By JoAnn Baca

“Hello?” Catherine answered her phone with an air of distraction, her mind on the testimony she was reviewing.

“It’s Elliot.”

The unexpected voice brought Catherine’s attention fully to the phone. “Where are you?”

He had ceased to be a part of her life after the legal effort to stop construction on Burch Tower succeeded. She had kept close tabs on his machinations over the long months during which his appeals were made, of course, alert to any potential back room maneuvering to resuscitate the project. But after he had exhausted every avenue with the courts, she had stopped keeping track of him.

After his last appeal had been denied, Elliot had done the unexpected: he had closed down his firm and dropped out of the public eye. Although the media took it as a challenge, eventually even the newspapers had grown bored with trying to find him. Who really cared about yet another failed real estate developer in a city full of them?

“Downstairs. Limo.”

Catherine sighed. “Give me five minutes.”

# # #

The smartly dressed driver closed the back door after she got into the vehicle. Elliot wasted no time, speaking even before the driver got back behind the wheel. “I need your help.”

“I assumed this wasn’t an attempt to renew our relationship,” Catherine remarked wryly, her stern gaze undercutting any suggestion of humor in her voice. “I’m busy, Elliot. Why are you here…and why am I?”

As Elliot raised his arm to rap on the glass partition, Catherine reached out to pull it back. “I’m not going anywhere with you. I have important work waiting for me. Just tell me what you want…now, Elliot.”

He hesitated,then allowed her to push his arm down. “All right.” He turned to look at her. “I’m in trouble. The Tower….” He sighed heavily. “Some of the funding came from…unsavory sources.”

Her eyes closed for a moment in understanding before she said, “And they are unhappy that their investment won’t pay off.”

Elliot nodded, conceding the truth of her assessment. “I’ve managed to keep off their radar until recently.”

He raked his fingers through thick brown hair grown longer and shaggier. Catherine had never seen it as disheveled. And Elliot without a suit on was an Elliot with an entirely different demeanor. Gone was the confident, brash world-beater. In his place was a regular guy wearing jeans, hiking boots, and a faded polo shirt. She knew him, but she likely wouldn’t have given him a second glance if she had passed him on the street. She could see how he might have eluded discovery for a while.

“Something changed?” she asked, prodding him into moving the conversation along. Joe wasn’t going to wait forever for her to finish reviewing that testimony.

Elliot explained briefly. “Someone I trusted has turned on me and alerted those… associates to my whereabouts. I need to leave the country, well, immediately. But you’re one of the few friends I have left, and I had to speak to you first.”

Despite herself, Catherine couldn’t help but be sympathetic about Elliot’s downfall. She had wanted the Tower stopped, not his career ruined, even if the latter was the result of his own bad choices. Still, they were hardly friends. His life these days no longer intersected with hers, and she wasn’t happy about him drawing her back into it, even a little. Especially if “unsavory sources” were after him. Impatient, Catherine urged him on. “Speak with me about…?”

He reached down and picked up a slim briefcase. “Take this. Please.”

Wary, she didn’t reach for it. “What is it, and why should I take it?” She shook her head and scooted backwards toward the door. “I’m not getting involved in your shady business dealings, Elliot. And a friend wouldn’t ask.”

He smiled ruefully. “It’s not business. It’s…charity.” At her frankly disbelieving look, he added, “Truly.” He placed the briefcase on his lap and opened it, turning it to show her the thick file within. “Since everything that happened, I’ve been…let’s say ‘reassessing’ my life.” His short bark of laughter sounded especially bitter. “You’ve had the strangest effect on me, Cathy.” Pulling out the file, he offered it to her. “Anyway, I’ve established a charity. The paperwork is all here. You need to finalize the filing, but the funds are already in an account in your name – an account that can’t be traced back to me.”

She opened her mouth to protest but he was ahead of her. “The money all comes from my personal finances, not my corporation. Nothing shady, I promise. The people I owe on the Tower don’t have any claim on these funds. I made sure of that.”

Hesitantly, she accepted the file and flipped through the topmost pages with some trepidation. Growing intrigued as she read, she glanced up at him once, quickly, then continued her cursory review. When she had looked through everything, she sat back with a newly respectful expression. “I want to do a more thorough analysis but, from what I’ve seen, it’s all as you said.”

He nodded, relieved to note the change in her attitude. “I want you to run that charity, Cathy. I would have done it myself at some point, but my reputation being what it is now, and with the financial difficulties I’m in….”

She snorted softly.“These documents indicate the money has already been transferred into an account with me as the sole signatory. I won’t ask how you managed to get my signature.”

“Best not to,” he replied cheekily, a touch of the old Elliot in his voice. He got serious again as he added,“I would have done this the old-fashioned way, with you as a partner, but our relationship sank when the Tower was stopped so….” He shook himself. “Anyway, I’m on my way out of the country, and no, I won’t tell you where, or how to get in touch.”

“Of course not,” Catherine replied, with the hint of a smile she couldn’t repress.“Goodbye, Elliot.” She reached to grab the door handle.

“Wish me luck,” he said, by way of farewell.

She turned her head and nodded. “I do. Be well.” Then she opened the door, the file under her arm.

# # #

After work, Catherine had reviewed the papers Elliot had given her more carefully, doing research to ensure she understood some of the arcane points of the laws for running charities, and she had made notes and printed out useful legal rulings. Everything was stacked in neat piles on her dining room table when Vincent arrived on her balcony late that evening. She beckoned him and, with only the slightest hesitation, he entered her apartment, intrigued by the excitement he had felt through their Bond.

“I saw Elliot today, out of the blue, and he gave me a file.” She held up one hand, forestalling his questions. “It will all be clearer after you read this.” She indicated the paperwork laid out before him. “I’ve checked it out and it’s legitimate. But I want your opinion. Please…sit.”

Vincent carefully read through the file and Catherine’s notes while she busied herself opening a bottle of wine and setting out a cheese tray. When he was finished, he looked up at her.

“I don’t quite know what to say.” He shook his head in admiration. “It’s… hard to believe. Elliot was always a philanthropist, but only when it got him publicity. This is something else again.”

“I was as surprised as you. Maybe more.” She sat beside him and sipped her wine.“I suppose he began thinking about this when he proposed, maybe as something we could do together that would appeal to my sensibilities. Or possibly he would have asked me to leave my job, and he thought that running this charity would be a palatable alternative to keep me safely occupied and out of his business.”

“That could account for why the documents were already created,” Vincent tapped one long finger on the banking form,“and this funding already being in place.” His face became serious. “This is an opportunity, Catherine. Consider it carefully.”

“What? You mean, go forward with this…now?”

He nodded.

She frowned. “That would mean quitting my job and turning to charity work full-time.” Catherine was shocked at the suggestion. Her first instinct was to dismiss it out of hand. Her work with the District Attorney’s Office was important to her.

His gaze was steady, locked to hers, as if expecting more reflection, more deliberation – a dispassionate assessment of the situation. That caused her to re-examine the statement she had just made.

Her job was important to her.

It was important.

To her.

But was it that important in the greater scheme of things?

There were other hardworking attorneys in the office, all with workloads rivaling hers. She knew she was very good at her job. But so were they. Joe had just hired another tremendously talented attorney and there had been no lack of good candidates for the job. Sure, Joe would be sad to lose her, and she would miss working for a boss like him, but he could replace her in a heartbeat. With the charity, she would be her own boss. She would set the agenda. She would control her own future. And with the charity, she could make the kind of difference she could not hope to make as one cog in the giant wheel that was the D.A.’s Office.

The pathways her analysis opened up spread out in her mind, flooding through her, opportunities and prospects far greater than anything she had been able to accomplish before. When she approached it from that perspective, the potential thrilled her, and within that thrill was – surprisingly - the tiniest bit of relief at leaving the demanding and sometimes dangerous work she had been doing.

Vincent, quiet while he saw that Catherine was in deep contemplation, seemed to intuit the choice she had just made, for he reached for her shoulder and squeezed it gently, bringing her attention back to him. “You’ve made a decision?” It was more statement than question, with just the hint of upward inflection on the last word to show her he would not assume what that decision was, even if he suspected he knew.

“Yes,” she responded. “It feels…right.” She nodded once, emphasizing her decision.

He nodded in return, the hint of a smile on his unique lips. “You’re ready. This is a new challenge, one you have been preparing for without realizing it.”

She smiled at his description. In her deepest heart, she knew this was true. But that wasn’t the entirety of her rationale. And she suspected he did not anticipate this aspect of her decision.

“You must be a part of this, Vincent. I won’t do it without you.” She focused her gaze on his deep, intelligent eyes. “I can’t make you a co-chairman on paper, but you will be one in all but name.”

As she expected, he tried to demur, beginning with a shake of his head. “You are fully capable, Catherine. I wouldn’t dream of …”

Cutting off his attempt to deflect her, she finished the sentence in a way he hadn’t intended. “…of using your passion and talents and integrity in any other way.” She gave him a playful poke in the chest, her finger barely denting the strong pectoral it was gently assaulting.

“If I’m ready for this…and I believe I am…how much more ready must you be? You, who have walked the streets of this city for years, seeing the inequities, understanding what is missing and needed. I’ve seen things from one perspective; you have gained insights from a far different one. Only together can we hope to begin to grasp the true picture of what this money can accomplish.”

“Work with me.” Her last comment was a plea disguised as a demand; she wouldn’t force her will on him.

Vincent took a deep breath and held it for a brief moment before letting it out in a rush. His gaze turned inward. She could see him contemplating this about-face, and imagined his expression now was much like the one that was on her own face moments ago.

Patient with him as he had been with her, she waited while he grasped the impact his active involvement could make in helping this city that he truly was a part of. But as much as this would be a sea change for her, she understood that he had much different, and higher, hurdles to overcome – the ingrained caution of a lifetime, the prospect of stepping into a sphere of endeavor unlike any in his own world, how to address the concerns of those Below who preferred him to remain tethered in his safe place…and others she could only guess at.

She waited, heart in her throat, for his response. Catherine knew he could come up with a dozen perfectly reasonable excuses for declining her request. And as always, when faced with barriers to their relationship moving forward, she knew that ultimately she would give way to his fears, his hesitations…his promises of someday. Just as she always had.

She could only hope she wouldn’t have to.

After some time, Vincent’s eyes refocused and he stared deeply into Catherine’s. His expression gave away nothing, and she had to wait for his words.

“I will.”

Almost disbelieving her ears, Catherine asked for confirmation. “You’re agreeing?”

He nodded, and the greater meaning of his response sank deeply into her soul. For with those two words, Vincent was doing more than merely agreeing to assist her in running the charity. He was acknowledging the next great step in their relationship, binding himself to her in a way he had never allowed himselfto before, taking a leap toward discovering that place they had always wished for: a space between their worlds where they could find happiness together.

Was it inevitable? It felt that way…for both of them. This, then, however unexpectedly and strangely it had arrived, was the beginning of that journey.

Catherine’s face lit up with her smile.“Then let’s brainstorm.” Shepassed a notepad to Vincent as he picked up a pen. “Shall we call it ‘Providence’?”

A golden-maned head and a honey-blonde one bent together, designing the foundations of a new destiny.