I learned without her saying a word that there are many ways to pray, and lighting a candle is one of them. – Pat Schneider, How the Light Gets In
Movement from outside caught her attention, unexpected, but welcome, smile inducing. Catherine pushed the sorting piles she was working on out of her path, and rushed to stand at the opening doors. Frigid air of the winter night swirled the green velvet dress she wore around her calves as the man she loved entered the room that was instantly made small by his large figure. He closed the balcony doors to the dark and snow behind him and turned to her.
“Vincent,” she said in greeting, grabbing him into an embrace before he could even pull back his hood. “I didn’t expect you here tonight. I thought we were meeting Below.” She twisted in his arms and gestured into the living room. “See, I had a box ready and everything. Am I late?”
She glanced towards the kitchen clock: 6:20 p.m. They were supposed to meet under the building at 6:45. She wasn’t late, yet, even though packing the carton had taken an embarrassingly large part of her afternoon. Every time she tried to concentrate on the task her attention drained away like water spilled over a table top, launched in a million different directions. How many times in the last few days, the last few weeks, had she found herself staring off into nothing, unsure when she’d gotten off track? Despite her strewn thoughts, though, she’d filled at least one box necessary for her cover story of why she was again braving the basement. She wondered if her neighbors believed she was constantly redecorating, or just a horrible pack rat.
“Catherine—” he began.
Before she could even think to stop the conclusion, or the words that accompanied it, they jumped out, cutting him off.
“Did Rebecca do it? Did she get it finished?”
He lowered his hood and nodded, his face inscrutable. For the ten-thousandth time she wished the universe would grant her some of his empathetic powers. What did he think? What did he believe? What did he want?
“Did you bring it?” she couldn’t help but ask.
He reached into his vest and withdrew a package with cautious action, holding it as if he wanted it to float within his palm. That was why he was here, why he had risked the early evening climb. He couldn’t wait to show her the bundle wrapped with ragged cloth and overused tissue paper. Despite its lowly coverings, he held it with such reverence. She knew that he could. He was capable of such gentleness. She’d known that truth before it had been proven.
She’d bet her life on it.
One by one, with almost worshipful hands, he drew back each layer and placed them on her table until he revealed a candle. It was one for Winterfest, in the traditional colors of red, yellow, and white, but only a quarter of the regular length, exquisitely small and delicate.
“It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
“Yes,” he agreed. “And ‘miraculous’, so Rebecca told me. She usually doesn’t have any wax to spare once she’s finished all the candles needed, but when I asked her, she said she had just enough for one this size.”
Catherine looked up. “And what do you think Father will say when we give it to him tonight?”
“He’ll be confused,” Vincent answered, his eyes on the present, but his thoughts already in the future moment. “He will not understand the significance of the gift, I think … at first.”
“You mean, like Father, like son,” she teased, a half-smile curling her mouth.
Vincent huffed, still glancing down, and let out an embarrassed laugh. “Yes.”
“Well, when he finally figures it out, at least everyone gathered for Winterfest will keep him from making too big a scene,” she joked, she hoped not too nervously.
Vincent shrugged. “You can believe that,” he quipped, while a sanguine smile graced his features, “if it brings you comfort.”
She laughed, and he followed, but too soon the enormity of the situation brought on a sober quiet between them.
Tonight would be wondrous, as all Winterfests were, but they weren’t going to fool themselves. It wouldn’t be easy.
Catherine ran a finger along the candle’s soft flowing pigments—the glowing orange-red, then the warm yellow that ran into the ethereal white. The colors seemed to grow one into the other.
“Do you think …” she began, unexpected tears beginning to escape from her eyes. “Do you think it will survive?”
Vincent placed the candle on the table, nestling it within its wrappings. He took her hand and pulled her into his arms.
“Yes,” he answered and stroked her hair. Everything about his gesture promised he understood. He understood her question, and more importantly, he believed the answer with all his heart. He drew back slightly and used the pad of his thumb to carefully wipe the tears from her cheeks.
“I know it will,” he promised. He dropped his hand to her abdomen, resting it there, and her hand followed, covering his. They both glanced down and then back to one another’s faces.
