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Classic Round Robin

Chapter 8
Ginny

Winterfest was only three days away. Vincent’s work crew had started at 6:00am and worked until well after dinner before they began their trek back to the home tunnels. He had spent the day hauling things up and down the stone stairs, moving, inspecting and repairing the heavy furniture in the Great Hall, and checking the massive chandeliers and the ropes used to raise and lower them. He had tried to handle the brunt of the heaviest work, and he was exhausted.

He bathed and, searching the bond to assure himself that Catherine was well, he fell into bed, hoping he would sleep like the proverbial stone; but that was not to be. His sleep was soon laced with dreams…disjointed images and emotions that kept him tossing and turning. There were two small children, a girl and a boy, running through the lit passageways and laughing…the shadowy figure of a woman he couldn’t identify standing in a doorway…Winterfest candles floating, lighting themselves and then being caught by silvery hands at the ends of disembodied silvery arms which moved away, leading him…somewhere. He followed them down a long passageway, and at the end he could see the distinct figure of a woman…Catherine. She was waiting for him, and he wanted to rush to meet her, but something was pulling him back. She called his name, and he answered; but he couldn’t escape the pull of whatever was holding him. She was crying. He needed to comfort her. He called her name again, still trying to reach her; but she was fading away. She was gone. No! He needed to find her.

He woke, sitting up quickly as if he were still fighting the force that held him from Catherine. Was this his dream…or was it hers?

Catherine?” Would their bond allow them to communicate this time?

I’m all right, Vincent. Don’t worry.”

You’re crying.” He could hear that, too.

Another bad dream. That’s all.”

He tried to ask another question, but their unpredictable connection was gone again. He only felt her fear and sadness and guessed that they had shared the same dream, so he quickly dressed and left to go to her.

***

When Vincent arrived, Catherine was sitting on her bed, her eyes and face still puffy from crying, several damp tissues strewn beside her on the comforter. Vincent boldly entered the bedroom doors, scooped her lovingly into his arms, and took her to sit with him on one of the sofas. “Tell me,” he demanded softly.

She recounted the same dream he woke from so recently, and tears rolled down her cheeks as she reached the end.

“Vincent, I feel so helpless – like I could lose you…and we have no control over it. Everything to do with Helen feels out of our control. And I know it’s foolish to feel this way.” She curled closer into his embrace. “What I’m probably losing is my mind,” she sniffled, trying to lighten the mood a little. “Not that I don’t love sitting here close to you, but you don’t need to come to me every time I have a nightmare. You said you had to work all day. You must be exhausted, and you’re here instead of sleeping.”

“I can’t sleep either, if you keep sharing your dreams,” he teased, nuzzling her hair. “We’ve both slept well here on this sofa recently. Perhaps we can do that now. I’ll tuck you in again before I have to leave,” he promised, nuzzling her hair.

“That would be nice,” she answered, resting her head on his shoulder and her hand on his chest.

He settled himself into a comfortable position and saw that Catherine was nestled snugly within his arms. “Sleep now,” he whispered, brushing his nose against her hair again.

“Vincent, I need to invite Helen to Winterfest, and I should give her at least a day’s notice. Could you have one of the children bring me a candle for her tomorrow?”

“I’ll send Samantha after breakfast. She can leave it on the bench near your threshold.”

“Have Father and the others remembered Helen and her mother yet?”

“They seem to have only indistinct recollections. I seem to be the only one who remembers fully.” At that revelation, Vincent felt another jolt of fear from Catherine, and he pulled her closer. “I don’t know what that means, Catherine; but it does not mean that anyone will take me from you.”

Catherine relaxed slightly; but Vincent could still feel the tension in her, and he rubbed her back gently as he spoke. “Father has conferred with the council, and they will welcome Helen. I’ll have one of the children meet the two of you at your threshold that night. I don’t intend to stay out of her sight all evening, but it may not be wise for me to be the first person she sees.”

