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Date Night

Janet Rivenbark


Catherine and Vincent had spent most of the day together and were now well into the evening. Catherine glanced at her watch; it was after 11PM. She’d been Below since just after breakfast…nearly fourteen hours. It was the longest they’d been together since she’d gone back Above after his recovery, only now he was fit and well and capable of carrying on a conversation, among other things. The time in itself was unusual enough, but she’d also been invited to spend the night. That was Father’s idea. She suspected that it was more to keep Vincent from going up to her apartment to spend New Year’s Eve with her than it was to give them an opportunity to spend time together.

Ever since Vincent’s recovery the previous Spring, Father, had repeatedly warned Catherine to “go slow” and not pressure Vincent in any way. Father acted as if Vincent was in a fragile state and likely to relapse at any minute; but as far as Catherine could tell, he was better now than he’d been at any time since they’d met. He still had occasional lapses of feeling as if he was holding her back from living her life, but most of the time he managed to relax and enjoy what they had. Their relationship hadn’t moved forward by leaps and bounds, but it was moving in the right direction.

William had outdone himself with the New Year’s Eve dinner, with some thanks to Catherine. Several months earlier she’d set up a system to see to it that the community Below never had problems getting adequate food again. No one had to forage through garbage cans and dumpsters any longer. She saw to it that different Helpers made deliveries on a regular basis, and she paid the bills. She even made a point of finding out people’s favorites and some of William’s special dishes. William suspected what was going on, but he wasn’t about to spill the beans; he knew she did it out of love.

Catherine and Vincent had returned to his chamber just after dinner and had attempted to read to each other, but after the fifth interruption, gave up trying.

“I think every child and teen over the age of ten has felt compelled to come and wish us a happy new year,” commented Catherine as Vincent carried the book to the shelf and put it away.

“I’m sorry, Catherine,” he said. “I’ve always been accessible to everyone, especially the children. I don’t even think that asking them to request permission to enter as they do with everyone else would work.”

“You could have Cullen install a door like he did for Kanin and Olivia,” she suggested.

“I wonder if even that would work,” he mused out loud.

“It might be worth a try,” she suggested, “but I have a feeling you might not close it very much.”

“Are you upset that we’ve been interrupted?” he asked.

“What is the Bond telling you?” she asked with a smile. “I love the children too, and they love you.” She glanced at her watch again. “It’s almost midnight,” she told him. “Time to open the wine.”

Vincent went to the table that held a bucket of ice with a bottle of Champagne. He opened the bottle as if he did it every day, poured two flutes and handed one to Catherine.

She sipped and he followed her example. He found the taste a pleasant surprise.

“This isn’t Champagne,” he said. “It’s sweet.”

“It’s an Italian sparkling wine, an Asti. I know you prefer sweet things, and thought you might like this better than Champagne.”

He took another sip, savoring the taste. “I do,” he told her with a smile. “This is very nice. Thank you.”

“Do you have any special New Year’s Eve traditions here Below?” she asked as he went back to his chair.

“The young people have a party. When I was their age, we always had it in the dining chamber, but our noise disturbed some of our residents who didn’t stay up to bring in the New Year. So, the last few years they’ve moved it to the Mirror Pool. They can hear a little of the fireworks from Above and see some of them reflected in the pool, and their noise and music doesn’t disturb anyone in the deeper chambers. One or two adults take turns chaperoning them.”

“Sounds like fun,” she commented. “What do the adults do?”

“Father and a few of the older residents gather in his study. They have a toast at midnight then everyone leaves at about 12:30. Some of the other’s have small private parties in their chambers and invite a few friends.”

“Not so different from Above. What do you usually do?” she asked him.

“Sometimes I chaperone the young people’s party, or attend something here Below. I occasionally go Above. I’ve even been known to attend the festivities in Times Square,” he told her.

Times Square,” she exclaimed. “I did it once, when I was in college. Jenny and I and our dates decided to go on the spur of the moment. Once was enough.”

“Well, I did it from high Above Times Square, I can’t believe that there are that many people who want to be in that one place, no matter what the weather.”

“Above? How?”  She hesitated.

“From the top of one of the hotels. It has a good view of the ball, all the entertainment and the crowds, and it isn’t so high that I can’t see what is going on. There is not much danger of me being seen. I haven’t been in several years, though.”

“Just how many buildings in New York have you been to the top of, and how in the world do you get there?” she asked in awe.

“Different ways for different buildings. Your building is easy. I just use the fire escape to the roof. Other’s I go in through a basement threshold and ride up on top of an elevator. One of our helpers showed me how to make it go all the way to the top without stopping. It gives me plenty of time to use the access panel in the top of the car to get on top; I can usually get to the roof access door from there. I just have to know the number of the top floor.”

“Hold the ‘close door’ button until the door closes then press the floor number, right?”

“Right.”

She could tell he was surprised.

“Known by every cop and EMT in the country,” she told him. “Joe showed me. It’s programmed for emergency use.”

“I thought as much,” he said.

“I know very few people who live here who would go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve more than once,” she said with a laugh. “I know I wouldn’t do it again. We were seniors in college, and home on Christmas break. The boys we went with were from out of town or Jenny and I probably wouldn’t have agreed to go, but I can say I did it once.”

The sounds of whistles, bells and other noise makers, drifted down the corridor from somewhere. Catherine glanced at her watch.

“I believe the ball must have dropped,” observed Vincent, holding his wine glass out to clink lightly against hers. “Happy New Year, Catherine.”

