The Right to Be Here
By Cindy Rae
Three twenty nine a.m. The white numbered display on Catherine's bedside clock told him the time.
Vincent reached carefully over her sleeping form and pressed the button which would keep it from buzzing, and awakening his sleeping love. The alarm was set for him, not for her. She still had hours, yet. At least a couple of them.
He laid next to her a moment, listening to the clock numbers flip over. Three thirty. She breathed softly, next to him, a lock of her hair draped delicately across her cheek.
She was gorgeous, sleeping, and had managed to pull a sleep shirt over her naked form after they'd made love. She looked comfortable. He wasn’t sure if he was.
It was a thing he was still unaccustomed to, being her lover. It was a thing that stunned him with its poignancy, and uplifted him, with its joy.
After a lifetime of thinking of himself as… well, nothing, when it came to intimate relationships, he was now Catherine's love, in the emotional, spiritual and physical sense. His appetite for her charms had only increased since they'd begun their physical exploration of each other, a little more than a month ago.
She was beautiful, generous, and patient, as a lover. Qualities he was discovering in himself, as well. His abdomen was relaxed, his groin, empty. He was sated, and a little tired, and increasingly … annoyed. Irritated. Sad. Something. Some combination of all of that, with something else thrown in, besides. Something he could not quite name.
He hated to get up. Hated the notion of leaving the bed, of getting dressed, and travelling through the park well ahead of the dawn. But this was the time they'd agreed upon. It was the time of night he could travel most safely. Earlier, and he’d risk running into the bar flies as the “last call” crowd spilled into the street, and sometimes, the park. Later, and the shift change in places like the hospital, and late night janitorial crews would empty a cadre of workers into the street.
He heard the clock softly change, again, and he knew leaving was a thing he had to face.
As he rose carefully, she stirred, feeling his weight shift off what was now “his” side of the bed. Her hand "searched," a little, as it moved over the mattress.
"Go back to sleep," he whispered, stroking her honey blonde hair and planting a kiss on the side of her temple. "You have two more hours."
"Mm." she "mm'd," pulling the sheet up over her shoulder. This was becoming "routine" between them, if anything could be called that.
It was a routine with which he was growing increasingly uncomfortable.
He tucked the sheet around her, and picked up his jeans off the floor where he'd dropped them. He carefully tugged them on, standing at the foot of her bed, not wanting to leave her until he had to.
The metal button on the fly was loose. Catherine had tugged at the fastening insistently, earlier. The memory of it made him smile, a little, in spite of the bleak direction of his thoughts. That she could be… impatient for him. Well.
He was not quite over being amazed by that fact, yet.
Thermal shirt, top shirt, vest... he gathered them from the floor as she turned slightly, her hand moving to seek his form, again. She was caught between wanting to rouse, and desperately needing her sleep. She still had the pressures of her job. Now she had him, as well.
She moaned a little, knowing he was gone, that it was time.
He couldn't resist kissing her lightly again, before he left her. He brushed the errant lock of hair on her cheek back, and held the buckle of his belt so it wouldn’t jangle.
He picked up his boots and socks, preparing to finish dressing in her living room.
"I love you." He said it softly, as he pulled up the blanket to cover her.
If he were not there, the bed would soon grow cooler without the warmth of his body heat. She snuggled down into the bed linens, utterly exhausted from all that had happened before bedtime. Everything up to and including a bout of deliciously tender lovemaking.
He willed her to calm, to return to her dreams. Waking her would not forestall what was about to happen, and she had a long day, tomorrow. Today. Whichever.
He passed through the louvered doors to her living room, eyeing the stack of papers on her dining room table. They were sorted into piles. Several of them.
They were growing or shrinking, depending on a host of different things. He was starting to understand the "stacks" she brought home from work. Depositions in one pile. Cases awaiting some bit of evidence or lab work. Something she didn't have her hands on yet, but needed to acquire, in another. A third for cases imminently pending trial. She’d stuff all of them in her briefcase, before she left, then return with them, or with others, tonight.
In another pile, things from her life in the world Above that needed tending, periodically. A stack of bills. A program for the new concert season. Order forms for theater tickets. Bank statements and junk mail, and a postcard from Jenny Aaronson, on vacation in Aruba. The flotsam of an active life.
All the stacks kept her busy, in a different way. She needed her sleep.
Vincent tugged on his socks, still hating the thought of leaving her. Hating it almost as much as the sensation of tugging on his boots for the second time, that day.
