"How long will you be gone?" Vincent stood and looked out over the park and the lights beyond from Catherineís balcony. The view didnít bring him peace tonight as it had before. He had come to see Catherine this Wednesday night, toying with the idea of asking her down on Saturday night for a few hours. Instead, she had told him she was planning to go to Westport for the weekend to see Nancy and her family. She hadnít been up there since two months ago when she had borrowed their car in the middle of the night and tore off back to the city and into his arms.
Catherine walked over to stand beside him; her hand rubbed slow circles on his back as she tried to comfort him. "Iíll be back by Sunday night. Would you like to come visit? We could spend a few hours together." Somehow she had gathered he had meant to ask her to visit him, and wanted to make up for it somehow.
Vincent smiled down at her before turning and gathering her into his arms. "Letís wait and see how late it is when you get back. You do still have to go to work on Monday, you know. It wouldnít look good for you to fall asleep at your desk, I would imagine."
Catherine agreed, but made a promise to herself she would leave early enough to be home in time for him to visit her!
"Cathy!" Nancy called as she walked out the door and to her friendís car. "I see you brought your own this time!"
It took Catherine a few seconds to catch the reference, but then she looked at her car and started laughing with her. "This time you wonít have to loan me yours!"
Nancy smiled, but then her face became serious. "How are you doing, really?" she asked as she walked over to help carry the bags inside. A detached part of her noted how few there were: just a small suitcase, a garment bag, and a small train case. The old Cathy would have had at least 3 suitcases, a garment bag and a makeup case.
"Iím doing alright. And, yes, we are doing fine!" Catherine told her with a smile.
Nancyís face relaxed into an easy smile. "Wonderful! After
we get the kids and Paul in bed weíll have time to talk. Paul knows how
much we have to catch up on, and he said he would watch the kids tomorrow
so we can get out for a while." She and Catherine went inside and got her
set up in the guestroom before heading into the backyard to where Paul
was starting a fire on the grill and the children were playing on the swing
Catherine slumped down on the couch so full from supper she didnít know if she would ever want to eat again. The trouble with being single was you just didnít feel like making a big meal for only one. She only really cooked when Vincent was eating with her, and that wasnít often enough for her!
"Okay. Give! Whatís been going on? Has Vincent finally wised up?"
Catherine had to giggle. "Oh, yes. We have been having more, well, I guess you could call them Ďdatesí. He comes for dinner about once a week, and he asks me down to visit him. And it isnít for only special occasions like concerts and plays.
The two talked on for another hour about the growing relationship between Catherine and Vincent, and about his extended family. Nancy felt almost as though they were discussing some movie, or fantasy novel; it was so unreal. But the trust Catherine placed in her with this secret warmed her heart, and she promised she wouldnít fall short.
The next morning broke gloriously sunny and she and Nancy left for a drive on some country roads and stops in little shops. As they were passing through one small town, Catherine saw a "Going out of Business" sign in front of a small store in a shopping center. Pointing it out, she asked Nancy if they could stop.
After they parked, they grabbed their purses and headed for the sidewalk. Catherine was struck by the assortment of items outside and in. There were silk flowers of all sizes and colors, baskets, unpainted wooden shaker boxes, glasses, somewhat tacky ceramic figures, you name it! In the back corner she found a display of candles from tea lights to three-wick pillar candles. A thought suddenly hit her: the tunnels must use innumerable candles each month. She knew Rebecca made them, using small stubs she melted and reshaped, paraffin sent down or bought, and old faded candles salvaged from store displays. She left Nancy standing somewhat in shock at her abrupt departure and found a clerk
"How much are the candles? I didnít see a price back there."
"Well, of course it depends on the price, but we have everything 75% off since this is the final weekend. We will be closing down for good on Monday. My parents have decided to retire to South Carolina there I live. Iím up helping out so they can take care of business arrangements. Letís go see what youíre interested in."
After Catherine heard the prices, she asked how much she would take for the whole batch. She had to smile at the momentary blank look on the womanís face.
"Oh! Let me get a calculator and Iíll be right back!" she replied delighted at the prospect of clearing out more merchandise.
Catherine ignored Nancyís puzzled look and waited patiently as the woman figured out a price for all of them and then discounted again. Catherine was delighted with the price and accepted immediately.
