Thanks to Cindy for her great editing. It not only made for a better story, but I learned a lot. J
“But she’s normal, Catherine,” said Vincent, looking down at Catherine who was holding his newborn daughter in her arms.
“And…” Catherine prompted.
“And, just that… she’s normal. She looks nothing like me; she has none of my physical characteristics. Any normal man could be her father. She looks exactly as you did in your baby pictures.” He started to pace, and that was never a good sign.
“You doubt that she’s yours?” she whispered, aghast at the thought.
He stopped and turned toward her. “No! No, I don’t doubt that. I know she’s mine. I can feel her, almost as I do you, but for her to grow up, knowing that a creature like me is her father… I don’t want that for her.”
“Don’t call yourself a creature!” Catherine snapped. It had been a long, hard labor, and now this.
She’d felt him distancing himself ever since the ultrasound when Peter had said that he couldn’t really see anything that might lead him to believe that the baby would be like Vincent. She didn’t think she could take anymore. She took a deep breath and willed away the weary tears that were threatening.
“You are not a creature. You are a man! The man I love, and we have a daughter, a beautiful little girl who needs her father as much as I do.”
“No, Catherine, you don’t need me.” He shook his head, sadly. “You have everything you need Above. You are a wealthy woman; you have a new home, a child…”
“A new home that I moved into so that you could safely come to spend time with our daughter,” Catherine quickly pointed out.
“Catherine, please, don’t make it any harder than it already is.” He turned to leave.
“Don’t you make this into something it isn’t!” she shouted after him.
He turned at the entrance to the guest chamber. “I love you, Catherine and I love her; that is why I’m doing this!” He turned again and walked out.
“Damn you, Vincent!” she shouted again and finally broke down into the tears she’d been holding back.
The baby started to cry as Mary hurried into the chamber. She sat on the side of the bed and took Catherine and the baby into her arms.
“What is it, dear?” she asked.
“He’s so damned stubborn!” Catherine said between sniffles as she tried to comfort the baby. “Why is he doing this? Just when I’ve finally won Father over…” She sat up and wiped away the tears with the sleeve of her nightgown.
“When can I go home?” she asked.
“Father said you should wait twenty-four hours,” Mary told her. The baby stopped crying, and Mary pulled the blanket away and looked down at the serious little face. “Did she nurse?”
“Then let me put her in the cradle so you can get some sleep. You’re exhausted. Things will look better once you’ve rested.”
Catherine relinquished the baby and watched as Mary made her comfortable in the hand carved cradle next to the bed.
“Why is he acting like this?” Catherine asked as she tiredly slid down in the bed and pulled the blanket up.
“Men do strange things,” Mary answered as she bustled around the chamber, blowing out candles and putting another piece of wood on the fire in the brazier. “They are strange beings, who sometimes have strange thought processes.”
“You think so? Do you think he’ll come around?” Catherine yawned and tried to get comfortable.
“When you’re my age… “Mary began and then let the thought go.
She went back to the bed and tucked Catherine in just as she would have one of the children. Exhaustion had finally caught up with the new mother. She did the same for the baby then left the chamber at a brisk walk. She headed for Vincent’s chamber, not sure he’d even be there.
She was in luck. When she walked into the chamber, he was stretched out on his back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
“Why are you doing this?” she demanded, in a harsher voice than he’d ever heard her use.
“Not you too, Mary.” He put his forearm over his eyes.
“Yes, me too. Answer my question!” she was using the tone she used when she scolded the children.
“Because the child will be better off not knowing I’m her father.”
“The child? The child is your daughter. Don’t refer to her as the child. And why would she be better off not knowing you are her father? Every child needs both a mother and a father.”
“We have plenty of children here Below who have neither, and they all know they are loved, and they do just fine.”
“And you love them and act as father or big brother to all of them. Why won’t you do the same for your own flesh and blood? How is she going to feel when she’s old enough to understand when Catherine tells her that her father didn’t want anything to do with her?”
“Can you imagine what it would be like for her to grow up knowing that I fathered her? Once she is old enough to understand the process, what is she going to think when she pictures me with her mother like that? No, Mary, it’s just better if Catherine takes her home and they both stay there and get on with their lives.”
“You don’t want to know her at all?” Now Mary was horrified. “You want to send Catherine Above to raise your child all by herself?”
“She won’t have to do it all by herself. She has friends; she has you. She can hire help, and I’m sure that she will eventually marry and then will have a husband to help her raise her daughter and to give her other children. I’m sure Elliot Burch would be more than happy to marry her.”
“She doesn’t love Elliot Burch.”
“She’s very fond of him. I’m sure she could learn.”
Mary crossed the chamber to the side of the bed and glared down at him.
“Vincent, you disgust me,” she said in a quietly intense voice. “I never thought I’d say that to you, but you truly disgust me.” She turned and stalked out.
