A Winterfest Carol
T’was the night before Winterfest,
and all through the Tunnels not a resident was stirring, not even Mouse. But
one was very unhappy.
was in bed, wiping away a tear as he tried desperately to sleep. Earlier that
evening, he had been sharing a wonderful evening with Catherine
that had suddenly gone horribly wrong. Even now he still couldn’t believe what
For the first time in anyone’s
memory, the preparations for Winterfest had gone smoothly. Not one single last
minute crisis had occurred. William had finished the food preparations well ahead
of schedule, the Great Hall had been cleaned and set up and all the candle
deliveries had been done on time. Finding himself with unexpected leisure time,
Vincent chose to spend it with the one
person he most wanted to see: Catherine.
He and Catherine had been sitting
on her balcony in the pleasant evening air. Though winter, the evening had been
unseasonably warm. They had been reading “The Scarlett Pimpernel” by Baroness Emma Orczy.
A departure from their usual fare, it had still proven an entertaining novel.
The problem had come at the end of the novel when the lovers were reunited. The
last few chapters had been quite romantic and Vincent
had paused to stare longingly down at Catherine
cuddled to his side. She simply hadn’t been able to resist reaching up to brush
her lips gently over his cheek. Unfortunately, he’d reacted badly.
“Don’t,” Vincent pleaded. “Please
“For heaven’s sake, Vincent, it was
just a little kiss…on the cheek, no less!” Catherine protested in exasperation
as she reached over to touch his face.
“I’m sorry; I should go,” he
stammered, anxious to make his escape.
But Catherine’s patience with
Vincent had finally run out. “Three years, and you still won’t let me give you
a little kiss on the cheek? Is it so hard to accept even the smallest gesture
from me? Honestly, sometimes I think you show everyone else your affection but
me!” she fumed. She actually wanted
to cry; but she’d done it so many times, she had no tears left. The only thing
that remained was a deep burning ire and resentment at Vincent’s
continued reluctance to move forward, in spite of everything they’d been
through and shared.
“Who do you think you are; trying
to decide how things will be between us solely by yourself? What about me?
Don’t I have any say so? You don’t want me to touch you, Vincent?
Fine! Have it your way. From now on, you get exactly what you asked for!”
Immeasurably hurt, and more than
a little angry, Catherine stomped back into her apartment and slammed the
French doors so hard that they rattled on their hinges. Her intense anger
toward him abruptly closed off their Bond.
Quickly, she drew the curtains as well, effectively shutting him out. He had
been left standing there on the balcony in silence.
Sighing heavily, he wiped away
another tear. Suddenly he became aware of another presence in the chamber. As
he sat up, snarling, a rumpled form in a baseball cap stepped out from the
“Hello, Vincent,” he greeted him,
not in the least intimidated.
gasped, his mouth open in shock. It was Kristopher Gentian!
“How did you get in here?”
merely rolled his eyes. “Come on, Vincent.
We aren’t going to play that game, are we? You’re not a skeptical lawyer like Catherine. You know exactly how I got in here. I’m a ghost. Hope you liked the painting, by the
way. It was one of my best!” He said, gesturing to the canvas on Vincent’s wall.
“Yes, it is.” Vincent conceded,
willing to play along for the moment. “Then, I’ll ask another question. Why are you here?”
“Why to set you straight, of
course,” Kristopher replied genially with an engaging smile.
“Set me straight?” Vincent asked as he rose to his feet, towering over
the shorter man.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll figure it
out,” Kristopher replied blithely. “Just think of me as your ‘Jacob Marley’
for the evening. But please, Vincent,
do us both a favor. Let’s skip the whole ‘There’s more of gravy than grave
about you.’ nonsense. You know I’m real, so let me do what I came here for.
You’re going to be visited by three spirits tonight.”
“Yep, just like old Scrooge. But
they’re here to help you.”
“Help me with what?”
“Now, that would be telling,”
Kristopher joked, but then became very quiet. “Seriously, Vincent,
go with them. This is important. There’s a great deal at stake; and not for
“What do you mean?” Vincent asked anxiously.
