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Warning: This story deals with a pretty debated topic in our society. I don’t mean to impose the point of view I show here; that’s why I warn you. On the other hand, I can guarantee that the medical data I show here is strictly factual. Personally, this is one of my favorite fics. If you decide to read it, enjoy it!

I would love to receive feedbacks about this story.

My e-mail address is: claudialopez-at-puv-dot-sld-dot-cu  Thank you!

 

Among Thorns, a Rose…

by Rosaura Wells

 

Everything right… Look at the stars. Blue stars! Vincent… Lost Bond… No! It doesn’t affect us any more… Balcony… To share… Everything right…

Vincent leapt over the balcony to find Catherine smiling… or rather grimacing… She was rigid, holding the balcony so tight that her knuckles were white.

What is wrong, my love? He had rarely been so scared. For so much time he had trusted their bond to let him know how she felt… he had not learned to know it by other way. Should I ask?

If everyone had not been so focused in me…

“Tell me” he stood beside her, observing her closely, losing not one of her gestures.

“What should I tell you?” She kept still for a moment, and then she turned to him. Her eyes were…they made him shiver.

“There is something wrong with you.”

“Everything is perfect, Vincent. Everything…” Her voice croaked, and a tic appeared in her left eyelid.

Vincent’s gaze never left hers.

“I have known for a while…” He had kept his thoughts for himself, knowing she would tell him when she was ready, but perhaps he had been wrong. “To protect someone from the truth can hurt even more, Catherine. I am not sick anymore.”

“I’m not protecting you” Her tic went wilder.

Then you are protecting yourself. What can be so terrible?

Suddenly his hand tangled in her hair, drawing her to his chest, as if to absorb her pain. And, for the first time, she stayed taut in his arms. Her heartbeat was a flying bird, so quick that he could not follow it.

“Catherine…”

“My period is missing again”

Now he went stiff. The sense was obvious, but… How? She had had no relationship, with a man, for months…at least, before his fever, he had known if…after, she had been so close to him, had spent so much time…. She had had no time to develop…

“What do you mean?”

He had used the gentlest tone. He released her, as softly as he could, and let none of his… feelings…crop up to his eyes.

“Nothing”

She had retreated, her shape merely a shadow on the other side. Just her eyes shone, haunted, from there.

“Are you…?”

“You didn’t come,” Catherine shouted, making him recoil. “When those men…”

He gasped.

“Catherine, were you…?”

“I managed to survive…to escape alone…. I didn’t go to the police; I came home and bathed and went Below and smiled and read to you and…”

Wild sobs shook her body, and Vincent forgot everything: his pain, her charges…. He walked towards her, stretching his arms.

She pushed him and yelled…

Strong enough to alarm…to call for help.

Vincent froze, while her voice tortured his ears and his heart for what seemed centuries. He did not dare to look around. He did not notice when it stopped. For heartbeats, they looked at each other, silent and hurt. Then he turned to leave.

“Don’t go!” she called.

Her hand on his arm kept him still as stone.

“I’ll calm the neighbors, even if they come to see…”

What should I do? He did not have any idea…and Catherine depended on him to keep her senses.

“Come.”

It seemed a farce: to enter her apartment - her hand in his elbow - and sit comfortably, when they both felt so tortured, and they both knew…

“Can I hold you?”

Catherine looked at him, and supported her stiff body on his.

“Breathe slowly,” he ordered.

Her heartbeat quieted, eventually. She felt safe, now. Vincent would take care of her, surely…

“Do you feel guilty?”

His compassionate voice came from his chest, for her head rested on it. She simply nodded, rubbing her cheek against him.

“You are not to blame.”

Although she did what she could to hold back the tears, they soaked his vest.

He offered her an old-fashioned handkerchief. She held it hanging in front of her eyes – another part of the farce, designed to make it seem natural. Then, a hysterical laugh came from her throat and erupted freely, mindless of his flinch, until silence was empty and scary. I am the one paying the price, her laugh said without words.

“I am here, Catherine. I stand by you. It does not matter…”

Her laugh became tears again. He wouldn’t…couldn’t understand…how little his gentleness seemed to matter now.

“You have to put the past behind. You have a baby…”

“I will not have a…”

Relief washed over him; but he had understood it wrong…

“I will take that…thing…out of me as soon as…”

“What are you saying?”

His hands were on her shoulders, pressing them tight. His voice almost begged.

“That’s the only thing I can do”

Vincent shook his head, slowly at first. Then, suddenly, he looked at the door. There had been no time to wonder why he was looking when she heard the knocks.

It was surely the doorman. She dried her tears with her hands, and lacking time to wash her face she looked at the closest mirror. She looked terrible. Yet, she must open; the man had a master key.

“I’m coming!”

A look at the sofa told her that Vincent was already gone. She opened the door slightly.

“I’m OK.”

“Are you sure” The doorman tried to look into the apartment.

