I Wish I Had a River

Deborah Jedynak

Itís cominí on Christmas, theyíre cuttiní down trees
theyíre puttiní up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river I could skate away on

Joni Mitchell

Catherine sat curled on her sofa this cool mid-November autumn eve as the dimming twilight softened the hues of the city. Pensively savoring a mug of hot chocolate lathered with whipped topping she had proudly made herself, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, she stared off into the fireís warmth, listening to the echoing vibes of Joni Mitchell on the CD player. Absentmindedly she swirled the whipped topping around the rim of the mug using the large cinnamon stick looming from the white mound. It reminded her of a snow bank in the glen behind her familyís Connecticut cabin and an aching desire to be there swept through her heart, the worn sweet memories of her youth stinging her moistened eyes. The snowball fights with dad, and her mom calling them to dinner as a silent snowfall promised to blanket their furious footsteps.

A tearful smile she bore imagining Vincent wrapped around her right here in front of the fire, the crackling logs reminiscent of his feet traveling on the tunnelís gravelly pathways when they strolled toward the threshold earlier this evening as they bid each other one more reluctant goodnight.

How much longer would she be able to bear this sweet pain? Vincent may know right at this moment what was in her head and heart. She didnít want to disturb their connection by conveying tumultuous thoughts, and as soon as she made an attempt to cease, he had already sensed her turmoil through their bond and wanted to dash to her, to climb the heights, to soothe her aching soul. He hesitated however, knowing that as much as he could ease her spirit, he knew she was compelled to have her space, to sort some things through alone and unhindered. Vincent knew her desire for him was fragile and teetered ever so precariously on the surface to the point where it was transparent and she didnít even mind it. She wasnít afraid to demonstrate every moment they were together how much she adored him and he knew her love was deeper than the Chamber of the Falls, and thanked the heavens every night for allowing him to find her in Central Park that foggy April night.

So, began their journey together and their bond brought them closer since that night over 3 years ago. They had been through so much together, more than some people could ever have experienced in a lifetime. Vincent was grateful Catherine accepted him as he is and although time permitted him to come to terms with his differences, he was still in awe that Catherine chose him for her companion, her soul mate, her beginning and end. Now, at this point of their relationship, he often thought about taking their journey to another plateau. A plateau of physical affection beyond what they already shared. He knew it would mean a deeper commitment if that were possible for either of them, and together, after they defeated Paracelsusí evil intervention and his own illness, he was willing to try and he desperately needed to tell her, he ached to express his desire, to lay himself completely open to her.

Catherine delved into the bond and sent Vincent her warmth, which flowed through her like a river rippling down curving passages. She knew she was in his head and enjoyed how it affected him. Some lovers, she thought, had grave difficulty communicating through their words or actions, yet their communication heightened by the miraculous connection they shared, deepened every day of their lives. She smiled thinking of how fortunate she was to have this special man in her life who, without words, loved her unconditionally. He too was a fragile balance and she never, ever wanted to take him for granted.

He was her lifeline in so many aspects of her existence, previously an empty existence it was, as she ashamedly shook her head, until he found her broken body in the park. A creature of privilege, she accepted her status in the world, yet lessons of enlightenment directed her to her destiny; a place of truth, a place of knowledge and a place of loving devotion with Vincent and the people he called "family".

"I was a shallow mess before he found me, thatís for sure" she mused to herself.

She rose from the sofa and placed the now lukewarm mug of hot chocolate on the mantel and in her stocking feet padded over to the desk to review her calendar before retiring. She sat and studied the month of November and flipped the page to December. The holidays were drawing near. She knew procrastination was not something on her agenda and solemnly vowed to accomplish her Christmas shopping at least by the weekend. Thanksgiving was to be savored, her utmost favorite time of year, filled with the magical wonder of what that represented in her own faith.

Resting her chin on her hand, she peered down at the small clock Vincent had given her on their last anniversary. It was simple, yet told a story as its vintage history had probably seen many hours go by. With its hands pointing straight up it was easy to see its face depicting a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, displaying two skating lovers embracing, their images reflected hazily off the glassiness of an icy pond on a crisp winterís eve. The image seemed to take on a life of its own and suddenly a brief yet electric idea shattered her semi-amorous state of mind, the wheels in her head turning, and spinning until she slapped her hand down on her knee and giggled with glee. She had a plan, and it could work. "HmmmÖ.Why not?" she recited aloud. Immediately, Catherineís weariness and need for sleep was pushed aside briefly for other mind consuming thoughts. All she had to do now was share this brainstorm with Vincent and she trusted he would react as she expected. With hope anew and a spring in her step, she bounded off to bed with childlike apprehension and settled down to slumber, pulling the comforter up to her chin, she drifted off.

Catherine opened one eye to the new day beckoning and instantly recalled where she should be and what her last thought was before the sand man hit. The idea seemed even better in the light of day. After a long luxurious stretch she slowly curled up, grabbed the pillow, and tucked it under her chin Ė remembering it was Saturday, she was not in a hurry to climb out of bed, yet she just knew she couldnít lie there for much longer. The ticking of the clock on the nightstand brought her back to her thoughts and there was no denying it was time to rise, get dressed, and face the day- Moreover, face her beloved Vincent. She was glad she didnít take any work home for the weekend and felt a sense of freedom and empowerment. After a hearty breakfast, she sprinted out the door, but not before she reached into the desk drawer, pulled out a rough drawing on a piece of paper, and tucked it into her coat pocket for she would need to accomplish a mission this morning.

It was early enough to pick up a latteí and take a stroll down the avenue window-shopping, passing over street gratings, steam rising into the crisp autumn air made her smile, comforted in the thought that her world lay just below.

Catherine knew that in order to place a proposition before Vincent, one had to be prepared to make a strong case Ė similar to preparation for a court case. With furrowed brow, she knew that occasionally court cases could actually be easier than attempting to convince Vincent to agree to ideas that may be precarious. However, try she would and the word Ďnoí was not an option. As she passed a sporting goods store, she hesitated, stepped back and went in. This so-called "mission" focused on how her plan would evolve. She made a purchase, one which she knew when Vincent saw what she was about to unveil would be the impetus for him to see her plan to fruition. To make it more interesting, she had the purchase gift-wrapped.

With package in hand, she arrived at the park entrance and he was there waiting as she suspected he would be. ĎHe must have been feeling my vibesí, she thought as he extended a welcoming hand, escorting her through the iron gate and into the tunnels. His presence always brought a flutter to her heart; made her cheeks flush and her stomach clench with anticipation. He was her heartís desire and she his, and every moment in his eyes was a gift to be forever cherished.

They strolled leisurely hand in hand. Vincent inquired, "Catherine, I felt your turmoil last night, I was concerned, but as soon as it caught my attention, it was gone and replaced by a peaceful hum. Can you tell me about that?"

"Well, I was remembering my childhood when our family spent the summers and Christmas holidays at our Connecticut cabin. The cabin I had hoped one day we could visit together Vincent".

Sorrow briefly touched him as he recalled their last attempt to steal some time away together at the cabin. How he regretted having to deny her simple request when his judgment got the better of him. "Yes, you have described how beautiful the night sky is and how there was a glen where you would lay in the grass watching ladybugs crawl up your arms"

Catherine giggled at the thought, "I would gently gather up those ladybugs to count the spots on their backs. I imagined finding a magical ladybug that had the power to turn me into a fairy princess in the hope that my prince would come. Little did I know then that my prince walks beside me now and forever more." Her heart was pounding, as she knew this was a bit of herself opening up to let him in.

With her sweet words, Vincent felt his face flush hotly and his vulnerability was evident. "Catherine, letís away to my chamber, there is something we must discuss"

Her heart was pounding even more yet she knew it must be held at bay because she was compelled to reveal her plan either before their discussion or afterwards. Whatever was going to happen next, wherever their discussion would take them, there would be no deterrent.

They walked the rest of the way through the tunnels not speaking, only his gentle squeeze around her hand was all the language needed between them. When they arrived at his chamber, Vincent proceeded to light several candles on his writing table. The shadowed unlit corners cast an aura of deep purples and russets reflected off the candlesticks.

Catherine truly felt at home here. Why wouldnít she, as this was where it all began for them. His loving care and attention brought her back and helped her see herself in a way she never knew could happen. Her life changed that April night and she would not look back because Vincent was her future, now and always. There would never be another man in her life again and she consigned her devotion to him. A stab of regret pierced her heart. She wished he had been in her life always; that she had saved herself for him; but how was she to know their fate would bring them together?

Vincent hung his cloak on the rack near his armoire. He noticed that she was demurely carrying a package under her arm and she seemed much attached to it, yet he felt as if he would be intruding had he asked her about it. He leaned into her, "May I hang up your coat Catherine?" His sultry voice never failed to captivate and Catherine blankly gazed into his eyes.

Shyly, she dropped her eyes and returned her gaze to follow him as he proceeded to assist her with removing her wrap Ė as he briefly brushed against her shoulder; he was aware that she closed her eyes, releasing a soft sigh. She switched hands to keep the package in her grip. He also noticed the wrapping was very unusual as it took on a parchment like quality in the candlelight. Gently he placed her coat over his on the rack, then turned and pulled out a chair at his writing desk. "Please, Catherine, sit beside me"

With courage built, not wasting a moment, Catherine spoke, "Vincent, I have a proposition I want you to consider", she nimbly fingered the ribbon on the package, which now lay on her lap. "However, I know you need to discuss something with me and I sense that itís important, so Iíd like to listen to you first-my thing can wait-but I think youíll be just as excited as I am after you hear me out."

Her anticipation began to increase and Vincent realized he had better get to the point. He was not always adept at being direct when it came to Catherine. Perhaps his cautious nature got in the way too often when he most needed to be straightforward. Now, he was convinced that his reluctance would no longer stand as a barrier between them.

"Catherine, weíve both grown so much since that miraculous night I found you in the park. Every day I praise the sun, moon and the stars for sending you to me. I doubted our union was a possibility for me Ė until now. Youíve been with me through some very difficult times"

"Oh VincentÖhow couÖ" He pressed a pearly-clawed finger to her lips and continued.

"Catherine, I must say this and if you speak further, I may not have the courage to continue.

"Yes, I understand, please go on"

Staring down and fondling one of the candlesticks he continued. "As I said, I think I must be living someoneís dream because all this is too sweet to be substantial as Shakespeare conveyed, but Catherine, we are at a crossroad and itís time we made a decision to move forward." He hesitated for a moment and gazed up into her eyes. "I wish to knowÖ.I mean, I need to ask if you would considerÖ" A heavily burdened sigh emerged from his chest, ruffling the candleís flame and Catherine sensed his incongruity.

