(Coda to the rain scene in "Chamber Music")
Linda S. Barth
With gentle care, Vincent raised a glass of water to the old man's lips and waited patiently until he had taken several slow sips. In unconscious sympathy for his friend's discomfort, Vincent grimaced slightly when he saw Sam Denton wince as he swallowed the cool liquid, hoping it would help ease the hot, raspy pain in his throat.
"Thank you, Vincent," Sam whispered hoarsely as he lowered himself back upon a small mound of pillows. "That's better."
"Sam, you shouldn't try to speak," Vincent admonished softly. "It will place too great a strain on your throat. Thankfully, your fever has broken, but you must try to rest now and let the medicine that Father sent continue to take effect."
In the dimly lit room, Sam managed a weary smile, but the furtive flickering of his gaze from Vincent's face to the darkened sky outside his window and back again spoke of deeper concerns to which he could not give voice. Yet Vincent understood.
"Please, Sam, try not to worry. I'll stay until you've fallen asleep, and in the morning Jamie will come to check on you. I'm sure she'll be here very early with a special breakfast from William -- that apple cinnamon oatmeal you like." Reaching out, Vincent smoothed the crumpled blanket around Sam's chest and then took the old man's gnarled hand in his large and gentle grasp. "We all understand that you wish to remain Above in your own home, but you needn't worry that you'll be forgotten. And should you awaken and find that you need us, you have only to call Mr. Long and he'll get a message Below immediately."
Vincent tilted his head in the direction of the bedside phone and, chuckling softly, he released Sam's hand with a final pat. "And besides, I think Mrs. O'Malley across the hall will be more than happy to keep you company. Unless she's finally given up on you?"
Trying his best to frown, Sam shook his head. "That old busybody will never give up. She's always over here pestering me," he complained, but the tone of his voice revealed a quiet pleasure in that fact.
"There, you see, you won't be left alone -- even if that's what you want." Vincent's smile matched the soothing tone of his voice. "Now try and get some sleep."
Moments later Vincent watched as Sam's eyes slowly closed and the careworn lines of his face at last relaxed into the peaceful oblivion of sleep. He knew the medication Sam had taken should provide him several hours of restorative slumber, and soon he would be able to leave safely without undue concern, yet he was reluctant to depart until he was completely certain his old friend's rest would continue undisturbed.
As he settled back in the bedside chair, Vincent's gaze wandered toward the rapidly fading light dimly visible through the threadbare cotton curtains that covered the room's single window. There was an entrance in the crumbling tenement which connected the building with the tunnel community. Vincent had made his way to Sam's fourth floor apartment by way of careful advancement up the shadowy stairway leading from the basement, and he knew that would be the safest route of return. But as the early autumn darkness deepened outside, he almost thought he heard something, someone calling to him, urging him to rise and journey out into the night, to come to a safe and secret place between two disparate realms. The siren song was one he had heard many times before, as difficult to ignore as it was desperately sought, and its music echoed ceaselessly around him until he sensed an echoing voice begin to pulse from within.
As the minutes passed slowly in the quiet room, Vincent felt his entire concentration drawn ceaselessly inward, ever closer to the one person who was so much a part of him that he was aware of her always. She was a tangible presence, a faintly whispering song in each breath he took, a sweetly pulsating promise in each beat of his heart.
He murmured her name, wanting to hear the sound of it in the stillness of the room, needing the reality of his own voice, warm and low, repeating the one word, the one name that defined his entire world.
Sighing, Vincent shook his head slightly, struggling to regain an awareness of his responsibility to the old man whose troubles he had come to ease. With a quick glance toward the bed, Vincent was relieved to find he had not disturbed Sam's slumber with the rumbling resonance of his voice, but his deepening frown and the tightening of his mouth spoke of self-accusation and guilt. It was not like him to become so easily distracted from his duties, and he found the realization of it disquieting. Yet he knew it was entirely understandable as well.
Vincent had hoped to see Catherine this night, and while he harbored no resentment toward the elderly man whom he tended instead, he was aware of an intense longing, an unending need to be with her that swept through him with a force which, for all its familiarity, left him uneasy and unable to ignore its ever-increasing power. This, he admitted worriedly, was the true source of his concern.
During the many months they'd been together, the bond they shared had grown stronger, yet Vincent knew that what he sensed was far greater than that, and he resolutely turned away from the shelter the comforting notion should have provided. Instead, he forced himself to face the plain and simple truth that burned through him with corrosive pain. He wanted her, wanted Catherine, in his arms, in his life, in his world or in hers. Nothing else mattered, nothing else made any sense.
"No!" The harshness of his voice tore into the gloomy silence and seemed to vibrate through him, forcing his long, tapered fingers to arch convulsively against the worn wooden arms of the chair, impaling its splintery wood with his claws. "No," he whispered, the sound softened now with soul-deep desperation. "No..."
It had been difficult enough to live with his ever-increasing desire for Catherine; but now that he could no longer ignore the realization that she, too, felt a deep and compelling desire for him, his torment had been magnified. Where there should have been joy, there was despair, for Vincent believed that to surrender to their yearning would only bind her irrevocably to his world and to him. And though this was his deepest dream, he loved her too much to buy its fulfillment at the cost of her true destiny.
From the moment he'd first felt the wonder of love offered to him from deep within Catherine's heart, he had vowed never to interfere with what he believed was the natural passage of her life. The love they shared was endless, this he knew, and yet he held to the specter of her parting and waited always for the inevitable day when her path would lead away from his world of shadows and secrets and back into the light. Burdened with this belief, Vincent had promised he would not create obstacles to bar her way, to hold her to him when she would be free, never knowing that the only barricade restraining her flight to true freedom was his own misplaced nobility. Vincent felt his heart pounding and forced himself to take slow, deep, even breaths; then with effort he matched the tumultuous emotions churning within him to the slowly calming rise and fall of the broad muscles of his chest.
When Catherine had returned to him several weeks earlier, she had vowed that what they had was all that mattered, that it was worth everything. And while Vincent trusted in her love, he still believed she could not fully understand all the things she would give up by joining her life to his, the tremendous sacrifices she would have to make simply because she loved him. There was so much more he longed to give her, and so much more that could never be, despite what they both needed and wanted so deeply.
"This cannot be," he murmured aloud, his voice little more than an icy shade of its usual warmth and power. "I won't let Catherine do this. What we want, what we need, so much of it can only be a dream. She must fulfill the destiny that was meant for her...and I have to learn to accept my own."
