Debbie Ristick

First she was adrift, happily trapped in a shimmering, almost magical world, and neither awake nor asleep. She felt safe, protected by the warmth of this world, surrounding her like some imaginary cocoon. More than this, she felt a supreme sense of security, for the love she had always imagined lay inside of Vincent had finally been shown, given to her like the most wonderful gift you received at Christmas. He had been wonderful: hesitant, shy - but incredible, powerful - and she gloried in the atmosphere in which their love had left her mind.

The bed where she lay was warm, and though her mind slowly strayed toward full consciousness, she kept her eyes closed, basking in the afterglow of a passion long awaited, long denied, but finally tasted. Finally, her green eyes opened, and her mind slowly focused in on her quite familiar, yet somehow different, surroundings.

The bedroom was quiet; even the usually noisy clock ticking on her bedside table was doing its best to insure she was not disturbed. It was genuinely peaceful, very early - somewhere close to dawn, she decided - and the moon was full, beaming its brilliant light over the shadows of her balcony. The lightweight curtains hanging around her French doors fluttered, powerless against the gentle whisper of wind finding its way into the room. Aside from those faint sounds and motions, the mysterious darkness of night encircled her, as did the memory of the beautiful dream that had just awakened her.

Catherine smiled; it was a disappointed as well as satisfied grin. The myriad feelings within her were powerful sometimes, and this emotion, this intense longing haunting her now was no exception. Her relationship with Vincent had lasted the better part of three years now - much longer than she had managed to stay with anyone else. Sex was a natural step for two so much in love to take, one she had undertaken before with little thought. Yet even discussing it had caused Vincent to recoil in terror and flee from her side...until tonight.

A sigh escaped her lips as she snuggled beneath the covers. Vincent was shy, naive. He wouldn't - no, couldn't, she corrected herself, allow this passion between them to keep them apart, nor could he allow it to reach fulfillment. Instead, he endured - as did she - the sweet pain of being together. And after that, all she had left were her fantasies. In them she never lost what she most wanted. In them, she always got what she desired: Vincent.

The dream had begun so innocently, she recalled, pushing the pillow firmly under her head. Vincent had appeared on the balcony, and together they sat against the wall, sharing a small supper she had prepared, sipping on a fine wine, lost in the hauntingly romantic lines of Shelley. The Indian Serenade was one of her favorites and, when read with Vincent's sincerity and passion, her heart would skip a beat. The tenderness in his strong voice caused her to melt inside. She told him.

He didn't say anything at first, so she sighed, trying not to feel the frustration building in her, and rested her head on his solid, well-muscled shoulder. At the contact, she felt a moment's hesitation from him; he stopped reading. After several seconds, his arm slid around her and she was pulled closer to his enticing warmth. Unable to control her emotions or the bond conveying them to Vincent, she relaxed, knowing there was nothing more she could do. He had to know.

He did, for only a moment later, Vincent took a deep breath. With a groan, he turned to her, the intense longing he was feeling for her written plainly on his face.

Hopeful she had finally made some headway, Catherine smiled encouragement, offering her love and acceptance of his desire. ''His response, and at the thought she sighed softly, was worth everything.''

''It was beautiful, she whispered to herself. The memory of his surrender and his recognition of their longing was something she would never forget. At first, he was almost childlike, a shyness about him making him irresistible. A wicked grin crossed her face. Once the intensity of the feelings he aroused in them both became clear, he had changed. Yes, he had been reserved, even timid at times, but he had been a lover, skilled beyond comprehension by the bond connecting them. He gave her everything, took what he deserved, then smiled in wonder before slipping into a peaceful and well-deserved sleep on the bed next to her.

With a dispirited frown, Catherine sighed. Why did it have to be a dream?

Forced to face her sad reality, Catherine shivered; the dream and all it meant faded away as though it had never been. A tear trickled down her cheek at the injustice of it all. What existed between them was something special: a remarkable, incredibly intense love begging to be fulfilled. Why was it like this? Why were they forced to endure this separateness? Why was it possible for them to achieve so much in their lives, but never what they were destined for?

Sitting up quickly, Catherine trembled, unable to stop the tears falling down her cheeks.

She would never have another love - never! Vincent was the one, and she knew he felt the same. They were together in this pain and carried the burden of it together - she knew that, but it was Vincent who had chosen this path. Vincent who accepted the agony accompanying it, refusing to give in to all he felt. He had to know how unfair he was! They belonged together, were meant for one another, perhaps now more than ever before. Their love kept them alive. No! It gave them life!

A ragged sob left her lips, uncontrollable and overpowering in its intensity. The dream had been a haven. Why did she have to wake up? Falling back on her pillow, she convulsed in the anguish overtaking her, not caring anymore about what he might feel from her through the bond.

Feather-soft fingers reached out to her, caressing her bared shoulder and Catherine jumped, whirling around to look into Vincent's sleep-filled eyes. "What is it?" he whispered hoarsely, his concern evident. "What’s wrong?" he added, uncertain what else to do, and uneasy about the jumbled emotions flowing to him through their bond.

Disbelief covered her face, followed closely by a startling and unbelievable realization.

Was it possible? ''Vincent'', she said, breathing his name in wonder. "You're really here?"

With a smile, he raised his trembling hand to her cheek, wiping away the stream of tears coursing down her face. ''Yes, Catherine,'' he said, his voice soft and filled with love. "I have been for several hours now."

"Then," she began hesitatingly, her heart pounding, ''it was real - it really happened?'' An imperceptible nod brought her swiftly into his arms, and the tears began again.

Sensing her relief, Vincent held her tighter, stroking her hair and kissing her cheek.

"I thought," she cried softly, trying to explain, "It was just another dream. I couldn't live with that anymore. I can't live without you in my life, without you close to me...''

"I know," he replied gently. ''You must learn to trust yourself as I have done. And, you must learn to trust in your dreams.'' He smiled almost whimsically. ''Sometimes, Catherine, dreams do come true. I should know, for this very night, my most fervent wish has come true.

As she was pulled firmly into his strong embrace, Catherine sighed, feeling the weight of "a life that could never be" float away, leaving her light with the bright rays of possibilities unexplored.