He'd thought their crossing of this particular bridge would leave him happy, and it had. Immeasurably so. Yet here he sat, lacing up footwear, leaving her side like a thief in the night.
Like he had no right to be there.
Like they were doing something shameful, or wrong. He shouldered into his shirts and vest, being careful not to make noise.
He looked longingly back toward the doors to the bedroom. He'd tried leaving through the bedroom doors to her balcony, once. But the March air was cold, and it had swept into the room like a curse, chilling her. It was better he leave through the living room, so she could sleep a little longer.
He saw his cloak draped over the back of a chair, not remembering if it was he who'd set it there, or not. The heavy wool and leather kept him warm. The hood kept him anonymous. It was a necessary accessory, and he'd never resented it, before. But now, even his cloak made him feel peevish. It felt like a mobile prison, of sorts.
The cape, like the leaving, was starting to feel like a disguise, or a ruse. Like a lie they both had to protect, for him to be there. And the lie felt like something he had to have to remain a part of her life, especially now.
As if being “Vincent” was simply never going to be “good enough.” He tried to shake off his mood. A mood he was in, increasingly, each time three thirty in the morning came around.
He wanted to wake up with her in the morning. Badly. In a hard, deep place. To have breakfast, and start the day like a "normal" couple. To sleep with her through the long night, and hold her in the greying dawn. To make love with her again, perhaps, or just to bring her coffee. Stay just until she had to go to work, or better, through a long, lazy morning, filled with the newspapers, and music, and time in her shower.
They'd had such a day. They'd had two.
After the first time, the conversation with Jacob, afterwards, had been legendary.
"I swear I'm not trying to interfere, and I know the utter foolhardy position of trying to stand between you and Catherine." There had actually been tears in Jacob's eyes. "But do you know how worried I've been? How worried we've all been? After what happened between you and the street gang? The scientists? Mary has been beside herself, and trying not to show it, for my sake."
Anger he could have dealt with. Had this been an argument, some unreasonable diatribe, Vincent knew he could have put up a fight. But the haggard lines in Jacob's face were apparent, as were the deep shadows under Mary's eyes. She was trying to look brave, for his sake, but she'd clearly been crying.
"It was not a plan. It was a ... moment, Father." Vincent told him. "There was no way to get word."
There hadn't been. Catherine had been wrapped around him like a blanket, and he her. It had been a Sunday, Saul's sandwich shop closed, Maria's newsstand, as well, after two. Time had simply... disappeared on them, the way it does, with lovers.
He'd not wanted to let her go Below so she could make the explanation that “Vincent doesn't want to leave my apartment because we've been making love half the night and all day.” In truth, he'd not wanted to let her go, at all.
The sweet truth that he was now more than he’d ever been, more than he’d ever thought he could become… It almost felt like a secret he needed to protect. He was exhilarated and cautious, at the same time.
So he'd waited, and faced Jacob on his own. Not to a quarrel, but to a plea.
"We will try to be more considerate," was all Vincent could tell him.
The second time went much like the first. Vincent was still uncomfortable discussing his sexuality with Jacob, and more than a little resentful that such a thing was necessary. He was a grown man, and Catherine a grown woman. He did not feel the need or desire to justify himself to anyone. Not for this, at least. So he hadn't.
But a day spent in her apartment had its down side, too.
After dawn, he was essentially 'trapped' in what was a very small space, for him. Her bathtub was miniscule compared to his bathing chamber. He had no clothes there, other than the ones he wore, thanks to the spontaneous nature of their situation.
It was all new. And it was amazingly exciting. But who and what he was, and the problems that caused, still presented themselves with annoying persistence.
He realized why he was growing to resent the cape. It was the last thing he had to put on before he left her. Adjusting the heavy fabric around his shoulders, he knew the next step could no longer be avoided.
Feeling like an unfaithful spouse leaving the side of his mistress, Vincent quietly turned the latch on the terrace doors and stepped out into the New York night.
The cold air hit his face like a slap as he exited the balcony, cape pulled tightly around him. He inhaled the sharp, hard air, bringing it into his lungs as he expelled the warmth of Catherine’s apartment. He felt his empty testes lift, a little, as the pleasant feeling of satiation was replaced by the less pleasant one of a frosty New York end-of-winter-night making itself known.
It was a little after four a.m. The garbage trucks, newspaper carriers, and earliest of the early joggers would be out and moving in less than an hour. Not to mention those hardy souls who worked the night shift.