He shuddered, feeling a heavy emptiness fill him where before there had been tentative, newborn hope. Dreams of love and desire were not for one such as he, nor could they ever be, despite the fact they were offered to him for the taking.
He bowed his head as if to accept the almost palpable weight of his pledge as it settled like heavy chains across the wide expanse of his shoulders, and then he pushed himself to his feet. He leaned forward and unnecessarily straightened the blankets around Sam's chest and shoulders once again, almost wishing the old man would awaken and ask something of him, anything to take his attention from the painful burden of his own thoughts. With a quiet sigh, Vincent shook his head as he looked down upon the healing serenity that had at last come to Sam, and he felt ashamed of the selfishness of his wish and of the sudden yearning that he, too, might find peace in dreamless sleep. But he knew that all his dreams would be filled with infinite measures of both pleasure and pain, for all his dreams were of Catherine.
Restlessly, Vincent paced the few steps toward the window and with inborn caution carefully pushed aside the limp curtains to gaze out at the darkened city streets. It had started to rain, and he was suddenly aware of an undeniable need to feel the coolness of the night on his face and hands. With forcibly controlled impatience he eased the window upwards several inches, carefully placing his body in front of it to block any dampened breeze from reaching the ailing man's bedside across the room.
The drizzly autumn evening promised soothing comfort for Vincent's ragged soul and, bracing his hands on the warped wooden sill, he leaned forward, drawing in great breaths of rain-laden night air. For many moments he felt a cool and calming sensation close to satisfaction as he witnessed the inexorable return of his self-control. Yet in the deepest part of himself he mourned the loss of those wildly stirring sensations and knew any serenity received in exchange would be distorted by sorrow.
Resolutely pushing aside that knowledge, Vincent slowly straightened and absently glanced downward. The amber fur coating the backs of his hands was glazed with a glittering of raindrops which caught and reflected errant sparkles of light. He turned them back and forth, watching bemusedly as the moisture gleamed wetly upon the dark gold strands, as within him a recent memory began to swirl and take flight. Almost without realizing what he was doing, Vincent raised one large hand toward his mouth, and the instant his lips touched the sleek wetness of rain on silky hair, he was lost. A soul-deep groan was wrenched from him, and he sank down hard on his knees upon the stark wooden floor. Staring sightlessly out into the night, Vincent gave in to remembered images that filled him with shame and were yet too seductively sweet and too deeply desired to ignore.
It was as if they were in a world of their own imagining, bordered by a soft mist and hazy light swirling within the outer tunnel Below and the stirring, impassioned sounds of Schubert's "Unfinished Symphony" filtering down to them from Above. Side by side they sat, cushioned on worn comforters and quilts, the cool night breezes sweeping gently between them. They leaned back against the tunnel wall, eyes closed as they listened enraptured to the music; yet for all its lyrical beauty, Vincent knew his true attention was drawn to Catherine, and, resting his arm on his thigh, he turned his body slightly toward her, needing to see her before him the moment he opened his eyes.
Her breathy murmured tones called to him. "Ahh, I love this part." He answered her immediately, "Yes, it's beautiful," knowing the beauty which held him enthralled had far less to do with the symphony soaring Above than with another song that played over and over again within him. Then she sighed softly, and, unable to resist, he found himself gazing at her. She wore a dark blue silk dress and fanciful earrings of pearls and gold, something he imagined she might wear to the theatre or to a party Above, and it astonished him to realize that she had dressed as carefully for this special evening in his world as she would have for a social event in her own. He felt a sense of pleasure in the realization and, he forced himself to admit, a trace of pride that she would go to this trouble just for him. The thought sent tendrils of warmth through him, and Vincent sighed softly, knowing that in the past he would have readily denied such an idea, but now somehow it seemed right.
Yet before he could allow himself the greater freedom of contemplating, even for a few moments, the slender, feminine beauty of her body, he raised his eyes to the loveliness of her upturned face. Tilting his head to one side, he studied the ivory lines and curves of her profile, his eyes coming to rest on her mouth as it softened with the warmth of a smile. He could not look away, although he felt perhaps he should, and lost in the enchantment, he spoke without thinking.
"What makes you smile?"
Unhesitating, she turned toward him, and as her eyes flickered open in response, Vincent felt dazzled by the light sparkling in their jade green depths.
"This is a wonderful spot," she began and the words which followed, full of eagerly rippling emotions, seemed to open a floodgate within him. He shared with her moments of his life Below, small pieces of the long years he'd lived without her, something deep within him needing to reassure her, to let her know that his had not always been a bittersweet, stoically endured existence.
Catherine's delight in supposing that for many years they'd probably listened to many of the same concerts, touched his heart even as some small part of him quietly mourned the lost moments when they'd been so close and as yet unaware of each other's existence. Then he told her of the stillness filling the small, hidden chamber when each concert ended.
Her eyes clouded and her voice was full of tears. "The stillness. Didn't it make you feel --"
Before she could finish the question, he interrupted, needing to divert the sadness of her words with the truth.
"Alone? Sometimes...and sometimes I found a wonderful peace in that stillness."
Her poignant smile, immediate and full of warmth, reassured him that she had heard and understood everything, and he wondered if he had ever felt so safe as he did in that moment.
Catherine leaned back once again, seemingly adrift in the music. He was completely unable to turn away from her and leaned infinitesimally closer, but as he did, the sound and brilliance of a sudden storm tore apart the clouded city sky. Its unexpectedly compelling power seemed to vibrate within him, and, he soon realized, within her.
Catherine's eyes opened wide, but there was no trace of fear in her voice as she turned to him in startled amazement. "Lightning?"
He smiled at her, and his low voice was husky with a rumbling undercurrent of amusement. "I think it was."
Within seconds the rain from Above dissolved the orchestral sounds and swept concert-goers from their seats, sending them scurrying for cover as its cold, silvery drops began to splash into the secret chamber Below.
"Vincent," Catherine cried. "It's raining!"
Immediately, he began to pull his cloak from his broad shoulders, intending to offer her shelter from the storm, but much to his surprise, she shook her head in refusal and pushed it away. Laughing, she rose to her knees and leaned back, letting the rain pour down over her upturned face and body.
At first her impetuous actions left him confused, but the delight ringing in her laughter and shining in the wide, vibrant smile she shared with him, drew an answering chord and he smiled back at her, savoring her enjoyment as his own. For long moments, they shared an impulsive, almost childlike pleasure in the surprising events, and Vincent was content to watch happily as Catherine played. But all too soon he felt a deep, insistent undercurrent begin to throb within him, a force devoid of any childish innocence, and although his first instinct was to deny it, he found to his growing dismay that he could not.
