Valentine's Day Surprise

by Kindra King

Mouse paced nervously back and forth close to the steep edge in the Chamber of the Waterfalls. His patched boots shuffled on the dusty ground, stepping lightly around his raccoon Arthur. The creature delighted in darting in and out of his legs between each step before springing up and latching himself onto Mouse's vest. He'd then climb up to Mouse's shoulder, scramble over the shaggy blonde hair to the other shoulder, only to hop down and start the game over again.

Mouse was used to the animal's rambunctious play and unconsciously avoided stepping on him. Indeed, Arthur's hyperactivity was a reflection of Mouse's own nervousness. He was never good at keeping secrets or hiding surprises, so having to wait to reveal one now was a torment for the wily scavenger. And this was a good surprise. Better than good! Better than Better!

His head snapped around at the sound of approaching footsteps. Finally! He'd sent the message asking Vincent to bring Catherine to this special chamber over an hour ago. Shaking his head and grinning, he realized that this was Valentine's Day after all, so he couldn't blame Vincent for wanting to dawdle with his love.

Hand in hand, Vincent led Catherine into the chamber. Wearing a bright red wool coat and a small wicker basket hanging from the crook of one arm, Catherine was a warm and welcome flash of color against the dark rock walls. They stood still for a long moment, taking in the majestic view of the thunderous waterfalls. Catherine tightened her grip on Vincent's hand, sighing, "Each time I see them is more breathtaking than the last!"

Vincent nodded, captivated by the sparkle of the rushing water and ghostly mist rising from below. "Yes. Though I come here often to reflect and sort out my thoughts, I cannot help but feel humbled next to such a great work of nature."

Mouse could only stand still for a moment longer before rushing to them, his face glowing and his feet shifting with anticipation.

Catherine smiled at his impatience and reached over to give him a quick hug, "Hello, Mouse!" Arthur, perched on Mouse's shoulder, reached out a tiny paw to bat at her hair. Laughing, she gave it a little shake, "Hello to you, too, Arthur!"

Holding her basket in front of her, Catherine opened the lid from a latch at one end. "I think we were stopped by everyone on our way here! Rebecca gave out pink candles, William handed me a few dozen heart-shaped cookies, Mary and the children made dozens of Valentines and, oh yes!" Digging around inside for a moment, she pulled out a large white envelope and handed it to Mouse, "Jamie stopped us on our way here and asked me to give you this."

Eyes wide, Mouse just stared at it for a while before taking it and stuffing it inside his vest, his face beet red.

Vincent smiled knowingly, but decided to take pity on the boy and put a furred hand on his shoulder, "Your message mentioned a surprise?"

Relieved, Mouse's grin widened and he nodded happily, "Big surprise! Gonna love it! Over here!"

Wrapping an arm around Vincent's, Catherine quietly chuckled as they followed him. Walking along the wide path that hugged the rock walls, they followed it as it curved and dipped closer to the thundering waters. One part of the wall jutted out very close to the edge, leaving only a space of about two feet wide to walk along. Mouse scampered easily around it and peered anxiously around at his friends, Arthur clinging to his head, "Over here Catherine!"

Vincent turned the corner first, helping Catherine carefully step around the edge. As boys, Vincent and Devin had spent many an hour investigating this chamber, trying to discover all its secrets, so he knew about the small cave Mouse was evidently leading them to. What kind of surprise could be waiting for them in a small, dark cave? The only things he and Devin had ever found were scattered rocks, fungus on the ceiling, and Swiss cheese-like holes that pocked the walls. What was the boy up to? Vincent grinned to himself. Well, it was one of Mouse's surprises, so it would certainly be interesting, he was sure of that.

Vincent stopped short, halting Catherine beside him, when he noticed a faint glow coming from the cave entrance.

"What is it?" Catherine asked, looking ahead to where Mouse disappeared into a small cave. "Where is he taking us, Vincent?" she smiled up at him.

Vincent explained about his experience with the cave as a boy, but was at a loss to guess what Mouse had done to it now. Catherine tugged him forward, "Well, let's not keep him waiting."

Stepping inside, the couple was quite simply stunned at the sight. The interior, about the size of a small room, was awash in golden candlelight. Inside each of the dozens of wall holes burned a pink candle. A scrubbed ceiling was lined with at least eight long streamers of red and white carnations that had been tied together, each a foot apart. The ends clung to the sidewalls down to the floor. The floor was almost completely covered with red and white carnation petals.

Mouse stood in the middle of the room next to an exquisite large swing. The seat was a thick, two foot long piece of richly polished wood. Large braided ropes with dozens of carnations woven through were attached to each side and stretched up to the ceiling, where they were secured into it with heavy, sturdy metal loops.

"Oh, Mouse..." Catherine whispered, amazed and touched at wondrous sight. She hugged Vincent's arm to her and laid her head against his shoulder, her throat tightening.

Vincent's senses were reeling. The colors were such a beautiful contrast against the gray stone, gleaming in the soft candlelight. The delicate perfume of the flowers filled the small space, made even more fragrant by his heightened sense of smell. To share this moment with the woman he loved and a cherished friend warmed his heart immensely.

"Mouse..." Vincent breathed, indicating the flowers clinging to the walls, "How did you--"

"Easy!" Mouse beamed proudly, setting Arthur on the ground and practically jumping up and down. "Flowers from Mr. Wong's shop. Mary, Olivia, Jamie tied together. Strong, strong glue from Kanin. Swing from Colin. Rebecca made candles. Mouse put everything everywhere! Arthur helped, too!"

They stood there just staring around them. Such a gift from so many wonderful friends!

Catherine couldn't resist embracing Mouse again, her voice raspy with tears, "It's beautiful Mouse. Just beautiful!" She pulled back and kissed his cheek tenderly, "Thank you! There are so many to thank for this!"