She tapped the rim of her glass against his, making the crystal ring.

After their toast, they both sipped from the glasses then she leaned forward and kissed him lightly on the lips. This time he wasn’t taken by surprise as he had been the first time she’d done it.

“Happy New Year, Vincent,” she said with a smile.

“What kind of parties are there Above on New Year’s Eve?” he asked, more to distract her from taking the kiss farther, than anything.

She could take a hint.

“All kinds,” she told him. “Some of the churches have midnight services. Daddy used to have a small party with family and close friends. It’s something they did before Mom died. A lot of restaurants and night clubs have special dinner packages. And there are always exclusive parties at hotels and clubs. I’ve been to quite a few since I came back to New York after college. It’s supposed to be a night for a special date. My mother always said that you should be with the most important people in your life at the stroke of midnight to insure that you will be with them the whole year.”

He dropped his eyes, a little embarrassed. “This must seem terribly quiet and boring after that,” he observed.

“No, not really; I mean it is quiet, but I like it,” she told him. “And I’m here with the most important person in my life, and that is what counts.”

“But surely you miss attending those parties with your friends,” he said, ignoring her comment.

“I never get to see my friends, especially Jenny and Nancy, enough, but I’d rather visit with them than attend a party with them. You never really get to talk to anyone at those things. We’re all so busy all the time. Jenny is always out of town with writers for her publisher. Nancy got married and has two kids and a husband to look after; and I work for the DA. Criminals never take a day off.”

Vincent stared into his wine glass. “Perhaps if you didn’t spend so much time with me, you would get to see your friends more.”

“What is this all about?” she asked in an exasperated tone. “Yes, I’ve spent more time with you lately, since last spring; but it is what I want. And if I wasn’t here, I probably wouldn’t see that much of my other friends. If I didn’t escape here Below occasionally, Joe would chain me to my desk, and I’d never see anyone anyway.”

Catherine moved her chair closer to Vincent’s; they were sitting knee to knee and Vincent was still watching the bubbles in his glass.

Catherine set her glass on the table next to them and took Vincent’s out of his hand and set it next to hers. She took his hands in hers and tugged on them.

“Look at me, Vincent,” she demanded quietly.

Vincent raised his eyes to hers.

“I thought we’d gotten past this,” she said.

“But, Catherine, it doesn’t matter what we say, the fact remains that you give up so much to be with me. More than you should.”

“I give up nothing! I’m here because it is where I want to be. If anything, I give up the opportunity to be with you when I do anything Above,” she said vehemently. “I love you! You are the most important person in my life.”

He surprised her by raising her hands and kissing first one then the other.

“And I love you, Catherine, but I can give you nothing! A normal man can give you everything you deserve to have.”

“What do you mean, nothing? You give me love and that is everything, at least everything that I need. A ‘normal man’, as you put it couldn’t give me that, because I wouldn’t love him. How do I say this?” she leaned back in her chair, pulling her hands out of Vincent’s when she did. “You’ve seen some of my luck with men, but you don’t know the half of it. There haven’t been that many, but I feel lucky that I learned early and well, before I made any real mistakes.

“I had my first real boyfriend when I was seventeen. He was a winner,” she said sarcastically. “We dated for nearly a year; we were inseparable, and he was a perfect gentleman. Then on prom night he tried to rape me. That was the first disaster. I dated in college but never got serious about anyone. I don’t think I went out with any one guy more than two or three times. I met Steven in my first year of law school. He didn’t ask me out until spring of our first year, months after we met. I thought that was a good sign. We dated for a few months then he asked me to move in with him. I did, and by the following spring he was acting like he owned me. I got out of that relationship and hardly dated again until I graduated from law school, but then it was a different guy every week until Daddy introduced me to Tom.

“Now he was a prize! I remember Daddy telling me I could do worse…if he only knew. Tom came to the apartment with Daddy the first night I was home , but I could tell that he was appalled at the state my face was in. Daddy called Dr. Sanderle, a plastic surgeon, and he came over to the apartment to examine me. Tom asked more questions about how much could be fixed than I did. Once Dr. Sanderle assured him that I would be as good as new Tom left, and I didn’t see him again for a month. We talked on the phone, but he didn’t visit me in the hospital, or even at home, after I was back. His excuse was that he really wasn’t very good around sick people. When I was ‘presentable’ again, he showed up and started telling me all the things I’d done wrong, and how I’d gotten myself into that predicament. But that was after I met you, and even though I didn’t really realize it at the time, he just didn’t measure up to my ideal; you were that ideal.”

She leaned forward and put her hands on his knees.

“I love you, Vincent. I don’t want another man...I want you. Even if you sent me away, I wouldn’t find someone else. So, you’re stuck with me.”

He covered her hands with his. “I don’t deserve you, Catherine,” he said.

“No, Vincent,” she disagreed. “You deserve everything. You’ve given me everything.”

They talked for another hour or so. Catherine drained her wine glass several times. Each time Vincent refilled it. He only refilled his once.

Catherine yawned, then giggled.

“You’re tired,” Vincent stated.

“I think I’ve had too much wine,” she said, and yawned again.

Vincent stood and held out his hand to her. “I’ll take you to the guest chamber,” he offered.

Catherine stood and wobbled a little, and he slipped his arm around her waist to steady her.

“I think you were trying to get me drunk,” she said and giggled again.

“Catherine!” he exclaimed. “I would never…”

“I was joking, Vincent,” she said, patting his chest. Then she giggled again. “I drink so little any more, I think my tolerance is down. I used to be able to drink a whole bottle of wine over the course of an evening and hardly feel it.”

