Twelve O'Clock That Night
A stray sunbeam ricocheted off steel and glass and entered through the diner window, coming to rest on Catherine's face. She smiled and shifted to avoid the direct glare in her eyes.
"So, what are you doing for New Year's Eve, Cath? Got a hot date?" Jenny asked, an eyebrow raised in question.
"I thought I'd jump off a chair ..." Catherine replied with a grin, hoping to deflect this latest round of questioning.
"There was an article in this morning's paper about New Year's customs around the world. Apparently the Danish custom is to jump off of chairs at midnight ...."
"Very interesting, Cathy ... and a pretty pitiful attempt at changing the subject," her friend said with a laugh.
Catherine smiled. "I think I'm going to stay in this year ... "
"Staying in? Hmm ... sounds romantic," Jenny teased.
"Staying in, alone ..." Catherine said with a smile that hinted that she was growing weary of the questions.
Jenny shrugged. "Come out with me then. We're taking a group of authors to the New Year's party at Tavern on the Green. It should be a good time ... some of our new writers are rather, um ... colorful."
"I bet they are," she laughed, "But ...."
"Come on ... it'll be fun!" she urged.
Catherine smiled, shaking her head.
"What's going on with you?" Jenny asked, reaching across the table to grasp Catherine's hands. "The Cathy I know wouldn't miss out on a night like this."
Catherine chuckled. The Cathy you knew, she thought as she met Jenny's expectant look.
"Well?" Jenny prompted.
"It does sound like fun ... " she offered. Tavern on the Green ... in the park ... I'd be close. "Maybe."
"Maybe's better than no!" Jenny said with a laugh, rising from her seat and gathering her coat. "I've gotta go - Just let me know, OK?"
"OK, Jen," Catherine replied as she returned to sipping her coffee. A hot date ... I wish, she thought to herself with a grin.
The soft glow of candlelight filled the confines of Father's study. The walls seemed to absorb the light and hold it within, releasing a golden glow of warmth and light.
"Vincent, I've asked some of the older children to assist you in transporting the supplies for the New Year's morning meal."
"I'll see to it that everything is delivered to William in plenty of time."
"Will you be going Above?"
"I don't think that will be necessary. The children can collect the supplies from our helpers and I'll take care of getting them to William."
"No ... I meant will you be going Above for New Year's Eve?"
Vincent turned to look at Father, his head held at that particular angle that indicated disbelief.
"It is a significant night for those in the world Above," Father continued, "Catherine's world ... and I thought that perhaps ..."
"Father ..." Vincent said, closing his eyes and shaking his head. "New Year's Eve is a special evening for those who live Above. An evening with certain ... expectations."
"And you're going to allow yourself to be limited by the expectations of a world that is not your own?"
"That world's expectations are hers also."
"Are they? Really?"
Vincent huffed, turning away. "You don't understand," he replied in a low voice.
"I understand how important Catherine is to you ... and how important you are to her. And, although it may surprise you to hear this from me, I've come to believe that there are some things we don't need to understand ... some things that should just be accepted on faith."
Vincent turned. "Faith, Father? How much faith should I have in my own control? And how much can Catherine be expected to accept ... on faith?"
"Those are questions that only the two of you can answer." Father took his cane into one hand and gathered several books under the other arm as he moved to exit the chamber. Pausing before he left the room, he looked over his shoulder. "But the answers will never come if you don't pose the questions."
The couple stood close, near the balcony wall. Christmas lights strung along the doorway cast a colorful glow in the cold night air.
"And New Year's Eve?" Catherine asked.
"New Years Eve is a quite time below. We welcome in the new year with a special morning meal in the dining hall. But the eve of the new year is a time for reflection."
"That's not so different from what we do ... casting away regrets and making resolutions for the new year."
"And making a lot of noise," he said with a chuckle, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.
"Well ... we're a little more enthusiastic in our reflection."
A warm smile crossed Catherine's lips as she slipped an arm around Vincent's waist, leaning into his shoulder. Holding each other, they looked out over the constellation of city lights.
"So many lights ... and there's a life being lived behind each of those windows."
Vincent remained silent, scanning the city skyline.
"At twelve o'clock that night, it's a new year for all of us. It always feels a little sad and hopeful at the same time. All the things that didn't happen ... and all the things that could."
"Yes," he said thoughtfully, "all the things that could."
She turned and wrapped her arms around him, allowing herself to be enveloped by his warmth. She felt one of his hands move to the small of her back and the other come to rest against the back of her head, pulling her close and holding her near. His hand traced small circles against her back in a blissfully unselfconscious motion. All the things that could, she repeated in her mind.
Catherine was sleepy and warm, settled next to Vincent in a nest of cushions and blankets on the balcony floor. He held a slim volume of poetry in one hand while he caressed her shoulder with the other. He read to her softly, in a voice just loud enough to reach her ears.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted eveningsong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.1
Catherine was putting the finishing touches on her make-up when the doorbell rang.
"Hi Jen," she said on opening the door. "You look great!"
"Ah ... so do you Cathy!" she replied with a hug. "I'm so glad you decided to join us."
