OF THINGS THAT SHOULD BE

by Linda S Barth

 

This story first appeared in a CABB Challenge that posed the question “What if  Vincent and Catherine were given the anniversary present of twenty-four hours Above during which no one looked twice.

“Take it! It’s what you want, isn’t it?”

Catherine whirled toward the hauntingly familiar voice just as a chocolate ice cream cone was thrust into her hand. She stared at it as if she’d never seen such a thing, then her eyes widened as they focused on the grinning face of the man at her side. The man who had not been there only a heartbeat ago.

“Kristopher!”

“Take a bite before it melts.”

She shuddered in the swirl of a late March breeze – not exactly ice cream weather — but she did as he suggested. She’d soon be wandering with him down hazy paths she wasn’t entirely sure existed, so she stalled for a few more moments in the world of concrete and steel. “It’s a bit chilly for ice cream, isn’t it?”

He shook his head, nearly sending his baseball cap flying down Fifth Avenue. “You’re kidding, right? It’s a beautiful spring day, and besides, it’s never too cold for ice cream!” He waited until she’d taken another bite. “And isn’t this what you dreamed of – you and Vincent and ice cream right here in the sunshine? When no one looked twice?”

She choked, nearly sputtering chocolate all over her trench coat. “You can’t possibly know about that! I don’t believe it – I won’t –“

He shrugged. “Why? You’re already living an impossible dream, you and Vincent, and there are so many other dreams that might come true if you’d keep an open mind.” He shook his head, like a teacher disappointed in a student whom he thought had shown more potential. “Besides, it was you who came up with this one.”

Her voice trembled. “This isn’t what I dreamed of!”

“Sure, it is!” He waved an arm, encompassing sunlight and ice cream and the street crowded with passersby.

“No, it’s not.” She felt tears burn her eyes. “Vincent isn’t here. He will never be here.”

“You can’t be sure about that. Maybe he could be. You know, if you’d just take a chance, you might see things differently. Anything’s possible, right?”

She welcomed the sudden surge of anger; it was preferable to pain. “Just stop it, Kristopher! Leave me alone!” She tossed the remains of the ice cream cone into a nearby trash can and strode away from him, no longer willing to deal with whoever or whatever he was. But of course he had followed her, so she whirled and glared into his smiling face. “And who are you to tell me how to live my life? You don’t know what I think or what I dream about!”

She couldn’t believe she’d just said that. Of course, he couldn’t actually know. Such things can’t happen…and yet they just did.

His dark eyes twinkled. “Come on, Catherine. Suspend your disbelief for a minute or two. You might be surprised to see what happens next. It’s not so hard. I know you can do it. I bet Vincent would tell you the same thing.”

Suddenly everything made sense. Her voice was low and deadly calm. “Vincent told you about my dream, didn’t he?”

He raised his hands in mock surrender. “You got me! I ran into him in the park a few nights ago. We had a very interesting conversation about basilisks and hippogriffs and bluebirds. He really gets it. Not many do, you know. That father of his never will.” The artist tilted his head as if studying her face. “But you do, even though you don’t want to admit it. So, why not take a chance? You know you want to.”

Right now, all she really wanted was an escape route. He was exhausting. Maddening. Infuriating. She tried to hold onto the protective shield of her anger, but it slipped from her hands like fairy dust. And as if under some magical spell, she found she could not walk away. She’d had no other choice from the moment he mentioned Vincent’s name. And, she realized, he’d known it all along.

“I can’t really see into your dreams – or anyone’s, for that matter. Sometimes not even my own.” A shadow flickered in his eyes, then vanished in a twinkling glow. “But I made you wonder for a minute, didn’t I?”

She surprised herself with a slight smile. “Yes, you did…But that was all so long ago, almost four years. I’d almost forgotten…”

“He hasn’t. And he’d do anything to make that dream come true.”

Her sigh muffled her words. “So would I.”

“Anything? Do you mean it?”

“Of course, I do! There is nothing I wouldn’t do to make Vincent happy. You know that.”

He nodded. “Just wanted to make sure you’re ready to move on a bit. Explore a few more things that are not and that should be.”

Hope whispered, and she could not resist listening.

“Think about it, Catherine. You two have taken so many risks, gone way beyond some of the obstacles you thought would hold you back forever.”

She shook her head. “Not forever! I’ve never believed that.”

“He did.” He waited for her to nod in reluctant agreement. “But together you broke down a lot of those barriers. You achieved goals that once seemed impossible. Why can’t this dream be just one more?”

Hope faltered and froze, riming her words with ice. “Because some dreams won’t come true, no matter how much we wish them to. And this is one of them. I can’t do anything about it. No one can.” She hesitated, then her mouth tightened to a hard line. “And there’s no sense discussing it any longer.”

She started to walk away, but he grabbed her arm and forced her to stop. “Why? We both know you’ve already taken a lot of chances, more than most people would, so what’s one more? And who knows what could happen!”

Tears stung her eyes. Why is he doing this? Doesn’t he see how much he’s hurting me – and for what? The silent questions made her heart race in search of answers. Is there something more he’s trying to tell me? What does he know?

“Don’t you at least want to try?”

His plea shattered her frantic musing, but she couldn’t listen to another word. She would demand he leave them in peace, now and forever. Even he had to accept the truth that some dreams could never be…and to hope for more would lead only to heart-wrenching pain.

“Well, don’t you?”

There was no other choice. She would tell him, “No.”

But instead, she answered, “Yes.”

* * *

“Do you truly believe this is possible, Catherine?”

“Yes – no – I don’t know!” She looked up at his beloved face, feeling her heart break a little at the hope he couldn’t disguise. “I want it to be possible, but are we sure we can trust him? When he started talking, it all sounded impossible. He made me so angry, I could barely listen to him.”

“But you did.”

“Yes, because eventually I realized he only wants to help us. And he knew he had to say something outrageous to keep me from walking away.”

He frowned. “He should not have upset you so. There had to have been another way to explain it all.”

She laughed as she shook her head. “Probably not. Kristopher knows me better than I realized. And I’m very glad I decided to give him a chance.”  Her heart warmed as she watched a small smile curve his mouth. “And now we have a decision to make.”

The smile faded. “Yes, we need to decide if we can accept his words as truth.”

“I want to, Vincent. I think we need to, don’t you?”

He tilted his head back, candle glow catching and gleaming in the strands of his hair, his upward gaze so intent it seemed it might pierce the familiar darkness and allow him to look upon the unseen light. A long sigh shuddered from him as he returned his gaze to her. “Yes, I think we must.”

A shiver of elation and fear quivered through her, and she knew he shared every tremble, every twinge.

He took her hand as he lowered himself to sit on the edge of his bed, pulling her down next to him. “I’ve thought of nothing else since you told me of Kristopher’s proposal two nights ago. He has offered us a gift we can’t ignore. A chance to make yet another of our most precious dreams come true. But…”

She finished his unspoken words. “But can we believe him? Can we be certain?”

“To spend a day Above with you in the sunlight, together without fear, would be a miracle, Catherine…and I want to try. I want it with all my heart.”