With arms outstretched, Catherine gathered the rain to herself as its increasing torrent saturated her hair, turning its strands the color of dark honey, and soaked through her dress, deepening it to a length of cobalt silk that clung to her body like a lover's stroking hands. Vincent averted his gaze, trying to concentrate on the light and sound from Above, and as he did, he felt his hands clench the woolen folds of his cloak, drawing the damp fabric into tight, painful fists so that he would not reach for her instead. But even as that erotic vision momentarily surrendered to his ferocious self-control, sound overtook him and he was lost once more, drawn back to her as if he'd never looked away. The music of Catherine's laughter became a wild melody, undulating with the storm, filling him with both delight and torment. The sound seemed to flood through him, inundating his body with unrestrained emotions, flooding over the barriers he'd erected to hold back the feelings whose power terrified him. His heart began to race, drumming a frenzied beat within the straining muscles of his chest, sending a pulsating drive throughout the length and breadth of him, until it centered low in his body in an overwhelming rush of heat and hardness.
Vincent raised his eyes to Catherine and felt a surge of gratitude that she had not seemed to notice, so caught up was she in other pleasures of the storm-charged night. So many countless times in the past, he had known these feelings of pure and uncompromising sexual need, but always, he believed, he had hidden them from her, forcing himself to move away from her touch or to end an embrace before his eager body betrayed him and destroyed her trust in the safety and sureness of his love. Now, he took low, measured breaths as he tried to exert the smothering power of his lifelong restraint in a desperate attempt to divert that other, more relentless force, the force of his consuming desire for every part of her.
Slowly, thankfully, Vincent felt his control return to him, and in relief he offered Catherine a smile which reflected the constant and more tranquil joy he always found simply by having her near. Yet the moments when he could cherish such sweetness soon would be swept away as with a tremulous, elated cry, Catherine flung herself toward him and into his suddenly outstretched arms.
He looked down into her smiling upturned face, sharing fully in her wonderment and unceasing delight with this extraordinary night. At first his great surprise at her impulsive action easily served to maintain his hard-won serenity. Then, as he felt the sensation of her lithe body moving upon the muscled length of his, he feared that sense of peace and quiet pleasure could not be sustained for long. She cuddled against him, her arms clinging to his neck and shoulders and, without hesitating, he held her closer, struggling to keep back the other, darker sensations which would destroy this moment, this time that he needed with every fiber of his being. Never before had there been such intimacy in their embrace; never before had he allowed it, even though they'd both wanted it with a deep and almost painful desire; and he vowed he would allow nothing, not even himself, to destroy it now, knowing full well that it might never come again.
Even as he reveled in those shared, stolen moments, from within himself Vincent heard harsh orders issued in a horribly familiar voice -- you must not touch her like this -- you must let her go -- you must not -- you cannot! Yet he found he was entirely incapable of following those demands and instead pulled her tighter into his embrace, savoring the sensations evoked by her murmuring sighs and soft smile and the delicious pressure of her body as she nestled upon him. Don't let it be over yet, he begged, his inner voice offering a prayer of quiet desperation. Not yet, please, not yet. And he felt the response in the strengthening sense of self-control that promised him renewed mastery over his deepest fears.
For long, uncharted moments, Vincent felt himself adrift in waves of indescribable sensation that swirled and eddied around them, finding a deep contentment just in being able to hold Catherine in this way. How had this come to be, he asked himself dazedly. The realization that he could be with her like this and yet feel in control, that she would want this to happen, even that she herself had been the one to bring about such a wildly unexpected occurrence, commanded every bit of his awareness, and he gave in to it with surprising ease, allowing himself, even if just this once, to be filled with nothing but pleasure.
Then, as Catherine raised her head and once again looked up into his eyes, everything changed. All sweet contentment and quiet joy were consumed in an instant by a relentless, driving heat that swept over and through him. It seemed as if his body had only been waiting for the moment when he dared to let down his guard, and now it took command of him once more, revealing everything he had tried to suppress within a gentler, more tender guise.
Everywhere their bodies touched seemed to spark with bursts of flame, as if the lightning which still jolted the night sky Above crackled and flared within them. Always in the past, there had been an insulating distance between them provided by the layers of his clothing, but the effects of the night's rain-laden storm had destroyed that deliberate protection. Although marginally drier than the thin fabric of Catherine's dress, it seemed to Vincent that his dampened garments were little more than an insubstantial barrier, one that could be breached with little effort, easily revealing the truths of the imposing, taut muscled body he had always sought to hide.
These thoughts burned within his consciousness, sending shudders of trepidation through him, but they did nothing to stop the responses of his willful body. He could feel every soft curve of Catherine's supple form as she pressed herself closer to him, and in response he could not resist tightening his grasp, spreading open his large hands against the slenderness of her back to pull her more tightly to him. The wet silk of her dress was an irresistible enticement and he rubbed his hands over the fragile fabric from shoulder to waist, wondering if its delicate texture imitated the still unknown sensation of her sleek, bare skin against his work-roughened palms.
Tilting his head back, Vincent inhaled deeply to try and still the ragged raspiness of his breathing. In a heartbeat, he knew the action for the mistake -- and the gift -- that it was. With the sudden, rapid expansion of his massive chest, Vincent, to his shame and delight, felt the softness of Catherine's breasts pressed so tightly against him he imagined he could feel their tautly aroused peaks straining rhythmically toward him with every panting breath.
So lost was he in these forbidden sensations, that for many moments he was totally unaware of Catherine's response, until she slowly raised one knee to rest partway between his thighs and then snuggled closer with a deep, quivering sigh. The effects of her gentle but overwhelmingly seductive offering jolted Vincent to complete awareness, and he felt his control slipping away as every part of him responded to her. It was all there in the pounding of his heart, the harshness of his labored breathing, and the helpless hardening of his body, and in one heartbreakingly sweet and sorrowful instant, he knew it was all too much to bear. Again that inner voice cried out to him -- not yet, not now -- and this time he yielded to its commands.
Like rolling thunder, a deep, groaning cry echoed through the small chamber, and in some part of his mind Vincent wondered at the sound, not realizing for several seconds that it had been torn from both of them. Too soon he forced his hands to take Catherine's shoulders in a gentle but firm grasp and ease her body away from his. Much later he would remember that she had trembled then and, for just a moment, had clung to him, unwilling to surrender those wondrous possibilities, until with a final resolute sigh she had let him push her away.