“Sure… It was just a movie”

His hands moved quickly, signaling the elevator. She had some problems understanding it. Why would he want her to go down? Did he think that there was some…invader…alien or something…in the apartment? He has seen too many movies…. She shook her head.

“I will be all right”

You won’t she thought while she closed the door; she swept the thought, a reflex to keep some sense.

Vincent’s shape suddenly appeared on the balcony.

“I thought you had left,” Catherine whispered.

“Are you really planning to…?” he seemed at a loss for words, and it took some time for her to complete his idea.

“Abort? Of course I will! I’ll get rid of every single memory…”

“Catherine,” Vincent’s vibrant tone of voice stilled her words. “You can get rid of the dirtiness on your skin, of the clothes you used…of the place when it happened…. You cannot get rid of a child.”

“It’s not a child.”

“What you have inside of you…he is human by right…”

“It’s nothing but a cell.”

“You must be around 6 weeks pregnant.”

“Are you trying to change my decision?”

“He is more than a cell: he has a beating heart…he is already moving…”

“I can’t feel it.”

“He is too small for his movements to be perceived, but his arms and legs…”

“You are the one who always says ‘Follow your heart.’

“You are following your fear.

“Don’t make it more difficult for me! I have no duty to keep it…”

“Catherine, you are his mother!”

She started to cry.

“Why are you doing this to me?” He approached her, arms stretched; she raised hers to freeze him. “No, you are punishing me….”

“No.”

Vincent embraced her tightly, very conscious of the fact that she embraced herself, not letting him in.

“I just…I do not want a knife inside of you…. To get rid of your own son is the worst possible reason to risk your life….”

Catherine shook her head.

“Do you think there are no risks? Nature takes vengeance, Catherine: you could get an infection, varying from pain to peritonitis; you could become sterile, or worse, start to spontaneously lose the pregnancies that you really want; you could…”

“Don’t tell me; just hold me tighter.”

So she cried, and he cried with her. Standing beside her, as he had promised, he had few choices. Yet, even when the storm stopped, she was warm, but she had never felt less secure.

“I will do this for us….”

“No!”

“I have no choice!”

“Of course you have! You will learn to love this child…and if not” he added quietly “you just take him Below, and we will raise him and love him.”

“What kind of mother would do that?!”

“It’s far better than having him dead.”

“It’s not him yet!” She tore herself from him and started to pace, never meeting his gaze.

“He is…”

“My life is mine to decide!”

“It is not your life, the one over which you are deciding now.”

“Why is it so important for you?!”

Why do you prefer him? she wanted to ask. I thought that you loved me!

“Because he is half you.”

Those simple words were filled with so much meaning, that it made her stare into his eyes. A shadow of the respect for him that had become a part of her, glittered; but she was too weary and confused.

“Do not do it, Catherine. Your soul would never recover….”

“My decision is made.”

Her tone was metallic, closed. He watched her intently, knowing how much pain that decision had taken, seeing how she would cringe at the mere idea of reconsidering. He was not wrong. Although he stayed until dawn, her words prevailed.

“I love you, Catherine; I will love you forever, despite…whatever you…decide

 

So she went through every bit of the nightmare. There were lots of blood tests and exams performed. She kept her head up in pretended pride – for she was doing nothing wrong, law school had taught her that. And it was done without too many people actually knowing – her money took care of that. Vincent was always downstairs, to hug her after every consult, to wipe her tears and cradle her in his arms, behaving every bit as lovely as always.

During the draining of her uterus, everything was so…clean, so white…. Doctors with carefully emptied expression received her and set her on the table. It was very uncomfortable: the speculum, the thing working on her cervix…the vacuum entering her womb…. She had wanted for him to be holding her hand, as if she were giving birth…and someway she wanted to imagine that she was giving life to their relationship…although there was something fake in it. Life and death were so similar…

Even then, when she came back home, he was there. He made her lay down, brought her pills, read to her…took care of her until she was better. He didn’t part until the morning. Neither did he stare into her eyes.

*******

I have work to do. She didn’t think about anything but trials in the morning. She had practice blocking traumas. I need to complete this file. She took the work to her place, and she wrote until dawn.

The week slid in giddiness, empty of sense.

 

“Do you have something else that you would want to throw on my desk?” She didn’t raise her gaze from the file she was working on; she knew Joe was the one sitting on her desk.

“No, it seems that you have finally exhausted our work.” He was not joking. “Seriously, Cathy: what’s happening?”

She raised her eyes to him, and it was even worse, for he saw her paleness.

“You are out for a week.”

“Joe, don’t…!”

“I don’t know what’s happening here, Cathy” he said, already parting, “but it seems that you are drowning your sorrow in work, the same way some others do in alcohol. I’m not letting you. Come” He held the door opened for her.

With a stamp, she stood and gathered her things. He escorted her home, to make sure she would get there. Meanwhile her vacation extended; it would have something to do with the silent treatment she applied.

