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Rose Water

Jodie Boyle

Light.  Shimmering.  Sparkling.  Beautiful.
Candle holders had been placed all around the bathroom. Crystal, glass, porcelain, plastic, modern and ones from times long past.  Scented, tapered and floating candles cast flickers of red and gold light across the small space.  A candelabra stood in a place of pride at the top of the bath tub.  Eight beeswax candles burned softly, their honeyed fragrance mixing perfectly with the fragrance of long stemmed red roses, which were nestled in a Wedgewood vase nearby.
The lady had shivered, sitting on the edge of the tub, waiting for the water to turn warm.  Rose scented bubble bath had been added, along with some French lavender bath salts.   When all was ready, she stood, removed her jewelry - a simple gold chain with a crystal pendant attached, small green earrings.  Next came the unzipping of the emerald evening dress, the pinning up of her golden hair.  At last she removed her lingerie and took her first step into the water.
A smile graced her lips, and she gave a soft sigh.  Getting used to the temperature, she lay back and rested her head on a folded towel.  The lady was relaxed; felt happy.  She idly moved her hands through the water, creating small currants.   It was a beautiful setting; her eyes travelled around the room, admiring the candlelight, delighting in the scent of roses and the feeling of lightness in her body as she floated.
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, inhaling the steam and relaxing as she exhaled.  What a magical night this had been.   In a cavern, miles below her bathroom floor, she had spent her second Winterfest.  A celebration and Thanksgiving for family, friends, community.  A time to say thank you to those individuals who contributed to a very special, very unique group of people.   Until recently, she had never known there was a vast network of tunnels beneath her feet.  Men, women and children lived together in these warm caverns.  They worked and made their homes in safety, hope and peace.  Two years ago - one dark, chilly night, only a few blocks away - the life that she had been living ended and a new chapter had begun.  Thanks to a special person, she was, in a way, re-born.
Her thoughts turned to this man…his name was Vincent.  How could she describe him?  Were there even words to do this?  Dearest friend, guardian, companion, leader, protector, teacher, her North Star and guiding light.  And her love…yes, he was definitely, wondrously, her love.  Their bodies had not yet joined together, but in every other way they were one - two lives, one heart, sharing an inseparable bond.  She was still getting acquainted with this bond, knew that he felt it strongly.  Whenever she needed him, he would always answer the call.  Many times there had been moments of danger, of hurt, happiness and despair.  Each and every time, whether she silently called him in thought or by heart, when she wasn‘t consciously seeking him, suddenly he would be beside her…offering his arms to embrace her, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to slip her small hand into, defending her, being a pillar of strength.  Time faded when they were together.
His hands, those sapphire blue eyes, that haunting, wonderful voice…she adored him.  When he spoke her name, formally, it was like a prayer, a benediction.  Longing, love and devotion all rolled into one…Catherine.  Closing her eyes, she thought of his hands as she took some rose bath gel and began massaging it into her skin…slow, leisurely strokes starting at her neck, down one arm, then the other.  She looked at her décolletage, took in the sight of her breasts, the nipples peeking just above the water line.  A small amount was applied to each one, swirling the moisture there, before continuing her journey south.  Her slim, shapely legs were next, calves, then ankles.  When her feet came into view, she took a washer and stroked the fabric between each of her toes.  She couldn’t forget her bottom, so she raised herself partly out of the water to lather there.  Another face washer placed gently between her legs completed the cleansing ritual.
Perhaps she should wash her hair.  She could almost imagine Vincent here with her now, imagined his hands, not her own, un-clipping the barrettes that held her hair, shaking it out, asking her to lean back.  The water was still warm.  She tossed her head gently to each side, loved the feeling as the strands floated around her.  Only a small amount of shampoo was needed, she knew he would be gentle, kneading her scalp, scooping the hair into his fingers and rinsing it out.  Conditioner next.  It had to be left in for a few minutes, so after applying the liquid, perhaps a shoulder and neck rub might be an idea.  His breath blew softly against her ear as he whispered, “relax”.  Not realising she’d been holding it in; she now let her breath escape quietly.  Across the base of her neck, caressing her shoulders, starting off lightly, then administering firmer strokes.  His hands found their way down the sides of her arms, tickling her as he caressed them.  It was time to wash the conditioner out.  Leaning her head back, her hair was soon clean.
