Far above, under the darkened night sky of New York, light still flowed out onto the empty balcony, pouring from the apartment through the windowed doors stretching across its expanse. Inside three figures moved, their voices muffled behind the glass as they walked through the empty rooms. The two men and single woman inspected the empty spaces within, searching every corner and closet as they evaluated what the apartment would look like furnished and occupied. One of the men, the building's supervisor, gave his polished pitch to the other two. The woman looked around, keenly observed by the second man who had come with her, a man who carefully watched her reactions. She slowly walked past the wide windows, silhouetted by the glow from inside as she gazed out upon the dark gulf of Central Park below.
Far across that gulf of shadowed trees another window looked out over the park from a nearly empty high rise apartment. Behind its darkened glass, high-tech equipment was silently being set up in the shadows that cloaked the apartment's interior. A man's black gloved hands quickly turned a knob on a tripod that held a surveillance camera, raising it into position. Wires were connected between it and a monitor, which blinked to life. A high resolution image appeared on its screen of the distant woman across Central Park, shadowed against the lights behind her as she looked out into the night. The camera's zoom lens whined softly as it auto-focused on her form while the man's hand centered the image. As the camera watched her shadow , the two men in the apartment with her continued their unheard conversation as she turned away from view. Dark hands clicked another small device onto the camera barrel, next to an inactive parabolic microphone. A separate screen brightened, displaying a flat line and the words NO AUDIO. ZERO VIBRATIONS RECEIVED. The hand flipped a switch and suddenly a thin red laser beam flashed invisibly across the park, hitting the distant window and bouncing back in less than a hundredth of a second. Suddenly the flat line on the display came to life, moving up and down in complex waves as the text changed to AUDIO RECEIVED. LINK ESTABLISHED. Headphones were placed over a head in shadow and the distant voices of the three figures became abruptly clear. As the man listened, his eyes patiently watched, as beneath his chair another device quietly recorded everything.
Far below, Vincent was silently able to speak again, as Diana waited patiently. "I didn't expect this," he said with a soft laugh.
Diana stood there beaming, beautiful and happy. Her red hair seemed to glow in the candlelight, surrounding her adoring gaze at him, a gaze that he returned. With a small enigmatic smile she reached out and touched his cheek.
"Maybe I know you better than you think."
Vincent chuckled. "Perhaps not. I was only going to ask you to return that book of sonnets you borrowed."
Now it was Diana who laughed. "No, you weren't."
As he looked at her he marvelled at the wonders that life had blessed him with, wonders more than any one person deserved. In that instant his doubts were banished. He was certain that this was the right thing, as he stood there with Diana, bathed in the feelings they felt for each other. He had all that he needed, all that he wanted, within the festive confines of that deep cavern where the crowds talked and danced below. He looked into her eyes, his voice warm with emotion as he whispered to her.
"I love you, Diana."
In the city above, the apartment manager unlocked the glass doors and stepped aside. The balcony doors smoothly swung open and the woman walked out into the night air. She turned and thanked him.
"This particular residence is available immediately if you find it to your liking." the man continued.
The second man moved to the supervisor. "That's something I needed to discuss with you, perhaps I should explain..."
As their conversation took them back into the apartment, the woman walked over to the wall along the balcony's edge, placing her hands on it as she soaked in the grand expanse of the city around her. She looked down to the street far below. Without turning she spoke to the two men behind her. "The view is astounding."
"Oh, I agree." the supervisor replied. "This is a very special place. I know you will enjoy your time here. Well, I wish you the best and I'll contact you tomorrow with the final details. Feel free to look around further, please lock the door as you leave."
The second man moved to thank him as he headed for the door, leaving the woman alone on the balcony. She tried to imagine waking up with a view like this every morning, of living her life here, and building new memories. She closed her eyes and tilted her head to the sky in contentment as a feeling of warmth and hope came to her unexplained. Softly, she whispered to herself.
"I feel peaceful here. Like I'm home."
"I'm glad you like it." The second man stood near the balcony doors where he had been watching her for several seconds. "I think moving back to the city will be good for you. Perhaps it will hasten your progress. And in my sometimes not so humble professional opinion," he said amused, "I think you will be happy here."
"Believe me, I'm well versed in your humility." She smiled. "But you're right. My doubts are gone. Somehow, this seems right, and I can't quite explain why." She turned back towards the view of the city. The distant lights glittered around her like candles. It was strange. She almost imagined that she heard music, and the smell of wax. A small chill breeze brushed its fingers across her cheek, but she still felt full of warmth. She turned back to the man watching her, smiling.