"Me too," Catherine replied, as she walked to the closet to retrieve her coat.
"We have a car waiting downstairs … so, whenever you're ready to go ..."
"I'm ready," she replied, glancing towards the balcony door. "Let's go greet the new year."
The Cavern of the Falls, bathed in sunlight by day, was a different place by night. A few torches provided the only light and flickering flames reflected here and there against stone and water. Vincent had climbed to the top of the falls and stood looking across the dark expanse.
So many times he had visited this place ... often in solitude as an adult, but more often with friends in his youth. He thought back on the first time he had made this ascent with Devin and some of the older children. The others had made the climb often and proceeded to make graceful dives, and not-so-graceful canon-balls, with confidence. Vincent had hesitated that first time, as he reached the edge of the precipice.
"Come on Vincent," Devin had taunted him. "What are you afraid of? Just jump!"
Now, alone on the eve of a new year, Vincent shed his clothes and stood at the top of the falls, contemplative - listening to rushing water pass over the falls and splash into the dark pool below.
Some blessed Hope …
There are some things we don't need to understand ...
What are you afraid of? Just jump!
... and all the things that could.
Flexing his legs and raising his arms at his sides, Vincent launched himself off the falls into the darkness. His torso folded and his legs kicked out behind him as he reached for the water below. He pierced the surface with barely a splash and stroked through the depths of the pool, surfacing on the other side.
A massive emerald chandelier at the center of the Crystal Room cast a magical glow on the gathering at the Tavern on the Green.
The company and conversation were good ... yet Catherine longed to be somewhere else. The beginning strains of a familiar tune drifted across the room. "When the bells all ring and the horns all blow ... and the couples we know are fondly kissing ... will I be with you ... or will I be among the missing?"2
Catherine looked around the room and observed that the restaurant's fanciful, eclectic furnishings would easily be at home in the tunnels. The tunnels.
"Maybe it's much too early in the game ..." the singer's soulful voice continued, "Ah, but I thought I'd ask you just the same ... what are you doing New Year's ... New Year's Eve?"
She glanced out the large windows toward the park - the darkness disturbed by blazing light and the shadowy movement of people passing by. She looked at the clock. 11:30.
"Wonder who's arms will hold you good and tight, when it's exactly twelve o'clock that night ... welcoming in the New Year, New Year's Eve."
Her eyes drifted across the dance floor and she spotted Jenny dancing with a British author. Content that her friend was happily enjoying herself, she left a note on the table - "Happy New Year, Jen. Love you ... C."
She put on her coat and went outside. The sight that greeted her on exiting the restaurant took her breath away and lifted her spirits immediately. The atmosphere was electric. Lights covered the trees and large lighted orbs floated like planets amongst them. The park was crowded. She grinned at the composition of the crowd – people in everything from evening wear to running gear and funny hats. Hearing music coming from across the park, she decided to follow the crowd and locate the source.
Returning from the falls, Vincent paused and listened. Music.
He sighed and a smile crossed his lips at the memories of the hours spent with Catherine listening to concerts in the park. He traced the sound and found himself in their listening chamber, bathed in moonlight as he stood below the grate that once allowed the heavens to shower down on them.
Settling onto the tunnel floor, he rested his back against the rough stone wall. He listened as a singer's voice carried through the night air ... "Maybe I'm crazy to suppose ... I'd ever be the one you chose ... out of a thousand invitations you receive. Ah, but in case I stand one little chance ... here comes the jackpot question in advance ... What are you doing New Year's … New Year's Eve?" He closed his eyes, letting the music and the din of the gathering above wash over him.
The air was filled with the sound of horns and ringing bells.
4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1
A crowd cheers ... music plays ... and she is in his arms.
He can feel her warm breath against his neck. "Happy New Year," he whispers into her ear.
"Happy New Year," she replies as she lifts her head from his shoulder.
His mouth covers hers as the words leave her lips ...
He was roused by the sound of explosions.
"Ooooh ... Ahhhhh."
Fireworks. Of course. New year's Eve in the world Above. Her world.
Vincent rose to his feet. It was a dream.
Shaking his head and leaving the sounds of the crowd behind, he continued on to the dining hall to begin preparations for the morning meal.
Catherine had located the source of the music - a party for the start of the annual Central Park Midnight Run. There was dancing and a concert in the band shell. Runners were lined up for the start of the race. A starting gun fired as fireworks exploded over the park, and the sound of thousands of feet on pavement reverberated through the night as the race began.
Catherine leaned back against a large boulder to watch the fireworks. A couple spread a blanket nearby.
"Waiting for someone?" the man asked.
"Excuse me?" Catherine replied, turning towards the couple as it registered that he was speaking to her.
"The race ... are you waiting for someone?" he asked. "We're waiting for our son. He does this run every year, and every year we cheer him at the start … and at the finish."
Catherine smiled and nodded.
"Join us, please. We have hot chocolate."
Her eyes widened at the prospect of hot chocolate and she extended her hand in greeting. "My name's Catherine."
"Hello Catherine," the gentleman said, motioning to a spot on the blanket beside him, pouring a cup of steaming chocolate and handing it to his guest. "I'm Michael and this is my wife, Judy."
