Angels in the Snow
This story first appeared in Cyberdreams Volume 1.
"Good Morning! Traffic today is moving slowly, due to the unexpected amount of snow received by the city overnight......" Catherine moaned as an overly cheerful male voice broke the silence and signaled an end to another short night. She groaned again as the voice was replaced by loud, obnoxious music. With a sigh, she sat up and shut off the alarm on her clock, trying to ignore the time.
The air in her bedroom was chilly, and she quickly donned her robe before moving to the balcony doors. Pushing the curtain aside, she was surprised to see that her balcony had several inches of snow on it. The city lights seemed to make each snowflake twinkle at her. Fluffy flakes continued to fall and Catherine was filled with excitement when she thought about what the snow was making possible. "But why today, when I'm already so tired?" she whispered, pressing her forehead against the cold glass, willing herself awake.
"Morning, Radcliff." Joe called as he saw her walk past his office. "Once you get settled in, I need to talk to you."
"Okay. Be right there." Catherine forced herself to sound cheerful as she headed towards her desk to drop off her coat and briefcase and change into her shoes. "Please, don't let this be more work to get done today," she whispered to herself under her breath. Pausing only to fill her mug at the coffee pot, Catherine was in Joe's office before he could get re-focused on his work.
"Sit down. You look beat. Feeling okay?" Joe tossed the rubber band he had been playing with onto his desk and leaned forward, obviously concerned.
"I'm just tired. Don't worry," Catherine smiled. "What has you so happy this morning? We go to trial tomorrow."
"No we don't. I just got a call from Jerry... his client decided to plead guilty to all counts."
A huge weight lifted from her shoulders and Catherine grinned back at him, "That's wonderful, Joe. Did Jerry say what made him change his mind?"
"No, but I have a guess."
"He knew we had him wrapped up tight. You did good work on this one Radcliff, and there was no way a jury was going to vote him not guilty."
"It feels good to know all those late nights were worth it." Catherine said softly, looking down at her mug. These last few weeks had been difficult. The case she was preparing for had been very demanding of her time and energy. Vincent's visits had been infrequent and brief, in deference to her fatigue. Maybe now they would get to spend some time together. Thinking about the snow, Catherine smiled.
"Earth to Radcliff."
"Hmm?" She looked up, startled.
"Why don't you take the day off, kiddo. Go home, get some sleep. We aren't going to trial tomorrow, and none of your other cases are that pressing."
"Maybe I will. Would you mind terribly if I took tomorrow off, too?"
"What does this look like? A 9 to 5 job?" He said sternly, unable to hide the twinkle in his eye. Knowing she wasn't fooled, he smiled. "Go ahead. You've earned it. I'll see you Thursday."
"Thanks, Joe." Catherine stood, and smiled back at him.
"Get outta here before I change my mind."
"I'm taking my phone off the hook! No, I'm leaving town," she teased back. "See you Thursday."
Back at her desk, Catherine paused only long enough to write a note to send Below before she put on her coat and changed back into her boots. She picked up her briefcase, thought better of it, and tossed it back onto her chair. Work could wait.
"Thank you, Kipper." Vincent said, taking the note from him. He recognized the handwriting immediately. Smiling, he unfolded the paper and began to read.
"V. Client plead guilty, no trial after all! Joe gave me today and tomorrow off. Went home to sleep. Meet me at park entrance at midnight. Bring a change of clothes and some blankets. I have a surprise for you. C"
Vincent reflected, unsure what to think. Was Catherine planning a trip out of the city? He still felt badly about the canceled trip to Connecticut., but thought she had understood how impossible it was for him. He closed his eyes and focused on their bond, hoping to glean some clue from that. Disappointed, he realized she was already home and sleeping.
"Vincent?" Father asked, unable to hide the edge from his voice.
"It's from Catherine."
"Is something wrong? You look worried."
"I was merely surprised. The case she has been working so hard on was to go to trial tomorrow. The client decided to plead guilty, so Catherine took today and tomorrow off."
"So you will be spending the day with her?" Father looked at the chess board between them, trying to keep his expression neutral.
"No. She has gone home to sleep. Her work has exhausted her these past weeks."