“You had close to a whole bottle. I only had about a glass and a half, but you drank it in about an hour and a half,” he pointed out.

“And you were pouring,” she said.

“But I wasn’t trying to get you drunk,” he said again.

“I repeat…I was joking. I know you weren’t, but I’ve just had enough to make me silly…and a little unsteady,” she said as she stumbled and Vincent caught her.

He swung her up into his arms, carried her down the corridor to the guest chamber and  set her on her feet in the center of the room. She snuggled into his arms, but he held her stiffly; she knew she’d upset him with her accusation, even if she had only been joking.

“Will you be all right?” he asked. “Do you need help?”

“If I said I needed help, would you stay and help me?” she asked coyly, looking up at him.

He sighed. “I would go find one of the women to help you. Someone is bound to still be up.”

“I guess I’ll be OK,” she said in feigned disappointment.

Vincent looked skeptical.

“Really Vincent,” she said. “I’ll be fine.” She walked over to the table that held a basin and a pitcher. The pitcher was empty. She picked it up. “I could use some water, though.”

Vincent took the pitcher. “Warm water or cold?” he asked.

“Actually I could use some warm to wash and some cold to drink,” she said.

“I’ll be right back,” he said as he left.

While Vincent was gone, Catherine changed out of her slacks and sweater and into her nightgown. She had several flannel nightgowns with matching robes that she’d bought when she was staying Below and helping take care of Vincent as he recovered. She had a penchant for pretty, feminine nightgowns, and the flannel ones were no exception. This one was pale green, with a round peasant neckline and long sleeves. The gown was full and floor length and it was made of the softest flannel she had ever found.

When Vincent came back, she was using her cream cleanser to take off the little bit of make up that she wore.

“I have your water, Catherine,” he called from outside the entrance. “May I come in?”

“Yes, come on in,” she called.

Vincent placed the pitcher of warm water on the table then carried the smaller carafe of water over to the other table that held some glasses. He poured a glass and took it to her where she had just finished wiping the rest of the cleanser off her face.

“Thank you,” she said and took the glass from him. She drained half of it and set it down.

“William serves brunch on New Year’s day,” he said. “He starts at about 8AM and it is out until about 1PM. Just come to my chamber when you are ready in the morning and we will go eat.”

He turned to leave but Catherine called him back.

“Have you forgotten something?” she asked as he turned.

“Have I?” he asked.

She walked over to him and hugged him. “I really was joking, you know,” she said.

“I know, Catherine,” he said as he relaxed and returned her hug.

Later, just before she fell asleep she had a thought. Maybe, just maybe, she could give Vincent a taste of what a date Above would be like. Nothing special, just a pleasant evening. It might take some work, but she was sure it could be done.

* * *

The next afternoon, once she had returned to her apartment, she made a list of things that might be possible for them to do together, Above, this time of year.

The first item on the list was dinner. She knew that several Helpers had small restaurants, but only one, Henry Pei, had a restaurant that boasted small private dining rooms. She had used them a couple of times to interview potential witnesses. She’d entered through the basement where there was a new threshold, and the witnesses had come in through the front door, as if they were just going in to have lunch. If they were being watched or followed, no one would realize that they were meeting someone from the DA’s office there.

She called Henry on her morning coffee break and explained what she wanted to do.

“Do you think it can be done, Henry?” she asked.

“Of course it can be done. We have one private room. It isn’t used much because it isn’t very large, but it is furnished. It has an upholstered bench seat, like a booth, across the back wall, and a table. Two chairs can be pulled up on the other side. We can cram a maximum of four people into the room, but it should be perfect for two. It is right next to the stairs from the basement, so Vincent should be able to get to it without being seen. Let me know when you will be there, and I will meet you and make sure the coast is clear. Either Lin or I can serve you. You can order off the menu, or we can prepare something special,” he told her.

“I’m sure the menu will be fine. Vincent was just saying that he has had so much turkey and ham the last couple weeks that he has a taste for something different. I mentioned hot and sour soup and General Tso’s chicken, and I swear his eyes glazed over. “

“He has developed quite a liking for my new cook’s hot and sour soup,” agreed Henry. “When would you like to do this?”

“I was thinking that it would be a nice surprise for his birthday, which is January12th, so how about the day before or the day after.”

“Not on the actual day?” asked Henry.

“No, they are planning something for him Below on his birthday. The children are having a party, and he wouldn’t want to disappoint them for anything.”

“How about the day before?” he suggested. “That will be a Thursday, and it is usually quiet in the restaurant, and I don’t have so many of the staff here.”

“That sounds perfect,” she told him as she wrote on the pad in front of her. “Would 7:00PM be OK?”

“Thursday, January 11th at 7:00PM. It’s in the book for the small room and it is under your name. I’ll meet you in the basement and escort you up.”

“Thanks, Henry.”

She hung up and went back to reading the file in front of her just as Joe came over to drop another stack of files in her IN box.

“Joe!” she exclaimed. “I haven’t even made a dent in the pile you gave me on my way in this morning. At this rate I’m never going to catch up.”

“One of the responsibilities of having a private office and holding down a desk job, Radcliffe,” he told her with a wink.

“I don’t have to hold it down,” she called after him as he left the office. “The files are heavy enough to do that all by themselves.”

