Tuesday, January 30, 2018

If We Had No Winter - A Post for Winterfest Online 2018



If We Had No Winter
By Katie Armistead


“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant…” – Anne Bradstreet, Meditations Divine and Moral


“If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can.”
-Anne Bradstreet, To My Dear and Loving Husband



They were calling it a “bomb”, the storm that was approaching New York.  It looked like a hurricane on the satellite images Catherine saw on TV, but it was bringing cold and snow.  It was bringing too much snow, and high winds, and very cold air, and lots of things that would be bad for the city, and bad for those Below when it started to melt.


Catherine was included in those Below these days.  She and Vincent had been formally joined at long last, and she normally lived Below with him.  This week, however, her job had caused her to work too many late nights, and she had to stay in her apartment for several nights.  To top it off, she was coming down with the horrible office cold, which had caused the increase in her workload in the first place.
“Wonderful,” Catherine said to herself as she watched the weather report. “This is going to be bad for everybody.”


Just then, instead of a tap at her window to go with the sudden warmth in her heart, there was a soft, gravelly voice saying “Talking to oneself is never a good sign, Catherine.”


“Vincent!” she exclaimed, and launched herself into his embrace.  “I really needed this tonight!”
“I confess I did as well, Catherine.”  


Vincent drew back from her a little, noticed the glassiness of her eyes, the redness of her nose.  “Catherine, you are catching a cold!”


“Yes, the office crud is catching up with me.  If the weather is as bad as expected tomorrow, I am calling in sick like almost everybody else already is.”


“You should come Below tonight, Catherine.  Let us take care of you.”


“Oh, Vincent, I would hate to bring this crud down there!  Think of the elderly that are sheltering there already because of the coming storm!  This virus could be a real danger to them!”


“Catherine, I doubt you would be around them.  I will keep you in our chamber, in our bed, by force if need be!” This he punctuated with a mock-growl and a squeeze, to let her know he was teasing her.


Catherine giggled.  “Vincent, you certainly know by now that you wouldn’t have to force me!”


“I should hope not! We ARE still newlyweds, after all!” he replied with a laugh.


Such joy they both had in that fact.  FINALLY, finally, they were embarking on the living of their Dream.
“Still, Vincent, I don’t want to chance it if I don’t have to.  I’ll see what the weather is in the morning; if it is as bad as expected, I will come Below, I promise, germs or not!”


“I fear it may well be as bad, if not worse, than the predictions are saying, Catherine.  Already the wind is picking up, and it has an extremely cold edge to it.  Even I had more difficulty than usual getting up here tonight.”


“Then you had better go before it gets any worse, or I will worry myself even sicker about your safety!  Not that I want you to go; I feel so much better here in your arms.”


“I know, Catherine, I know.” Vincent held her even tighter for awhile, then sighed and said, “Promise me you will go to bed now, and not stay up working?  Rest will help you fight the cold.”


“I promise.  See, my briefcase is already all packed up in case I go to the office tomorrow.  There is nothing more in there that I can work on here.  The rest requires research and phone calls,” she told him quite truthfully.  For once, she had no long hours’ worth of work to do at home.  “I was on my way to bed when you came in.  I was just checking the weather one last time.”


“All right, Catherine.  I am glad you won’t be tempted to stay up working.  You need more rest than you get!  Here, I’ll tuck you in, and make my way home before the wind gets any worse.”


“Mmmm.  That sounds good, but I will be tempted to keep you here too long, you know,” she answered with a grin.


“I realize the risk, Catherine, but I am hoping your concern for my safety will win out over our libidos tonight,” he replied, returning her grin.


Vincent got Catherine all properly tucked in, and very properly kissed good night, and fought his way home through the beginnings of the storm. This is going to be worse than they are predicting.  It’s already starting to snow, and they hadn’t predicted that to start until mid morning. 


It was indeed worse than they were predicting.  High winds had already started snapping power transmission lines, and generators were going to be hard put to keep up with demand.  Catherine’s building did not have an emergency generator, and though the heat was produced by natural gas, the blower system and thermostats were run by electricity.  During the night, while she slept, Catherine’s apartment began to grow cold. Yes, it was pretty well insulated, but all that exposed glass on the balcony doors, and the fact that the wind was whipping around and against them, bled off the retained heat pretty quickly.  


The cold was starting to seep into Catherine’s dreams.  She was on an iceberg, looking for Vincent, and Frankenstein’s monster was chasing her.   She woke with a start.
I guess re-reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein last week wasn’t such a good idea.  Man, it’s COLD in here!  Dark, too.  Time to head Below.


