Winter Light Continued
This is the continuation of my Winterfest story from 2018, Winter Light.
I hope you enjoy.
For Pat–who was a constant source of enthusiasm, smart conversation, and inspiration. Sometimes wonder how to do this without you. I miss you, roomie.
“When I think of what I already lived through it seems to me I was shedding my bodies along the paths.”
― Clarice Lispector
Father wasn’t ready.
“A child?” he asked, understanding lagging, with an unwrapped candle held loosely in hands.
Catherine nodded, standing before him in a dark velvet gown, nibbling her lip. Vincent, in his Winterfest finery, towered beside her, his arm wrapped around in solidarity.
“Have you both gone completely mad!”
Of course Father wasn’t ready, hence the outburst, the understandable outburst, followed by an abnormal quiet that whipped through the Great Hall like a chill wind.
The customary opening remarks had barely finished, followed by greetings from well-wishers, some old friends along with a few newcomers. Catherine and Vincent had waited until the crowd had cleared, then presented Father with the gift and the announcement.
The eruption that followed brought the leader out of his chair, while the candle rolled several feet away down the long table as if trying to escape the scene.
The couple jumped back, and Father could only glare in disbelief. Finally, he broke the stalemate when he shook his head, then cast his eyes upward. Was it too much to ask for an easy Winterfest after last year’s bout with John?
Vincent, silent as the rest of the hall, stretched out his hand and brought the small candle back, placing it in front of them.
“Yes, Father…” Vincent snarled, a low anger unbound and sounding even more dangerous in his hushed tone, “…truly mad.” He whirled a pale Catherine away across the hall.
A child. Catherine was bearing Vincent’s child.
The fears, the complications, rose in the doctor’s mind like the walls of a maze.
Of all the irresponsible, ill-considered, reckless…
I thought Vincent agreed with me.
I thought he understood.
“I wondered when she was going to tell me,” Peter said from over Father’s shoulder, sidling up to the table.
“When they showed up late, with those secret smiles on their faces?” Peter asked, his eyebrow skyward. “Come on, Jacob. You’ve been doing this at least as long as I have,” he chided, punctuating his statement with a pat on Father’s arm.
Pulling away from the condescending gesture, Father drew the abandoned candle into his two hands, turning it ‘round. It was an exact replica of a Winterfest candle, but about a quarter of the size. He huffed, indignant, realizing Rebecca probably knew about this calamity before he did.
The music’s beginning brought him out of his musings, and Peter motioned to the stairs. The couple sat mid-steps, next to the tapestries, out of the way of the concerned throng below—Mary, Rebecca, Mouse, Jamie, Samantha, Geoffrey, Zach. Vincent, protective and shielding, held Catherine close and spoke into her ear.
“I don’t know, Jacob…” the other doctor said with a grin, as if this weren’t a tragedy waiting to happen. “There’s something about her,” Peter continued. “She glows.” He turned back. “She’s carrying life forward, despite the risks.”
And wasn’t that the trouble? Didn’t Peter grasp? Jacob didn’t wish to begrudge them happiness, but the risks…
…were theirs to take.
It wasn’t the decision he would have made or wished they’d made, but there was nothing to be done. There was no way to turn back the clock, (and even if there were, he doubted any counsel would have steered them from this outcome.)
Peter was right, although he’d never tell the egotistical fool.
Looking back, it was idiocy not to realize. How had he not seen how much closer Vincent and Catherine had become? Each time together the space between them seemed to lessen, until the last week it’d been barely inches—always touching, secrets whispered, conversations silently exchanged. Yes, he should have realized something was happening.
And as obtuse as perhaps he had been, Father didn’t miss the news as it traveled around the hall. Through small groups and couples, the report handed to each like a candle flame. He saw the children’s faces alight, the smiles, the joy.
He glanced down to the gift he’d dropped to the table.
He had to agree it was a perfect symbol for the tiny life, the hope for the future.
Despite the obstacles… Despite the fears…
His grandchild’s life.
A second generation raised in the Tunnels.
Could you have foreseen that John?
Even I didn’t.
Can we ever know who we will become? What titles we will bear?
Son, then Student…
Now … grandfather?
“Looks like they’ve set up court,” Peter announced, straightening his suit in jest. “I think it’s time we go pay homage. You coming?”
“Do you think they’ll even want to see me?” Father exhaled. Even to his own ears, it came out sulky.
“Oh, Jacob.” Peter shook his head as if he were talking to an errant child. “Vincent can’t do this alone. Oh, he’s putting on a good front for us,” he argued, “but we both know he’s got to be terrified.”
Vincent stared out, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, while Catherine’s head rested on his arm. They held themselves apart from the others, but why? Because of his reaction?
“You’re as close to a father as that girl has now. They told you first, Jacob. Don’t make them regret it.” Peter scolded, pulling gently on Father’s sleeve. “They need you.”
They did seem to need something.
He wasn’t ready, but are we ever ready for change?
“Well, then…” Father stood, pulling his cane underneath him.
He would offer what he could.
He tucked the tiny candle into his vest and limped towards the stairs, the Winterfest crowd parting before him.
The pair rose as he approached.
“I’m sorry,” he called up to them.
They needed to be supported, encircled—even by, perhaps especially by, him.
Father held out a hand.
Catherine took his grasp, allowing him to lead her down. Vincent followed close, like a knight from the tapestries, ready to take up her cause. Father couldn’t blame the boy’s skepticism for his apology.
“I’m sorry,” he repeated and smiled. “It will be fine.” He nodded, sudden tears coming to his eyes, his voice almost overtaken. “You’ve made us all very happy.”
“Thank you, Father,” she burst out along with a sob.
He gathered her into his arms.
Yes, he had help to offer.
“There now, there now,” he soothed, running his hand over her hair. “It will be all right.”
There were some rocky days ahead, to be sure, but they would manage. They always had.
He took her face into his hands. “You’ve both given us a beautiful Winterfest gift.”
She smiled as he wiped away her tears with his half-gloved fingers.
“Maybe I wasn’t quite ready before, but now I see.” He took Vincent’s hand. “It will be wonderful.”
Just do the next right thing one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.
― Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior
Catherine wasn’t ready.
She wasn’t prepared for the tiny boy, Adric, (she thought his name might be,) with his curls that’d give a Renaissance cherub a run for his money. He must have tottered away from the mob of children and his adolescent caretaker to end up directly at her feet.
No one else noticed.
The other kids, waiting for her and Vincent to escort them back from Winterfest, were engrossed in their own games and conversations. Even Vincent left submerged in a discussion with Samantha and Zach. No help there.
“Ummm… Hi, little guy.” She smiled and waved from what must have seemed like miles overhead to the toddler.
He just stared while sucking on his pacifier, clearly sizing her up. Then he raised his arms, more expecting than requesting.
She wasn’t ready. Not after today. Not after Father’s seesaw ride of outrage and approval. Not after crying in front of everyone. (She’d promised herself she wouldn’t and couldn’t stop if her life depended on it.) Not after the well wishes, and the hugs, and plans to meet at Peter’s office on Monday. Not after the dancing, and the food she wouldn’t even pretend she could keep down by morning. Not after everything.
Emotionally, physically, she stood before this child drained, but that didn’t matter.
She wasn’t prepared for the way Adric fit perfectly in her arms, or how it felt carrying him up the stairs and out the back of the hall—not heavy, but laden, nonetheless.
The child curled into her embrace as if he belonged there.
Any port in a storm, huh kid?
He sucked his binky, resting his head on her shoulder as she carried him home.
She wasn’t ready to be needed, to be called upon, but she would have to be.
She was going to have a child. Vincent’s child.
Before tonight, the baby was—could be—an abstraction, the period at the end of the sentence about the new aspect of their relationship. Vincent loved her in every way—the baby’s existence a symbol of that love. A symbol without heft or requirements—beyond trying to eat between the bouts of vomiting and succumbing to exhaustion at the end of the day. (Ok, sometimes succumbing at her desk by mid-afternoon—prompting Joe to ask if it was sickness or hot dates. Maybe both, she’d told him, with as much mystery as she could muster while unsticking sleep plastered hair from her face.)
Announcing her pregnancy to Father and the rest of the community made everything real in ways she didn’t expect. People were offering advice, input. Decisions would need to be made, plans set in motion, some of which she had absolutely no control over.