With head bowed, he rose from the chair and paced nervously about the chamber, she followed his steps with lids lowered, yet remained silent knowing that he needed to speak and she longed to reach through their bond to understand, but she knew doing so would be infringing on his personal space.

Still seated, she quietly and lovingly offered him comfort. "Vincent, whatever it isÖwhatever lies within your heart-you can tell me and Iíll gladly accept it, you know that. You can tell me anything without fear of rejection. It is I who fear rejection from you if you can believe that."

He look up at her amazed that she would admit that to him. "How could she ever feel that way?í, he thought. Nevertheless, he knew he had to go on, finish his peace before he lost his nerve.

"Catherine, I appreciate you in more ways than you know, you do so much for this community and for me that I could never return in kind".

"But Vincent, you do reciprocate. Donít you know that every day with you is a gift and every day Iím in awe of how knowing you has changed me for the better. Youíre the man that I love."

"And for that reason Catherine, I often question how much of a man I really am. Can I be all to you that you need or desire? At times I think Iím sure of us and when I sleep, I dream of things that may never be and my heart breaks when I awaken because I know it was just a dream and not reality".

"Vincent, it is I who wish to never disappoint you and how can you even question your manhood? Youíre more a man than any man Iíve ever known". You should know that Iím not inexperienced in the ways of love and life and you may be unsure of yourself with me in an aspect which we have not yet discovered together, but I will tell you this much and I want you to hear me as youíve never heard me before. I want nothing more than to bring you places in our relationship that you have never been, and I promise you that once we take that step Vincent, there will be no other in my life. Even without another day together, I could never want anyone else and I would live the rest of my life alone if you were not in it. Do you understand what Iím saying to you?"

Catherine held her breath waiting for his reply, but a reply was not to be as he stepped over to her from across his chamber and pulled her up to him so quickly it made her head spin. Securely holding her upper arms, he pressed her to his chest and she could feel his heart pounding. He lowered his eyes to hers and she saw the fire within, longing rapture there in his eyes, burning through her. All at once as if in slow motion, his lips were upon hers, pressing ever so slightly; his kisses a contrast with his approach a moment before. It seemed as if time stood still and every sound was an echo inside her head. His left hand was behind her head, caressing her hair and he brought her to his heart as she wrapped her pleading arms around his waist and felt the coolness of his leather belt. How she loved inhaling his scent; like candles in a darkened church. This moment in his arms was more than she could have ever dreamed of.

Vincent knew just then a door had opened between them and now it was time to step through. "Please Catherine", he spoke softly while he continued to embrace her. Although she couldnít see his face, she knew his eyes were closed. "Iíve wanted us to bring this love of ours to a new placeÖ.I want youÖI want it to be special, yet I want to be the man you need me to be".

He felt Catherine resist his grasp slightly as she pulled back to look up at him. He saw in her eyes what he had hoped and he released a tremulous sigh that in itself was as cleansing as a hot bath in the deep chamber springs.

She stroked his face softly and ran the tips of her fingers over his lips gently while she spoke. With a lump in her throat she whispered "You donít know how long Iíve waited to hear you say these words, my love, my Vincent". A tear fell briefly upon her cheek and onto his sleeve and spread its wetness on the muslin fabric. He leaned down to kiss the moist trail upon her cheek where the tear had glanced.

"Are these tears of gladness my dearest Catherine?" his breath a warm breeze on her skin, he was smiling now in an odd whimsical way. "Perhaps I should always offer words which bring tears of joy".

"Yes, joy is a good description for what Iím feeling right now and youíve made it easier for me". She thought now would be a good time to bring up her plan for the two of them.

"Easier?", he replied quizzically, "I almost forgot you had something you wished to discuss. Shall I make us some tea first? Is there anywhere you need to be this afternoon?" He was hoping she would agree to stay the whole day. Could he even bring himself to hope beyond that for her to spend the night below?

"Yes, tea would be a good thing", Catherine relaxed and made herself comfortable against a mound of pillows on Vincentís bed. "Although I told Jenny I may see her tonight Ė sheís hosting a project for a new local artist; however, Iím not up to lending my support to political agendas. It seems that the artist wishes to convey a Ďmessageí, which could turn out to backfire. When she doesnít see me there she will know I wonít be attending that little shindig."

"Very well then, Iíll ask William to prepare us a pot and some snacks and weíll get down to business." Catherine looked up at him with surprise in her eyes. ĎWhat did that mean?í She immediately wondered and her heart bounced around in her chest and she hoped he wasnít sensing this in her, but she should know better. "I meanÖwell, you do have something to share with me." He quipped self-consciously.

She giggled when she realized she was misinterpreting Vincentís comment and he laughed along with her. She enjoyed his laughter as rare as it was. She thought he took himself much too seriously, however recently, he had let his hair down, figuratively speaking and she welcomed this. One night during the summer, they sat listening to the HMS Pinafore in their favorite spot under the park, Vincent started humming along with the music and making the motions as if he were polishing up the handle on the big front door. That alone was enough to make Catherine roll over laughing hysterically and he proceeded to tickle her shamelessly until the pillows upon which they were laying were strewn about haphazardly. That was a moment etched in time and since that time; she always hummed that tune whenever she suspected Vincent was in a playful mood.

Leaning over her, he placed his hand on the back of Catherineís head and swept a soft kiss on her brow whispering, "Iíll be back shortly" and left the chamber, destined for the kitchen. She touched the spot where his lips had just been and settled back on the cozy pillows and sighed languorously, not wanting this moment to ever end.

Vincent returned with a tray upon which was a lovely porcelain teapot, steam trailing off its spout, two mismatched cups and a small plate of goodies William prepared for the upcoming Winterfest celebration. Although Winterfest was still a fortnight away, it was customary for William to bake manically in order to experiment with several recipes and try them out on the tunnel residents to see which gourmet treats and delicacies were most popular. He would then have some sort of gauge of what to prepare for the day of the event. As a chef, the community appreciated Williamís talents and they never failed to let him know, which in turn, occasionally caused him to be a haughty connoisseur. He could probably best any renowned chef from the world above, yet he was their jewel, their treasure and the residents below he called his family would never let him go.

Delicately, Vincent poured a cup and Catherine was amazed at how nimbly his large hands handled the fragile china. Handing her the cup, she reached for it and their fingers brushed together. It was as if an electrical storm had ignited within them both and his eyes caught hers and he silently acknowledged this. When he had both cups poured, he sat down on the bed beside her as she nudged herself over and placed the plate between them. For a moment the sound of crunching and chewing, broke the barrier of silence and Catherine took a deep breath that Vincent noticed immediately.

He placed his left arm around her shoulder and she snuggled up into his neck, still chewing all the while. After swallowing, Catherine began, "You know Iíve often wondered where our journey together would take us Vincent and after this afternoon, I am convinced that you want the same things that I do, although we never really verbalized our feelings and thoughts until today."

Vincent handed Catherine his cup, "Please, would you mind?" He proceeded to untie the laces of his vest, leaned forward, removed it and tossed it on the chair Catherine occupied earlier. Catherine was pleased to see that he was so secure with her that he could do this without hesitation.

He looked down and saw the package she brought with her was sitting at the foot of the bed. She noticed he looked more comfortable now wearing only his muslin shirt as he pulled it out from the top of his jeans and sat back against the pillows once again. "Will you tell me about that package, Iím afraid my curiosity got the better of me?"

She handed him his cup, wriggled down to the edge of the bed, reached for the package and turned cross-legged to where she now faced him. With her arms outstretched she whispered, "This is for you, as if you didnít already suspect."

As he took the package from her, he examined the wrapping intently and what had previously appeared like parchment, was really a very old, vintage wrap discolored by years of careful use. It bore a repeating pattern of figure skaters cutting swirls on a snowy pond, surrounded with heavy string from which dangled a small burlap pouch.

"Open the package first" Catherine advised softly.

Vincent carefully cut through the tape with one of his sharp claws-one of the benefits of being born different. Gingerly he removed the wrapping to reveal a box with no identifying marks. Catherine folded the wrap and laid it on the headboard as she eagerly watched him lift the lid.

Pushing aside the tissue surrounding the contents, he paused,

"Ice skates Catherine?" He gazed at her questioning her motive. "These are absolutely beautiful Ė how did you know what size I wore? And more, how did you know I could even skate?"

Merrily she explained, "Well Vincent, while I sat in your chamber one day waiting for you to arrive after a day with the work crew, I took one of your shoes and made an outline of it on a piece of paper and used it as a guide. When I made the outline, I had only intended to use it to buy you a pair of slippers for Christmas. I took it with me to a sporting goods store and had them determine what size you were. Size 13-am I right?" He affirmed her assumption with a nod. "And the mystery of this is the fun partÖI didnít know whether you could skate. I took a chance, and anyway if you could not, I was prepared to teach you at the Connecticut cabin next weekend. Now, how is that for a pleasant surprise? Please, Vincent, say yes, please say yes youíll join me there."

Her pleading tone was heartrending. Speechless, he glanced down at the box on his lap fondling the crisp, new gray leather and black laces, twirling one lace around his finger. Without speaking, he found the pouch, detached it from the string, reached inside to reveal a small tool used to sharpen the skate blades.

Catherine could see how moved he was because words would not come to his trembling lips, which betrayed his emotions. She reached up, placed a finger under his chin and his moist blue eyes met hers. In them, she saw a softening she had never witnessed before. The love in his wanton eyes told her everything without a word shared between them. He reached up to cover her hand with his. "Catherine, what can I say to you?"

Still holding his chin, she leaned in purposefully and placed her mouth upon his wavering lips. His warm inviting hand reaching under her tresses possessively caressed her neck. This kiss was different from the last, yet held its intense passion at bay. Their mouths opened to glorious moist tongues, slowly, sweetly joining their spirits. When their lips parted moments after, Catherine gazed into Vincentís eyes and her glistening tears threatened to plummet down her cheeks. Their hearts melted together as one, this moment all burdens released and newfound freedoms expressed.

Still, inches from one another Vincent solemnly remembered. "Catherine, in our youth, Devin and I would pack a lunch and visit a small chamber deep within the earth. It was there we discovered a pond which unlike many in the deeper chambers was not a warm body of water, yet froze over during your winter seasons." Catherine knew what was coming and she leaned back on her heels resigned at what she would hear next. "One of the helpers presented all the children with gifts one Christmas and Devin and I both received a pair of skates. Needless to say, we were delighted at this because we hungered for other means of recreation and discovered that we were quite adept as figure skaters, of course we had to learn the hard way, falling down many times before we were even able to stand, skating precariously from one side of the pond to the other."