"It feels familiar already."
Jacob was running though the crowd, watching as they seemed to twist and turn in his vision as he frantically changed direction to avoid being tagged by Timothy, who chased just behind. Suddenly he stopped short when he caught a glimpse of Father, as the old man watched the walkway above the hall with great interest. Curious, Jacob turned to see what Father was looking at. Above the crowd, Vincent and Diana were talking alone as her hand held his between them. Both had eyes only for each other and were oblivious to the others in the room. Timothy came crashing up behind Jacob and slapped him on the back in triumph. "You're it." he said, winded from the chase. Jacob didn't react, but instead turned and whispered into Timothy's ear, who then turned his head and looked up at Vincent and Diana along with Jacob. Scattered in the busy crowd around them, several others had noticed the couple as well.
"You have been incredibly patient with me, Diana." Vincent was saying up above, "and I know you have waited a long time. Perhaps in some way that may cause you to doubt my sincerity or my truthfulness. But you must believe that my feelings, what we have between us, is genuine, that-"
"Vincent, I do believe you, I-"
Vincent pressed on. 'You have given me so much over the years, so much warmth and love, perhaps I've treated your love unfairly, denied my emotions and-"
"No, I understand, really I do, Vincent. You don't have to-"
"Your generosity, your breadth of spirit. My feelings for you, Diana, are deep and real, they enrich me far beyond what words can expre-"
Exasperated, Diana moved quickly forward without warning and kissed him, her lips finding his instantly. Then realizing that there was no more need for words, Vincent slowly kissed her back, deeply, as they embraced each other, flowing smoothly into each other's arms.
A cheer of approval rose unexpectedly from throughout the watching crowd below. For several seconds, Diana and Vincent didn't notice, until the sound broke through their long kiss. Shyly, their lips parted and they looked at everyone below while still in each other's arms, happiness blossomed on their faces.
Father nodded to himself, sincerely pleased for both of them. Jacob, standing next to him, smiled and waved up at Vincent and Diana before he ran off, chasing after Timothy in continuation of their game. Mouse, his face full of wonder, walked through the crowd smiling with his head tilted up towards them. "Okay, good. Okay, fine." he said to those around him happily. Pascal came up behind Father, placing his hand on the old man's shoulder as he yelled up at the couple good-naturedly. "Well, its about time!" He turned towards Father. "You would have thought it would take less than eight years for them to figure it out." he said.
Diana remained easily in Vincent's arms, leaning her head against him as she watched everyone smiling up at her and Vincent. The candles seemed to flicker with a new light, and the air was alive with possibilities. The cavern felt warm and safe, like Vincent's arms, and she had never felt better in her life.
Vincent held her tightly, soaking in the smell and feel of her. His senses seemed to dance around him, and he felt elevated and content. The candles throughout the chamber stretched before him like a city, as his friends, no, his family walked below. He could almost feel their affection passing over both of them like a breeze. He whispered into her ear.
"I really didn't expect this." he breathed.
Diana held him tighter, never wanting to lose this moment as they stood there, seemingly lifted by the approval of all who cared for them below. She smiled up at him, unable to express the wave of emotions that flowed though her. It had often seemed that she would never reach that feeling, but it had happened at last. Vincent's arms encircled hers.
"Life's full of surprises, Vincent."
Alone again on the balcony, shrouded in the night far above the city, the woman encircled her arms around herself. She could have sworn she had felt her lips tingle unexplainably moments ago. Suddenly, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye and she moved quietly towards it, with the distant street noises rising from below the only sound. Reaching down, she picked up two roses, one red and one white, that had been laying on the floor, with a card beside them that she now held in her hands.
Curious, she looked around the balcony, but found no one there. Carrying her new discoveries, she walked back towards light falling in from the doorway, unaware of the small red dot of light that passed across her clothes as she moved through its beam. She lifted the two roses into the light to get a better look at what she had found. The light flowed onto her face, revealing a tiny scar that ran just beneath her left ear. She turned full into the light to reveal the face of a mystified Catherine Chandler.
Catherine held the roses in her hands, cradling them gently as she touched the fresh petals. Turning the card, she began to read the inscription written upon it in a firm, flowing, elegant cursive. "Tho lovers be lost..." she began, but became lost in thought as she wondered about her find. She looked out over Central Park once more as half formed images passed though her mind of earth and flowers. And for some reason she couldn't explain, she could still smell candle wax.
She wrapped her arms around herself tighter at the sensations. "Very familiar somehow."
to CHAPTER TWO...