by Tasha Lawson
“I’m sorry, Vincent. I have to complete this brief by tomorrow morning.”
Catherine hated having to cancel their plans to spend time together, especially so last minute, but circumstances had conspired against her in a most inhumane way.
As Vincent looked at her with his deep, blue eyes, Catherine found herself over-explaining. “Ever since I transferred out of investigations, the trial division attorneys have been testing me. I should have my own docket of cases in the misdemeanor section, but they don’t have an opening. So I’m stuck doing interlocutory appeals. Recently, they had a big case where we lost a motion to suppress …”
His expression grew puzzled and Catherine forced herself to take a deep breath. Cognizant that Vincent had only a basic grasp of the complexities of the New York State justice system, she tried to keep her explanation short.
“The suspect is charged with murder. But his lawyer filed a motion to keep out certain evidence when the case goes to trial. The judge ruled in his favor, so we are appealing that decision.”
The intricacies of interlocutory appeals were better left unexplained, along with the reason for Catherine’s late assignment to the case. The prior attorney assigned to the case had quit the prosecutor’s office suddenly, with no notice, for an opportunity in private practice, leaving those in his wake to take over all the cases he had been handling.
With a sigh, Catherine said, “The brief is due tomorrow. We’re on a final extension and if I don’t file it, they’ll dismiss the appeal. If that happens, a guilty man will probably go free. But if we win …”
If she won, Catherine would also garner some respect from her new co-workers. Just producing a halfway decent brief on such a last-minute assignment would be a professional feather in her cap.
Vincent did not need to hear another word.
“Tell me how I can help,” he offered.
With an indulgent smile, Catherine said, “Would you mind staying nearby? In case I need a break or a few encouraging words.”
Vincent agreed to stand watch on her balcony as Catherine sat at her kitchen table, looking over the arguments she had previously sketched out on a yellow legal pad. Stacks of legal authority photocopied from the law library were strewn around her, and periodically she would reach for one in particular to make note of a direct quote. But as she flipped through the pages of the record and hearing transcripts, Catherine began to doubt herself.
“They are expecting something from an experienced appellate attorney,” she confessed to Vincent in low tones. “But this is the first appeal I have ever done.”
“That is not true,” Vincent pointed out. “You oversaw Devin’s appeal, when he worked for your office.”
Responding with a small smile, Catherine agreed, “Yes, that’s true. But his first drafts were amateur and basic. What is expected of me is … far more.”
“You can do it, Catherine. And there are hours yet before dawn.”
* * *
The first of those hours passed quickly as Catherine lost herself in a haze of feverish writing, leaving blanks for her record citations as she sketched out the facts of the case.
“Read me what you have,” Vincent suggested, standing just outside the open double doors.
She moved out to the balcony to stand beside him, and reading from her legal pad she began, “On November 15, 1986, the victim was found dead–”
Interrupting, Vincent asked, “Does the date matter?”
“The exact date – does it matter to the case?”
“Well … no.”
“Then should you include it?”
Catherine nodded. “You’re right. Better to be succinct. It’s called a ‘brief’ for a reason.”
“And what was the victim’s name?”
Inclining his head, Vincent asked softly, “Why not use his name?”
Again, she nodded in agreement, making a note on her paper.
“Humanize the victim,” she said thoughtfully. “That’s a good idea.”
Erasing and re-writing the parts Vincent had mentioned, Catherine continued reading out the facts of the case to him while he gave her immediate feedback, offering both suggestions for improvement and praising the aspects where she had done well. Within fifteen minutes, that section had been completed and Catherine found herself ready to tackle the meat of the document.
“The argument section is next,” she explained. “The appeals court doesn’t hold hearings, so all of the issues needing to be addressed will be in the briefs from the attorneys. I can’t leave anything important out. But I also have a page limit, so I can’t throw in the kitchen sink either.”
Thoughtfully, Vincent said, “Then you must focus on your best arguments.”