"Umm." Father nodded, considering his next move.
"I will see her tonight." Vincent added, knowing that was the next question.
"Which leaves me plenty of time to beat you."
Vincent shook his head and moved a knight. "Check."
"Umm." Father sighed and moved a pawn.
"Would you prefer that I let you win?" Vincent offered, sensing his frustration
"Very well." Vincent put Catherine's note out of his mind and leaned forward intently. Five more moves would end this easily.
"Vincent, may I come in?"
"Of course, Mary."
"Are you planning on taking a trip?" Mary asked seeing him add a sweater to the satchel on his bed.
"I am not certain." He turned to look at her and saw her patiently waiting for him to explain. He sighed and sat down on his bed. "Catherine sent a message today. She said I should pack a change of clothes and meet her at the park entrance at midnight. She said it was a surprise."
"How nice of her! How is she able to manage such a late meeting, on a weeknight?"
"The case she has been working on was to go to trial tomorrow. The client pled guilty at the last moment. Her boss have her today and tomorrow off from work. She went home to sleep"
"Good. I know you have been concerned about her." Mary sat down on the bed next to him and patted his arm.
"She doesn't always take care of herself like she should."
"Because she loves you and wants to spend time with you, Vincent. But you said she is sleeping now and has tomorrow off. So what has you so concerned about tonight?"
"I don't know why she wants me to pack extra clothes. I thought she understood why I couldn't go to Connecticut."
"And you are afraid she is going to surprise you with such a trip." Mary said softly, understanding his mood.
Vincent nodded. "I sense very strong feelings of anticipation from her tonight. This is something very important to her, and I don't want to disappoint her.
"Don't you trust her?" Mary said in a slightly stern tone.
Vincent's head snapped up and he became defensive. "Of course I do! I trust her with my life!"
"So what has you so concerned about tonight?" Mary repeated her question.
Vincent's brow furrowed. Was this so difficult to understand? "Catherine would never deliberately hurt me, but"
"But what, Vincent? Either you trust her or you don't. If you trust her with your life, surely you can trust her to respect your wishes and feelings."
Vincent bowed his head, feeling ashamed. "Yes, I can. Thank you, Mary, for reminding me."
"Now don't start brooding about that. It's almost midnight and I don't think Catherine has planned a surprise that includes you berating yourself all evening. Now go have fun!"
"Yes, Mary." Feeling light of heart once again, he picked up his satchel and paused, suddenly realizing how odd it was for Mary to visit him at this time of night. "The hour is late, Mary. You are usually asleep, is there something troubling you?"
"No." Mary shook her head. "I couldn't sleep and I knew you would be awake. Now off, with you! Don't keep dear Catherine waiting outside in the snow all night for you!"
She managed to hide her smile until Vincent had left the chamber, and then it spread over her face. "Oh Vincent, trust in your love for her." Feeling a bit smug, she put out the candles and made her way back to her own chamber. Catherine had enlisted her help early in the fall, and Mary had waited several months for the timing to work out. Vincent was certain to enjoy what his beloved Catherine had planned for him. She smiled to herself and snuggled down under the covers, trying to imagine how Vincent would react to what Catherine had planned.
Vincent waited at the park entrance only moments before he saw Catherine's outline heading towards him. Had it not been for their bond, however he would never have guessed it was her. The figure wading though the snow was carrying many objects, and was having difficulty managing all of them. Looking quickly around to ensure they were alone, Vincent pulled his hood up and went out to meet her.
"Vincent! I'm so glad you came!" she said softly, calling to him across the snow.
"How could I not come? I sensed your excitement this evening."
"I know." She grinned. "I mean I'm glad you came out to help me carry all this! Here, take these."
"Skis?" Vincent looked at her questioningly, as he reached out to take them from her.
"Skis. Can you take these too, please? This backpack is getting heavy. I can't wait to get inside and put it down!
"Then I will follow you in." Vincent said graciously, delighting in her child-like excitement. Her mood was contagious tonight. The park was beautiful, all covered with snow. The storm had passed, leaving a clear night sky above them. Stars twinkled at him and the half-moon made untouched snow banks shimmer. Though it was cold, a great stillness had fallen over the city. Truly, this was a enchanted wonderland! He hoped Catherine would consider taking a walk through the park later, so they could enjoy the scenery.
