The Watcher – first scene

 

The night sky glittered with a vast blanket of stars but the balcony outshone them all. It shimmered with a warm golden glow cast by a constellation of twinkling candles. Inside, past the balcony doors, more tapers flickered in the shadows and in the fireplace a cheerful blaze radiated comforting warmth and wrapped the room in a cozy closeness. Catherine was lighting the last few candles, when a soft smile graced her lips. Tonight, we will move toward love.

 

Catherine had taken special care to prepare the intimate atmosphere for the evening. She had also spent a great deal of time perfecting her appearance. Her honey colored hair was simply styled, falling to softly caress her shoulders. Her makeup, though understated, enhanced her natural beauty. The dress she had finally chosen to wear was both elegant and enticing. Completely modest in the front, the back was cut deep to the waistline. Slipping it on earlier, she had shivered at the thought of Vincent’s gentle touch on her warm bare skin.

 

As she blew out the long slender taper used to light the countless wax pillars, she felt a faint stirring deep within her soul. Vincent. Catherine turned toward the open balcony doors and there, just where she knew he would be, stood Vincent.

 

Her face reflected all the wonder and love she felt for this extraordinary being. She wanted to fly across the unbearable distance that separated them and fling herself into his waiting arms. Instead she cloaked herself in calmness, walked across the room and stepped out onto the balcony.

 

Standing face to face, no words were necessary. Their eyes spoke of their love, their need, their hopes, and their dreams.

 

“Two years ago…tonight,” she said, gently breaking the silence. Those four little words released a flood of memories. It was the night that changed their lives forever, the night they celebrated this evening.

 

Vincent had felt Catherine’s joy and anticipation all day. He had also been aware of an underlying hesitancy, a slight nervousness. Now, glancing past her shoulder and seeing the carefully decorated and candlelit rooms, he understood her feelings of trepidation.

 

When his gaze shifted to the apartment, Catherine dropped her eyes. Vincent always refused to cross the balcony threshold. He never wanted to intrude into her world, a world so different than his own. But tonight…if only he would take one small step forward…

 

Her hopeful green eyes met and held his crystal blue orbs. “I thought maybe we could go inside…by the fire?”

 

This time it was Vincent who felt the need to lower his eyes. He knew beneath that simple wish there were more complicated desires. A light rocking of his shoulders from side to side mirrored his indecision. He looked up and encountered her serene countenance.

 

“It’s warm,” she gently pressed him, sending all of her love flowing along the bond.

 

Vincent held her gaze a moment longer before once again glancing away. Suddenly within his mind he heard the soft echoes of Catherine’s voice. “Vincent, we can’t waste it.” “ It wasn’t courage Vincent, it was love.” “I would sacrifice everything for you.” “There is no darkness Vincent, when you are with me.” “You deserve everything.” “These are my hands.” “Still, he was the greatest knight of all.” “I’m not scared.” “Don't be afraid to want it.” “I love you.” “Will we ever be truly together?”

 

Shifting his weight, Vincent gathered all of Catherine’s love close to his pounding heart. The decision made, he looked directly into her hope-filled eyes and took a small step forward. 

 

Suddenly, Catherine's phone began to ring.

 

to be continued…

 

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Ginny Shearin’s sequel:

 

 

Catherine intended to ignore it, but then the answering machine took over, recording Jenny’s voice… and Jenny sounded upset.

 

“Are you there? It’s Jenny.” There was a short pause. “Cathy, pick up the phone if you’re there.”

 

As much as she wanted to ignore the interruption, she couldn’t ignore that her friend sounded so distressed. She looked at Vincent apologetically and went back into the apartment. “Yeah, Jenny, I’m here. What’s wrong?”

 

“Are you okay?”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”

 

“I don’t know. I just had one of those weird dreams, and you were in it.”

 

“Well, I’m fine.”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“Positive.”

 

“Why are you awake?” Jenny’s natural curiosity was aroused now that she was assured Catherine was safe.