Their baby wasn’t nudging her life in a new direction. It wasn’t veering her course. The baby was a full-on hijack to destinations unknown.
They were getting a flesh and blood person, just like—or mostly like—the one in her arms, and who, like this one, would demand attention, love, help.
No wonder Father went ballistic. (And Vincent had been right. Father didn’t care how many people were around when he did.)
She was going to have a baby—possibly a different one, an extraordinary one—to feed, to diaper, to soothe, to raise, to mess up, and…
Everything in her life was about to change.
She had to be ready but how? Vincent remained reassuring and steadfast, even in the face of Father’s disapproval, but he hadn’t told her what he wanted, for them or for himself. Not really, not yet.
She spied him at the front of the pack, continuing to walk with an animated Zach and Samantha. Still no help.
Catherine kept trudging the long corridor, Adric getting heavier with every step. Falling asleep, perhaps? She didn’t want to chance a glimpse.
Vincent had more experience with children than she did. He seemed happy about the baby, but she didn’t magically get to perceive his emotions. Would he tell her what he believed they should do or leave it all for her to decide? Would he be ready?
The swish of sand and gravel from someone running behind startled her out of her spiral.
“Do you want me to take him?” Hannah asked, breathless and hands outstretched, ready to collect the child.
Teenage caretaker found, Catherine thought.
She moved to pass the little one over when the boy’s grip turned from casual to serious. The implied threat of tantrum couldn’t be clearer.
You aren’t getting out of this that easy, lady.
It was a heady feeling to be wanted by a child.
“No, thank you, Hannah. I’ve got him,” Catherine assured, as she hitched up the toddler and started to sway with her steps.
She wasn’t ready for any of it, but just like the child she held, the baby wouldn’t care.
Adric may not speak his needs—especially with a binky in his mouth—but he made them known. What he wanted, he asked for. There was comfort in that—that a child would ask for what they needed. Right?
She’d make it back. She was healthy, and it wasn’t that far home. Why else had she been working out for, anyway? To get strong.
She’d help this little one to bed, and then tell Vincent what she thought they should do. He might even tell her what he wished as well. He’d experimented with communicating his desires recently, and so far, it was glorious.
It was time to move forward. They’d just have to put one foot in front of the other.
Unlike after her dad died—when she really wasn’t ready, when she couldn’t even care for herself—now she felt somewhat equipped. She had enough money, a good man, and the support of a community. She might not be totally prepared, still headed for destinations unknown, but she’d taken unexpected journeys before—to the Tunnels, to the D.A.’s office. The the work to be worthy of those places might have been painful, yet worth the struggle to find new bearings.
She hugged the boy in her arms for the invitation to nurture he’d offered. She thanked the child inside her for choosing them for the journey.
It will be wonderful, as Father promised.
Everything would change, and Catherine decided that would be okay. And although she had been stumbling towards the realization probably since she’d met her baby’s father, this was the first time she resolved to include caring in the same work of the world as depositions, briefs, and motions.
She couldn’t wait to tell Vincent.
“He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.”
Vincent wasn’t ready.
“I’m going to quit the D.A.’s office,” Catherine announced as soon as they were alone.
They were back in his chamber after protractedly, and with insisted-upon ritual, tucking the children into their beds. Truly, they may have retired faster if he’d kept his regular Winterfest job of snuffing the candles and latching the doors.
“What?” he asked, stunned.
She rummaged through the box they had dropped at his chamber earlier that day.
He could almost convince himself he’d misheard her.
She pulled out a nightgown and toothbrush and placed them on the table.
“I’m giving Joe my notice on Monday, right after I see Peter. I can give him a month. Peter said I wouldn’t be showing then.”
Vincent sat on his bed.
He wasn’t ready.
He should be, had to be, for her, but this was … overwhelming.
To leave her career because of him…
It felt like defeat.
“But … your work …”
“I know,” she insisted. “I’m just trying to be realistic, Vincent,”
He watched as she took a washcloth and pitcher, poured the cool water into a chipped ceramic bowl, and started to wipe away her make-up. When she finished, she was still beautiful, but in a different way, a private way.