"You can leave those here for now. But I want to take this stuff inside." Catherine said, gesturing for him to put the skis down before she moved the handle that opened the door to his world.
"Are you coming?" She turned, looking back at him when she realized he had not followed her. Obediently, he quickly made his way to the inner tunnel and closed the door. "I want to put these in the music chamber. Did you bring clothes and a blanket?"
"Yes. They are over there." He pointed to the satchel sitting on the floor.
"Good. Bring them."
Catherine waited for him to fetch the items and then followed him to the music chamber. Once inside, she rid herself of the backpack and removed two pairs of shoes from around her neck. Unencumbered, she threw herself into his arms and hugged him tightly. "That's better!" She buried her face in his chest and inhaled the smell of leather and candles. "I've missed you so much!"
Vincent could not hide his joy, nor did he try, as he hugged her back. "As I have missed you." He lifted her chin with a finger and looked into her eyes. "You look more rested than you have for days."
"That's because I slept from the time I got home until a little over an hour ago! When I woke up this morning and saw the snow, I wanted to cry, since I was so tired, and I didn't know how I was going to come tonight and go to court tomorrow."
"I know!" She smiled at his alarm. "I know! I need to sleep. I know that. But the weather is perfect, the day of the week is perfect, and I've been planning this for so long. The only thing that wasn't perfect was how tired I was, and now that's perfect, too, and I am SO glad to see you!" She hugged him again.
"What exactly have you planned?" Vincent asked cautiously broaching the subject.
"Can't you guess? I'm taking you skiing."
"There are no mountains in Central Park, Catherine."
"Cross-country skiing, Vincent. We don't need hills." She finally pulled herself away and picked up one pair of shoes. "Put these on. I hope they fit. Mary helped me pick a size, be we couldn't be certain we got it right."
Catherine sat down and took off her own boots. "If they fit, you can keep them. And the skis are for you to keep as well."
"Catherine, you should not be spending your money on such things for me."
"Yes I should, and I want to. Hide them so Father doesn't know, if you want. But I intend to go skiing with you every chance I get. And you can't ski without skis! It's not like I don't have the money!" She added firmly, as she laced her own shoes and stood up.
"How do yours feel?"
"Fine. What is this extra piece of rubber on the front?"
"That's what hooks the ski to your shoe. But your heel is free to move up and down. Cross-country skiing is just like walking, except you slide you feet.
"I have some other things for you as well." Catherine hesitated, then opened her backpack.
"Skiing is easy, but you can still get pretty wet from snow if you aren't careful. And I didn't think your cloak would be easy to ski in, so I took the liberty of getting you a jacket and gloves." She held the coat out to him.
He looked at the garment she offered and reluctantly took it. It was the first time she had ever tried to change how he dressed. The coat was navy blue and had a zipper on the front. It even had a hood.
Catherine knelt down in front of him, seeing his reluctance. "Vincent, I don't want to change you. I love you, and I love you in that cloak. How many times have you kept us both warm with it, as we stood on my balcony?" She smiled at him and continued. "But I also don't want Father holding me responsible for you getting pneumonia. I have a ski-suit too." She shrugged her shoulders, indicating the jacket and pants she wore. "These are water repellent, and while they are not as warm as wool, they keep you dry. I guarantee you are going to get wet from snow tonight, and that's why I wanted you to bring dry clothes to change into. I got you the jacket so we could play longer, before we both get chilled to the bone and have to come inside."
Understanding shone from his eyes and he stood up and tried on the jacket. The sleeves were only a little bit too short. The gloves that she gave him came well up over his wrists, however, and he was forced to admit, the new clothes were more practical than his cloak and leather gloves tonight.
He flexed his fingers in the gloves, comparing the feel of them to his own. "How did you know what size to get?"
Catherine smiled. "Remember the parchment where we traced the outline of your hands around mine?"
Vincent smiled back at her, remembering the night she had asked to trace his hands. She has said she wanted his hands to be with her always. He had complied, then put her hands inside the outlines of his, and traced around them. Then they had cut the parchment into two, giving Vincent their left hands, and Catherine their right hands. Each paper had been placed in a frame near their respective beds.