“I’ll see you when you’re ready.”

She slammed the door in his face.

Her apartment, filled with light, seemed even emptier than before. Cream, white, and blue… its colors offered a peace that she couldn’t reach. She paced nervously through the living room, blind to its beauty. Instead, the balcony seemed so inviting…for some reason, she hadn’t dared to go there, since the last night Vincent had come.

She hadn’t seen him in weeks. It must be a blessing for him, now, to not feel what I feel.

In a run, she broke onto the balcony, defying her feelings to protest. It’s my place. He isn’t even here. But oh, how she wanted him to be.

And in some way, he was.

She found the note under a copy of Bocelli’s biography: “What happened to you…your mind…must heal. See a psychologist. V” She relaxed at once: if Vincent kept watching over her, all would be well; it was already an instinct in her.

He was right, of course. Since she couldn’t stay in the apartment, she found Dr. Grafton’s office close enough.

*******

Thanks to her money, Dr. Grafton was available. She sat and digressed for a while, until she finally gathered courage and told him about the rape. He never interrupted her. To cry was cure enough. The third day she hinted how she had buried it and cried again.

The following week she found she lived for that hour, when she could feel miserable in Dr. Grafton’s office, discussing her feelings with him.

“You keep crying.” Dr. Grafton said eventually.

She had just finished the narration, once again, and she was blowing her nose.

“It was a nightmare; of course I… Why do you say that?”

“You will never forget what happened to you, Catherine” the doctor moved forward, elbows on his knees, staring straight at her, “but there has been time for your grief to diminish...by talking, you should have learned to deal with it… Instead, you have gotten worse.”

“What do you mean?”

“There must be something else… something you are not telling me.”

“There is nothing else.”

Her voice cracked. The doctor stayed there, staring at her as if he hadn’t heard. Suddenly, she stood and grasped her coat.

“There are twenty minutes remaining,” Dr. Grafton pointed, while he stood.

“Use it as you want. I have something to do”

Next morning, she didn’t come to her session.

 

She dreamed. Every night. It was as if her mind took vengeance for whatever she kept repressing. Visions of Central Park, of them surrounding her as a flock of laughing hyenas –that smell of cheap cigar that gave her nausea, came to her. Their weight, once again, pierced her against coldness, forced her legs to open…and then the surgeon came, wearing the white mask. His gloves made an artificial sound when he put them on. Before her wide opened eyes, he took the speculum and the vacuum and penetrated her, once and again, and again, as she cried aloud in pain.

*******

“What a pleasure, Cathy." Peter greeted her with a smile.

“I was in the neighborhood,” she explained, “and since I haven’t seen you for a while…”

Peter was offering her a chair.

“I’m glad you did. Can I offer you something?”

She shook his head and looked at him as he sat on his desk, a shadow of a smile on his lips. His candid expression told her he knew nothing…and suddenly she couldn’t bear it.

“Did Vincent tell you, Peter?”

“Tell me what?”

“I was raped…two months ago…in Central Park

She felt his embrace even before she noticed he had stood.

“Oh, Cathy, I…don’t know what to say. Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I had a D and C.”

When Peter looked at her, he had hidden his surprise under a neutral expression –long acquired practice she thought.

“Have you felt anything wrong?”

“A lot of pain…and bleeding…but they told me it could happen”

As the doctor possessed him, she felt the loss of her friend. Suddenly she didn’t want to say anything else.

“Do you suspect there has been any complication?”

She got nervous.

“No. Should there have been?”

“No, of course not!”

He circled his desk to sit on the other side and stared at her, ready to aid her with all the aptitude a doctor had…but she didn’t need a gentleman, or a doctor, and his straight stare made her feel sick.

“Nothing else” she reassured.

But you came here because of it, he thought. You hadn’t just dropped in.

“How can I help you?”

Catherine opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again.

“Vincent said…” her whisper dithered, “that it was a child…that he had a beating heart, and he could move…”

Peter could barely hear it, so low was her voice.

“He was wrong, wasn’t he?”

Peter hesitated, uncomfortable.

“Why do you want to know?”

Peter reminded her of Isaac. The trainer’s voice came to her mind: “First, better be really sure about one thing...be real sure I wanted to know.” Street wisdom. But how was she supposed to follow it?

“Was he wrong?”

She looked at him until he sighed.

“I won’t lie to you, Cathy. Vincent has read about that subject, and you know how gifted he is…”

Her eyes filled with tears, although her expression had barely changed. Dear girl, Peter thought. Images of a younger Cathy came to his mind: the scared teen, the motherless child, the baby he had set in Caroline’s arms that day, the fetus whose heartbeat he had introduced to Charles.

“But the doctors…they didn’t tell me…”

“If you must think,” he interrupted, “think about the reasons you had to abort…hate the men who put you in that situation. Yours is one of the strongest reasons I have ever heard of.”

She tried, but that “strongest reason” seemed so empty...

