THE FIRST THANKSGIVING
Catherine set the shopping bag down on the carpet. Beyond the dimly lit room the balcony lay in undisturbed darkness.
He hadn’t come.
Disappointed, she locked the door, hefted the food her Dad had insisted she bring home and headed to the kitchen.
Everything went into the fridge. Everything but the pumpkin pie Mrs. Todd had baked for their dessert. Pumpkin pie was best served room temperature their cook had always said, though it was delicious cold and … even before breakfast. Catherine remembered herself as a little girl sneaking a spoonful … the visible evidence convicted her every year … but it was worth it. Tonight she’d hoped to share a piece of pie with Vincent.
Perhaps, where he lived, the observance of Thanksgiving lasted well into the evening.
She checked her wristwatch as she entered the bedroom. Only 9:35. Not too late for him to appear almost magically out of nowhere, as it seemed he did, looking so other-worldly that she still had moments when believing in him felt more than a bit fanciful.
Hoping he might yet arrive, she decided not to change into bedclothes. Her dad had been lavish with compliments and even though they were a prejudiced opinion she thought she looked nice. The tan slacks fit well and the brown silk shirt, with a vest matching the pants, showed off her trim shape. A fine gold chain around her neck held a small heart-shaped locket, a gift from her dad. Catherine wanted to look … attractive … for Vincent. Though he didn’t comment, she was sure she saw appreciation in his look … looks. Yes, there was admiration and maybe gratitude evident when he’d hold her gaze.
Catherine walked back into the living room thinking … if he came tonight … the holiday and the pumpkin pie might encourage that first step over her threshold. It was much too chilly to stand on the balcony balancing plates and cups on the brick wall.
I suppose I should invest in a garden table and chairs, she thought. Just in case he never comes in. I wonder if I’d run afoul of Management’s by-laws if I were to enclose the whole space so that I could heat it in winter.
With a shake of her head at the absurdity of that notion, she turned around and he was there, watching from beyond the glass doors.
“Vincent,” she said with a happy smile, rushing out and into his embrace, “I hoped you’d be able to visit tonight. Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Happy Thanksgiving, Catherine.” He released her and stepped back. “You haven’t been waiting for me, have you? I wasn’t sure you’d even expect me.”
She smiled at that. Yes, she’d been expecting him … just as she did every night for the past month. He’d missed only a few evenings since that first time he’d brought Great Expectations.
She asked about the holiday celebration with his family. He began to describe the day Below when he felt a chill shiver over her.
“You’re cold. Should you get a sweater or … a coat?”
A late November wind was playing with her hair and raising goosebumps on her arms.
“Vincent,” she took a bracing breath before suggesting, “would you come inside? I brought home the most delicious pumpkin pie for you to taste …”
His hesitation blended with hers and she feared he used the silence to compose gentle words of refusal.
“Thank you. I’d like that very much.”
She tried not to show her surprise and prayed her obvious delight covered it well.
He stopped when the French door had been closed behind them.
“You have a lovely home.”
“I’d offer the 2-penny tour but I’m afraid it’s not worth that much. This is a what-you-see-is-all-there-is apartment, but it serves me well enough. A place to sleep mostly.”
“Indeed? With the hours you keep at the District Attorney’s office I fear you do not get your money’s worth.”
She laughed at that and led him down the steps into the living room.
“Would you like tea or coffee with your pie? And please, make yourself …” She’d been about to say comfortable but chose “at home,” instead.
He nodded, draped his cloak over his arm, but did not sit.
“If I offer those 2 pennies, may I see the kitchen?”
“Kitchen, bedroom, bathroom. Although free to you, Sir, it’s not a bargain, be warned.”
He smiled and said, “Lead the way.”
“Let’s start in here.”
She turned toward the bedroom and took his cloak to lay it across the foot of her bed.
Vincent spoke with some awe of how the Tunnel cook would love the appliances, commended her choice of colors in the bedroom and told her he now planned on encouraging Mouse, their very unique resident tinker, to create showering facilities Below.
Entering the living room, he said, “This is all very … you, Catherine.”
“Is it? Once I’d have agreed, Vincent, but not anymore. Like I said, it’s a place to … sleep. Not much else.”
“Surely you spend time here entertaining, reading, relaxing? Enjoying your amazing view?”
Without replying she indicated the small love seat and turned toward the kitchen.
“May I come with you?”
Surprised again, Catherine nodded. Although the galley kitchen was small he managed to stay out of her way while being pleasingly present.
He helped set the table, held her chair as she sat, then took his seat.
“Thank you for this.”
He loved her smile.
Truth be known, he loved her.
And he was enjoying this evening more than he’d enjoyed anything … ever. It hadn’t … killed him to grant her wish, to act like an ordinary friend being shown around … even if it had cost him a huge gulp of courage.
The pie was delicious, he supposed, and he praised it, but her company outshone everything.
They talked the hours away.
He watched and listened and was moved by her compassion for the people she tried to serve as Assistant District Attorney. Pride and love poured out in her telling of her father. And sadness had noticeably lingered all the years since she’d lost her mother. With some apprehension he wondered about the men in her life. Surely there’d been, might well be one … or some … but she never alluded to any. There were friends, Jenny and Nancy from college days, as well as a few co-workers she named. Joe Maxwell was described in glowing terms and Vincent hoped his smile did not fade while hearing her praise her boss. He would imagine the man to be much older than Catherine … and married … with grandchildren.
She wanted to hear more of his world Below. Her memories of the ten days she’d spent with him included only taciturn moments with his Father framed with Mary’s gentle care. She was curious about the others with whom he shared his life and how they’d celebrated the holiday. He was sorry he hadn’t thought to bring her something from their table.
“Why don’t you come down tomorrow, Catherine, and have Thanksgiving leftovers with us?”
She grinned and he thought his heart danced.
“I’d love that but I have to work.”
“Then whenever you’re through. We can eat alone if it’s late. Would that be okay? You wouldn’t get to meet many of the community but we could plan that for another time. Everyone is looking forward to getting to know you.”
“We could? They are?”
She hadn’t meant to ask it out loud.
“Yes. Of course.”
“Vincent, thank you. I want to know more about … about your world.”
Somehow he thought that midway she’d redirected that sentence. Could it be she wanted to know more about … him? He rose. Time to leave before … though he’d already said so much tonight.
And he’d have to face Father over those invitations.
“Catherine, I should go. You have to get up early in the morning. I’ve enjoyed … tonight. So much. Thank you.”
She brought his cloak.
“Be safe, Vincent. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
“I’ll be waiting at the ladder.”
She smiled and opened the sliding door for him.
“Good night, Vincent.”
“Good night, Catherine. Sleep well.”
But neither moved for long moments, delighting in a communion that could not be expressed in words.
Then he broke the spell, turned and disappeared into the night.
She wondered if he knew.
Knew she was falling in love with him.
* * *
you keep me close, Hank