She thanked Vincent, and he silently left the room.  Saddened by his departure, she re-lived the last few minutes…
The water had started to cool down when she awoke.  She wasn’t cold; thoughts of Vincent always made her feel warm, especially tonight; he had looked after so well.  Looking at her fingers - shriveled and shaped like gills, she knew it was time to get out of the bath.  A selection of bath towels were nearby, her choice being a deep blue - almost, but not quite - the colour of his eyes.   She loved the luxurious feel of the fabric, wrapped it tightly around her body, just as she had as a child.  A memory came to her then - five years old, just out of the bath, her mother wrapping her up like a mummy - she had recently seen the Egyptian exhibition at the Met.  Holding her close, her mom taking a comb and gently teasing out the knots.
Which was what she was doing now.  She had a wide-toothed comb and took small sections of hair at a time, tugging it gently until it was smooth, then taking another section until her hair was sleek and straight.  After blow-drying her tresses, she went to the wardrobe, selected a satin nightdress, which was silver - the colour of moonlight.  It was cool outside, but soon she would be beneath her feather quilt.  The bath had taken some of her make-up off; now she removed the rest.  Returning to the bathroom, she cleansed, toned and put night cream on, rubbed some body lotion across her chest, neck and arms.  The image reflected in the mirror showed a serene, relaxed and beautiful woman, green eyes shining with happiness and, could it be…yes…a look of love.
Extinguishing the candles one by one, she thought of the Tunnels, of the perpetual light that shone in the darkness.  One would think the Tunnels would be depressing, gloomy and a little scary.  Catherine knew better.  Below, candles lit up the blackness, chased the shadows away.   She never felt uneasy, even when there by herself.  The chambers, communal areas and guest rooms were all warm and cosy, lit by countless candles and a few electric lights.  On entering Vincent’s chamber, her eyes would always travel to the stained glass window above his bed.   The tunnel dwellers were always kind to her; she cared for them a great deal, especially the children.  They would always surround her, giving hugs and asking for stories to be read.  It was beginning to feel like her second home.
Rolling down the quilt, she slid beneath the covers, feeling a small shock as her warm body touched the cool sheets.  She turned her bedside table light on, selected one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Yet, as much as she loved the Bard’s work, she was having trouble concentrating.  Remembering the evening, her bath and memories of family, had left her sleepy.  Covering her eyes against the light, a few moments later she admitted defeat and clicked the lamp off.  Once again her room was in darkness and shadows.  She looked toward her balcony, imagined Vincent landing silently, tapping on her window softly, so as not to frighten her, but to make her aware of his presence.  Beyond those French doors, she would look tenderly at his dear face and they would take the few steps separating them.  Drawing her to him, he would wrap his arms around her, holding her waist and shoulder.  Come closer…
* * *
He was dreaming of Catherine.  What a wonderful night it had been.  Seeing her at the bottom of the basement stairs, his heart catching as she walked forward and into his waiting arms.  Dinner, waltzing, a small kiss on his cheek in farewell; he would remember these moments, file them away for the future, re-live them whenever they were apart.  Even in dreams, he was watching over her, protecting her, loving her.  When he opened his eyes, it was still dark.  He knew she was sleeping.  She wasn’t in any danger, yet he could sense her calling him, her need to look upon him.  He was still dressed in formal dinner clothes, had been too tired to change.  After a moment’s hesitation, he stood and collected his cloak, put on the heavy boots and began his journey to the world above.
