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by Sandy P. Shelton

Catherine walked toward the main hub with a mixture of anticipation and curiosity. Vincent had apparently forgotten about their date and by all rights, she should be angry. But knowing Vincent as well as she did, she knew there had to be some reasonable explanation for his lack of consideration. With determination, she hastened her stride.

Her search led her to Father's study. "Hello, Catherine," he called out.

"Good evening, Father. Have you seen Vincent?"

"No, but I think I know where he is."

When no explanation was forthcoming, Catherine crossed her arms and tapped the toe of her shoe against the floor.

"Oh, I'm sorry. This morning, Vincent found same newborn kittens that had been abandoned. He's been working with them all day. A hopeless cause I'm afraid. So far they've all died except one. Father scratched his chin and stared thoughtfully at something just beyond Catherine. "I've never seen him so obsessed about something before.

"Vincent stood me up for some kittens?"

Father laughed. "I'm sorry my dear, but it does prove my point. It's not like him at all to forget a date with you. I think you'll find him in the kitchen area. He and William concocted some milk to try to feed the kittens."

"Thanks, Father.

When Catherine entered the warm, cozy chamber known as the kitchen she was rendered speechless by the sight before her. Vincent sat cross­legged on the floor amid numerous bottles and droppers cradling a small fury object tenderly in his large hand. When he looked up at her, she saw the tears streaming down his face and her heart ached.

Quietly, she walked over and knelt down beside him. With one hand, she gently stroked Vincent's hair and with the other, she touched the small bundle of fur in his hand. The kitten was dead. "I'm sorry, Vincent."

"Why, Catherine?" he asked as he stared down at the lifeless kitten.

"They just weren't strong enough to survive without their mother. You did all you could."

"I know that. What I don't understand is why any mother could abandon her baby."

Catherine quickly realized that what was bothering Vincent went much deeper than abandoned kittens. "I don't know, Vincent. Usually when a mother abandons her young, there's a reason. We don't always understand it, but something terrible must have happened. It's possible the mother didn't survive the birth or she could have been killed defending her young. Don't judge her too harshly. She meant both the mother cat and Vincent's own mother.

"It's not fair! Their lives had only just begun."

The sight of that small kitten held so lovingly in Vincent's clawed hands was such a striking contrast. Hands capable of ripping a man open with one deadly swipe now gently enfolded the kitten with great tenderness. The tears continued down his fearful face giving it a vulnerability she was sure only a few had ever seen.

"Oh, Vincent. I wish I could make all the hurt go away. All I can do is remind you of the love you found here. Just as Father took you in and loved you, you gave these little orphans the only love they ever knew.

Vincent placed the tiny body next to the others and gently covered them with a small towel. After talking a few moments to regain his composure, he apologized, "I'm sorry about this evening, Catherine.

"No apology necessary. Sitting here with you like this has meant more to me than anything I had planned." Very carefully, she leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

His face, red with embarrassment, turned to her shyly. "Why?"

"Because it takes the noblest of hearts to cry for the simplest of lives."

"Every life is precious, Catherine. No matter how small or how brief."

Again she sensed he was talking about himself. "Vincent, you were a baby when you were abandoned. Surely, you don't remember that?"

"I remember the feeling of utter aloneness. I remember the terror and the cold. It's a feeling I live with every day of my life.

She could feel it in him as he spoke and responded instinctively. Putting her arms around him, she guided his head to gently rest against her breast. "You're not alone, Vincent. You never will be again."

She wasn't sure how long they sat in silence and didn't really care. All she knew was that he needed to be held and comforted by a woman and she wanted to be that woman.

Much later that night, they stood at the entrance below her apartment building. Unexpectedly, Vincent took her hand and kissed it. "Thank you, Catherine.

"You don't have to thank me, Vincent. I'm here for you as you are for me, but I don't want to be your mother! There are other roles in your life I have in mind for myself. Good­night, Vincent."

Vincent watched her disappear into the light in silence, his mind suddenly awash with images of those OTHER roles.

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