reading to the
children “The Night Before Christmas,” one of his favorite festive stories. It
was a tradition each Christmas Eve, for the young people to sleep in the Great
Hall beneath the Christmas tree. After kisses and cuddles goodnight, he bade
farewell to Mary, and left the children to their dreams.
dreaming had led him here, now, to Catherine’s balcony. Frost had formed on the windowpane,
and he gently brushed it aside. All was in darkness, except for a hint of light
glowing beneath the closed bathroom door. From this light, he could see her
sleeping profile. A quilt cover, decorated with red poinsettias, was pulled
high up beneath her chin. Her sweet face was turned away from him, but he could
see her honey colored hair spread out across her pillow. How he would love to
gather those silken strands and brush his hand against her forehead as he had
done with the children tonight.
leave her. Go back home.
He took a moment
to ponder the word. Home. A place where you lived. Four walls and a ceiling; or
for him, a chamber made of solid rock. Somewhere that you felt happy and safe,
and longed for when you were far away. Catherine was his home; a safe harbour,
sanctuary. He was at home in her arms, and whenever they were apart, she was
close in his heart.
There’s no need to go.…
lightly on the glass, and then waited. He turned away, but could see in his
Catherine looking out her bedroom doors, looking for a shadow…a
silhouette…searching for him. A few more moments and she was opening the French
doors. A soft touch upon his arm…he
Concern in her
green eyes, she asked, “Vincent! Are you well? Is something wrong?”
“Forgive me for waking you. I am very well, thank you. Everything is
fine. My feet led me here. I wanted to come and see you.” At these last few
words, he dipped his head, focused on roses printed on her silk pyjamas.
“I’m so happy you’re here.”
The roses came
closer as she stepped into his arms. Closing his eyes, he held her against his
chest. Was there anything better than holding Catherine? How had he survived
all those years, before she had come into his life? He could not imagine a life
without her, and through their Bond, sensed Catherine felt the same.
Shivering in his
arms, he held her closer and whispered against her hair,
She looked up,
and smiled. “Never. You always make me warm. You are my light.”
There were no
“I made some eggnog earlier. Would you like some?”
“Thank you, I would like that.”
Giving his hand
a gentle tug, she drew him forward, and he followed her inside.
While the eggnog
was being warmed, he sat on her small sofa. The room looked beautiful. On the
fireplace mantel, at least fifty cards were displayed. Beneath the cards, hung
boughs of holly and ivy. A fresh pine tree stood in the corner, covered in
ornaments of every shape, size and color; strands of fairy lights making the
tree shimmer. Beneath the tree were a selection of presents, carefully wrapped
with festive paper and ribbons. Candles were placed on every spare space -
white, red, gold, and silver. He could smell pumpkin, blackberry and
apple-cinnamon tea lights, also.
“This is an enchanted room,” he told her, as she placed the steaming
mugs, and a plate of gingerbread cookies on the coffee table.
“Thank you. I love Christmas, and I love decorating. My mother used to
decorate every room of the house, but her favourite area was the lounge room.
Dad wouldn’t admit to it, but I know he loved the
decorations, also. I always feel close to Mom at this time of year.”
“I feel she is close to you also, Catherine.”
“Yes…,” her eyes filled with tears.
They held each
other for a few moments, neither saying a word, because there was no need. His
eyes were drawn to the tree once more, and seeing the presents, he was reminded
of something. Gently, he removed his arm
from around her.
“I know it is only Christmas Eve, but I would like to give you
something. An early Christmas gift.”
Out of the folds
of his cloak, he handed her a rectangular patchwork quilt, tied in the middle
with delicate red and green ribbons.
“It’s so beautiful.”
“That is the first part of your gift. There is more.”
untying the ribbons, she placed them safely on the table. She parted the
delicate fabric, and moments later the breath caught in her throat, and her
eyes became bleary.
The colour of
emeralds, a forest primeval, of four-leaf clover, and
She was quiet
for so long, he began to worry. Hesitantly, he asked, “What do you think?”
“I have never received a more perfect gift. The cloak is beautiful. I
don’t want to appear rude, but may I ask where you
Now it was his
turn to be quiet. Eventually, he spoke.
“I made it. I dreamt of giving you a cloak; saw you standing in the
snow, moonlight surrounding you. Jane, a helper, owns a fabric shop. One night
I visited her after work. I told her
about you, and of my intentions. She told me to select the material of my
choice. I found the red velvet almost immediately. Then I saw it…fabric the
colour of your eyes.” He paused, suddenly embarrassed.
Not looking at
her, he continued, “Jane thought the lace would bring the colours together. I
bought the fabric back to the Tunnels, and spread it out across my bed. How
could I turn this beautiful material into a cloak, let alone something to
wear?” He stole a glance at Catherine, to find her intently listening and
watching him, a mixture of emotions crossing her face.