“Despite my early fears, it’s amazingly resilient,” he whispered close to her ear, sharing what was still their secret, although what gossip Rebecca might now be spreading was anyone’s guess.
She sniffed away the rest of her worry and kissed him in thanks for his unique and magical insight.
He returned her kiss, a claiming, sweeping caress of his mouth, while curling his large body protectively around hers. When they both deemed it done, they pulled back, barely, touching their foreheads together.
“It is … fait accompli, Catherine. Father will accept this gift,” he said with the conviction of personal experience. “I know it took me … too long … but your love, your faith …”
“No, Vincent, not just mine. Your love and faith—they have brought a light into my life that I didn’t think was possible.”
He kissed her hand in reply, tracing and grazing her palm in the way he knew took her breath.
“Come,” he said abruptly, in total denial of what he’d started, then propelled her gently with a smooth twirl and release towards the direction of the box. “It’s almost time for Winterfest to begin.”
What a cheat, she thought and made sure to think it very loudly.
He grinned again, almost certainly catching her drift, while he rewrapped the tiny candle and tucked it back into the safe keeping of his vest.
She wasn’t quite certain how she was going to survive this mischievous streak he was now revealing to her. Well, they would find out, together.
She shrugged on her coat and then picked up the carton that appeared to be going to storage, but was actually getting dropped off at his chamber.
“It’s not too heavy?” he asked, ready to jump. His fears for her lived close to the surface these days.
“No, it’s … light,” she assured him. “Clothes, mostly.” And a toothbrush.
Presumption and belief had gotten her this far. Why forsake them now, her inner lawyer argued.
“I will take it when you are Below. We can’t be late,” Vincent added.
She walked to the door, but then pivoted back, resting her body against the frame, not ready to leave his presence yet. He must have felt the same, since he stood opposite her at the balcony doors in almost the same stance.
“No, we can’t be late.”
For a moment, they both stared at one another, expectancy, fear, happiness, hunger … love, all vying and swirling within the gazes they held each other with.
“I’ll see you downstairs, Vincent.” Catherine finally spoke, knowing if they didn’t go now, they might never make it to the celebration, and they had important business to attend to. She sighed and smiled for him, “This Winterfest is going to be one for the record books.”
They both turned and opened their respective doors, rushing to be with one another again, rushing headlong with anticipation into the future.
Epilogue, added 2/4/18 [I woke up after a rough night with these two still rushing to Winterfest. I can’t help but add this. Welcome to fiction in real-time. Any mistakes you must blame on the dyslexia fairy that hangs out on my shoulder yelling, “Faster! More intense!” ]
Hope you enjoy.
They were walking twice their normal pace, just past the spiral staircase about half-an-hour later.
Now they really were late.
The fifteen minutes they spent necking like teenagers just past her entrance hadn’t helped.
(“Necking” had never been a word she had even remotely associated with Vincent until about two months prior, but darn if he wasn’t amazing at it. Truly gifted. So much so, scarves were becoming frequent and necessary accessories. Thank God it was winter.)
The few minutes they’d spent putting everything back in the box she had carelessly tossed on the ground when he’d looked at her in what, (she now recognized,) was his carnal way, hadn’t helped either. Thank goodness it really was mostly full of clothes.
At least she looked put back together, and Vincent would tell her if she had a love bite before they got to Winterfest.
He would tell her if she had a love bite, right?
Gentleman Vincent would, she was sure. (Although would Gentleman Vincent give her a love bite?)
Mischievous Vincent, however, she wasn’t as sure about him…
She was contemplating the problem, when she remembered another one they needed to discuss.
“Vincent, I have to warn you, we can’t shut down the place like we did last year. This girl turns into a pumpkin at midnight, I’m afraid.”
“Don’t worry, Catherine,” he replied, eyes forward as they rounded the second-to-last bend before his chamber. “I will have you in bed well before midnight.”
Promises, promises, her thoughts freely responded, but since she’d been saving her courage for their conversation with Father, she lacked the extra needed to say it out loud.
Vincent eyes never left their deserted tunnel path, but he clasped her hand as if he picked up the thread.
Dear God, how can he make a hand squeeze feel illicit?
She was definitely going to need to find a mirror.