Vincent had just returned to his chamber from the Great Hall, where he was helping with the preparations for Winterfest. He was exhausted, but it was the kind of exhaustion that felt good. The warmth of the tunnels’ special holiday filled him with anticipation, as it had since he was a child. The knowledge that Catherine would soon be there to share it filled him with another sort of warmth, and he felt her pleasure at the prospect of her second Winterfest as well as his own. He knew that part of her excitement was for Winterfest, but another part of her enthusiasm came simply from her eagerness to be with him. That thought made him smile. There was a time, not so long ago, when he would have felt unworthy of her love and her impassioned loyalty to their dream of being together. Since his illness, things had changed, though. After he was well, Catherine had exacted a promise from him that he would never run away from their problems again…that he would stop disappearing to that nameless river for days at a time…and, knowing it would be a great relief to her, he had agreed. They now talked more about things they should have discussed before…were beginning to face their problems head-on, and he had to admit that there was a certain liberation in that.
As he laid out his dress clothes for the evening, he thought of little but preparing to meet Catherine. In truth, as he made his way to the bathing chamber, he thought of little but Catherine herself. He knew she had taken the day off from work and intended to pamper herself with a manicure and pedicure…something he could hardly imagine, but something she seemed to look forward to. He lowered himself into the warm water of the small bathing pool, leaned back and closed his eyes in pleasure as his tired muscles relaxed. As he felt a similar relaxation in Catherine, he assumed that she must have done as she had planned.
Allowing himself the luxury of resting, he let his mind wander, but his thoughts continually returned to Catherine…the way she looked, the way she looked at him, the things she said that made him feel loved. What had his life been like without her? He could hardly remember. Last week she had said something that made him think. She had said such things before, but somehow the words had reached him differently that time. She had been working with her rose bush again when he arrived on her balcony, and he had reminded her to be careful. She had philosophically noted that an occasional pricked finger is a part of life, that there is a lot of beauty to be found; but sometimes you have to slog through a little mud or brave a few thorns to reach it. Then she had placed her hand over his heart and reminded him that love is that way, too, but that anything wonderful is even more appreciated when you’ve had to work to have it. He smiled at the memory of her words, and of the little kiss she planted on his cheek before she went inside to wash the gardening dirt from her hands.
As he relaxed, his plans for the evening became more defined. He would meet Catherine at her threshold and walk with her to meet the others at the entrance to the Great Hall. He would dance with her in front of everyone. He would hold her hand if he pleased. He would allow it to be obvious that she was there to be with him. He would be sure to make her feel beautiful…and at home in his world. Other plans had floated through his mind, too, before he realized how long he had been soaking. Pulling himself from his musings, he quickly bathed, returned to his chamber and dressed for the night’s festivities.
One of the helpers, an elderly gentleman with a decidedly romantic bent, had a greenhouse on the roof of an old apartment building and regularly offered Vincent the roses that he sometimes took to Catherine. He had brought flowers for Winterfest and had stopped earlier at Vincent’s chamber to leave a Winterfest rose, saying with a wink, that a special occasion always calls for a rose. Vincent smiled and picked up the deep red flower, automatically starting to use one claw to neatly and efficiently remove all the thorns – a habit he had developed to keep Catherine from pricking her fingers - but then he remembered the conversation they’d had a few nights before. It was a good analogy, and this time he returned the rose to his desk…both beauty and thorns still intact. He was sure that Catherine, all but her fingers, would appreciate that he took her words to heart.
As he had planned, he met her at her threshold, allowing time for them to walk to the Winterfest gathering at a leisurely pace. Her freshly manicured nails were painted an iridescent, soft coral color that complimented the mossy green velvet of her dress. He took one of her hands lightly in his, and with one of his small smiles, he inspected her nails, praised her choice of color, declared that she looked beautiful and gallantly bent to kiss her hand.
As he had planned, he escorted her through the tunnels and the Chamber of the Winds. He turned and offered her his hand after he removed the bar from the doors of the Great Hall, basking in the knowledge that she enjoyed watching him. He danced with her without feeling more than a little self-conscious. He held her hand as they walked among the guests. He briefly put his arm around her shoulders as they looked at the tapestries.
As he had planned, he sent the others back and kept her with him as he closed the Great Hall. He once again led her to dance to their own music and claimed a warm embrace before returning to the home chambers.
As he had planned, he took her to his chamber and gave her the rose, along with a card he had made for her the night before. On the card he had drawn a rose and had written in his beautiful, flowing script,
To my holiday…
To my home…
To my heart…
To my life.
I love you, Catherine."
He reveled in the look of joy and love from Catherine after she read it, and in her laugh when he explained the presence of the thorns on her rose.
As he had planned, he walked her back to her threshold. He kissed her hand once again and pulled her into his arms. Then, as he had planned, he put one hand under her chin, lifted it and kissed her lips softly, feeling the elation he had hoped to feel from her at the touch of the first kiss he offered her. "I have thorns, Catherine," he told her, "but if I’m worth the trouble, I’d like us to work together to have something wonderful."
As he had hoped, she assured him that he was worth it and that they already had something wonderful...that they could work to make it even better.
Completely unplanned, he kissed her once more before reluctantly parting with her. He then returned joyously to his chamber, secure in the belief that somehow he and Catherine would make things work. They would have their life together.