She picked up her nightdress, then, facing away, she tilted her head to catch his eyes. Unzip me? her gesture asked.
He never could deny her, even if the privilege still caught him off guard.
He searched for the hidden rough clasp in the velvet and pulled. The zipper traveled down the length of her back, past the clasps of her bra until she … curved. She shrugged off the heavy dress and continued to change into her nightgown.
He almost looked away.
“I think we need to start planning longer term now,” she interrupted as she turned to him. “If we wait until …”.
He knew what she didn’t want to say—until chances of losing the baby diminished. Until the medical world deemed it safe from miscarriage.
She stood close enough to reach for her hand.
All the signs, from her nausea to his ability to sense the baby within her, growing, changing daily, said that was not what they needed to worry about.
There were so many other things to worry about.
“Catherine, are you sure? Your work—”
“Can wait, Vincent,” she stopped him again with an urgency he knew well. “I mean the work can’t wait, but there are others to do it. Rita and Holyfield are both good. If I leave, they’ll get a chance to move up. Things will shift around. I can’t—just like when I left Dad’s firm—I can’t believe everything will break down if I’m not there. Maybe there’ll be a few hiccups at first, but it will keep running. Tonight reminded me—I have to focus on us now, on what’s coming.”
She threaded her fingers into his.
He took a deep breath. He wanted her to have every choice in life, yet moving forward meant choosing paths. Realistically, she would have to give up some of her possibilities … because of him.
He wasn’t ready, but would he ever be ready?
“You are right.”
She cocked her head.
“Wow, I was ready to fight for half the night, but you up and capitulate during my opening argument?” She shook her head, stood and grazed his cheek. “You’re getting soft in your old age, Vincent.”
She walked to his dresser again to take off her earrings.
Yes, he was … softening, throwing off the armor that kept the world out and his feelings in, contained, stifled. Without it, he felt everything, vulnerably, but exquisitely and fully. She’d done that.
“You seem to have that effect on people, Catherine. You soften us. Look at Father, tonight.”
She chuffed, disbelieving. “You really think so?”
She truly had no idea.
“I promise you,” he said, watching her place the jewelry under a clock she’d said she liked. “Had it been I who’d told Father, the explosion Paracelsus planned for us would have paled in comparison.”
She chuckled at the joke, and it granted him the foolhardy courage to broach the next subject.
“And, on our journey home tonight, I was told, in no uncertain terms by Zach and Samantha, that I…” He faded, cowardice stealing his voice.
“That you what?” she prodded.
She deserved to know what the children thought—no, what everyone thought. He saw their looks, understood their intimations. The children were simply audacious enough to bring it up first.
“That I must ask you to marry me, ‘for propriety’s sake’.”
“They didn’t,” she gasped.
“Oh, yes,” he said, but didn’t look at her, instead flattening the pant wrinkles acquired while reading stories.
“That’s what they were talking your ear off about?” she asked.
They’d kept him, even when he’d recognized Catherine’s panic while carrying tiny Adric. Vincent had tried to escape, to help, but the children had been relentless, and her anxiety had eased as she walked.
“Samantha and Zach were very concerned that I ‘do the right thing’,” he said, then added in a burst. “Bodily harm was mentioned.”
“Oh, dear,” she exclaimed, then, feigning a thoughtful pose, “Well, I guess I can see their point.”
She played along with the earlier lightness, but she must have perceived something in his expression, terror maybe, and retreated.
“Vincent, I’m not trying to push you.”
She hadn’t. She wouldn’t, and perhaps that had been a mistake.
Before tonight, they’d not spoken of marriage or even a future beyond Winterfest. Dodging the question had been noticeable, conscious, on both their parts. And yet he wouldn’t trade the last weeks with her for all the money and freedom in the world.
She shook her head. “I can’t imagine us more bound to each other than we already are. Some words said in front of other people won’t make a difference to me.”
He sat for a moment, retreating as well, the silence between them only broken by a few Winterfest farewells on the pipes.
Words meant everything tonight.
When Father, the man who had been his lifeline, his shelter, yelled his disapproval in front of everyone, it could have been devastating, yet, somehow, it wasn’t. The others had drawn around them, but even more importantly, the shame wasn’t there.