“Sorry, my time’s up. Just be
ready, Vincent,” Kristopher said as he backed into the shadows again.
cried as he tried to follow; but only the shadows remained. Sighing once again,
Vincent returned to his bed and sat
down heavily. He was still quite stunned and mystified by what had just
occurred. After a time, he fell asleep.
Vincent awakened to the feeling
of another presence in his chamber once again. “Who’s there?” he called,
peering into the shadows.
“Who do you think, lunkhead?” a
voice shot back. Vincent sat up and
smiled without thought. Only one person had ever called him that.
“Who else?” But the Devin who stepped from the shadows was not the mature
world traveler who had departed with Charles
months before. This was the cocky, young, teenaged Devin of Vincent’s youth.
Once again, Vincent gaped in shock.
you doing, little bro?” the youthful vision quipped. “Trying to catch flies?”
I don’t understand.” Vincent said.
“Well, who were you expecting;
the ghost of Christmas Past?”
“Something like that,” Vincent replied
“Well, come on!” Devin called as
he turned to head out of the chamber. “Jeez, Vincent, will you hurry up
already? You always were the slowest!”
rapidly slipped on his boots and grabbed his cloak as they headed out into the
tunnels. Strangely, the familiar corridors were filled with shadows and mist
that made them feel positively alien. It left Vincent
After a short walk, Vincent found himself on a stone mezzanine in the
Great Hall overlooking what appeared to be a Winterfest celebration in full
swing. He gaped in astonishment since the Great Hall was nowhere near his
chambers. It also didn’t have a stone mezzanine.
grinned at the lively celebration. But his eyes widened as he recognized a small
child dashing with several others through the crowd. It was him as a child!
“Children! Slow down!” a much
younger Father admonished. “This is the Great Hall, not a race course!”
“Oh, Father, let them play!” a
red haired William bellowed back. “It’s Winterfest!”
continued to watch from his perch high Above, the carbon copy of his guide, a
teenaged Devin, cornered the younger Vincent and presented him with a Winterfest gift.
“I remember this,” Vincent
exclaimed. “This was the last Winterfest before you left. You gave me that
travel book with all those pictures. I still have it; it’s on the shelf in my
chamber!” With the wisdom that comes
from age, Vincent looked upon the
scene below with new understanding.
“You were planning to leave even back
then,” he whispered softly. “What happened?”
The teen Devin
next to him nodded slowly in affirmation. “There was a girl. We’d been meeting
in the park for months. Her family worked in a carnival, and they were headed
South. I thought she loved me, but she didn’t.”
“You could have come back,”
snorted derisively. “Right, and listen to Father’s lectures for months
afterward? Not hardly! You know how he
Unfortunately, Vincent did. Father had always been stubborn and unyielding
where his sons were concerned.
“So you stayed away,” Vincent
“Yeah,” Devin agreed. “It was
easier. I’m sorry for that, little brother. But it really had nothing to do
with you. Come on, we have to go.” He pivoted and headed back into the misty
tunnels, leaving Vincent no choice but
In an instant, they were in the
huge foyer of a large and imposing house. Several doorways led off the room,
but its focal point was a sweeping staircase. Minimal light indicated the very
late hour. After a moment, Vincent
became aware of a small frame on the bottom step of the huge staircase. The
imposing steps positively dwarfed the little child that sat crying at its base.
Though he couldn’t say why, the child’s tears tore at Vincent’s heart, and he
had to restrain himself from going to comfort her.
“It’s okay; she can’t see you,”
Devin informed him. Cautiously, he moved closer, kneeling beside the little
girl. Just then, she lifted her head up, and Vincent’s heart froze in his chest
as a familiar pair of grey-green eyes looked right through him.
“Catherine,” he intoned
reverently. He raised a hand as if to touch her.
“I don’t understand,” Vincent
“This was her home. After her
mother died, her father sold it and moved them both into the city. They’re
leaving tomorrow. That’s why she’s crying.”
“But why is she here alone?
Surely they haven’t left her by herself,” Vincent protested.
“No. Her father is here up in his
study. But all the servants are gone, and he thinks Catherine’s in bed. He
doesn’t know she’s down here.” Devin
Catherine lowered her head, and
the tears began to fall again.