She heard him laugh as he closed the door behind him. She didn’t mind it, really. Since her request to be taken off investigations had been approved and she’d moved to research, she’d been able to come into the office at 8:00AM and leave at 5:00PM most days. The only time she had to stay or had to take work home was when there was a rush job and they needed something for a case right away. Most of the time the cases she was working on weren’t due to go to court for months, so there wasn’t much of a rush. She didn’t even have more than one stack of files on her desk, most of the time. Today was an exception because they were looking for a connection, a common thread that might link several cases from the last few years together. She’d only been at it for a few hours, but she already had a few possible leads.

She concentrated on files for the next few hours, but as she was leaving the building for a late lunch, she started thinking about Vincent’s birthday dinner again. She had the dinner planned, but what else could they do? If she was planning this for one of her male friends, she might get tickets to a play, a concert or a game, but that wouldn’t work for Vincent. A movie? She could rent or buy something, and they could watch it at her place.

That idea was vetoed almost as soon as she thought it. Vincent was more at ease, and would now actually enter her apartment, but only for short periods of time. She didn’t think he’d be comfortable long enough to watch a movie.

She walked into a restaurant not far from her office and was greeted by the hostess at the door. She was seated in a small booth near the back. She looked around and remembered the last time she’d had lunch here. Elliot had called and invited her. She had hesitated at first, but then figured lunch was something that friends did.

She met Elliot at the restaurant and they were seated in the same booth she sat in now. When he called, he had sounded upbeat and told her he wanted to tell her something.

“So, what was it you wanted to tell me?” she asked after he greeted her and she was seated.

“I’m leaving New York.”

“Again?” she asked with a laugh.

“Legitimately, this time; in the full light of day,” he assured her with his most charming smile. “I have a project starting in Phoenix, and I want to be close to it so I will have more control than I’ve had over some of my past projects. I have learned from experience.”

“What kind of project?” she asked.

“A new kind of community,” he told her. “Almost a town in itself. Everything is planned from the inception: housing, shops, offices, restaurants, everything.”

“Sounds intriguing,” she told him, “but why Phoenix?”

“More space to work with, fewer restrictions…”

“And they don’t know you there?” she suggested.

He grinned at her. “That was one consideration,” he admitted, “that and the fact that there aren’t any memories there.”

“It was a rough year,” she mused.

“Yeah, it was,” he said as the waitress showed up to take their orders.

They talked about inconsequential things until after they were served, then Elliot changed the subject again.

“You know I bought a house here,” he said.

“No, I didn’t; something besides your penthouse?”

He nodded. “I thought I might be able to get my dad to move into it. I didn’t plan to live there; I knew he wouldn’t move into it if I did. But I thought that I might get him to live there if I stayed away. I knew I probably wouldn’t have been able to get him off the sauce, but I hoped to make his last years more comfortable.”

“It was a nice idea,” she told him. “Too bad you were never able to make the offer. Where is the house?”

“Not far from where you are. When I got the idea, I looked near the park. When I was a kid, we all used to go to the park for picnics in the summer. It was Mom’s doing, Dad always acted like he was put out, but I think he enjoyed it as much as we did. He just didn’t want to show it. He always was stubborn like that.”

“Did you sell the place after he died?” she asked.

“No I still have it. I’d just finished renovating the place when he was shot.” Elliot chuckled. “You should have seen the place when I bought it. The guy who sold it to me had planned a full renovation…a state of the art bachelor pad, from the looks of his plans. He did the basement first so he’d have a place to live while he worked on the rest of it. He built a small apartment with a bedroom, a bath, a kitchenette and a laundry. That takes up half of the basement. The other half is a small movie theater. There is a screen at one end, about twelve theater seats, and a projection room at the rear. It can be used to watch TV…it is just projected onto the screen…or movies can be shown. I thought Dad would really love that. The guy had the place totally gutted then rewired and replumbed. He’d finished the new floor plan and walls and was planning to do the rest of it himself, but he ran out of money. I’ve only held on to it because the market has been soft, and I wouldn’t get out of it what I put into it.”

 She remembered that conversation now and wondered if Elliot still had the house and if he’d be willing to let her use the theater for one night. It would be worth asking, she decided.

When she got back to the office after lunch, she called the number she’d always used to reach Elliot. She knew Elliot wasn’t there, but hoped that someone would be willing to pass on a message to him.

“Elliot Burch’s office. How may I help you?” answered a woman in a very businesslike tone.

“My name is Catherine Chandler, and I would like to have Mr. Burch call me,” she said.

Chandler,” the woman’s voice lost some of its no nonsense tone. “Mr. Burch left orders that if you called, I was to put you through to him immediately if you wished. Would you like to speak to him now, or would you still like to have him call you?”

“I thought he was in Phoenix,” she said.

“He is, but we have the capability to forward your call.”

“Thank you,” said Catherine. “I would like to speak to him.”

She was put on hold, and within a couple of minutes the line rang again and was answered before the ring finished.

“Cathy, it’s wonderful to hear from you,” he said enthusiastically.

“Answering your own phone these days, Elliot?” she asked with a laugh.

“This is my private line,” he told her. “I should have given you the number before I left. How have you been?”

“I’m fine. How is the project going?” she asked.

“Fantastic. You should come out for a visit and see for yourself,” he suggested.

“Elliot…” she warned.

“Can’t blame a guy for trying,” he said. “So, to what do I owe this honor?”

“I’m calling to ask a favor…” she began.

“Anything, Cathy,” he told her, “no matter how difficult.”

“This is an easy one,” she assured him. “Do you still have the house you told me about? The one with the theater in the basement?”