"Well then Vincent, I didnít know you had these secret talents", she teased. "Are you willing to demonstrate how gifted you truly are by joining me for a weekend at the cabin? HmmmmÖ.?" Her heart and head swirled anxiously awaiting his reply.

His expression altered as a worried line creased his forehead. Thoughtfully he spoke, "Father may view this as a risk not worth taking, you know that donít you Catherine?" Staring down at the skates he continued, "You also know I would welcome any time spent with you- it doesnít matter where."

Catherine beseeched him and with pleading tones she interrupted, "Vincent!" her voice insistent, "I need to be with you-remember after my father died and we shared our heartís wishes that afternoon at the Falls? You said that we must overcome our fear before we could ever consider truly joining our bodies and souls. Iím NOT afraid Vincent and the risksÖarenít they worth taking for us to finally come together as we should and must in order for our union to strengthen and continue? Tell me you donít know that!"

Vincent placed the box and skates aside on the chamber floor next to his bed, leaned into Catherine, and pulled her to his chest. His arms engulfed her body to press his full length upon her. She thought, ĎGlorious!í not expecting this display to be so effusive. She felt as though a million butterflies were fluttering around her chest and scrambling up and down her limbs. She was on fire and he could sense it.

It seemed as though minutes went by; perhaps it was only seconds. As he still held her closely, his chin rested on her head and without seeing her expression, nuzzled her hair as he spoke.

"Oh Catherine, I want only to please you. Youíve given me everything a man could ever hope for and you ask for so little. How can I deny you the intimacy you seek? If I am truly a man, then I am weak to your desire for me, I willingly give myself to you because youíre the woman that I love." He moved away slightly to look down into those green wanton oceans of love. "Yes, then we must attempt it. We will go this coming weekend?"

Catherine buried her head in his chest and gripped his forearm tightly, not realizing that her forceful grasp made him wince. "Yes!, this weekend and Vincent, we will make our dream a reality and begin again to share our love in a different way. Please know that there will be no turning back for us, only moving forwardÖtoward love." With this, she turned away from his embrace, lay on her back, and reaching her arms toward the chamber ceiling, gleefully shouted, "Yes!" Vincent smiled curiously at this reaction and laughed aloud.

Catherine leaped across his legs and landed on her feet. "Vincent, I must go and begin preparations-do you mind? I promise, Iíll be back tonight for dinner."

He rose from the bed and reached for her jacket. "No, no, thatís fine, Iíll get it." She said. "And no need to see me out-I suspect youíll want to speak with Father right away." She reached her arms around his neck and hugged him furiously. "You wonít regret it my love". He responded in kind by lifting her off her feet and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead.

He placed her back on her feet and whispered, "See you soon Catherine." As she reached the chamber entrance, Catherine turned and blew him a kiss, which, with his hand, mimicked a catch in mid-air.

Father slammed his book closed. "What can both of you be thinking!?" He was adamant when Vincent told him of his desire to join Catherine the following weekend at the Connecticut cabin. "What if something disastrous should happen on the way there or back Ė did you ever consider what that would mean?"

"Father, this is a risk Iím willing to take to be there for Catherine, and I am no longer willing to deny her again. Weíve been in this relationship for over three years and we must move forward or there is no future for us. Truly, I believe you worry unnecessarily. Our time together is limited by our responsibilities and we have no time left for ourselves and we need that Father, desperately."

With resignation, Father knew there was no use arguing with Vincent. He had this stubborn streak, which there was no penetrating when he had his mind set on something. "Well, then, if youíre determined to go through with this fanciful plan of yours, I wonít try to dissuade you any further, but Vincent, bear in mind the other risks which the two of you face together in moving forward."

"What is that Father?" he queried.

Father reached for his cane, rose from the chair tentatively, and approached Vincent. Lovingly, he placed his hand on his sonís cheek and cautiously continued, "I hope Iím not being too personal when I ask whether you and Catherine plan to consummate the love you share?"

Vincent was taken aback by his fatherís boldness and wasnít sure whether he should be insulted or embarrassed by this invasion of his privacy Ė for a brief moment he almost felt as though he would be scolded if he responded in the affirmative, but he stood his ground.

"Father, whatever happens between Catherine and me, we will exercise caution and I know what you are driving at, so please donít concern yourself. I am a man, I know that now and I know with that, comes responsibility. You taught me that, donít you remember?"

Father patted Vincentís cheek and whispered, "Yes, my son. I suppose no matter how old your children are, in a parentís eyes, they are always little babies, helpless, needing care and security. Thank you for reminding me." With that said, Father hobbled off to his library as he called back. "See you at dinner Vincent."

The community gathered for dinner as Catherine returned with a list in her pocket of all the items she and Vincent would need on their weekend away. Vincent ensured her that there was room enough for her as she settled herself beside him. "I told you Iíd be back in time for dinner; you know I wouldnít miss Williamís cooking if I didnít need to." They ate silently without much discussion, rather they preferred to listen to the din around them; chat about the dayís activities and events planned, among them, Winterfest. The entire tunnel population and helpers looked forward to it, as Winterfest was their way to celebrate the light and remember the darkness, which they overcame with much courage and determination.

As Catherine reached for her napkin, it slipped from her fingers and fell between them on the bench. Vincent took heed, simultaneously they retrieved it, and their hands met. He grasped her hand instantly and held it briefly as he lifted his eyes to hers.

This stolen gesture of their love noticed by those enjoying the meal brought silent smiles around the room and Catherine blushed; the color of the crimson turtleneck she wore. Nervously clearing her throat, she spoke in hushed tones, "Vincent, I brought a checklist of items I think weíll need at the cabin, do you think we can go over it after dinner?"

"That sounds like a plan Catherine. What do you think about taking a walk to the Chamber of the Falls? We can stay awhile, enjoy some wine and then perhaps youíll stay below tonight."

"HmmmÖI like that idea, although I didnít bring any pajamas with meÖdo you still have my nightgown in your chamber?"

Vincent smiled, and spoke in that erotic voice, which always made her heart melt, "Catherine, I cherish your nightgown and keep it in between the folded shirts in my dresser drawer."

Swallowing hard, she could only nod and continue eating. ĎOh goodness, when he speaks to me in that way, I can hardly contain myselfí, she thought. She passed him a side-glance and caught him smirking, stabbing his fork into a carrot, knowing he was well aware of this playful provocation.

After dinner, they walked leisurely to The Chamber of the Falls. On the way they stopped at Vincentís chamber to pick up a few things and a bottle of Ice Wine to enjoy with some pastries that William wrapped for them. Ice Wine recently became Vincentís favorite aperitif when Catherine introduced him to it on their third anniversary. He was grateful to a helper, AJ Pollina, who owned a gourmet shop in the Village and was willing to have a case delivered directly to him shortly thereafter. AJ was a polite and gentle man, who arrived in the U.S. from Sicily some 35 years before and met Jacob Wells after the tunnel community was established. AJ felt indebted to Jacob for helping him study the English language in order to gain U.S. citizenship. He never forgot that kindness and each month, he sent down a case of his best wines, which many tunnel residents appreciated.

When they arrived at the Falls, Vincent unfolded a blanket and spread it across the chamber floor. Catherine opened the basket she carried and removed the wine and handed it to Vincent to uncork. She prepared a plate of pastries and placed them on a ledge along the wall. They settled back as Catherine held both glasses and Vincent proceeded to pour the wine, the bubbling sounds reminiscent of the rushing waters over the precipice of the Falls. Raising his glass he paused a moment, and offered a toast. "To us; to our journey."

Catherine smiled and whispered "Yes" as their glasses clinked together.

They sat silently sipping their wine, enjoying the beauty before them. A slight mist whispered over their faces and Catherine closed her eyes relishing the coolness. Surprisingly, the chamber was not chilly tonight considering it was a clear crisp evening above. "Vincent, I have the list of supplies weíll need for the trip up to the cabin. I thought you may want to add something to it."

She handed it to him to review and he studied it and smiled at one or two items as his eyes traveled down the page. "Whatís so amusing, dare I ask?"

"Well, Catherine, I donít think Tom Sawyer could have been more prepared on his journey as you are for this one."

She was amused. "I canít help myself, itís just one of those things I do-prepare, prepare, and prepare!" She reached for a pastry and held it to Vincentís mouth. He backed off and peered down at it briefly, grasping her hand, he hastily took a bite practically taking her whole hand with it.

"Hey!" she shouted playfully, "I think Iím going to need that hand."

Without releasing his grip, he slowly, dreamily licked pastry jelly off her fingers, one by one. Catherine thought her heart would jump out of her chest at this teasing display. ĎOh, please donít stopí she begged wordlessly. He saw the yearning in her green smoky eyes, which kindled a blaze of desire within him, and his arousal was evident as Catherine lowered her eyes, not wanting to start something he could not finish Vincent turned his thoughts away from this erotic dance, positioned her hand upon his heart, and enclosed her hand under his.

Closing his eyes slightly he whispered, "Catherine, I feel as ifÖ.."

Tenderly she replied, "I know, thereís no need to explain Vincent, I feel it too." She faintly pressed her hand into his chest and felt his beating heart, reassuring her soul.

The week flew by quickly as Catherine was sure she must stay busy so as not to constantly be going over their trip in her head every five minutes. To say she was anxious to steal away from the city with Vincent was the understatement of the year. By Thursday, she had already loaded up the van with supplies except for the food items, which she would shop for after work. Her father had purchased the vehicle just before he died and because it was part of the estate, selling it was out of the question. She rarely drove the van and Peter insisted that she keep it parked in his garage. She took it out for a spin once a week to ensure that it remained in good working condition. Occasionally she and Peter drove it to bring supplies to the tunnel community, glad to use it for something worthwhile. During the week, Catherine had the dealership install tinted glass over the rear windows to block out prying eyes and give Vincent some peace of mind as they traveled.

On the night of their departure, As twilight all blanketed the city, Catherine pulled into the garage of Peterís brownstone on a quiet residential street on the Upper West Side. Much of that area benefits as landmark status and Peter grew up there and remained after his wife died, and his children moved on with their lives. He knew the place was too big for him, but he was stubborn, despite his childrenís suggestions to relocate to Connecticut. He wasnít about to abandon his established medical practice as he was content with how things were. He was devoted to the tunnel community and knew he needed to be close by should they need his help. To compromise, he purchased the cabin next to Catherineís; at least he could spend weekends with his kids and grandkids in Danbury.