“We have to leave now.” Devin said.
“We can’t just leave her like
this!” Vincent countered anxiously.
Her tears were tearing into him like claws.
“Why not?” the teen Devin replied
callously. “It isn’t the first time she’s cried alone; won’t be the last
either.” With those cryptic words, he began walking, once again forcing Vincent
to follow, albeit reluctantly.
would have said more, but he stopped short as he recognized his surroundings.
They were now in the tunnels again, directly outside Mary’s chamber.
“What are we doing here?” Vincent asked.
“You’ll see, or hear actually,
soon enough.” Devin grinned
“It’s not fair!” A childish
girl’s voice whined plaintively. Vincent paused for a moment before stepping to
the doorway of the chamber to see if the voice belonged to who he thought it
Inside the chamber, Mary was packing a suitcase as young Lisa stood in the corner pouting.
you should be happy. This is a great opportunity for you.” Mary admonished gently.
pretty face became churlish. “That what everyone claims; but I know the real
reason! Father blames me for what happened with Vincent!
It’s not my fault he’s Father’s pet!”
Mary cried in outrage.
“I’m sorry, Mary,” Lisa replied,
her face a picture of false remorse. “I didn’t mean that. But it really isn’t
my fault!” she protested with cloying pathos. “It was Mitch’s
idea. He had this necklace he got Above; it was real pearls! He said if I just
teased Vincent a bit and strung him
along a little that he would give it to me. He just wanted to teach Vincent a lesson he said; that’s all. So you see; it
wasn’t me. I didn’t do anything wrong at all!”
But the look on Mary’s face told Vincent
she wasn’t buying Lisa’s insincere
“Lisa, I have always known you
were a bit self-centered, but until today I never realized that you were also
capable of being quite cruel. I think Father is right in sending you away. You
don’t belong here Below anymore. It would be best for everyone if you were to
The mist swirled up again and the
“I never knew. Mary never told me,”
Vincent said mildly.
shrugged in response. “Why would she? You know how much Mary
loves all the children in her care, you especially. She saw no reason to tell
you. She thought it would only cause you more pain.”
Vincent sighed, and then blinked
as he realized he had returned to his chamber. Frantically, he looked for Devin, only to find he was alone once again.
collapsed into his chair, his mind reeling from all that he had just
experienced. He must have dozed off again, because he was forced awake by the
sensation of a presence in his chamber once more. But he was taken aback by the
person who now stepped from the shadows; it was none other than Elliot Burch.
The two men regarded each other with an adversarial glare for several moments,
each sizing up the other. Neither seemed particularly pleased to see the other.
Though Vincent’s conscious mind knew that the person confronting him couldn’t
possibly be the real Elliot Burch, it didn’t stop the feelings of jealousy and
resentment that arose in him at the sight of the elegantly dressed man.
broke the silence first. “I guess I was probably the last person you expected.”
‘That’s putting it mildly,”
Vincent replied, frowning.
“Let’s get this over with,”
Elliot proclaimed bluntly as he headed out into the tunnels. Vincent followed behind warily. They went a short way
and abruptly emerged into a room ablaze with light. VincentVincent
sighed in relief.
“Where are we?” Vincent asked.
‘The mayor’s annual reception.
Everyone who’s anyone is here. See for yourself.” Vincent’s
eyes followed the direction Elliot
indicated. At the same moment, a low, gentle laugh reached him through the
ambient noise of the surrounding crowd and sent a shiver up his spine. He would
know that sweet voice anywhere: it was Catherine.
Without a second thought, Vincent made
his way quickly through the crowd and soon found himself at Catherine’s side. A tall, dark haired man stood
“Aww, come on, Radcliffe. Let me
take you to dinner, just for old time’s sake.”
smiled softly to take the sting out of her words. “Sorry, Joe.
I’ve got plans.”
“Better than dinner with me?”
“‘Fraid so,” she smiled back.
