelf. All day she had been packing and it was taking longer than she expected. It was past nine o'clock, and she was tired; Charles was hungry. She was sure Vincent was waiting for her, but the movers were coming first thing tomorrow and she needed to have things ready for them.

She was only half aware of the warm spring breeze on the back of her neck before Vincent's arms reached around her and lifted Charles from her lap. The baby stopped fussing only until he realized his father wasn't going to feed him.

Catherine smiled wearily. "I'm glad you came," she said, letting Vincent help her to her feet. Leaning against him, she turned her face up to receive his kiss.

"Feed Charles," he instructed gently. "I will finish this."

Catherine curled up on the couch and turned sideways to watch Vincent while she nursed their son. It seemed strange to see him in her apartment performing such a domestic chore but he finished filling the box with quick, efficient motions and began on another.

It wasn't long before the shelves were empty and the boxes carefully filled. Vincent gave a small sigh of satisfaction as he turned to Catherine. She was slumped down in her corner, eyes closed, with her head resting against the back of the couch and Charles sound asleep in her arms.

She didn't stir as Vincent disengaged Charles from her grasp and lifted the baby to his shoulder. Pressing his cheek against the silky softness of Charles's dark hair, Vincent carried him into Catherine's bedroom and found the makeshift crib she'd been using; a folded blanket surrounded by boxes. He lowered the baby gently, covering him with a light quilt and patting his back until Charles settled back into sleep.

Catherine hadn't yet stripped the bed, so Vincent turned down the covers before returning to the living room, where he stood over Catherine for a moment, reluctant to wake her. Even though she had more than one offer of help, she had been stubbornly adamant about packing her things by herself. Vincent knew she felt guilty about all the time and energy Jenny had already expended in her behalf and flatly refused when Jenny offered to take a day off. Anyone from Below would have been glad to assist in the chore, but again, Catherine knew that she would be taking that person away from other tasks in the tunnels. Besides, Vincent thought, Catherine had wanted a day by herself in her old home to reconcile memories. More than once today he had felt a wistfulness as she came across something that brought back pieces of her past.

Finally, he picked her up and she wound her arms around his neck sleepily. Carefully, he carried her in and laid her on the bed, bending to remove her shoes. She lifted each foot in turn to help him.

"Where's Charles?" she mumbled, her voice thick and drowsy.

"Sleeping," Vincent assured her, pulling the blankets up over her. "As you should be."

Her eyes drifted closed as fatigue overtook her.

 

* * * * *

 

Pale moonlight streamed through the french doors, illuminating the book-lined shelves and glinting off her crystal paperweight collection. Catherine stood alone in the center of the flawlessly appointed room, turning slowly. The room looked the same as it always had, but it felt wrong. But I packed these things... My baby! Where's my baby?

She gasped, waking herself, and for that brief moment, she felt a surge of panic before she recognized the familiar weight of Vincent's arm around her waist, the pressure of his body as they lay together.

Her sudden flash of fear woke Vincent and he lifted his head from the pillow. "Catherine?"

Running her palm down his arm to take his hand, she said, "I dreamt it was all a dream. I was alone."

"I'm here." He tightened his hand on hers and pulled her closer.

Catherine closed her eyes and pressed closer. As she lay in Vincent's arms, her thoughts began to wander.

In the two months since their wedding, she had grown accustomed to sleeping with Vincent, but it seemed strange to have him here, in the bed where she had spent so many lonely nights. He had been in this bed before...

"Charles was conceived here," she spoke the thought aloud.

"Yes." Vincent was quiet as they both remembered his abrupt departure and the intense guilt that followed.

As if to erase the memory, Vincent began to lightly kiss the side of her face. Catherine turned to face him and he rolled, partially covering her body with his as he kissed her eyes, her cheeks, her throat, and finally, her mouth.

Their loving was slow, almost sleepy in the early morning stillness. Later, as Catherine dozed in the pre-dawn darkness, she felt Vincent move cautiously away from her. She put out a hand to stop him.

"Don't go."

"I must." He turned from pulling on his clothes, half-reclining on the bed as he took her hand in his. "`Night's candles are burnt out,'" he quoted softly. "`And jocund day...'"

"`...stands tiptoe on the misty skyscraper tops,'" she misquoted the rest of the line and smiled at him.

He smiled back. "`I must be gone and live...'"

"Don't," she murmured, interrupting the rest of the quote. "Don't even think it."

While Vincent finished dressing, Catherine found a robe and pulled it on, following him out onto the balcony. The eastern sky was faintly tinged with pink.

"How many times have we stood on this spot and said goodbye?" Catherine asked wistfully.

"Too many." Vincent said as she moved into the warm comfort of his embrace. "This will be the last."

They lingered in each other's arms as long as they dared, savoring memories. So much of their lives together had taken place in these few square feet of brick and cement. The sky was rosy and the city's lights had already lost their brilliance when Vincent sighed and looked down at Catherine. Her hair was still tousled from sleep and he brushed it back from her face with loving hands; his fingers tangled in the silky strands as she smiled at him.

"`Farewell, farewell! One kiss and I'll descend.'" A touch of mirth colored his voice as he repeated Romeo's parting words to Juliet.

Catherine made a small sound of amusement as she complied with his request, kissing him twice before releasing him. After watching him go, she stood, her eyes fixed on the spot where he had gone over the wall.

A small part of her was sad at leaving this place, but the new life she and Vincent planned to make together lay before them, beckoning. Never again would they have to part simply because the sun was rising.

Inside, Charles began to whimper and she went to him, smiling.

 

THE END