Dining In

B. Gualda

Diana gingerly lifted the saucepan and placed it on the stove. She turned the heat on beneath it and then slowly, carefully, walked over to her cupboard and took out a jar of spaghetti sauce. She placed it on the countertop and tried to open it, but her hand kept slipping and she couldn't get a good enough grip on the lid. She tried covering it with a towel for added friction, but the jar still refused to open. She tossed the towel aside and guardedly walked over to her silverware drawer. Opening it slowly, she picked out a table knife and made her way carefully back to the jar on the counter. Taking ahold of the jar, she rapped the side of the stubborn lid several times with the knife. She put the knife down and tried twisting the lid again, to no avail. Swearing under her breath, she warily carried the jar over to the sink.

Hot or cold? she wondered. She decided on cold, and turned the faucet on, holding the jar lid under the flow of icy water for a few minutes. Satisfied, she turned off the water, dried the jar with the towel and tried to open it once more.

"Damnit!" She slammed the jar down on the countertop, and with reluctant resignation, slowly went to the cupboards to find something else to fix.

Gingerly, she reached up and opened the cupboards again, frowning and shaking her head in disgust at the lack of appealing contents. She thought she spied a can of vegetable soup that had been pushed towards the back and she stretched up to reach for it, wincing slightly. It was just out of her reach and she knew she'd have to get a chair if she wanted to have the can of soup. She stood, debating, trying to decide if it would be worth the effort when she smelled something burning. She suddenly remembered the pan and turned quickly. Too quickly as another jolt of pain sent her reeling.

Gray smoke was billowing from the scorched pan and rapidly filling the kitchen area.

"Oh jeez!" She had forgotten about turning on the heat under the empty pan. Normally she would have had the sauce in it long before now. She hurried as much as she was able, back over to the stove. Diana's only thought was to get it off the heat before it started a fire. Without thinking, she grabbed the handle and seered her hand.

"Shit!" she swore, as she jerked her hand back. The pan clattered loudly to the floor. Diana continued swearing, waving her hand rapidly in the air to cool it. Angrily, she kicked the pan as hard as she could, immediately regretting such an outburst as sharp pain gripped her back. She turned off the heat with a heavy sigh. Then the smoke detector went off.

Diana screamed in fury and hobbled over to the broom closet and seized her broom. She walked as fast as she could over to where the smoke detector was mounted on the wall. She beat at it with the broom handle until she dislodged it, and ignoring the pain, she took out all her anger on the hapless device, all but smashing it into pieces. Finally the alarm ceased and a blissful quiet ensued. Diana stood over it, glowering, panting from anger and pain. She straightened slowly and sighed.

She struggled to calm herself and subdue her anger. It was then, she realized, she was not alone. His presence suddenly hit her powerfully and she turned slowly, and frowned.

Vincent stood leaning rather casually against the bedroom doorframe, his arms crossed loosely over his chest, wearing an expression somewhere between shock and amusement.

"Temper, temper," he admonished teasingly. He straightened and began walking over to where Diana stood glaring at him.

It wasn't that she was unhappy to see him. If anything could turn the tide on a bad day, a visit from him could. But this had been an exceptionally bad day and her temper and nerves were frayed short. She was suddenly embarrassed to think he might have witnessed her childish tantrum and she turned away from him, angry that he had not made his presence known sooner.

"Oh, you're one to talk about tempers," she retorted, miffed, but knowing since he had baited her, he would expect an equally barbed response. She knew he wouldn't take her seriously and he seemed to enjoy trading gibes with her. Diana enjoyed it too, but mostly enjoyed the fact that he felt comfortable enough with their friendship to grace her with glimpses of his rather dry sense of humor.

"How'd you get in here anyway?" she asked. She stalked back into the kitchen, coughing slightly. Undaunted by her anger, Vincent started after her, waving his hand through the smoke still hanging heavily in the air.

"I knocked. You must not have heard me. I knew you were home, so I let myself in," he admitted with a hint of an apology in his voice.

Diana looked over at him. "Next time, make some noise." She never could quite figure out how someone of his size could move about with such stealth.

Diana dipped down to retrieve the fallen pan, supporting her lower back with her hand. Vincent stopped to observe her curiously.

"You're hurt, aren't you?"

Diana sighed. "Slightly." She rose slowly and tossed the pan carelessly on the stovetop.

"I had no sense of it earlier." He looked disturbed, not liking to admit such a thing.

Diana tried to reassure him. "It doesn't hurt constantly. Only if I move a certain way. Besides, I've been feeling more frustration and anger than pain since you've been here." The fact that he had any sense of her at all was something of a miracle as far as Diana was concerned. She didn't mind if he occasionally misinterpreted her feelings even if he did mind. She knew he had an empathic sense of people and things around him and she knew over the last year or so, his sense of her had grown considerably. It made her feel special and closer to him in a way.

Her anger subsiding, she sighed heavily. "I tried to lift something that I shouldn't have. I threw my back out." She looked into his concerned eyes and swallowed hard, her bad luck beginning to overwhelm her. "I'm not having a good day. Or night for that matter."

Vincent's mood immediately shifted to one of tender consolation. He walked over to her and folded his arms around her. "No?" he said quietly, agreeing more than inquiring.

His gentle, soothing embrace and the sincerity in his voice, encouraged Diana to relay the hapless events of her day. He nodded and brushed her disheveled hair from her eyes with a barely perceptible touch of his forefinger.