“You work for the District Attorney’s Office. Won’t you expose those men?”

She shook her head.

“You could save other girls.”

She stayed quiet, but her resolve was beaten, and her visions of justice, dull - as if they were part of other people’s lives. The first attack had triggered her search for justice, but now, all that had happened crushed her will. Peter, used to looking into souls, understood.

“There are so many wonders in your life, yet to live… Think about it. Change the future, not the past.”

But inside, he thought: she can’t do anything. As Peter looked at Catherine, memories rolled in his mind as a movie would. Memories of her. I can’t do anything…

Bitterness and anger stirred in him at the thought of Vincent, a man who loved her so much, who had intended to do so much good…and whose words haunted her so.

“Vincent had his own reasons to tell you,” Peter said. “Not all of them were gentlemanly”

The doctor walked toward her, willing her to raise her head, to look at him, to do…anything that could take her out of that rolling circle of guilt.

“Vincent has killed so many people…some of them to protect you, or so he thinks…. Maybe, for him, that child-to-be represented its father and all the men who have attacked you…who he has killed…in an innocent heart to fill with love…”

“You’re saying that child could have been his salvation?”

Taken by surprise, Peter stopped just before touching her. Her version had its truth.

“I must go.”

“But, Catherine, it’s more…he wanted to be the victim…”

Peter’s concern found a closed door.

It’s just starting, he knew. Some people say she would deserve Hell; well, she is not waiting to die before experiencing it.

While she walked to her car, her steps slowed and her hands grasped her head. She thought she had overcome the…episode…. She had gone to Peter as anyone drops by at a friend’s house. Why had she brought this subject up? I have made a fool of myself.

She opened a door violently, but she stopped. Where would she go? Her apartment? Where is Jenny when I need her? None of her friends knew about the…procedure…and she had preferred it to be that way, but now it was…

On impulse, she closed the door and headed toward Central Park. There was still sunlight, but if she was really careful, no one had to see her entering the hidden world. Many dwellers came here during the day, after all - to get some sun and stay healthy. She even recognized some of them, from a distance. She avoided them all…but Lena, who was just on her way.

“Hey, Catherine!” she greeted her with a soft smile, and hesitated. They were still taut with each other. “Will you go Below?” Lena asked in a whisper.

Catherine nodded, avoiding her eyes. Her hands became fists. Why did Lena have to be there…to stop her? She really needed to run, and now…”

“There are some kids playing just in front of the entrance. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait”

“I knew…” even before you did. Catherine hardly swallowed the last part. How dare this newcomer think she would endanger Vincent?

“Let’s sit. I could amuse you…”

Lena…”

The girl turned to her, her smile vanishing. There was something wrong with Catherine, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

“When you got pregnant, did you think about having an abortion?”

That was a strange question. Lena’s eyes went narrow; her first reaction was fear for her child. Why are you asking?

“Catherine, I was a homeless teenager who earned my bread with my body, I had no money to raise a child whose father I never knew nor wanted to – not that he cared…”

Cries came from the pram Lena held. Catherine barely heard them, but the teen had mother’s ears. She raised the baby and bounced her up and down as if riding.

“To say that I was not ready to be a mother,” Lena whispered, as if not wanting the child to hear “would be an understatement. I had every reason not to have a child just yet. The fact is…I had no money at all, not even for a surgical procedure,” she sighed.

Baby Cathy looked blindly at her namesake with a wet fluffy face. Catherine’s belly hurt, and she reflexively grasped her middle.

“My pregnancy was taken care of, Catherine.” Mother and child faced each other; the woman smiled, the child mimicked it clumsily. It was the loveliest gesture in the world. “Thanks to it…and to your help…I found not only the resources to raise my child healthy and happy, but a home,  and a family for me too. In the darkest times, I found hope.”

Lena looked into Catherine’s eyes.

“You yourself told me: ‘Your baby is about what can be, not about what is.’”

The writhing of the anxious child broke their stillness.

“Excuse me.”

Catherine didn’t wait for her. She needed the freshness, the silence of the tunnels. Her own family.

As expected, Vincent wasn’t in his chamber.

“Father?” she called, in front of the leader’s study.

“Come in, my dear”

Father was engrossed in a medical journal. Just when she sat, he took out his glasses and stood to greet her.

“My dear, dear Catherine,” Father smiled. “We have not had you Below in quite a long time. I suspect Vincent is feeling that emptiness.”

When Father sat, his gaze wandered around with sorrow to the page he had just left, but it returned to her.

“Do you want some tea?” He poured it, not waiting for an answer.

“I came to see him, but he isn’t in his chamber.”

“He is working.”

The paucity of his short response made her narrow her eyes. She took the extended cup, but didn’t drink from it.

“He knows I need him.”

His gaze had returned to the journal, but then he came to his senses and closed it, as if he had decided that its presence on his table was too much a temptation. He half-turned to put it in the bookcase; it required some struggle against the books that were already there.

