Clichés about emotions and roller coasters wheeled through Vincent's thoughts.
For the last few hours he had been buffeted by a succession of increasingly strong emotions from Catherine through the Bond.
It had begun first thing in the morning with a sudden powerful sense of shock and disgust. At least there was no threat to her safety. That sensation turned to one of futility and resignation, interspersed at odd intervals with anger and displeasure.
A few hours later, he felt frustration. Fury. Impatience. More frustration. Exasperation. Frustration to the nth degree.
By early afternoon, Vincent could scarcely concentrate. Catherine was experiencing an irritation so overwhelming that it was actually making his own blood pressure rise. He grew increasingly bothered by every little thing around him, and had to keep reminding himself that these were not his own emotions that he was feeling, but Catherine's. She was seething with annoyance to a degree that he had never felt from her. It became an all-consuming aggravation until he thought he would need to escape to some solitary place where he could roar to release the emotions.
Suddenly without preamble, he felt Catherine fill with calmness. Contentment. Where a moment before there had been an all-consuming frustration, now there were only delight, joy and love.
“Bliss!” he thought. “Catherine is perfectly blissful! What could have caused such a rapid transformation?”
He tried to imagine what had prompted her to swing so wildly between emotional extremes. The disparate feelings he had shared with Catherine today were quite out of character for her. Yet he was at a loss as to how something like that could have been resolved so instantly and so completely. Even when one of her important cases was determined in her favor, the sensation had never been anything like this.
He concentrated on the Bond again. He continued to feel that same euphoric happiness thrumming throughout her being.
This was a marvel.
It was a mystery begging to be solved.
It was the perfect excuse to go Above to her balcony tonight.
Each utterance of her name was a caress.
“Vincent.” Turning to absorb the sight of him emerging from the shadows, she leaned back on the balcony wall. “I hoped you'd come tonight.”
“How could I not? After everything I felt from you today…”
“Oh!” She giggled, shaking her head ruefully. She gently bit her full bottom lip and glanced up at him through her bangs. “I can just imagine what you must have felt from me today! Nothing ladylike, I'm sure!”
He tilted his head endearingly as he confessed with a hint of amusement in his voice, “Mmm, no. ‘Ladylike’ would, perhaps, not be among the first descriptions that would come to mind.”
“Let me try some descriptions - you felt… frustration?”
“The overwhelming desire to choke the ever-loving daylights out of self-important, self-aggrandizing, overpaid, under-brained middle management plebes and flunkies?”
The shock of her highly hyphenated diatribe earned Catherine the sight of his smile.
“Ah, yes, I think that might very well describe it.”
Her laughter filled the air around them. He was glad to see that whatever had caused her so much vexation earlier could now be a source of such amusement to her.
“And pray, what was the cause of all this Sturm und Drang? If I may ask?” he added, not wishing to presume.
“Of course you may. I got up early this morning, so I actually had time to make myself breakfast. I opened the refrigerator - the brand new one I just bought last month - the one I had to special order to fit into my itty bitty teeny weenie little kitchen - to find that it was dead and every single thing in there was spoiled.”
“Oh, no, Catherine!”
“Oh, yes. So instead of getting a nice breakfast, I was stuck cleaning out all the rotten stuff, which was utterly revolting. Then as I went to cart the garbage down to the basement, the bag tore and rancid milk leaked all over my skirt and down the hall. I had to go back, change clothes and scrub the carpet: it was an awful start to the day.
“And by the time I got done with all that, I was half an hour late for work. So, I went to the office where all the computers in word processing were down, Edie was freaking out, and I nearly missed a filing deadline.
“Once they opened, I called the store where I bought the refrigerator. They had one of those annoying automated answering systems. I despise those things. I called a dozen times and couldn’t get through to any real human beings no matter what numbers I pressed.
“Finally I gave up on that and during my lunch break, I went all the way back uptown to the store in person. The customer service counter had a line a mile long, and just as I finally got to the front of the line, they tried to tell me that it was the wrong line. Half the workers were clueless and the other half acted like they were doing you a favor by waiting on you. It was like dealing with the Circumlocution Office!”
The literary allusion earned her another of Vincent’s sweet, small smiles. That was the second one tonight; Catherine couldn’t help but wonder if she might be able to manage a hat trick.
“By now my lunch hour was long since gone, so I asked to see their supervisor and they kept giving me the runaround. I had to play my Assistant District Attorney trump card just to see the manager. And, oh, this manager, Vincent! She was the absolute incarnation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh!”
Vincent smiled again. A little voice in Catherine’s head whispered, “She shoots! She scores! If only…”
“The manager kept insisting that they couldn’t do anything about the refrigerator because it had been a special order. She didn’t seem to understand the concept of a warranty. A conversation with the proverbial brick wall would have been more productive. How this person ever got to be a manager, I’ll never know; she should never even be allowed to speak with the public! She had all the people skills of Attila the Hun, the manners of Genghis Kahn, and the bubbly personality of… um….”
“Vlad the Impaler?” Vincent offered.
“Oh, you've met her?!”
Vincent laughed. He tried to duck behind his hair, but he didn’t make it there before she caught sight of his expression. All the aggravations in the world would be a small price to pay if they bought her the treasure of happiness on his stunning face. If only he could see what she saw, the way he could feel what she felt; then he would know how truly beautiful he was.
“I'm so sorry that you had to go through all of that today, Catherine.”
Her smile thanked him for his sympathy.
“Something about that woman pushed buttons I didn’t even know I had. At one point - and I'm just barely exaggerating when I say this - at one point, I was ready to pummel that penny-ante dictator!” She laughed and rolled her eyes melodramatically.
“But just before I reached that point, I had…” she breathed a deep sigh, “one thought.”
A beatific smile illuminated her face.
“And that one thought suddenly made everything… all right!” She gazed up at his glorious golden face, basking in pleasure at the sight of him.
“I felt that!” Vincent revealed. “One moment, you were literally shaking in frustration, and yet within a heartbeat you felt... bliss.” His azure eyes widened trying to express the enormity of the wonder. She nodded serenely.
“What was it that you thought of?” he asked in his delicious raspy whisper. He felt it might be prying to ask, and he was sworn to never ask anything of Catherine. But, the idyllic expression of her countenance when she mentioned that one thought… surely such a thought must be the key to all the secrets to the cosmos. “Can you tell me this thought?”
She stepped closer to him. “I thought,” she answered softly, her right arm moving snakingly under his cloak and around his waist, “about this.” Her other arm encircled him from the opposite side and she pulled herself snuggly against his broad chest. Her cheek against his vest absorbed the heat of his body, the cadence of his heartbeat. She sighed deeply, intoxicated by the heady scent of him. “Just this.”
His breath was taken. A wave of the same heavenly joy he'd experienced that afternoon flowed over and through him, only now it was magnified infinitely by being Catherine's reality and not merely her thought.
It was him? She had thought of him? That the thought of him could bring his Catherine the least modicum of pleasure, let alone to have affected her to such a depth as to be the cause of such felicity... It was at once too good to be true, and too true to be doubted.
Worshipfully, his arms returned her embrace and pulled her closer, savoring everything that was Catherine.
“See?” she whispered, glowing with contentment. “All’s right with the world!”