“I do, too.” She squeezed his hand. “So, we’ll do it?”

He raised her hand to his lips to press a kiss to fingers clenched and waiting, then pulled her into his arms. His reply was his promise. “If we go with courage and with care…”

She collapsed against him, wavering between laughter and tears, as locks unshackled, doors fell open, first steps were taken.

Then she bounded to her feet and headed toward Vincent’s desk. “Do you still have those legal pads I left here? We need to start making plans!”

* * *

Vincent peered through the gauzy-curtained doors into the darkened reaches of Catherine’s apartment. She would not be home from work yet, but he hadn’t been able to stay Below another minute. Forcing himself to settle onto a small bench against the far wall, he pulled a folded sheet of lined paper from the suede pouch over his heart. Even though they had compiled the latest version of the list only two nights earlier, it was already crumpled and worn.

He sighed as he scanned it for perhaps the hundredth time. Catherine had worked so hard to come up with ideas for their miraculous day, suggesting everything and anything she imagined he might enjoy. At first, he had been completely caught up in excited expectation, eagerly discussing every possibility with her. But when he was alone in his chamber, contemplating their plans, his misgivings had begun…and conclusions had been drawn.

How, he worried, would she react when he told her of his decision? At the very least, she would question his choice, although she would, as always, respect his wishes. He sighed, anticipating the disappointment she would try to hide from him. And yet, he knew this was what must be done.

His head snapped up at the click of the door’s latch, and he leaped to his feet to watch her come to him, breathlessly, eagerly. It was still something of a miracle even after all this time.

“Vincent!” She threw herself into his waiting arms and nuzzled her lips against his throat, pressing a quick kiss to the rapid beat of his pulse before leaning back to look up at him. “It’s so damp out here. Why didn’t you go inside to wait for me?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps it seemed best to fall back on old habits tonight.”

The tone of his voice sent a shiver along her spine. “Is something wrong?”

He shook his head and pressed her tighter to his chest. “No, but there is something I need to discuss with you.”

A crinkling sound made her laugh nervously, and she twisted to look over her shoulder to where his hands clasped her. “Be careful! We need that list!”

“I was going over it one last time.”

She turned and plucked it from his hand. “It looks like you’ve been studying it quite a lot.”

“I have been able to concentrate on little else.”

“Me, too. This morning I managed to find two minutes of free time, but Joe was hovering, wanting to discuss the three new cases the DA referred to us, and I couldn’t make any phone calls in front of him because – well, never mind, I’ll tell you more about it later.” She reached for his hand. “Let’s go inside. I’ll make some coffee and we can talk.”

He hesitated, reaching for one more moment of hope before revealing his decision to her. “Have you added something new to the list?”

“Maybe…” She pulled him into the apartment. “Probably…okay, yes! But it’s a surprise, so you’ll just have to be patient.”

An hour later, empty coffee cups, plates bearing tiny crumbs of his favorite apple galette, and a discarded list were left behind on her dining table. The glittering lights of the city had drawn them once again to the balcony, and they leaned into one another, his arm around her shoulders, warming and sheltering her from the cool night air.

Even so, there was a shiver in her voice. “I need to ask one last time. Are you sure about this? It’s nothing like we’d planned.”

“No, it isn’t, but it’s what I want, Catherine, and I am grateful to you for being willing to make it happen.” He turned to look into her eyes. “You’ve sacrificed so much for me, and now you’re willing to give up your dream as well. Are you certain about that?”

The morning sunlight he’d so often imagined was there in her smile. “I’m giving up nothing, Vincent. Your plan is our dream now. That’s all that matters. And we will make it come true together.”

“We will.” The small smile she so loved to see was in his voice and on his lips. “With a little help from Kristopher.”

“With a lot of help from Kristopher!” She tilted her head at him. “Did he have anything to do with your decision?”

“Actually, I think he did. After I told him of your dream, he asked if I had one as well.”

“And that’s what you told him?”

“Yes, I said my dream would be to live safely in the world Above, even for a day, and spend every moment of it with you. That I had always tried to visualize the things you do and see. I told him how you share those moments with me through your words and thoughts, how I sense your feelings through our bond, but to truly be there with you…would be a dream come true…an impossible dream…”

She grinned up at him. “Until now!”

“Yes, until now.”

Together, they turned to gaze out over the city, each lost in imaginings of what might soon come to be.

Yet there was still a tendril of worry constricting her hopeful heart. “Vincent, are you absolutely certain you’re comfortable with the way we’ve left things? With me planning our day so you can see the city as I know it?”

“I am. I want to see how you live when we’re apart, to go to even a few of the places you’ve told me about, to share it with you in ways we never dreamed we could.”

“And you’re certain you want me to make all the plans? You only chose one item from the old list.” She shook her head. “We don’t even have a list anymore!”

“We don’t need one. And who better to know where we should go and what we should do, than you?”

She had to smile. “Well, I suppose you’re right. But there’s still time if you want to make any changes.”

He rubbed his arm over her shoulder in a firm and gentle caress. “No more changes. I trust you, and I know we’ve made the right decision. Now, we should look forward to what might – what will – be.”

She cuddled closer. “Exactly three days from now. Just think of what we’ll do.”

“I shall become part of your life in ways I’ve always believed were impossible for me.” His voice quavered. “It’s almost unimaginable.”

“Sometimes we must leave our safe places…” she murmured.

“I won’t be afraid, Catherine, as long as I’m with you.”

Her eyes glistened with tears. “I will keep you safe, no matter what.”

“I know…”

“And remember, Peter has promised, if necessary, he’ll come to us at a moment’s notice. He’ll be just a phone call away. And there are Helpers all over the city if we need them.”

“Yes.”

“And we know where all the escape routes are, all the ways to quickly go Below if there’s an emergency, and –”

To Catherine’s surprise, the sound of Vincent’s rare but precious laughter drifted on the night air. “Have you been talking to Father? You’re starting to sound a lot like him.”

“I am not!” She glared at him but couldn’t quite smother a smile.

He tilted his head. “He cited all those provisions – repeatedly – once he realized I would not accept his demands to reject, as he called it, such a completely irrational, absurd, and incredibly dangerous notion.”

She sighed softly. “I think I understand why he felt he had to say those things. He needs to be certain there’s a safety net in place, that we’ve thought of every possible problem and ways to deal with them. He loves you so, Vincent. He can’t help worrying.”

“It has been hard for him to let go, but he knows he must continue to do so. And that in itself is an act of love.”

They fell silent, lost in thoughts of courage in its many forms, of love that gives rise to strength and faith and trust.

Vincent’s sigh ruffled her hair. “It’s very late. I must go.”

“You can’t stay tonight?”

He hesitated, then shook his head. “You need to be up early for work.”

She wanted to disagree but chose to face the reluctant reality of his words. “And I can’t take any time off right now. We’ve only been partners in the new firm for a few months. I don’t want Joe having regrets already.”

“If he ever regrets being able to spend his days with you, then he’s not the man you’ve always claimed he is.”