 

“Go back to sleep, Jen.” Catherine laughed. “You can call me at a decent hour tomorrow and tell me all about your weird dream. Tonight I’m fine.” Before she hung up, she added pointedly, “Tomorrow…understand? Goodnight.”

 

Catherine hung up, unplugged the phone and brought it to the balcony with her.

 

Turning from where he stood waiting at the balcony wall, Vincent watched with amusement as she ceremoniously placed the now useless object in one of the chairs.

 

“This annoying piece of equipment,” she said with a look of determination, “will spend the evening out here…freezing.” Taking one of his hands in both of hers and backing slowly toward the living room door as she spoke, she continued optimistically, “You can spend it inside…warm…by the fire…with me…please? It’s beautiful out here tonight, but it’s cold.” She looked up at him, hopeful that their broken moment wouldn’t have given him time to change his mind.

 

Vincent smiled and allowed her to pull him gently inside the living room door. The apartment glowed softly in the light of the candles she had gone to so much trouble to place strategically around the rooms. She was so beautiful, dressed as carefully for him as she would have been for any man from Above who would have taken her to the theater or a party…so full of her love for him…so anxious to share what little bit of her world she could offer him…so afraid he would change his mind and back away again. He had made the decision earlier. How could he refuse her now?

 

“All this for me, Catherine?” he asked, looking around the apartment.

 

“All this for us, Vincent. Anniversaries are shared. I thought you might be more comfortable with candlelight.” She released his hand and closed the door and the drapes behind them.

 

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

 

There was an awkward moment while they each tried to decide what to do next.

 

“You won’t need your cloak. It’s warm…and no one can see us here.”

 

Vincent let the cloak slip from his shoulders and folded it over the back of one of the sofas, feeling out of place and a bit nervous, but pleased that his presence made Catherine so happy.

 

“Why don’t you sit down and tell me what’s been going on Below in the past couple of weeks. I’ve missed everybody.”

 

Vincent looked at the small, delicate colored sofas, doubtful that someone his size was meant to sit on them.

 

“They’re sturdier than they look,” Catherine said mischievously, catching the doubtful look on his face.

 

Vincent still looked doubtful, but he sat down, looking more at ease when he realized she was right.

 

Catherine beamed, intensely happy to see him there, and sat beside him. “Now tell me what I’ve missed. Is Mouse feeling better? Did Kipper ever finish that paper?” More questions were accompanied with movement as she turned almost back to him and snuggled closer.

 

Vincent lifted his arm to the back of the sofa and turned slightly toward her to make it easier for Catherine to rest against his side and his shoulder. She fit there so naturally. Two weeks since he had seen her…held her… It felt so good to have her resting against him again. He knew he should worry about being entirely alone with her, closed in her apartment away from any interruptions, but right now he felt no sign of anything that concerned him. They often sat this way on the balcony or at the falls. The slight weight of her body leaning innocently against him, the sound of her voice, the familiar fragrance of her hair, the light perfume she wore…those things assailed his senses the way they always did when she was near. It was all a part of Catherine and having her close. ‘Maybe,’ he thought ‘he should relax and enjoy it.’ He settled himself began to tell her about events in the tunnels, enjoying the sound of her laughter as he related the ordeal of prying that writing assignment out of Kipper.

 

Indulging in a little self-effacing humor, Catherine told him how difficult it had been for Joe to pry a brief out of her that day. “All I could think about was tonight…seeing you. I finally finished it – and amazingly enough, it was coherent – then I practically threw it on his desk and ran as I left. He said something to me as I was on my way out, but I’m not sure what it was. I pretended I didn’t hear him.” 

 

She was rewarded with a quiet laugh from Vincent, who understood perfectly. She loved those little laughs. They didn’t happen nearly often enough.

 

“Are you comfortable? Can I get you anything? There’s water in the kettle for tea if you’d like some,” she offered.