Mouse blushed and ducked his head, smiling, "Valentine's Day. Special for people in love. You and Vincent special to us!"

Before they could say anything more, Mouse scooped up Arthur, who was climbing up one of the swing's ropes, shuffled quickly to the door and with a simple "Have fun!" darted out.

Vincent chuckled lightly at the boy's embarrassment and stood next to Catherine, admiring the lovely swing. Catherine touched the soft petals of the carnations and gave the seat a nudge, watching it sway slowly. Smirking, she glanced up at Vincent, "It's been years since I've been on a swing. I remember my mother pushing me on one when I had my ninth birthday party in Central Park."

Vincent nodded, "It must have been an amazing sensation. Devin used to tell me about the swings they played on in the park. Slides and jungle gyms, sandboxes and seesaws - it sounded like the greatest fun in the world!"

Catherine turned startled eyes on him, "You've never been on a swing?"

He shook his head, slightly amused at the shock on her face.

Catherine looked up at the large metal loops, smiling, "It looks sturdy enough. Why don't you try it out?" She took his hand and brought him closer to the swing.

Vincent cocked his head and gave her a shy smile, but sat carefully on the wooden seat. The ropes creaked slightly, but held strong. A few carnation petals had shaken loose and flitted down onto his hair. His unique hands gripped the ropes tightly and his booted feet rocked a little on the floor as he kept his balance. He pushed his feet a tiny bit, making himself sway back and forth very slowly. His bright, laughing eyes met Catherine's, "I can see why Devin and the others liked it so much."

Catherine laughed, "Yes, it's a lot of fun, but you're not really swinging, Vincent."

"No?" Vincent asked, raising one eyebrow.

She shook her head and moved to stand behind him, "No. Now hold on tight and I'll give you a push."

"A push! Catherine, I don't think--"

Feeling delightfully mischievous, Catherine quickly put her hands against his lower back and gave him a small shove. He gasped and gripped the ropes as he went forward. When he came back, she pushed again. Vincent couldn't speak as he sat on the seat, swinging back and forth, each time a little higher as Catherine pushed a little harder. Soon she stood to the side of the swing and used one hand to push as he swung past her.

Looking at his amazed expression, she couldn't help but laugh, a wonderful warmth filling her heart to see the man she loved so much experience such a simple pleasure for the first time. Vincent could feel it in her. It rested side by side with the exhilaration that filled him. Joyous laughter bubbled in his chest and, looking at the delight on Catherine's face, he found he couldn't hold it inside. Smiling widely, a happy laugh burst from his lips.

The sound made Catherine's heart thump hard. Tears came to her eyes as she laughed with him, wrapping her arms around herself, hugging the joy she felt closer to her heart. When she felt she could speak, she advised him to pump his legs with each swing so he could propel himself higher.

He tried it and was lost in the exquisiteness of the moment. It was like flying! Soaring! Slicing through the air, his long golden hair flowing behind him, he could now understand why young Devin couldn't wait to go to the park every day. Devin had always tried to describe swinging on the swings, but couldn't and now Vincent knew why. There were no words. It was marvelous! Glorious!

Again, he felt the warmth of Catherine's love pouring over him and he looked at her. He saw the tears drop from her eyes and immediately stopped pumping his legs. He wasn't sure how to stop, but felt himself slowing down. When he felt it was safe, he touched his boots to the floor and dragged to a stop.

"Catherine...?" he started to stand.

She quickly shook her head and held out a hand to prevent him from getting up, "No, Vincent, I'm all right." She laughed shakily and wiped the tears away stepping close to him, "It's just... the look on your face, Vincent. The joy." She sighed and shrugged her shoulders, "I'm so happy to share this with you!"

Vincent took her hands in his and looked up into her smiling eyes. He realized he should probably feel embarrassed right now, embarrassed by the way he must have looked swinging and laughing like a child, but he didn't. All he could feel was happiness: happiness being with this woman and happiness in sharing this experience with her - this incredible woman who looked at him with such love.

Love. He felt that, too. His heart thumped fiercely with both his love and hers. Would he ever not be so entirely thrilled and humbled to have her heart beating alongside his own? His hands gripped hers tighter and he could not resist the sudden impulse to bring them to his lips and softly kiss her fingers.

"Vincent?" Catherine looked at him in askance, feeling a change in him. A heat leapt into his eyes and her heart jumped, an answering heat flaming in her eyes. Her body leaned even closer to his and her fingers gripped his.

Vincent took a deep breath and broke eye contact for a moment. Catherine held her breath, hoping and praying he wouldn't withdraw from her once again. Not now, Vincent, she thought, Please don't deny this desire we both feel.

He looked back after a long moment and she was relieved to see the heat still there, but muted and controlled. He smiled, "you must take your turn, Catherine." He released her hands and gripped the ropes to stand, but she put her hands on his shoulders and stopped him.

Taking a chance, she gently sat on his lap and wrapped her arms around his torso under his arms. Vincent stiffened for a moment and looked down at her. The warmth in her eyes, her smile and the love that he felt from her made him relax and smile back. He rocked his feet against the floor, swinging slowly, rhythmically. Catherine closed her eyes and snuggled closer, her forehead resting against the warm skin of his throat.

Vincent could feel her contentment and sighed happily. Resting his cheek against her silky hair, he let go of the ropes and put his arms around her. Time seemed to stand still for them as they held onto each other, swaying back and forth, floating in the sweet sensation.

"Will you be my Valentine, Vincent?" Catherine smiled, moving one hand to rest against his chest, right above his heart. She could feel it thumping strong against her palm.

Vincent chuckled softly and kissed her hair, "Always, Catherine. Always yours."

The End