Vincent’s note said to meet him in the dining hall if she would like to help with a children’s party. Because of the number of children, the council had created quarterly birthday parties. All the children with birthdays during that quarter were the “special guests,” while the others were the attendees.
William baked plenty of cake, and usually managed to rustle up some other goodies typically enjoyed by children. For the adults attending, he made scones and various sweet breads. Punch for the children and mulled wine for the adults finished the menu.
Games were the highlight, with small prizes for the winners. Usually, every child went back to the dormitory a winner. The children looked forward to these four celebrations, as did many of the adults. Happiness was the rule of the day.
Cathy smiled, holding his note. She turned and headed to her closet to find something appropriate to wear. This was one Saturday she wasn’t going to be working!
The din in the dining chamber was slightly less than the decibels of a jet plane taking off from LaGuardia. Children laughing, music playing, cutlery and dishes clinking, and chairs scraping as they constantly were moved all testified to a party going on in at full blast. Catherine remembered her more stately parties growing up, and definitely preferred this one!
Kipper and Geoffrey were engaged in the classic tug of war of words about something. Catherine decided to go over before fists followed words.
“What is this all about?” She looked first at Kipper, then at Geoffrey. Both glanced down at the floor.
Finally, Kipper spoke. “Geoffrey doesn’t think I can do something, and I say I can.”
“What would this something be?”
“Win a staring contest.”
Catherine looked puzzled. “A staring contest?”
“Yeah, the one where you stare at each other and whoever blinks first, loses,” Geoffrey explained. “I’m the best there is.” He accompanied his statement of bravado by pointing his thumb back at himself.
“I see.” Catherine looked studious, taking in their concerns. “Well, I suppose there is only one way to settle this. A staring tournament!” She broke out into a grin.
“A tournament?” Kipper had not heard of such. “What is a staring tournament?”
“Well, you each say you are the best, so the best must prove himself by moving through the ranks. We’ll gather all the kids up, pair you up, and each winner of a round advances to the next, until there is only one left. That person is the best!”
Kipper looked at Geoffrey, and Geoffrey nodded. “I’m in!”
Catherine walked up to the front of the hall and clapped her hands a few times to call everyone’s attention. She explained the tournament, and asked each child who wanted to participate to write their name on a piece of paper and drop it in a pot that William provided. The initials pairings would be picked from the pot. The adults were chuckling at the idea, and several asked if there would be an adult tournament.
“Why not!” Catherine exclaimed. “Sign your name, and we’ll draw after the children’s pairing.”
And that is how Vincent came to be seated across from Catherine, about to start the championship round for adults. The children had long finished their tournament, with Samantha the winner, to the chagrin of both Geoffrey and Kipper. Everyone gathered around the favorite couple to watch the clash of the year.
“I’ve stared down judges, Vincent. Are you sure you want to take me on?”
“Formidable you may be, but I can beat you with one eye shut, as the expression goes.”
“What are we playing for?”
Vincent looked baffled. “The title of Best Starer?”
“Oh, no, that’s not enough. After all, we each beat four rounds to get here. We should get something more than bragging rights.” She smiled with a touch of mischievousness. “What would you say to each of us writing out what we want from the other as our prize, should we win?”
Vincent thought a moment. This could be tricky. Yet, what did he really have to worry about? She didn’t stand a chance. He nodded and reached for a piece of paper and a pen. He thought another moment, and wrote, folding the paper twice. He set it aside.
Catherine, too, thought for a moment, barely able to contain a laugh, and gave some thought as to how daring she could be in her prize. She wrote something down, and also folded it twice.
“Spotters ready?” William acted as the host of the game. Jamie would watch Catherine and Mouse would watch Vincent. Both nodded.
“Contestants ready?” William looked first to Catherine, then to Vincent. Both were set.
“On your marks! Set! ...Go!”
If one must stare into someone’s eyes, Vincent felt he had the advantage looking into Catherine’s lovely green ones. Catherine, of course, liked nothing better than to look into Vincent’s gorgeous blue eyes and lose herself in her thoughts of them together. Which is what she was doing. The expression on her face said it all. The onlookers began to feel like they were intruding, and gradually left the couple to their game. William sat a few tables away. Jamie and Mouse had taken seats, wishing they hadn’t been so quick to volunteer.
Finally, Mouse and Jamie stood up. “You guys are on your honor. We give up!”
William took his cue from his spotters and ambled back to his kitchen to make sure his cleaning crew had done the job before turning in for the night.
Father entered the dining hall and walked up to the staring pair.
“I officially call this game a draw. You shall both share the title of the best. Enough is enough!” He turned and left.
“I’ll walk you to the guest chamber.” They both stood, and each reached for their secret prize paper to take with them. Vincent took her hand in his, and they sauntered slowly toward Catherine’s chamber.
“I believe I’ve met my match in staring,” Vincent stated gallantly.
“You bet you have!” Catherine rebutted. “I would have won eventually, if Father hadn’t stopped it.”
“You think so,” Vincent said, “but I doubt it.”
Before Catherine could get out a rebuttal, he suggested they each give the other their prize ticket. She handed hers to him, and he handed his to her. They opened the papers, and each broke out into a wide grin. By then, they had reached the opening of Catherine’s chamber.
She looked up at Vincent. “If you want your prize, you are going to have to come inside. I will not do this in the tunnel where others might interrupt us.”
He bowed, and gestured for her to precede him inside. She stepped into the chamber, turned, and took his hands in hers.
“I’m pleasantly surprised by your request, Vincent, and most happy to award you your prize.”
“And I am pleased by your surprise, and happy to award you your prize.”
“Are you at all concerned that we both wished the same? Are we becoming that predictable to each other?” Catherine did wonder, despite her surprise.
“Catherine, my time with you is always a delight and surprise. Predictable is the last word I would use to describe you.”
Once again, they were staring at one another.
“Who goes first?” she asked.
“Why don’t we meet in the middle?” Vincent said.
And so they did, leaning into each other as they met in a kiss, for that is what each had wanted from the other.