“Is he punishing me for…something?”

His hand still raised, Father looked at her, astonished.

“Why should he…?”

Catherine had sparks in her eyes. He let go of the book and turned to her, folding his arms.

“I cannot comprehend you, Catherine. Periods in which Vincent is too busy to meet you are not that rare.”

He waited for her to answer, but she didn’t.

“Vincent loves you, Catherine,” he said quietly, “despite my advice, despite his suffering. There must be very few things that you could possibly do, that he would not approve implicitly. He would never punish you consciously”

For once, Vincent’s reliability was not welcome.

“I got an abortion.”

The book, misplaced, fell on the carpet with a dull sound.

“Vincent’s…?”

“A rape.”

Father’s eyes were still wide open. “Oh, my…”

“It’s all your fault! Your top moral rules… You taught him that abortion is murder! Now he doesn’t want to see me…when I need him the most…”

New sobs came from her chest, and it was very slowly that she became aware of the wrinkled hand on her shoulder.

“There has been an emergency in one of the lower tunnels; just Vincent knew the way well enough”

So he hadn’t left her because of… The truth penetrated slowly in her mind; for some reason, it didn’t quiet the pain.

“He didn’t tell you…”

“Vincent is a man to trust. He would die before revealing a secret, and your secrets…your…everything…are holy to him”

“No longer. He fought for that pregnancy so much…. Why, Father?” Her eyes showed despair, all shyness gone, as she tore the question from her. “The spawn of a monster, of a terrible night… He should have never existed. Why…?”

Father embraced her tightly. She fought at first, then she let herself go.

“What happened to you…was terrible” he whispered over her head. “No words would bring relief. Evil exists…in so many forms…. All we could do is to fight against it”

For the first time, Catherine felt Father’s embrace; it was wrapping, as Vincent’s… in a different way.

“Vincent fought for him…. Why?”

Father sought her eyes; she lifted them. He towered over her; she felt tiny as a child. Protected.

“The…pregnancy…you mean?”

She fought not to retreat. Some part of her needed to know…even if she couldn’t bear it.

“‘He should have never existed’ you say. Do you realize, Catherine.” Father said quietly “that it’s just what some people would say about my son?”

Her reddened gaze followed the doctor while he walked away.

“His mother abandoned him…” he said. “If she had seen what she was bearing, before his birth, would she have borne him?”

A piercing pain hurt her chest.

“I guess that she would have performed an abortion. She would have even thought that she was saving her son more suffering…that she was saving the world of a burden, even of a danger…. Most doctors would have supported her, or at least they would have let her decide.”

“I was born…and I survived….” Vincent had said it once. How many stages filled his words.

“Apparently she did not have resorts to see him in time…I am rather glad…”

His ragged sigh surprised her.

“Forgive an old man’s emotion.”

When Father turned to her, his eyes were wet. He walked nimbly to his desk.

A world without Vincent? Catherine felt as if she had already seen it, in a nightmare. Below would not exist without his inspiration and strength. The same venerable man in front of her would be a drunk man sleeping in garbage. Those who Vincent had healed…Mouse…Jamie…

And what would have been of me? Catherine had died, that night, in the park. At best, she had been “daddy’s child” all her life, a frivolous, empty life…wavering from one man to another, without finding a soul mate…trying every pleasure and not tasting any of them - Vincent had taught her that much. Had she even known that there was something missing? Had she sat in her bed, her empty gaze staring into space, trying to find something…someone…that simply was not there?

By interrupting her own pregnancy, had she done just that to someone else?

“What you do with your pregnancies… Law gives you the choice, it must be right, mustn’t it?”

Father smiled sadly.

As a reflex, her mind recalled Vincent’s words: It was not my life

Yes, it was; I had had to take care of that…little monster…which would remind me of the worst night of my life. No one has the right to ask that from me.

Your scar has the same value.

Oh, no. My scar is a reminder of Vincent, and Vincent is whom I love.

You would have learned to love that child.

It was not a child. And it was not Vincent’s!

“Yet, for Vincent” Father interrupted her thought “that decision you took would be difficult to accept. See, Catherine: whatever comes from you is precious to him.” Father’s words contained a gentle knife. “Can you imagine how much he wants a child from you? He could never have one of his own, but the mere thought that he would deprive the world of your –most basic legacy…it battles every day with his possessiveness. A child of yours, whose father’s love Vincent would never fear…”

Father stopped there. Her mind didn’t.

“He will not judge you, Catherine. It is what you decided , what has touched one of his deepest strings. Even if Vincent’s distance resulted to be…not normal…he would be just trying to protect you from what he cannot avoid to feel. He is already fighting to recover. Give him time. His love for you will be always greater, never doubt that”

Catherine nodded mechanically.

“I must leave”

She was at the entrance when Father called:

“You forgot your coat”

She turned back and grasped the fabric; but Father had seen her face.