She swung her legs to the floor, and was about to stand when a wave of dizziness hit.  Her head felt stuffy, and her ears hurt.  She was also VERY cold. 
Great.  It’s nasty out, the heat and electricity are out, I have to get Below, only I’m waaay too dizzy to make it down 18 flights of stairs, plus the basement steps, not to mention the ladder.


She flopped back down on the bed, cuddled up in the covers and tried to think of a way to get help getting Below.  She was still very tired, it was very early in the morning, and she decided she had time to snooze a bit more, if she could, and then call in, and maybe by then, she’d be able to walk Below on her own.

While she slept, though, she developed a fever, and she was even more congested. 


Vincent woke with a start.  Something was VERY wrong.  The bond told him Catherine was sleeping, but her sleep felt very troubled, like she was very ill.  With the weather as it was, there was no way he could safely get to her now, not to mention it would soon be too light, and she’d have to come Below through her building anyway.  He dressed quickly and decided to speak with Father.  Perhaps he could come up with an idea to get Catherine Below.  She really SHOULD have come Below last night. 


“Ah, Vincent, you’re up early, aren’t you?” Father asked as Vincent walked into the study.


“Yes.  Catherine woke me up,” he replied.


“She’s Below then? That’s a good thing.  That weather up there is much worse than first expected.  There are massive power outages, and many of our Helpers are making their way here to at least get a hot meal and warm up a bit.  Did Catherine come down late last night?”


“No, Father, she is still Above.  What woke me was a disturbance in our bond.  She is very cold, and, I fear, too ill to make it down here on her own.  That is why she wanted to stay Above, hoping she wouldn’t have to come Below bearing that awful respiratory virus that’s been playing havoc with her office.”


“Oh, dear.  Well, Peter is on his way down.  He is not having office hours today, obviously, and has offered his services here.  We will send him up with someone to help in case Catherine needs more than a little assistance.  I’m sure he’ll be glad to go check on his errant Goddaughter," Father said.


“That’s an excellent idea, Father.  Peter will arouse no suspicion if anyone sees him; they know he’s been to Catherine’s apartment many times. “


About this time, Peter walked in to the study, and greeted Father and Vincent.


“It truly is blowing up a gale out there,” Peter said.  “I’m grateful for the chance to stay here and help out.  Even my power went out!”


Vincent turned to Peter and said, “We are glad to have you, Peter, but there is one more trip Above I’d ask you to make, if you don’t mind…”


“Don’t tell me that stubborn Goddaughter of mine is still up there,” Peter exclaimed.  “No worries, Vincent, I’ll drag her down here by the hair if I have to!”


“Take someone with you, Peter.  The reason she isn’t down here is that she is ill.  I tried to get her to come Below last night, but she was adamant that she didn’t want anyone to catch the 'Office Crud', as she termed it, that she has apparently caught.  The bond feels off to me; I believe she is cold and dizzy, perhaps even now trying to figure out how to get herself down here safely.  She’s awake, but things seem much fuzzier than usual.”


“No doubt she has a fever, and her ears are probably infected.  That girl just will NOT take care of herself! I thought being married to you would make her more interested in taking care of herself, Vincent.  I guess I’ll have to have a little talk with her.  Let me grab a volunteer and I’ll head up there. You’re going to wait by the threshold for us, I suppose,” Peter finished with a grin.


“Of course, “ Vincent replied.


While this was taking place, Father had discreetly sent for Kanin, who appeared in the study just as Peter was about to ask who he could commandeer to go get Catherine. 


“You needed my help, Father,” Kanin asked.  


“Yes, Kanin.  It seems Catherine was so determined to protect us from her cold that she stayed Above last night, and now is too dizzy to get down here herself.  Vincent can’t go, for obvious reasons, so would you please go with Peter in case Catherine needs more assistance than he alone can offer?”


“Sure thing.  Are you ready, Peter?  I know she won’t get mad at me, especially if you are the first one she sees!”


“She will likely be very glad to see both of you,” Vincent interjected.   “She was going to come down this morning, but from the bond I gather she is too dizzy to trust herself alone on all those stairs.  The power is likely out, and the elevator not working.”


“Well, let’s go, then, she’s probably freezing, “ Kanin observed, and the three walked out to go to Catherine’s threshold.

Phone.  That was the phone.  Ringing.  Catherine grabbed for it, and luckily got it before the world went sideways again and she fell on the bed.  She had managed to find her warm fuzzy robe and slippers, and got those on, but that was about it.


“Hello,” she managed to say.


“Oh, no.  You’ve got the crud, on top of this awful weather; well, then the news that the office is closed and we are ordered to stay away until further notice will be welcome to you, eh Radcliffe?”Joe’s voice sounded disgustingly normal and healthy.