“I admit I panicked. I can do basic mending, but nothing more. Then I
thought of Mary. She was delighted by the plan, and eager to help. For a month
she, and other ladies of the sewing group, taught me. When the cloak was ready,
Mary insisted I wrap it in a quilt that had been given to her, when she was a
He had spoken
for too long…
“I will always treasure it. I can’t believe you
went to so much trouble to give me this.
Each time I wear the cloak, I will think of you, and remember you
created it. I’d like to try it on now.”
“But it’s late, Catherine. Why not wear it
tomorrow, when you join us for lunch?”
“It isn’t late…” she glanced at her watch, and
then smiled, “in fact,
if we hurry, we can make it in time.”
“What can we make?”
I shall leave you then.” He stood to go, but her hand on his arm stopped him.
“I haven’t been to church on Christmas Eve in
years. Please come with me. The streets will be quiet. You have your cloak, and
I have mine. No one will notice us.
thought was no. That it was far too dangerous to be seen outdoors, not to
mention being inside a crowded church. Then he looked at Catherine…she never
asked for anything. Through their Bond, he could tell she was both hopeful, and
fearful. This was another small gift he could give her.
before he answered, knowing that he would accept. Ten minutes later, they were
in the basement of her apartment building. Vincent asked the name of their
“There are two churches. St Patrick’s or
He had often
admired St Patrick’s. It was a beautiful piece of architecture. “I’m sure
“I wouldn’t mind at all.”
wrapped an arm around his waist, they began walking. Vincent led them to a
tunnel entrance one block from the church. They could feel the chill whilst in
the tunnels, but were unprepared for the intensity of the cold, once they were
“I think now would be a perfect time to put my cloak on.” He helped her
into it, stroking her shoulders lightly, as he settled the cloak in place.
“How do I look?” she asked.
A look of wonder
on his face, he replied, “My dream…this is my dream.” He had not seen the colour
of the cloak, but everything else – the snow falling, a street light making her silhouette glow, her
angelic face half in light, and partly in shadow - was as he had dreamed it.
Taking his hand
in hers, she gave it a gentle squeeze, and they walked the short distance to
the church. Catherine had been right; the streets of
“I should not go in. There are too many people.”
“Don’t worry. Keep your cloak on. I know a good
place to stand. It’s safe. Please trust me.”
He did trust her
but was still concerned. Through their Bond he felt loving, calming thoughts
from Catherine. He gave a small smile of gratitude and took her hand in his
once more. He wondered for a moment what Father would think – of him about to step
inside a church, and be seen by so many people?
A wall of warmth
welcomed them. Lights had been dimmed, and the church was a sea of candlelight.
He could smell incense – frankincense, myrrh, and a scent he could not place. Many people
had crowded into the pews, but because of the grand scale of St. Patrick’s, it wasn’t overflowing, and
space was still available in the back of the church. No one had paid them
attention as they had entered; only an usher who handed Catherine an order of
service booklet. They took their seats in the far right hand corner, near the
closed and darkened gift shop. Catherine genuflected before sitting down.
They were just
in time for another carol. The children’s choir stood, and the haunting sounds of the
pipe organ were heard.
“The angel Gabriel from heaven came
It was a
beautiful carol; one which he had not heard, but felt he had known forever. The
sermon and community prayers followed, and then they were asked to give each
other a sign of peace.
“Peace be with you, Vincent,” her hand reached out to shake his.
He took her
hand, kissed it, and then drew her to him. “Peace be with you.” He could feel her smile against his chest.
How beautiful, to give each other the blessing of peace. There were times when
peace was hard to find, but he felt it now, holding Catherine, standing in this magnificent place of
as people knelt on the floor. While mass was being prepared, Vincent took a
moment to study the church. Around the outside of the pews, he could see
smaller altars, some held single, tall candles, and others were contained in
crimson coloured vases. The ceiling soared majestically to the sky. It was a feast
for the senses…so much to take in.
When the bread
and wine - body and blood - had been blessed, people rose and started to file
down the central aisle. He observed row after row of the faithful. Finally it
was Catherine’s turn. As he watched her go, saw her move away from him, he felt a
moment of loss. Vincent realized that he loved
having her near him. Holding her was exquisite – could soothe and calm him in a moment; but to
have her sit by him, look upon her dear face, bought him just as much pleasure.
The church was too large and they were seated far from the main alter, but he
could imagine Catherine kneeling, bowing her head, hair spilling over her
shoulders in prayer, before looking at the priest; eating the bread, and
tasting the wine soon after.
She returned to
the pew, beaming as she approached him, and he smiled in reply. She leaned her head against his shoulder, and
placed her hand on top of his.
“O, holy night!
The stars are brightly shining, 2
“I love this carol!” they said in unison, and laughed, happy that they
now had a shared, favourite Christmas carol.
to sing. She had denied any singing ability, but Vincent disagreed. Her lilting
voice sounded lovely; the smile in her voice shining through.
