Vincent sighed. At least Jacob approved of having Diana here, with or without commitment. If only adults could live for the moment and not be obsessed with what is proper and what is not. But unfortunately, with age comes wisdom and propriety. Vincent wondered what Jacob would think when he was grown and people would remind him of his dad's indiscretions with his stepmom before they married. But instantly, he dismissed the thought. Who among the people here would be so crass as to say anything about that to Jacob? And who among the people here were so perfect that they were never in love and tempted?
Vincent's thoughts were interrupted by his son's energetic bouncing and demanding to eat. It's time to get ready to meet Diana, Vincent told himself, as he hastily changed into dressier garb, consisting of a new sheepskin vest and velveteen trousers. He ran a brush through his wild mane and laced up his new boots.
All the while, Jacob was running around the room, getting into things and tugging at Vincent to hurry because, "Jacob want chickie."
"I'm not certain what has been prepared for dinner, Jacob," Vincent told his son. "We may have chicken, fish or beef."
"No. Want chickie." Jacob was adamant about his dinner selection.
Vincent sighed. "Very well. Let's go meet Diana and we'll all have chicken together." He hoped chicken was part of the menu, or there would be no peace from Jacob. Of course, the promise of dessert would generally pacify him to the point where even spinach would be consumed with gusto in anticipation of brownies or banana cream pie.
Meanwhile, Diana put on her best dress, the only one she owned actually, since it was not her custom to deviate from jeans or sweats. But tonight she looked radiant in the dark green velvet dress that flowed gently over her curves. Her hair was brushed to a radiant shine, and her eyes sparkled. But she wasn't comfortable. She found it difficult to be in a dress, panty hose and heels. This was something that would have been second nature to Catherine, but Diana was different. She liked comfortable clothing that allowed her to move about freely and to sprawl unlady-like on a chair or sit with one leg under her. Tonight she would have to sit with her knees pressed primly together, and remember not to gulp her tea or talk with her mouth full.
And over and over again, she questioned her motives. Oh, she still cared for Vincent, but it just wasn't the same. When they were alone together, she felt tenderness for him, but some of the passion had cooled along with the empathy. She felt like she was always on display. And that was another thing -- living down here. She liked the tunnel folk, and knew they accepted her to a point. But it was an effort for her to be herself. In Diana's mind, she was supposed to conduct herself in complete decorum like Catherine did.
‘I just don't know if I can ever adjust to life down here,’ she thought. ‘It's too primitive and feels like living in a fishbowl. No privacy. No opportunity to ever be alone for long.’ There was the constant threat of someone walking into the chamber. And the plumbing! With no running water and makeshift lavatory, Diana wondered how Catherine would have handled that--Catherine who was accustomed to spa-like luxury. Diana liked things simple and functional, and never indulged herself in frills and finery. But this was ridiculous! No matter how much she cared for Vincent, his lifestyle would take more getting used to than Diana realized. ‘Oh well,’ she mused, ‘this is just a dinner--not a lifelong commitment--at least not yet, anyway.’
She took a final check in the mirror, and decided she looked the part of a damsel out of her element, but passable, and hurried down the darkened tunnel passageway to meet her lover in the Great Hall.
As she rounded the corner leading to the Great Hall, Diana observed Vincent and Jacob standing near the entrance, dressed in their finery, and waiting for her. Jacob was jumping up and down and squealing with delight. Vincent smiled his approval at the sight of Diana. To him, she looked like a goddess. He was speechless!
"I hope I'm not late," Diana muttered, smoothing her hair nervously.
Vincent took her arm and led her to their table. "No, Diana. You're right on time."
The aroma of food reminded Diana she hadn't eaten since early afternoon, and despite her apprehension, discovered she was indeed hungry. The way Father, who was already seated, scrutinized her, did little to enhance her appetite, however.
"Good evening, Diana. How lovely you look." Father was doing his best to be polite, but in back of his mind he harbored reservation. ‘Will this woman be my future daughter-in-law,’ he mused? ‘She seems sensible enough, but will passion obliterate her common sense?’
Vincent pulled out her chair, and Diana seated herself. There was a moment of awkward silence. ‘What do I say to this patriarch who obviously disapproves of Vincent and me sleeping together? And can I keep that promise that it isn't going to happen? Because once alone with Vincent, it is hard to tear myself away. And do I really want to?’
"You're quiet tonight, Diana." Vincent broke through her thoughts. "Here. Have a dinner roll," he said, passing a cloth covered basket from which emanated a delightful aroma.
Diana took a hot roll from the basket and passed it in turn to Father. She buttered it, all the while wondering how she got herself into this situation. She thought all eyes were on her, and actually they were. People were speculating on the relationship. She was sure of that. So certain that she piled on more butter than she wanted and managed to choke down the first buttery mouthful.