The woman, Leslie, laughing asked if she needed any candle holders, and was shocked when Catherine said, "Oh, my! I didnít think of that! Could you show me what you have?" Again came another round of negotiations and another acceptance. By the time she was ready to leave, Catherine had also bought the wooden boxes, some cast iron griddles and found off in a corner, some French clips used to make hair bows (200 in assorted sizes), all of the large handle baskets (and a few smaller ones, too, just for good measure), and three huge boxes of silk flowers. By way of explanation she told Leslie she was buying the items for a community center. Nancy managed to keep a straight face, thinking that yes, the community Below was in the center of the city.
After she had paid for all the merchandise, it struck her she was in Nancyís car! She turned a pained look at her friend. "Oh, Nancy! Iím so sorry! I didnít think about us being in your car!"
Nancy laughed, "And just how did you hope to get all this in your car? I think we need to find someplace that rents trailers!" And thatís just what they did. They arranged to pick up the trailer with Catherineís car and load up all her treasures the next afternoon. She was so thankful for how helpful Leslie was, and Leslie was thrilled to have helped both Catherine and her parents.
Nancy and Paul followed her to the shop and helped load the trailer, each privately having a chuckle over the wonderful change in their friend. Nancy wondered what Vincent would make of all this stuff, and whether Father would be angry. She knew from Catherine the man had a lot of pride.
Catherine drove carefully on the way back, not being used to towing a load. When she got closer, she had a better idea of her arrival time so she stopped for a burger to go and found a pay phone. She called Peter and asked him if he would mind passing a message to Vincent that she would be at Hendersonís store by 4:30 pm, and would he have 5 men there with handcarts? Peter said he would pass along the message, but couldnít get out of her exactly what was going on.
Vincent was as puzzled as Peter by her message when Peter called him into Fatherís study to deliver it personally. What ever was going on, she wasnít in any difficulty. In fact, what he felt from her was happiness and a trace of mischief. Well, he had about 45 minutes to round up the help and get there, so he excused himself to get started.
At the appointed time he heard the gate around the rear area close and the rolling door go up on the storage building behind Hendersonís. Looking out from his hiding place inside the building he saw Catherine parked out in the alley, a small trailer hitched to her car. "What in the world?" he whispered as Cullen and his helpers rushed forward. He heard her apologize for not putting the car inside but while she was sure she could get in getting back out again was another matter entirely! They laughed and went around and opened the door. Then absolute silence fell. He felt her apprehension and hurt cutting through her and cursed the daylight that prevented him from going to her. Just as he was preparing to call her over to him he felt relief course through her and full throated laughter from the men. He was about to go crazy with suspense when the first handcart rolled toward him loaded down with baskets filled with candles. He was surprised to see yet another follow the first. When all the carts were full, Cullen passed with the last one and called back to Catherine, "Iíll send Nathan and Saul with some of the children to get the last!"
Finally, when he thought he could stand it no longer, he heard the trailer door latch and Catherine walked toward him and into his arms. "Catherine, what in the world was all that?"
She sighed as the smell of candle smoke and leather filled her senses. "I just found some things I thought might be useful." She was rewarded with the sound of his laugh. "Catherine! Some things? Come. They will be back in about five minutes. If I know our children, and I think I do, they will have been waiting not too far away to see what all the commotion was about. Your car will be safe inside the fence."
And he was right, for as they walked arm in arm back toward Fatherís study, a gang of the older children passed them chattering. They walked into the study to the comical sight of Father standing in the midst of all the candles, baskets and assorted paraphernalia being unloaded there. Vincent suspected they werenít taking too much care to limit the amount of floor space they took up just to pester Father. He was turning round and round, trying to see everything being stacked here and there. As if sensing their presence he looked up to the steps and saw the two of them standing looking down.
He began sputtering, "Catherine! What is all this?"
She left Vincentís arm and walked a few steps closer to the center of the room. "I thought these were items you could use Below, soÖ"
"But Catherine! Where did it all come from?" he asked.
"Well, you know, all I did was go shopping!" She answered with a smile.
Vincent broke into a full-throated laugh behind her and
was soon joined by everyone else in the room. He walked up behind her and
wrapped his arms around her in a rare public show of affection. "Love,
you are the only one I know who takes Shop till You Drop literally!"