“Fall on your knees! O hear the Angel voices!” 2
caught suddenly. Catherine was an Angel…his most beloved Angel. He knew he
would relive this moment often.
A final prayer
and blessing were given. As the priests, attendants and assorted other
assistants began to leave the church, everyone sang “Joy to the World.” As the last notes rang out, Vincent
and Catherine left the church, and the bells of St Patrick’s began to ring out.
Whilst they had
been inside, the snow had fallen harder. It seemed as though the temperature
had dropped a few degrees. But they weren’t cold; they were holding hands and walking closely side-by-side.
stopped walking. “Vincent, have you seen the Rockefeller Christmas tree?”
“No, I have not. I hear it is very beautiful. Have you?”
“I’ve been so busy at work,
I haven’t had time. Why don’t we go now?”
A short walk in
the other direction led them to the
“Close your eyes,” she bade him, and he did; but she reached up and placed
her hands over his eyelids, just to make sure.
Memories came to
him – of
playing hide and seek with Devin and the other tunnel children. They would play
for hours, each having their turn at being “it.” The smallest children would sometimes lose
their way, and Vincent would come to their rescue.
one of her hands away, and she guided him around the corner.
“Okay…now look!” She removed her hand,
he opened his eyes…and there it stood.
A path of angels
guarded the tree, trumpets raised heavenward.
It was magnificent, and magical, the tree seeming to hang in mid-air.
Hundreds of baubles in festive colours, countless fairy lights, enough tinsel
to decorate the Great Hall five times over. It was breathtaking!
with excitement and delight, they approached the tree. The skating rink was
deserted, but he could picture skaters gliding by – toddlers finding
their “ice legs” for the first time; parents holding their children’s hands. Around the
tree they went, Catherine telling him that it came from
“Perhaps it is near your family’s lake house?”
He had often
imagined the lake house, could picture the landscape and interior of the cabin.
In dreams, they walked in the wooded area, shared a picnic in the sunshine, and
by candlelight they would sit by the fire – red wine in hand – an evening of music
and of poetry to look forward to. There must also be kisses. Oh yes! There had
to be kisses. At sunrise, the heat of the midday sun, the darkest hour of the
evening, and at the stroke of midnight.
Looking up at
the gold star atop the tree, he knew that above the clouds - if not for the
snow - silvery starlight would be shining. It was at that moment he glanced at
Catherine, to find her smiling. Sunshine, firelight, by moon and candlelight,
she was always beautiful. Now, beneath a freezing winter sky, she took his
He needed to
touch her to feel
grounded. Taking a few steps back, he turned to face her. Holding one of her
hands in his own, with the other he removed her hood, and brushed the hair from
her forehead. His eyes never left hers as he memorized her face with his finger. Carefully touching her
scar, he caressed her cheeks, petite nose, soft eyelids, delicate chin, before
cupping his hand behind her ear.
Perhaps it was
he, or maybe it was Catherine…no matter. They found each other. For long
moments they became acquainted, learning and delighting in the shape, texture
and taste of their lips. Were they in
passed, and gradually they found their way back to the present. Eyes alight
with love and happiness, they took a final look at the tree, before he walked
her home. No need for the safety of the tunnels, they walked the city streets,
lamplight and love guiding the way.
apartment, Catherine watched as Vincent lit a fire. When it was crackling
merrily, she glided into his arms, kissing him softly, and tucking her chin in
the groove of his neck.
“Read to me,” she whispered.
“What would you like to hear?”
“A Christmas story.”
Vincent sat on
the floor, his back resting against the sofa, and once Catherine was
comfortable, with her head resting on his chest, he began the story.
“Twas the night before Christmas, when all
through the house
A story read to
children, Below, and now to the lady he loved, Above. This had been a night of
wonders. The gift of a cloak, angel voices, the birth of a child. Carols,
bells, a tree of beauty.
Catherine falling asleep, heard her breathing soften, felt her slow and steady
“While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads” 3
shining star, floating, kissing, and flying away…
What do you dream of, Catherine?
What visions do you see?
shadows, a hand to hold.
She turned in
his arms, and he remembered seeing her asleep in bed; when his feet – and his heart – had led him here
hours ago. He kissed his Christmas angel then. To say thank
you, I love you, you are in my heart, and we will never be alone.
She smiled in
her sleep, and he returned it, happily.
“Merry Christmas, Catherine”
As he finished
the story, he looked out the window, saw snowflakes falling, gazed into the
flames of the fire, admired this smaller Christmas tree, and finally looked
upon the face he would never tire of – a face of beauty, kindness, and strength.
Wrapping the cloak around her, he held her close, and would hold her through
the night, until dawn crept over this sleeping city.
“But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of
1. Gabriel’s Message: Traditional Basque Christmas Carol
2. O Holy Night: Music by Adolphe Charles Adams,
3.”A Visit from
Saint Nicholas” (“The Night Before