“ Portrait of a Bond ”
The puzzle was:
this story a little "different"?
The colors are a first hint, and the full reply is in the bottom, scroll down.
Vincent looked up from the large square of paper clipped to his handmade drafting board and smiled, amused. "If you try to hold that expression, Catherine, I'm afraid you will hurt your face. Simply be yourself. I often draw portraits of the children. I am used to capturing moving targets."
With a slightly embarrassed chuckle, she relaxed a bit against the back of the armchair. "Well, I can’t take lightly the tunnel version of immortality, can I? Are you really sure that we can’t just go there and spend some time with Elizabeth, so that she has the original me? Or bring her a photograph?"
He glanced between Catherine and the drawing paper as he sketched new lines with a stub of charcoal, and she admired the confident movements of his hand. Vincent replied, "The new mural is Elizabeth's Winterfest gift to all of us. We are to consider that section of the Painted Tunnels closed until then. Elizabeth is granting entry only to Mouse and Mary...and they are sworn to secrecy. Would you deny our friend the pleasure of creating her surprise?"
She resisted the temptation to steal a look at the drawing, but couldn’t help allowing her attorney-self to peek. "If you can let her have your drawing, you could let her have a photograph as well…" Although modeling for you is so much more enjoyable… was her accompanying thought. "And I understand Mouse, but why Mary?"
Vincent smiled again. "Mary provides gentle company and nutritious food. Imagine how it would be if Mouse brought Elizabeth her meals as well as her paints!" Now he gave Catherine a long, loving look and said, "As for the photograph, Elizabeth asked for portraits drawn by friends. She wants to see our community with borrowed eyes, to understand what we notice when we behold one another." He dropped his clear blue gaze to the artwork in front of him. "I requested the privilege of being the one to commit your image to paper. No one objected."
Of course, she thought. The essential is invisible to the… camera eye. I love these people. "I am truly honored to be part of this, and grateful to Elizabeth," she said. He nodded his agreement, resuming his work. "Especially... for allowing me as well to understand what you notice when you behold me."
Vincent did not take his eyes from his drawing as he asked, "Shall I tell you what I am beholding right now?" Catherine's heart seemed to flutter with renewed curiosity, and with the prospect of hearing what would undoubtedly be Vincent's very candid opinion. She nodded. His quick glance caught her gesture. His fingertips shaded a delicate angle between two lines on the page as he began to speak in a patient, thoughtful tone. "I am drawing your mouth. The shapes are like calligraphy, connected lines that touch and part, forming the graceful instrument you use to communicate your thoughts to others, or to nourish your body, or to permit the passage of living breath to flow between the world within you and the world without." His next glance sparkled with satisfaction. "Now your mouth is smiling at me. And my words have brought new color to your cheeks."
She closed her eyes, each word like a caress over what he was describing, almost physically pleasurable. Not only that, Vincent. The mouth he was praising could not help but remember the feeling of the light touch of his lips. But... "This is what anyone can see," she said. "What do you see?" And she reopened her eyes, looking at him, at his own mouth, which the casual beholder could only view as a feral one.
His left hand became still. Vincent raised his head and silently examined her features from where he sat across the table opposite to her. He answered, "I see the lips that have loved mine."
He savored the slow, grateful warmth sweeping through his heart at those words, a real but incredible physical counterpoint to the joy spreading over her face, into her eyes. No artist could ever put that miracle on paper. It was theirs, only theirs.
Gentle voices echoed down the stone corridor outside Vincent's chamber. From some distance above them, a train swept along its subway track, clanking and sighing while the energetic pings and taps of pipecode rang on the master pipes. Their two worlds intersected in the mingling of these sounds. Their two lives became one reality within the sanctuary of tender silence they shared. Aglow with Catherine's radiant mood, Vincent thought, In these moments, we touch upon eternity, knowing ourselves beloved. He returned his gaze to the drawing beneath his hands, beginning to work quickly. He wanted very much to portray the joyous affection now shining in Catherine's eyes. He imagined being able to walk out to the Painted Tunnels anytime he wished, by day or by night, to stand in wonderment before her portrait, remembering this Saturday afternoon, and the fulfillment he felt in her presence. This beautiful dream gilded his present heartbeats with hope. Vincent loved being in love with her.
I love being in love with you! Oh, yes, I do, Vincent. Made speechless by his brief, fervent affirmation, the dreamy thought kept echoing in Catherine’s mind, and she fleetingly wondered how it dawned, so simple and so perfect. Silly question. The reply was there, in front of her eyes, in the passionate countenance that he was now trying to conceal, making himself busy with drawing. In such intense moments, she could feel an oh-too-faint shadow of his feelings. Heaven. Crowded heaven, darn it! she sighed inwardly, hearing the tentative question coming from the passageway: "Vincent, may we come in?"