Someone called loudly from across the room, summoning Catherine’s
“Catch you later, Cathy,” Joe
quipped as he went to join the person who called him.
stood next to her, drinking in the lovely sight in front of him. Catherine was
the picture of elegance and grace, draped in a lovely, beaded jade cocktail
dress that highlighted the green of her eyes. Her honeyed hair was simple and
loose; her only adornment the crystal he had given her. To Vincent, she was a vision of perfection.
“You’re thinking she belongs here,”
Vincent started; it was as if
Burch could read his mind.
“You aren’t paying attention.
As he did, Vincent
noticed that Catherine kept glancing
at her watch and looking longingly out the window at the night sky. A small,
secretive smile kept crept onto her lips.
“She’s just waiting until she can
get away without causing too many questions. She has somewhere else she really
wants to be; on her balcony,” Elliot informed him softly.
Vincent couldn’t mistake his
meaning. Bewildered, Vincent looked
from Catherine to the surrounding
crowd as if trying to make sense of it all.
sighed heavily. “You still don’t understand, do you? Come on, maybe our next
stop will make it clear for you.”
wanted to stay, but knew he had to see this strange journey through to its end.
With great trepidation, he turned to follow his guide. In a flash, they were
back in the tunnels, directly outside Father’s chamber. He sat, wearing his
reading glasses, hunched over his desk as he carefully scrutinized a paper in
front of him.
“Father,” Mary admonished as she
entered from the opposite direction. “Are you still up? It’s late; you should
be in bed. We all have a big day tomorrow.”
“I’ll go soon, Mary. I’m just trying to finish up this new sentry
schedule before Winterfest starts. I won’t have time later,” Father replied.
‘I thought you were going to ask
Vincent to do that,” Mary protested.
Father hesitated before
answering. “I was, but when he returned from visiting Catherine
he seemed quite upset. I decided not to bother him with it.”
‘But you know what Peter said at your physical last week.”
“Yes, he said I was in good
health.” Father asserted stubbornly.
merely rolled her eyes. “He said you were in good health for a man of your age. He also said that you need to start slowing
down. You push yourself far too much. It’s time you start letting others take
over some of your responsibilities.”
“I’m fine, Mary.
You worry too much,” Father scoffed.
“Perhaps,” Mary conceded. “I hope
nothing is seriously wrong between Catherine
“I’m not sure. I didn’t ask Vincent. I have found lately it’s better if I don’t.
Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if Vincent and Catherine had
never met,” Father sighed idly. To
Father’s utter astonishment, Mary pounced on him immediately with the ferocity
of a mother tiger protecting her cub.
“Jacob Wells, how dare you even
make such a comment? That young woman is the best, most generous helper we have
ever had! She’s even risked her life to help preserve our community! She is the
best thing to come into our tunnels, and Vincent’s life, in a very long time,
even if you’re too stubborn to admit it! Vincent is a grown man, and it’s about
time you woke up to that fact! He’s more than capable of taking over some of
your duties, and he deserves a chance at happiness and a life of his own with
Catherine. They belong together, and if you’re so blind that you can’t see what
everyone else around here so obviously can, then you aren’t the man I’ve come
to know and respect for the past thirty years.”
After delivering her dramatic
speech, Mary turned and stormed out, leaving Father literally speechless in her
wake. Vincent could sympathize. He was
taken aback himself. Mary had never
spoken to Father in such a way before.
“She’s not the only one who feels
that way, you know. Many of your tunnel family love and respect Catherine
almost as much as you do,” Elliot informed Vincent softly as he turned to
depart again. “We have one more stop to make.”
The pair returned to the misty
hallways, only to suddenly emerge in Catherine’s apartment in her bedroom.
Directly in front of them, Catherine
sat on the edge of her bed, her head down as her body shook with great, gasping
sobs. In her hands rested her precious crystal. “Why, Vincent?”
she whispered only for her own ears. “Why is it so hard for you to show your
love for me?”
Suddenly, a flash of anger
crossed her face, and for a moment, it seemed as if she might fling the crystal
away from her against the wall. But just as her hand drew back, she paused, pulling
the crystal to her chest as she curled up on the bed into a tiny ball and began
to cry again in earnest.
Catherine’s tears tore at
Vincent’s insides, and he rounded on Elliot Burch in ferocious anger. “Why have
you brought me here? To torture me? Don’t you think I know how I much Catherine suffers because of me? I can feel it every minute of every day!”