“Yeah.  On both counts, you’re right, boss. I’ll see you after the thaw,” she said.


“OK.  Take care, Cath.  Call if you need anything.”


“Will do.  If you call and I’m not here, it means Peter probably found a way to get me to his place where he can keep an eye on me.  Ever since Dad died, Peter has taken over for him.”


“That’s good, Radcliffe.  Spreads the worry out among more of us.  Behave yourself, and get well!”


“Thanks, Joe.  I will.  Bye.”


“Bye, Cath.”


She hung up the phone and was considering dialing Peter’s number when she heard a key in the front door lock.

Peter opened the door, but the chain was on.  “Cathy,” he called, “it’s Peter, come take the chain off the door."


“I’ll be right there,” she called as best she could with her sore throat and froggy voice,  and made her way to the door, hanging on to furniture, walls, and the door frame.


She got the chain off, and Peter and Kanin came in.


“Oh, you do have the crud, don’t you, Sweetie?” Peter observed.  He propelled her to the couch, opened his bag, and did an evaluation right there.  “Uh, huh, it’s in your ears for sure, and you have a fever.  “ He gave her some aspirin, having asked Kanin to bring a glass of water from the kitchen, and he gave her a decongestant also.  “That should help the fever and the ear troubles.  Let’s get you Below.  Anything you need to bring along?”


“No, just myself.  Most of my things are in our chamber now, anyway.  Thanks so much for coming, both of you,” Catherine replied.


“It’s my pleasure, Catherine, to help you, since you have helped Livvie and me so much, and also, helping you helps Vincent, and that is something any of us Below would gladly do,” Kanin replied, and he helped her up and took her arm.  


Peter took her other arm, and they got her out the door, which Peter carefully locked, and proceeded to guide her down to the threshold. They were fortunate that most of the other residents were either already gone, or bundled up in front of their fireplaces for the duration, so they saw no one on the stairs.


“Vincent’s waiting, isn’t he?”


“Yes , Cathy, of course he is,” Peter replied, smiling.

Catherine smiled too.  “I knew he would be.  I hate doing this to him, making him worry like this.  I really didn’t want to chance any of the older Helpers catching this stuff.  It’s awful.”

“He knows that, Cathy.  He loves you though, so of COURSE he’s going to worry.  You won’t likely infect anyone else, anyway, since your chamber now has the separate bedchamber, and I don’t imagine you’ll feel like leaving it until you’re no longer contagious,” Peter replied with a wink and a smile.

“Vincent told me last night I wouldn’t be allowed out of bed.” Promises, promises, she thought, but did not say.


Peter and Kanin exchanged a knowing smile.  This being married stuff was old hat to them, but still very new to Cathy and Vincent.  No matter that they had been committed to one another almost from the beginning, being married made it official, made it expected, that you be responsible for and to each other.  Also, it was rather expected that when you are newlyweds, you may be rather, um, fond of any excuse for privacy.


When they got to the threshold, Vincent was there, at the top of the ladder, and opened the door as soon as they had moved the boxes.  

“Catherine,” he said, as Peter and Kanin helped her down to the doorway.


“Vincent, “ she replied, gladly snuggling into his embrace as he carefully turned her so she could climb down the ladder in front of him, so he could keep her from falling.


At the bottom of the ladder, as Peter and Kanin climbed down and secured the secret door, Vincent scooped Catherine up and started toward the hub.  “Your hands are like ice! Was the heat out? “ he asked.


“Yes, it still is.  I gathered the blankets around me and shuffled to the closet and got my robe and fuzzy slippers out.  It was hard; I had to go from the bench at the end of the bed to the dresser, and hang on to the dresser while I opened the closet, but I made it!”


 “Yes, so you did.  We’ll get you tucked into bed with some of those foot warmers that Mouse and Mary collaborated on,” Vincent replied as they were nearing their chamber.


Mouse had found some smooth river stones, and Mary had made some insulated bags to fit them.  When the stones were heated by the kitchen hearth, they could be tucked into one of the bags and put down under the covers at the foot of the bed to safely heat a nice space for one's toes.


“That sounds lovely.  I feel like I could sleep for a week,” Catherine responded.


They entered their chamber to find Mary just coming out of the bedchamber.  “I’ve got the foot warmer already in place, Catherine.  Peter tapped a message after he got back down that you would probably need that.  Father will check on you later, as you know that though he trusts Peter, he feels you are his patient now!”


“Thank you, Mary.  I know Father feels responsible for me now, too, and that’s all right.  You are all my family now.  Officially, even!  I feel responsible for all of you, too,” Catherine answered.


