"Will you have the tox screen ready tomorrow?" Schanke asked after Natalie had reported her autopsy findings in the morgue.
"Grace will have the results. I'm off tomorrow. A very important appointment." Natalie signed the report and handed the folder to Nick.
"A date?" Schanke inquired curiously and noted in satisfaction that Nick tensed slightly.
Natalie smiled. "Yes, with Mr. Swift-Tuttle."
"The comet?" Nick chimed in, relaxing visibly.
Natalie looked at him, surprised. "Yes. It comes near Earth only every 130 years. There was an article in the newspaper that it's supposed to be visible with binoculars."
"Hardly in this city," Schanke remarked. "It's far too bright to see any stars."
"I was planning to drive up north and hope there's a better view."
"Good luck," Schanke turned to go. "Coming, Knight?"
"In a moment." Nick waited until Schanke had left the lab before turning to Natalie. "I know a place from where you can watch the sky without any lights nearby. Do you want me to take you there tomorrow?"
Natalie beamed. "I'd love that."
"Good. I'll pick you up at 9 p.m. Make sure you wear something warm."
Natalie's heartbeat accelerated as she watched him leave the lab.
* * * *
"I know where we're going," Natalie declared as Nick parked the Caddy at the Harbourfront. "We're taking the ferry to the Islands."
Nick smiled. He walked around the car and opened the door for her. "The Islands offer a beautiful view of the city, but for star gazing, it's still too bright."
"So where are we going?" Natalie wondered aloud as Nick led her over the Harbour Bridge to the marina.
He stopped in front of a sailing yacht of approximately six meters length. Natalie admired its sleek mahogany hull. Golden letters at the stern provided the information that the yacht was named Fleur and its home port Toronto. Nick stepped onboard and held out his hand.
"You know how to sail?" Natalie asked in amazement, as she took his hand and climbed onto the deck.
"I picked up a few skills when I crossed the ocean on tall ships," he informed her with a twinkle in his eye.
"Yeah right," Natalie mumbled. She took a seat and watched as Nick unfastened the ropes and started the motor.
Once they were out of the marina, he cut the motor and hoisted main sail and jib. "Are you warm enough?" Nick inquired. He took a seat across from her, one hand placed leisurely on the helm.
Natalie nodded. It was a warm September night. "This is gorgeous, Nick." She admired the illuminated skyline that was decreasing in size as they glided towards the centre of the lake. Leaning back, she rested her gaze on Nick. He wore his black leather jacket open, revealing a white woolen turtleneck sweater. The wind blew his golden hair from his face, giving him a rather adventurous look. He seemed perfectly at ease on the water.
She noticed that she had been staring at him when he grinned and pointed upwards. Natalie raised her head towards the sky and gasped. She couldn't remember when she had last seen so many stars. Most prominent was the broad bend of the Milky Way.
Nick lowered the main sail and loosened the jib so that they kept floating more or less in place. "There's your comet."
Natalie's eyes followed where he pointed, but she only saw one star appearing a little brighter than the others in the vicinity. Eagerly she retrieved her binoculars from her bag. After adjusting it, she was able to distinguish the comet with its prominent tail. "Fascinating!" she exclaimed. After a while she held out the binoculars to Nick.
"Last time around, it was closer to Earth. One didn't need binoculars to see it," he said while looking through the device.
"You've seen it before," Natalie stated, waiting for him to tell more. "Where? What were you doing?"
Nick smiled at her enthusiastic curiosity. "1862. I was a doctor in the American Civil War. At that time people believed that the comet was a harbinger of evil." Nick paused. "Considering that this was when Lacroix turned up and preyed on the battlefield, they weren't so far off."
"Well, you made sure that he won't appear this time around by driving a burning stake through his evil heart," Natalie reminded him.
Nick gazed thoughtfully towards the comet. "I hope you're right."
Before Natalie could ask if he had any doubts, he pointed to another region above them. "There's Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, and there, see the Pleiades, a cluster of millions of stars."
"Wow." While Natalie admired the tiny dots of the Pleiades, she noticed that Nick had moved closer and was sitting next to her, so that he could better point out the constellations to her.
"And there's the Northern Cross. Check out the star at its base. That's Beta Cygni or Albireo. Looks like a single star, but in truth it's a binary star. Through a telescope you can distinguish two stars gravitating around each other. I'm not sure if your magnification is sufficient to see it."
Natalie focused her binocular where Nick had pointed. "I see it!" she exclaimed in delight. Turning towards him, she observed. "You know a lot about the constellations."
Nick shrugged. "The stars are the only comforting light I'm aloud to experience. Since they're as constant as I am, one starts to find out more about them sooner or later." Nick paused. "Or maybe my sister's enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Fleur was really interested in astronomy. In another time she might have become a scientist."
"You've never mentioned that you had a sister," Natalie remarked. "Her name was Fleur?"
Nick nodded while his eyes became unfocused.
"As in the name on the boat," Natalie observed, pulling him back to the present. "So this is yours, not a rental?"
He smiled. "I'm the owner, but I hardly ever use it. It's maintained by the local sailing school. They provide courses for kids from families with lower income."
On impulse, Natalie bent towards him and kissed his cheek. "That's a wonderful cause! I'm sure your sister would be proud that you named this boat after her."
Surprised by her action, Nick tuned to her in wonder. He took in her smiling face and beaming eyes. Unable to resist, he slowly leaned forward, closing the distance between them.
Just before their lips met, a gust of wind caused the loosened jib to billow. Nick quickly stood and pulled the rope tight, hoisting the jib in the process. "I think we better make sure to reach the safe harbour before the wind picks up," he declared and proceeded to hoist the main sail as well.
Natalie tried to calm the elevated beating of her heart and wondered what might have happened if they had kissed. When Nick remained next to the helm on the way back to the marina she realized that she wouldn't find out any time soon. Yet, that brief moment of almost intimacy they had shared filled her with a satisfying happiness that she wasn't about to risk by actively forcing their relationship forward. She was content in the knowledge that Nick would take the next step when he was ready.