Another reason Peter refused to sell the old brownstone was its tunnel accessibility. Many helpers and tunnel residents could come and go through the access when needed and on many nights, Jacob or Vincent could while away the hours with Peter in his study at the chessboard or situated in front a roaring fire discussing or debating various current events.

Although the Chandlers and the Alcotts shared a close and solid friendship, the tunnel community remained a secret, one that Peter could never share with anyone above as not to risk the security of the residents. Little did Peter ever imagine that one day, things would come full circle and the fate of two individuals would bring them together as lovers. He was pleased that Vincent and Catherine found each other; they seemed to exist as one entity and he was in awe at their devotion to one another.

Catherine rapped on the heavy wood door. Peter answered immediately, engulfed Catherine with hugs and kisses to her forehead, and escorted her to the study. "My child, you are always a sight for sore eyes!".

 

Peter suggested that Catherine meet Vincent at his home because doing so would reduce the risk of Vincent seen above. Since she arrived early, Peter offered her some tea, which she accepted and they settled down in front of the fire.

"Catherine, Iím so glad Vincent will have this opportunity to spend some quality time with you. It seems that finally the barriers which prevented you two from being together are finally smashed."

As she started to respond, Peterís smile told her Vincent was near. She turned in her chair and saw him at the doorway. Her heart fluttered and suddenly she felt very shy, almost exposed imagining what possibilities could occur during their weekend away and seeing him in this setting was surrealistic but true.

Inviting Vincent in, Peter poured a round of tea. "Vincent, come, sit a moment before you and Catherine have to leave. How did Jacob take the news about the weekend at the cabin?"

"At this point Peter, I believe Father was resolved not to argue as doing so would have been a fruitless endeavor."

Peter laughed and took a sip of tea. "Yes, I suppose it would have been at that."

The three of them sat chatting for a short time when Catherine suggested they be on their way, as the drive would take about an hour depending on the traffic and construction. The cabin was located close to Candlewood Lake and in a perfect location; one could benefit from the country atmosphere, yet be close enough to a metropolitan city to enjoy the night life if need be.

They rose from their chairs and walked slowly through the kitchen to the garage where Catherine had parked the van. "Well, Vincent, you have a choice." She wanted him to be comfortable during their journey. "Where would you like to sit? Itís night, the windows are tinted, you can sit up front with me if youíd like."

"Yes, Catherine, I think Iíd like that very much." He replied shyly.

As Catherine climbed into the van, Peter shook Vincentís hand. "Be safe and above all, enjoy every moment." He leaned over to kiss Catherine on the cheek. He was very protective of her and in his eyes, she always would be the little baby girl he personally delivered and never hesitated to embarrass her by re-telling the story of how when he first met Catherine she was naked and crying. "Catherine, if you need anything, call me."

"Thanks, weíll see you soon." Peter pressed the electric panel opening the garage door and finally, Vincent and Catherine were on their way.

The drive was uneventful except when a few deer made their way onto the middle of the road and Catherine had to swerve not to hit them. Although it was night, Vincentís vision allowed him to view the scenery, which kept him in awe during most of the trip. At one point, noticing Catherineís hand laying on the armrest, he enclosed her hand with his own and they stayed that way until Catherine needed to put on her turn signal as they exited the ramp that would take them to the road leading to the cabin. Vincent beamed at Catherine and out of the corner of her eye; she caught him. "What does that expression mean?"

"You are quite the capable driver Catherine. Perhaps you can teach me to drive?"

She was stunned at that question and built an image in her head of Vincent at the wheel causing other drivers to crash their cars when they saw him driving on the highway.

"Well, Vincent arenít you the bold one! Skating and driving all during the same weekend?"

"Just kidding Catherine, I donít think driving would be my cup of tea."

This lighthearted banter between them was exactly what Catherine needed as she was apprehensive about this trip, yet did not want to reveal her fears to Vincent. "I know your vision is much more acute than mine in this darkness Vincent, but for sure, when itís dark out here, it is pitch black. And, as Iíve told you before, the stars will mesmerize you."

Vincent sat for the rest of the journey silently peering out the window and seeing his own reflection in the passengerís side window he had a surreal moment as if he were in someone elseís body experiencing this amazing impossible dream. He was going to be with Catherine, alone, for an entire weekend. He was about to burst when Catherine broke his reverie.

"Weíre just about there. Look over on your right; that is Lake Candlewood. The moon is beautiful tonight. Itís magical the way its reflection shimmers on the water."

"Yes", was all the reply Vincent could muster at this awe-filled moment.

A few minutes later Catherine turned off onto a side road, the sound of the tires scrunched along the gravel driveway and finally they stopped at the entrance to the cabin. The surrounding darkness was heavy and the only lights were those that streamed from the cabin windows as the caretaker, Nancy, had turned them on earlier in the day when Catherine called her to tell her she would be arriving that evening.

They sat for a moment before exiting the vehicle and Catherine turned in her seat to face Vincent. "So, what are you thinking?"

Vincent replied, "Iím open to anything as I have no expectations. Iím glad for this moment, now, to be with you and to share our dream doing whatever we please."

"Well, then, my love, is it possible for you to help me drag all our stuff into the cabin?"

"HmmmÖ.", Vincent mused, "I knew you wanted me along for some reason."

They collected their belongings and made a few trips to get everything inside, and together proceeded to unpack the groceries, stock the cabinets, and turn up the heat. Catherine carried her suitcase to a bedroom at the top of the landing and turned to Vincent. "Iíll put your overnight bag in the room next to mine Ė there is a king sized bed in that room and youíll be comfortable there. Thereís a small hearth in the corner of the room and a pile of wood just in case you get a chill."

Catherine descended the stairs, removed her coat, and gathered up Vincentís jacket, which he had draped over the arm of the sofa when they entered the cabin. She was pleasantly interested in seeing him wear something different from his cloak. He actually had planned to bring it; however, he knew it would probably not be a practical choice under these circumstances. The jacket was well worn and had leather sleeves, the front and back panels were denim, and inside was a soft fleece lining. She buried her nose in the fabric and his scent imbibed into her wits and sent a shiver through her. ĎOh, I canít believe we are finally together!í she thought, as she longed to run to him, and throw herself into his arms. Yet, there was still time for that. As Catherine hung their coats, she reached into the back of the closet and pulled out several solid colored flannel shirts on hangers that belonged to her father.

"Vincent, would you build a fire in the great room fireplace? The matches are on the mantel."

"Yes, I can do that. And Catherine, this is a very cozy cabin, you are very fortunate to have a place of your own when you need some solace."

"I havenít required too much solace Vincent since I met you. I find my solace in you." He smiled at that compliment and tended to the fire.

Vincent was satisfied with the blazing hearth and made himself comfortable in a big chair similar to the one in his chamber. "I know youíve brought clothes with you, and if these fit you, Iíd like for you to have them. My father wasnít a rugged sort, but I bought them for him one Christmas and he never got around to removing the price tags."

Catherine kneeled at Vincentís feet and she felt the warmth of the fire on her back. She placed the shirts on his lap. Gratified by her generosity, Vincent handled the soft material. "I would be honored to wear these Catherine, they feel very rich, and they must have been expensive."

"Iím not sure, but I think my father would be glad you could use these. Besides, the colors would complement your beautiful blue eyes. Look, this one really would bring out the blue in your eyes. She held a teal blue shirt up to his chin and studied him a moment. "Yes, I think you should wear this one tomorrow." What was this? Ė could her compliment have caused him to blush?

The grandfather clock chimed the hour as they both turned to glance at the time. "Itís almost midnight Catherine. Are you tired? After all you did all the driving, I wasnít much help."

"Of course you helped my love; you kept me company and kept me awake. What more could I have wanted?" With that, he leaned over, laid the shirts on a side table, reached to lift her off her knees, and pulled her into his lap. His arms went around her waist as he pulled her closer while she instinctively wrapped her arms around him burying her face in the warmth of his neck. "HmmmÖ., you feel too good to be true." She whispered, not lifting her head.

They sat that way wordlessly for what seemed like only minutes, but upon the next chime from the clock Vincent looked up and saw that it was 2 a.m. He didnít remember dozing off and there, still in his arms, Catherine did not stir, yet he knew she was asleep, her hand had fallen into her lap and her legs were draped over the side of the chair. Her head had tilted slightly back onto his right arm where he could see her face clearly in the dying firelight. With his free hand, he reached up to swipe a piece of hair from her brow causing her to clear her throat and shift in position. He paused not wishing to waken her and slowly lifted her from the chair and softly padded across the room, up the landing and entered her bedroom.

Gently, he placed her on the bed, reached for the comforter draped over the blanket stand and covered her, slightly tucking the fabric around her. As he moved toward her feet, he removed her shoes and placed them side by side on the plush carpet. He noted that although in her stockings, her feet appeared so delicate; he wanted to embrace them, knead them and nuzzle her delicious toes. In a moment, these thoughts carried him to a place of desire and he remained concentrated on her sleeping form. He longed to reach out, hold her, and snuggle her body close to his. His heart blissfully ached as his love for Catherine, beyond all thought and belief was unconditional and as expansive as the universe. He considered his good fortune at finding her in the park that fateful April night and now here they were, their dream manifesting into reality.

Vincent left Catherine in peaceful slumber, locked the doors, extinguished the lights, and quietly settled into his nightclothes, a pair of soft, grey sweatpants and a loosely fitted ocean blue Henley cotton shirt Catherine had bestowed upon him last Valentine ís Day. She told him that the fabric made her visualize his eyes as glistening beach glass embedded in sand laved by an azure shore.

As he entered the bathroom, he spied his reflection in the mirror and instinctively turned away slightly and then righting himself, he leaned against the doorframe hesitating, and turned yet again to entertain another glimpse. The moonís light streaming into the window danced diagonally across his face and softened his expression. Catherine never failed to remind him of how remarkably beautiful she believed him to be, although his fragile esteem hovered over him throughout his life. He had come to a crossroad, through Catherineís love; he actually believed that he was beautiful and unique.

Vincent cleaned up, brushed his teeth, and realized how exhausted he was. He sprawled on the bed, and heavily sighed at the comfort and coziness surrounding him like a warm summerís breeze, yet it was mid-November and the mercury hovered around freezing. Within moments, his lids, laden with sleep, fell upon a silent, dreamless night.