‘Yet still you don’t understand,”
Elliot countered sarcastically.
“Understand?” Vincent snarled angrily back. “What is there to
“Look at her! Do you honestly
believe you could hurt her this much if she didn’t love you with every fiber of
her being? All the others before you; Stephen Bass, Tom Gunther, even me…we
were nothing to her! None of us ever knew her, not like you do! You share her
soul; you love her for all that she is, not just the small part she showed us!”
Elliot began to walk around the bed
slowly as he looked directly at Catherine.
“I used to lie awake nights
wondering about you, envying you.” he continued.
was shocked by that idea.
“Yes. Does that surprise you? Oh,
I knew there was someone else, even when Cathy agreed to marry me. I knew she
didn’t love me; it was obvious. There had to be another reason she agreed to my
nodded sorrowfully. “She was doing it to protect me, and my family Below.”
“She was willing to sacrifice
everything, even her own future for you. God, what I wouldn’t give to have a
woman love me like that! Wealth isn’t all it’s made out to be, Vincent. I’d trade all of mine if Cathy had looked at
me the way she looks at you,” Elliot finished bitterly.
“She deserves more than I can
give her,” Vincent whispered softly.
“Yes, you’ve urged her before to
find someone else, haven’t you? Look at her harder, Vincent.
Do you honestly believe she could love anyone else this much? Could you?” Elliot questioned equally softly.
winced and closed his eyes against the painful image in front of him. Heavily,
he let out a huge sigh and softly admitted what he already knew. “No.”
“Now you’re beginning to
Vincent’s eyes flew open, and he
found himself back in his chamber alone. He took in several deep, painful
breaths, trying to come to terms with the revelations this night had brought.
Without warning, the chamber was plunged into icy cold, and Vincent was filled
with dread as he noticed a tall, figure in the doorway. The figure was cloaked
in darkness, covered completely from head to foot in long cloak that blended
into the shadows. Like Ebenezer Scrooge facing the Ghost of Christmas yet to
come, Vincent feared this spirit most
of all. Yet, like Scrooge, he knew he had no choice but to accompany the
“Lead the way. I’ll follow you,”
The spirit merely turned and
glided noiselessly out into the corridor. In an instant, they were in the
dining hall where a celebration appeared to be going on. Vincent
was surprised at how small the gathering was. Though several children were
running around, there were fewer than he had ever seen in the tunnels. There
was food laid out, but the meal was sparse at best. Still, one boy in
particular, who looked to be about ten, caught his eye. The tow-headed child
laughed, and Vincent smiled as well. The child’s joy was almost infectious. Vincent couldn’t help being drawn to him. It was only
then that Vincent noticed two familiar
faces in a corner. There to the side stood an older Pascal next to a much more
“It’s a nice celebration this year, don’t you think?” Pascal
“Yes,” Jamie agreed, but her
smile looked forced. After gazing intently around the room for a moment, her
face fell and she sighed heavily. “He isn’t coming, is he?”
hesitated before speaking. “No.”
“Where is he?” she asked.
“Where he always is now most
days; his chamber,” Pascal replied sadly.
“I know it’s hard for him, but I
would think he would make the effort today of all days, at least for little
Jacob’s sake,” Jamie commented as her eyes focused on the tow-headed boy he had
“He simply hasn’t been the same
since...” Pascal broke off.
“But it’s Winterfest, Pascal. He
could at least try!” Jamie protested.
“Remember when we used to hold it
in the Great Hall, and William would cook for days before hand?” Pascal
reminisced. “We would work for hours to get ready, and all the helpers came
Below to celebrate.”
“Times change, Pascal,” Jamie
said, her voice a bit brittle and harsh.
“I know. I just miss those days,
I suppose,” Pascal added wearily.
gaped at the realization of what this celebration was. He simply couldn’t
fathom how the world he knew could have altered so dramatically from the
vibrant, thriving community he had come to know and love. In comparison to the
Winterfests he had grown up with, this was a pale shadow of its former glory.
turned to the spirit belligerently. ‘You cannot convince me that this is the
future! Father would never stand for it. He simply wouldn’t allow this to happen!