Catherine thought the new little smile he gave her was somewhat regretful. But he answered, "Yes. Come," and they both looked toward the chamber entrance. Mary and Jamie stepped through, Mary seeming the tentative one, while Jamie just grinned broadly when she caught sight of Vincent's guest. "We're not interrupting anything?" Mary asked.
"Hi Catherine! And sure enough we did interrupt!" Jamie exclaimed, looking at Vincent, who had nonchalantly covered his unfinished artwork with a blank sheet of drawing paper while they were entering. "I guess you're telegraphing that we're not allowed to get a sneak peek?" Vincent’s reply was just a meaningful smile, and while Catherine stood up and greeted the two women, Jamie added: "Okay, we'll try to leave you alone, asap. We're only here because the children just seem to be unable to find a way to agree who should be the one to make your portrait, Vincent. Not such a good idea to try to let them reach an agreement on their own."
Vincent set his drafting board and charcoal on the table and stood up. "I didn't realize my open offer would create such dissension in the ranks," he murmured, brushing black dust from his fingers. He glanced at the sheaf of papers Mary was holding in her hand. "Can you tell me, who are the main contenders?" Mary gave the papers to him, saying, "No, I cannot. The children want us to show you six samples of their best work without revealing who has drawn what." She smiled apologetically. "It was my suggestion to have you choose an artist anonymously from the art, in order to end the deadlock. Honestly, Vincent, walking into the Nursery an hour ago was like attending a political rally with six candidates all vying for election. Their friends were making speeches to the others on behalf of their favorite artist...and their favorite method of calling a vote. Jamie is here to serve as a second witness to your decision."
He looked at the bunch of sheets in his hand, and then to Catherine. Vibrations of the beautiful, intense moment they had just shared still tingled, and the floodgates of their bond seemed reluctant to close. They smiled to each other, the uncanny sensation of sharing the same reaction to Mary’s words lingering between them. He handed her the bundle of sheets, and while leafing them, she pensively said: "Vincent’s decision is— I mean," she corrected herself, looking at the two women with a little apologetic grin, "I think that Vincent’s decision is to remind the children that he knows each child’s skills and styles so well, no anonymity is possible, as he would recognize who did what. Right?" she asked, looking at him. Vincent had sat down, legs outstretched, fingers intertwined, watching her with an amused and vaguely proud expression on his face. He smiled his assent, with a little nod. "And that he suggests—" she looked at him, with just a touch of uncertainty, but he nodded again "—to bring Elizabeth six portraits of him, from the six contenders, so that Elizabeth will have a wealth of loving references to paint her own portrait." He openly grinned now, and, lost in his eyes, she added—to herself alone, she hoped, but she was not so sure—He’s larger than life; six portraits are hardly enough.
Vincent tipped his head slightly to one side, the gleam in his blue eyes becoming playful, and Catherine knew he had sensed this sentiment too. Their visitors looked from Catherine's face, to Vincent's, and back again. Jamie opened her mouth to speak, perhaps to ask a question, but Mary reached for the six drawings and hastened to say, "That's a simple, wonderful solution to the quarrel. I hadn't thought of it!" She smiled at the papers admiringly. "There might even be more than six submissions, in the end."
Jamie's face was a study of puzzled admiration. "Okay," she said, "if you teach lessons of whatever it was that happened here right now, I'm the first in line. Let's go, Mary."
The two visitors, unsettled but still smiling their farewells, turned and left the chamber. Catherine and Vincent watched the empty entryway for a moment. Then Vincent murmured, "Catherine? I didn't know we could do that." She looked at him as he continued, "This bond between us, this dream...it's rooted so deeply now." He shook his head in wonder. "It's as if there is a new world, a place no one has ever traveled to, a place that opens its landscape to you and me alone."
She returned to her place in the armchair opposite to him and replied, almost sorry that her stubborn Topsider rationality was emerging again, "I’m ready to follow you into whatever new world you want to lead me to, Vincent, but I’m an attorney. It’s my training to understand and speak on behalf of people. I was sure that you were thinking what I was thinking. That my reaction to this situation was exactly the same as yours. Perhaps… yes, more sure than in other situations, but it was just a matter of logic, and of knowing you. It happens all the time, in my job, it happened with my father, with some dear friends I know very well." She looked at him, hoping to be contradicted. "That’s all… I think?"