The clattering of utensils in the kitchen awakened Catherine at 7 a.m. The morning light softly penetrated the gauzy curtains and blanketed the room with an airy hue akin to a Susan Rios lithograph. She raised herself up on her arms and rubbed her face briskly, then stretched toward the ceiling. ĎWhatís going on down in the kitchen?í she wondered, and then realized she was in her clothes from the night before. She swung her legs onto the floor, stepped over to her suitcase, and pulled out a coral colored chenille buttoned down pullover and a pair of black stretch pants, laid them on the bed and proceeded to jump into the shower. She saw her reflection in the mirror and just shook her head. "I wonder how Vincent can love this face." She pondered aloud not remembering when or if he has actually seen her first thing in the morning; she was sure he had not otherwise would he still stick around? She smiled as she remembered last night, the chime of the clock, Vincentís arms wrapped warmly about her; his embrace the home and hearth of her soul. She realized she must have been more exhausted than she thought and not wishing to wake her, carried her to her bed; his chivalry, endearing.

At approximately 7:20, Catherine, fresh, clean and alert, bounded down the steps toward the sounds led by the tantalizing aroma of delicacies familiar to her senses. As she entered the kitchen, there stood Vincent, spatula in one hand and a huge plate of bacon and sausage in the other. Set out on the table were other plates with warmer covers on each. "Oh Vincent, arenít you the picture of domesticity? I didnít know you were a chef-look at all of this; itís enough for a small army! Did you sleep okay, was the bed large enough?"

"I slept like a prince and Catherine, may I remind you that we snacked while we drove here last night and neither of us had dinner before we left. I donít know about you, but I believe there may be an eating contest at this table this morning. Food preparation is not foreign to me either. There have been times when William was not available, and if Mary was tending one of the children, I would prepare breakfast, lunch OR dinner. We do what we must."

"Well, Iím glad." She replied. "A man who is handy in the kitchen is a true gem, yet Iíve known that about you anyway."

Pulling out a chair for her at the large rustic table, Catherine seated herself. She noticed her grandmotherís china cups on a small silver tray, neatly folded linen napkins and plate of scones. Tilting her head, she rested her chin on her hand to take in this wondrous landscape. She was now very curious as to what time he must have risen to be able to prepare, not only breakfast, but bake scones.

"Would you prefer coffee or tea this morning?" he asked.

"Coffee please, definitely!" Catherine proceeded to lift the covers off each plate and discovered eggs, pancakes and toast. "Well, if we donít finish breakfast, we can always have breakfast for lunch and dinner." She observed. Vincent poured the coffee and again, she was amazed at how nimbly he handled the fine china. He sat across from Catherine and prepared his plate, as she piled her own plate high with a little bit of everything. It was a rare moment when Catherine ate this much, but for some reason being out in the country did that to her.

They sat enjoying their breakfast and planned the dayís activities. They agreed that today Vincent would try out his new skates on the pond behind the cabin. It was a natural body of water about five feet in depth, about fifty feet long by thirty feet at its widest point. As a child, Catherine spent many brisk hours carving figure eights on the glassy surface. When her father realized that she would rather stay outside despite the freezing temperatures, he built a small warming shelter and placed a bench inside where Catherine could rest, refuel and begin again.

Vincent commented, "Catherine when you said we were coming to your cabin, I imagined a small log cabin as in a Mark Twain novel; one room, dirt floor, outhouse in the woods." This vision made Catherine giggle as she chomped down on a piece of bacon.

"My grandfather built this "cabin" single-handedly" she responded. An addition built about ten years ago increased its size to what it is right now, approximately 2400 square feet. We really needed more space, as our family was bigger then. How were we to know that now the family is just one; meÖandÖyou"? Earnestly, she lifted her eyes from her plate, intense on his, hesitated with pancakes still on her fork. "And Vincent, I want my tunnel family, our tunnel family, to experience this as well and I hope one day Father, Mary, Mouse, Jamie or anyone who wishes will stay here when they need to."

"Catherine, your generosity is remarkable." With that, Vincent finished his breakfast, slowly sipped the remaining tea and proceeded to remove the dishes from the table and placed them in the sink already filled with soapy water. With his back to her, he felt Catherineís arms move slowly around his waist, under his nightshirt. A slight, pleasing shiver moved around his waistband and up his torso, emanating from where she placed her delicate touch. Slowly, he turned in her embrace and his arms encircled her and deliberately pulled her close.

"Thank you for carrying me to bed last night, yet it would have been nice if I had awakened to find you lying next to me this morning."

Vincent felt his face flush. The vision of Catherine lying beside him seemed impossible before; however, the image of her sleeping form was clearly something tangible looming on the horizon. "I donít think either of us would have been sleeping much had I spent the night in your bed Catherine."

Shyly, yet with desirous longing in her green eyes she tilted her head to look into his beautiful blue eyes. "Weíll never know if we donít try Vincent." He did not respond, yet held her gaze for a moment, sensing his own desire. She released her hold slightly and added, "Now, letís get down to business and clear away these dishes so that we can start the day. I can finish up here-you should get dressed, youíre still in your nightclothes. Hurry! Timeís a wastiní!" Before he relinquished his embrace, he leaned in to place a much too brief gentle kiss upon her lips and she welcomed his softness, his scent and warmth sending her heart whirling.

"Iíll go get ready now," he replied, and moved stealthily away in his stocking feet, acting as if what had just occurred between them was as natural as breathing. Catherine was still trying to catch her breath. How sexy he was, she thought, and the image of Vincent pressed against her body struck her mind, leaving her weak in the knees the entire time she spent straightening up the kitchen, wrapping up leftovers and re-lighting the fireplace in the family room.

He sat on the foot of the bed as he fastened the last button on a shirt Catherine had presented him with last night, and saw his image in the cheval mirror tucked into one corner of the bedroom. He stood and approached the glass to admire the color and through their bond sensed Catherineís impassioned desire, melting him-he gasped and held his chest, attempting to calm his wildly beating heart. He felt tremulous as her emotions bombarded his being. It was all he could do to keep from rushing to her, throw her down on the hearthrug and love her furiously, until neither of them could move another muscle. In a few moments, he felt Catherineís passion subside, he sighed with relief, and reached down into his jeans, adjusting himself, a slight flush rushed into his cheeks, which quickly diminished.

Vincent emerged at the top of the landing and just as Catherine finished re-lighting the fire she looked up and saw him standing there, so regal in stature and she was pleased the shirt was perfect for him and made his eyes dance with light. She could see his desire there too and she knew he must have been acutely aware at what she had just been feeling a moment ago. She opened her arms commandingly. "Vincent, come to me." In the fireís light, he thought she looked like an angel poised on a cloud.

In an instant, he faced her and she draped her arms loosely over his shoulders and tilted her head up to gaze into his blue depths. She wanted to climb inside him to demand he never release her ever again. Both his hands cradled her head, his fingers entwined in her hair. "I didnít intend to withhold my desire from you Vincent, and all I do is make it more difficult for you."

"You donít do anything Catherine that I donít want, remember that." Purposefully, he bent and softly engaged his lips to hers, igniting her passion once again. Her hands gripped at his upper arms and she felt his muscles flexing beneath the fabric of his shirt. He placed slightly more pressure on her lips as he searched for her tongue with his own. They explored each otherís mouths with furious need, tongues caressing, their breathing shallow and rapid. Their bodies pressed so closely it was as if they were molded together and a sudden unsteadiness made them topple and Vincent caught Catherineís back before she hit the fireplace stone.

Both of them stood there breathless, still holding onto one another, stunned. "Oh Vincent", Catherine pleaded. "We must make a decision soon because we canít go on like this. Weíll drive each other crazy."

Regaining his composure, Vincent sat on the sofa opposite the fireplace and Catherine joined him. Taking his hand in hers, with closed eyes, she brought his fingers to her lips and kissed each one. He shuddered as he watched her in amazement. "Catherine, yes, we both know what is inevitably going to happen between us and I am not afraid, not anymore. When the time is right we will know it."

"Yes, Vincent we will know. Catherine wasnít sure whether she felt nervous or excited at the thought of such possibility and after a brief pause, she touched on a lighter subject. "Now letís go for a walk in the brisk morning air and try out our skating legs shall we?"

They went to their respective bedrooms, gathered up their skates, donned their jackets, gloves and scarves and met at the front door. "Why Catherine, that is an interesting hat you have on there." Vincent thought the hat looked familiar and suddenly realized it was similar to what the tunnel residents were wearing especially after Mary had knitted about a dozen of them for Father, Mouse, Jamie, Rebecca and a few of the children. Catherine tugged the hat down over her ears and folded it up a bit and Vincent saw an innocence in her sparkling eyes making him want to reach for her and embrace her securely in his arms. He knew that if he had acted on his thought, there would have been no turning back. Capturing her hand in his he quickly brushed the notion from his mind, and led her out into the transparent, frigid air.

The late morning sun broke through a passing cloud as they walked hand in hand to the frozen pond. The leaves under their feet were like crisp potato chips. The property lined with massive white pines cast shadows like stretching spiky cat claws. "We can put on our skates in the shelter by the pond. The shelter is heated, so we can take breaks if we get too chilled."

"Catherine, I never thought to ask if my being out in the open is placing us at risk."

With her free hand Catherine pointed, "Look out in all directions Vincent; do you see any other cabins? We are on 60 acres of private property and private it is. Peter Alcott owns the cabin to the north and the cabin to the south is occupied in the summer months. On the other side is Lake Candlewood and to the east, there is only forest. Does that ease your mind?"

Feeling almost silly for asking, Vincent only nodded his head and smiled. His acute hearing tracked the song of a Bay Breasted Warbler somewhere in the distance. He sighed with joy for rare moments such as this are to be cherished and photographed with the mindís eye.

Vincent was unaware that Catherine was an accomplished skater, and she was about to display her talents. At the age of three, her mother enrolled her in a junior skaters class at the local community center, and in a matter of months, Catherine demonstrated her willingness to continue learning which prompted her mother to find a private coach for her daughter.

Charles Chandler believed the lessons were well worth the price, as the activity kept Catherine occupied during her youth leading her away from all the young men who came knocking at their door in hopes that one of them could become the lovely Catherineís beau.

Alas, this was not to be for any lad with designs on her, as Catherine loved the challenge figure skating offered and plunged herself into the sport she was devoted to. She almost entertained the idea of pursuing a professional skating career; however, as her interests took a turn toward a legal profession, she observed her fatherís pragmatic dealing with clients and his extensive knowledge of the law and it was then that she decided she would stick to recreational skating. Eventually, her own education at Radcliff and law school prepared her for a future that would eventually lead her to the man whose hand she now held tightly in hers.

