Chapter 11


Catherine hurried to the door, resenting the intrusion on this special evening with Vincent. She glanced briefly over her shoulder, making sure Vincent was out of sight, as he disappeared onto the balcony.

"Who is it?" she called.

"It's me, Chandler. Open up."

Joe! What on earth was he doing here? Catherine ran her hands briefly through her hair before opening the door. She hoped she didn't look too rumpled from snuggling with Vincent. "Joe, what a surprise. What brings you here?"

Joe, the wise-cracking friend and fellow worker, grabbed Catherine around the waist and lifted her off her feet. "Where the heck have you been, Chandler? I haven't been able to reach you for several days?"

"Just busy, I guess," Catherine lied. She wondered what Joe would think if he knew what really had transpired.

"Jeez, Chandler, what happened to your head? Did you get in a fight, or something?"

Momentarily, Catherine had forgotten about her bruise. It didn't hurt much as long as she didn't touch it, however it must present a veritable kaleidoscopic display of color across her brow, making it look much worse than it actually was. "I hit my head on something. Look, Joe, if you're here to ask me to work this weekend, the answer is resoundingly, no." Was the scenario in Catherine's sedative-induced dream about to become a reality?

"Wouldn't even think of it, Chandler. The whole blooming place is shut down for the holidays. Business is slow and everyone is on vacation except for a few die-hards who insist on showing up for a few hours. Hey, aren't you going to ask me in? I have a little something for you."

Catherine hated being inhospitable to Joe, with whom she had a good rapport on most occasions, but he couldn't have picked a worse time to pay a visit. "I'm sorry, Joe. I'd ask you to stay, except - - -"

"You don't have company, do you? I thought I heard voices when I knocked." Joe tried unsuccessfully to look around either side of Catherine, while she tried just as hard, to block his view by standing directly in front of him. She kept having visions of Vincent, probably freezing his buns off in the wintry cold blasts. " No, no one is here, but actually I was planning to turn in early tonight, so you'll have to excuse me. I'm really sorry."

Although disappointed, Joe managed a smile. "Okay. I guess I should have tried calling you first, but just thought since I was in the neighborhood, I'd stop by. Here, this is for you."

Catherine took the small, gaily-wrapped package Joe handed her. "Joe, you really shouldn't have done this. I don't have anything for you."

"No sweat, Chandler. It's just a small token of my affection. You think maybe we could,… um… get together for a drink after the holidays are over?"

Catherine said, "I'll think about it. Thank you, Joe, and I'm really sorry to be so rude."

"Say no more, Chandler. It's my fault for just popping in on you like this. Well, see you at work next week. Have a great holiday."

"Goodbye, Joe. Same to you." And she stood and waved as Joe ran for the elevator. When he was finally gone, Catherine immediately returned to her living room, looking for Vincent. He was standing just inside the balcony, wearing an expression Catherine had never seen before.

"Perhaps I should have just left you to your company," Vincent remarked in a half-angry tone of voice.

Catherine wasn't quite sure how to handle this situation. Vincent should have known he was her one and only love, and the appearance of a man at her door that he hadn't seen before, should not have made him so testy. "That was just one of my co-workers at the D.A.'s office. He stopped by to deliver a gift for me. He and I are just friends."

Vincent's surly expression did not change. "He must be quite a good friend. Aren't you going to open your gift from him, or would you rather I leave first?"

"Vincent, why are you acting this way?" Catherine was dismayed, as she had not expected jealousy from Vincent, who had never exhibited this side of his character before.

"What way am I acting, pray tell?"

"Like a jealous fool."

Vincent began pacing, a characteristic he always displayed whenever he became frustrated. "Perhaps I am jealous. Why shouldn't I be? A handsome young man comes to your door and gives you a gift, asks if he can come in, wants to have a drink with you after the holidays. Give me a good reason why I should not be jealous."

"Vincent, you were eavesdropping. I thought you were out on the balcony."

"It was too cold standing out there, so I only stayed a minute, then came in and hid behind your drapes."

"Well, to answer your question, you have no reason to be jealous of Joe or anyone else, for that matter. You are the one I love, and always will. Joe and I are just friends." Catherine tried very hard not to give in to her own anger. Surely Vincent knew her heart, and unless he was just trying to give her a bad time, he certainly couldn't be jealous. That wasn't in his makeup.

After pacing several times, back and forth and then around the perimeter of the living room twice, Vincent announced that it was time for him to leave.

"But it's only a little past eight," Catherine protested. "I thought we'd have more hot chocolate and spend some quality time together. Please stay, Vincent."

"I'm not angry with you, Catherine. But I really must go. I just remembered something important that I have to do."

"What's more important than spending time together? We seldom get this opportunity." Catherine was on the verge of tears, but knew it was futile to argue with her lover once he made up his mind. Oh, if only Joe hadn't come to ruin a perfectly good evening. Everything was going so well before that.

"Catherine, listen to me. I may be a little jealous, but I am not angry, and I am not trying to punish you. I really do have something I must attend to. I'm sorry to break up the evening, but I hadn't intended on staying long anyway."