Mary smiled and patted her shoulder, and went on her way. “Thank you, Mary,” Vincent called after her.
As he tucked Catherine into bed, Vincent noticed that she was indeed, quite fatigued.  “You sleep now, Catherine.  I’ll come back in a little while and rest with you.”


“Poor Vincent, you didn’t sleep very well last night either, did you?”


“No, Catherine, I’m afraid I didn’t, but Father told me I could take the day off teaching, and I should take care of you.  The children are helping settle all the Helpers that want to shelter from the storm, so there are no classes.”


“Well, I am glad we are able to shelter at least some of the Helpers.  You know where the checkbook is if Father needs to use Margaret’s bequest for anything, right?”


“Yes, Catherine, and never fear, he will use it if we need it.  Sleep now.” Vincent smoothed the hair back from her face, ensured the blankets were tucked around her, and went to change clothes. 


He stood by the bed, watching her sleep.  It was all still so new in so many ways, this “married” status he found himself in.  He looked down at his hands, and saw the gold band on his finger. 

That ring.

The weight of it.

The promise it represented.

Its truth: That he was hers and she his.


The responsibility it represented.


It was more than just his right , it was his duty to be with her in this as in all things.  Not that long ago, he would have run from being this close to her, even though she needed his physical warmth like this.  It was a glorious and also daunting thing to actually BE as responsible for her as he had always FELT himself to be.  


That she felt responsible for his well being also went without saying.  She took every precaution to protect him, and this world.  If only she would see taking care of herself and her health as part of taking care of him – because it was.


He knew she did many things Above to protect both him and his world, not least of which was keeping herself out of physical danger as much as possible.  Her new job preparing cases for trial saw to that.  She still ran herself ragged, working too hard, doing too much, and not letting him and his family take care of her.


He sighed as he carefully got into bed, and gathered her close without waking her.  He looked at her next to him.  So cold, so worn out, so determined not to be a burden, not to appear to be getting “special treatment.” Never mind that she was one of them, and also a Helper who did far more than most realized, she felt she couldn’t “impose” on this world with her needs.  That would end.  He would see to it.  She would be made to understand that he and their family here WANTED to take care of her, NEEDED to give back at least a little to one who so unselfishly gave so much to them.


He nuzzled her hair a bit, inhaling that wonderful fragrance of herbs, flowers, and Catherine that had enchanted him since the beginning.  The physical closeness was no longer a source of fear to him, but a source of chagrin, sometimes. He often felt, since they had married, as though he couldn’t keep his hands off of her.  She seemed equally unable to keep from touching him whenever they were in the same room. Well, they WERE still newlyweds, but all of his hard-won self control seemed to have fled with the discovery that Catherine was right about their bond, that he simply COULDN’T hurt her, even when “lost” in passion, because ALL of him loved her.


She had stopped shivering long ago. He held her close to him, his sense of her conveying the rest and recuperation taking place.  Everything in both of them improved when they were close like this.  He reflected that there were things he knew about her now that he hadn’t before – the taste of the skin at the nape of her neck, the delicacy of her ears, and how his nibbling at them could send both fever and chills  through her, and make her moan with pleasure and reach back for him, if he snuck up behind her and “assaulted” her earlobe.


He now knew how completely icy her feet could be at night, and that she loved to place them on his person, his legs or his back, particularly, in order to warm them. She now knew that he snarled when surprised like that.


He looked at her oh' so peaceful face.  She was warm now, of course she was.  She was at last home' safe, in his arms, in their bed, in the heart of a community that loved them both.


They slept soundly for several hours.  Around 4:30 in the afternoon, a loud growling noise was heard in the chamber.  Catherine giggled.  


“Catherine,” Vincent said groggily, sleep releasing him more slowly than it did her this once. “Was that YOU?”


“I’m afraid my stomach knows it’s almost dinner time, and that we slept right through lunch.  Also, I didn’t have breakfast, my throat was too sore,” she answered with a shy smile.


“Well, allow me to dress, and I shall see about getting a tray from William for us.  I intend to stay here with you as much as possible, the better to enforce the prescribed bed rest!” He leaned over and kissed her forehead before getting up and gathering his clothing.


She waited until he left, and then ran into the private bath chamber they shared with Father in order to use the facilities.  When she was finished, and made her way back to the bedchamber, she heard a familiar voice in the main chamber. “Cathy?  Are you decent? Father and I would like to take a look at you,” Peter called.


“Come on in, “ she answered as best she could.


The two doctors found her sitting up in bed, with a robe around her shoulders, and pillows propping her up.  


“Vincent came by the study on his way to get your dinner tray.  We told him we’d like to look in on you, see how things are with your cold,” Father explained.