“Catherine, would you mind staying Below for a while?”

The word “stay” brought her back abruptly, and Catherine shook her head. He hadn’t loosened the cloth; now his hand grasped it harder.

“I must insist. Your state of mind is not appropriate to walk through our tunnels – they are dangerous, you see. Mary would talk to you”

She frantically pulled the coat from his hand, but Father was already calling Mary. Even before he had finished, the elder woman entered.

“Catherine” Mary noticed at once that there was something wrong. Her attempts to meet Father’s gaze failed; he was watching Catherine as if she would vanish, and the younger woman did seem to be shrinking. “I’m very glad you are here. I was on my way to the toddlers…”

Father shook his head, alarmed; Catherine had just made a sudden movement to the entrance.

“Catherine here is upset. Can you please attend to her? I could take care of …”

A woman’s issue, Mary understood, following his flight. Coward. Catherine was more than a little upset, and he would be the one to blame.

“Were you looking for Vincent, my dear?” Mary asked, just to break the silence. “He will be back in about an hour”

The same weird movement. Catherine looked around, as if to looking for a way out…

“Let’s go to my chamber, if you wish”

The tunnels were empty and quiet, but for the pipes, and the walk was peaceful. Looking at Mary in the eerie light of torches, Catherine saw the thinness  of an older woman…of an elder. Her belly stopped hurting somewhat. And still, when they arrived at the chamber – and the older woman sat on her bed, part of the angst returned.

The chamber had been quiet for some time when Mary raised her head. Catherine was moving back and forth slightly. All right, Mary thought, readying herself for a long conversation. All her children eventually told her what upset them.

It happened too easily.

“I thought I was doing it for us.” Mary didn’t interrupt. “Who knows what it would have done to our relationship…. I thought it was the right…the only thing to do… I thought he wanted it…. What those men left inside of me…. I went through hell to take it out of me! It’s no longer in my body, but it keeps being in my head! It will never let me alone….”

So tortured…

“Come here, my dear”

Mary embraced her tightly.

“Catherine... You did what you thought was right….”

“Yet, if Vincent was right…if it was a child…”

Mary understood. It took some time to tie all the ends, but she had some practice with people in pain.

“You did what you could…misguided, lost, in pain…. Don’t torture yourself….”

“You know nothing…. Your life is white as the Virgin’s. You can’t know…”

“Oh, I do know, Catherine…”

Catherine looked up in surprise and relief at the thought of a sisterhood. Not pity: relief. For as hard as she could see- if Mary had crossed Hell, she would guide her.

“I am mother to all our dwellers…a lot of desperate, almost feral girls….” So…no personal experience to share; Catherine avoided her eyes. “I have seen women who abandoned their children. I have seen some like you…” Mary attempted to catch her attention again, in vain; and still her words reached for her: “Dearest, you must follow this advice: let it go….”

“Catherine?”

Vincent’s voice came from the front door; it sounded breathless. There was no way he could mistake Catherine’s shape. He knew at once that she was crying, and through Mary’s words, he knew why.

His arms warmed her.

At his sign, Mary vanished.

“Catherine, my love, don’t…”

“What have I done, Vincent?” she whispered.

I have killed so many times, Catherine…. How could I judge you?

“Tell me that it’s a nightmare…that it hasn’t happened, that it can’t be”

He kept silent. He had answered once to that plea, with the truth. This time, her pain was deeper, wilder; the truth had no place there…a lie had none, either.

“I need someone to tell me that I was right….”

“You were right.”

“Liar!” She fought against him, but he kept her tightly embraced until she went limp in his arms. Too lifeless; cold and quiet. Her eyes watched an invisible horizon.

“I killed our son”, she said.

“It was not our son...”

“No, Vincent, he was…”

Her gaze met his and a shiver – of relief or alarm, he couldn’t say - troubled him.

“You had adopted him in your heart, I know it now. You loved him from the moment you knew.”

I should not have spoken for him… The thought tore his heart apart, with the certainty that he could do nothing now.

“You fought half-heartedly,” she comforted him, “because you were fighting against me.”

He pressed her against his body. She was opening doors in his heart that must be left closed from now on, for they had died with her son.

“What day is today, Vincent?”

He stayed silent. It seemed so strange a question to be asked now...so out of place…. But it wasn’t. At his answer, in her face appeared an ironic smile.

“Nature’s Justice” she said quietly. “Your prediction, as always, has been fulfilled”.

“What…?”

“I can’t have any other child…”

“Catherine…! Don’t…”

“I expected my period four days ago”

“You have been under great stress, it is perfectly natural…”

“No, I know…”

Before she had finished, he took her in his arms. He did not dare to let her walk; he was pretty sure she would damage herself.

What should I do? He knew there were therapy groups with people capable of helping; he remembered vaguely something called Raquel Project, related to the Catholic Church. Would they accept Catherine, being atheist as she was? She needed help for sure. Peter was a doctor and an obstetrician; he must know.