She snuggled closer for just a moment more. “I think you might be highly biased on that point. And I love it!”

She felt his mouth curve in a smile as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head. Then she leaned back, savoring the sensation of his lips tracing a path downward, slowly, sensuously, until they reached her eager mouth. They shared kisses of barely restrained passion, kisses of promise, and then he was gone.

* * *

Moments before dawn on April 12th, she found him waiting at the threshold, just as she knew she would. He was impossibly irresistible, a portrait of eager anticipation and tremulous fear, stalwart determination and unquenchable hope, and it took all her self-control to keep from flinging herself down the metal ladder and into his arms.

Instead, she smiled and reached out a hand. “Are you ready?”

He nodded. “I am.”

Within seconds he stood with her in the private storage room beneath her building. He watched as she secured the hidden door in the far wall, concealing it with sliding shelving and artfully placed boxes, protecting his world, protecting each other, as they did each time they followed this path to bridge the ever-shrinking chasm between her home and his­­­­­­­­­.

She smiled at him. “You look wonderful. Are your new clothes comfortable? Oh, I should have asked you about them last night!” She bit her bottom lip. “Do you think you’ll be warm enough? I was out on the balcony earlier. It’s going to really nice today, sunny and about 70 degrees, but maybe –”

He tilted his head. “Catherine, my clothes are fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” He shrugged his shoulders, rippling the length of the soft, suede, caramel-colored jacket that grazed the top of his thighs as he flexed his legs encased in dark denim jeans. “Everything you selected for me is perfect. These clothes make me feel as if I belong in your world.”

This time she didn’t resist, nuzzling into his chest as his arms cradled her. “You do belong in my world, always, forever, and it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing.” She leaned back and raised her eyebrows in a theatrical leer. “Or not wearing…” She tugged on the collar of his old chambray shirt at the neck of a new, dark blue sweater.

“I might say the same thing to you, Catherine. God knows I’ve thought it often enough, especially since – “

Rapid footsteps and a voice raised in annoyance reverberated from the corridor. “I am quite certain I saw a mouse in my storage unit, Mr. Jenkins! You must do something about it immediately! I cannot have vermin running everywhere, leaving germs and who knows what else all over my belongings!”

Catherine rolled her eyes. “Welcome to life in my building. That’s Mrs. Wheeler, one of my neighbors. She has an endless supply of complaints for the poor super, most of which are completely unreasonable.” She glanced at her watch. “It’s only six o’clock and she’s already badgering him. I don’t know how he puts up with her.”

A loud gasp trilled from just outside the storage room door. “You don’t think it could be a – a rat, do you?”

“I’m sure it was just a little, harmless mouse, Mrs. Wheeler. Nothing to be concerned about. He’s probably long gone.”

“But now that I think about it, it was quite large! I’m sure it must be a rat!”

The super’s voice was the definition of fortitude. “I’ve never seen a rat in this building in all my years on duty. But I don’t want you worrying about such things, so let’s just go along and take a look to make sure.”

“That’s ever so kind of you.” Mrs. Wheeler’s voice took on a noticeably calmer tone. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“Not at all, not at all.”

Catherine shook her head. “Seriously, the man has the patience of a saint.”

The echo of voices subsided, but they waited for a few more minutes before Catherine reached for the door handle. “I think they’re gone. Are you ready?”

There was no hesitation. “Let’s go.”

He followed her a short way along the corridor to the elevators and looked up at the blinking lights marking their descent to the basement. “It will be…interesting…to ride inside for a change.”

“And much safer! I’ve always worried about you having to come to my apartment like that. There must be a better way. We just need to figure it out.” With effort, Catherine concealed a small secret smile as the doors pinged open and they entered the car. She pushed the button for the lobby, but just as the doors began to slide shut, a strident voice and clattering footsteps charged toward them.

“Is someone there? Hold the elevator please!”

Catherine’s arm shot toward the button to close the doors, but Vincent stayed her hand. They had known this moment would come. How it would play out was still a mystery wavering somewhere between triumph and tragedy, but they had to let it happen. They exchanged a resigned look as Catherine’s neighbor plunged into the elevator with them.

“Thank you so much!” A bit breathless, she pushed the button for the eighteenth floor, then turned to survey her companions. “Oh, it’s you, Catherine. Lovely to see you this morning.” Her gaze swiveled to the man standing next to her, then froze as she stared at him.

“I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Virginia Wheeler.” With a haughty but not unfriendly smile, she extended her hand to him. “Are you a new resident?”

It was true. All of it. Kristopher had been right.

Vincent hesitated, then shook the woman’s proffered hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Wheeler. I’m Vincent Wells, a friend of Catherine. I live…in the neighborhood. We’re spending the day together.”

At the sound of his voice, the regal expression on the older woman’s face melted like honey in a patch of sunlight. She tore her gaze away and turned to Catherine. “Is this your young man, Catherine?” At Catherine’s wide-eyed nod, Mrs. Wheeler’s smile grew appreciatively. “Well, aren’t you the lucky girl! And you must forgive me for being so forward, but, oh, if I were only twenty years younger!”

As she heard Mrs. Wheeler’s girlish giggle and saw Vincent’s blushing smile, Catherine felt certain she was tumbling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, instead of rising in an elevator to the lobby of her building.

As the doors slid open, Catherine reached for Vincent’s hand, urging him forward before her neighbor could say another word. She was only partially successful.

Mrs. Wheeler’s diamond-ringed fingers pressed firmly on the button keeping the elevator doors open. “Now, where are you off to so bright and early?”

“We’re going to Sarabeth’s for breakfast.” Catherine maintained a smile as she backed away, still clutching Vincent’s hand.

“Oh, how lovely! A romantic breakfast for two.” Mrs. Wheeler sighed. “And after that?”

“We’re not sure yet.” Catherine picked up the pace, steadfastly ignoring the look of disappointment on the older woman’s face. “Have a nice day, Mrs. Wheeler!”

“Let’s go,” she hissed when Vincent paused to take in the small but opulent lobby. After scurrying past the doorman’s cheerful “Good morning, Miss Chandler. Good morning, sir,” they paused on the sidewalk, and she let go of Vincent’s hand. She drew in a deep breath of early April air, then released it in a relieved huff in counterpoint to Vincent’s quiet chuckle.

“We want to do and see as much as we possibly can today, Catherine, but there’s no need to do it all at top speed, is there?”

“You don’t know how tenacious Mrs. Wheeler can be! Another few seconds and she would have found a way to get rid of me so she could be the one sharing a romantic breakfast with you.”  Catherine grinned in delight as a rosy blush again colored Vincent’s face. “If you’re going to have this effect on women all day, I may have to rethink some of my plans so I can keep you all to myself.”

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” he muttered, his eyes downcast.

“We’ll see…but I have a feeling you’re in for a surprise or two.” He raised his eyes to look at her, and she shook her head. “You have no idea, do you?”

“No idea of what?”