Try as he might he could not recall the words they'd spoken then, although he knew they were inconsequential ones, needed only to regain the feeling of ease and contentment they'd known earlier, before the rainstorm. Never before had they let themselves become so caught up in a physical expression of their love, and Vincent knew he needed time apart from her now, time to replay in his mind everything that had happened this night without the fiery distraction of the passion that still flowed heatedly through every part of him. Almost as much as he desired these sensations, he feared their consequences, feared that to release them to the light might make her turn away from him. And that was unthinkable for without her there could no longer be any life at all for him.
He ached now with the need to perceive her emotions through their bond, to try to understand her reactions to the time just past. Improbable as he insisted it must be, he could not ignore the growing suspicion that the flames which still burned steadily within him, by some miracle might have their counterpart in her; but he knew, too, that to reach out for such knowledge would be like throwing dry timber on the low throbbing pulse of a banked fire, feeding it until it was out of control. More than anything now, he needed to understand Catherine's feelings, yet his fears were still strong enough to override that deep need, and with great effort he forced himself to subdue his yearning for their unique form of communication, effectively diminishing that part of the bond for as long as he possibly could.
As they walked hand in hand through the tunnels, sometimes in slow, easy silence and sometimes with soft, casual words, he almost managed to convince himself that all was well, all was as it should be. By the time they had retraced their steps to the entrance in the sub-basement of Catherine's building, the passionate storm they'd shared seemed more the substance of his heated dreams than any form of reality.
At the threshold to the world Above they paused, facing each other, both entirely unwilling to let the evening go, loathe to see its magic end in memories instead of promises. In an attempt to hold back the inevitable moment of their parting, Vincent used the power of his heartfelt words, reminding her that a part of his world had become a very special haven for both of them.
"I wanted to share this place with you," he offered, his warm, husky voice lowering even further with the heat of his suppressed feelings, knowing there was so much more he wished he could share with her, daring to wonder if she might wish it, too. He leaned forward, unconsciously curving his body toward her as he looked down into her eyes, his own gaze only partially concealed by the darkened bronze strands of his hair as he awaited her reply.
Yet before she uttered even a word, she told him everything. Her fingers tightened their grasp on his as if to anchor herself to him, and, tilting her head, she swayed closer like rainstreaked limbs of a tree bending to the wind. He felt the sensation of burnished heat trembling in palpable waves from her graceful body, bathing his in delicious tongues of flame. And even had he been able to blind himself to all else, he found in her luminous eyes the answer he had always chosen to refuse. This time he knew there was no choice -- nor did he want one. The desire he'd always tried so hard to hide away, convincing himself it was his own, shameful secret, he now knew had never been a secret at all, not even from the start. Unbelievable as it still might seem to him, he understood without a doubt that this, too, was a gift, powerful and beautiful, that they would share.
Catherine leaned into him, and as he felt her small hands burrow into the damp amber richness of his hair, he immediately tilted his head toward her, craving that increased closeness. Her heavy-lidded eyes did nothing to conceal a gleaming inner heat, its fire flickering in the deep sigh that escaped her parted lips. For just an instant, he lowered his mouth toward hers, only to turn away, burying his face against her hair with a low, harsh moan drawn from deep inside him, a sound wracked with suppressed longing and barely maintained control. So much had happened so quickly that it at last overwhelmed him, and he knew there could be no more this night.
The wet strands of her hair caught against his lips as he drew his mouth forward, purposely seeking the sensual contact, and then he gasped as he felt her warm, soft lips pressed to his throat. The brief but devastatingly erotic contact threatened to consume all vestiges of his hard-won self-control, and he knew then that they must part or risk destroying all they had gained. Pulling away from her embrace, he looked down one last time at her, letting the dark sapphire of his eyes tell her all the things he could not yet say. Barely able to acknowledge those incredible emotions churning within their bond, Vincent could not begin to cope with anything further, and at the threshold between their worlds, he had let her walk away from him. They had parted with a promise to meet again in a few days' time to enjoy another concert in their secret music chamber, but their words, a question voiced within a hopeful comment, a response given with shy and restrained eagerness, had said so much more. They spoke of a deep need for constancy, for a gift of time together. It was a lovers' gift that should have been theirs, and, when at last it came, they knew they would cherish it all the more for its rarity and long-sought beauty.
As he had wandered the tunnels afterwards, he had paused more than once, deeply tempted to return to her, to venture into the world Above in the hope of seeking out still more of those extraordinary moments they'd known this night. It was as if once the very real truth of their shared desire had been acknowledged, even in so relatively innocent a way, it had taken on a power greater than he had ever guessed might be possible. It was almost like an addiction, and, he admitted with a rueful smile, he had not the slightest wish to be rid of it.
He had continued onward, intending to return to their music chamber to gather up the sodden quilts and comforters for cleaning, when the force of Catherine's emotions suddenly flared through their bond, completely burning away any lingering traces of the restraints he'd erected earlier. She was Above, thinking of him, aching for him with a desperate longing she could not begin to control. He froze where he stood, his body half-turned in preparation to race toward her, and it took all the strength he possessed to refuse her unbridled plea, for it was one he'd always secretly longed to hear. Sighing heavily, he forced himself to take a single step away from her, and then another and another until he began to move with long, driven strides through the twisting passageways of the tunnel world and finally up into the late night reaches of the city far from Catherine's home, hoping desperately to outrun the heat of his blood and the compelling sound of her voice.
Full of hope and uncertainty, he had forced himself to stay apart from her since that night filled with rain and longing, even though he'd felt her barely concealed yearning for him resonating through their bond and had known his own desire underscored every note of hers. The waiting, while torturous, gave him strength, for it sustained him with the promises it held and made the now often lonely days of his life easier to endure.
Outside Sam's tenement apartment, the city's sounds were muted, but a phantom strain of music vibrated within Vincent, a vivid, pulsing accompaniment to his slowly fading memories, and an inspiration for new dreams. For several moments he almost believed he could hear the familiar sound of violins, violas, and cellos, their voices separate and yet inextricably connected by a pulsing rhythm which could not be ignored. The third of the Brandenburg Concertos, his favorite, the haunting, vibrant music he'd anticipated sharing with Catherine. He had always loved the intricate design of that music, the interweaving and balance of individual sounds whose full beauty could only be realized when played and heard in harmony. Beyond all else, it was that counterpoint, the soaring passage of two melodies drawn together for a single purpose, that gave it unity and fulfillment. In his heart, Vincent knew that had they heard the music together, spiraling down to them from the world Above, they would have heard the spirit of their souls in the shared destiny of the orchestral sounds.