Take me to him now!”
The figure said nothing, but the
mists swirled, and Vincent was stunned to find himself in the Catacombs. “Why
have you brought me here?” he demanded angrily. The figure merely gestured in
front of them. With an apprehension that almost bordered on panic, Vincent moved to where the figure pointed and brushed
away the years of dust until the words inscribed there were revealed.
But it was the date that filled Vincent with horror. It was a day barely two years
into his future! Vincent fell back
then, reeling in confusion. Instantly, another thought came to him.
Where is she? Take me to her. Please, I must see her!” Vincent
pleaded, his world in tatters. The figure didn’t move, but the mist swirled
again, and Vincent was abruptly thrust into unyielding daylight. He shook his
head to clear it, only to have his terror increase. He and the figure were
standing in a graveyard. There on the ground at their feet, Vincent’s worst nightmare took shape. It was a
headstone that simply read:
Beloved Daughter of Charles and Caroline
and gave a death date barely a
year and a half into his future.
roared in anguish and rounded on the figure once more. ‘’NO! NO! THIS CANNOT
“‘Why?” A quiet, but strangely
familiar voice replied. “Because you can’t accept it?”
The figure moved then, drawing
back the dark hood and finally revealing his face. Vincent
breathed shallowly in shock. The face staring back at him was his own; but a vastly
was older and far more careworn. There was a heavy streak of grey at his
temples; but it was his eyes that drew the younger Vincent
in and caused a pressure deep in his chest. His formerly crystal blue eyes were
now watery pale and held a soul deep look of infinite sadness.
“How?” The younger Vincent breathed softly.
“I drove myself mad with my own
fear and self loathing,” the older Vincent answered, his voice hoarse with
regret. “I fled into the tunnels and nearly died. Catherine
brought me back with the strength of her love. We ...loved.” he went on, his
“but our bond was lost to us. A
man from a case Catherine was working
on kidnapped her and took her from me. She was pregnant. When he learned I was
the father, he kept her until our child was born and then killed her. I found
her, but I was too late!”
“A child?” Vincent
The elder nodded sadly. ‘You saw
him in the dining hall. His name is Jacob.”
“I got our son back, but it took
months. The strain of everything was simply too much for Father. He died later
that year. After he passed, everything Below started to fall apart. Mary died, then William.
Helpers began to drift away; some of the residents moved Above. I tried to go
on for Jacob’s sake, but without Catherine...” He broke off as a sob tore from the
depths of him. “You must understand; you must be made to see! It’s too late for
me, but not for you! Do you know what it has been like day after day, year
after empty year, living without her? I had my greatest dream snatched from me
in the span of a single heart beat! When Catherine
died, part of my soul died with her!”
howled as the other Vincent clamped a
vise-like claw on his shoulder. Instantly, a maelstrom of emotions overwhelmed
him as his counterpart’s oppressive grief rushed in on him. Mind numbing agony
mixed with ceaseless regret sent him to his knees as the feelings intensified. Vincent could only gasp helplessly as untaken chance
and missed opportunity to show Catherine
even the smallest gesture of his true feelings played out endlessly before him.
But the worst part of the ordeal was finally realizing and truly understanding
for the first time how deeply he had hurt his beloved by withholding his
affections. The storm got worse, and Vincent felt himself slipping into a
yawning black hole. “Catherine! Catherine!”
he cried out as the darkness overwhelmed him, and he felt himself fall into its
“Vincent!” At the sound of his
name, he jerked his head up, and Vincent shook his head to clear it. He was
greeted by the most wonderful sight of his life. Catherine, in a pair of thick
pajamas, knelt in front of him, safe and sound. He was now lying face down on
her balcony. Without a second thought, he scrambled to his own knees and
instantly seized Catherine for a
passionate, breath stealing kiss. Belatedly, he realized she was shaking as
much as he was, though whether from emotion or the now cold wind, he couldn’t
tell. He further surprised them both by boldly sweeping her up into his arms
and carrying her into her apartment.