“How beautiful you are, not just within, but in every way. I can see it. Anyone can. I only wish you could, too.” She gazed up at him. The early morning sunlight glimmered in the strands of his hair, glistened in the depths of his eyes, gilded the soft stubble on his face. So different from the familiar glow of candlelight, so long imagined, at last realized. She could look at him this way forever.

“And you, Catherine,” he murmured. “To see your beauty in the sunlight, to see you as you are in your world…it is beyond my imagining.”

Long moments passed, as unnoticed by them as the few early morning passersby who, in typical New York style, unerringly wound their way around the motionless lovers without missing a step. Then, the shrill bark of a leash-yanking Yorkie startled them to awareness. Catherine’s head swiveled in the dog’s direction, and once again she reached for Vincent’s hand.

“Let’s get out of here! That’s Mr. Wheeler, and your not-so-secret admirer might not be far behind!”

Sharing a quick laugh, they dodged a taxi and rushed across Fifth Avenue and through the 72nd Street entrance to the park. Hand in hand, they ran along the sloping path like eager children escaping the confines of parental disapproval in favor of an unexpected adventure.

After several paces, he dropped her hand and slowed to a stop, turning in shallow circles as he gazed at their surroundings.

“The colors, Catherine…I have tried but I could never have imagined…”

She followed him, taking in golden sunlight shimmering through the jade green leaves of elms and maples, gilding the pearly clusters of Callery pear blossoms, transforming the dusty grey feathers of strolling pigeons to glistening streaks of amethyst and emerald. And above it all, the cerulean spring sky, clear and endless, looking nothing at all like a ceiling of rock and stone.

Tears filled her eyes and she surreptitiously brushed them away. For someone such as him to have lived his whole life without the simple joy of knowing such beauty, was heartbreaking. And to be the one to give him this gift at last filled her with gratitude and determination. Silently she renewed her pledge. I promise, things will change…

Their day Above had barely begun, and already he was unravelling secrets of her world, delighting in the discovery, finally learning firsthand its ways and wonders. Such small things, yet they were part of her. And now they were part of him.

Two hours later, after a breakfast accompanied by hopeful comments and lustful stares in Vincent’s direction from at least two waitresses and one busboy, she hailed a cab on Central Park South and gave the driver an address at Spring and Crosby in Soho’s Cast Iron District. Vincent settled himself next to her on the worn leather seat and stared out the window as they wove in and out of traffic that had tripled in size and speed since they’d left her building.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “It’s always like this on a Friday morning. Everyone’s on their way to work or out doing errands, and a lot of people like to make an early escape for a three-day weekend.”

“A very fast escape, evidently,” he whispered back.

She patted his arm, feeling it twitch as they swerved around a delivery truck, horn blaring. “New York cab drivers know what they’re doing. We’ll be fine. I’ve ridden in cabs all my life and I’ve never been in an accident.”

He nodded dubiously. “Now I’ll be able to picture you on your way to work, but don’t expect me not to worry about you.”

She squeezed his arm. “Seriously, nothing to worry about.” As they zig-zagged down Fifth Avenue, she felt it best to distract him a bit, and began pointing out various landmarks. When the cab skidded to a stop for a red light at 34th Street, he craned his neck to look up at the Empire State Building.

“Were you here when those two men parachuted off the 86th floor observation deck?” he asked. “They must have been incredibly brave.”

“Or incredibly foolish.” She shook her head. “No, I was in Paris with my dad and Kaye at the time, but I remember hearing about it.”

He glanced back as the cab picked up speed again. “The views they had must have been worth it.”

“Would you like to go up?” she asked quickly. “I can have the driver drop us off here.”

He hesitated, then shook his head. “As much as I would like to see what the city looks like from so far above the street, I would rather visit your new office. Then later, I’ll be able to picture where you spend much of your day, doing the work you love.”

She smiled at him. “Okay, but if there’s time, we can add it to the imaginary list and try to fit it in later.”

He smiled back at her. “I know you made another list, Catherine. One with the word ‘surprise’ at the end of it.”

Still smiling, she shrugged but offered no further response. After all, to give even the slightest hint might spoil the surprise, and she had no intention of letting that happen.

Several blocks later, they were caught in traffic at the end of Madison Square Park. “In all my wandering around the city at night, I’ve never visited this park.” He leaned forward to better take it in. “The Gilded Age stories, Edith Wharton, Henry James. Now when I read those books, I’ll be able to picture it all so well.”

He pointed as the cab lurched forward again. “The Flatiron Building. When it was built in 1902, some thought its design would not be stable enough to withstand the high winds blowing down Broadway and it would surely collapse. But here it is after all these years.”

“I never knew that.” She stared out at the building she’d seen countless times during her life in the city. Then, she looked appraisingly at him. “And here I thought I’d be playing tour guide for you today. You know more about the city than I do!”

“I’ve had more time to study it, Catherine. But now, thanks to you, I can do more than just imagine what it’s like to be part of it in this way. It is a priceless gift, one I will cherish all my life.”

She leaned against him as his arm cradled her. “Thanks most of all to Kristopher and to our decision to trust him.”

“Yes. I wonder if we’ll see him today. He might be wondering if we believed him.”

“I don’t know, Vincent, maybe. But I have a feeling he already knows.”

They lapsed into silence until the cab slipped into a curb-side parking spot near their destination. As she paid the fare, he waited for her on the sidewalk, catching glimpses of people as they hurried by with bulging shopping bags and unwieldy briefcases, loitered in front of fanciful displays in store windows, walked dogs and pushed babies in elaborate strollers. He pivoted one way, then the other, taking it all in, the everyday occurrences that were as unfamiliar to him as the ordinary moments of his life would be to the people flowing around him.

She watched him, knowing he reveled in being as invisible as any other New Yorker swept up in a surging crowd. No one stared, no one gasped. Today, he was simply another part of it all. Her heart trembled with joy as she continued to observe him. He was entirely himself, yet he was transformed. He had become real in a world that had always been for him as fantastical and remote as the moon. And she would keep him safe as she offered him passage to all this world might offer.

Unbidden, a shadow of doubt darkened her vision and filled her mind. Was it all too much, too soon? She took his arm as they walked to the end of the block. “You looked a bit overwhelmed for a moment.”

“I am a bit overwhelmed, but it’s a wonderful feeling.” The conviction in his voice reassured her. “It’s like being in a familiar place but seeing it transformed to something new and different. And I can be part of it. It truly is a miracle.”

“Still, let me know if you want to take a break. We don’t have to do everything in one day.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I want to share this day with you, to know what your everyday life is like. I don’t want to miss a thing.”

She was certain she’d never smiled so much in all her life. She pointed toward a brick building just across the street, its cast iron façade identifying it as part of the appropriately named neighborhood. “See those windows on the second floor? That’s our new office.”

They climbed the stairs to stand before a door that bore the name of the agency and its owners. “Family Support and Legal Counselling. Catherine Chandler and Joe Maxwell,” Vincent read aloud, his voice filled with pride and respect. “You’ve made your dream come true.”