Vincent sighed heavily and reached for a folded note he had placed carefully in the pocket of his chambray shirt. Although the words it contained had been painfully memorized two days earlier, he found he could not resist reading them again, even though he knew the flowing lines of the familiar script could not have been miraculously reformed into a message of hope. He read them silently, but within his heart he heard the sweet and saddened voice of the writer.
I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am about this, but I won't be able to meet you Thursday night for the concert as we'd planned. Joe was supposed to attend a reception for the mayor tonight as a representative from our office, but now he can't go and I've been told to be his replacement. To get to it on time, I'll have to leave my apartment by 8:00, and if I can somehow manage to get out home early, I could try to come Below. But that won't be until at least 10:00, and by then the concert will be nearly over. I've tried to find someone else to go in Joe's place this time, but no one is willing to do it.
I'm so sorry to have to spoil our plans like this. I wish there was something I could do to change things! Do you think there will ever come a time when we can make even the simplest plans to be together and actually be allowed to fulfill them? It's starting to seem as if our worlds truly will do everything they can to keep us apart and there's nothing we can do about it.
All I've thought of for the past two days is that soon I'd be with you again and I hate having to give this up -- for both of us. On Sunday there will be another concert in the park , the last one of the season -- Ravel and Satie this time. Could we try again?
I 'll be thinking of you tonight and every night, as I always do, and wishing things could be different for us.
As Vincent folded the note away, he found that certain phrases of it resonated within him, repeatedly forcing themselves into his consciousness. He recalled the words again and again, and suddenly their message of entreaty became clear and imperative, when before he had heard in them only sad allusion and surrender. For far too long, they had allowed the demands of their worlds to tear them apart. Time after time, they would yield to the needs and wishes of others at the expense of their own dreams and desires. Often their forfeits had been noble ones, given unselfishly to help someone truly in need; but there had been too many times when the distractions provided by others had simply become easier to deal with than had facing the truths, both bright and dark, within their love. And this, he admitted painfully, was just such a time, for this obstacle presented by Catherine's job was an inconsequential one and could have been easily set aside.
Replaying the words of Catherine's note in his mind, Vincent allowed himself to listen to their true message. She had wanted nothing more than to refuse Joe Maxwell's request and to be with him instead. He knew at one time she would have done just that without even complicating the situation by telling him about it. Why, he wondered silently, had she acted differently this time? When had everything begun to change?
Vincent felt a sudden rush of anger at himself and his own sense of failure. The answers had always been there, and now he ignored the pain he knew he would feel as he finally faced them. Everything had begun to change a long, long time ago. He remembered how open and honest Catherine had been in her feelings for him even in the early months of their relationship. Fragments of memories, each cherished and beloved, arrayed themselves like a mosaic within his mind, and he could not ignore the truth in the picture they presented. Catherine grasping his hand and begging him to stay with her on her balcony until the morning light. Catherine helping to take him home, vowing she would never give up or abandon him. Catherine speaking of the warm and lovely dream she'd had of him. Catherine risking her own life to save his and then telling him that she had done so not out of courage but out of love.
And what had he done in response, he asked himself in horror, other than to gather the miracle of her love to his heart and all the while continue to hold her apart and away from him. Catherine was more than just the dream he had never thought he'd know. She was warm and real and only waiting for him to overcome his fears and truly welcome her into his arms and into his life. She had told him so in countless ways, but he had been unwilling to listen.
Vincent thought of the message he had sent to Catherine in reply to her note, and shuddered in disgust as he recalled his words of willing acquiescence. Without hesitation he had written a response telling her that she must fulfill the responsibilities of her job, that they must be unselfish and continue to hope they might find themselves together on some other night, at some other time. He had meant the words to be supportive and under-standing, but now in retrospect he wished with all his heart that he had done things differently.
Why, he asked himself in sudden brutal honesty, had he always been so quick to accept the restrictions their worlds placed upon them, to yield to those disruptions and distractions when so many were unnecessary and often could have been avoided. He'd always told both Catherine and himself that these things were inescapable. But had there always been other reasons for his swift acceptance of their "fate," reasons whose origins were far too disturbing to examine closely in the light and were better left buried in a more easily accepted guise? Were his fears so great that he would sacrifice everything to them?
Without seeming to notice that he did so, Vincent began to pace the length of the small room, instinctively restricting his stride to its limiting space. As he strode back and forth, his analytic thoughts mimicked the rhythmic movement, until they synthesized into a seamless and undeniable truth that made him halt his relentless motion and face it with all the strength and courage he possessed.
There was no doubt left within him now, nor places left to hide, and at last Vincent understood that he could no longer find false shelter in them. He knew that for many long months he had allowed his own fears to control and shape their true destiny, purposely deflecting nearly every opportunity they'd had to explore their sweet and soaring feelings for one another, to try to define the direction their lives might take, to reach out for all the wonderful things that could be theirs. So many of even the most simple and tender moments had been sacrificed to his fears, and he felt a wave of shame rush through him at the memories of the times when he had spoken to Catherine of separate lives to be led, other destinies to be embraced, immutable duties to be upheld, when he should have spoken the words of his heart. Words of dreams and desires, of commitment and conviction, all the words of faith and hope and love that sang through their bond, but had been silenced by his voice.
And, he admitted disparagingly, he had imposed his fears upon Catherine, tormenting her and forcing her to yield to them when they had never been hers at all. She had only wanted to be free to love him and to help him unburden his heavy heart so that he would be free to love her in return, in all the ways they'd both dreamed of for such a long, long time. Yet instead he had repeatedly turned her away, until now she, too, found it all too easy to surrender instead of pursuing their dream, not in her heart, but in so many small moments, so many seemingly inconsequential ways that slowly and surely eroded all chances for the intimacy they craved.
Vincent shook his head hard. The words of Catherine's note still haunted him and he wondered how he had been able to ignore the plaintive request within it, a plea that should have been painfully obvious to him, but which he had convinced himself to disregard. Once more he felt ashamed that he had pushed her to embrace his own well-intended, but terribly misguided subterfuge. In every word, she had asked him to let her change things, to just once refuse to submit to the unfair demands of the outside world and instead dare to ask for something just for themselves. But he had not done so, and, ever sensitive to his needs and fears, Catherine had again given in, the depth of her love for him surpassing all else.