The park would be barren enough. Life of the wee hours was safer. But every minute that brought him closer to six a.m. changed that. Not for nothing was New York known as the "city that doesn't sleep."
He was in the park, not far away from her terrace when he uncharacteristically turned around and climbed back up. He stood on the balcony a moment, then crossed over to the bedroom doors.
I do not want to leave. I do not want to leave her, his mind kept repeating as he looked through the sheers at her sleeping form. This was so hard. And it was getting harder. In the bond, he felt her stir a little, as if she sensed his presence. Then, she slipped back into a sheltering sleep.
He remembered the image and sensation of her with her legs wrapped around his waist. His sigh was soul deep. Her hand moved up, and rested on his empty pillow. Was she searching for him, still? Or just trying to get more comfortable?
He had a feeling he knew which answer was the correct one. He liked how that made him feel even less.
He didn’t need to see the display on the clock on her nightstand to know this was foolhardy. He had to leave. He had to. In spite of the chilly weather, the nights had been growing shorter since December. That wasn’t a conspiracy to keep them apart. That was how orbital mechanics worked. The equinox was near. That problem would only get worse until… June? June.
The dawn that was far away still smelled that much closer. He tried not to resent the sun as much as he resented everything else, right now.
Defeated, he made his way back home a second time.
He carried the image of her palm resting on an empty pillow inside his brain. And inside his heart.
He dejectedly made his way down the tunnel hallways, feeling beaten even before there had been a fight. The circular walls felt close, the smells of home felt… unwelcome? That was new. And dangerous. He could not afford to begin hating his home.
But he wanted her home in his nose. He wanted her scent, on his clothes. It was there, right now. Right now, since she'd been entwined around him before they'd actually adjourned to her wide bed, to make love.
But the scent would fade. It had been fading since he’d stepped out onto her balcony.
He knew the world Below was permeating the folds of his cloak, and of his clothes, "erasing her" as he walked. The closer he drew to his chambers, the farther away from her he became.
Disgusted, he lobbed the cape onto his chair as he entered his rooms, and tossed his heavy gloves, after it.
It felt like he spent half of his night dressing and undressing, lately.
He unbuckled his vest, (again) and shouldered his way clear of his shirts, (again) both top and thermal. He let his belt simply drop to the floor, uncaring.
Bare chested to the room, he realized the brazier hadn't been lit. Of course. He'd not been in the room all night. The cool air made itself known, on his skin.
He stacked it with more wood than was called for, wanting a high fire.
As he bent to light the kindling, he heard the metallic clanking of the button on the fly of his jeans, as it hit the floor. Already hanging by a few threads, it chose that moment to give up the ghost. Catherine had tugged at it hard, this evening, as she'd helped him (or rather demanded he) undress.
If he'd been allowed to stay in her bed, his pants would still be in one piece. He heard the metal rivet of the button roll, but couldn't catch sight as “to where” by the time it fell silent. A second one followed it. At least that one simply dropped by his feet.
It was just that kind of night. Well, morning, technically.
Disgusted with nearly everything, he let the button lay and simply climbed into his bed. He leaned against the bolster pillows.
The dry kindling caught, and the room changed from being too cool to being too warm. Again, perfect. He knew better than to put that much wood in the brazier, but he’d done it anyway. Now the room would be uncomfortable. Not that he favored being in here, anyway.
He had to get ahold of these feelings. Had to stop resenting so much, now that he had so much more than he'd ever dared to hope for.
But it bothered him. It did. All of it.
The heavy fabric of his jeans gapped open a little down his abdomen as he settled himself further, on the bed. The bed used to be a place of comfort. Now it felt like a place of solitude. Or worse, conscription.
He sighed and stretched his arms up, bringing one down to recline across his head. He flexed his hand, clenching and unclenching a fist, until he let the fingers just hang. Relax. Try to relax. Try. You know you shouldn’t feel this way. It was a mantra he’d been repeating for a while, internally.
He had a right to be with her. He did. He wanted to be. They were harming no one. They were… lovers. Mates? No. “mates” sounded like animals. But the “feeling” of the word was right. True mates did not abandon each other in the middle of the night. He had a right to be with her. He did.
Why then, did every circumstance of his life insist he didn't?
He was thinking about his feelings, and too self-absorbed with his own ill-humor to realize she was standing in the doorway. Then he heard her voice. Her beautiful, blessed voice.