“I’m glad you did.  I am hoping I haven’t depleted my resources too much this time.  I really have to start stepping up and taking better care of myself.  I just can’t stand to see Vincent so worried,” Catherine said.
“Well, Honey, if you recall the conversation we had a couple of days ago, perhaps I should take that blood sample we discussed.  It’s one reason I only gave you aspirin and a very mild decongestant this morning,” Peter replied.


Catherine nodded, and looked at Father.
“It’s all right, Catherine.  I know Peter is your primary physician.  Is the blood test for what I suspect it might be?”


“If you are thinking pregnancy test, then you are correct,” Catherine replied with a shy grin.  “I’m late, and I haven’t been using precautions for the last several weeks, ever since Vincent and I discussed the possibility of children.  Thank you for reassuring him, by the way.”


“It was the least I could do, Catherine, after all the years I spent being wrong about everything.  He is indeed more human than anything else, and I see no reason why you shouldn’t try to have a family.  Peter and I will watch you closely, of course, but I have a feeling everything will be fine.”


Catherine held her arms out to Father, and he hugged her.  “Now, let’s get some basic vital signs, and Peter will draw some blood, all right?”


Catherine nodded, and the exam and procedure were completed fairly quickly.  

“Well, you definitely have an upper respiratory virus.  We’ll just prescribe the usual rest and lots of fluids for now, and when we have the test results, we’ll know what else we can give you, if you need anything,“ Peter said as they prepared to leave.

“Thank you both.  Nobody ever had better care,” Catherine told them.

“Ah, here’s Vincent with your dinner. You two both take it easy and rest, and remember, Catherine, LOTS of fluids,” Father said as they left.


“So, what’s the verdict?” Vincent asked as he placed the tray on a table near the bed.

“I definitely have an upper respiratory virus, and they took a blood sample, so we should know if our suspicions are correct,” Catherine answered him.

He looked at her from under his bangs as he was handing her a cup of tea. “I don’t have ‘suspicions’, Catherine.  I know.”

“You can feel the baby? Already?”  

“I can’t really feel the child, Catherine, but I know something in the bond has changed; there is a new energy present.  As time passes, it gets more defined.  I am sure when the child is developed enough, I will sense him or her,” he said, looking at her with the most profound joy in his eyes.

“And you can still feel me through the bond, the same as always?”

“Yes.  So it would seem my nightmare was in no way prophetic, thank goodness.  I would not be able to stand not feeling you in my heart, Catherine.”

“I wouldn’t want to be parted from the warmth you place in my heart either, Vincent.  I am so very, very sorry I pushed myself too hard this week.  I never want to worry you, and I especially don’t want to take any chances with my health now,” she told him.


“I was thinking to implore you to consider how taking care of yourself is part of taking care of me, Catherine, to remember our promises to one another when we were joined.  It would seem you have indeed been thinking that perhaps now you can let me, AND our family, take care of you once in a while,” Vincent replied.

“Yes, Vincent, I need to stop feeling like a burden.  I know that you love me, and our family all love me, and I suspect we will have to fight Father, Mary, Jamie, Mouse, and a few others for the chance to care for our own offspring, at least for awhile,” she said with laughing eyes.

“Let’s finish our dinner, Catherine, and then I’ll read to you awhile. 


“That sounds like a plan.  You know 'The Doctors' will probably show up again as soon as that blood test is done.  I think Father is already pretty certain, himself, though.  Mary probably suspects something, too.  I’ve caught both of them looking at me with little knowing smiles lately.”


“Probably so, Catherine, they have both shepherded quite a few  women through pregnancy and child birth.  They are happy for us.”


“Yes, I know they are,”   Catherine said with a smile. “Thank you, Vincent.  Thank you for loving me, for caring for me, and for this child.  I am so happy, I don’t even mind really that I caught the office crud! I am the luckiest of women.  No woman anywhere has a husband as wonderful as mine!”


That earned her a very nice kiss, and a cuddle.  Vincent read to her, and they both fell asleep with their hands joined on her belly. They were one little family in the midst of their tunnel family, safe, warm, and happy.


They had survived many storms to get to this point, and though winter still blasted the world Above, all was right in the world Below.  


Better than good, better than best.


Sweet cozy dreams to you all!
Katie


Special thanks to JoAnn Baca for always being my editor. You're the best, JoAnn!

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2 Comments:

At February 3, 2018 at 6:56 AM , Blogger OKGoode said...

Lovely, Katie! Thank you!!

 
At February 3, 2018 at 1:19 PM , Blogger tatakay said...

Wonderful fic! Loved it!

 

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