“Yes, I do,” she could hear the unasked question in his voice.

“I would like to borrow the theater for an evening; for a private showing for someone special.”

“Like I said, Cathy…anything. There is a set of keys at my office there in New York. I’ll have them sent over to you. You can send them back when you are done.” He hesitated. “What kind of private showing?”

“It’s for someone who has never had the opportunity to go to a real movie theatre. I’m not sure what we will watch yet. I’ll have to find out what kind of equipment the place has.”

“You can show VHS tapes,” he told her. “It is all pretty simple. I didn’t have any problems making it all work.”

“Thanks, Elliot, I really appreciate this.”

“You are very welcome, Cathy. Do you want me to send the keys to you at the office?”

She told him that the office would be fine, and they showed up first thing the next morning. The envelope also contained the address, some instructions on how to operate a few things and where the light switches were. She decided to take a look at the place before she went home that night.

The house was in a quiet neighborhood only a few blocks north and west of her apartment. It was the corner house of a full block of brick row houses. She let herself in the front door and flipped on the light before she locked the door again. When she turned, the sight took her breath away.  The woodwork on the stairs and in the wainscoting panels in the hall was absolutely beautiful. She understood why Elliot would find it hard to make back what he’d put into it. When he had planned to turn the house over to his father, he’d obviously put a lot of love into restoring it, hiring only the most skilled craftsmen to do the work.

There was no furniture, but the rooms she could see still had a charm. The colors were warm and the hardwood floors and all the woodwork were stained dark brown. She walked down the hall toward the back of the house to the kitchen where the note said the door to the basement was.

The thermostat was set low in the house, so it was chilly, and she made a mental note to come over on her lunch hour on the 11th and turn it up.

The theater was just as amazing as Elliot had said it was. It was a miniature movie theater right down to the dark velvet drapes on the walls. She had to laugh. She checked out the projection room and found that not only was there a VCR that she was sure she could operate, but also an extensive tape library. Although a few seemed to be porn movies, to be expected in a bachelor’s film library…she wondered if it was Elliot’s or the previous owner’s…most were regular movies dating from the late ‘30’s to just a few years ago; there were several hundred, and as she scanned the shelves she saw several that would be perfect for Vincent’s movie night. She’d let him make the choice.

Before she left, she just had to see the rest of the house.

First, she inspected the basement in minute detail; she didn’t know what she was looking for, but knew as soon as she saw it. A door into a subbasement. She opened it and felt around on the wall just inside the door. There was a light switch, and she flipped it and turned on a surprisingly bright bulb. The room was square and not very large, but there was a ladder that went down to the sandy floor about ten feet below. She did a quick mental calculation and decided that the room probably extended off the front of the house, under the sidewalk.

Back upstairs she found that the first floor had a large, modern kitchen with a laundry off it, a dining room, living room, a library/den and a powder room. The second floor had four bedrooms and two baths, and the third floor was taken up by one suite of rooms: a bedroom with a large closet, a bathroom and a sitting room. There was a covered balcony on the back of the house that stretched the full width of the house. It had obviously been added, because the other houses in the block didn’t have balconies, and this balcony ended in a thick brick wall so that it couldn’t be seen from the other houses. The only view was the back garden; in summer it would be very nice.

The pains that had been taken in restoring the first floor were also evident on the other floors. Even the rabbit warren of small rooms in the attic had been nicely finished and painted a fresh pale green. There was even a bathroom in the attic so it could be used for overflow guests or even a children’s playroom.

By the time she got back to her own apartment that night, she’d made up her mind. If a threshold could be opened in the subbasement, she would make an offer on the house. She knew she could afford to give Elliot the price he wanted for it, and it would be worth every cent.

The next morning she sent a note to Mouse asking him to come up to her apartment about 6:00PM that evening. She stressed that she was working on a surprise for Vincent so he wouldn’t tell anyone where he was going.

She was running late that evening, and Mouse was sitting on the chair outside her door waiting when she got there.

“I’m sorry I’m late, Mouse,” she apologized as she unlocked the door. “I left the office late and then got caught in traffic.”

“Better to live Below,” he said wisely. “No traffic to get caught in.”

“You have that right,” she agreed as she pulled off her coat and kicked off her shoes. “Have a seat. I need something to warm me up. Would you like some tea?”

“Too much tea Below,” he told her. “Have Coke?”

“Sure do.”

In the kitchen she filled the teapot and put it on the stove, then she opened a bottle of coke and put it on a tray. She prepared a plate of Mouse’s favorite cookies and spooned loose tea into her small terracotta teapot while she waited for the water to boil.  She filled the pot with hot water, added her favorite mug and carried the tray out to the living room. Mouse was inspecting her TV when she set the tray down. Mouse hurried back to the sofa, picked up the bottle and drained half of it. Catherine made a note to add a few Cokes to the grocery list for Below.

“Catherine need’s Mouse’s help?” he asked as they sat down.

“Yes, I do. For now I want to keep this all a secret, so I don’t want you to tell anyone, not even Vincent or Jamie. OK?”

“Why secret?”

“Well, if I can’t pull it off, I don’t want anyone to be disappointed.”

“What need?”

She handed him a slip of paper with an address on it. He looked at it and then looked up at her.

“I want to know if it would be possible to open a threshold into this house. It has a basement, and a subbasement that appears to be off the front of the house, the south side under the sidewalk, maybe as far as the street.”