Not that Father wasn’t right. It was mad. It was insane to love someone who might kill you. They’d both given their hearts to someone who could destroy them utterly. Yet, little by little, Catherine and he had moved towards love. Through danger and grief, joy and friendship, finally they dropped shame and barriers like clothes grown out of, wondering how they ever fit at all.
He could be ashamed of who he was, of his life, but that would betray what she believed, what she had taught him—that guilt and shame were not one.
Did he carry guilt over her unexpected pregnancy? Yes. Was he afraid for her? He would be a fool not to be. Did they need to keep their child, their love, a secret from those Above? Yes, for their safety, she would keep many secrets—but that did not mean they were ashamed.
Shame was a hatred of self, and it did not belong to them, not anymore.
With touches and words they’d learned to be honest about – and with – every aspect of themselves. When they had made love that first time—frantically, desperately, without reservation—it was a reunion of heart, mind, and soul too long denied.
After she realized what came of that night, after she told him, he had to choose. Be with her or live a life of regret and disgrace alone.
His “hermit” self never stood a chance.
They hadn’t mentioned the future before because maybe they needed time to simply be with each other, to learn to live free from shame and expectations. They craved a honeymoon, (and every moment spared from work had been that.)
This was real, despite Father’s earlier misgivings. The child was real. For better or worse, they weren’t hiding, at least from those who took part in Winterfest. They would require all their help, all the help they could muster.
They needed to talk of the future, to clarify expectations, to dream, to build a life.
“The words will make a difference to me,” he whispered, both concession and proclamation. “Tonight, when Father chastised us, part of me feared he was right, that we’ve suffered some folie à deux.” He glanced to their entwined hands. “But now … I wonder at the threads of destiny that led us here.”
Perhaps realizing he needed to air these ideas as she had hers, she waited, but with a barely contained anticipation. Her heart beat so fast he nearly felt it through her fingers.
“I promised you tonight we would find a path to our dream. I promised that I would fight with everything that I am to keep us all safe and to keep you happy.”
This was the fight. It took a long time, but he was finally ready.
He knelt, grasping outside her thighs—the heat of her burning, comforting, even through the gossamer fabric. After a moment of reveling in the impression of her body covered by the silky cloth, he gazed up.
“I love you, Catherine. I want you here, with me. I want you here, as much as you wish to be. I want you to be my wife.”
Elation, relief, radiated through their bond.
“I want to be with you, Vincent. I want to raise our baby here,” she breathed, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I want you to be my husband.”
“Good,” he whispered and rested his head against hers. “We will make Zach and Samantha very happy.”
She laughed, a sumptuous, open sound, one he wanted repeated as often as possible.
“I’m glad you won’t be in danger from the children,” she said, half-teasing, running her hands over his forearms. “No ‘bodily harm,’ for you.” Her green eyes danced in the candlelight. “I need the father of my baby healthy.”
He couldn’t help but embrace her.
When she pulled back, she shook her head, as if sensing he wasn’t talking about saving him from the children’s threats.
“Thank you,” he clarified, “for being in my life, for changing things, for changing me.” He traced the neckline of her nightdress with a careful fingertip. “For being so beautiful.”
She sighed, lowering her gaze. “You won’t think I’m beautiful when I vomit all over you tomorrow morning,” she said, bemused, but also demure.
He was aware of her near-daily bouts of sickness. He’d nursed her through a few when work had kept her up past what was prudent. Mary had assured them the nausea should pass soon, but it didn’t help the guilt. The only thing he could do was try to ease it.
“I have made provisions,” he said, motioning to the bowl, water pitcher and crackers he had placed next to the bed.
“It will be worth spending tonight with you.”
He started by kissing her cheek, but her neck lay so near, he couldn’t help but continue down.
“And you aren’t feeling sick now.” It wasn’t a question.
She turned her throat to his exploration.
“You know I’m not.” Heat and happiness reverberating in her voice.
He did. How could he not? She was his light.
She willingly surrendered to his advance, stretching out beneath him as he kissed her back onto the bed.
“I take it back,” she beamed as soon as he let her up for air.
“I said you were getting soft. You are most definitely not getting—”
He stopped her words with a kiss.