When they reached the shelter, they removed their boots, pulled on their skates, laced them securely and Catherine proceeded to light the kerosene heater as it would take several minutes for it to get warm. Taking her seat once again next to Vincent, she marveled at how nimbly he was able to lace up his skates without his claws interfering with the process. For a brief moment, she had a vision of his clawed fingers gently stroking her lightly along her face, trailing down her neck into her warm, inviting cleavage. Although the temperature had dipped below 30 degrees, her face flushed and just then, Vincent quickly turned to look up from his skates to see Catherineís eyes, darkened, as if in a daze. He sensed her desire, like a torch within, burning through his very soul. He leaned into her and brushed a tender kiss against her cheek making her smile.

"Well, letís see what youíre made of!" Vincent joked and they both rose from the bench and hand in hand proceeded toward the frozen pond.

"Iím glad itís been so cold out because normally this pond doesnít freeze up like this until January." Catherine observed. Carefully they both inched their way across the crisp pathway and hesitated when they reached the edge of the ice. The overcast sky tinged steel gray, created an ambiance appearing as a hand colored black and white photograph, edges softened by a light mist drifting in from the lake.

Catherine in a playful mood lifted herself up on the teeth of her blades and with one push; she took off on her left foot, gliding to the other end of the pond, the sound of her skates scraping across the surface as she quickly turned and stopped. Being an accomplished skater, she knew all the common jumps and could hold her own. Vincent stood nearby and watched her graceful body like a feather floating through the air and he knew he could stay there all day amazed at how skilled she was. He felt a sense of pride and gratefulness that Catherine chose him to be her mate. He wanted to skate out to her, yet he couldnít take his eyes off her. He wondered why he never knew this side of his beloved Catherine; perhaps because he felt it would be prying to learn more about her. He watched as she landed on her right foot after each jump.

Digging in her toe pick, she took off from one end of the pond, and picked up speed as she made two passes around the perimeter. A split jump and a sit spin had Vincent applauding with pride. Catherine bowed at the waist to receive his applause and haughtily skated backward around the perimeter to prepare for an axel jump. She picked up speed and readying for position, she proceeded to the leap. All at once, her body bounded off the ice and as a blur in the air, she landed on both feet directly in the center of the ice facing Vincent.

"Well done CatherÖ" Before he finished his praise, his keen hearing picked up an agonizingly familiar sound immediately threatening to destroy her moment of joy and possibly her life. He looked down and surrounding her, he saw fine jagged cracks splayed out wildly from the center. Catherine saw the look of terror on his face and her heart began to pound wildly fearing the worst. She knew from his expression what was about to occur and there was nothing she could do to stop it. As if in slow motion, she cried out as she felt her legs give out beneath her and a rush of icy water engulfed her pulling her down into the frigid abyss up to her neck. Fighting against all reason, her entire world shrunk down to a mere second. Her survival instinct kicked in. Her surroundings blurred around her and her muscles strained against the deadening cold punching against her body.

With her strength and consciousness rapidly diminishing, she was scarcely aware that Vincent had thrust himself into the icy chasm and scooped her flailing body, now limp into his arms, as he too was now waist deep, struggling against the heaving shards of dull frozen ice which used to be the skating pond. Her eyes squeezed shut; she could barely hang on to the neck of his jacket, as her hands were painfully numb. He could hear her shallow, rapid breathing as he called out her name. "Catherine, stay with me, Iíve got you."

He propelled his body with all his might, still clutching her to his chest; he toiled vigorously, fighting his way back to the edge of the pond, and placed her shivering frame onto a matted pile of damp leaves. He immediately noticed her blue tinged lips and her pale lavender lids.

Unwilling to be distracted by his own discomfort, Vincent lifted himself up on both forearms and with one leg pushed out of the chilly water, he carried himself over her and effortlessly picked her up and still wearing his skates ran awkwardly back to the cabin. He shoved open the door with his knee and moved to place her on the great room sofa facing the fireplace. Without wasting another minute, he quickly stoked the fire and knelt on the floor beside her. He knew he could not allow her to remain in wet clothes, so he made a necessary decision. He reached down, removed his skates and slid them under the big chair he had been sitting in only last night remembering the warmth of Catherineís body against his. He removed his own jacket, vest and shirt, and placed them near the hearth. He didnít want to fight to try to remove his pants knowing how difficult wet pants were to get off, he turned his attention again to Catherine and her immediate needs. His suede pouch enclosed around the ivory rose dangled by a leather strap lay cushioned against the golden down of his now bare chest.

He stood up, bent over to unlace her skates, and pulled them from her feet and her socks came with them. He unfastened the top button of her jeans, unzipped and tugged them down her dampened legs. Catherine was too exhausted to help him and from under heavy lidded eyes, was aware that Vincent had begun to remove her clothes.

He tossed her pants to the side and gingerly removed her lacy underwear, which clung transparently to her ivory skin. He noticed a small mole on her upper hip and wanted to reach down and press his lips to it, but quickly, he doused that thought from his mind and a feeling of shame stirred within him. Her golden patch reminded him of silken angelís hair and he adored her even more.

Feeling a bit flustered, he knew he had to finish this task, as unnerving as it was, to see the woman that he loved, defenseless. It wasnít as if he hadnít seen her this way before, especially after her attack, when he brought her battered flesh into his world and lovingly cared for her until she reluctantly returned to her world.

A wave of nausea drifted over him; just the thought of Catherineís life so fragile, hanging precariously on the edge so many times in the past, brought Vincent to the brink of tears. He protected her above and below as often as he needed to, he couldnít help it, their bond ruled their days and nights and their souls were one. He felt ashamed suddenly, that this incident on the ice in a place considered safe could have once again ripped away his beloved Catherine from his existence.

Vincent lowered himself, reached around her shoulders, and brought her into a sitting position. Although Catherine was too weak to sit up on her own, he used his own body to support her, leaning her against him. Her intoxicating scent wafted into his nostrils and his body shuddered favoring her closeness. He gently pulled one arm at a time out of her soaked jacket and reached under her sweater and camisole, pulling both up and over her head simultaneously, being careful not to catch her hair in her crystal necklace he gave her on their first anniversary.

Carefully, he placed her onto her back and needing to shield her modesty, he hastily yanked the throw from the chair. The fire fully ablaze matched his desire as he beheld Catherineís delicately raised, perfectly formed nipples. Seated on the edge of the sofa, he felt her every curve as he tucked the throw around her entirely nude body in an effort to bring her temperature back to normal.

During this whole ordeal, he sensed Catherineís trust in him to care for her. After several minutes, He noticed her shivering had ceased and was glad that she seemed to be coming back to full awareness. He brushed a few dampened strands of hair from her forehead, and as he did, her lids fluttered and with the light returning to her eyes, she gazed up at him. The love and vulnerability he saw there touched him so deeply; he released a raw sigh of relief.

"I was so frightened Catherine, I thought I would lose you. I would have done anything to keep you safe."

"Even at your own risk?" she whispered weakly. She placed her hand on his heart. "I love you Vincent, you are the only man Iíll ever loveÖ.forever. Iím just so sorry that I wasnít able to see you enjoy your gift, now the ice is ruined and itís my fault." Her voice quivered as a tear pooled in the corner of her eye and forced itís way into her ear.

Wiping away the wet trail with his thumb, he comforted her. "Shhh, Catherine, we shall have many more opportunities to skate together again. Just rest now."

Her lids, now a soft, creamy hue were peaceful with no trace of worry or fear evident in those green-gray spheres.

He tucked one hand under her hip and with the other, he enclosed her delicate hand in his and opened her palm to place a tender kiss there and laid it gently at her side. He lightly massaged her exposed arm and shoulder. Catherine closed her eyes. "HmmmÖthat feels so nice," she murmured drowsily. Slowly his head found respite upon the coverlet blanketing her breasts, as he encircled her with his heat.

Neither Vincent nor Catherine knew how much time had passed, but when Catherineís eyes bounced widely open, she found twilight hovering over the great room creating soft shadows on the wall. The dimming firelight made Vincentís hair appear as spun gold fanned out across her neck and shoulders. Her heart conveyed content as he had fallen asleep as well, yet she wondered how he could have been comfortable in this position, part of him seated on the floor and the other part wrapped around her.

Vincent felt a stirring in their bond and opened his eyes which were now level with hers. "Catherine, are you feeling better? Iím sorry, I must have fallen asleep for quite some time. I no longer hear the birdsí singing outside and night is upon us."

"Yes, I know." They rested quietly for several more minutes and her suggestion sounded like a good idea. "Well, itís Saturday night, I think I can manage to whip us up something to eat, and we can curl up and watch some old movies. Weíve both had a rough day."

"If you think you have the strength after the day youíve had, Iíll get out of these pants which seemed to have dried right to my skin, take a shower, and then gather up more firewood. I believe I saw a pile behind the cabin."

Vincent lifted himself off the floor and grimaced as he felt a slight twinge. He knew he had hit his left side against an ice chunk as he was struggling to free Catherine. It didnít stop him then, yet it caught up to him now. Holding the blanket against her, she sat up quickly. Catherine was concerned. "Vincent! What is it? Are you all right? What can I do?" She reached to help him the rest of the way.

Taking her hand he replied, "No Catherine, Iím fine, just a bit sore from our traumatic adventure on the ice."

"Take care" she warned as he picked up his clothes and moved toward the landing and disappeared into his bedroom.

She proceeded to wrap the blanket around herself and tuck it in at the top. She gathered up her own clothes he had removed and picked up both pairs of skates, placed them in the front hall closet and threw the clothes into the laundry chute. She knew she should get dressed; yet shuffling around the kitchen in the blanket aroused her senses because she knew he had to remove her clothes to get her this way and she didnít want to relinquish the memory just yet.

Soon, two steaming hot bowls of Williamís corn chowder served with butter and whole grain rolls were set out on the table. Vincent emerged from his room, freshly showered; his hair softly flowed around his shoulders. He wore a pair of black corduroy pants and the navy blue shirt Catherine had purchased for her father and as always, the leather pouch hung around his neck as a beacon of their union. He entered the kitchen, and Catherine tantalized at how the color had brought out the deep-sea blue of his eyes, halted her food prep activities and smiled at his glorious presence before her.