“One of my dreams. And there are so many more just waiting for us.” She smiled that secret smile again, hearing an echo of Kristopher’s words in her own, words she had not yet shared with Vincent. Soon, she told herself, not yet but soon.

She pulled a key from her bag and unlocked the door, stepping aside so Vincent could enter first and gain the perspective she had each time she arrived for a day’s work. But in a heartbeat, they froze at the sound of a voice rumbling from behind a partition at the far end of the room.

“Don’t even think about handing me that load of crap, Jack! You said you’d come through with the apartment. We already promised our client it’d be ready on Sunday…Yeah, yeah, I know. Stuff happens.” The masculine voice grew deeper and louder. “I told you she and her kids have to be out of the shelter Sunday morning and into an apartment one way or the other…Good, glad you see it my way. I’ll call you tomorrow when I’m on the way to pick up the keys…and thanks, pal, we owe you one.”

The phone’s receiver clattered as a desk chair scratched across the old wooden floor. “Joe said he wasn’t working in the office today,” Catherine whispered, pulling on Vincent’s arm. “I don’t think he realizes we’re here. We can just –”

Vincent covered her hand with his. “No, Catherine. We need to stay. Everything will be all right. And maybe it was meant to happen this way.”

Her heart still raced with long-practiced apprehension, and she had to force herself to take deep breaths. “It’s just that for so long, I’ve dreaded something like this as much as I’ve longed for it. For a moment I forgot. But you’re right – today anything is possible.”

There was no time for a response. Joe strode around the partition and into the room, head down, eyes focused on a paper clutched in one hand. He paused, then crumpled it and, glancing over his shoulder, tossed it into a metal wastepaper basket.

“He shoots, he scores!” He grinned as he pumped his fist in the air. “Way to go, Maxwell! Way to –“ His mouth clamped shut and a bright shade of crimson colored his face. “Cathy! What are you doing here? I thought you were taking the day off!”

For a moment, everything seemed so natural, so right. She grinned at him. “Nice shot, Joe. What’s that worth – two points? I really don’t know much about basketball.”

He smirked. “Yeah, that’s just another one of those valuable life lessons you uptown girls never bother learning.” He advanced toward them, pausing just in front of Vincent, and once again Catherine’s heart thudded so rapidly she felt faint.

Joe looked appraisingly at Vincent. “You look like you could make it in the NBA, though. You’re not a pro baller, are you?”

“I’m afraid not. More of a swimmer actually.”

Joe shrugged. “Guess there’s no chance of scoring free tickets to a Knicks game then.” He turned to Cathy. “So, you going to introduce me to your friend?”

By some miracle her voice still worked. “Joe, this is Vincent. We –”

Before she could utter another word, Joe grabbed Vincent’s hand and shook it hard several times before releasing him. “Man, it’s good to finally meet you! Cathy’s been pretty close-mouthed about you for a long time. No details, just your name, no matter how hard I tried to pry them out of her.” He grinned, clearly enjoying the chance to have her at a disadvantage just this once. “I was beginning to wonder if you actually existed, or she made you up so she’d have a reason to keep turning me down.”

It was Catherine’s turn to blush.

Vincent grinned back. “Well, as you can see, I am real. And I’ve heard a lot about you. Catherine really is quite fond of you, and she has great respect for you, as well.”

Joe’s smile widened. “Good to know.” He turned toward Catherine. “So, how come you never shared any of that info with me, Radcliffe? It would have been a boost for the old ego.”

Feeling increasingly more at ease, Catherine didn’t try to smother a snort of laughter. “Your ego is fine just as it is. It doesn’t need any help from me!”

Joe shrugged.  “You’re probably right. So, what are you two doing here?”

“Catherine wished to show me where she works.” Vincent’s gaze swept the relatively small, neatly organized space. “But we don’t want to interrupt you.”

“No problem – I was on my way out anyway. Just had to make a few phone calls.” He turned toward Catherine. “The apartment for Ms. Konovich and her kids will be ready tomorrow. I’ll pick up the keys from Jack in the morning. He’s having his boys move in the furniture and I want to make sure it’s done right so the family can get settled in on Sunday.”

“That’s wonderful, Joe. She’ll finally have a place where they can be safe.”

“Do you have many clients like Ms. Konovich who are in need of a safe place to live?” Vincent asked.

Joe frowned. “Too many. Plus, they need help finding jobs, enrolling their kids in good daycare, establishing credit, getting their green cards, getting off welfare.”

“Finding affordable health care, paying for prescriptions, putting food on the table for their families,” Catherine continued. “We do everything we can to help them – much more than offering legal advice – but it’s never enough.”

Vincent nodded. “Sometimes, even the smallest thing can make a difference to someone in need. You’re helping to change peoples’ lives for the better. The work you do is invaluable.”

“Yeah, it is.” Joe sighed and rubbed a hand through his hair. “But right now it’s just the two of us and there are a lot of people out there who need help, more every day, especially women who find themselves on their own with children to provide for.” He looked up at Vincent. “You wouldn’t happen to have some free time, would you? We can’t pay you, but we can always use a few good volunteers.”

Catherine wasn’t quick enough to stifle a sharp intake of breath, so she spoke quickly, hoping to distract Joe from voicing the questions she saw in the glance he threw her way. “Vincent is extremely busy with his own work. I don’t think he’d have time to help out here.” She looked up at Vincent, fully expecting him to corroborate her words.

She was in for another surprise.

“I would be happy to offer assistance.” Catherine knew he could feel her shock jolting through their bond, but she trusted him and forced herself to stay silent – for now. “Not here in your office, but perhaps doing repair work before your clients move into their new apartments. I have responsibilities I can’t ignore during the day, but many of my nights are free.”

“That’d be great!” Joe’s smile spoke of relief and gratitude. “So, are you in construction? What can you do – painting, carpentry, plumbing? Some of these apartments are in pretty rough shape, but they’re all these people can afford.”

“I’m a teacher, but I also do repair work of all kinds.”

“They don’t pay you guys nearly enough for the job you do.” Joe shook his head. “My ex-girlfriend’s a teacher. She always has to pick up side jobs to help make ends meet. So, where do you teach – high school? What subject?”

“Joe! You’re not interrogating a witness, you know.” Catherine managed a light laugh.

“Sorry, force of habit.”

“No harm done,” Vincent reassured him. “And I teach children of all ages…at a private school. My specialties are world literature, languages, philosophy, and art history.”

“I should’ve guessed. Cathy always goes for the intellectual type. I’ve told her a million times she’d be better off with somebody more down to earth. But, hey, it sounds like you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, so maybe she was listening to me after all.”

Catherine couldn’t help smiling. “Maybe I listen to you more often than you realize, Joe.”

She expected a joking retort and found herself at a loss for words at the response he offered instead.

“You know, I’m starting to think that might be true.” He glanced at Vincent as if he were about to say something more, but then looked at his watch. “I’ve got to get going. Delia Vasquez has some job leads she wants to discuss in person. I think we’ll be able to place a few more people through her agency.”

“I’m so happy to hear that! If you get a chance, call me tomorrow and let me know what happened.”