Finally Diana gestured impatiently at the jar of sauce on the countertop. "And then, I couldn't get the stupid jar open," she muttered.

Vincent's gaze followed hers to the forlorn jar. Wordlessly, he released her and walked over to the counter. Grasping the jar and covering the lid with his large hand, he twisted it once and Diana heard the telltale 'pop' of the broken vacuum seal. He turned and looked back at her.

Diana tried hard not to smile. She tried to cover it up by rubbing her eyes. "Thank you," she said softly. Then, under her breath, "Where were you fifteen minutes ago?"

Of course he heard her. "I was standing over there. Watching you."

Diana looked irritated again. "And you didn't offer to help me?"

Facing her, Vincent leaned his hips against the edge of the counter. "At the time, I wasn't aware of your injury. And besides,any other time, you would have been insulted if I had rushed forward to offer to open a jar for you."

"I suppose you're right," Diana admitted with a quick nod. "I was never the type of woman who lets men open doors, and jars, for them." She turned her attention to the scorched pan on the stove. She took the pan over to the sink and sighed heavily. It would have to be scrubbed before she could use it for the sauce. She turned on the water and tried to focus on the task at hand.

Vincent was surveying the ingredients on the counter beside him. "What are you cooking?" he asked finally, unable to piece together much of a meal from them.

"Cheese tortellini. I like to use spaghetti sauce and fresh basil." She proceeded to explain in detail the exact process of cooking the tortellini just the way she liked it. "It's easy and it's one of my favorite meals and I felt deserving tonight after the day I've had." She flashed him a quick hopeful smile. "Have you eaten yet?"

Unexpectedly, he shook his head slowly. "No....It's not likely I'll be able to eat anything tonight."

"Oh? Why not?"

Sighing, Vincent lowered his eyes. "I'm a little sore today myself," he began, somewhat self-consciously. "I had my teeth cleaned and worked on this afternoon."

"Worked on? You mean you went to the dentist?" Diana turned off the faucet and faced him intrigued.

"Actually, he comes to us. Below."

Diana hated going to the dentist. "What did you have done?"she asked with undisguised curiosity.

"If you must know," he replied with exaggerated patience. "The most significant thing was that I had cracked a tooth. It had been causing me some discomfort, so I decided to have it repaired." Vincent looked up at her. "My mouth is still tender and my jaw aches. Especially when I bite down."

Diana could sympathize easily, having been to a dentist just last week herself. She could imagine with his unique teeth being as large and pristinely white as they were, he probably had regular dental work done. "And you haven't eaten since this morning? You must be hungry." She thought she would try inviting him to dine with her more directly this time. "Stay and have dinner with me. I've got plenty and you'll like this. It's soft."

Vincent smiled. He straightened and walked over to her. Silently, he placed his hands on her arms and turned her around carefully. To Diana's delight and utter shock, he began massaging her shoulders, gently kneading her stiff muscles with strong fingers.

"I am hungry," he confessed.

Diana smiled brightly, taking his admission as a 'yes.' "Good," she said and sighed heavily. Closing her eyes, she daringly leaned back into his hands. She could feel the surface of her skin becoming hot where he was touching her, the warmth spreading through her stiff muscles as the stress tethering them began to ease.

"Where are you hurt?" he asked quietly.

"....Lower back."

His hands moved to the small of her back. He worked his thumbs cautiously along her spine and around her hips in slow small circles, pressing softly, using the pads of his fingers to keep from scratching her. She flinched once as he encountered a particular knotted muscle. He paused, then continued, even more tenderly than before.

"You must be in more pain than you say," he noted. "I was barely touching you."

"Don't stop....It feels great," she breathed. "You have magical hands." She smiled as she heard his scoffing laugh behind her. It's true, she thought to herself. Those hands of his were reshaping her, healing her, loving her. Her mind was sinking slowly into thick dark water. The warmth and security of it enveloping her. Vincent was so close to her, she was practically leaning against him. The only thing holding her back was the pressure of his hands. A tiny contented moan escaped her throat. "Oh yeah. Right there," she directed, gratefully. She could feel his warm, moist breath on her neck as he leaned over to speak to her.

"Poor Diana," he whispered.

Not so poor as to have derived this kind of nuturing from you, she thought. Her whole body was beginning to tingle and she longed to turn around in his arms and capture his mouth in a kiss of wild abandon. Dispondently, she realized even if she had the courage to do such a thing, right now, she lacked the physical capability to move with any 'abandon' and her passionate kiss would probably hurt his already sore mouth.

"Oh well," she sighed, not realizing she had actually voiced her resignation until he responded.

"Do you want me to stop?"

She felt something close to panic surge through her at his suggestion, but her rationality quickly snuffed it out. "Not really, but maybe you should." It feels too good. You feel too good. Damn it all.

He stepped back and she forced her attention on getting their dinner started and off of his warm, strong hands.

"Thank you, Vincent. That made me feel....better."

"You're welcome." He sighed, concerned, feeling like he hadn't really done anything to help her. "How are you going to manage when you can barely move?"

Diana half shrugged. "I'll be fine. Really. This is nothing new to me. I've always had a tempermental back." She looked over at him and smiled. "I called my sister, Susan, and she is coming tomorrow morning. She'll stay a few days to help me. She's been through this with me before."