Under the calming movement of his hand on her back, Catherine’s tension was easing and she was feeling sleepy again. “Okay,” she answered softly.

Vincent smiled and rested his head on hers, and they both drifted into a peaceful, dreamless sleep.

Catherine again woke in her bed after sunrise, this time thinking that she remembered a soft kiss on her forehead after strong arms lowered her into her bed and covered her.

***

One more day. She had to invite Helen today…face her fears. Before leaving for work she went to her threshold and picked up the candle which, as promised, was waiting on the bench.

Greeting Rita and Joe as she arrived, she accepted the pages Joe was waving at her with the hand that wasn’t holding his morning coffee.

“Don’t tell me. Let me guess. Brewster case?”

“You’re sharp this morning, Radcliffe,” he answered with his boyish grin.

“You’ve developed a one-track mind, you know,” she shot back over her shoulder as Joe returned to his conversation with Rita.

Catherine hung her coat on the wall hook and looked over the papers Joe had handed her, taking note of what new information was there, then she put them aside and found Helen’s business card. She was lucky enough to catch Helen at her desk and arrange to meet her for dinner before they both went home.

The rest of the day was spent in meetings with various co-workers, preparing for the trial at the end of the following week. She felt good about what they had accomplished.

Dinner should be interesting,’ she thought as she bundled herself into her coat, scarf and gloves before braving another winter walk. The restaurant was a couple of blocks from the office, and she planned to take a taxi home.

The two women arrived about the same time and ordered their meals. Helen asked about the case Catherine was working on, and they talked as they waited for their dinner to be served…Catherine waiting nervously for an opening to broach the subject of Winterfest. When Helen brought up the thought that they hadn’t seemed to make much progress on connecting their lives to explain their dreams, the opening had arrived.

“Helen, I think I can fill in some gaps about your early childhood…before you went to live with your grandmother. I believe I can identify that memory of your mother…that cool, dark place…”

“How could you possibly know…”

“How could we have had the same dream so often? All the coincidences can’t be explained…but whatever this connection between us is, it seems to be leading us somewhere...almost is if it has a life of its own.”

“Yes,” Helen sighed. “As nervous as it makes me, I’m ready to follow wherever it leads…as long as we get some answers.”

“I think I can take you to some of those answers if you’ll attend a party with me on Friday night.”

“A party? And this party will help me find my early childhood…and the reason for the dreams?”

“No guarantees, but I believe it will. I’m as anxious for these dreams to be gone as you are,” Catherine smiled wanly. “Pleeeeease come.”

At Catherine’s obviously equal need to stop the dreams, Helen had to return the smile. “What do I wear? Is it formal? Whatever it is, I’m there.”

“Dress is very eclectic,” Catherine answered with a different kind of smile. “I’d wear something nice that could pass for semi-formal. You can meet me at my apartment around 7:00 on Friday night.”

“Today is Wednesday. Good thing I already have a dress. Wouldn’t it be easier for me to just meet you there? All I need is the address.”

Helen saw another of those enigmatic smiles that had accompanied the answer to her question about what to wear. “When we start travelling to the party, I think you’ll understand why it’s better to meet me at my apartment. I can’t talk about it here; but it’s safe, it’s friendly and I think you’ll enjoy it.”

“So all I get tonight is another mystery?”

“I’m sorry, Helen. It’s all I can tell you right now.”

“I suppose one more short-term mystery is better than a lifetime of these dreams.”

Catherine reached for the check and her purse and answered, “I wish I could say more, but it isn’t wise to pursue it any farther here. I promise to explain it all on Friday. For some reason, I think we might be able to put these dreams to rest after that.”

In spite of Catherine’s seeming certainty that the dreams might end after this party, Helen’s investigator’s eye could see signs of unrest in Catherine’s anticipation of the upcoming event.

As they put their coats on, Helen asked, “Are you all right, Catherine? You seem…anxious about this.”