 

“Later perhaps. Right now I need nothing but you.”

 

He nuzzled against her hair, sliding his hand from the back of the sofa to rest it on her upper arm; and she responded by snuggling closer, sending waves of contentment through their bond. It was contagious. Vincent relaxed more than he had imagined he could in such a private, intimate setting. Both of them had rushed and pushed themselves through their workdays, determined to be together that night. In spite of the joy of being together, they had both exhausted themselves to reach that point. The feelings of content drifted into a comfortable drowsy feeling, and they were soon asleep.

 

Vincent was the first to wake, his head still resting on hers, his arm still resting on hers. She was sound asleep. The candles had burned down considerably, and the fire needed tending. How had this happened? His last conscious thought had been wondering why he hadn’t entered her apartment before.

 

“Catherine?” he whispered. When she moved slightly, he repeated her name, and her eyes opened.

 

“We seem to be wasting a pleasant evening,” he said softly.

 

“How long have I been asleep?” she asked. “Why didn’t you wake me?”

 

“We seem to have slept about two hours.”

 

“Both of us?” Catherine asked, sitting up and stretching, amused in spite of her hazy state of mind. “Aren’t we an exciting pair?”

 

“Good company and a roaring fire in the fireplace is apparently…very relaxing”

 

“I worried that you wouldn’t feel comfortable here.”

 

“It seems to be an unfounded concern.”

 

Catherine responded by laughing lightly and hugging him. She didn’t linger. The last thing she wanted to do right now was give him any reason to think he should leave. Relaxed was good enough for tonight.

 

“The fire needs tending, Catherine,” Vincent pointed out.

 

“Why don’t you take care of the fire, and I’ll bring some tea.”

 

Catherine stood and walked to the kitchen, while Vincent encouraged the fire back into flames instead of embers. She returned with two steaming mugs of spicy tea, taking them to the dining table.

 

Vincent had picked up the books on the coffee table, Great Expectations and the book of Shakespeare’s sonnets, obviously placed there in honor of the day they were celebrating. He took them with him to the table and sat across from Catherine. “We could read,” he suggested. “Or would it put you back to sleep if I read to you?”

 

Catherine watched the little smile that accompanied his question, and felt herself in danger of doing something that might frighten him off. She quickly squelched the thought in favor of the casual, cozy atmosphere they had managed to create. Vincent’s hand was on the table next to the mug she had placed there for him. She reached across and put her hand over his.

 

“You know I love it when you read to me. Even if we both fell asleep again, it wouldn’t matter. We’re together. There are no big problems facing us in either of our worlds…no rush to be somewhere else. We can just sit and unwind and enjoy being close and uninterrupted. That in itself is a treasure…however we use it.”

 

“Yes.”

 

They sat at the table, sipping tea and talking, and then they returned to the sofa. They sat there, Vincent on one end reading, Catherine curled up on the other end, listening to his unique voice and gazing at the long awaited sight of him in her home.

 

She smiled at that last thought. He was really here.

 

Feeling the surge of delight in her, Vincent looked up and caught the smile she couldn’t contain.  “What makes you so happy?” he asked.

 

“You.”

 

Vincent just returned her smile. He had no answer for that. He handed her Great Expectations, still open to the page he was reading, obviously intending her to finish the chapter the way she had when he first visited her balcony. When she read the last words and closed the book, he moved his arm to the back of the sofa in invitation, and she wasted no time in returning to the warmth of sitting close to him. This time he wrapped his arm in front of her.

 

Taking a deep breath of absolute pleasure, Catherine leaned her head against his shoulder, her chin resting near the bend of his elbow, and brought both hands up to hold his arm where it lay across her shoulders. She closed her eyes and exhaled slowly, savoring his embrace.

 

Without a second thought, Vincent planted a slow, deliberate kiss on her head and nuzzled her hair, again breathing in its fragrance.