Vincent was looking at her rather unhappily, but Diana wasn't sure if it was from concern, regret, or sympathy. She turned around again, a little too quickly, and winced in pain. She grabbed at her back, her eyes watering, and took a deep ragged breath.

Vincent put his arm around her shoulders. "Come on," he urged and began slowly guiding her from the kitchen area. "You need to lie down."

Diana started to protest. "No, Vincent. If I lie down, I'll never be able to get back up. Besides, I'm almost as hungry as you are and that tortellini is not going to fix itself."

Pointedly ignoring her protests, he led her to the sofa and began piling pillows and cushions against the arm.

"Sit then. But rest. I'll make dinner."

Diana looked startled. "No. I couldn't."

"Sit now," he told her and pointed at the end of the sofa with all the cushions. "And don't argue with me," he commanded in the same tone of voice he used on unruly children.

Diana knew she had lost this battle before it had begun. Resigned, she let him help her sit down and slowly eased her back into the cushions. She watched him carefully arrange the pillows around her for optimum comfort, pausing to touch her cheek affectionately before turning towards the kitchen. Diana reached up and grabbed his hand before he got out of her reach. He looked at her, his expression open and anticipating.

"You're sweet," she whispered and felt more tears well in her eyes; but this time not from the pain in her back, but the pain in her heart. She was so in love with him. How could she ever tell him how she truly felt? "Thanks for caring," she said and sniffed.

He squeezed her hand and tilted his head slightly to the side. It was his most innocently charming gesture and Diana adored it.

"You sound surprised," he stated quietly. "You shouldn't be. Of course I care for you. Apparently more than you think."

Diana's heart skittered, then began pounding heavily inside her. She watched him, mesmerized, as he slipped out of his cloak and draped it over her, tucking it in around her. He offered her a fleeting smile and silently retreated into the kitchen.

Diana buried her face in the supple leather and took a deep breath. She smiled, relishing its softness, its warm weight lying against her, and its heady scent. It made her feel as though he had just wrapped his body around her and she gazed over at him in the kitchen and allowed herself the luxury of a brief but highly erotic fantasy.

Suddenly, Vincent all but dropped the pan he was holding. He clutched it to his chest and his eyes shot up to Diana. She merely laughed at his rather uncharacteristic clumsiness, not really giving much thought to it. He looked away from her and set the pan carefully on the stove.

"Nice recovery," she teased.

He looked up at her again, opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it and turned away towards the refrigerator.

With a flicker of concern, a thought occured to her. "Vincent?"


"Do you even know how to cook?"

He was hidden behind the refrigerator door. "A little."

Diana didn't think that sounded very confident. "You don't have to make the tortellini," she told him, reassuringly.

He closed the refrigerator and placed the package of fresh basil on the counter. "But you deserve it," he replied, overly sincere.

Diana blushed slightly. "No, really. I don't want you to go to any trouble." He appeared to be too absorbed in what he was doing to acknowledge her. Either that or he was blatantly ignoring her again. "I can have something delivered. I can call Henry at the restaurant. I don't have any money, so I can't pay him now, but I'm sure he'll take pity on us and be willing to accept an IOU. Considering. I know you like Chinese food." Vincent still did not answer. "It's soft," she continued hopefully.

Finally, Vincent looked up, exasperated.

"Relax, Diana. You told me exactly what to do. It's hardly beyond my capabilities." He narrowed his eyes, the hint of a smile on his lips. "I'm already off to a better start than you were."

Feigning insult, Diana tried to sound cross. "I see you are back to being sarcastic." But that's all right, she thought. I can handle your sarcasm a lot better than your tenderness.


As nice as it was to be sitting, snuggled under Vincent's cloak, Diana felt uncomfortable making him do everything for her when he more than likely had just stopped by for a chat.

She pried her eyes off of him and looked around the living area, trying to find something else to hold her interest. The red power light on her stereo receiver caught her attention and she got an idea for something she could do.

"Do you want me to put on some music?" She was already struggling to get up, but Vincent was beside her in the blink of an eye.

"Don't get up!" he told her. "I'll do it."

Diana reluctantly settled back into the cushions as Vincent turned his attention on the tower of components that made up Diana's system.

"It's already on," she explained. "There's a cd in the player. Just hit 'play.' It's the button on the right with the little arrow--"

Vincent faced her, amused. "Diana. I can read." He gestured at the stereo. "On. Off. Play. Skip. Pause. Stop." He shrugged. "See?"

Diana grinned and lowered her eyes, a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry. It's just that this whole scenario is kind of strange. You and technology. It's like an oxymoron. It's not that I don't have any confidence in your abilities. I know you are highly intelligent and capable. It's just so different for me watching you do all this. More often than not, you are just an observer."

He turned back to the stereo. "You must come and spend a day with me below when you are better. You'd be amazed at all the things I actually do."

"You mean I would be the observer then? I think I would like that, alot." She smiled affectionately at him. "Vincent, nothing about you amazes me anymore. You're like Christmas morning to me. Just one delightful surprise after the other." Her words apparently touched him. Even with his back turned to her, she could see his reaction. He straightened and stood frozen momentarily, considering what she had just told him. Then he took a deep breath and resumed what he was doing as if she'd said nothing at all.