“A little bit, maybe…but it’s my own problem. Just be at my place at 7:00; and by the end of the evening, I think we could have some answers.” She gave Helen her address, and with that they went back into the windy winter night. Catherine hailed a taxi, and Helen headed for the subway entrance at the corner.

***

That night Helen dreamed again…dreams laced with disjointed images and emotions that kept her tossing and turning. There were two small children, a girl and a boy, running through the lit passageways and laughing…the shadowy figure of a woman she couldn’t identify standing in a doorway…colorful candles floating, lighting themselves and then being caught by silvery hands at the ends of disembodied silvery arms which moved away, leading her…somewhere. She followed them down a long passageway, and at the end she could see the clear figure of a woman...and there was a man trying to go to her. The woman was crying, and the man was trying so hard to reach her but didn’t seem to be able to. Something seemed to draw them together, and they were calling to one another…reaching toward one another, but still apart. She woke feeling disconcerted, but this time she wasn’t afraid. She felt sad for the man and woman, whoever they were. They wanted to be together so badly. What in the world could that part of the dream mean, and what did it have to do with her?

***

The next morning, earlier than most of the other tunnel dwellers were awake, Vincent was up and dressed. He knew that Narcissa kept hours as strange as his own, and felt drawn to her guest chamber. Since he wasn’t going to be able to meet Catherine at her threshold the next night, he thought he would ask Narcissa if he could escort her to the bottom of the stone stairs. From his childhood he had loved the strange woman, who seemed to also have a special place in her heart for him. As he approached her chamber, he heard enough sound to know that Narcissa was awake.

“Narcissa? May I come in?”

“Of course, child. What brings you here at such an hour?”

“I came to offer you an escort to the doors of the Great Hall. Catherine will be bringing a guest, and will meet me there this year.”

“She brings the woman from her dreams, yes?” she stated more than asked in her lilting island accent.

“Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that you already knew,” Vincent answered good-naturedly.

As Narcissa turned her sightless eyes toward him, Vincent glimpsed something disturbing on her table of assorted shells and bowls and bones…rough, sketchy drawings of Catherine…and Helen…and him.

“Narcissa. Why are these here?” he demanded, at this point more than ready to accept that his old friend could be responsible for Catherine’s constant fear and anxiety over the past few weeks…the dreams…the coincidences…the faulty memories of the older tunnel residents, who rarely forgot such unusual things as a parrot living in the tunnels; and a low, feral growl escaped him before he could stop it.

“They are part of what needs to be, Vincent…things that must happen as they should.”

“What does that mean?” he challenged, outraged. “Why have you made the effort to send frightening dreams that have made two innocent lives so miserable for weeks? What possible good could come of that? Do you realize what you have done to Catherine…and to Helen…and the worry you have caused me on Catherine’s behalf? Why would you do such a thing?”

“Your Catherine was always safe, child. There is no controlling what the dreams will be…only that they will connect the dreamers. No harm was meant to either of these women…or to you. Zurie visited in a dream. There were old promises to keep. Things to set right.”

“But to keep those promises you have left neither woman feeling safe.”

“You are angry, child; but you have trusted before. Things will come right. Wait and see.”

Vincent stood with his fists clenched…too angry to answer.

“Will you still walk with the crazy old woman to the Winterfest?”

Containing the anger in his voice, he answered, “Yes, Narcissa. I will come for you tomorrow night. And you can tell me of anything you may have caused.” Uncharacteristically, he turned and left the chamber without a good-bye.

***

Helen appeared at Catherine’s door on Friday night; and with little time spent in the apartment, Catherine picked up her coat, pointed Helen toward the elevator and locked the door. When Helen pointed out that the elevator had passed the lobby, she was surprised that Catherine wasn’t surprised. To add to her confusion, they entered Catherine’s storage unit where boxes were moved away from a hidden door.