The cloak came in handy, as it was cold outside.  He had to blow on his hands at one point, to warm them up.  Reaching the balcony was difficult at the best of times, a slip was all it would take for him to fall.  Landing softly, he caught his breath and admired the city spread out below.  Was his lady asleep?  Had she sensed his arrival?  Usually the sheer curtains were drawn, but tonight they were held back, affording him a perfect view of the bedroom.  Her face was turned away, one arm resting atop a quilt.  His eyes travelled the length of her sleeping form, watched her chest rise and fall.  She was beautiful, both asleep and awake.  A slight turn of her head, and there was her face.  He should go; she was fine, he wasn’t needed.  Still, he remained outside, looking through the glass.  So close, yet so far away from her.
He was here; she knew it before she opened her eyes.   His cloak was the first thing she saw, his magnificent mane falling in waves down his back. What was he thinking about as he stood gazing at the stars?  She rose and put her dressing gown on.  So as not to startle him, she softly tapped on the window and opened the French doors. A gust of wind greeted her and she wrapped the robe’s belt tighter.
“You must be freezing.  Please, come inside.” She took his hand and led him into her room.  Usually he would protest, but the cold must have made him re-think his choice.  Once they were in the warmth, she smiled and embraced him.  “I was dreaming of you.”  She enjoyed this surprise visit, enjoyed resting her head on his chest even more. 
“And I was thinking of you.  Did you enjoy the celebrations tonight?”
She looked at him, eyes shining, “It was perfect.  I know I have thanked you already, but I want to let you know again how much I loved this evening.  From start to finish, it was wonderful.  Is everyone sleeping?  Did it take long to put everything away?”
Vincent smiled, saying, “The children were so excited.  Mary, Father and I had to read to them for over an hour.  I know Mary will sleep well tonight.   We shall begin clean-up duty tomorrow.”
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
“No, thank you.  I should go.  It is late.  Now that I have seen that you are well, I shall leave you to your rest.”
She looked unhappy.  He was here.  Now he was going to leave her again so soon? 
“Please, don‘t go.  I’m so happy you are here.  I have some ginger cookies.  Would you like to help me eat some?  I could maybe make some hot chocolate to go with them?”
Dear Catherine.  She was so thoughtful.  He had felt her sadness when he spoke of leaving her.  If he could, he would love to stay in this apartment forever, seeing her sweet face every morning, kissing her good night each evening.  The thought of going out into the cold, dark evening, only to return to the darkness and cold of his chamber…his mind was made up.
“Thank you. That would be lovely.”  It would do no harm to stay a few minutes longer with her.
Vincent remained in the bedroom while she made them refreshments.  There had only been a few times when he had entered her chamber.  Now, he took a look around.  It was a beautiful room.  The bed was smaller than his, but was modern.  What would it be like, to rest his head there?  He knew the plush carpet would be soft under his feet.  There were many treasures on the dressing table - perfume, make-up, treasured photos of her parents and friends.  How he would love a photo of Catherine; would she want a photo of him?  Inside the wardrobe he would find beautiful dresses, practical work clothes, coats, hats and shoes.  She was a vision in every item she wore.  Not only was she physically beautiful, but her spirit shone from within.  His gaze travelled to the bathroom entrance.  Quickly looking inside, he saw her shower, vanity and commode.  The bath had been surrounded by candle holders; it reminded him of his chamber, below.  Smiling, he saw the roses he had given her tonight.  She had thanked him for the gift, wrapping her arms around him.  The bath was still full…should he let the water out?  In a few moments he had removed the plug, watched as the whirlpool took the water away.
“Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t empty the bath.  Thank you.  At least I blew the candles out.”  She handed him a mug and a plate of the cookies. 
“I can smell roses…and lavender.  My two favourite scents.”
“I love them, too.  I used rose scented bubble bath, and a friend of mine gave me some lavender bath salts, so I thought I’d see what they were like.”  She remembered her bath, her thoughts of Vincent, the warm, inviting water, the intoxicating scent of candles.  Just like her dream, he was here in the bathroom now.  They were standing close together.  What would happen if she raised her hand to his head, stroked that beautiful hair back from his eyes, ran a finger down his majestic face?  If only she would take a few small steps…
“You’re trembling.  Are you cold?”  Vincent asked with concern.