She had loved him for so long, and after their recent wondrous night in the music chamber, he could no longer deny that her feelings included a deep and unbridled passion, a passion that was only for him. He thought of the way she had looked at him before she had returned Above, her heavy-lidded gaze wandering over his face and body as if she were caressing him, her smile offering a promise of sultry mysteries soon to unfold. Her eyes, her voice, her entire demeanor had spoken of her smoldering desire for him. It had all been there in immutable, unmistakable proof that not even he could deny. And while he still needed to conceal the full depths of his own feelings for yet a little while, he knew that intoxicating yearning was one they fully shared.
Vincent sighed heavily as a remorseful half-smile formed on his unique lips. "We have sacrificed much, Catherine," he whispered hoarsely, "in the name of love, when in truth it was love crippled by my fears. But the time for that is past, and now those fears must end."
His eyes closed briefly as if to mark the passage of a season in his singular and remarkable life, and when he opened them again, their blue depths burned with a fiery purpose. He glanced toward the nearby window and was reminded of what they had both hoped this night would hold and of how their hopes had been destroyed.
"No more," Vincent said aloud, his voice subdued yet impenetrably strong and steely. "It will not happen again. This time things will be different for us."
His eyes swept the dimly lit room as his mind feverishly sought a method to give substance to his promise. He noted the hour, just before eight, on the battered clock that sat on a nearby shelf, and then his gaze rested on the bedside table. Vincent's determination had sparked an inspiring fire within him and in seconds he knew he had found his answer. With quiet footsteps, he neared Sam's side, and after quickly assuring himself that his friend remained deeply asleep, he sat once again in the worn wooden chair and composed the message to Catherine that would, he hoped, deliver the direction of their shared destiny into their own hands.
While Vincent's reverie gave rise to a determined plan of action, Catherine found herself driven not by her own dreams and desires but instead by the demands of others. She slammed the apartment door behind her and forcefully flung her jacket, keys, and briefcase onto the soft pastel cushions of a couch, but that did not in the least satisfy her need to vent her anger and frustration on the nearest inanimate objects. Ordinarily, she would have caught herself in such a pointless reaction and would have laughed at her own childishness, but tonight she was beyond that and instead glanced about almost wildly for a final target. In mere seconds she found it and advanced on the combination phone and answering machine that sat on a nearby table, its red light blaring out a demanding summons as unavoidable as any subpoena issued from the DA's Office.
For several seconds Catherine stood with one finger poised over the erase button, strongly tempted to simply eradicate the intrusive messages that clamored for her attention, but at the last moment she yielded to her own better judgment. With forced patience she listened to a reminder from her dentist's office and a request from the Metropolitan Opera's latest fundraising drive, and then, with a gradually increasing sense of calmness, to a message from her father about next weekend's brunch with Peter Alcott and a final call from Jenny with plans for a movie and dinner the following week.
Moments later the slowly growing serenity that Catherine felt was shattered by the all too cheerful voice of Joe Maxwell, and with each uttered syllable of his message, she felt her temper flare dangerously.
Hi, Radcliffe -- you in? No? Well, I'm just calling to remind you about that reception for the mayor tonight. Since I was tied up with the Ferrelli case out in Brooklyn all day, I didn't have a chance to call you at the office, so I figured I'd better do it now. I got home earlier than expected -- even picked up my tux at the cleaner's -- so I guess I could have gone myself after all. But, I'm pretty beat and, hey, they'd rather see your face there anyway! It's already -- let's see -- ten after seven now, so if you're listening to this message instead of picking up, you'd better get moving -- don't be late for this one, Cathy! And I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning!
Catherine heard the harsh sound of air forced through clenched teeth and was not at all surprised to realize it was her own ragged breathing. With deliberate force, she jabbed a finger down on the rewind button and noted with satisfaction the rapid whining sound of the tape as it obliterated that last infuriating message. The small gesture somehow dissipated most of her anger, leaving in its place an enervating resignation. It was no use, she told herself, no point at all to keep on hoping that somehow this evening could have gone as they had planned.
With a deep sigh, she shook her head wearily, and as she glanced down at the small gold watch on her wrist, she felt hot tears fill her eyes. Not very far away in the bandshell in Central Park, musicians would be readying themselves for the evening's performance, nearly the last of the season, just as she should be arriving at the threshold Below. Vincent would have waited for her there, sensing her eager anticipation blend with his to thrum deliciously through their bond, just as vibrantly as the first concerto's opening notes would soar into the cool autumn night air.
A single tear trembled from her lashes and Catherine wiped a hand across her eyes as firmly as she could, determined not to let herself dissolve into self-pity. There was nothing more to be done, and once again, she would have to look to future days and only hope there could be something more waiting for them. Somewhere, someday.
She took a deep, cleansing breath and looked again at her watch, forcing herself to concentrate on the here and now.
"Oh, great," she muttered. "It's already ten of eight. I should have left a half hour ago! I'll never make it!"
Feeling her tension escalate again, Catherine turned toward the latticed doors of her bedroom, only to come to an abrupt stop as the phone pealed out a new command for attention. In one graceful, instinctive movement, she pivoted toward the sound and reached forward to turn off the volume switch before a second ringing clamor could be heard. "You'll just have to wait," she said aloud. Then smiling a bit self-consciously at the satisfaction the sudden silence brought, she headed for what she hoped would be a revitalizing shower and immediately dismissed all thoughts of the unknown caller from her mind.
Minutes later Catherine stood under the force of the heated spray, welcoming the stinging sensation upon her scalp and skin as if it could somehow reach within and wear away the sadness in her heart. Again, she felt her eyes burn with tears and this time she did nothing at all to stop them. Leaning against the wet tiles of the shower wall, she rested her head against her arms and gave in to the sobs that shuddered from her.
Now, just when everything seems to be coming together for us, she thought mournfully, we're constantly torn apart. There are so many possibilities opening up for us, but never the time to talk of them, to move past all the worries and fears. To try to discover what might be, what could be. I love him....and I know he loves me....We only want to be together, like other people, other lovers. Is that too much to ask, too much to hope for?
She raised her head and turned again toward the cascading water, feeling its rhythmic rush mix with the last of her tears. There was nothing in that watery force to remind her of a gentler rain, and yet her thoughts flowed swiftly to a night far different from this one. She remembered how the sudden storm had caught them unaware and that without warning, its rampant, unbridled power had seemed to invade her entire being, releasing a completely sensual energy that rippled from her to flicker all around them, much as the lightning had flared and bolted across the dark night sky. She had laughed and played with abandon in the rain, reveling in the sensations of its chilled drops trailing across her heated body, and even more so in the realization that Vincent watched and responded to every fiery feeling within her.