 

Catherine was pleasantly surprised. She had felt what seemed to be small brief kisses  like that before, but nothing so obviously intentional; and she wasn’t about to let the moment escape her.

 

“Mmmm… That was nice. Would you do it again?” she asked.

 

Vincent’s response was another kiss and another nuzzle.

 

“I love you, Catherine.”

 

The words. He had said the words. Tonight was full of small miracles.

 

“I love you, too.”

 

That was all they needed for the moment. They sat for a long time alternating between comfortable silence and quiet conversation, each drawing pleasure from the rare time spent completely alone; but eventually the spell had to be broken.

 

“It’s nearly dawn…” Vincent began.

 

“…and you have to go.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I understand, but I hate to give this up,” Catherine answered wistfully.

 

She was placated with another kiss on top of her head, and then she reluctantly moved to allow him to stand.

 

As he swung his cloak over his shoulders, she started to say something, but thought better of it.

 

“What did you intend to say?” Vincent asked, noticing her indecision.

 

“You might not want to hear it.”

 

“Tell me.”

 

“This whole night has been a gift…”

 

“It was a beautiful celebration. Thank you for going to such trouble.”

 

Moving closer and placing her hands on his chest, Catherine started hesitantly. “Vincent may I have one more gift?” She paused and looked down before gaining the courage to look directly into his eyes. “May I have a kiss before you go…a real one?”

 

Vincent looked hesitant again, and disappointment poured through her as she looked back down.

 

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

 

“Catherine…” he said, placing his hands on her arms. “Please don’t be sorry that you can look at me and still want such a thing. For me that is another gift.”

 

He lowered his head close to hers and kissed her cheek. When she lifted her head to look at him, he cupped her face in his hands and gave her a soft, loving kiss. He hadn’t kissed her before, but he had imagined it endlessly. It had been much less awkward than he had feared, and he hoped this kiss hadn’t felt so clumsy and inexperienced to Catherine that she wouldn’t want to ask again. It took only a moment to know that he need not concern himself with that thought.

 

Catherine joyously…and assertively…threw her arms around his neck, and was rewarded by another soft laugh. “One more?” she asked, pulling back to look at him, her eyes twinkling. “What can I say? I’m greedy.”

 

Vincent’s arms went around her, and he was suddenly faced with a dilemma. Where should his hands rest? On the sofa her back had rested against his clothes. How could one side of a dress look so conservative and the other side so… If his hands went to the fabric, they would be lower than he had allowed himself to touch her before. If they were higher, there was nothing but soft, warm bare skin. Before he kissed her again, he was relieved to find that the dress covered her waist beneath the fabric that draped at the bottom of the revealing back. This kiss lingered a little longer. He stepped away from her, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips before he pushed the drapes aside and let himself out.

 

Catherine stood frozen for a moment, unsure that her legs would support her if she tried to move. She walked slowly to her bedroom and kicked her shoes off. Just as she had leaned against the wall and smiled in wondrous disbelief, Vincent returned through the bedroom doors.

 

He stood at the door for a moment, then crossed the room and took her in his arms, pulling her against him and kissing her the way she had dreamed he would someday. He wasn’t searching for the proper place to put his hands. His large hands were covering her warm, bare back. It felt wonderful…and she returned the kiss the way he had dreamed she would. Scarcely able to believe what he had just done…and apparently in a satisfactory manner at that, Vincent broke the kiss and looked down at a pleased, but astonished, Catherine.

 

Deciding that humor was the best way out of this, he graced her with one of his small smiles, his eyes twinkling now.

 

“What can I say? I’m greedy.”

 

He kissed her once more, briefly, as if to emphasize his words. When he left he had Catherine’s delighted smile to remember until they could manage some time together again…and the memory of her warm lips welcoming his.

 

Catherine threw herself on the bed and laughed in delight. He was moving toward love.

 

If Joe thought he had trouble prying work out of her yesterday…

 

~  The End  ~