“Exactly,” she said. “They are alleging there was a defect in the search warrant, so all the evidence of the murder they found in his house must be excluded as ‘fruit from the poisonous tree.’ Of course, I’m arguing that there wasn’t a defect.”
“I know nothing about your laws above, but those sound like reasonable grounds,” he stated softly.
Catherine tended to get more emotional with big cases, such as crimes against children. And murder. And ever since she had been handed the file that morning, she had felt herself growing more and more worked up over the death of the victim. Adam Thomas was an accountant, a husband and father of two children who happened to walk in on a burglar in his home. And in a panic, the burglar had killed him with a kitchen knife. But there, the panic persisted as the burglar-turned-murderer had fled the home with the knife still in hand.
“They found the murder weapon in the suspect’s home, in his kitchen sink. And the clothes he was wearing, covered in blood, were all over his bedroom floor.”
The volume of record on her bed contained copies of the photographs the police had taken at the scene, but Catherine knew that the dull, black-and-white images could not do the tragedy of the crime justice.
Vincent considered the matter for a moment before stating, “You said that you are arguing that the search warrant was correct. But what about if the police had never gone to the suspect’s house that day? What would have happened?”
“Well, the suspect was actually in jail for a different offense when they searched his house. He was picked up by police for driving a stolen car. His cellmate was the one who tipped off the police that he had committed the crime. But–”
She froze, her eyes darting back and forth as she mentally sorted through what she had read in the police reports.
“Just as the police were leaving, the suspect’s girlfriend arrived at the apartment. She had been out of town on a business trip. She was horrified by what the boyfriend had done and glad they didn’t believe she was involved. I remember her saying to the police that they spared her the trouble of her having to call and report her boyfriend.”
Looking up at Vincent, Catherine’s lips pulled back into an excited smile. “Do you know what that means?” she asked.
“Something important, I take it?”
“It means if the police had never searched the house, the girlfriend would have found the evidence and reported it to the police anyway. It’s a legal argument known as the ‘inevitable discovery rule.’”
Unfazed by her growing lawyerly excitement, Vincent patiently suggested, “I think you are ready to finish writing the brief.”
Her smile turned into a grin.
“I think I am,” she said, leaning forward to envelop him in a quick hug before she returned with the legal pad to her bedroom.
* * *
Over the next several hours, Catherine drafted and edited, frowned at her writing, and erased sections before drawing arrows and adding notes to margins. She read portions aloud to Vincent and incorporated his counsel, adding details to some areas and removing irrelevant portions from others. Having him at her side allowed her to focus and simplify her arguments by translating them into layman’s terms and then back again. By the time Catherine had finally put the last period on the last sentence of her conclusion, they were in the early hours of the morning.
Outside, the city still twinkled with its lights and noises, but Catherine could feel the fatigue from such a long day and evening setting into her bones.
“I think I’m finished,” she said, returning to Vincent’s side on the balcony.
“And with a few hours still left before dawn,” he stated, his tone bearing a hint of triumph on her behalf.
“Thank you for all of your help tonight. I don’t think I could have done it without you.”
Silently, Vincent shook his head. “I am glad that I could be of assistance, but you had the knowledge and did the work, Catherine. I have every confidence in your abilities.”
She could hear the certainty in his tone and let his belief in her drive away the nagging doubts she had been fighting all evening.
With a shy smile, Catherine asked, “How did you become so good at helping others with writing?”
Looking down in his typical unassuming manner, Vincent shrugged his shoulders a little and said, “Teaching the children, I suppose. I have read and graded hundreds, perhaps thousands of papers and compositions over the years. So many are at different skill levels… It takes practice to know how to offer help without it sounding like criticism, and to suggest corrections without stifling creativity.”
With love-filled eyes, Catherine gazed up at him in the dim light of the balcony. The weight of the day pressed on her, but she found comfort in the familiar circumstance of standing next to him in the pre-dawn hours. It felt like a moment outside of time, a world entirely of their own, like a floating island of only themselves in a sea of strangers.
“The children are lucky to have such a dedicated teacher,” she remarked.
“I am the lucky one.”
“How do you mean?”