Vincent's expression was now one of sincere contrition, so in a way, Catherine believed him. However she was disappointed and it was difficult for her not to insist that he stay. "Very well, Vincent. I'm sorry it had to end so soon, but I will be seeing you tomorrow?"

Instead of replying, Vincent took her in his arms and held her tightly. Then he gave her one of his "quasi-kisses", where he just brushed her cheek with his lips. When once she asked why he didn't give her a "real" kiss, he was evasive, saying something about his fangs getting in the way. But Catherine felt there was a much deeper, underlying reason for his shyness and hesitancy.

Vincent was always going to be an enigma -- a mysterious and dark stranger who could also be loving, kind and protective in a fatherly sort of way. He was a many-faceted personality that no one, not even Father could always figure out. And now, coupled with all the mysterious happenings of late, where the tunnel folk were acting strange and evasive; and how the bump on her head gave her a dream that was more realistic than surreal, Catherine decided that she would just go wherever life and her fantasies would take her, and stop trying to solve the puzzle that was Vincent.

She watched him as he scurried down the balcony, thankful it had not begun to snow, which made Vincent's mode of travel, balcony-scaling, even more difficult. Then she sighed and closed the curtains against another night of being alone. Inwardly, she again cursed Joe for his untimely visit that seemed to spoil everything. Joe! She had forgotten about his gift, and retrieved it from the coffee table where she had casually tossed it aside, not wishing to annoy Vincent any more than he was. She first poured herself what remained of the hot chocolate, settled down on the couch, and slowly began to unwrap the package.

Just then, the phone rang. Catherine again sighed, got up, and answered the shrill ring that broke into her reverie. "Hello?"

"Hey, Chandler. What did you think of my gift?"

"Oh, hi, Joe. Well, actually I thought I'd wait until morning."

"You weren't asleep yet, were you?"

"No. But had I been, you would have awakened me."

"Sorry, kid. Aw, go ahead and open it now."

Joe, the incorrigible! Catherine did not want to appear unappreciative, but why was he pestering her so much tonight? "Okay. Give me a minute." She set the phone down, not really wanting to open the gift under pressure like this. She wanted to take her time, to savor it, to reminisce a bit. But no -- Joe always marched to a faster drum. Reluctantly, she tore off the paper and stared at his gift in disbelief. It took several minutes before she could regain her composure. She could hear Joe's voice, impatient, over the other end of the phone.

"Chandler, you still there?"

"Joe. I don't know what to say."

"Say you like it."

"I do. It's beautiful, but - - - "

"But what? Hey, that little item cost me six months' salary. If you don't want it, say so now, or forever hold your tongue."

Joe, it's -- it's so sweet of you, but I can't accept this. I really can't."

"Why not? Look, Chandler. I've known for some time, and I'm sure you have, too. We have worked side by side for a long time, but there's more to us than just working buddies or friends. I love you, Chandler."

Catherine was at a loss for words. She never in her wildest fantasies imagined that such a thing could take place. She fervently wished this was just another dream produced by her head injury, and that she would wake up and be able to laugh about it in later years.

"Chandler, speak to me. You still there?"

"Joe, I'm sorry. I - - -"

"You’ve sure acted weird tonight. I thought you'd be thrilled, and instead you act like I gave you a piece of cheap, plastic jewelry instead of a diamond engagement ring!

"Look, Joe. I'm flattered beyond belief. I think the world of you - - -


"I'm in love with someone else. I can't marry you. I'm sorry."

Catherine knew instinctively that her relationship with Joe would never be the same after this. There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. Joe must be feeling overwhelming disappointment. But whatever gave him the idea that he could just walk in here with a ring and expect her to start making wedding plans?

"So who's the lucky guy, if you don't mind my asking?" Joe sounded so matter-of-fact, Catherine could hardly believe his marriage proposal had just been turned down.

"Someone I've known for a long time; someone I've long cherished."

After another long silence, Joe said, "Well, I knew you were seeing someone from time to time. Is it that mysterious guy that you hated to talk about, wouldn't let anyone meet, and always sneaking off somewhere to see?"

"Yes. That's him. His name is Vincent."

"Well, you tell Vincent he'd better treat you right, because if he doesn't, he'll have me to deal with."

Despite the stress this evening had created for her, Catherine had to chuckle inwardly on that one. Joe was certainly no match in strength or ferocity for Vincent. "I'll tell him, but you don't have to worry," Catherine said.

"I'll be by in the morning to take the ring back. I'm sorry, Catherine. I guess I really made a fool of myself. It was a long shot, and I bet on the wrong horse."

"I'm sorry, too, Joe. If I weren't otherwise committed, I'd certainly consider your offer." Catherine felt she had to say something to assuage Joe's pain and embarrassment.

"Well, one man's loss is another man's gain. Good luck, Chandler. Goodbye."

After she hung up the phone, Catherine sunk down on the couch. She gazed at the ring for several minutes, and then put it carefully in its burgundy velvet box and laid it aside. And in that moment, she finally had the answer to her dilemma of what kind of Winterfest gift to give to Vincent.


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