Unable to stop even long enough to think, she had thrown herself into Vincent's arms, stretching her shivering body so as to touch him everywhere she could. Her need to know the reality of his hard-muscled strength holding her with such a stirring combination of desire and devotion had been far too strong to resist. It had been a great risk, she had realized all too soon, to give in to such an impetuous action, but it had been born of great need, long suppressed and set aside, and she could not wait any longer.
She trembled as she remembered the way he had held and caressed her, knowing it was what he, too, had wanted for so long, grateful he had not ended it too soon. A deep, pulsing heat filled her entire body as she recalled the sensation of his hands stroking over her back as if the silken dress had vanished entirely and he was at last touching her bare skin. Even now she could almost hear the harsh, uneven rhythm of his breathing as he held her to his chest, entirely unable and unwilling to let her go. A deepening flush colored her face and neck as she thought of the way she'd pressed herself harder to him, then subtly rubbed her breasts against the trembling planes of his chest until their tips hardened with unhidden desire, much as they did now even at the remembrance of that delicious sensation.
With a quavering sigh, she recalled the way she'd been aware of his narrow hips and swelling flesh straining instinctively toward her. And again she regretted the loss of control she had felt when she'd begun to nestle closer to that provocative heat, since it had been that last unstoppable action which had forced Vincent to bring their sensual idyll to an end. She turned under the shower's spray and tilted her head back, a tremulous smile curving her lips as she again promised herself that their moments of burgeoning passion in the little music chamber were only the beginning. Then, though she knew full well it was not entirely fair to Vincent's peace of mind, she let those sensations glide toward him through their bond, believing he, too, would welcome the resonant heat which would remind him of that promise.
Too soon the rapidly cooling water began to chill Catherine's skin and she shivered as she stepped from the shower. She quickly wrapped her hair in a large, fluffy towel and dried her trembling body with another, wishing the radiant warmth lingering within her could chase away that coldness as well.
From the living room she heard the soft chimes of the small anniversary clock and then gasped as she realized it was now eight-fifteen. Instantly she became a rushing flurry of motion as she hurried to apply make-up and dry her hair before running into her bedroom to dress. Her movements were controlled but swift and within minutes she was almost ready. She glanced quickly at her image in the full-length mirror and could not help noticing the dispirited expression in her grey-green eyes and the downward turn of her soft mouth, imposing upon her an image of controlled despondency which the elegance of her simple black dress and gold jewelry could not entirely offset. She shrugged her slender shoulders, knowing she had done the best she could, and steadfastly ignored the insistent heartfelt wish that she had spent this time carefully and lovingly dressing in a way that would bring pleasure to Vincent, rather than to make an impressive appearance for people and purposes that had slowly but ever-increasingly ceased to hold any importance in her life. Touching her fingers to her heart, the place where his crystal should have rested, Catherine closed her eyes for the few seconds it took to turn away from her reflection. She knew if she did not do so quickly, she truly might collapse under the weight of the sadness she could no longer shake off.
A sudden gust of wind rattled the French doors leading to the terrace and the unexpected sound momentarily loosened the tenacious grasp of her depression. She remembered noticing that a light rain had begun to fall as she'd left the office, and she reached into her closet for an umbrella and raincoat to keep away the damp chill of the night. As she did so, her hand brushed lightly against the dark blue dress she had worn three nights earlier, and once more her eyes glazed with unshed tears. Yet this time as she blinked them away, she knew they had been evoked not by sorrow but by memories both joyful and loving, ones which told of dreams that someday might come true and promises that together they would find a way to keep.
With a smile that was only slightly forced, Catherine settled her coat over her shoulders, picked up her umbrella and purse, and hurried into the living room. As she neared the door, she remembered having hurled her keys at one of the paired pastel couches, and she shook her head in slight self-disgust as she burrowed her fingers beneath the cushions in search of them. Moments later she straightened, keys in hand, and as she did, she noticed once again the omnipresent blinking of the phone's message light. Yet now its once maddening scarlet blaze seemed muted to a warm, crimson glow that issued a gentle request for attention instead of blaring a command.
Amused at the whimsical direction her thoughts had taken, Catherine felt a genuine smile curve her mouth as she left her belongings on the small couch and walked toward the phone. Once there, she reached for the machine's playback button, but suddenly paused and tilted her head to one side in unconscious imitation of Vincent's appealing gesture. She waited motionless for several disconcerting moments, inexplicably feeling as if she would hear the faintest strains of a song meant just for her if only she could listen closely enough. A billowing wave of warmth and love rushed through her, and although it lasted for mere seconds, it left in its wake an immutable sense of tranquillity and strength, and she knew without a doubt that Vincent had spoken to her through their bond. Rarely had she felt those sensations with such intensity, and in a heartbeat, she knew every trial and setback of the whole maddening, unhappy day was a small price to pay in exchange for this miraculous gift given with his love.
Slightly breathless, she dropped down onto a chair adjacent to the table where the phone rested, its small, bright light still winking up at her. "This had better not be you again, Joe," she warned with a wry smile as she pressed the playback button and waited to listen to the one remaining message. But when the tape squeaked to a halt and then began to play, the voice that issued from it was one she had never expected to hear. Immediately the low, husky sound filled every space around and within her, holding her willingly in its warm embrace.
"Catherine, I was wrong to answer your note as I did. I've tried so hard not to force you to choose between your world and mine, but sometimes through my own fears I deny you, deny both of us, the right to make any choices at all. I've taken from you the very freedom I've tried to protect....and I've taken us farther from our dreams....I know that for tonight it's too late, but if you were there in your home right now, I would talk with you again, and this time I would listen, truly listen, to what you've asked of me. And, Catherine, my answer would be different. I promise you this time I would hear what's in your heart...and in mine."
For several seconds, Catherine sat frozen in stunned disbelief. Then, as if a flame had been set to her heart, she felt the flaring demands of a thousand thoughts and questions. Could it be true that he was finally willing to speak to her of these things, to risk moving forward toward everything they could be together? If only she had been there when he'd called -- how had he -- when? With a groan of pure regret, she realized it had been his call she had ignored only a half-hour earlier, and the anguish that thought brought to her was almost more than she could bear.
"No," she whispered hoarsely. "Not now, not again."
She leapt to her feet, desperate to do something, to find some way to make things right, but she could find no direction and stood desolate, staring down at nothing at all as her rational mind sought to channel her aching heart. Once more there were chances lost, opportunities missed, another link in the ominous chain that held them apart from one another.