"If you need anything," Vincent said quietly, "Let me know." Soft strains of piano playing floated up from the speakers and drifted out into the room. Vincent turned to face her with a rather smug expression, then stalked back into the kitchen.

Diana sighed, leaning her head back. She pulled the cloak tighter around her shoulders and closed her eyes. She listened to him move about the kitchen, enjoying the sound of that more than the music. Pans dinged, drawers were opened, water was run. She felt almost grateful to her injured back, knowing it had been responsible for the events which had unfolded this evening.

"Are you finding everything okay?" Diana looked over at him but his back was to her and from her angle, she couldn't tell what he was doing. "Do you need any help in there?" He wouldn't answer her and she wondered if he was ignoring her. "Vincent?" She tried to push herself forward, determined to get up. "Vincent?" She didn't want to be in here while he was in there. Even if he wouldn't let her do anything, she wanted to at least be able to watch him. Her back began to protest with sharp, stabbing pains that rendered her immobile. She gasped and swore and tried to shift back against the cushions but that motion caused even more pain. "Vincent! I'm stuck!"

He turned around finally and strode into the living room, drying his hands on a towel. He sighed when he saw her and shook his head.

"What are you trying to do exactly, get up or sit back?" he asked, unsure of just how to assist her.

"I want to get up," she told him, resolutely. "I don't want to sit anymore."

Positioning himself directly in front of her, Vincent sighed and stretched out his hands to help her up.

Diana noticed he had pushed up his sleeves to his elbows while working in the kitchen, revealing his shapely and rather hairy forearms. She tried not to stare, knowing it would most likely make him self-conscious. But since he so seldom exposed even his arms, her eyes were drawn to them and she couldn't help but want to get a good long look. Purposefully, she grasped his wrists rather than his hands so she could touch his bare arms.

Effortlessly, Vincent pulled her to her feet and held onto her as she steadied herself.

"Were you uncomfortable sitting?" he asked.

"No. I just want to help you," she stated and started towards the kitchen.

Vincent released her and put his hands on his hips. "There's nothing to do at this point. The sauce is simmering and I was just waiting for the water to boil."

"Did you remember the basil?"

He nodded.

Chagrinned, she sighed. "Got it all under control then, huh?"

"I have all the dinner preparations under control, yes. I was just about to put down the place settings when you called for me. You were out of forks, so I washed some. Diana, it's nothing I can't handle and I'm truly happy to help because I want you to rest tonight." He sighed heavily. "You're as hyperactive and stubborn as Jacob. Can't you just sit and let someone take care of you for a change?"

Diana lowered her eyes. "Of course I can. That's why I called Susan this afternoon. To have her come and take care of me." She shrugged slightly. "But with you, it feels like I'm taking advantage--"

"But you're hurt," he reasoned. "And you've done no less for me in the past."

Diana smiled. "That was different. You were dying. I'm hardly dying." She became serious again, reaching out to rub her hand over one of those irresistable arms of his. "Besides, I don't want to be in here while you're in there. I want to be where you are," she continued in a small hesitant voice.

"Ah," Vincent replied. "If you agree to sit back down, I'll sit in here with you until the water is ready for the pasta. All right?"

"Deal," she agreed and took his offered hand. He helped her settle back onto the sofa, then he sat carefully beside her,stretching his long legs out in front of him and placing his arm along the top of the cushions. She smiled warmly, pleased that he was able to feel so relaxed in her loft. In the past year or so he had become considerably more confident and at ease; with her and in her home, and had no qualms about making himself comfortable here. Tonight had marked another milestone with him having adroitly taken over her kitchen.

He gazed contentedly back at her, his exotic blue eyes sparkling.

"For someone who went to the dentist this afternoon, you seem to be in fine temperment," Diana noted.

"Am I?" he inquired, then half shrugged. "It is nice to have a night off," he went on to explain.


"Free," he sighed.

Diana grinned. "Is Jacob with Father?"

"No. Jacob has a tendency to run Father into the ground," Vincent said with a rather toothy smile. "I left him with Brooke. She's young enough to be able to keep up with him." He looked away from Diana briefly, concentrating, then smiled wider. "He must be sleeping now. I feel his contentment. Nothing but peace. All is right with his world...for the moment."

"So you get a night off and you came to visit me? I'm flattered," Diana said, half-jokingly. Then with complete sincerity, she said, "I'm glad you like to come here."

Vincent took a deep breath. "I didn't just happen by. I came to you tonight, specifically. I wanted to see you. I wanted to talk with you." He touched her hair, rubbing a fiery red lock slowly between his thumb and forefinger, savoring it's silkiness. "I like it here. I truly enjoy your company." He paused, sighing heavily. "But it's more than that, Diana, I have something to tell---" He stopped talking abruptly and looked away.

"What's wrong? Is it Jacob?" Diana asked.

Vincent slowly turned to face her. "No. The water is boiling. I can hear it." He stood up and held out his hand to her. "Do you want to come with me?"

Sighing, frustrated at the untimely interruption, Diana took his hand and pulled herself up.

"I'll set the table," she announced and gingerly toddled over to the kitchen for plates. Vincent busied himself over the stove with the tortellini, stirring the sauce and adjusting the heat levels.

Diana went to the table and began laying out the plates and silver, taking time to butterfly fold the napkins. She looked around. All she had for candles were a couple of half melted beeswax pillars, but they would have to do. She wasn't about to have dinner with Vincent and not have candles lit.

