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Sugar-Plums
by Jodie Boyle

New York City was wrapped in a blanket of snow. Thanks to a series of ice storms in Eastern Canada, snow had been softly falling for several days. It had been the perfect time to stay indoors by the fireplace…drink steaming hot cocoa with marshmallows. Icy, biting winds had been felt Below, and families who lived in the outer chambers were moving towards the communal areas. The library and kitchen had become very popular places to congregate. William had been busy making angel cakes, and spiced cookies; the delicious scents of fruit teas and coffee drawing people together. 

Vincent was 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. 

Thinking of dreaming had led him here, now, to Catherines 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. 

I should 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. 

Theres no need to go.… 

He tapped lightly on the glass, and then waited. He turned away, but could see in his minds eye 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 turned around. 

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 youre 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, “Youre cold”. 

She looked up, and smiled. “Never. You always make me warm. You are my light.” 

There were no words… 

“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.” 

Carefully 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. 

A cloak… 

The colour of emeralds, a forest primeval, of four-leaf clover, and Central Park trees in spring.  She brushed her fingers softly across the fabric, delighting in the texture.  Fine lace covered the hood’s rim, and the inside was lined with heavy, red velvet. 

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 bought this?” 

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 young woman.” 

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. Id 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?” 

“Midnight mass.” 

"Of course. 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.  Please, Vincent?” 

His immediate 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. 

She smiled 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 destination. 

“There are two churches. St Patrick’s or St Anns.” 

He had often admired St Patricks. It was a beautiful piece of architecture. “Im sure St Anns is a lovely church, but would you mind if we go to St Patricks?” 

“I wouldn’t mind at all.” 

As Catherine 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 outside. 

“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 New York were quiet, and while not deserted, were similar to a suburb, rather than a citys traffic. They kept to the shadows. There were a few moments that caused him concern, but then he would feel her small hand in his, smile at her walking close beside him, and he relaxed. Everything was fine. From up high, St Patricks looked like a storybook house; close up, it was a medieval castle. They heard carols coming through the heavy doors. As they were about to walk up the front steps, Vincent stopped. 

“I should not go in. There are too many people.” 

“Don’t worry. Keep your cloak on. I know a good place to stand. Its 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. Patricks, it wasnt 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 childrens choir stood, and the haunting sounds of the pipe organ were heard. 

“The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favoured lady,”
Gloria!  1

It was a beautiful carol; one which he had not heard, but felt he had known forever. The priests 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 worship. 

Chairs scraped 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 Catherines 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,
It is the night of our dear Saviour
s birth”  2

“I love this carol!” they said in unison, and laughed, happy that they now had a shared, favourite Christmas carol. 

Catherine began 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

His breath 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 Patricks 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 werent cold; they were holding hands and walking closely side-by-side. 

Catherine 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 havent had time. Why dont we go now?” 

A short walk in the other direction led them to the Rockefeller Center. She made him stop before they went any further. 

“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. 

Catherine took 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! 

Eyes smiling 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 childrens hands. Around the tree they went, Catherine telling him that it came from Connecticut, but she wasnt sure where. 

“Perhaps it is near your family’s lake house?” he mused. 

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 breath away. 

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 New York City? Was it Christmas morning? Did the bells of St Patricks still toll? Neither of them could tell, for the world had faded away. Dreams, wishes and prayers were coming true, on this cold and wondrous night. 

Seconds…minutes…hours 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. 

Inside her 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
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” 3

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. 

He sensed Catherine falling asleep, heard her breathing soften, felt her slow and steady heartbeats. 

“While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads” 3

Snowflakes, a shining star, floating, kissing, and flying away… 

What do you dream of, Catherine?  What visions do you see? 

Streetlight, 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 sight,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”
3

~

1. Gabriel’s Message: Traditional Basque Christmas Carol

2. O Holy Night:  Music by Adolphe Charles Adams,
     Lyrics by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure 

3.”A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (“The Night Before Christmas”):3
     by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston, Jr.

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