Jacob banged a spoon against his plate. "Want chickie." And Vincent noted thankfully, that a platter of chicken was indeed placed on the table in front of him.
Somehow Diana managed to get through the meal without dropping her napkin on the floor, or slopping food, or gulping instead of sipping her tea. Conversation was stilted, and most of Vincent's attention was focused on helping Jacob dissect his chicken leg with knife and fork. Father, who was usually very articulate, ate his meal in silence.
Finally, Father spoke. "Well, Diana, I trust you found the meal satisfactory?"
"Yes. It was very good." However, Diana hardly tasted the food, and it seemed to lie like a lump in her stomach. She declined dessert, opting instead for a refill on her cup of tea.
Jacob, now sated and drowsy, was slumped in his chair, about to fall asleep.
"I guess I'd better put Jacob to bed," Vincent said, extricating his son from the chair. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Diana found herself alone with Father, and the prospect of trying to make more small talk with him, was daunting. ‘Darn Vincent--Couldn't he have waited until everyone started to depart? Now I'm stuck, and can't think of a doggone thing to say.’
Father cleared his throat. "What is it, Diana? You seem very detached tonight? Are you upset about our earlier conversation?"
For the first time this evening, Diana managed to look Father straight in the eye. "No, it's not that."
"What is it then, my child?"
She looked away again. ‘How do I admit that I feel so out of place, she wondered?’ "Somehow," she began, "I just feel like I don't belong here."
"Nonsense," Father assured her. "You fit in quite well, actually. And you look lovely besides. Look, Diana, the last thing I want you to feel is unwanted. I hope I didn't give you the wrong impression. I just don't want you and Vincent to rush into anything. I want you to start out the right way. You do understand, don't you?"
"Yes," Diana replied simply. But her thoughts were, ‘What's all this business about what Father wants. What about what Vincent and I want? Doesn't that account for anything?’ Diana found it impossible to speak up, which was not like her at all. What she really wanted to do at this moment was to flee to the sanctuary of her loft. She never should have come here in the first place. Her arrival made it difficult not only for herself, but for Vincent and Father.
That's good," Father replied, patting her hand, "I'm glad we have come to an understanding."
At that moment, Vincent returned. "Jacob was so tired, he fell asleep even before I got him tucked in. Mary is with him now, and said she'd watch him until I return. I will escort Diana to her chamber, now, Father, if you will excuse us."
Diana was happy to leave the Great Hall. This had been an exhausting day for her, and all she wanted to do now was sleep.
Father stood up and said, "I think I'll retire myself. Good night to you both. I'll see you tomorrow at breakfast."
Diana could have sworn she saw Father wink. It must be my imagination, she mused. Does he expect us to share Vincent's chamber after all, or am I having hallucinations?
But it was obvious, Vincent had no such plans. "Good night, Diana," he whispered, as he led her to her chamber. "I hope you enjoyed the evening as much as I did."
Diana did not reply, but instead, kissed Vincent on the cheek. "I'm really zonked. I'll see you in the morning." And she disappeared into her chamber without a backward glance. How could he have enjoyed the evening with her, when all his attention was given to Jacob? He scarcely spoke to her during the entire meal, except to ask her pass things to him.
Vincent was puzzled, and somewhat disappointed. Diana certainly wasn't her usual self tonight. ‘Oh, well, he reasoned, this is all new to her. She'll get adjusted to our customs, and with time she will feel more at home.’
But Diana was formulating a plan to escape gracefully. ‘I know what I'll do tomorrow,’ she thought. ‘I'll tell Vincent I'm going home to check my messages, and I just won't come back. He'll probably come looking for me, and I'll be able to speak to him in complete privacy. I'll make him understand that even though I care for him, I'll never be happy living Below. I'm sure he'll understand. At least I hope so. I don't want to hurt him, but I don't want to be miserable the rest of my life either. This is never going to work, no matter how much we both want to be together.’ And with these thoughts running through her head, Diana fell into a fitful slumber.
The next morning, Vincent awoke early. He hadn't slept much, thoughts of Diana's reticence disturbing his slumber. He wanted to reach out and touch her, he wanted reassurance that she still loved him and wanted to be with him. He dressed hurriedly and went to her chamber. But instead of finding Diana, he found a newly-made bed, with a note on the pillow. He picked it up and read: 'Dear Vincent, I went home to check messages and pick up a few things. Be back later. Love, Diana.' Just a terse note that made his blood run cold. He had lost her. He felt as though someone had kicked him in the stomach. Diana was gone, and in his heart of hearts, he knew she wasn't coming back. Her small bag was gone, and there was no trace--no indication whatsoever that she planned to return.