“There’s a party down there?” Helen asked suspiciously.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” Catherine answered, handing Helen a candle from her purse – a candle just like the ones from her dream. “You’ll want this. It’s your invitation. Try to trust me a little longer. I’ll explain on the way.”

Catherine turned on her flashlight and lowered herself to the ladder at the threshold; and Helen, looking doubtful, followed. When they reached the floor, they found a smiling Geoffrey waiting. Catherine gave him a quick hug, asked him for a dance sometime during the evening, introduced Helen and apologetically asked that he walk ahead of them as he led them to the Great Hall so she could talk to Helen more privately.

“Great Hall?” Helen asked.

“Okay. Now we can talk,” Catherine told her; and she launched into an explanation of the tunnels, Winterfest and why she thought she knew something of Helen’s childhood. With no small amount of trepidation, she finally asked, “Do you remember anything of what you’re seeing…or possibly someone named Vincent?”

“No. I don’t remember the place or the name, but the farther we go, the more comfortable it feels. Do you spend much time here?”

“As much as I can,” Catherine answered, smiling contentedly. As they approached the home chambers, Catherine pointed out things she thought Helen might remember and mentioned names of people who might have lived there when Helen was small. She saw no hint that her guest recognized anything, but she did seem more relaxed than she had been since they’d met. Then Helen unbuttoned her coat, laughingly fanning herself after the exertion of such a long walk. She was wearing a lovely, blue velvet dress; and the fear she had felt in her Winterfest dream again stabbed at Catherine’s heart.

When they finally reached the crowd going down the stone staircase, Helen appeared fascinated. The excitement of such events was always contagious, and she seemed to relax into the friendly group, who greeted her warmly, whether they had been introduced or not. Knowing Catherine, various members of the assemblage parted to allow her to reach Vincent, who was waiting at the doors of the Great Hall. She caught a glimpse of him as they made their way down the stairs, and with great relief, saw that he was not wearing a blue velvet vest. Turning to Helen, she shouted above the sound of the wind and the crowd, “I’m about to introduce you to someone very unusual…very special…someone you used to know.”

Vincent met them at the bottom of the stairs and took Catherine’s hand reassuringly. He had felt her reaction to Helen’s dress and now understood its reason…the same reason he had declined to wear the new blue velvet vest Mary had made him as a Winterfest gift.

“Helen, I’d like you to meet Vincent. He’s…”

Before she could say anything else, Helen seemed to remember something. “Vincent!” she exclaimed, looking around the Chamber of the Winds again…appearing to be feeling both the memory and the reality of the wind whipping at her hair. “I remember! The tunnels…the Great Hall. My mother was here with me. Vincent!” She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him enthusiastically, then she turned to Catherine and informed her, “We played together all the time when we were children. I remember telling him I was going to marry him when we grew up.”

Catherine’s apprehension was growing. She knew it was irrational, but she couldn’t stop it. Everything lately had been so strange. What’s more, seeing Helen in Vincent’s arms, even though she knew he made only enough contact to avoid being rude, now had her apprehension accompanied by full-blown jealousy.

As Helen looked around the Chamber of the Winds, taking it all in anew, Vincent gave Catherine a look of such love that she momentarily forgot her dreams. Father and Mary came to re-introduce themselves to Helen, and Vincent was dispatched to start the tradition of opening the hall.

Catherine watched proudly as Vincent removed the heavy wooden plank, set it aside and returned to her. “May I lead you through the dark?” he asked her, and lovingly held out his hand in invitation.

Helen, having looked away as Vincent returned, only heard his inviting voice against the blustery wind. Hearing nothing of the astonished and indignant gasps of disapproval behind her…seeing none of the appalled looks on the faces of those who were so protective of Vincent and Catherine’s love…seeing nothing of the horror-struck look in Catherine’s eyes…she took Vincent’s hand, just as Catherine reached for it, and excitedly pulled him toward the doors of the Great Hall.