Vincent studied her face. "Perhaps. I don't doubt your rational mind, nor your abilities as an attorney..." His gaze met hers with such warmth, Catherine suddenly felt like summer had come to bless the cool underground cavern. But what does your heart tell you about us? Vincent thought to her, testing the link, curious. Not long ago, she had heard him call out to her while she was visiting the other side of the continent. In this moment, when their love flowed so freely between them, the possibility that they might be making such a connection from within the same room opened the way for new dreams, a deeper comprehension of each other, and as yet unknown heights of love to explore.
The drawing board was on the table between them, still covered by the concealing blank sheet of paper. She leaned toward him and put her hand on it, palm up. "Give me your hand."
He considered the invitation, then obeyed her. He sat forward in his chair to rest his palm upon hers. The back of his strong clawed hand was covered in short reddish-gold fur, the palm thickly calloused from long years spent shaping rock with hand-held tools, and grasping heavy loads, and crafting or repairing furnishings for his many friends Below. This incredible paw was large enough to engulf Catherine's slender hand from wrist to fingertips. Yet Vincent's touch was light and delicate, a gentle contact sending waves of tingling heat through both of them.
They both looked down at what was lying on the white drawing sheet. Again the thought that that was something no artist could transfer to an art piece flickered in their minds, and again they were sure that the same sentiment was licking at the borders of their souls. Training? Maybe. Love needs training. All kinds of love, and moreso their incredible, never-traveled-before path to being a couple, which their intertwined, so-different hands powerfully symbolized. With her other hand, she lightly caressed the back of his, savoring the tactile pleasure of the soft curls covering it, tracing the contour of his fingers and their clawed tips. And recognizing, inside herself, his pleasure at her touch. "Do you remember what I told you, that night, on my balcony, giving you my mother's rose?"
Vincent looked into Catherine's eyes and whispered, "Yes. You said you had forgotten how it felt to be connected to someone...until I came into your life."
"I don’t know what you are thinking now," she said, playing with his fur, "but I feel you are thinking of me. I always do. It makes me whole." She lifted her eyes to his face, and squeezed his hand with both of hers. "That rose was… a place hold. I was waiting for you."
He received her words, then stood up from his chair, clasping her hand in his own to maintain the unity of their touch. She moved with him, stepping close and holding fast to the hand Vincent had willingly let her capture. He pulled their hands to his chest. She felt the leather of the small pouch she had made to contain her mother's rose. The texture was soft against her knuckles. Vincent always wore her gift around his neck, just as Catherine now rarely removed the necklace he had given to her: a crystal prism, suspended from a delicate gold chain. These keepsakes were their pieces of eternity, tangible symbols of their love for each other. Catherine became enfolded into her lover's warm embrace as he lowered his free arm around her back and drew her even closer. "And now?" he asked.
She said nothing, but the very air around them crackled with her answer.
So Vincent smiled, and held her, and after a moment murmured into her hair, "Your portrait will hold our place too. It will stand at the boundary we share, a place I am still discovering day by day: my vision of your beauty, a landmark in our history." His wide lips brushed Catherine's forehead. "For I will include this." He bent his head to touch his muzzle to her left cheek. "And this." Then, softly, with infinite tenderness, he kissed her mouth. "And this," he whispered. "And you and I will know the hidden lines that I have drawn to create a complete picture." He drew back a little, his blue eyes bright and adoring. "You make me whole as well."
"I… think… " she tried, giddy with joy, finding it strangely difficult to speak, to use the mouth just blessed by his kiss for anything else. "I think that now I can feel what you are thinking," she managed to whisper. His smile almost undid her. His eyes were lovingly challenging, curious. She lifted a hand, and with the back of her fingers caressed his cheek, his jaw, his smile. "Three words. Three little words…"
He leaned close again and breathed three words into her ear, exultant. After this, he held her tightly, and when Catherine released his hand to wrap both of her arms around him, they stood together in the candlelight for a long time, two travelers sharing one journey within the same span of joyful heartbeats. The hidden drawing of Catherine's smiling face rested upon the table beside them, an emblem of unified love patiently awaiting completion.
This story is a "writing duel."
Two authors wrote one paragraph each, ping-ponging,
each completely unaware of what the other would write.
Black paragraphs are by Zara Wilder,
blue paragraphs are by Simonetta Vespucci ;-) .
Who wants to try? It's a lot of
fun! If some nice stories develop,
we will post them here on BatBland!
To volunteer, write to: batbland
and we'll tell you more.
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