"Come now", she urged, "letís get some nourishment Ė Iím famished after what weíve been through. I canít help but feel so silly about what happened, yet Iím grateful that you were there, once again, to come to my aid."

After taking his seat across from Catherine he firmly replied, "Catherine, you know me, how would I have ever been able to do anything else? And donít feel silly, things like that happen and I should have known the ice wouldnít be frozen solid, not at this time of year." He proceeded to devour the chowder and left the last piece of bread for Catherine.

When they finished the meal Catherine proceeded to clear the table. He approached her softly and whispered, "Iíll be back shortly my dearest Catherine." He leaned in to place a gentle kiss upon her brow. She tenderly placed her fingers on his lips and without taking her eyes from his, parted her lips as if to speak, but then decided not to. What could she say at this moment that he didnít already know? It seemed that she could never tell him enough of how much love and joy soared within her.

The evening mists were rising from the frozen ground as Vincent scouted around for firewood. He gathered up various sized logs, carried them in the leather tote, and paused on the landing of the front porch. Looking up to the sky, he was pleased to see an array of stars strewn across the heavens.

It was a luminous night and Vincent recalled that on nights like this he would go Above to enjoy the clear moon and the sky sprinkled with firefly like stars. On many occasions, he had hoped he would see Catherine and he missed her terribly when she had not sent him a message asking him to meet with her. He missed her scent and her warmth and longed for her touch. He knew it wasnít practical for her to spend all her free time with him, yet he longed for her, ached for her beyond all sensibilities.

Finding it hard to believe that she actually loved him for all that he is and knowing that his life was never certain, he had dreams but never imagined his one dream of being loved by a beautiful woman ever coming true until he found Catherine. Because of her love, he gained confidence in himself and no longer feared his dark side. When Catherine told him not long ago that side of him had her love as well, he had wept in her welcoming arms. He knew in the depths of his soul he could not live without her, as she was the other part of his soul. Without her, he would be lost to himself.

So lost in thought just then, he did not hear approaching footsteps but knew he did not need to know that she was behind him. He turned and looked into the beautiful face of his Catherine and opened his arms to embrace her. Still wrapped in the blanket and without hesitation, she gladly stepped into his loving circle and he kissed the top of her head as she whispered, "I love you". He knew well enough he had still to return that sentiment back to her.

"Catherine, arenít you cold in this? Letís go inside, youíve been through enough already." She silently, slowly shook her head, holding his gaze.

Catherine reveled in his comforting aura; he was like chicken soup on a cold winterís day. Her head snuggled against his broad chest made her feel as if in a fairytale come true and this was her knight come to claim her.

Gently, he turned her around with her back to him, encircled her tiny waist from behind and pointed to the sky. As she lifted her eyes to the heavens, it was a moment of magical wonderment as the bright moon danced among thousands of stars. How perfect was this moment Catherine thought as she closed her eyes relishing the heat from Vincentís body, soothing her, melting her, languishing her.

With the crisp breeze blowing through their hair, strands intertwining, they enjoyed the tranquility of the night. "What are you thinking Vincent?"

"Catherine, on many a night, why havenít you sent word for me to come to you?"

She hesitated and then quietly whispered, "I truly wanted to come to you as I knew where you would be. I didnít want to intrude on your life or give you false hopes, although all Iíve ever done since the moment you found me and I realized I loved you, is hopeÖ.hope that some day weíll be together, truly together, just as we discussed when I came below after my father died. Do you remember Vincent?

He answered only "Yes".

This was a lover's night and they both realized this at the same time. They had not yet succumbed to their desires and made love, although it was in both their thoughts night and day and neither of them spoke of it, yet they knew how the other felt. Vincentís desire for Catherine was so overwhelming at times; he found it difficult to restrain his longing for her. His dreams would often turn to Catherine and his waking moments would create scenarios, which always included her.

Catherine's desire was equally as much on fire for her beloved Protector, lover, teacher, friend, but she would not presume to rush Vincent toward moving forward in their relationship, lest she scare him away. If it were up to her, they would have consummated their love a long time ago. She desperately needed him in that way and knew he needed her as well. Vincent felt Catherineís heat transferred back to his chest and down toward his groin where his aching need for her throbbed and traveled through every vein and pulsed in his temples. His feather touches felt the soft fine hairs of her arms and traveling up toward her shoulders, she shivered a bit in his tender grasp and he sensed that it could be from the cold night air or perhaps not. Could it be from the internal heat she was expending in response to his touch?

Somehow, the magic of the night brought forth these desires and Vincent turned Catherine toward him and ever so softly, as if in a spirit, kissed her waiting lips hungrily for the first time. Catherine felt as though she had left her own body and drifted into the heavens to melt among the stars, the stars that tonight caused this wonderful moment of joining spirits, hearts, and souls. Vincentís lips were electric, struck by lightning and rested there on Catherineís for what seemed like an eternity, but could have only been mere seconds.

Catherine reveled in his kisses as he was her support and anchor always- just as he was when she had taken time to go Below, to heal, to think and remember the loving times she shared with her father. However, nothing could have prepared them for the effect this moment they shared gave them. It left them both weak in the knees and they clung to each other for support. When their kiss ended Vincent looked down into her eyes and in a breathless voice declared, "Catherine, I need you". With tears glistening in her eyes she sighed "Yes, please, I need you, tonight and always". How did this happen-what would this decision mean for them both? Neither Vincent nor Catherine chose to think of that; diving headlong into the summoning raging waters of desire.

Vincent lifted Catherine in his arms and carried her into the cabin, their eyes pinned to one anotherís. He ascended the stairs, crossed the landing, entered his room and tenderly laid her down on the large bed-their eyes still connected. "Iíll light a fire for us" he whispered as he placed a soft kiss upon her cheek. He turned away, struck a match and ignited the pile of logs.

Turning his attention back to her, he slowly and shyly removed his clothes as he watched her eyes never leaving his body-he wanted this night to be special and he trusted that Catherine would accept him for all that he is. As he stood before her the moonís light streamed in through the window and she saw the most magnificent man she had ever seen as his firmly built body covered in soft golden down, glistened in radiance. Vincent hoped this moment would not bring shame in the recesses of his consciousness and when he saw how Catherine welcomed his form into her being, he knew this was right.

She lay there looking up at him for a moment and she could not take her eyes from him as he now watched her reveal herself. She pulled the blanket from around her and clasped her fingers over her mounded breasts. She lay open to Vincentís eyes, as a flower in the heat of a summer nightís folly. She could sense his rising passion as he savored her gorgeous body lying before him. Vincent was breathless by this beauteous thing as she exposed her soft, pale flesh, so feminine, so womanly and prepared for his touch. Her slender figure was gorgeous in the luminous moonlight.

Vincent reclined alongside her, caressing and loving her as she returned his touch-her fingers were on fire as they slowly traveled along his flesh where goosebumps had quickly appeared.

He raised himself on his forearm above her, took her hands within his, grasped her gray green eyes with his azure blue orbs and gently yet possessively whispered, "Catherine, I love you, I need to possess you tonight and always"

Catherineís body called out to him from the depths of her being. As he inhaled her amorous scent, he could sense from their Bond and knew instinctively that tonight would be one etched in their memories. Slowly, Vincent removed the blanket from her body, as if in preparation for a blessing of love and eternity. She lay there savoring his sensual touch and needing him so badly she wanted to cry out to the heavens!

As Vincent explored her body tenderly, he noticed tiny tears had slipped down her cheeks and he leaned in to kiss them away. "Catherine you are my heart now and for forever Ė this feels so right".

Her eyes, glistening with tears of joy, Catherine replied, "And Iíve waited so long to hear you say those words, that I can hardly believe this moment is real. I love you so much"

The tears of joy, now flowed freely for them both, and Vincent held Catherine and their Bond engulfed them in the sea of their passion and commitment to one another. She patiently guided him as he entered the realm of possibility and their promise fulfilled to one another. With that promise, their union this night raged as the fires within the hearth took them beyond the moon and the stars into a dominion from which they did not wish to return.

Morning light.

Vincent was the first to awaken sensing the warm early rays of dawn approaching finding him in the world to where Catherine had taken him. Believing that he imagined last night as a wonderful dream, he felt a slight weight on his arm and saw the sleeping dreamy face of his beloved Catherine. They had spent most of the night loving each other until they finally drifted off into a lover's sleep, their bodies joined as if one.

Vincent closed his eyes, as he could not believe he and Catherine finally consummated their love. He had never thought or even dreamed of loving a woman in this way until he met her and had silently hoped that one day they could arrive at this moment in their relationship.

Vincent was so deep in thought he did not notice Catherine, resting peacefully on his arm, had awakened until he felt the warmth of her tiny hand resting on his chest. He looked down into her sleepy green eyes. "Good morning my love", he whispered. Catherine was pleasantly surprised at his morning face and reveled in the afterglow of their passionate, all consuming sharing of their bodies in the still of the fading heavens as the sky broke into dawn. She giggled. "Ummm, I donít want our night to end, but now I see it must as the sun is beckoning us to a new day"

She shyly gazed up at his restful blue eyes. "What we shared last night was a gift of eternity and I could feel our Bond ignite as we became one with each other." The sweet and gentle way he made love to her took her breath away and made her love him even more than she ever thought possible. He was her life and she knew her heart was his, that she wanted to spend her life with Vincent and proudly give him a family of his own.

He lifted her hand from his chest softly placing it around his neck drawing her toward him and hungrily took her lips within his own. He released her slightly and his eyes pleaded to love her again. Her answer captured his lips in a passionate kiss as once again they melded together for a final yet sweetest time as the morning glow rose higher and provoked their bodies, ever closer.

As they rested in the moments afterward, Vincent realized grudgingly, that today was Sunday and soon they must return to their worlds. The sun slowly peaked to reveal the reality neither wanted to face Ė returning home.

"Catherine, we must go back." The sadness in his voice made her heart clench with sorrow.

He lifted her off his arm and they crept off the bed gingerly as the morning was brisk since the fire dwindled. Vincent took her hand in his and guided their steps to the bathroom, turning on the shower. They stood in front of the mirror and realized their disheveled reflections. It brought a smile to Catherineís face, yet when she looked up at Vincent, she saw dismay in his eyes. She reached up to touch his cheek. "Please donít be worried, all will be well. I know what you are feeling and believe me Vincent; we can weather anything that comes our way. This weekend together has shown us that Ė all things are possible."

He remained silent and cast his eyes downward, sad that reality was just a few hours away. Catherine said no more and carefully stepped into the shower with Vincent close behind. Standing within each otherís embrace allowing the water to trickle along every crevice and plane of their bodies, the steam rose off the tiled walls and swirled around the ceiling. Vincent sensed Catherineís sadness. Did her sadness have something to do with him he wondered? He held her ever closer, and reveled in this magical moment of possibilities.

Still in silence, they stepped from the shower, and toweled dried one anotherís body as each was lost in their own pleasant memories of last night. This was a new beginning and with that, a reawakened knowledge beyond all thought. Their commitment was entrenched by the joining of their souls and there would be no turning backÖ.ever.

They ate a light breakfast and spent the rest of the morning readying the van for the return trip back to the city. Vincent was truly conscious of Catherineís unrest and his heart broke for her, the pain palpable in the furrow of her brow. He wished she would speak of it, yet he knew she needed her space just now and hoped that perhaps she would open up during their ride back. It was not to be however, yet they held hands, occasionally he stroked her cheek and rubbed her neck as she drove. Catherine inserted her favorite Joni Mitchell CD and began to softly sing alongÖíitís cominí on Christmas, theyíre cuttiní down trees, theyíre puttiní up reindeer and singiní songs of joy and peaceÖí

"Catherine, you have such a sweet lovely voice, I wonder that you didnít become a singer."

She smiled at the thought, surprised that he found her singing sweet. He had heard her sing before; to Ellie as she lay dying during the plague outbreak. Remembering that bittersweet scene brought melancholy, which Vincent sensed. She glanced his way and squeezed his hand offering her love and comfort.

Once again, the journey back to the city went smoothly. It was mid afternoon when Catherine pulled into the garage. Peter was in the library, heard them arrive, and met them at the back door. Catherine appeared peacefully serene and Vincent bore an expression of content.

"Well, you two, did you have a memorable weekend?" Peter asked. Little did he know what had transpired between Vincent and Catherine during their "memorable" weekend. He offered them some tea and help unloading the van. Their task was light, as they didnít have too much to remove. They settled down in the library and Peter noticed something had changed between them; they seemed to have a sense of comfortable peace about them, they sat very close, Catherineís hand rested gently on Vincentís knee as her other hand reached up to hold his hand draped over her shoulder. Peter watched as their fingers intertwined, toying, and caressing.

Peter sat facing them from his leather wing chair. They all sat quietly until Peter broke the silence. "Look, I donít want to pry, but I suspect you both need to talk about something".

"Peter", Catherine began, "The weekend started out well enough except when we went skating on the pond. That was quite the experience."

Vincent began to explain, "Catherine was nearly injured, the ice broke and she went down. I needed to do whatever I could to get her out of that freezing abyss."

Vincent continued as Peter sat quietly listening to the weekendís harrowing events, anxiously sipping his tea and expecting more to this narrative. It was clear he was only hearing half the story and waited impatiently for either Vincent or Catherine to spill the rest.

Vincent shifted uneasily, and Catherine decided to spare him any further discomfort. "Vincent and I made a decision while at the cabin. I donít regret a moment of what we shared, yet our concern remains unspoken. Neither of us feel we can discuss it right now, perhaps we will soon if need be."

"You donít have to give me any details, thatís up to the both of you, just know that Iím here to help in any way I can Ė and with Father if it comes to that." Peterís assurance meant everything to Vincent and Catherine and they breathed a sign of relief.

It was early evening as Vincent and Catherine returned to the tunnels. They used the walk back to reflect on their vexing, yet magical weekend spent together.

When they reached Vincent's chamber he laid his and Catherineís suitcases on a chair. He turned toward Catherine and pulled her close to him and with one motion gently lifted Catherine in his arms and carried her to his bed. He turned to the chamber entrance and closed the tapestry to indicate the need for privacy and eliminate any chilly drafts. He returned to Catherineís waiting arms and much to his surprised pleasure, she was already removing her clothing. Vincent enjoyed her sensuous display and began to disrobe as well. Catherine was secretly glad that today was Sunday and in light of their discovery of each otherís bodies, she knew neither of them would be focusing on anything other than satisfying each otherís needs.

Vincent felt Catherineís wave of encouragement as he lowered himself to lay beside her and although he didnít need to, he asked, "Catherine, you are here in my bed, in my chamber and I would feign this as our first time together." Ė a wicked smile spread across his sensuously clefted mouth.

She gave him a shy smile, caressing his face, her eyes traveling along his every feature. "The pleasure would be all mine."

Catherine looked upon Vincentís body with wonder and pure joy, her heart leapt with love and passion, and she opened her arms to him. As she enclosed him in her embrace, they shared another trip to paradise. Now, the stars and the moon were all around them and their desire took them away, repeatedly. Their passion spent, they held each other allowing their bodies to relax as the aftermath of love spread throughout their Bond.

After what seemed like only minutes, but had been several hours, unwilling to break the moment but knowing she had to return Above, Catherine beckoned Vincent to love her one more time before she returned home and he eagerly followed her lead. They both were amazed that their stamina could endure for as many times as they could satisfy each otherís desires and needs.

They cuddled; basking in the afterglow which they both knew was only a continuation of many more tender moments to come.

Reaching up to stroke his brow, Catherine asked, "Why are you smiling so mysteriously?"

"Iím glad Catherine, that I can gratify you".

"Oh, VincentÖ.you do that, and all the more, donít you know?"

Ensuring they would have no interruptions, they groomed themselves in the nearby bathing chamber, and dressed slowly reluctant to part, but knowing it was a necessary thing, they walked hand in hand to the tunnel entrance in her building as they made comfortable conversation and plans for their next meeting.

When they arrived at the threshold of her apartment building, Vincent placed Catherineís suitcase on the tunnel floor and cupped her chin in his palm and lovingly gazed into her eyes whispering, "Catherine, thank you for loving me". She took his hand and softly placed a kiss upon his fingertips and rested her head against his chest, his head upon hers.

"I love you Catherine, with all that I am. This weekend was a glorious yet tumultuous time for us, wasnít it? We shall go with courage from this point on my beloved."

She moved back slightly to gaze up at his beautiful face. "I love you more than you know Ė and yes, we shall go with courageÖ, until we meet again Vincent"

She backed away as in slow motion, the parting of their bodies was almost painful, yet soon they knew they would be together again. Her image dissipated in the wash of light from her basement alcove and she proceeded to climb the ladder to her apartment. Before she was out of sight, Vincent called out, "Catherine!", and immediately she was in front of him and threw herself into his arms with abandon, their breathing short and rapid, yet filled with a passion that neither of them wanted to subdue. Their kisses, furious and desperate, gave them pause, their senses bringing them back to reality, Catherine pleaded, "Vincent please come Above tonight, "I canít seem to let you go." He moved back slightly and brushed Catherineís hair back into place. "Catherine, donít you know by now that every moment with you is unforgettable and as special as the first"

She softly giggled at that response and straightened his vest.

After a final moment of caressing, they parted, more easily now and Catherineís eyes smiled faintly as she remembered the love they shared during a weekend of wonder.

When Catherine reached her apartment, it was nearly nine p.m.. The waning moonís glow cast shadows upon the terrace. She leaned on the ledge, looking out over Central Park, and reflected on her sense of calm, yet under it, was worry too. She wanted to keep her head about what had occurred between her and Vincent; this un-traveled road they chose and the consequences of their actions, not yet realized.

She spied the answering machine light flashing and stopped for a moment wondering whether it was worth it to find out who had called while she was out. While she debated about that, she became aware of her ravishing hunger. ĎLovemaking with Vincent can really whet the appetiteí, she mused and went to the kitchen and poured herself a cold glass of milk with ice and grabbed a few of Williamís tasty oatmeal cookies she kept in a jar given to her last Christmas by Samantha who proudly crafted it in pottery class. The children were more than happy to lavish gifts upon Vincentís Catherine as they saw her as an extension of Vincent and cherished her visits Below, especially when she was able to spend a weekend with the community, partaking in the activities and reading bedtime stories.

She made her way to the bedroom, donned a pair of shorts and an old sweatshirt, made a snack Ė pancakes, scrambled eggs and some veggie sausage, and poured herself another glass of cold raw milk with ice of course. Afterward, she cleaned up the kitchen and feeling pleasantly fatigued, popped in her favorite Joni Mitchell CD on the stereo and sprawled out on the loveseat with a light throw pulled up to her chin. The throw was Vincentís, one that he always kept at the foot of his bed. It had been crafted by Julia, the tunnel seamstress when he was a child and he cherished it. One evening as Catherine admired it, Vincent thought it would be at home around Catherineís sensuous body, and on chilly night in the tunnels listening to the Brandenburg Concertos, he presented it to her as a token of his love. Now it was Catherineís to cherish and she often brought it to her nose when she wanted to be reminded of Vincentís manly aura. It was soft and luxurious and she inhaled Vincentís musky, comforting scent as she drifted off to sleep with a smile on her face.

The clock chimed just as a light touch made her eyelids flutter and Catherine found her beloved Vincentís eyes glued to hers as he bent over her. "Forgive me for waking you Catherine, but you did mention something about my coming Above tonight. If you are too tired, I can return another time." As he started to move away, Catherine quickly grasped his wrist pulling him to her.

"No, wait, donít go. Letís light a fire and sit a while." She looked up at the clock and didnít realize she had been asleep for more than an hour. She sat up, threw off the comforter and moved off the sofa to ignite the logs.

Vincent had removed his cloak, his vest and his boots and settled down on the floor in front of the fire, with his hands clasped over his lap, watching Catherine tending to the fire. He smiled as she struck a match and calmly held it to the starter log. She turned to see him staring at her intently.

"Can I offer you something to drink?"

"No, I just want you here beside me." He replied, as he patted the carpet next to him.

She curled up closely and felt his inviting warmth. The fine hairs on her thighs shimmered in the firelight and Vincent took pleasure in these small details on Catherineís body he had not noticed before. He assumed it was their newly defined relationship, allowing him to view her in ways he had never done before.

As the night encompassed them, Vincent and Catherine drifted dreamily off to sleep, she resting her head on his lap, his hand cupped around her breast under her sweatshirt. The fireís embers now drifted and swirled in the hearth. Their slow steady breathing in unison was testament to their Bond. Whatever happens, whatever comes, they will not look back with regret, only onward as the holiday season creeps ever nearer. Happy times were still to be experienced, the darkness has revealed light and all is well in their world.

And over it all is a lilting voice claiming, Ďitís comin on Christmas, theyíre cuttin down trees, theyíre puttin up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peaceÖI wish I had a river, I could skate away onÖ.í