Vincent came up behind her quietly, looking over her shoulder as she struck a match and held it to the already blackened wicks.

"It looks lovely, Diana," he breathed into her ear, jolting her heart into double time.

".....Thanks." She glanced behind her. "Really. Thanks for everything. Seems like it hasn't been such a bad day for me after all. Not since you've been here, anyhow."

She turned her head and looked back at him, sighing appreciatively at the sight which met her eyes. His face, now heavily shadowed, was softened by the muted glow of the candles, pleasingly framed by his long honey-colored hair. He was looking at her with undisguised fondness, and suddenly, unexpectedly, he wrapped his arms around her and laid his cheek against the top of her head. She heard and felt him take a long, deep breath, as if inhaling the essence of her hair. She closed her eyes, willing herself to melt into him, basking in his strength and warmth.

Silently, he held her to him, unmoving for a minute or so, then just as suddenly, he released her and slipped back into the kitchen.

Diana looked longingly after him, wishing fervently she knew what he had been thinking while holding her. Wishing she had the courage to tell him how wonderful his arms felt around her. She turned stiffly, and refocused her attention on the table.


This dinner had all the potential for romance, Diana mused. Music, candlelight, tortellini, and Vincent. What else could she possibly need?

"Ah! The wine!" she said to herself and crossed the kitchen to the refridgerator where the bottle of lambrusco she had purchased last week was still chilling.

Vincent looked up at her and raised an eyebrow in intrigue as he watched her set the bottle on the countertop and opened the cupboard to get down two crystal wine goblets.

"If I would have known beforehand that this was going to be a formal dinner, I would have dressed more appropriately," he teased. Diana gave him a quick sour look, knowing he was really poking fun at the oversized tee shirt and sweatpants she was wearing.

"Chez Bennett has no dress code, Monsieur. Come as you are," she smirked and busied herself opening the wine.

Vincent laughed. Diana paused to listen. The rare sound sent a delightful tingle throughout her body.

"Touche' la belle," he retorted. He turned and gestured at the tortellini on the stove. "I believe it's ready."

Diana gestured at the cabinet to her left. "There's a serving bowl in there. Just throw it all together and bring it to the table."


Diana had just finished pouring the wine, when Vincent brought in a half a loaf of french bread and the bowl of tortellini, smothered in sauce and sprigs of fresh basil, just the way Diana liked it.

Diana couldn't help but smile. It looked and smelled delicious.

"I hope," Vincent began. "I've done your recipe justice. Is it supposed to look like this?"

"Yes. It's perfect. I couldn't have done it better myself," Diana reassured him. He stepped behind her and pulled out her chair for her and helped her ease into it. "Haven't you ever had tortellini before?"

He shook his head slowly and seated himself across from her. Diana smiled and picked up her glass.

"Here's to dining in," she toasted.

Vincent smiled. They touched glasses, the crystal dinging elegantly. They locked eyes and sipped the lambrusco simultaneously.

"I hope, after having to cook this meal, you'll be able to eat it," Diana told him quietly, watching him.

He placed his hand over his empty stomach and sighed. "I do too." He looked at the plate before him and speared a single tortellini. Cautiously, he placed it in his mouth and bit down. He chewed slowly, paused, then looked pleasantly surprised. "That's delicious."

Diana was relieved. "It doesn't hurt?"

"Nothing I can't tolerate. Then I might have overcooked them." He gestured at her plate. "What do you think?"

Diana realized she had yet to eat any. She forced her eyes off of Vincent and looked at her own plate. She sampled it anxiously and nodded. "Mmmm. No. It's just the way I like it."

He looked up at her, his eyes twinkling, and sighed, pleased. "You're not just being kind, are you?" He leaned forward and passed her a slice of bread.

"No," she replied. "Honest." She paused and took a sip of wine. "William would be proud of you." I'm proud of you too, Diana thought to herself. Just knowing that Vincent had cooked this meal for her seemed to make it taste better than if she had made it herself. Taking a quick sip of wine, she peered over her glass at him and smiled. The reflection of the candles in the crystal and the slowly swaying shadows the flames cast over the table, gave their dinner together a dream-like ambiance. Diana wondered when she would be waking up.

The remainder of the meal was spent in relative silence. Vincent was too busy savoring each bite and Diana was too busy thinking. She could feel herself falling even more in love with him than she already was because of tonight. She let herself hope that maybe his feelings for her might intensify a little as well. Everytime Diana looked at him now, her heart began beating wildly and she thought he would certainly sense the shift in her emotions, even though she tried desparately to suppress it. She didn't know how much longer she'd be able to keep it from him when her love seemed to be growing with each passing second. Vincent glanced up at her and smiled easily, but didn't seem to be aware of her inner struggle.

He leaned back in his chair and gestured at the empty plate on the table.

"That was really very good. It was very different from anything I've ever had before," he was saying. "It's very rich."

"I'm glad you liked it," she told him. "I'm glad you were able to eat."

He smiled slightly. "Thank you for inviting me to dine with you."

Diana lowered her eyes and mopped up sauce with the last of the french bread. "Your welcome....anytime." She suddenly felt disappointment settle over her as she began to realize this evening was all too quickly coming to an end. "So you...will probably be leaving soon?"