Catherine reached for the phone, needing to hear the promise of his words over and over again, when from the balcony there came a sudden scraping noise, as if the small, wrought iron bench had been inadvertently pushed across the concrete floor. Her head snapped up at the sound of it, her entire body poised to react. And even as her mind told her it could not be, that he had gone to tend to Sam Denton's illness, that he expected her to be out, that he would not come here while she was away, she rushed toward the sound, knowing in her heart what she would find when she threw open the French doors.
"Vincent!" The very sound of his name was the most beautiful music she had ever heard, and she flew into his outstretched arms, trembling as they enfolded her in an embrace as powerful as it was tender. For long moments they were content to simply hold one another close, and then Catherine leaned back in his arms just enough to be able to look up into his face. The evocative look in his eyes told her that he knew she had heard his heartfelt message and now he awaited her reply.
She tried to speak, but the words which tumbled from him, half hope, half fear, echoed everything she had seen in his eyes and their fervor silenced her.
"Catherine, I shouldn't be here. I thought you'd gone and that I'd wait for you to return. But you're late and I'm keeping you from your appointment. You must go now. I'm sorry, I -- "
Raising one hand from its resting place on his wide shoulder, she pressed her fingers to his lips and silenced his racing words with a featherlight caress. For just a moment she thought she felt the slightest pressure of his mouth in return and paused, unwilling to ignore even this small possibility. But when he remained motionless, she found the words they both needed, words that would help them move toward love.
"You said this time you'd listen to what I asked of you, Vincent," she began, her soft voice low but as clear as the purest strains of music, and she felt his large hands tighten their grasp on her waist. "Please, will you listen now?"
He could only nod his head in response, his eyes never leaving hers, and the flickering flames she saw deep within urged her forward.
"I was wrong to send that note to you," she continued, a certainty in the strength of her voice. "I should have made my own decisions about tonight. I should have followed my heart."
Vincent's mouth softened for a moment at the sound of those familiar words, but he shook his head in denial. "How could you, Catherine, when I wouldn't let you? When I let my fears force me away from everything we both want? I know you were only doing what you thought I wanted, what I had convinced myself was best for both of us."
"Maybe," she agreed, a smile beginning to ease the tense lines of her face. "And it probably won't be the last time."
He laughed slightly, closing his eyes briefly in wonder at the miracle he held in his arms. Then he looked down at her again and ruefully forced himself to speak the words which would end their time together.
"Catherine, I meant everything I said when I called you from Sam's apartment, but for tonight it's too late, it's --"
"No." The single syllable prevented any greater loss, and when he paused, unsure of what was to come, she repeated its undeniable edict. "No, it's not too late, Vincent. It's never too late for what's meant to be."
She felt the provocative trembling of their bond evoked by the plain and simple truth of her words and she knew he felt it, too. Taking a deep breath, she raised her hands to stroke lightly along the angled planes of his face, trembling within as she reveled in the sensations of her smooth skin sliding caressingly over the soft golden stubble and sculpted lines of his cheekbones and chin. Unhesitating, she let her fingertips once again glide across his mouth and this time there could be no mistaking his shuddering response.
"Say it, Vincent," she urged him almost breathlessly. "You promised to listen to my words, truly listen this time, and you said your answer would be different. I want nothing more than to be with you tonight, to let nothing in your world or mine stand between us. But what do you want? Can you tell me now?"
There was nothing left in him to resist her, and for a fleeting second he wondered how he ever had. "What I want, Catherine, is to share this night with you. To ask you to change your plans and come Below to our music chamber. To leave our worlds behind and ignore everything that would force us apart."
He paused, taking a deep shuddering breath, but when he spoke again there was no hint of hesitation or doubt in the smoky rasp of his voice. "I want you to be with me."
Her gasp was a breathy, joyous sound almost smothered by the sweet ferocity of her embrace as she flung her arms around his neck and pulled herself as close as possible to the strong reality of him, burying her face in the curve of his neck and pressing small, warm kisses against his sturdy flesh. Vincent's arms closed tight about her, allowing them both this moment they so needed; and then without thinking he bent his head forward, forcing her to lean back and look up at him. He raised one large hand, gently caressing the satiny smoothness of her hair and face until he reached her chin. His long, slender fingers trembled only slightly as he raised her face to meet his gaze, and the incandescent heat he saw in her eyes nearly ravaged his self-control. Yet he did not falter and with one unceasing motion, lowered his mouth toward hers in a kiss that, for all its gentleness and fragile beauty, burned within both of them with an intensity and ardor that would never be diminished.
All too soon he released her, not truly needing words or gestures to know how she would cherish this moment, this gift of his love, but wanting them all the same. He found them in the eloquent silence of her eyes, so full of love for him that he felt he would never wish for anything more.
With a brilliant smile, Catherine reached for his hand. "It's time for us to go."
"Yes," he answered, only slightly breathless. "If we hurry, we'll still be able to hear the third concerto."
"Your favorite." She squeezed his hand tighter. "I'll only be a minute. Wait for me?"
He nodded as she dropped his hand and hurried back into the apartment. Pausing just at the threshold, he watched as she reached for the phone and quickly pressed a series of numbers on the keypad. Tilting his head, he let himself listen to her words, reveling in their certainty and promise.
"Joe? Yes, it's me, and, yes, I know how late it is. Something's come up and I won't be able to -- I'm not going to that reception tonight. Don't start, Joe -- I'm not going and it's not up for negotiation." She fell silent, but looked over her shoulder at Vincent and grinned conspiratorially. "I know it's last minute, but I'm not changing my mind. I'll see you in the morning, and, you know, it's a good thing you picked up that tux!"
She turned back toward him then. The smile Vincent so loved brightened her face and he felt it warm him within and without.
"I'll meet you Below, Vincent," she said, her heartfelt pleasure in those simple but portentous words glowing in her eyes and along the channel of their bond.
"And I will be waiting," he answered before turning to go. "Always."
She paused only long enough to secure the balcony doors behind him. "Always, Vincent," she murmured, knowing he would hear her. "Always."
Then, before the world Above could once again conspire to destroy their hopes and plans, she left its threats behind and rushed to join him in that secret, special place where they could at last begin to live their dream.
"Counterpoint" originally appeared in the quarterly "Soulmates -- A Never-ending Dream," Sept. 1995. It won the second place award as Fan Favorite Short Story at the B&B convention in Norfolk, July 1996.