He promptly sat down on one of
the sofas, Catherine in his lap. He
drew the edges of his cloak tightly around them both, wrapping her firmly in
the warmth of his arms. For a long moment, he simply sat there, rocking her
tenderly as he held her tightly against him, his head resting lightly on the
top of hers. Catherine was completely mystified, and taken aback by Vincent’s
strange behavior, but she couldn’t bring herself to pull away. It felt too good
to have him hold her like this, regardless of the
reason. Vincent let the gentle comfort of Catherine’s presence seep into
him, driving away the cold darkness forever.
After a while, Catherine lifted her head to regard him with a loving
gaze. “What happened, Vincent?” she
asked softly. “I was in my bedroom, and suddenly I heard you calling my name.
When I found you, you were out on the balcony and almost seemed asleep. Are you
all right, my love?” Gently, she lifted a hand to rest lightly on his cheek.
To her surprise, Vincent turned
his head and pressed a soft kiss into her palm, but failed to answer. Vincent
heard Catherine’s question, but chose to keep quiet. His mind couldn’t find the
words to explain the events that had taken place tonight. Besides, there were other words that it was
far more important for Catherine to
shook his head and spoke for the first time. “It doesn’t matter. But there is
something I must say. Catherine...
I...I love you.”
Catherine’s eyes grew luminous,
and a wild joy suddenly suffused their bond. For the second time that night, Vincent’s head swam. But this time he didn’t care. He
sealed his mouth to hers as tears streamed down both their cheeks.
“Oh Vincent, I love you,”
Catherine breathed as they broke apart at last.
* * *
paced restlessly next to the ladder to Catherine’s
building. After a few more moments, a light appeared above, and Catherine
slowly descended into Vincent’s waiting arms. Though the hour was quite late,
he couldn’t bear to be parted from her and had begged her to come Below with
him. Catherine had agreed at once. Vincent transferred Catherine’s
bag from her shoulder to his, scooped her up, and made his way rapidly to his
own chamber. Once there, he lowered her gently back to her feet.
Catherine removed her coat, and
Vincent quirked a smile at the heavy pajamas she still wore beneath it. Catherine noticed his expression and blushed. “I
didn’t feel much like putting on a nightgown tonight,” Catherine explained sheepishly.
Vincent’s smile broadened.
Catherine could wear sackcloth, and he would still find her the most beautiful
woman he had ever beheld. Vincent
could feel the fatigue creeping up on her and knew they both needed rest. In
spite of the changes the night had wrought between them, Winterfest would soon
arrive, and they would both be swept up in it.
“It’s late, Catherine, and you
should sleep. I should take you to the guest chamber, but I find I don’t want
to leave you. Will you stay with me?” he asked softly.
eyes widened in shock, but her face lightened instantly into an impish smile.
are you propositioning me?” she asked lightly.
In a flash, he blushed scarlet
but soon understood she was merely teasing. The strong desire that had always
existed, shimmering just below the surface of their bond, was still present;
but tonight its power was lessened somehow, perhaps muted by the tender love
that now flowed unhindered between them for the first time. For tonight, it was
Returning her smile, he moved
over to the bed and drew back the covers. She crawled in and settled down with
a sigh of contentment. Vincent slid in next to her and took her into his arms
for another gentle kiss. “I love you,” Vincent whispered again. It still
astounded him that those three simple words could bring them both such
happiness. Why had he ever withheld them?
When Catherine echoed them
softly, his joy abounded ten fold. Vincent
felt too excited to sleep, but he overestimated the effect of having Catherine cuddled so wonderfully close. It wasn’t
long before Catherine breathed deeply
and began to drift off, cocooned in the safe haven of Vincent’s
powerful arms. Soon, Vincent too began
to drift off, but was roused at the last moment by the now familiar sensation
of someone else in his chamber.
From the shadows emerged Kristopher Gentian
one last time. He gave Vincent a wink
and a thumbs up. Just as he began to melt back into the darkness, Vincent heard him speak.
“See? I knew you’d figure it out.”
With that last thought, Vincent smiled and surrendered to the best night’s
sleep he’d ever had, confident that Winterfest would herald a new beginning and
a new chapter in his life with Catherine.