He nodded. “I will.” He turned toward Vincent. “Great meeting you, Vincent. Keep in touch and let me know when you’re ready to work on some of the apartments. Or tell Cathy and she can set it up.” He paused in the doorway. “Maybe we can grab a coffee or dinner some night and I can pitch in. I’m pretty good with a paintbrush and hammer, too.”

“That sounds like a good idea, Joe. And it was great to meet you, too.”

Only Catherine saw the flash of sadness in those clear blue eyes.

With a backwards wave of his hand, Joe hurried down the stairway. The outer door slammed shut, seeming to close as well on dreams, on possibilities.

“He’s a good man, Catherine, just as you’ve always said. If things were different…if I were different…”

She shook her head. “I’m not so sure about that anymore. Joe has been a true friend, and after all this time, I think I know his heart. He took to you right away. He likes you for the person you are. And I think that maybe you two will become friends.”

She saw the disbelief in his expression, and the tentative traces of hope he couldn’t hide. “I’m not sure you’re right this time, Catherine. Even with everything that has happened today, there are still some possibilities that will never come to be.”

Her smile was warm and gentle. “That sounds like something I might have said at one time. But things change. A few weeks ago, would we have ever believed we’d have this day Above?”

He shook his head. “Never.”

“And as Kristopher pointed out, you and I are already living an impossible dream. Who knows what other dreams might come true if we keep an open mind?” She chuckled. “I can’t believe I’m quoting him again!”

“He’s helping us change our lives, to transform possibilities into reality, to learn to measure time in yet another way.”

“And let’s cherish every minute of it.” She glanced at her watch, then smiled as she spread her arms out as if to encompass the entire office space. “Would you like the grand tour? It’ll take about two minutes!”

* * *

After a stroll along the uneven asphalt and cobblestone streets of Soho and a bit of browsing in some of Catherine’s favorite shops and galleries, they stopped for lunch at a lovely Austrian café where Vincent charmed several additional admirers when he spoke to the elderly owner and her staff in fluent Austro-Bavarian. One of the pretty, young servers had blatantly left a card bearing her phone number on their table near Vincent’s teacup while Catherine’s attention had been diverted paying the check. However, the card was now in her pocket, soon to be deposited in the nearest trashcan.

As they emerged onto the sidewalk, she smiled up at him and asked a question for which she already knew the answer.

“Are you enjoying our day?”

“Every second of it.” His eyes took on a faraway look. “Ever since you told me of Kristopher’s plan for us, I have dreamed and imagined what might come to be…but even in my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined the reality of what we are sharing. It is beyond belief…and yet it’s real.”

His response was all she could have hoped for. Without hesitating, she reached for him, holding him tightly as she pressed her head to his chest, feeling his heart beat in rhythm with hers as he wrapped his arms around her. They held one another, needing, savoring their physical closeness, just as much as they cherished the invisible intimacy of their bond. Long moments slipped by…

A gaggle of teenage girls huffed past them, giggling and muttering aloud. “Seriously, you’d think old people would know better!”

“I know – get a room for God’s sake!” Her cohorts exploded in laughter.

Just before they sauntered around the corner and out of sight, one girl looked back over her shoulder. “He is cute, though, in a Jon Bon Jovi kind of way.”

“You mean Jon Bon Jovi’s father!”

Vincent and Catherine broke apart and stared after them. “’Old people’??” she sputtered. “’Old people’?!”

He smiled. “To them we do seem old, I suppose.”

“Well, they shouldn’t be so disrespectful.” She frowned. “They’re not like teenagers Below, are they? I really hadn’t noticed such a difference before.”

“No, in some ways they seem quite unlike our Jamie or Brooke or Zach, but inside I suspect they have the same hopes and fears of any teenager, no matter where they live.”

She nodded. “I suppose you’re right.” But then a disquieting thought flickered through her. The blare of discordant noises, the rushing and sometimes rude crowds, the sudden glare of lights, the often squalid odors – all the things that make city life less than appealing yet pass largely unnoticed by its inhabitants. What did Vincent think of them? He’d said he was happy being Above, and through the bond she knew he’d spoken the truth. But had some aspects of her world disappointed him? Had they tarnished his hopeful expectations?

“I think I know what you’re worrying about, Catherine.” He reached for her hand. “But please don’t. Nothing about this day has disappointed me. I wanted to learn what life is like in your city. I wanted to experience it as you do. No matter what might happen, I will cherish every moment of this day forever.”

Not for the first time, she wondered how and why she had been so fortunate to have found her soulmate in him. “And so will I.”

“I do have a question, though.” He frowned and glanced back to where the snickering teenagers had last been seen. “Who is John Bon Jovi?”

She burst into laughter. “I’ll tell you later. Just know it was a compliment from their perspective.”  From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a grandfather clock in the antiques shop next door. “It’s after two o’clock!”

“And where are we going next?”

“To one of my favorite places. I always like to spend time there if I have a free afternoon, and I know you’ll love it, too.”

His eyes twinkled. “Are you going to tell me more – or is this the surprise you’ve been concealing?”

“You’re still going to have to wait for the surprise, Vincent,” she retorted with a smile. “But I’ll tell you all about our next stop while we’re on the way.” She peered down the street. “First, we have to find a cab.”

He looked over her head. “There are a few coming this way. We need one with the domed light on, right?”

“Right.” She started to raise her hand to signal a cab to stop for them. To her surprise he beat her to it.

“Getting to be quite the topsider, aren’t you?” She grinned at him as they hurtled northward toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“I have a very good teacher.” He settled back to watch sandstone facades of brick townhouses and iron-trimmed exteriors of newly converted residential lofts recede, soon to be replaced with high-rise office buildings and luxury apartment complexes of the Upper East Side.

She followed his rapt gaze. “How strange it must seem to you, to see these places in the daylight at last.”

He nodded, never taking his eyes from the kaleidoscopic view. “It’s fascinating. So much of it is familiar and yet so vastly different. It’s as if I’m seeing everything for the first time, even though there is so much I recognize.” He sighed softly. “It makes me think of Harriet Tubman when she said I had crossed the line of which I had so long been dreaming.

He grew silent, and she felt him drifting from her; yet she lovingly followed his heart and finished his thought. “But within her joy, she despaired because there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.” She reached for his hand. “But you are no stranger here, Vincent. This is your city as much as it is mine. And wherever we’re together, we’re home.”

He turned tear-glistened eyes to her. “Yes…”

* * *

They sat on the sun-warmed steps of the museum, blending easily into the crowd that always gathered there on pleasant days. She leaned her head against his shoulder. “What did you like best?”

“That’s a difficult question to answer. I loved all of it. But if I had to choose, it would be having experienced it with you.”

She felt a smile curve her lips. “I loved watching you discover the paintings. To share that with you was almost like seeing them for the first time.”

“The art books and prints you have brought Below began to open up this world for me, but to see the actual paintings, to know that the artists’ hands have touched them, to see exactly what they saw when they looked at what they had created…it…it was…wonderful.”