"The Park is alive tonight," Catherine said as she savored a long, slow drink of the warm beverage and watched the brilliant fireworks explode against the equally brilliant city skyline.
"We met here in Central Park, 30 years ago," the man said, leaning into his wife's side, turning briefly from the fireworks to note a smile cross Catherine's face. "The Park holds a story for you also, doesn't it?"
"Mmmhmm ... I met someone here too," Catherine nodded as she felt a blush rise over her face.
"Someone you love?"
She paused, looked at them, then looked back toward the night sky. "Yes, someone I love," she replied, wondering somewhat over her lack of caution.
"And why aren't you with this someone tonight?" the woman asked.
"I don't know ..." Catherine replied, amused by the directness of their questions. "Something always seems to get in the way."
"Hmmm ... you shouldn't let that happen ... you shouldn't let those somethings interfere," the woman said without turning her head, as if speaking to the fireworks bursting in the sky before her.
"She's right, you know," the man said reaching to take his wife's hand.
Catherine was watching them watch the fireworks when she spotted two familiar figures moving through the crowd beyond them. "Excuse me, but I see someone I'd like to speak to. Thank you both ... "
"Ah, You're leaving so soon? You don't have someone in the race, then?"
"No, I don't," Catherine said, keeping an eye on the figures in the crowd.
"Before you leave ... " the woman started, looking away from the night sky, "what's his name ... this young man of yours?"
"Vincent. His name is Vincent," Catherine smiled, happy for the opportunity to speak his name. "And you're right, we shouldn't let those somethings interfere."
"A new year’s resolution?" she asked.
"A new year’s resolution," Catherine nodded with a grin before turning and calling out to the two figures in the distance, "Jamie! Mouse!" Catherine touched the couple's clasped hands before turning to leave. "Thank you."
"Hey - what are you two doing in the park tonight?"
"Hi Catherine!" Jamie grinned, looking around. "Are you out here alone?"
"Well, I'm not exactly alone," she replied, motioning toward the crowd around them, "but, yeah, no one's with me. Does Father know you guys are out here?"
Jamie and Mouse both looked down at the ground and shuffled their feet. "No."
"Well, don't worry ... your secret's safe with me. But, be careful, Okay?"
"Always careful," Mouse replied. "Why aren't you with Vincent?" he added, prompting an elbow to the ribs from Jamie.
Catherine laughed and shook her head.
"That's the million dollar question," she said, chuckling at the puzzled look on Mouse's face. "Do you know where he is?"
"Sure ... Mouse always knows," he replied proudly.
"Can you take me to him?" she asked, a little embarrassed by the sense of urgency in her voice.
"Come ... " he grinned. "Follow me."
Patches of orange-gold torch light reflected off the smooth surfaces of the dining hall tables. Vincent slowly wiped a polishing cloth over the dark wood, satisfied by the resulting warm glow. He turned at the sound of heels clicking against the stone of the tunnel floors. A smile crossed his face as Catherine entered the room. He set aside the cloth, opening his arms just in time to receive her embrace.
"You're happy...." he said as he pulled her close.
Catherine smiled as she took a moment to savor the feeling of his arms around her. "It's a New Year," she said looking up at him, "and there's the promise of spending it with you."
He tilted his head ... releasing a sigh, and she grinned happily at his reaction.
"I'm surprised to see you," he said, returning her smile. "Pleased ... but surprised."
"I wanted to be with you," she said, reaching up to brush the hair away from his face. "The customs of our worlds may be different ... but the only thing that really matters is being with those you love." Her eyes lingered on his face for a moment before returning her head to his chest and tightening her hold, listening to the steady thump of his heart under her ear.
"Catherine ..." he whispered.
She looked up and met his gaze with a contented smile, nodding slowly.
"Speaking of customs," she said with a grin, "have you heard of the Danish custom of bringing in the new year by jumping off chairs - literally leaping into the new year?"
"Sounds ... dangerous," he replied with a quizzical look.
Catherine took his hand and moved toward one of the dining hall chairs. Realizing her intention, Vincent shook his head and chuckled, steadying her as she stepped onto the chair.
"It's late, Catherine ... the new year turned over an hour ago."
"It's midnight somewhere," she said, leaping from her perch and finding herself quickly wrapped in Vincent's arms.
"You take risks ..."
"A leap of faith ..."
"Faith," he repeated, taking her hand as he began to lead her from the dining hall. "I do have a regret," he said as they reached the doorway.
"No regrets tonight, Vincent. It's the New Year, remember ... when we cast our regrets aside ..."
"But, this one regret ... and resolution ... I would like to share with you."
She stopped and turned to face him. "Okay ... share."
He smiled and took her hands in his. "I regret that I didn't suggest that we spend New Year's Eve together."
"And your resolution?" she asked with a smile.
"I resolve not to let it happen again."
Catherine raised her arms and wrapped them around his neck as he pulled her close. Vincent held her tightly, very tightly, before releasing her and taking her hand to lead her down the tunnel passage.
1. The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy
2. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve - Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser