CABB’s Winter

Challenge, 2021

DECEMBER HOLIDAYS

STORY PROMPT

Vincent, Catherine’s Balcony, A Wrapped Gift

THE LONGED-FOR THING

by Carole W

“Are you …” Vincent began, both hands gripping the balcony’s chilly railing.

“Anxious?” Catherine finished, leaning in at his side.

He looked at her sideways … nodded.

“I’m excited, Vincent,” she murmured. “I hope you are.”

“It’s just … We’ve never … It’s the first time. I want things to go well.”

She turned to gaze at the set dining table. Her mother’s wedding china and silver gleamed; her treasured crystal sparkled. The many glass fairy lamps the tunnel children had collected for her glittered, fat candles perfumed with vetiver and cypress and orange burning steadily within their facets. The scent reminded her of the lake house – cottage-y, woodsy, comfortable.

All seemed … right. But his knuckles, she noticed, were pale in the winter moonlight. 

“I really think we can do this.” She covered his hand with hers, threaded her fingers through his. He was smiling, she determined, though just barely. “Are you having second thoughts? It’s just dinner … and then … who knows?”

A kiss of brisk wind scuttled through. She glanced at the wrapped gift sitting center of the terrace table. The box quaked a little; its lush bow quivered.

Now he was smiling. A snowflake drifted down … another, another … diamond stars in his hair.

“Is that the doorbell?” he asked, alert.

“No, it’s my oven timer. The steak and ale pie needs to come out; the ice and champagne needs to go in the bucket. I’ll pop the sticky toffee puddings in to warm later.”

“Father will be so surprised,” he said when she returned from the kitchen.

“By what? That I can cook, that I didn’t order out? Or by the gift … gifts, I mean.”

“That you remembered him saying these were his favorite foods growing up. That you’ve created such an ambiance of warmth and familiarity, of promise. It’s been so long since he’s come above.”

“And never here.”

“And decades without a date. A date, Catherine! One he agreed to!”

“Crossing some thresholds just takes time, I guess.”

The buzzer droned.

Gathered in her arms, the gift box purred. A furry gray paw waved from one of the top’s openings. “I’ve said it before … Father needs either a girlfriend or a kitten.”

“Or both.”

Passing the table set for four, on their way to greet the first of their visitors, as one they drew in an emboldened breath. The candlelight danced in their wake, rose-colored, joyful, and enchanting.

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