“I know. It makes it all real, doesn’t it? As if we’re truly a part of who they were, what their work still is.”

“Yes, and to be able to do that is beyond belief.”

In comfortable silence, they let their gazes wander over the vista before them, tourists and taxis, college students and neighborhood residents, food trucks and souvenir vendors. So much color and shape and movement, all creating a tableau of urban artistry that some other painter’s hand might someday interpret. Long moments passed, then she felt him stir.

He reached into his jacket pocket as if making sure something was still there. “I’ll be right back.”

Curious, she watched him bound down the steps, and then grinned as he returned to her, two ice cream cones clutched in his hands. He handed one to her and sat again on the step beside her.

“You bought me ice cream.” Her voice reverberated with delight.

“In the sunlight, on Fifth Avenue…”

Together they finished the familiar words first whispered in that long ago dream. “And no one looked twice.”

She was no longer certain life could get any better. Then she realized there was every possibility that it could. After they finished their ice cream and she had pressed a quick kiss to his chocolate-flavored lips, she rose to her feet. “Ready?”

Retrieving their shopping bags imprinted with the Met logo, he joined her. “Always.” He craned his neck to look south along Fifth Avenue. “We’re not far from your apartment. Is that where we’re going next?”

“Actually, I have something else in mind.” She took one of the bags from his grasp and led the way down the steps, along the sidewalk to the 85th Street entrance into the park. “Are you up for a walk?”

He nodded, then moved quickly along the path that wound among beds of golden daffodils and crimson tulips, before waiting for her to catch up. A squirrel darted out of the underbrush and hesitated as if wondering what to do next, its rusty grey plume of a tail quivering, before racing to disappear behind the trunk of a massive, newly leafed black locust. Above them blue jays squawked along the branches of the tree, their feathers reflecting the cobalt of the late afternoon sky fluffed with white drifting clouds.

She followed his stunned gaze as it swept from one place to the next. The pale green patches of newly sprouted grass in the dark umber of freshly raked soil; the scarlet sweatshirt of a young man further down the walkway, Vivaldi’s “Spring from The Four Seasons” swirling from his violin; the crumpled paper rainbow of a ruined kite clenched in the fists of a red-faced sobbing toddler being comforted by his uniformed nanny.

She waited, loath to interrupt his visual reverie, knowing when the time was right, he would find the words to share his thoughts with her. His nocturnal explorations for years had led him through every inch of the park. But what must it be like, she wondered, her eyes misting with tears, to at last see these things in the daylight, to see them as if for the first time?

His voice was hushed with the reverence and awe of a witness to a miracle. “I’ve walked through this park all my life, seeing only shades of black and grey. To see things as…as they truly are…is almost painful…and yet it fills me with wonder.”

He turned to her and with a gentle hand wiped the tears from her eyes. “Don’t cry, Catherine. There is no sadness here, only joy, and beauty in ways I’d never imagined.”

He raised his hand to let his fingers trail through her hair. “Your hair in the sunlight. It’s full of shades of gold and amber I’ve never seen before. And your eyes…your skin…I have no words, Catherine…no words to describe such beauty.”

She gazed up at him. “You have always been beautiful to me, Vincent, in candlelight or lamplight or even in darkness. And yet to see you here with me in the daylight, you take my breath away.”

“What a gift we have been given,” he murmured. “And memories we will cherish forever.”

He took her hand and let her lead him deeper into the park. For many minutes they walked in silence, sharing glances and words spoken by the heart as they made their way along curving pathways that skirted the southern edges of the reservoir. They stopped for a moment, savoring the sight of clustered cherry trees just beginning to blush with blossoms, pale green ferns uncoiling on the embankment, and late afternoon sunlight rippling across the water.

“It makes me think of Kensett’s paintings in that last gallery, except we need to picture mountains in the distance instead of buildings.”

“You’re right, Catherine. Or a variation of Casilear’s painting of Lake George.”

“Was that one of your favorites from all the ones we saw today?”

He paused, considering his response. “As beautiful as that landscape is, I think I most enjoyed seeing the portraits by the Post-Impressionist artists – van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne. The stories they portrayed in the faces of their subjects were as if those men and women had somehow bared their souls to the artists.”

“So beautiful, even when their faces were full of sadness.”

He nodded. “Looking at the paintings, I felt as if I knew those people for who they were at that moment in their lives.” He shook his head. “Amazing.”

“And did you like van Gogh’s floral paintings as well – the irises and roses and sunflowers?” She tried to keep a subtle inflection in her voice.

“Very much. I could look at them every day and never tire of them.”

She swung the paper shopping bag in her hand, picturing a similar one filled with the prints she would buy, to hang in a very special place.

The crinkling sound diverted his attention. “It was very kind of you to purchase gifts for Father and Mary at the museum. I’m sure they will be happy to receive them.”

She smiled as they strolled farther south, nearing the Delacorte Theatre. “The biography of Constable is a peace offering for Father. I remember he once said how that artist’s paintings reminded him of his boyhood in Suffolk.”

“He will surely appreciate it.”

She suddenly had a stunningly clear image of the older man’s extremely unappreciative expression when she’d last seen him. It was going to take a lot more than the gift of an expensive book to get back into his good graces, especially when he learned what she was planning next.

With shadows deepening as early evening approached, they lingered for only a few moments in the Shakespeare Garden, savoring the emerging spring beauties – anemones, daffodils, crocus – that shared space with the last of the snowdrops and hellebores that had survived a recent dusting of frost.

Moments later, as they emerged onto the sidewalk bordering Central Park West, she heard him exhale a sigh. A tremor shuddered her heart. “Is everything all right?”

His face reflected a mixture of concern and relief. “I thought…never mind, it doesn’t matter.”

“Of course, it does. Tell me.”

He hesitated. “When we entered the park, I had thought perhaps we were heading for the drainage tunnel entrance, that we were about to return Below. That our day was almost over.”

She smiled up at him. “Not yet. We still have time. And remember, I still haven’t shown you the surprise.”

He smiled back at her. “Is it nearby?”

“Not far. Come on.”

They hurried across the car-crowded avenue and turned onto 74th Street. Almost instantly the bustling area was transformed to a quiet tree-lined neighborhood of brick townhouses, their brownstone facades colored in shades of rust red, sepia, and chocolate, many laced with ivy climbing skyward along windowsills and ledges. Each building had a small wrought-iron fenced garden filled with clusters of wisteria, azalea, and lilacs.

They walked slowly along the sidewalk. Behind them the sounds of traffic and passersby continued to mute to a distant hum. Small song sparrows twittered among the flowers, and the faint music of a piano solo drifted from an open window somewhere further down the block.

They paused and looked at one another. “It’s like being in another world, Catherine. It’s still part of the city and yet so peaceful, so calm and welcoming.”

It was exactly what she had hoped to hear. Another dream coming true, another beginning.

“Come on. Our next stop is just a few doors down.”

