Catherine placed the dress on a hanger in preparation for sending it out with the rest of her dry cleaning. Her fingers skimmed over the silky fabric, lingering on the delicate cloth rose attached to the bodice. The scent of candles and smoke remained and conjured memories ... feelings. The rustle of silk … the sound of his voice … the fiery warmth of his touch.
She settled on the sofa and glanced at the clock. 9:00. Too early to go to bed. She looked at the bulging briefcase resting on the other sofa. Too late to get into any of that, she thought. Her focus shifted to the balcony doors. She wondered if he would come to her tonight. He had responsibilities Below. There were tasks to be taken care of in the aftermath of this year’s Winterfest. She understood and accepted all of that. Still ...
Not ready to give up on the evening, and not willing to engage in any more productive activity, Catherine tucked her feet under her robe and lost herself in thoughts of the night before. Surrounded by friends and helpers, they had followed the path down the stone staircase, winding a graceful descent to their destination. They had gathered at the entrance to the Great Hall and paused to watch as Vincent removed the barrier securing the door. She shifted her position as she remembered the sight of him – standing before her with outstretched hand. She leaned back into the cushions and closed her eyes as she thought of the words he spoke.
May I lead you through the dark?
Catherine swung her feet to the floor and got up from the sofa. Finding herself standing, without knowing exactly why, she began to pace slowly across the room. Her apartment was small and didn’t provide much space for her anxious movements. She longed to be Below, where things were less restricted. Funny, she thought, that a world buried deep beneath the city should seem less confining than her world Above.
She stopped by the door, where the beautiful dress she had worn to Winterfest hung. She reached out and ran her hand over the shawl that had covered her shoulders. Her eyes gazed at the garment ... focused on a memory. Who is this man … what is this man … who has so thoroughly consumed my heart? With the hint of a smile playing at the corners of her mouth, she released a small sigh. Her smile broadened as she turned away, with one last lingering touch. He is love.
A sudden quickening of her heart brought her out of her reverie. Vincent.
She crossed the short distance to the balcony doors and paused briefly, savoring the anticipation of his presence. With a turn of the wrist and the click of a latch, she was greeted by a rush of brisk night air ... and stepping through the open doorway, found him standing before her.
He gathered her hands into his own and their warmth stirred memories of the night before, eliciting a sigh.
"Are you remembering ..." she asked.
"Our waltz …" he interjected with a smile.
"You can hear it if you try …" she had told him.
The hall filled with the strains of a beautifully haunting tune played only for their ears. They glided slowly around the room … lost in the magic of the moment … moving as one to the rhythm of their hearts. Catherine gazed up into Vincent’s eyes … and stepped on his foot.
The sound of his laughter echoed across the empty hall. A grin flashed across Catherine’s face as he wrapped his arms around her, tucking her head beneath his chin. His pulse raced as she pulled herself closer and he felt her heart beating against his chest.
She stirred ... he smelled the scent of her hair as it brushed past his face. He saw the brilliant flash of green eyes as they captured his. She was so close … so close that he could feel her warm breath against his face. For a moment, he couldn’t move - frozen ... then a shift … of perception … of his heart … of his being. His lips met hers ... his hand cradled the back of her head, drawing her into a deeper embrace.
The evening was quiet. The city may never sleep, but on this night – it did seem to be resting. Catherine surveyed the evening skyline. A breeze blew her bangs across her face and she pushed the offending strands neatly behind one ear. The sound of Vincent’s voice returned her attention to her companion and she turned to find him watching her.
"I was just thinking how beautiful Winterfest was."
He looked across the balcony wall into the darkness of the night sky. "Yes, even with what happened. It was ... beautiful."
"Your world ... " she began.
"Our world," he interrupted, causing her to look up with a smile.
"There are so many challenges," she continued.
"In both worlds, Catherine ... there are many challenges in both worlds."
"And yet we endure ..."
"Yes ...we endure. And thus, we have Winterfest ... a time to remember the past and dream of the future."
"The future ... and the possibilities," she said with a smile.
"The possibilities," he replied with a single nod of his head.
She stepped forward, closing the short distance between them, stretching her arms up and around his neck.
"Can you hear it tonight, Catherine? The music?" he asked.
"No." She shook her head, smiling. "I’m afraid that tonight, Vincent, I can’t hear anything over the sound of my own heart beating."
He pulled her towards him, gently placing her head against his chest.
"Now I hear your heart," she whispered.
"Mine? Not your own?" he asked.
She could feel the movement of his lips against the crown of her head as he spoke and nuzzled her in a comforting embrace.
"No, I hear yours. It's very strong and steady … stronger than mine."
"My heart, without yours, Catherine, is no stronger than any other …you give me strength. What you hear is our heart. My heart is no longer mine alone."
"Vincent …" she said, raising her head from his chest.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I love you," she replied as their lips met.