"I traced your tracing, cut it out of cardboard, and took you shopping with me! Mary helped me do the same thing with your boots!"
"Mary knows about this?"
Catherine nodded, grinning. "She told me what size coat to get."
Vincent tilted his head and looked at her. It was so good to be with her and see her rested and playful. "What else did you bring?" He asked, looking at the backpack she had put back on.
"A scarf. So you can defy Father and ski in the daytime if you so choose!" She removed it from her neck and handed it to him.
"In the daytime?" Vincent's tone revealed his disbelief. He was too stunned to take the offered scarf from her.
"Lots of people cover their faces with a scarf when it's really cold out. As long as it's cold, no one would think twice." She said, unable to hide her impish grin. Quickly, she put the scarf on and demonstrated how it could be worn.
He took the scarf from her "What do you have in the pack?"
"That's a surprise for later! Are you ready?"
"I still cannot believe you bought skis for me."
"Vincent, who else would enjoy the park at midnight on a Tuesday night, in the middle of winter? Most sane people are home sleeping, or waiting for the weekend. You and I have the park to ourselves."
"You are amazing."
"No, Vincent." Catherine shook her head. She took both of his hands in hers and looked him in the eye. "You are amazing. You make the simplest things an adventure. For years, I've had skis in my closet, and I never bothered to take them out and use them. I can go skiing any time of year, in any part of the world, and I couldn't be bothered with it. But you... there are so many things you can't do, yet you aren't bitter. Instead you savor all the things you can do and make all of it new for me, too. Now I don't want to ski all over the world. I want to ski in the middle of the night, in Central Park. And I want to share it with you. I want you to know the fun of playing in the snow simply because it's there. You have given me back the joys that can only be found in the simple pleasures of life. This is my way of saying thank you."
Tears threatened to spill over, and she blinked them away. She gave him another hug, and found it strange to feel nylon under her cheek where his cloak should be. He hoped she understood she only wanted him to be warm and dry in the jacket. "You know I'll never forgive you if you show up on my balcony in this jacket, Vincent." she paused, then added, "I'd freeze."
She was rewarded with a chuckle and a squeeze before he released her.
Catherine led him outside and showed him how the tab on the toe of each shoe was clamped into the ski binding. Once their skis were on, she handed him a pair of poles and showed him how to hold them. "Now, just slide your feet. You move just like you would if you were walking, except you slide your feet instead of picking them up. And instead of swinging your arms, plant the pole like this, and use it to help pull you forward." She demonstrated for a few paces, turned around, and came back. "That's all there is to it. If you ever come to a slope and don't want to go down it, you can always take the skis off and walk. To go up, you just step sideways up the hill, if it's too steep to ski up. Ready?"
Vincent nodded, and waited for her.
"Why don't you lead? You know the park better than I do, and you see better than I do."
"Perhaps you should have waited for a full moon."
"I didn't want to wait any longer for this. I can see well enough," she assured him.
Nodding, he concentrated on the directions she had given and stepped forward. The ease with which his feet glided though the snow amazed him. Within a few paces, he had settled into the rhythm and began to enjoy it. Joy welled up within him. He was skiing! That was something none of the children Below had done, to his knowledge. And it WAS simple, just like she had said. He glanced over his shoulder and saw her smiling, as she glided along behind him.
The gentle whooshing sound of his skis in the snow, a similar sound from behind him, and the sound of their breathing was all that broke the tranquil silence of the night. The joy he felt was matched by the delight he felt in Catherine as she shared the magic of snow with him. Truly, he was blessed.
They went a half mile before he paused near a grove of trees. Catherine moved up to stand beside him, and he put his arm around her. Their poles clinked as he pulled her to him. "Catherine, there are no words for this gift you have given me."
"We don't need words, Vincent. Your eyes say it for you."
They made their way along for another half hour before Catherine called out softly "Where do you get the energy? I need to rest. Join me on the bench over there?" Not waiting for him to answer, she led the way.