He followed her to a brownstone and waited as she pulled open the small, intricately carved iron gate. The fragrance of early lilacs drifted from the tiny garden as they climbed the steps to the front door. Remaining rays of late afternoon sun glinted on the decorative frosted glass and gleaming mahogany of the door’s beveled panels.

“What beautiful craftsmanship.” He ran a careful hand over the polished surface. “It reminds me of some of Cullen’s work.”

“That’s just what I thought the first time I saw it.” She hesitated, knowing he must be wondering why she hadn’t rung the doorbell or even knocked on the door. Her mind raced. Maybe I should have told him about this earlier. What if I’m about to ruin our entire day – ruin everything? What if – what if – what if –

“Catherine? Is something wrong? Are we here to visit one of your friends?”

She took a deep breath, then shook her head as she reached into her bag and pulled out a set of keys. “We’re here because we’re home.”

In stunned silence, he followed her into the brownstone. The rooms on the parlor floor were empty of furniture, save for a small gateleg table and two chairs in the sitting room. Tiny dust motes sparkled in the last waning shafts of sunlight trickling through the tall casement windows. She flicked on an overhead light, chasing shadows from the gathering dusk, then turned to face Vincent and the questions burning in his eyes, churning through their bond.

“Home?” The single word pulsated with meaning.

“If we wish it to be.”

For a moment he looked as unsteady on his feet as she felt in her heart. “Come, sit down,” she urged. “I’ll explain everything.

“The house belongs to Peter. He bought it several years ago as an investment property, and he’s been renting it to a lovely family. You know how he’s thinking of retiring? Well, when the renters recently moved to Chicago, he decided he no longer wanted to be a landlord, so he’s selling it…to me.”

“But why, Catherine? You have a beautiful home. Why would you wish to live somewhere else?”

She took a deep breath. “I think you know why. I want to do this not just for myself but for us.” She held up her hand as he opened his mouth to speak. “No, let me finish, okay? Then I’ll answer any questions you have.

“Yes, I have a great apartment, but it’s no longer home. My home is with you, Above, Below, wherever we may be. Still, I also need an actual place to live. One that is a much better match for us, something that blends our two worlds, and to me this house is exactly right

“I’ve gone over the building plans with Peter, and it looks like tunnel access can be easily set up in the sub-basement, just like he had done in his building two blocks from here. We can have Kanin and Mouse take a look and let us know for sure, but I don’t think there will be a problem. You’ll be able to come and go far more safely, no more taking risks to get up to the balcony.  We won’t have to worry about the weather or being seen or having to wait for days before we can be together. Just imagine all the time we’ll have together!”

When he remained silent, she forced herself to remember to breathe. “What do you think? To me, it’s the perfect plan…but not if you don’t think so, too.”

For several moments he sat as if stunned. “You would do all this, disrupt your life, the entire way you live, take on such great expense, you wish to do all this for me?”

“For us. And yes, I would do it in a heartbeat…but only if it’s what you want, too.”

He rose to his feet and strode toward the sitting room door. Her heart pounded as she watched him stare into the foyer and then back to the windows as if seeking the swiftest path for escape. Then he pivoted and strode toward her, pulling her up and into his arms, clinging to her as if he’d found the lifeline he’d always sought.

“It is what I want, Catherine, this home, this life…this dream. I want it all, but most of all I want it with you, because of you.”

Happy tears filled her eyes. How far he had come, how far they both had. To hear him finally tell her what he wanted, that he could find the courage to separate from his fears and with all his heart embrace what could be, meant the world to her. And that world was just beginning.

She leaned back to look up at him, reveling in the joy and excitement in his eyes. “Do you want to see the rest of the house? There are three more floors above us and a garden in the back. And afterwards, I thought we could have dinner somewhere nearby, maybe Tavern on the Green. Our day isn’t over until midnight.”

“It all sounds wonderful.” They walked toward the polished oak stairway leading to the second floor. “So, I guess it’s safe to say this is the surprise?”

Her joyous laugh echoed in their haven. “It’s most of it. And was it worth waiting for?”

He tilted his head, managing to contain his curiosity. “I think you already know the answer to that question.”

As he leaned forward, about to offer the first kiss of celebration in their new home, the doorbell pealed and he pulled back, visibly fighting his apprehension.

“It’s okay. It’s probably only Peter. No one else knows we’re here.” She reached for the doorknob. “And remember, we’re fine. It’s still our special day.”

“When no one will look twice,” he murmured. He watched her hesitate. “It’s all right. You can open the door.”

Seconds later, she gasped. “Vincent, you need to see this.”

On the front steps lay a picnic basket and a bouquet of fresh red and white roses. Together, they bent to pick them up and bring them inside, but not before quickly – and unsuccessfully —scanning the street for any sight of the messenger who had left them.

Vincent set the basket on the floor by the gateleg table. “Who could have done this? Do you think it was Peter?”

“I don’t know.” She spotted a small white envelope nestled among the roses’ lush green leaves. “But I think we’re about to find out.”

She pulled out the card and handed it to Vincent. “You read it.”

“’Happy Anniversary! And welcome home! Hope you had a great day!’” Vincent flipped the unsigned card and continued to read. “’So, where are you going next year?’”

“Kristopher!” they exclaimed in unison.

She smiled. “Who else?” She carefully set the roses on the table. “I guess we’re all set for dinner, but I wonder if there’s a vase anywhere.”

Expecting him to follow her toward the kitchen pantry, she was surprised when he didn’t take a step and instead stood re-reading Kristopher’s message.

“What do you think he means when he asks where we’re going next year?”

Her smile illuminated her face. “That’s the rest of the surprise. This special day, Above together in the sunlight, is only the beginning. He has promised it to us each year on our anniversary, not just today but always.”

“Always,” he echoed. “Always…”

“And always begins right now. Here where our worlds will truly come together at last, somewhere between Above and Below.”

“In a world of our own…where now I know at last that all things truly are possible.”

They melted into each other’s arms, heart to heart, soul to soul, lovers and dreamers for all time.

She felt the warmth of his breath as he nuzzled her neck and whispered in her ear. “Do you have a pad of paper in your bag, Catherine?”

“Mmmmhmmm…” She wondered why he was asking such a thing at a moment like this. “Why?”

“We need to start making plans.”

She turned her head and joined their mouths with a smile “And lists?” she murmured while she still had breath to speak.

“And lists…”

 

“Yesterday is but today’s memory, tomorrow is today’s dream.”

(Kahlil Gibran)

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. So lovely. It’s been a while since I’ve entered in to this world. What a wonderful homecoming for them and for me reading it. Thank you!!

    Reply
    • How beautiful, Linda. ❤️
      You got them their day in New York, in the sunshine, a feat I didn’t think possible, but you sold it and sold it well.

      Thank you for this.

      Reply
  2. This story is amazing. It reads so lightly, with joy. I delight in their time together , I see it all so clearly, every interesting, picturesque corner of New York. There are so many dreams fulfilled and full of new impressions…and at the end the promise of a happy life together. I love this and their conversations together, the banter, the disruptive neighbor, the wonderful Joe…Everything is as it should be. Thank you for this Linda!

    Reply

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