He looked at the address again. “A tunnel runs from the park up this street, not sure if it goes this far. Have to measure. Would help if Mouse could see inside.”

“When would you like to do it?” she asked.

“Now,” he said, hopefully.

“OK,” she agreed. “Give me a minute to change, and we’ll drive over.”

She changed and took Mouse down to the parking garage. He told her he hadn’t ridden in a car before, and she hoped he wouldn’t try to take it apart before they could get to where they were going, but he seemed more interested in watching the lights pass the windows than in the mechanical parts.

Once inside the house she led him to the basement and showed him the door to the subbasement. He clattered down the ladder and inspected the opposite wall. He picked up a piece of loose brick and banged it on the wall.

“Sounds hollow,” he called up to her.

He took the Swiss Army knife she’d given him for Christmas out of his pocket, selected a tool that looked like a pick or an awl, and started to work at the mortar around one of the bricks. The mortar was old and he was able to chip it away in a few minutes. He pulled the brick out of the wall, pulled a small flashlight out of another pocket and pointed it through the hole. He leaned forward and peered though.

“Looks like tunnel on the other side,” he said.

He took a piece of chalk out of his pocket, reached through the hole and marked on the other side of the wall, then he replaced the brick.

“What did you do that for?” she asked.

“Make it easier to find from the other side,” he told her as he climbed back up the ladder.

Back in the basement, she started to turn off the light before she closed the door.

“Leave light on, that will help too,” he told her.

“Gonna buy the house?” asked Mouse as they got back into the car.

“I’m thinking about it,” she told him, “but only if I can have a threshold. Once I know if it is possible, I’ll ask permission from the council, and if they say ‘yes’ then I’ll make an offer to the owner.”

“Good idea,” he told her. “Safer for Vincent to visit, and easier for you to go Below.”

“Just what I was thinking.”

She was at work the next day when the sandwich guy handed her a sandwich with a smile and a wink. “On the house,” he told her as he wheeled his cart away. She thanked him and carried the sandwich back to her office, where she carefully unwrapped it and pulled out a note wrapped in a piece of plastic wrap. She unfolded it and was surprised to see Mouse’s uneven hand.

C.

Worked. Opened hole big enough to get through. Ten minute walk from Vincent’s chamber.

M.

She slapped the desk top with a restrained “Yes!” Then focused her attention back on the file in front of her.

It was only a week until the big evening she’d begun calling ‘Date Night’ to herself.

She had been Below only once since New Year’s Day, and then only long enough to ask Vincent if he would be free on the 11th. When he had said he would be, she told him she had some special plans and that she would pick him up at his chamber a little after 6:00PM. He was intrigued about what she had planned, but knew she wouldn’t tell him until she was ready.

* * *

Vincent didn’t wait for her in his chamber, but was waiting as she descended the ladder at her threshold.

“You were supposed to wait,” she admonished good naturedly, as he lifted her from halfway down the ladder to the floor.

“I have to admit to being curious, and a bit too anxious to wait,” he said.

She laughed and hugged him.

“Then you are going to have to be my guide. The directions I have are from your chamber.” She held up a piece of paper to illustrate.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

Chinatown. Henry Pei’s restaurant. I wanted to surprise you, but since I need your guidance, I can’t.”

“What is at Henry’s restaurant?” he asked as he took her hand and they began walking.

“Dinner,” she said with a wink.

“In a restaurant?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes, in a restaurant. Tomorrow is your birthday and I’m taking you out to a restaurant for dinner.”

He stopped and just looked at her as if she’d just grown another head.

“That’s not possible,” was all he said.

“Yes it is, and it is going to happen. We have a date, remember?”

“A date?”

“A date, and it’s Henry’s restaurant. He knows you, and we will be using a small, private dining room right next to the stairs that come up from the basement. He will serve us, and no one else will see us. He said he often has people who want a private meal and use the rooms. This room is smaller than the others and not used very often.”

“It appears that you have thought of everything,” he said as they resumed walking.

As they walked, they talked about the party the children had planned for the next evening.

“I thought it was supposed to be a surprise party,” she said as they strolled. “At least that is what my invitation said.”

“It is, and supposedly I know nothing about it, but they had to insure that I would be in the right place at the right time; so they had to contrive a way to get me out of the dining chamber so they could get it ready, but then also get me back into it at the right time.”

“How are they managing that?” she asked.

“Father is going to coerce me into a game of chess, and then, at the precise moment, he is going to send me to the kitchen for a pot of tea. When I walk in, they are all going to jump out and yell ‘Surprise’. Now mind you, when I leave to get the tea, I’m going to have to take the long way, and walk slowly, because Father has to get to the dining chamber before me.”

“Planning,” she said with a laugh. “And you will be very surprised, won’t you?”

“Absolutely amazed that they could do it all without me finding out,” he said with a small grin. “Will you be there?”

“I wouldn’t miss your performance for anything,” she said.

They walked in silence for a while until they reached Henry’s threshold.

Vincent helped Catherine up the ladder and Henry met them at the top.

“I’ll go first. Give me a few seconds to make sure the way is clear, then I’ll let you know when you can come in.”

They arrived at the dining room without being seen, and Catherine had to smile when she saw how it had been decorated. There was a ledge that ran around the room about five feet up from the floor, and Henry must have raided all the tables in the restaurant and denuded them of their candles; there was one every six inches. There were candles on the table, and the ceiling light was dimmed down to a bare minimum.

Vincent helped Catherine out of her coat and handed it to Henry. When he took off his cloak, she almost gasped. He looked like something out of a fairy tale; a very grown up fairy tale.