Once they had taken off their skis, they brushed the snow off the wooden bench and sat down. She shrugged out of her backpack and moved it to her lap. Opening it, she pulled out two thermoses and two paper bags, wrapped in a towel. She handed a bag and thermos to Vincent.
"It's a tradition, Vincent. Every ski resort has a lodge, where people go to sit by the fire and get warm. You can also get food. As a little girl, I always wanted hot chocolate and roasted peanuts. We don't have a fire, but here is the hot chocolate and peanuts. They should still be warm. I had them wrapped up with a little heat-producing packet hunters put in their boots to keep their feet warm."
"It's just a chemical reaction." Catherine said, showing him the packet.
"No, I meant you. You are amazing, Catherine. You give me so much."
"No more than you give me, Vincent." she replied, loosing himself in his eyes for a moment. "Do you want marshmallows?"
They sat there in silence for a while, enjoying the night sky and their hot chocolate.
"Catherine, you said I was going to get wet from the snow. Yet neither of us has fallen down."
"I know. But you are still going to get wet, Vincent. Trust me." Catherine leaned closer and put her arm around his neck.
Suddenly, he felt something cold slide down his back. He sat up straight, then looked at her in shock.
She was trying hard not to laugh and failed when she saw the twinkle in his eyes. "Haven't you ever had a snowball fight?" she asked innocently before dashing away and tossing a handful of snow at him.
Stunned at his own playful impulse, he quickly made a snowball and threw it at her. She ducked and laughed as it missed her by a few inches. With a growl, he threw another and caught her in the middle of her back as she ran from him. Immediately, she collapsed in the snow, face down.
"Catherine! Are you hurt?" he went over to her, concerned that he had thrown the snowball with too much force. As he bent over her, he felt her amusement spill through the bond and he knew he had fallen for her ploy. At the same moment, snow went down the neck of his jacket again. Catherine giggled, then wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him down into the snow beside her.
"No, I'm not hurt. But you ARE lying in the snow, Vincent."
He smiled his rare and beautiful smile and looked into her green eyes. "You planned this."
"Every bit of it. I know the other children came to the park to play Vincent, but you were left out. Tonight, THEY are the ones being left out. Tonight is just for you and me." Catherine sat up. "This snow doesn't pack well enough to build a snowman. But I bet you never made a snow angel."
"A snow angel?"
"I thought not." Catherine got up and found an area where the snow was still pristine. "You find new snow, and lie down, then move your arms and legs like this." She demonstrated as Vincent stood over her, watching. "Then you get some dear person to help you stand up," she said, reaching for his hand. He took it and pulled her to her feet. "And what you leave behind is a snow angel. Now you get to make one. I'll make another one beside you.
They spent several minutes taking turns lying down in the snow. Vincent caught himself shaking his head at amazement at his own behavior. While being with Catherine was always wonderful, tonight he felt unusually playful. His normal reserves seemed to have been left Below. It was like he was ten again, venturing Above with Devin. If Father could see him now!
When they finally were tired and cold, they made their way back to the bench and sipped the rest of the hot chocolate. By unspoken agreement, they put their skis back on, and headed towards the tunnel entrance. Only this time, Vincent wore the backpack, in deference to his sense of Catherine's fatigue.
Vincent took their skis inside, then came back to escort Catherine Below. He took her hand and pulled her to him. "Thank you for sharing this with me, Catherine."
"It looks enchanted, doesn't it." She said, leaning into him as she looked out at her world.
"I want to do this again sometime."
"Than we shall."
"I brought a book of poetry to share with you. That's why I asked you to bring a blanket, so we could have the night to ourselves a while longer." She tilted her head to look up at him, "May I stay Below tonight? I have the day off tomorrow, and I would like to spend it with you, if you are free."
"I have classes in the morning, but the rest of my day is free to spend with you."
"Wonderful," she sighed and pulled away. "I'll wait here while you change into your dry clothes."
"I won't be long," he said softly, and disappeared inside.
When he opened the entrance again, he found her slumped on the other side of the door, sleeping, using her ski suit jacket as a pillow. Apparently, she had removed it when he went to change his own clothing. He took off his cloak and wrapped it around her, then picked her up. Closing the door behind them, he closed his eyes and held her close, kissed the top of her head, and set out for home.