Steed was very pleased with the restaurant Cathy had chosen, a gracious bistro on Berkeley’s North Side that served an excellent cuisine and provided a wine list that even Steed found impressive. Conversation had been equally gracious, if tentative and somewhat brittle: they both danced delicately around one another, feeling out boundaries, not sure how much to reveal or hold back.
Steed learned that Cathy had come to California originally to help with a conference on and special exhibit of early European books that had been organized jointly by the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley and the British Museum. She had stayed on afterwards to do some work in the university libraries and at various museums in San Francisco, where she also volunteered as a docent at the Legion of Honor.
Cathy had asked remarkably few questions of Steed. Not that it mattered all that much; he couldn’t decide anyway whether to be troubled or relieved by this. He had elided over his relationship with Mrs Peel, never mentioning her by name or giving any details of his time with her. But Cathy had been reticent, too. The ghost of old intimacies hung heavy in the air.
When the meal came to an end, they exited the restaurant and stood for a moment on the street outside, each apparently reluctant to let the moment end, but still somehow knowing that it must do so soon. The sound of the Campanile’s clock bell striking two floated down the hill towards them.
“I expect you need to get back to work, Mrs Gale.”
“But I still have some time beforehand. Would you like to see the university? The campus is quite beautiful, and there are very good views from the top of the Campanile.”
Steed agreed, and hesitatingly offered Cathy his arm. He was immensely pleased when she smiled at him shyly and threaded her arm through his.
They walked companionably down Shattuck and up to Oxford Street, where they entered the campus and walked up a path that was shaded by black oaks and redwoods. They followed the path along Strawberry Creek, reminiscing about old times, until they emerged into the sunlight in front of Sather Gate.
Steed wasn’t sure what to feel. Part of him had gone giddy as a schoolboy at her touch, while part was cautious and mindful that Cathy might have some reservations about spending time with him after all these years, especially considering the abruptness of her departure. Frankly, he was feeling a little guarded himself, notwithstanding the current of delight he had been experiencing since the day began.
Finally, they arrived at the Campanile, paid the entrance fee, and then took the elevator up to the deck at the top. Cathy started telling him about the carillon and its history and pointing out various landmarks that they could see around them, but Steed wasn’t really listening. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Even after all these years, even after all that had befallen him since she left, she still had the ability to amaze him, to knock him back on his heels with her beauty and wit and intelligence and strength. It was a rich sensation, though bittersweet; a kind of homecoming, even though deep down he knew that that homecoming was only to be a brief visit and not an arrival at a place of rest. He was surprised to find that he did not find that thought troubling.
Cathy had stopped speaking. She noticed him gazing at her, and gave him an inquiring look. Steed dropped his eyes, then turned away. He put both hands on the stone baluster and leaned on them, looking westward over the view that flowed from the base of the Campanile down through the university, down through the city, and thence into the Bay, which sparkled in the afternoon sun and lapped at the feet of her enclosing peninsulas before streaming through the Golden Gate into the ocean beyond.
Steed did not feel Cathy move up to join him, did not turn towards her until she once again threaded her arm around his. Their eyes met. Cathy seemed troubled, as though she were trying to decide whether to say something or not.
“Steed, I …”
“You needn’t say anything, Mrs Gale,” he said quietly. “There’s really nothing to explain.”
She smiled at him softly and nodded. They stood in silence for a moment, shoulder to shoulder, looking out over the view together. Then Cathy sighed and dropped his arm. She turned to face him.
“Well,” she said, trying to smile. “I really must get back to work.”
“Then I mustn’t keep you,” said Steed.
She nodded. Her eyes sought his, and she searched his face, her expression once again unreadable and shifting.
“Thank you,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “For everything.”
Steed’s blood thrilled to her touch, which was no collegial handshake but an intimate connection, a true acknowledgement of their past together and what it had meant. He smiled gently at her.
“You’re very welcome, Mrs Gale.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, still hand in hand.
“Good-bye, Mrs Gale.”
She dropped his hand so slowly, it might have been a caress. And then she was gone, down from that high perch that faced the edge of a continent and out into the sunlit world of the university.
Steed turned back to look out westward, where he watched Cathy as she lightly tripped down the brick steps at the foot of the Campanile. He was surprised by his own calm. How often had he imagined meeting her again, wondered what a reunion would be like? None of his imaginings had been anything like this, but somehow this felt proper, felt clean and complete.
Reaching the bottom of the steps, Cathy took a right to walk the path that ran along the east side of the library, her graceful form still nearly as lithe as it had been all those years ago, still as breathtaking to him even now. Cathy Gale is a hawk, a falcon, he thought as he watched her determined stride, a thing strong and wild and meant to be free, not belled and jessed, not even in service to what Steed was well convinced had been a deep and passionate love.
Steed watched her go until she rounded the corner and was lost from view. He sighed, then also descended from the Campanile himself. When he reached the bottom of the brick steps he paused to look in the direction Cathy had gone. Once, he might have followed her, found out where she was working, then crept in through a back entrance or open window to surprise her. But not this time. He chuckled and shook his head at the folly of his youthful self, then strode off between the two elegant edifices that flanked the path down through the campus, making his way westward, heading back to the City and the end of his holiday under the piercing blue of a cloudless California sky.