She was sure that every stitch he had on was new. He wore black leather boots, soft leather that came almost to his knees. Black pants made out of some material that fit him like a glove, the white heavy silk shirt she’d given him for Christmas and a black leather vest. When she put her hand on his arm, she was sure that he hadn’t worn the usual layers and had no other shirt on under the silk.

She took a seat on the upholstered bench behind the table, and he sat on the chair across the table from her.

Henry was a very attentive waiter, but didn’t hover. The meal was delicious. And when the fortune cookies came, she was sure that Henry had stuffed them especially for them. Vincent’s said: “Your heart’s desire is within your reach.” and hers was “Patience is a virtue, you will be rewarded.”

As they were leaving, Vincent was very liberal with his praise for the meal.

“This has been wonderful, Catherine,” he said as they reached the tunnel again and started to walk.

“But it isn’t over yet,” she said. When they reached an intersection where a right turn would have taken them back to the hub of the community, she turned left.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“That is a surprise,” she told him.

“Are you sure you know the way?”

“As long as I don’t lose the route that Mouse marked for me, we will be fine,” she said, pointing her flashlight at the chalk arrow drawn on the rough wall.

When they arrived, Catherine was surprised at the neat job Mouse had done on the hole he’d made in the wall. It wasn’t finished, but he’d left a pile of salvaged lumber in the corner of the small room right next to the neatly stacked bricks he’d chipped out of the wall.

Vincent looked around after he ducked though the hole. “What is this?”

“We are under a house that is owned by a friend.” She wasn’t sure if she wanted to tell him who that friend was. “No one lives here for now, and I’ve borrowed it so we can use something special in the basement.”

She noticed the worried look on Vincent’s face as she turned and started to climb up the ladder.

“What are you up to?” he asked as he followed her.

“What does the Bond tell you?” she asked as she turned to watch him climb through the door into the furnace room.

He tilted his head to one side and looked at her. “Excitement and mischief.”

“That’ll do,” she said, leading the way out of the furnace room and across a narrow hall into the theater.

She’d been over earlier to turn up the heat, and she’d also left the lights on.

She let him enter the theater before her and he stopped so abruptly that she nearly ran into his back.

“What is this?” he asked again.

“I figured it was meant to be the ultimate accessory for a bachelor pad,” she said with a laugh. She told him the story that Elliot had told her.

“This is Mr. Burch’s house?” Vincent asked.

“For now,” she told him. “But we are here to watch a movie or two. A normal date…dinner and movie.” She took off her coat and threw it over the back of one of the seats. Vincent removed his cloak. “There is even a kitchen down the hall, and I left everything we need to make popcorn if you want some.” She took his hand and pulled him toward the projection room in the back. “Now all you have to do is pick out what you want to watch.” She indicated the back wall.

“There are so many,” he said before he even moved. “Too many.”

She watched as he browsed along the shelves. He was reading titles aloud as he went along. He got to one shelf and she almost warned him away, but she decided that it might just cause him more embarrassment if she did.

He pulled one tape off the shelf, but a quick look at the picture on the front had him putting it back very quickly. This happened several times, and she just had to ask.

“What is it, Vincent?”

“Um…I think they are called ‘blue movies’,” he said hesitantly.

“In Father’s time maybe. They are called ‘porn’ now. That whole shelf you are looking at is that kind of movie.” She was smiling, but he didn’t see.

Vincent quickly moved to the next shelf. “The title ‘Supermodels Do L.A.’, should have given it away,” he said.

“You find something you want to watch, and I’ll go make our popcorn.”

When she returned, he was holding two tapes, and old Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin comedy and The Wizard of Oz.

“No ‘Debbie Does Dallas’?” she asked as she handed him the bowl of popcorn and took the tapes from him.

“If that is anything like ‘Supermodels Do L.A.’, I think I can pass that one up,” he said with a chuckle.

“You go have a seat and I’ll be right out,” she told him with a grin.

She waited until he was seated then she dimmed the lights and started the movie. They watched the comedy first, took a break, then watched the Wizard of Oz.

It was nearly midnight when they were done. Catherine straightened up the kitchen, and Vincent made sure that they hadn’t let any stray pieces of popcorn get away from them. Then Catherine asked Vincent if he’d liked to see the rest of the house. He didn’t seem surprised that she’d asked.

“You’re thinking of buying this house, aren’t you Catherine?” he asked as they went up the stairs to the kitchen.

“I can’t keep much from you, can I?” she said as she turned on the kitchen light.

“It wasn’t the Bond that gave you away,” he told her. “It was the look on your face when you asked. You’ve probably already made your decision,” he added.

“Just about,” she acknowledged. “I was going to speak to Father about keeping the threshold open permanently; and if he says it is all right, I will make an offer on the house.”

“It’s up to the Council, but I’m sure that they will all vote ‘yes’.”

“Then I’m going to call Elliot tomorrow,” she said with a smile. “Come on. Let me show you the whole place.”

She gave him the tour, elaborating some of her design ideas as she did.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to decorate anything before,” she told him as they walked back toward the threshold under her building. “Mom did my room when I was little, and I kept it that way until we moved out of that house, just because Mom did it and it made me feel closer to her. When we moved, Daddy had a designer do the whole house. She asked me what colors I liked and if there was anything I absolutely hated, but that was about all. My room was nice enough, but not really me. When Daddy bought my apartment, he had a designer do it, and up until a few months ago all I did was add a few personal items. I’ve always felt almost as if I was living in a hotel.”