Vincent did not answer her for a long time. Instead, he let his eyes scan across the park to the buildings and skyscrapers on the other side. Despite the hour, traffic sounds and the occasional siren still drifted up to their balcony oasis.
“Sometimes I think that if I could be viewed solely through the eyes of children, that would be what it feels like to be normal.”
The way he made the statement brought her up short, and Catherine forcefully reminded herself of all the indignities and deprivations Vincent’s visage had inflicted upon his upbringing. She knew he had grown up in a loving adopted community, but she had also witnessed his loneliness. To the children, he seemed less terrifying. He had proved that the day she had brought young Eric below and Vincent had bid her to wake him. She still marveled at how the child had shown so little fear. But it was the same with all the other children as well.
Part of her wanted to insist that being normal was entirely overrated, but she had no wish to dismiss Vincent’s experiences. He had never walked anonymously on the streets of the city, one heartbeat among many with no one paying him the slightest attention. For Catherine, gaining others’ attention had been a huge part of her early life. Debutantes were expected to stick out, to shine like diamonds in the not-so-rough.
Instead, Catherine simply acknowledged, “Children seem to find the very best in everyone. And sometimes the very worst.”
Her statement made Vincent smile slightly, in that way he showed humor while hiding his unusually sharp teeth.
He observed, “Children are like your appeals courts, passing judgment entirely on the merits of what you say and how you act, unattached to how you look and sound on the outside.”
“That’s true,” Catherine said with an enigmatic smile of her own.
But even as she felt a keen sense of warmth and connection to him in that moment, she noticed a change in him. He looked away from her, suddenly troubled.
“What is it?” she asked, reaching out with all of her senses of him.
While she could not feel him through the bond the same way he could feel her, Catherine had long since learned to lean into their connection, to sink into the subtle vibrations the bond sometimes carried to her. In moments when he felt tremendous fear or overwhelming despair, she could sometimes get a flash of his emotions. But most of the time, they simply wrapped around her like the strength of his embrace, a gentle sensation of emotions that were not entirely her own.
In this way, Catherine could sometimes detect a hint of apprehension in him. Combined with his body language, she knew some doubt or misgiving had suddenly ambushed him with sadness, and she needed to pluck it from where it had lodged in his sensitive flesh before it released its poison.
“You mentioned the children, and my mind began to wander,” he explained softly, his mouth throwing the words away with casual disregard.
Undeterred, Catherine pressed gently, “Where did your mind go?”
Vincent took in a deep breath and released it, and then another. All the while, she waited patiently for him to order his thoughts and put them into words.
Finally, he looked at her. Though his eyes remained hidden in the shadows cast by his tawny bangs, she could feel them piercing into her as he asked, “Did you always want children?”
“… the children waiting to be born …”
Not his children, Catherine had understood at the time, when he had said that phrase. Some other man’s children. The man Vincent had always assumed would steal her away from him, the man he believed she was destined to truly fall in love with. The man she would one day marry.
But that hypothetically perfect man of Vincent’s imagination had never materialized. And while Catherine hoped she had finally convinced him that the hypothetical rival conjured by his imagination did not exist, she knew that his doubts were never truly vanquished.
Refocusing herself on the question posed to her, Catherine searched her memories and her heart for the best way to answer.
“I always assumed I would have children,” she admitted. “It was just part of the package. But after I broke up with Steven, after I turned thirty … I began wondering if that really was part of my destiny.”
They rarely spoke of Steven, even though he had occupied a huge chunk of her relationship baggage. Even still, she could not reconcile herself to what others had assured her after their break up – that Steven had abused her. Even though he had never hit her, he had manipulated her with his mind games and his guilt trips. It was a different kind of abuse, the type that sunk its tendrils deep into her psyche – so deep that she still found pieces of them so many years later. Only after he had attempted to lock her in his house during a delusional fantasy had she finally accepted the truth of their prior relationship.
Pushing thoughts of Steven aside, Catherine focused on how she had felt upon rescuing Eric and Ellie. While the tragedy of Ellie’s death would always occupy a part of her heart, she refused to let the girl’s death overshadow her love and strength.