Vincent walked through Peter’s home’s darkness: the doctor still wasn’t there. When will you come, Peter? He went to the window and looked outside, mindless of the possibility of being seen. His ears were attentive to Catherine, standing beside him, who was quiet, but for how long? Peter could not come today at all; doctor’s schedules were always eccentric.

A key twisting into the locker made Vincent flinch. Then he recognized the pace.

“Peter!” he called.

The expression on the doctor’s face, when he struck out into the room, changed quickly from surprise to understanding.

“She has just collapsed,” Vincent whispered.

“Come”

Vincent took Catherine in his arms, and Peter guided them to his study. It was comfortable, a place to gather with friends, with some luxuries for the scholar.

“What happened?”

Peter’s expression, his voice, showed no relaxation.

“Has she told you…?”

“Earlier today.”

“She feels guilty. I think she is tearing herself apart. She just told me she had become sterile, calling it justice! How can we help her, Peter?”

“I am not a psychologist.”

“She went to see a psychologist, and I suspect she didn’t open herself to him. I don’t want to part from her now”

Peter had lowered his head.

“I can only perform physical tests…”

“Then perform them”

Peter tried to interrogate her. She didn’t respond. He examined her as well as he could, and put her to rest in the nearer room. Vincent never left her side.

“This time I will be here, Catherine…holding your hand…as I should have done before” The fact that it had meant his own death, seemed minor while he looked at her.

Peter took some samples from her. She didn’t cry, didn’t twist, and didn’t protest at all.

“Let it go, Catherine…let him go. Whatever that child had been, he is no more, and your torture will do him no good”

Just then Peter entered. His face was a mask. He was hiding something, Vincent noticed, for she was too still.

“Catherine” Peter thought. “Did you go through the procedure?”

She didn’t respond.

“She did it” Vincent granted. “I was nearby”

The doctor’s silence stretched, until a low growl of frustration triggered his explanation.

“I performed a HCG, Vincent; it was positive”

Vincent’s eyes shone with awe.

“It can’t be; it has been over a month, she must have processed…”

“I have just seen it once, although medical journals say it’s possible…in young pregnancies…”

“And ectopic ones,” Vincent completed. His face turned into a mask of fear.

Catherine had not responded.

“I have an ultrasound in the hospital. Should we go there?”

“Of course” Vincent was already taking her from the bed.

“You would have to travel in my car”

Vincent didn’t dare to answer. All the way, he embraced Catherine; his eyes never left her face. He carried her into the hospital, not caring about the witnesses; thankfully his hood and his quick pace prevented them from seeing him clearly.

He reached the ultrasound room a little while before Peter. Gasping, but already keys in hand, the older man came to open it. While Vincent put her on the table and undressed her abdomen, Peter turned on the device. Catherine didn’t react to the cold gel on her belly, neither to the movements.

Vincent held her hand. Peter’s silence had never tortured him so.

“I see something there, Vincent”

“Her tubes?”

“Clean. It’s not out of place”

After a moment, the doctor stopped moving. He pressed a button, so the image in the display froze. Vincent moved closer. He had never seen an ultrasound, so he tried to see deeper. Peter’s laugh startled him and relieved him at the same time.

“Try getting the global idea”

There was something darker in the middle of the image…containing some kind of ball…an oval…or rather a…mouse?

“I’ll let the image move”

He pressed a button and the “mouse” started to move.

“It has a hand in its…mouth?” Vincent asked.

Peter looked again.

“You are pretty good at it,” he recognized. “Now…”

The doctor turned to his patient. Catherine was now looking at him, her eyes a little less empty, a little more…afraid, perhaps.

“Catherine, look…you know that during a D and C the doctor can’t see inside of the uterus…he is guided by feeling. It is the root of some complications, as this one we see.”

Had she shrugged? Her eyes had not changed, surely. Vincent’s heart ached with the certainty: she didn’t care about her health, not anymore.

“Whoever did the D & C to you, Catherine, didn’t do it right. You are still pregnant”

His words entered her mind slowly. The hand Vincent was holding encircled his own, pressed it tighter.

“He didn’t die?”

Peter turned the display to her.

“There he is.”

Her eyes devoured the unrecognizable shape. She could see him. She raised her other hand to touch him, but she didn’t dare.

“Is he moving?” she asked.

Peter looked again.

“Yes, he is pretty nervous”

“He is dancing” Vincent smiled.

“There is his heartbeat” Peter’s long finger stretched to the window.

In fact, there was something inside of the child, varying its color quickly and rhythmically. Catherine sobbed. Why do all women do that?

“I don’t deserve it”

Both men turned to her. There was death inside of her eyes, again.

“Catherine…” Vincent called.

She moved the monitor away from her.

Peter’s expression changed at once. Neutral again.

“Do you still want it to be removed?”

