A Christmas Gift

Elaine Lozano

The short ladder wobbled as Catherine leaned just a little closer, trying to adjust the winged angel on top of the Christmas tree. Her concentration was so focused that the quick tap-tap on the balcony window caused her to give a slight yelp of surprise, and she felt herself lurch forward. Instinctively, she made a quick grab for the ladder to steady herself. ĎGod, just what I need,í she thought, Ďfall into the tree on Christmas Eve!í

The patio door opened slightly, bringing with it a rush of cold air, and Vincentís strained voice came through asking, "Catherine, are you all right?" He had felt the sharp leap her heart gave when he knocked on the window. What was happening inside?

"Come in, Vincent," she called out to him, starting down the ladder.

Cautiously pushing the door wider as he stepped inside, Vincent observed Catherine as she came towards him. Her cheeks were slightly flushed, and she seemed a little out of breath, but her radiant smile put to rest any fears he may have imagined.

Closing the door behind him, Vincentís sensitive nose caught the variety of holiday scents in the room. Cinnamon and bayberry were coming from the lit candles scattered around her living room, their modest glow adding an intimate touch. There was also a trace of pumpkin and nutmeg coming from the kitchen. His stomach gave a low rumble in anticipation. Around the holidays Catherine, under Williamís tutelage, would bake a surprise for Vincent. This Christmas Eve dessert was becoming their tradition, and he looked forward to her latest confection.

"Just what I need, a big strong man to help me. That angel at the top of the tree is putting up a good fight!" Catherine had stopped to stand in front of him, her grey-green eyes twinkling in amusement, as her lips parted in a soft smile.

"There are snowflakes in your hair, Vincent." She moved in closer, her fingers reaching out and stroking the amber strands, brushing them across his shoulders and fluffing his bangs.

Vincentís sapphire eyes followed every movement keenly. He felt her spirit come alive with joy every time he walked into a room. She looked for any excuse to touch, or be next to him. He also felt a peace within her when they were together. He allowed himself a slight measure of pride that he was the one to give her that comfort.

Catherine, in turn, was silently admiring the sight of Vincent standing before her. He was finally here--in her apartment! She could count on one hand the number of times Vincent allowed that luxury. He certainly was going to find it more difficult to leave that it was to come in--she had several temptations in mind for tonight!

Vincentís sharp eyesight, however, caught the sight of a reddish burn on the palm of Catherineís hand as she was smoothing his hair. He caught her fingers as they moved to stroke his cheek, and he turned her hand over to inspect the wound.

"Itís really nothing, Vincent." She spoke quickly, not wanting to make a fuss. "William warned me my potholders were too girlie; I think he meant decorative, and not up to heavy baking. Heís going to have Mary replace mine with some thick pads, so I wonít have any more accidents. It was my own fault.Ö"

Catherineís voice trailed off as Vincent, carefully assessing the burn for himself, drew her hand to his lips and slowly brushed his mouth across her palm, his tongue peeking out and stroking her skin.

Catherineís reaction to this gesture was a quick intake of air, as her eyes widened in astonishment.

Keeping her hand within his, Vincentís eyes sparkled at Catherineís response; she was not the only one with surprises tonight.

***

Stepping back to appreciate their handiwork, Catherineís hand reached out to dim the lights a little more, and the multi-colored bulbs inside the evergreen tree glowed more brightly in response.

After arriving, Vincent had shed his cloak and literally rolled up his sleeves to decorate the tree.

On other years when he came, she would already have it done; but this Christmas Eve she waited until they could spend the evening together. Vincent was draping the last of the silver tinsel over several top branches.

The twinkle of the tree lights reflecting off the balcony doors drew Catherineís attention to the snowflakes floating down in the darkness outside. Walking across the room, she was surprised to notice her patio covered in a deep, white layer of snow. The flakes were falling at a fast rate, and the wind had picked up, causing small drifts across the terrace floor. She knew this would cut their evening short. The increasing bad weather was making it much too risky for Vincent to stay any longer.

Her twinge of disappointment, made itself felt through the bond; and Vincent turned from the last of the tree decorating to see Catherine at her balcony doors. In a few short strides, he was at her side. Catherine was so wrapped up in her unhappiness, she failed to notice VincentĎs approach till his deep, velvet voice whispered her name.

Catherine turned her gaze from the snowstorm outside, and looked up into Vincentís face with a sad smile, unable to disguise the regret in her voice, she explained, "Iím sorry Vincent, but it looks like the weather has upset our evening plans. I donít want to take the chance of you being hurt or seen returning to the tunnels tonight.

"Vincentís quick glance outside the doors caused him to sigh in agreement. Catherine was right. He should leave now. In the meantime, Catherine had turned away from him and was looking through the windows into the frosty night. Already he felt her distancing herself, preparing for his departure.

As he turned to retrieve his cloak, Vincentís struggling conscience flashed pictures across his mindís eye--Catherine, at her birthday party, making her wish for a kiss from him, and how she made that come true. Catherine guiding him through his dark thoughts on her balcony under the eclipsed moon, bringing him back into the light with her. Vincent realized it was now his turn to take them through this together. Any barriers placed between them would only be brought down if they did it together.

Returning to Catherineís side, Vincent reached for her hands, drawing her close to him, and wrapped his arms around her waist. A little surprised, Catherine hesitated and then moved forward into his embrace.

She tilted her head up, expecting a goodnight kiss, but Vincent only dipped his head briefly to brush the tip of his nose against hers. He kept his tone playful, but whispered in a low, husky voice to Catherine, "I canít leave without my dessert."

Those words caused Catherineís eyes to flash silver in excitement, and a slight flush to warm her cheeks. "The kitchen is open; do you want me to put the kettle on for tea?"

Catherine started to pull back from Vincent, but he tightened his hold, and pulled her in closer as he slowly explained, "I donít think this dessert is in the kitchen."

Catherine felt her heart leap against her chest. Now--he meant--now! Her mouth opened, but no words came. Everything she wanted was being offered, and she had nothing to say. Wake up Chandler!--the voice inside her shouted. Say somethingó

Vincent felt it all. All the swirling emotions running through her, and he smiled. He could give this gift to her. This is what she wanted; what they both wanted, and Christmas Eve was the perfect night for love. They would take it slowly. After all, they had been waiting a lifetime for each other.

***

Outside Catherineís balcony doors, the snow continued to fall in the darkness. As the night deepened, the frigid air hardened the fallen snow with an icy layer, catching the flickering lights from inside the apartment, until all was in silent darkness, with only the floating snowflakes whispering to each other as they drifted to the earth.

~