She thought about Geoffrey and Samantha. And Zach. And even Tony, the boy who conned his way into her heart. So many of the children she had encountered in the past few years felt like children of her own heart, even if she had not given birth to them. And in connecting with them, Catherine had reconciled herself to a truth she had known even before meeting Vincent.
“I would love to have a child of my own,” she confessed, refusing to disrespect him with a falsehood. “But being a mother is not my identity. I am content to watch the children we both know so well grow and become the people we know they will someday become. That is my destiny, Vincent.”
Catherine locked eyes with him and refused to let go. And to his credit, Vincent allowed her to keep him ensnared for some moments before he finally blinked, and the connection was lost.
But he surprised her as he said, “I believe it may be both of our destinies.”
His statement lingered in the air for a moment as Catherine processed what he had said. Not only was it the beginning of an acknowledgment of a life together, it was a lament of one aspect of that life forever denied to them.
Unwilling to focus on the negative, Catherine accepted it as a win.
“However the details work themselves out, I already know one truth about the rest of my life,” she responded, and the fierce certainty of her tone drew his gaze. “I want to spend it with you, Vincent.”
As her words penetrated and translated into his mind, Vincent seemed startled by the strength of her conviction. She recited her belief with as much certainty as she had the facts of the case she had drafted and read to him before. These were realities, things which were established and could not be argued away. But she could tell Vincent remained shackled with doubts.
“How do you know you will not regret giving up on the dream of children?” he asked, unable to look at her at all as he spoke. He took in one shallow breath after another, obviously fighting a growing panic deep within as he posed another question without waiting for her answer. “What if your destiny is in another direction and you do not pursue it?”
Catherine reached out to him, placing her hand over his own, and the warmth of her skin against his instantly calmed him.
“I know that even if we had never met, my life would be incomplete. Even if I did not know what was missing, I would still recognize my life was lacking,” she told him. “Only with you do I feel whole and at peace.”
And as she spoke, she deliberately looked into his eyes, capturing his gaze and his unbridled fears. With a simple look, she tamed them with her kindness and compassion, offering solace and reassurance while she waited for Vincent’s breathing to return to normal.
As he turned his eyes to her, Vincent watched her square her shoulders and straighten her back, assuming a learned stance. She would wait for his response, wait without pressure or expectation that he come around to her beliefs about their relationship in anything but his own time.
Alas, Vincent had demonstrated a marked tendency to run from his doubts and inadequacies rather than confront them. Taking a steading breath, Catherine resolved to remain not only constant but quietly steadfast in her patience with him.
“It is late,” he observed in a return to practicality. “You should sleep.”
She allowed him to abandon the seriousness of their earlier conversation, glad that he had at least initiated a discussion of something that still clearly weighed upon him.
“I think I am too awake to sleep now,” she said. “I might rewrite the brief afresh so it is easier for the secretaries to read my writing when they type it.” She smiled up at him. “But the sun will be up soon. You should return below.”
Vincent gave a single nod in response. But rather than speak in turn, he reached to envelop her in his arms, surrounding her with his warmth and love.
In her adult life, Catherine had known the touch of several lovers. She had both enjoyed and suffered their attentions. But never had she been with someone who set her on fire with want and desire the way Vincent did. In that moment, Catherine felt a change between them, a change in the way he held her – a little tighter than usual – as though he might never let go. He wrapped her in his arms with his usual protective nature, but on this occasion, he seemed especially intent upon guarding her from all the disappointments in the world.
“I wish I didn’t have to leave,” he said, the words spoken softly in his magnificently deep voice.
With a sigh, Catherine agreed, “So do I.”
She could tell from the tension in his body that he wanted to see her again, soon. But with her having stayed up the entire night working, he would not bring himself to make the entreaty.
“Maybe I can come below tonight?” she suggested.
“You will need rest.”
But he made the point half-heartedly, not even bothering to relax the tightness of his arms around her.
“If I’m not too tired?” Catherine tried again.
She felt the deep sigh he let out just before his muscles tensed, and then he let her go and stepped away. Every time they parted, it seemed more difficult than the time before, and Catherine immediately wrapped her arms around herself to try and keep that feeling of warmth he took with him.
“If you aren’t too tired,” he allowed quietly before turning to make the climb off her balcony.
Vincent made no other farewell as he disappeared into the darkness of the night. And for long minutes, Catherine stood still on the balcony, her eyes cast across the park towards the lights in the buildings on the other side. The sense of loss within her would not dissipate, no matter how much she reminded herself that she would see him again soon. Instead, it felt like an unnecessary waste, this continuing separation.
But today was not the day to confront that reality. Today was the day for her to do a little good in the world above and – hopefully – keep a murderer behind bars.
* * *
By the time the clock ticked past five PM, when the secretaries and paralegals began gathering up their coats and purses, Catherine did indeed feel exhausted. After having the brief typed up, she had been forced to run it by her new boss, an older woman with a sharp nose and clipped sentences named Ms. Roberts.
She had glanced through it, circled a few sections in red pen, underlined a case citation, and handed it back. “Strengthen up these points and check on that case,” Ms. Roberts advised her in a no-nonsense tone. “There’s a decision from the Court of Appeals that was issued a few weeks ago which supports your argument better. It probably hasn’t made it into the legal reporter yet.”
Giving her boss a deferential nod, Catherine accepted the paper back and made the changes as requested. And there was indeed a new case, an opinion that had been issued in the last month, which gave greater support to her argument. Handing the changes back to the secretary, she waited for the woman to heave a sigh or roll her eyes at the increased work. Instead, the secretary, a woman named Pamela, flashed her a smile.
“Only a few corrections?” Pamela said, paging through the brief. “Either you have appellate experience or she likes your style.”
“I supervised a few appeals last year, but I don’t have much experience drafting them myself,” Catherine confessed. “I just transferred over here from investigations. I think they’re testing me before putting me into the trial division.”
“Probably,” Pamela agreed. “None of them likes doing appeals. Not the most exciting work, but you do seem to have a knack for it.” She glanced up at Catherine and gave her a meaningful look. “Something to think about. If you were looking for something to specialize in.”
The woman winked at her and Catherine felt an odd sense of pride well up in her chest.
But the feeling did not last long as three new cases landed on her desk throughout the day. Thankfully, they had less immediate due dates, giving her more time to research the facts and issues before drafting responses. In truth, while the work kept her head in books and records all day, it was mentally challenging and thought-provoking.
Unlike working in investigations, interviewing witnesses and victims, these assignments were not likely to be a threat to her life. She had to admit that the secretary was right – it was not exciting. But as she looked at each new issue and how it fit into established law, she knew it was important work.
Darkness had fallen by the time she arrived home, feeling more bedraggled than she had any right to feel, until she realized she had been awake for thirty-six hours straight. And while part of her wanted nothing more than to crawl fully clothed under the covers of her bed, a deeper part of her wanted something else.
Stopping only long enough to change into jeans and tennis shoes, Catherine slipped from her apartment into the stairwell and let her feet carry her back down. She rarely took the elevator down to the basement, wary of questions from anyone she might encounter. But by the time she had lowered herself into the sub-basement, pulling the small doors shut behind her, Catherine could truly feel the lack of sleep weighing down her eyelids.
But Vincent was waiting.
Not caring how needy she seemed, Catherine flung herself into his arms, desperate to recapture that feeling of warmth and love she had been bereft of all day. He encircled her as gently and carefully as always, but she could also feel him settle into the embrace. No longer did he feel shy or nervous at her touch. Nor did he seem uncertain about if she would accept his touch. Instead, their embraces were both necessary and expected, a benefit of their otherwise platonic relationship that neither could give up.
“You are still tired,” Vincent pointed out to her, his voice only slightly chiding as he spoke into her ear.
“I don’t care. I wanted to see you.”
And she did not care. The secure feeling of his arms around her rejuvenated her spirit more than a night of sleep ever could.
“Did your assignment go well?” he asked eventually, when they had both taken a few moments to simply enjoy their connection.
Neither had moved, and Catherine had no intention of doing so, but he pulled away from her just enough to see her face while still keeping his arms around her.
“I think so. My new boss made some changes, but the secretary seemed impressed.”
“What will happen now?”
Even as he posed the question, Vincent dropped his arms and took a step back, giving her space. While Catherine did not challenge him, she did catch his hands and hold them firmly in hers, unwilling to abandon all contact.
“Now we wait, and I work on other cases. The other side gets a chance to file their brief, and after that… the appeals court could take months to decide.”
“That sounds frustrating,” he admitted.
Shrugging a shoulder, Catherine agreed, “Most of the time, legal work isn’t very exciting. Corporate law was even worse. But working in appeals is interesting. And safe.”
She let the last word sit between them for a time, standing in for a conversation they had not yet had. When she had told him about transferring out of investigations to a different area of the DA’s office, Vincent had not questioned her. And this was the first time she had indicated her true motivations.
Vincent reanimated the word, looking down as he considered it carefully, like a rare artifact or exhibit.
“Is that what you want?” he asked finally.
They had always skirted this issue, the danger inherent in her job. The danger she purposely injected into her life. Ever since the attack which had changed her life and brought her into his, Catherine had purposely sought out individuals and situations which were outside of ordinary risks. No one else at the DA’s office had ended up in the hospital from a gunshot wound after an investigation. No one else had been kidnapped or beaten. Catherine often wondered if her rush to investigate the most perilous of cases was because of her attack.
But she had ultimately resolved it to be something else, even confessing her realization to Father amid his recent illness. Catherine knew Vincent would come for her, no matter what dangers she encountered. Never had she truly sought them out, not consciously, but each one had also reinforced to her this new and growing relationship.
An unhealthy aspect of their relationship, she had finally decided after Vincent’s illness. He had nearly died because of it, because of her, and she could never let that happen again. Thankfully, the bond had gradually been restored to them, and with it, Catherine knew their relationship needed to change if they were to survive long enough to enjoy it.
To do that end, Catherine forced herself to confront herself with brutal honesty. And she had finally concluded that she could live with giving up that thrill of danger under one condition.
She needed to be with Vincent. More often. More deeply. Just … more. She needed more of him in her life.
“I want you,” she said aloud with absolute honesty.
He sighed and bowed his head, exactly in the way she anticipated he would. The old fears had never left him, though they had somewhat loosened their shackles on his heart. He was not ready for what the depths of her heart desired, but she hoped he would be ready to at least hear her.
“I don’t want to go days without seeing you,” Catherine went on. “I want us to spend more time together. More than just stolen moments. Entire days, weekends.”
Vincent lifted his head and met her eyes, surprised by the remainder of her answer. When she said no more and waited for him to respond, he looked down, contemplative.
After a few moments, he admitted, “I want that as well.”
With a smile, Catherine said softly, “Okay, good.”
In her mind, Mouse’s usual refrain echoed: Okay, fine.
Vincent’s face softened, and she knew he had heard the same words, felt the same wave of happiness in his agreement with her.
Without speaking, he reached for her again, using their clasped hands to pull her closer. But this time, as he wrapped his arms around her, he allowed his fingers to very deliberately explore the clothed expanse of her back, the slopes of her shoulders, and the curve of her hip. And only when Catherine thought she may go mad from wanting did he settle his grasp at her waist, bringing her into intimate alignment with his body.
And then, moving with exquisite slowness, he leaned down and kissed her.
The touch of their lips was soft and sweet, a short, innocent kiss. But it was one filled with the promise of more.
As they parted, Vincent kept his hands upon her and Catherine sighed pleasantly into his solid form as he enveloped her once again in his arms. The kiss was not repeated, not then, but she did not mind. At that moment, she could want nothing more than to be in his arms, buoyed by his strength and love. And the feeling that they were well on their way to more.
~ fin ~