“No!” Catherine said. “I want him…to live”

The men’s gazes crossed. Vincent’s was steady. He signed Peter to the door with a turning of his head. As it closed, Catherine felt Vincent’s change of position. For a moment, she thought he would leave her too.

“I’m here” he said. “I will always be here.”

Catherine closed her eyes and turned her head to the monitor. She wanted to see the baby again. Her chest burned with the love she already felt for that little thing growing up inside of her. But she couldn’t fool herself. He was alive because of a miracle; she had killed him all the same.

Vincent spoke softly, so she would have to choose to hear him.

“You told me once…that I deserved everything…” He took her hand to his mouth. She flinched, frantic to keep her hands, full of blood, off of him; to not soil him. “Now it is you who cannot believe how wonderful you are…how much you have given… And it’s my turn…”

He searched her eyes. She avoided his gaze, but he gently took her chin and guided her face to him.

“Those weeks, I have finally understood…how little meaning mistakes have when there is love…. You could feel in your hands the blood that soiled mine…. What a great mistake we can make by feeling hurt, or scared…by feeling unworthy…of love”

His eyes hypnotized her.

“Now I will ask something important from you, Catherine”

She listened. The string between their gazes was almost touchable.

“Will you bear that child?”

She nodded.

“Will you raise it?”

This time, she did not move. She did not take her gaze from his, neither.

“Will you raise him…with me? Vincent…!” She half sat, shaking her head violently in an effort to clear it. His hopeful gaze confirmed what she thought she had heard, but it was… “Now…of all times…” she said, dizzy.

“Maybe it had to be that way”. Vincent’s hand was again caressing her cheek, a thoughtful expression in his eyes. “Never before had there been anything more important than you in our lives; now there is a baby, and it gives me no choice but to finally accept the gift of your love.”

Was it a smile, what played on his mouth?

“I’m not worthy of you, Vincent.” She couldn’t use her giddy head, so she used her heart. “It doesn’t matter how much I need and cherish you, I am not worthy of touching your hand…not anymore”

“Catherine…”

She felt herself raised and cradled to his chest.

“I have learned,” his voice surrounded her, “that miracles are unique things, and although it is not always easy…we must accept them”

She closed her eyes, enjoying his warmth, breathing in his unique being.

“Someway, that tiny life has been given back to us...and I will love him with all that I am, with all…that I have”

She searched his eyes, and found them.

“The same way I love you”

His mouth descended upon her trembling one without fear or regret. A mere contact, which heated her coldness; somewhere inside of her, something said: “It’s really happening,” while she slid her arms around his neck.

“We are a family now”

 

Epilogue – 6 months later:

Vincent was there every step of the way. The first time she felt the child’s movement, it was under Vincent’s warm hand. He also wanted to be present in every ultrasound, and it had been dangerous for him, so she didn’t take any other. However, Father’s exams told them the baby was healthy. Vincent fed them with as much love as food – to a point where Father scolded him. He took them to every concert in the park, read for them every book he could, flinched at every winkle in her forehead. No one in the community wondered who the child’s father was.

The night she felt the contractions, it was Vincent who carefully counted them, and examined her, to be sure that the labor had started. When she lost consciousness to the pain, just his whispered: “Hold on” kept her fighting. His hand wiping her sweat actually made the pain subside.

After the longest agony, when the emptiness came and a wild crying filled the room, she no longer remembered the pain… none of it…… Her wounds were healed.

Despite her tiredness, she fought to see the baby.

Vincent was the one bringing him to her, his gaze fixed on the tiny face and such a beautiful…almost foolish…smile on his lips that she wanted to laugh in relief.

“Look at him, Catherine…. He is beautiful.”

And he was.

When the writhing crying bundle was set beside her, she could see the tiny face. He was all hers: cheeks, lips, blondish hair - hers, soaked with blood; his, with amniotic fluids…. Just the tiny sex seemed to differentiate them.

“He looks just like you,” Peter laughed “What a shame that he is a boy; I could have extended the ‘naked’ story to the next generation.”

“In any case,” Father teased, “it was not you who delivered the baby, but Vincent”

“As her first doctor, and godfather, I have always wanted to bring Catherine’s children into the world,” Peter sighed. “I guess I will just wait for the next opportunity.”

When the doctors noticed the silence, they turned to see what had happened. Everyone was too immobile: Catherine lying, Vincent at her side, Mary looking over his shoulder… all of them, eyes wide opened, fixed on the child. The doctors rushed to their side.

The child had just opened his eyes.

“It’s impossible” Mary said.

Light blue filled the little eyes with the color of a sky, and inside of them something talked about pain and love, and miracles. Everyone looked at the shocked father, and back at the son. There was no other way to tell it: the child’s eyes were…Vincent’s….

How much love must Vincent have given this child, to change him physically into his!

“It’s a miracle” Catherine said.

“Could we name him Jacob?” Vincent asked absently.

Father came to touch his grandson, incredulous.

“Of course you can”

~~~