by Sandy Chandler Shelton

inspired the following vignette:

JoAnn Baca


Elliot is a king in your world.

The words had echoed within his heart for months. Catherine had understood what he was saying - both the simple words and the complex emotions that had roiled within him as he uttered them.

Burch could have given her the world in a very real sense. Money bought access, ease of travel, experiences that he could barely imagine, let alone provide.

Yet she was stubborn, his Catherine. She would insist that all that Elliot had to offer was dust compared to what someone who lived in a hollowed-out cavern deep beneath the city could give to her.

But what could he give her that could rival the world?

Vincent pushed himself out of the chair in which he had been ruminating ... brooding ... for close to an hour. At times like this, he could feel the downward pressure of the millions of tons of rock and steel that rested above his head. It was a claustrophobia as much of the soul as of the mind.

He began to pace. He would get nowhere comparing himself to any man Above, especially Burch. The cold fact was that he could give Catherine nothing tangible. He roamed the city Above but owned nothing of it. Nothing. Except the night.

And the heights.

As the thought struck him, his unique mouth twitched into a smile. Throwing his head back, he pulled in a deep, relieved breath, letting it out in a forcefully expelled gust of air. The claustrophobic feeling lifted. His shoulders lost some of their tension as the frown line between his eyes smoothed out.

The pipemaster tapped out the time: 9:00 p.m. Vincent nodded. As quickly as the plan formed in his mind, he was gone, his cape forgotten in his haste.

* * *


She whirled to face him, surprise quickly transforming to joy in her eyes. She had just returned home from dinner with friends, enduring a stuffy restaurant and an over-heated cab. As shed emerged from the cab, shed taken in the beauty of the night, the air so crisp with the promise of snowfall. It had impelled her to throw off her coat and rush to her balcony to take in the glory of it. Standing at the balustrade, eyes closed and face raised to the moon, she had not heard Vincent arrive until he had called to her.

"Vincent! Come, share the night with me!" Happiness filled her voice as, her hand extended, she urged him to join her. But he didnt move toward her, even as he extended his own hand to her.

"I do wish to share the night with you, Catherine, but...from my vantage point."

Catherines brow furrowed in confusion.

His gaze lifted to the rooftop of her apartment building, then back to her face. "Will you trust me?"

"Always." She stepped toward him eagerly and grasped his offered hand, a smile of expectation gracing her features.

Without another word, Vincent lifted Catherine to the broad overhang above her balcony. The wide roof-like extension was easy for her to clamber onto, and she got to her feet with ease, grateful she was wearing thick tights instead of pantyhose, which would have been shredded by the rough concrete. In a moment, Vincent had hauled himself up beside her.

"This way."

Ignoring the multi-story drop behind her, Catherine focused on tracing Vincents footsteps as he led her around the corner of the building to a section of the ornamental concrete facade to which a sturdy metal ladder was affixed. "For the workmen who clean the penthouse windows," he advised. "The ladder is never used at night."

"You use these when you come to see me?" She was embarrassed to realize shed never asked him before just how he made it to her balcony.


A brisk breeze whipped their hair, raising goosebumps on Catherines arms despite the warm wool sweater she wore. She grabbed the ladder, Vincent following her up, and was guided to and up another ladder, until they were just below the tarred rooftop of her building. Here the ledge around the building was not as wide as her balcony overhang, and when she peeked down from the height, panic momentarily gripped her. This was so different than her balcony, or even the roof. Without the comforting presence of a railing, Catherine felt herself grow terrified of being so close to the edge. But a murmur from Vincent settled her nerves. "I come here often."

Holding onto a rung of the ladder for support and with Vincent assisting her, she lowered herself with careful, measured movements until she was in a seated position on the ledge in front of him. Then behind her, with the ease of long practice, he folded himself into a seated position, his legs dangling over the edge, and braced her with his entire body. One arm draped around her protectively as she let go of her grip on the ladder and leaned back into the shelter of his embrace.

Catherine didnt feel the chill any longer. Leaning into the heat of Vincents body, she was suffused with an emotional warmth nearly as intense as the physical warmth his nearness brought her. It melted away the dread she felt about their high perch on the ledge. She was with Vincent, and she feared nothing when he was by her side. Still, it was dizzying to look down, so instead she gazed around her at the buildings and windows and lights.

The smells and sounds of the city echoed faintly below, but the sky opened up in its vastness above her, and the panorama that unfolded before her was more magnificent than she could have imagined. The New York skyline seemed somehow closer, more beautiful, spread at her fingertips in a way it never seemed to be from her protected balcony. Perhaps the relative danger of their position made the scene more exhilarating. Perhaps it was because so few other people had ever had the experience. She only knew that she was so close to heaven now ... in so many ways. She felt like the queen of the universe, sitting here. She understood why Vincent loved it so.

Something fluttered into her eyelashes: tiny crystalline snowflakes, the first of the winter. Blinking them out of her eyes, she turned her face toward Vincent and smiled with delight at everything he had given her. "This is amazing! Nothing Ive ever done, no place Ive ever been, could have prepared me for this feeling!"

* * *

Deep inside, Vincent felt the surge of exhilaration Catherine was experiencing. It brought him such joy to know his decision to bring her here was the right one.

How lonely his vigils on this ledge had always been before. Catherine had been close but out of sight within her apartment, and his thoughts, though full of her, were of all that was missing in his life ... and hers. But this ... this moment ... this place ... no one else in all the world, not even Elliot Burch, could give this to her. And Catherine had accepted it with an open heart and an expectation of joy.

She approached everything to do with him in that same way.

He breathed deeply and fully, perhaps for the first time in his life.

In that moment, Vincent felt like a king.





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