“You redecorated last summer,” Vincent pointed out.

“Only the living room” she told him, “and then I just got a larger sofa and chairs to replace the loveseats I had. It’s still not a full sized sofa, I got the largest one that would fit in that room, and it is only a little larger than the loveseat.”

“The plans you have for the house sound rather masculine,” he observed.

“Well, it will go with all that beautiful dark wood on the floors, woodwork and paneling. I wouldn’t dare paint any of it. Whomever Elliot got to do the work was a real artist. I can lighten things up with lighter paint in some of the rooms. I think I’ll have plantation shutters put at all the windows, that way I can control the light and still keep it secure so that you can be there any time you want.”

“That is thoughtful,” he said as they reached her threshold.

“Don’t you know why I want to buy this house, Vincent?” she asked.

“I assumed you wanted more room and more privacy,” he said.

“That, plus I want a place where you can come and go, any time, day or night, without risking being seen; and where I can come Below without having to worry that I might be followed. I’ve been so careful since that time Brian followed me.”

Vincent stood with his head bowed, his hair hiding his face.

“What are you thinking, Vincent?” she asked after a few minutes.

“You are so thoughtful,” he told her.

“And selfish,” she added with a laugh. “It’s as much for me as it is for you.”

“Still…”

She changed the subject abruptly.

“This is where I would usually ask my date if he’d like to come up for a drink,” she said lightly.

His head snapped up and he smiled at her, catching her mood. “If the drink is tea, I would take you up on it if you were to ask,” he told her.

“Would you like to come up for a cup of tea, Vincent?” she asked, as if she hadn’t been prompted.

“I would love to, Catherine,” he said and almost grinned. “It will take me a few minutes to get there, but I will meet you on your balcony.”

He stood and watched as Catherine ascended the ladder and disappeared into the basement; then he turned and headed for the threshold in the park.

Catherine had hoped that Vincent would take her up on her invitation, and anticipating that he’d want tea, she’d left everything set up in the kitchen. She went in and plugged in the electric teapot to heat the water, and then headed into her bedroom to leave her coat and kick off her shoes. She quickly ran her brush through her hair, and freshened her lip gloss.

She had just placed the tray on the coffee table when she heard Vincent tapping on the glass of the French door.

“I hope you are planning to come inside tonight,” she said as she opened the door and a blast of arctic air hit her. “It is too cold out there tonight.”

“Yes, I am,” he told her as he entered the room and closed the doors behind him. “I don’t think that even I could keep you warm out there tonight.” He stopped near the table by the door, took off his cloak and hung it over the back of a chair and took off his wet boots and sat them on a newspaper that Catherine put down for him.

She’d lowered the lights, lit a few candles and turned on the gas logs in the fireplace.

She sat on one end of the sofa, and poured the tea. Vincent sat on the other end. She handed him a mug and told him to help himself to cookies, then she turned so her back was against the arm of the sofa to face him. She slid her feet down and tucked her toes slightly under his thigh. He was startled and almost spilled his tea when he jumped.

“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling her feet back. “My toes are cold, and I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s all right, Catherine,” he said as he pushed his hand behind her heels and pulled her toes back under his leg. “It just startled me. Your toes are like ice.”

They sat quietly for a while, then Catherine finally broke the silence.

“Did you have a good time tonight?” she asked.

“I had a wonderful time,” he told her, “but I have a feeling that you might have had other reasons for doing this.”

“Well, I will admit that I started out thinking that I would show you that a ‘date’ Above wasn’t anything special, but as I planned, it kind of grew. And since I planned it for your birthday, it had to be more,” she admitted.

“Then I guess it backfired on you?”

“A little, but I did want you to enjoy yourself.”

“I did that, but I was also thinking that if it backfired a little, it still showed me something.”

He turned toward her, pulling his leg up on sofa and propping her feet on his calf. She was amazed at the way he was touching her, and he didn’t seem to be ill at ease with it.

“What, Vincent?” she asked.

“It showed me that I’ve been wrong…maybe I can give you more of what you want from me. All I have to do is use my imagination and be a little innovative.”

He put his mug on the coffee table then he put his hands on the sofa on each side of her hips and leaned forward and kissed her. It was short and sweet, and took her totally by surprise. She sat round eyed, her mouth open on the gasp that had escaped as he sat back on his end of the sofa.

“Catherine?” he asked, a little concerned that the Bond had gone completely quiet after an initial surge of desire he’d felt from her when their lips had touched.

She set her mug on the table, then rolled up to her knees, did a swift turn and snuggled into his lap.

“I’m all for imagination and innovation,” she said as his arms surrounded her and she nuzzled his neck above his collar. “Especially if it includes more of this.”

“It definitely includes this,” he said as he rubbed his hand over the hair that streamed down her back. “I love you, Catherine, and I’m almost ready to show you how much.”

She drew back and looked up at him.

“Almost?” she asked.

“Almost,” he said firmly. “I just need a little more time to get used to the idea that you desire me as much as I desire you.”

He smiled as she pulled his head down for another kiss. “I think I can handle that as long as we can have this. I think a good dose of it on a daily basis will do.”

He gathered her close and she heard the rumble start deep in his chest as he started to laugh. It was the first time she’d heard him laugh…really laugh and it was wonderful. She had to join in.

She finally asked him, “What are we laughing about?”

He smiled down at her, and wasn’t even trying to hide his teeth. “I’m happy,” he said simply, then he kissed her again.

~