"Soon," he echoed, laying the napkin alongside his plate. He casually pushed his hair back over his left shoulder and then absently traced the stem of the wine glass with a long curved nail in contemplation. He looked like he wanted to say more, but remained silent, his eyes fixed on the goblet.

"This has been really nice," Diana started hesitantly. "Having you over for dinner like this. It was kind of like a date," she grinned. "Maybe we could do it again sometime? I'll even cook."

Vincent shrugged. "Or, we could always call Henry at the restaurant and order Chinese food."

Diana's smile grew. "Maybe." At least he didn't say no, she thought. She scooted back her chair and bracing her hands on the arms, tried to stand up.

Vincent rose to assist her. Diana gestured towards the living room and they started off in that general direction.

"I want you to rest now," Vincent told her, leading her to the sofa. "I'll clean up. I don't want you to have to do anything."

Diana made a face at him. "No. Just leave it. It's not going anywhere and my sister will be in tomorrow. She'll take care of it. I don't want you to spend the rest of your time here, doing my dishes."

"Diana, it won't take me long," Vincent explained. "Besides, I didn't intend to leave...just yet."

She thought again about what he was going to tell her before. Maybe he wasn't going to leave until he had finished explaining why he was here tonight. She wasn't about to let him delay further by cleaning up.

"Look, if you are worried about me cleaning up after you go, don't. I'm too achy to do dishes. Right now, I think I want to lie down. Get settled in for the night." He sighed heavily and looked back at her, a mixture of emotions darkening his eyes. "What's wrong?" Diana asked quietly.

Vincent took her hand and squeezed it softly. "I'm worried about you. I don't like to see you hurting like this and I know you are in more pain than you say," he said, his silky, lispy voice laced with concern. He gazed at her piercingly; searching her feelings. "I know too you are trying to hide your pain from me, why?"

Diana took a deep breath. She looked at him longingly. She wondered if he was actually sensing the pain in her heart. It ached ten times more than her stiff back. She wanted to just open herself to him and let her thoughts and emotions become one with his. She wanted to let her love for him blaze forth into his heart and consume him with its intensity. But she didn't dare. She had his friendship. She wasn't about to jeopardize that.

"Vincent, I'll be fine, really," she told him softly and tried to smile. "I don't want you to worry about me. Please just help me lie down, before you go." He still looked troubled and his expression showed he didn't find much consolation in her reassuring words. She tried to think of some way to ease the sudden tension between them.

"Do you want me to take you to bed?" he offered.

Diana began to shake her head, then stopped and grinned mischieviously. "Well there's an offer that's hard to refuse, but don't you think we would get more out of it if you could wait until my back heals?"

She could tell by his blank expression and the slight tilting of his head that her suggestive statement hadn't registered with him yet. C'mon Vincent, don't disappoint me, she urged him mentally and allowed an inkling of her truthful desire for him to surface. Suddenly his eyes widened and he stared back at her surprised.

"Diana!" He dropped his eyes to the floor, as a hint of a smile played on his lips. "I can hardly believe what I'm sensing in you at the moment," he admitted, shaking his head.

Diana couldn't help but laugh. He seemed adorably embarrassed. "I'm teasing you. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

He looked up at her. The crease between his fair arched brows deepened. "Really?"

"Of course!" she quickly assured him. She thought she heard a hint of disappointment in his voice, but knew that couldn't be possible and dismissed it. She gestured at the floor space behind the sofa. "No, I don't want to lie down in bed, I want to lie down right there."

Vincent followed her gaze. "The floor?"

She nodded. "In my experience, it does wonders for a sore back."

He considered it. "I'll have to try it myself, sometime."

She smiled. "Just give me time to go brush my teeth."

He nodded and watched her disappear into the bathroom. He walked to her bedroom and pulled off her comforter and pillow and brought them into the living room. He stood waiting, thinking about everything that he and Diana had done tonight, and talked about, and what he thought he had sensed in her. She was complex beyond his understanding and sometimes he felt he didn't really know her at all. He wanted to. He knew his heart had changed towards her in the slow course of their friendship and the sense he had of her was growing, but still fledgling at best. He wished he could be certain of what he knew. What he felt. Perhaps the time had come to simply ask her what he needed to know and tell her, what he hoped she wanted to hear.

Diana smiled, seeing Vincent standing in the middle of the floor, clutching her pillow and comforter to him in such a way, he looked like a small insecure child instead of the usual imposing figure he was.

"Thanks," she said.

He merely nodded and placed his bundle over the back of the sofa. She took ahold of his outstretched hands. "Careful," he told her as she slowly descended to a prone position on the floor. She straighten out flat, lying on her back and sighed with relief.

Kneeling, Vincent took the comforter and placed it over her, tucking it in at her sides and around her feet. He slipped his large hand behind her neck, cradling her head forward as he placed the pillow beneath it with considerable tenderness. He sat back on his heels and looked down at her.

Her bright red hair fanned out against the pillow in an attractive disarray. She was gazing up at him with those huge blue eyes, heavily shadowed; so lovely and alluring. Her smooth complexion reminded him of cream and coral roses and her pale delicate lips were parted slightly, invitingly. Vincent had to force himself to look away. He didn't want to make her feel uncomfortable by staring at her. Tonight had been wonderful, he thought. He quickly decided he didn't want to spoil it by confronting her and risking what could be a devastating rejection.

"Goodnight...Diana," he breathed shakily.