No!  The moment had been broken.  She tentatively smiled.  “I’m fine.”  The trembling continued, though; she couldn’t help it…desire and sadness, polar opposites, both contributing to the shivers that ran through her small frame.
He had seen the look on her face; had seen it before.  She wanted him to kiss her, not just hold her closely, but give her more intimate attentions, wanted him to adore her; ravish her.  He could never give her these things.  It broke his heart to deny her, but knew it was best for both of them.  Catherine was a woman, he was a beast.  As much as he loved her, as much as they loved each other, that could never happen.  In dreams, oh yes, in beautiful dreams they would join together, many nights he would lie awake thinking of her body lying close against him.  He would close his eyes, and there she was again.  He would have to be content with those visions, hoped she would understand why their dream was simply that.
Catherine saw the look of sadness that swept across his face.  Why did they make each other so unhappy, sometimes?  They were so close, connected in a way she couldn’t describe.  There was that boundary that separated them…the barrier which stopped them from being together.  He was in her thoughts often and had a feeling he thought of her, also.  She brought him great joy and loved him without measure.  This was why she was willing to wait for Vincent to overcome his fear of their becoming intimate.  She knew when the time came, it would be a beautiful, very special moment - a night to remember.
For now, though, he was here, drinking tea and eating cookies.  Such a simple pleasure this was, having him in her home. 
She couldn’t bear the thought of him leaving her - especially tonight.  It was cold and blowing a gale, it scared her thinking of him making his way , slipping on the ice…falling…
“Stay here tonight, Vincent.”
His heart stopped.  What did she mean?  “Thank you for the offer, but unfortunately I must return.”
“If you go outside, you’ll freeze.  I won’t be able to sleep, knowing you’re out there.  Please, don’t do this.  You’re more than welcome to sleep on the sofa.”  When she saw him hesitate, she added “or we could go Below, together.  I could stay the night in the tunnels.”  He had a choice now, she would happily accept either.
Stay here, or have her stay below….how could he decide?  He had to choose soon, she was looking at him, eager to hear his answer.
“Would you like to stay with us tonight?  You are most welcome to sleep in the guest chamber.  Only a few of the Helpers are Below.”
She smiled and touched his arm.  “I’d love to.  I’ll just get my coat.”
There was no risk of Vincent being seen at this hour of the evening.  He took the fire escape stairs and she met him in the basement.  Arm-in-arm they took a leisurely walk to the home tunnels.  Words weren’t needed between them.  When they arrived at the guest chamber, she finally spoke.
“I’d prefer to sleep in your chamber.  If you don’t mind, that is.” 
For the second time in an hour, his heart stopped.  “Of course, you’re welcome.  I’ll stay in here tonight.”
“No, I wouldn’t dream of taking your bed…there’s plenty of room for both of us.  Besides, I’m getting a little tired.  If I don’t lie down soon, I might sit on the floor and fall asleep.”
Strong arms picked her up and carried her the short distance to a candlelit chamber.  It was her favourite place in the world.  He laid her gently on the bed, while she watched him light more candles.  They both removed their shoes, Catherine getting under the covers first.  When he was settled, she curled up beside him and laid her head on his chest. 
It was a wonderful feeling, holding her close.  Already her eyes were closing.
“Sleep well.  Happy Winterfest.”
She draped an arm across his body, and he held her, delighting in the feel of her warmth, the feel of her cheek.  Kissing her softly on the head, a scent of roses drifted up to him.  It stirred emotions; brought back memories of family and home, of Central Park in Spring, of waltzes, gifts of poetry and love letters.   It reminded him of her lips, of the deep and abiding love they shared.  Whenever he looked at roses - especially white buds - he thought of her.  As his eyes closed, a thought came to him that made him smile - 
We have a dance, a song, and now we have a flower.  A Winterfest rose.
The End