Catherine stepped out into the night and winced in pain after taking in a deep breath too quickly. She had been told that it would take many weeks before the rib fractures would heal completely. She remembered the agony of the first time she coughed during her recuperation. The pain in her chest had been so intense and unexpected that it brought tears to her eyes. Her surprised gasp had brought Vincent immediately to her bedside. Just like catching an unwanted glimpse of her scar reflected in a taxi window, the pain that reared itself in her right lower chest was a cruel reminder of the attack. Inevitably, however, these instances would also bring memories of the man who had gently nursed her broken body back from ruin. Most of her recollections of the first few days of her recovery were hazy, but she did remember the sensation of Vincent’s hand on her arm when he would soothe her back to sleep after the nightmares.
She had gone back to the sub-basement of her apartment building on the day she returned home after being released from the hospital. She had stood uncertainly for a long while at the opening in the brick wall. She’d spent more time in the previous days in the company of her father, Tom, and her two best friends than she had in recent memory, but at that moment she had never felt so alone in her life. She felt like she was adrift, and she thought that seeing Vincent again would anchor her somehow. But she was too fearful then to have the courage to even try to find her way to him. So instead she despondently remained at the threshold. She laid her hand against the bricks, and, leaning forward, bowed her head as she recalled his words. “You have the strength . . .”
Now she was standing on her balcony looking out at the city lights, relieved to have managed to navigate the trials of another day. She was still feeling unsettled from the major shifts that were occurring in her life. She had been struggling to regain her footing amidst the upheaval. Instead of respite, sleep had continued to bring disturbing dreams. The night before, she’d had a dream in which she had fallen to the ground and was being jeered at and taunted by a room full of people. In this dream, she had turned to glance over her shoulder and had seen Vincent looking at her and nodding to her with encouragement and reassurance. All because of that simple gesture, she would never be troubled again by such nightmares in the wake of the attack.
At first, she thought she was just imagining the rustling on her balcony. A wave of apprehension came over her. Each of her senses was suddenly heightened and on alert.
At the door, a gift. A memory now tangible.
She turned and sought him in the darkness.
And at last the ground beneath her went still.