Diana's heart sank. She tried hard not to let him see, or feel, her obvious disappointment his impending departure caused. She stretched out her hand towards him and he caught it between both of his, then touched it to his cheek, letting it brush his lips lightly before releasing it again.

"....Goodnight," Diana whispered, surprised and confused by his profound display of affection and like the unexpected embrace earlier this evening, the unspoken passion behind it. There was a perceivable tension between them once more, but Diana knew this was different from the one before. The air around them was charged with an energy and an intensity she couldn't comprehend. Was this her imagination? Did he feel it too? His mood and manner was different than before. He was brooding, uncertain, and hesitant. She could feel it in him as though his emotions had suddenly become tangible. Once again, she sought to reassure him and ease the pressure of the moment. "I want to thank you...for taking care of me tonight." She took a deep breath, staring deeply into his beautiful blue eyes. "Oh Vincent, I love you," she said before she could stop herself. She could tell by the look on his face that she'd startled him and added quickly, "You're such a good friend."

Vincent swayed back from her as if he had been struck. He looked away, his expression now was unreadable. He placed his hands on his thighs and leaned forward, his head so low, his hair fell forward obscuring his face.

"Yes, of course. As a friend," he whispered, not actually directing his statement specifically at Diana. He sat back suddenly and closed his eyes tightly.

Diana didn't understand. "What? What is it? Talk to me."

He shook his head slowly.

"Vincent, you were going to tell me something... you came here tonight to tell me something. What is it? Don't you dare tell me you don't remember it, either."

He opened his eyes. He looked defeated. "I remember," he sighed.

Diana reached out and covered his hand with hers. Her fingers closed around his and she squeezed tightly. "Please. We have to talk to each other. This trying to gauge each other through sensed emotions is not working. It's not strong enough. It's too new to both of us. It leaves too many unanswered questions and it isn't painting the whole picture."

"I know. I was wrong to rely on it the way I did. With you. Your feelings. It led me to believe something I know now is not true. Not to the depth I thought it was...hoped it could be." His words were spilling from him in a jumble of heartwrenching confessions, not really making any sense to Diana.

Diana tugged at his hand. "Come here." He resisted at first, but then his sheer need to be close to her overcame his hesitation and he slowly sank to the floor beside her, settling on his side, laying his head on his arm. He looked at her unhappily, regret shadowing his eyes. Diana stroked the side of his face, combing her fingers through his hair, soothingly. "Tell me what you are thinking."

He took a deep ragged breath. "I was going to tell you about a dream of mine. One I hadn't had in a long time."

"A dream?" Diana frowned. He could be so frustratingly vague sometimes. "All right. Tell me about this dream."

He shook his head slowly. "Now is not the right time. The dream was based on a misconception."

"Why do you say that?"

"It was not founded in truth, in facts. Only the hopes and longings from the heart of someone who perhaps dreams too much."

"But how do you know the truth?" Diana shifted her position until she was on her side, facing him and inched as close to him as she could get. Her heart began pounding inside her. She thought she was beginning to understand what he was trying to say. She hoped and prayed she was not wrong. She continued running her fingers slowly through his hair. His handsome face lay mere irresistible inches from hers. "If you tell me your dream, I will tell you mine," she said. She wanted so badly to kiss him. To wrap her love around his troubled heart and take away all his doubts and fears and uncertainty. He deserved her honesty and she suddenly needed him to know how she truly felt about him. To hide her love from him anymore would be an impossiblity.

Vincent was staring into her eyes. He looked confused. He stilled her hand by taking it in his and holding it against his chest. "Very well," he agreed. "I'll tell you my dream. But you must be as forthcoming with your dream as well."

She nodded readily.

He dropped his eyes from hers momentarily. "I began to sense in you...a stirring of feelings. I would get glimpses of your heart now and then. The feelings were strong when I felt them, so I didn't dismiss their sincerity. I was only left to wonder as to their true nature. But it wasn't based on perceptions of emotions alone. There was a certain look, or touch. Whenever you touched me or whenever I touched you. It was there. I was certain. So I dreamed. I hoped. I laid my heart open to a new realm of possibilities. Letting my own feelings merge into these dreams, perhaps diluting what I felt was so certain in you. My need obscured the truth, however. In the end, I saw something that was not really there. Not in the way I wanted it to be."

Diana sighed. Tears of joy began welling in her eyes as she knew now without a doubt what he was telling her. He loved her and he wanted her to love him too. She hadn't been able to hide her feelings from him after all. He had known all along. But why did he doubt it now, when it was pouring from her heart like a raging river? She leaned her head forward and nuzzled his forehead. She couldn't resist placing a tiny kiss between his eyes.

He inhaled sharply and seemed to quiver beneath her lips.

"Tell me your dream," he breathed, barely audible.

"My dream, it would seem, has come true," she started, swallowing hard. "I dreamed, that someday, this extraordinary being who came into my life so suddenly, so vulnerable and so powerful at the same time, would find in his vast heart, a small piece to spare for me. I've been completely swept off my feet by the purity of his love and his passion. His innocence and intelligence. His sweet, gentle soul." A tear rolled down her cheek, glistening against her skin in the dim light of the room. Vincent reached up and carefully traced the trail of wetness it left on her face.

"Love?" he said simply. Diana nodded.

"Why do you doubt it? Search my heart now. I won't push you away. I want you to know how much I love you."

"The love shared between friends?" he began abruptly. Then in a soft, weary voice, he continued. "I don't mean to belittle that sort of love. It can be quite beautiful and just as strong, but in a different kind of way. If that is the love you offer me, I welcome it. With all my heart. But I was feeling something more, however. For you. I thought you were feeling something more for me."

Diana sighed, frustrated. "Oh Vincent. Is it because of what I said? About you being my friend?"

"...After you said you loved me."

Diana smiled slowly. "That's because I was being a coward. I wasn't sure you would welcome what I truly felt. Let me assure you, your empathic sense of my love was right on the mark. Come into my heart, Vincent. Feel the reality of the love that overwhelms me. You'll find I'm very much in love with you. I've been in love with you...for a long time now."

His eyes suddenly lit with an inner spark. "Diana...Then what I sensed was true," he stated. "You do love me." He felt it clearly now, but he wanted to hear her say it as well.

"I love you," she responded without hesitation.

For the first time in quite awhile, he smiled. "That was the reason I came here tonight. What I wanted to tell you before," he paused and tried to organize his thoughts. "Father and I had a long talk last night. I told him many things. Things that I felt and knew and wanted, and he was rather encouraging. It filled my heart with such joy. Just to have acknowledged it. I told Father the impressions I had felt in you. That there was a chance we were falling in love. He wisely advised me to see you tonight, to tell you, that I was in love with you too."

"Vincent." Diana smiled and cupped his face in her hand. "Like you, I dared to dream."

"You commented on my fine temperment earlier," he recalled. "Now you know why. I'm in love."

Diana's smile broadened. "Apparently, love for you works as well as nitrous oxide."

Vincent chuckled deeply. "It would seem so. My heart had taken flight. Nothing could bring me down today. Not even seeing the dentist."

"When can I see you again?" Diana asked.

"How long is your sister staying?"

"For the rest of the week. Or until my back lets me function normally again. Whichever comes first."

He sighed. "I wish I could stay with you. I could take care of you. I don't want to have to leave you now."

"I know. I don't want you to," she confessed, her eyes so full of love, reflecting the love in his. "Maybe Susan will leave sooner. I'll throw her out if I have to."

Vincent smiled. He leaned forward, taking her chin in his hand, and touched his lips to hers in a faint whisper of a kiss. A mere hinting of promises yet to come. It sent chills racing all over Diana's body and slowly the world around her seemed to dissolve away. His kiss was exquisitely tender but full of passion. Diana knew in that instant everything that ever had been or ever would be was suddenly changed and her life was never going to be the same.

"Goodnight, Diana," he sighed. "Sleep well."

"Goodnight, Vincent." She watched him rise and retrieve his cloak from the sofa where she had left it. He flung it across his shoulders and turned.

"I love you, Diana."

She smiled brightly. "I love you, Vincent."



Susan was puttering about in the kitchen, cleaning up, while Diana sat propped up on the sofa surrounded by pillows.

"So who did you entertain last night?" she inquired.

Diana hadn't even thought to clear away the extra place setting. Now the fact that she had not been alone was glaringly obvious.

"Oh, just a friend," she answered quickly and winced inwardly, knowing that was the one word that had almost cost her everything.

Susan came out from around the island, brows raised and eyed the table suspiciously.

"Wine, candles," she listed. "Must have been some friend." She began clearing off the table, much to Diana's dismay. She was had been enjoying herself looking at it and remembering.

"I wouldn't have thought you were up to having company last night, the way you sounded on the phone yesterday."

Diana was trying to sound nonchalant.

"Oh, I wasn't really. But he just showed up. I had to feed him." She tried to think of some other subject to talk about, but her mind was so full of Vincent, she wasn't able to.

Susan peered at her sister curiously. "Don't I get any details? Don't I even get a name?"

Diana avoided her eyes and tried not to smile. "All right. It was Joe Maxwell. He was worried about me with my back out and all." It didn't sound very convincing to Diana, but Susan seemed satisfied.

"Is something brewing between you two that I don't know about?" she asked skeptically. "I know you don't share your tortellini with just anyone."

"Can we talk about something else please," Diana said at last. "It was a casual little dinner." She hated lying. She really was no good at it.

Susan stopped while clearing the table suddenly and seemed to be scrutinizing something beside one of the wine goblets. Diana watched her, wondering what it was she was looking at.

Carefully, Susan reached down and picked up what appeared to be nothing. She held it up to her eyes between her thumb and forefinger.

"Well what have we here?" Susan began, giving her sister a sideways glance.

"I have no idea," Diana said truthfully.

"Since when does Joe Maxwell have long blonde hair?"

Diana gasped. "Let me have that!" she blurted.

Susan brought it to her warily and Diana took it with a delighted smile. It was a single strand of Vincent's hair. Thick and glossy and as luxuriant as a silk thread. Diana spied her sister's expression and hurried to explain.

"Oh, that's where I sat. It's one of mine."

Susan laughed and watched Diana lovingly stroke the hair and wind it around her finger. "You're so full of it, Diana. Since when do you have blonde hair?"

"Oh, there's a few here and there."

"Uh huh." Susan didn't believe her for a minute. "Just promise me, one day, before the wedding, you'll at least tell me his name."

Diana grinned. Her mind was off and running and she began conjuring up all kinds of fun images. "Deal. Before the wedding. I'll tell you his name. I might even introduce you."