"Vincent? May I come in?"
He looked toward the doorway, "welcome" was inscribed on his features.
"Catherine? But... but I just left you."
"I know.” She seemed hesitant, as she regarded him. “I think… I think I felt your unhappiness, as you did." She entered the room, approving of the picture he made on the wide bed. She'd donned a fleece shirt and jeans, and pulled a travel alarm out of the pocket of her coat, setting it on his side table.
Vincent shook his head at her. Of course. Since they'd become lovers, she'd become more sensitive to him, inside the bond. Not the depth he commanded, of course, but it was definitely "there."
"Can I stay here? Until my alarm rings?" she asked.
He could have kissed her, as she climbed into the bed, kicking off her soft boots before she came.
"You'll have only an hour. You have to go back up, to get ready for work."
"Can I stay here for an hour, then, until my alarm rings?" she asked, tugging him down into a laying position. He wrapped his arms around her, laying with his chest against her back, spooning in the great, wide bed. A bed they'd never made love in.
"You can stay here as long as you like, Catherine," he said, his voice full of the emotions he'd been carrying.
"Good," she sighed happily. He pulled a blanket up over her, but she pushed it down, some. The room really was almost too warm, now. It didn’t matter. It would cool, after a while.
"I love you," he told her.
"I know. I love you, too."
"It makes no sense for you to do this. It makes more sense if I'm the one who leaves."
"Oh, I don't know,” she mused. “You're happier than you were, five minutes ago. So now, so am I. It seems like that makes..." she stifled a yawn, "sense to me." She wrapped her arms overtop his, and planted a kiss on his forearm.
He was happier. Happier because she was here. Happier because they'd broken the habit of him being the one who always had to leave. Happier because her scent was in his nose, again.
"I'm missing a button," he told her.
"Off your shirt?"
"Oh." He felt her smile, against the skin of his arm. "Sorry." She planted another kiss, there.
They were both remembering her impatient tug on his denims, this evening.
“Does that have anything to do with why there’s a bonfire in the brazier?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Probably. I’m missing two buttons, actually.”
“Oh. Sorry twice, then.” Two kisses.
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything." He referred to their tryst as he brushed the sandy hair back from her face. She relaxed against him.
"Catherine?" He knew he was keeping her awake. He couldn't help it.
"I have a... a right to be there. Don't I?"
He felt her squeeze him a little more, the gentle pressure trying to convey more than words could. "With all my heart I want you there,” she said in a sure voice. “And I want you safe. And I know those two things sometimes conflict."
"Mm," he agreed.
Her next question surprised him.
"Do I have a right to be here?" she asked.
"Of course you do. How can you even think...?
"Because we never have been. And you have a dozen teenagers looking up to you as a role model, and that means there are things we're probably not going to do, here. And ... I know it still...embarrasses you, some. I wasn't sure you'd be pleased to see me, here."
That she even doubted it amazed him. And meant they needed to talk, at some point.
“Not embarrassed. Not of you, of us, ever. I don’t know what I am, yet, Catherine, it’s all still… new, somehow.”
“I know,” she said, nuzzling the skin of his arm.
He pulled her close to him even more firmly, letting his face brush against the sweetness of her hair. But for the open doorway and the pairs of jeans still between them, he'd show her just how pleased he was.
He was going to have to speak to Father. Adamantly.
"Sleep. Now it is Friday. Come Below after work and I'll spend all the long night showing you how grateful I am that you are here."
He felt her happiness. Felt her smile, again. She turned her face to him, a little.
“Be sitting up in this bed like you were when I walked in, and I’ll take you up on that, Mister,” she challenged. The words made him want to surge against her, and he knew this was not the time for that. He also knew he would be waiting for her in exactly that posture, when she returned to him, this evening.
“You are not going to get much more sleep, if you don’t stop being magnificent,” he flattered. “We have a right to be here. To be anywhere. Your home. Mine. Someplace else. Anyplace.” He brushed her temple with a soft kiss, and whispered into her ear, “Hurry down, when your work is done. All night, and into the morning. Like before.” He nuzzled her neck in a sultry promise.
"All night? Are we bragging?" she teased. Whatever this was, it was finally settling, between them.
"Come down after work, my beautiful Catherine," he growled in her ear, "and find out."
And she did.
For the September 25th Anniversary, 2014
We all inspire each other.
Special thanks to Sandy Tew, for her amazing artwork.