Vincent groaned and turned on his side with his back to the chamber entrance.
He’d made this decision very early in Catherine’s pregnancy; he just hadn’t told anyone. He knew that it was the right decision. He was sure that Catherine and the baby would be better off without him. The only reason he hadn’t sent her away earlier was because they didn’t know if the baby would be like him or her. Even with the ultrasound, Peter said that they couldn’t be absolutely sure. If it had been like him, then it would have had to stay Below, but since it wasn’t, he knew he couldn’t deprive it of a life Above in the sunshine with Catherine.
Catherine had kept her pregnancy a secret from all her friends Above. She’d resigned from the DA’s office before she started to show. She told Joe that the job had her stressed out and she needed time off, and although he hadn’t been happy with her decision, he did understand. She’d taken over as an acting Deputy DA while he’d been in the hospital, and had helped him with the corruption investigation and prosecution once he came back.
Since Moreno’s arrest, Joe had been acting DA. He’d tried to convince her to stay on and take over his old job permanently. He’d even offered her an extended leave of absence until she felt she was rested and ready to come back, but she’d refused and resigned.
She’d told Vincent that she’d promised Joe that once she felt like she’d recovered from the past two years, she’d consider going back to the DA’s office, but right now, all she wanted was out.
Vincent rolled off the bed and started stuffing random things into his pack. He knew he was running away, but didn’t feel he had much choice. It would be easier on all involved if he wasn’t around when Catherine came looking for him, and he knew she would come looking for him.
He wrote out a short note and left it on his table. There was always work to be done, and he could always lose himself in work.
Catherine was up and had just finished packing the few things she’d brought Below with her when Father came to visit the next afternoon.
“Mary tells me that you are leaving,” he said, as he stood just inside the entrance to the guest chamber.
“It’s the only thing left to do,” she said. She sat on the side of the bed and put on her shoes. “Vincent won’t talk to me; he won’t even let me near him. I went to his chamber a little while ago, and he was gone. Geoffrey said that he went on a mapping expedition. Which is just another way of saying that he ran away because he doesn’t want to face me.”
“I’m sure he’ll come around,” Father began.
“How can you be so sure of that?” she asked as she stood and faced him. “You can’t force him, and if you try to shame him into something he doesn’t want to do he will just resent you, me and the baby all that much more.”
She put on her coat, slung a small duffel over her shoulder then bent to pick up her daughter.
Father put his hand on her arm as she passed him.
“May I say goodbye to my granddaughter?” He asked.
Catherine stopped and turned to him.
“You don’t have to say goodbye! You’ll be visiting. You know you’re always welcome!” She stopped and took a breath. “Father, I’m not angry with you or anyone else here Below. I’m not even angry at Vincent. Hurt and disappointed, yes, and I can’t say that it won’t turn into anger somewhere along the line, but right now, I’m just very, very hurt.”
“I have to ask. Will you have… will you have a Naming Ceremony?” he asked as Catherine left the chamber and he followed.
“Under the circumstances, no. Peter is going to bring the paperwork for the birth certificate home this evening.”
“May I ask what you plan to name her?”
“Jennifer Nan Chandler, for my two best friends, Jennifer Aaronson and Nancy Tucker. I thought about naming her after my parents: Caroline Charlene Chandler, but that’s quite a mouthful for a little one. And there is something about the initials CCC that just sounds so… I don’t know… Like a major corporation or something.” She chuckled.
“It’s a lovely name, but won’t it cause some confusion?”
“I don’t think so. Jenn will probably be Auntie Jenn; that’s what her niece and nephew call her. This little one will likely be Jenny.”
“Or Jennifer Nan, if she’s in trouble,” he suggested with a smile.
They reached the main intersection where the tunnel to Catherine’s threshold branched off.
“Do you need a guide?” he asked.
“No, it’s a straight shot from here. I can’t get lost. I’ve been walking it a lot the last few months.” She leaned forward and kissed Father’s cheek. He impulsively hugged her.
“Thank you,” she whispered. “And don’t forget; you are welcome anytime!”
She turned and hurried away, determined that no one was going to see her cry.
The place she’d moved into several months before was huge compared to the tiny apartment that she’d moved out of. She could have fit almost the entire apartment on one floor of the new place.
Jenn was renting the apartment; she’d always loved it and had been thrilled when Catherine asked if she’d like to buy or rent. She was renting while she saved for a down payment to buy it.
One of the great things about the new place was that it was the one side of the duplex brownstone that Peter owned. The old renters had moved out the previous winter and after Peter had the place renovated he’d offered it to Catherine. She’d jumped at it since it was perfect.
The two homes connected in the basement and in the first-floor foyer. The tunnel threshold was on Peter’s side of the basement. Her first thought had been that Vincent would be able to use the threshold in the basement at any time. She and Peter had even discussed her buying the entire building when he retired and moved to Santa Fe to be near his daughter and her family. Catherine promised he’d always have a place to stay when he came back for a visit.
Now, some of those plans were changed, but she still loved her new home. She had a two-room master suite on the top floor. For the time being, the second room of the master suite was the nursery. It was the perfect setup. The two rooms were connected by the bath and the hall, and even if she didn’t use the baby monitor, she’d hear Jenny if she cried.
Eventually, she’d turn that second room into a private sitting room and move Jenny to the other bedroom on the floor below her, but right now she wanted to keep Jenny close.
There were two bedrooms each with its own bath on the third floor and two bedrooms that shared a bath on the second floor. One of the second-floor bedrooms was her guest room, and the other was her office. The first floor had the living room, dining room, and a kitchen. The basement was finished and had two rooms, one she planned to use it as a playroom for little Jenny when she was older, and the other was a laundry. There was a door in the laundry room that went into the other basement.
It wasn’t a long walk, and she’d made sure to keep up with her exercise routine while she was pregnant, but she was still tired by the time she reached the nursery.
Little Jenny had slept all the way, and Catherine hoped that she’d sleep a little longer as she carefully placed her in the crib and covered her with the baby quilt that Mary had made for her.
Mary had visited her that morning and had given some good advice.
“First, you just need to look after yourself and the baby. Don’t worry about the house, preparing meals, the laundry, or anything else for a while. Sleep, or at least rest, when she’s sleeping. She will set her own schedule, and it will be easier if you just go along with her. I’ll send one of the girls up every day to take care of the laundry and anything else that needs to be done. Someone will also be delivering meals for you for a while. Just let us know when you feel up to taking over for yourself. Have you told anyone Above about the baby?”
“No, as far as anyone is concerned I’m on vacation in the Caribbean. Once I feel up to it, I’ll start calling people and telling them.”
“What will you tell them?”
“As close to the truth as possible; I have a daughter, and her father isn’t in the picture. Joe, Jenny, and Nancy all know that I was in a relationship, so this won’t be a total shock. Knowing Joe, he’ll want to punch someone, but if I don’t name names, he’ll have to behave.”
“What about Mr. Burch?”
“What about him?”
“Vincent says that he loves you.”
“Maybe… as much as Elliot is capable of loving, but he’s not really a concern. If he finds out, then he finds out, but he won’t be hearing it from me.”
Now, Catherine tried to do what Mary had told her to do. After she tucked Jenny in, she shed her coat, and most of her clothes, put on her nightgown and crawled into bed.
Falling asleep here, in the big king sized bed that she’d hoped Vincent might eventually share with her, wasn’t as easy as it had been Below. Her body was still tired, but her brain was wide awake, and it kept going back to the conversation she’d had with Vincent the previous day. She’d never seen his eyes look so hard. They hadn’t even looked blue; they’d been steel gray. But he’d also looked sad; he knew he was hurting her but was determined to do what he thought was right.
Catherine sat up, pushed the blankets back and got up. She wouldn’t make excuses for him. He might be doing what he thought was right, but that didn’t make it right, but she didn’t have the slightest idea how to change his mind.
She put her robe on and walked down the short hall to the nursery, where she dropped into the rocking chair. She eventually dozed off there, while watching her daughter sleep.
The next few days were pretty much a blur. Jenny would wake, and Catherine would go to her, change her, feed her, spend a little time cuddling her, then put her back in the crib. Sometimes Catherine would nap in between, and sometimes she’d eat the meals that magically appeared in her refrigerator. She managed to bathe once a day, and she bathed Jenny and put clean clothes on her whenever necessary. There was a laundry chute that went to the basement and every evening when Catherine went downstairs for her dinner, she would find a stack of clean laundry on the kitchen table, all the dishes would be done and put away and the kitchen and the rest of the house would be immaculate, not that she made much of a mess. Even the garbage was taken out. She dubbed her benefactor the housekeeping angel and vowed to find out who it was so she could thank them.
It took almost two weeks for things to calm down into a normal routine. Mary had been right; it hadn’t taken long for Jenny to settle into her own schedule. It just took Catherine a little longer to get used to it. Every four hours starting at 6am, Jenny would demand to be fed, and if Catherine managed to catch about three hours of sleep between feedings, she felt like she was doing well, considering.
She almost laughed when she looked back at her personal milestones of the last couple weeks. Showering and getting dressed every day had been the first one. Although she had showered every day, at least she thought she had, she hadn’t put on clothes until something like the fourth day. Her jeans didn’t fit, they were still too tight, so she’d pulled out all her sweatpants. They were comfortable and paired with a tank top and a sweater; it was easy to nurse Jenny.
The second milestone had been putting something besides a shirt and diaper on Jenny. She looked cute in sleepers.
The third had been carrying Jenny downstairs and spending time in other rooms of her house besides her bedroom, Jenny’s nursery or the kitchen.
Not long after moving into this house, Catherine had realized that the floor plan wouldn’t be the easiest when it came to caring for a newborn. Putting the nursery down the hall from her own bedroom had worked fine for the hours she was in bed, but there were sixteen other hours in the day. She had a baby monitor, but the idea of leaving Jenny on the fourth floor in the nursery while she was in the kitchen on the first floor or in her office on the second, didn’t sit right with her. She’d eventually hit on a plan and had ordered several portable cribs. She put one in each room that she knew she’d be regularly using.
When Jenny was almost two weeks old, Catherine was in the kitchen with Jenny in the crib nearby, when Brooke arrived with her lunch. She greeted Catherine with a smile.
“Are you my angel?” Catherine asked her.
“Angel?” asked Brooke with a frown.
“The person who shows up twice a day with food and does the laundry, dishes, and anything else that needs to be done.”
“Yes.” Brooke was a little embarrassed. “Mary said you needed help for a little while, and I volunteered.”
“I just wanted to say thank you!” she hugged the girl. “And I was wondering if you’d like a job.”
“A job? You mean for pay?”
“Just what I mean. I’m going to need a nanny for a few hours a day several days a week. It will include looking after Jenny and maybe a little light housekeeping. I’ll need to go out to do errands once or twice a week, and I’m going to be doing some work for a friend who runs a neighborhood law clinic. I’ll be working from home, but it would be easier if there was someone here to look after Jenny while I’m on the phone or up to my eyeballs in files.”
“Mary was wondering if you would be going back to work. She said that it’s hard leaving your baby to be cared for by someone else while you go back to work.”
“I’ve heard the stories,” Catherine agreed. “That was one of the reasons that I knew I couldn’t continue working for the DA. I contacted someone I went to law school with. She’s probably the only person in the city, other than Peter and the people Below, who knew I was pregnant. When I told her that I wanted to work, but didn’t want to be tied to a nine to five job, she offered me a volunteer position with her group. If it works for both of us, then I can take a paid position later… So, what do you say? Would you like to be a nanny?”
“I’d love to!” said Brooke, sounding like Catherine had just asked her if she’d like to fill in for Miss America for a few hours every day. “I’ve been saving for some books I want. This will help a lot.”
“Wonderful. I won’t be needing the meals any longer; please thank William for me. Can you come up tomorrow afternoon? You can let me know when you’re available and we can set up a schedule.”
Her friend Jenny was the first person to find out about Jennifer Nan, and it all happened accidently when she called Catherine one afternoon.
Catherine was going over a divorce agreement for a client when the phone rang. She picked up the handset.
“Cathy! I was hoping you’d be back,” said Jenn. “How was your vacation?”
Catherine had to laugh. She wondered if Jenn had ever started a telephone conversation normally in her life. She always jumped right into the middle.
“It was… interesting,” was all she got out before Jenn continued.
“So, I know you haven’t gone back to work yet, so when will you be available to go to lunch? Or better, dinner?”
“I am working at home a couple days a week for Luz Corrales,” she told Jenn.
“Then you should still have plenty of time to meet me somewhere.”
Before Catherine could answer Brooke came into the room carrying baby Jenny, who was crying. Without thinking, Catherine put the phone on speaker and took the baby to feed her.
“Is that a baby crying?” asked Jenny.
Catherine realized her faux pas too late. She laughed as the baby quit crying and started to nurse.
“Actually, it is; or was. She’s eating now.”
“Where are you?”
“You called me, you know I’m in my office at home.”
“You with a client?”
“No, I’m with your namesake.” She waited for Jenn’s reaction.
“My namesake? I don’t have a namesake.”
“You do now,” Catherine told her. “Do you want to come over this evening to meet her? We can have dinner.”
“What’s going on?”
“I have a daughter, Jenn. Her name is Jennifer Nan after you and Nancy.”
“Did you adopt a baby?” Jenn was totally confused.
“No, I had her the old-fashioned way.”
“You had a baby?” She could hear the disbelief in Jenn’s voice. “When?”
“Almost a month ago.”
“In the usual way, Jenn,” Catherine assured her. She looked up at Brooke and rolled her eyes. Brooke giggled.
“Well, that isn’t what is important. He’s not in my life now. My daughter is what is important. She’s beautiful, and you should come over and meet her as soon as possible.” Catherine moved so she could rest her elbow on the arm of the chair.
“Tonight! I get off at five, and I’ll be there by six… and you are going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
Catherine couldn’t help but laugh as she hung up the phone.
“Will you need help with dinner?” asked Brooke.
“No, I’ll order from Henry Pei’s restaurant. Jenn loves Chinese food.”
Several hours later, Catherine had just finished placing the order when the doorbell rang.
She was enveloped in a hug as soon as she opened the door.
“Spit it out, Jenn. Get it out of your system.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s a long story. Come into the kitchen, and I’ll tell you.”
Catherine took Jenn’s coat, and while she was hanging it up, Jenn went into the kitchen. When Catherine joined her, she was leaning over the portable crib looking at little Jenny
“She’s beautiful, Cathy. Where did she get the red hair?”
“From her father. And I think she’s going to have his eyes too.”
“I think she looks a lot like you.”
Jenn followed Catherine to the table, and they sat down. Jenn reached into her briefcase and took out a wrapped box. She handed it to Catherine.
“That’s for Jennifer Nan,” she said.
“You didn’t have to bring anything.”
“I know, but I wanted too. That gift is kind of a tradition in my family.”
Catherine opened the package and took out a silver cup.
“It’s beautiful, Jenn,” she said, tracing the Hebrew letters on it. “What does it say?”
“The words are Yalda Tova. It means Good Girl. My Aunt Leah gave me one when I was born. I actually used it a lot when I was little, so mine has a few dents.”
“It’s beautiful! Thank you!” Catherine reached across the table and squeezed Jenn’s hand.
“So, now spill it!” Jenny demanded.
“It’s really simple. You know that I was seeing someone.”
“The same guy who stayed with you that night after you almost drowned?”
“Yes. He was sick not long after that, and we spent a lot of time together, and well, one thing led to another…”
“And nine months later, voila!” finished Jenny. “But where’s her father?”
Catherine sighed and looked over at the crib. When she looked back, the pain was evident in her eyes. Jenn was ready to do murder.
“He decided not to hang around.”
“Well, he is! Gets you pregnant and then walks out.”
“It takes two, Jenn.”
Just then, the doorbell rang again.
“That must be our dinner. I’ll be right back.”
Catherine grabbed her wallet and went to the door. She expected to see one of Henry’s delivery boys when she opened the door, but she was surprised to see Devin and Charles instead.
“Hi, Chandler. Sorry to bother you. I talked to Peter, and he told me that you were living in the other side of his duplex. We need to use the threshold, but Peter isn’t home yet.”
“Come in!” She hugged Devin then Charles.
The delivery boy arrived before Catherine closed the door and Charles hastily stepped into the shadows behind the door. Catherine took the bags, handed them to Devin and paid the young man.
“You gonna eat all this?” asked Devin.
“I’ve got company,” Catherine said. She took some of the bags from him as Jenny walked into the hall.
“I thought I heard you talking to someone,” she said as she eyed the two people with Catherine. One was a handsome man with scars on his cheek, and there was a much taller, heavyset man who stood with his back to them. There were several suitcases around them on the floor.
Catherine hooked her free arm with Jenny’s and guided her back to the kitchen. Devin followed with their dinner.
“Is that him?” Jenny whispered.
“Him who?” Catherine asked as she set her bags on the table.
“You know…” she nodded toward the crib where little Jenny was sleeping.
“No, that would be my idiot brother,” Devin said. He deposited his bags on the table and went over to the crib. “She’s beautiful, Chandler. You do good work.”
Catherine rolled her eyes and made introductions.
“Jenny, this is Devin Wells. Devin, this is my best friend, Jenny Aaronson.”
Jenny shook hands with Devin. “What about the guy in the hall,” she asked.
“That’s Charles,” Devin told her. “I’m his… guardian. He has neurofibromatosis, and the deformities make him self-conscious. He doesn’t like to meet new people.”
“Neurofi…” Jenny began. “Oh, Elephant Man’s Disease.”
“So… what are you doing in New York?” Catherine asked Devin, changing the subject.
“Charles has been having some health problems. His doc back in Ohio thinks that he’s going to need another surgery, and he’s developed some bronchial problems he can’t seem to shake. I talked to Peter, and he suggested that we come back. He knows some specialists who can help Charles.”
“Are you staying with Peter?” Catherine asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Ah, yeah, we are, but he’s not home yet.”
“I can let you in. There’s a door in the foyer. Peter never locks it.”
Catherine led the way, but Devin turned to Jenny before he followed.
“It was nice meeting you, Miss Aaronson,” he said.
“Call me Jenny. It was nice meeting you too.” She leaned forward a little to watch as Devin left and walked up the hall toward the front of the house.
“She’s nice,” said Devin as he joined Catherine and started gathering up their luggage. He handed a backpack to Charles.
Catherine opened the door that led to the foyer on the other side of the duplex.
“You know where the threshold is?” she whispered.
“Oh yeah. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, but I think I can find it.” He hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Thanks, Chandler,” he said. “I’ll talk to you later.”
She turned to Charles. “Come with Devin when he comes,” she suggested. “You can meet my daughter.”
Charles chuckled. “Dev has been talking about being an uncle ever since he heard,” he said.
“I didn’t think of that. Uncle Devin. That has a nice ring,” she said with a smile. She watched as they headed up the hall. She went back to her foyer and closed the door.
When she got back to the kitchen, Jenny had the food and dishes out on the table, and she was holding little Jenny.
“She woke up,” she said in explanation. “I didn’t want her to start crying, so I picked her up.”
Catherine looked at the clock. “It’s just about her dinner time,” she said. She took her back to the crib, changed her diaper then carried her back to the table where she handed her to Jenny.
“Be right back.” She carried the dirty disposable diaper out to the trash can that sat outside the back door, then came back in and washed her hands. She took the baby, sat down, opened her blouse and started feeding her.
Jenny had watched the whole operation intently.
“You’ve sure got that down,” she said with a grin.
“I was surprised at how naturally it came,” Catherine answered. “I was going to bottle feed, but the midwife talked me into at least trying to nurse, and it worked out. It’s so much easier than washing and sterilizing bottles, then mixing formula. I pump some milk and keep it in the freezer, but that’s not anything like doing it all from scratch. I’ll probably only nurse for a couple of months. I’ll be spending a couple of days a week in the office after the first of the year.” After a while, she disengaged the baby from her breast and switched her to the other side. When she was done, Catherine took her back to the crib and put her in it.
“She usually falls asleep while she’s eating, but she’ll be wide awake and hungry again by ten.”
Catherine had been nibbling on an egg roll while she fed the baby. Now she sat down and filled her plate.
“Healthy appetite,” Jenny commented as she watched her friend.
“Peter told me that I don’t need a lot more calories than I would normally eat, but it seems I’m always hungry. I haven’t gained any weight. In fact, I’ve already lost nearly everything I gained while I was pregnant, so I guess I’m doing all right.”
“So, that Devin. If his brother is half the looker he is, I can see why you fell for him.”
Catherine steeled herself; she knew she was going to have to talk about Vincent sooner or later.
“They aren’t really brothers,” she explained, “not by blood. Vincent was adopted, and he’s a few years younger than Devin.”
“You did say that Jenny got her coloring from her father. He’s a redhead?”
“Reddish gold,” Catherine told her. “And his eyes are blue. He’s also taller than Devin and more muscular.”
“Sounded like Devin wasn’t very pleased with his brother.”
Catherine shook her head over that. “And that is a real role reversal for them. Devin has always been the black sheep, and Vincent has been the good son. Their father is not happy with Vincent’s decision either.”
“What about you?” Jenny asked, her voice softening.
“It hurts,” she said with a shrug. “But there is nothing I can do to change his mind, so I have to live with it.”
“What do you mean, there is nothing you can do. You’re a lawyer, can’t you take him to court or something?”
“And do what? Force him to be a father?”
“Get child support or something.”
“That’s part of the issue, Jenn. I’m way better off than he is and he’s never felt as if he was good enough for me. He’s tried more than once to convince me that I’m better off without him, but I thought that after we were together when he was sick, he’d finally given up fighting it. He told me that he loved me and I really thought we had made it, but when I told him I was pregnant, he was very upset and angry.”
“No, not at me. At himself… You see, he has some genetic… differences that he was afraid he’d pass on to a child, and he felt that the best way to keep from doing that was to abstain.”
“Completely? From sex?” Jenn was clearly surprised. Her eyes widened as she considered the thought.
Catherine nodded. “And anything that might lead to it.”
“Hasn’t anyone ever told him about birth control, condoms or vasectomies?”
Catherine shrugged. “I don’t know. If our encounter had been planned… So much had been going on that I’d slipped up with my birth control pills, but to tell the truth, I wouldn’t trade my Little Bit for anything. I wish Vincent wasn’t so stubborn about this, but I have to think of Jennifer now and put her first.”
“And if this Vincent is going to be like that, he doesn’t deserve you.”
Although Catherine thought that talking about Vincent would have pulled the scab off the wound that was only beginning to heal, she was surprised that she felt much better after talking to Jenn. Vincent had once told her about a conversation he’d had with his father about how she’d been all alone with the secrets she was forced to keep. She’d thought at the time how wonderful it would be to be able to share those secrets with Jenn.
Now, at least, she could share this much with her.
“So, where does it all go from here?” asked Jenny. She’d picked up on Catherine’s sadness, and the sudden quiet had made her a little uneasy.
“Forward!” said Catherine with a ghost of her old grin. “I have the means to give my daughter a happy life, and I plan to make sure I do.”
“You know what they say about money,” warned Jenny.
“I know, it can’t buy happiness, but it can smooth the way and make some things easier. I’m a single mother, but I don’t want to fall into that hole where I’m so focused on my career that my family suffers. I tended to do that with Daddy after I went to work for the DA. I’d go months without seeing him. Jenny will not suffer because I have my priorities skewed; Jenny’s my priority!”
“So, what did you think of your Auntie Jenn?” Catherine asked as she bathed Jenny a few hours later. “I can guarantee one thing. She’s going to be the fun aunt. She’s the one you want to go shopping with when you’re old enough. Aunt Nancy will probably invite you for sleepovers with her three kids. She’s got a little boy who is only a few months older than you. We’ll have to go for a visit soon. If you like baseball, or any sports then Uncle Joe will be your man. And I have a feeling that Uncle Devin will just plain spoil you rotten when he’s around. And your Grandpa Jacob loves you. We all love you. What’s not to love?” she nuzzled Jenny as she lifted her out of the small tub on the counter. She breathed in the sweet baby smell, knowing it would be something she remembered all her life, just like the sandalwood and wood smoke she always associated with Vincent.
“I love you Little Bit,” she said as she settled Jenny into the crib in the nursery later. “You might not be able to count on anything else in this world, but you can count on that. I love you.”
Devin showed up in Catherine’s kitchen the next morning, while she was relaxing. She’d finished her breakfast and was sipping her second cup of coffee while reading the newspaper. She heard footsteps on the stairs from the basement, just before he stuck his head in the kitchen.
“Is it too early?” he asked.
“Are you kidding, I’m the mother of a one-month-old. I’m always up early, and late, and just about any time.”
He went over to the crib in the corner of the kitchen.
“We won’t wake her, if we talk, will we?” he asked.
“As long as we don’t start shouting, we won’t. I haven’t gone out of my way to be ultra quiet while she’s asleep, and she seems to be able to sleep through just about anything.”
“You’ve been asking Mary for advice, haven’t you?” he said, as he went to the counter and helped himself to a cup of coffee.
“Who better? How many has she raised?”
“I don’t even want to count. Twenty years’ worth of babies, anyway.” He sat down across from her. “Now, tell me what happened.”
“You haven’t talked to Vincent?”
“He’s not around. Father said he hasn’t been around more than a day or two at a time since you left.”
Catherine wasn’t surprised at that revelation. As far as she knew, no one Below agreed with Vincent’s decision, and he likely was staying away to avoid the lectures, advice and looks he’d be getting otherwise.
“I want to clarify one thing! I didn’t leave because I wanted to. I was pretty much forced to go because Vincent didn’t want to have anything to do with his daughter.” Catherine had wondered when the anger would replace the hurt. She had her answer.
Devin held up his hands.
“Hey, I just want to help.”
“I don’t think you can. Father talked to him, and so did Mary. Brooke told me that she even heard Pascal telling him off. No one has been able to change his mind, and he wouldn’t even talk to me. When I went to him before I left, he was gone.”
“Was he with you when she was born?”
“He was, and he was great, but right after he saw that she didn’t look like him, he basically told me to take her and start a life without him. I tried to talk to him the next day before I left and he was already gone.”
“Yeah, that’s been the pattern from what I hear. He’s gone on mapping expeditions, supply runs to Narcissa’s, or trips to inspect the farthest reaches of the tunnel network. Father says that he’s lost weight, but he just won’t stay still long enough for anyone to talk to him. I’ve moved into his chamber in hopes of catching him on his next visit home.”
“What do you think you can do that no one else has been able to do?”
“He’s always listened to me and been able to talk to me before. Maybe I can get him to talk to me now.”
“Good luck,” she said sarcastically.
She folded the paper then grabbed her empty cup and went to the sink where she seemed to lose momentum. The cup slipped from her fingers into the dishwater, and she sagged against the counter.
Devin watched, he wanted to go to her, but somehow didn’t think she’d welcome that right now. He was astonished as he saw her back stiffen again. She turned and leaned on the counter with a determined look on her face, but the anger was gone as quickly as it had come.
“What do you want, Cathy?” he asked seriously.
“I want him to be happy. I want to be happy. I want our daughter to be happy; have a happy life, and I happen to think that her life would be happier if her father was in it. Devin, he’s as stubborn as they come, but he’s a good man, and she deserves to know him, and I think I deserve to have him in my life. I love him. Maybe that’s stupid, after what he’s done, but I do love him. I know he has what he thinks are good reasons for doing this, but I think he’s wrong. I think that if he’d allow me to talk to him, I could persuade him to at least look at it from my point of view, but I wasn’t even able to get near him.”
Devin looked thoughtful. “I’ll talk to him. Maybe I can make him see reason, or at least get him up here to talk to you sometime soon.”
“I don’t know, Devin,” she said sorrowfully. The anger might be gone, but now she felt hopeless again.
“I think I can safely say that he’ll listen to me, he might even talk to me and I’ll try to get him to show some favorable movement. What do you say?”
“I’d say that you are crazy and you are wasting your time.”
“Hey, give me some credit!”
Catherine got a clean cup and filled it before going back to the table. She patted Devin’s shoulder as she passed. “Thanks, Devin. I hope you can do something, but I won’t be holding my breath.”
They sipped their coffee in silence for a few moments before she spoke again.
“How’s Charles? You said he was having some health problems?”
“Yeah, his doctor said that one of the tumors on his neck is growing and he’s afraid that it might obstruct his breathing, or put pressure on the carotid and reduce the blood flow to his brain, or both. He said he couldn’t do anything and that Charles needed a specialist. I called Peter, and he suggested that we come back to New York. Peter’s Below, examining him now.”
“If there’s anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask” she offered.
“Thanks. Peter says that he’s got it all under control, but I’ll tell him.”
Devin finished his coffee and stood to leave.
“I need to go talk to Pascal about letting me know as soon as Vincent is spotted heading home. I want to be ready for him.” He hugged Catherine when she stood. “I can’t wait to meet that one,” he pointed over at the crib, “when she’s awake some time. I’ve got some stories I can tell her.” He grinned and winked.
Far below the city, Vincent was sitting on his bedroll with a large, half-drawn map spread out in front of him. He consulted his compass and his notes, and drew in a section of tunnels. He’d been doing this off and on for several weeks, and he was getting tired of sleeping on the hard ground and eating canned or dried food. He was ready for a break and would be heading home tomorrow or the next day. He’d mapped the whole section to the north of the Great Hall on the same level. A lot of the tunnels he’d explored were man made, and there was one section that looked as if it had been used as living quarters. He was anxious to get back to tell Father. There was fresh water available, and it would be a good place to use if they ever had to leave the home tunnels again.
He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. The Bond was quiet. The baby was asleep, and Catherine was concentrating on something; probably reading or maybe working. The last time he’d been home Brooke told him that Catherine was working from home a few days a week.
He tried to block the Bond as much as he could, and when he was busy it wasn’t hard to ignore it, but when he was quiet like this, he couldn’t keep himself from checking to make sure they were both all right.
On his short visits home, it seemed as if everyone had decided that he was in need of their counsel. He expected it from Father, but even Mary, but Pascal, William, Lena, and little Samantha had seen fit to lecture him. Samantha had made one especially poignant point. Just before he’d left the morning after the baby was born, Samantha was carrying a gift wrapped in brown paper and tied with a pink ribbon.
“I made this to give to you when the baby was born. I started it right after Catherine said that you knew you were going to have a girl. I thought when I started it that it was the perfect thing. Now I’m not so sure.”
She shoved the gift into his hands and ran off.
He’d put it into his pack and hadn’t opened it until he’d stopped and made camp for the night.
It was a cross stitch sampler.
The reason why daughters love their Dad the most is. . .
that there is at least one man
in the world, who will never hurt her.
He hadn’t left it in his chamber on any of the short visits back; he’d kept it with him, and every time he emptied or repacked his pack, he’d looked at it.
The opinion of a ten-year-old girl shouldn’t mean so much, but it did. Even though he was sure he was doing the right thing, it hurt to know that Samantha thought less of him for doing it. Maybe she’d realize he was right when she was older.
But times like now he doubted himself. He tried to be a father-figure to the children Below, and he realized that his decision to stay out of his own daughter’s life had probably made the other children wonder if he’d eventually turn his back on them too. In effect, he had. He’d left and had barely spoken to any of them.
He rolled the map up and put it in the tube he carried it in, then reached for the book he’d been reading, but the quiet this deep was almost deafening. He couldn’t concentrate. It was too quiet, and he was too alone. More so than he’d ever been, even before he met Catherine. He definitely needed to get back home even if he did have to listen to lectures and well-meaning advice.
When Devin left Catherine’s after their visit, he went straight to the study to talk to Father. When he got there, Peter and Charles were with Father.
“Devin, just the person I need to talk to,” said Peter, as Devin descended the steps to the floor.
“I agree with the doctor Charles saw in Dayton. That tumor is going to have to be removed, but before we can even think about that, we must clear this bronchitis. I don’t think that staying here Below is going to help with that. It’s damp; there’s the wood smoke and the smoke from the lanterns and torches, not to mention mold spores. I suggested that he come Above and stay with me. I’ve got plenty of room.”
“Don’t wanna go Above, Dev!” Charles told him. “Don’t like it there.” Charles’ speech had improved over the previous months, but when he was upset, it deteriorated again.
Devin turned to Charles. “I know you don’t like it there, but you’d be inside Peter’s house, and you won’t have to go outside at all unless you want to.”
“But Dr. Peter said that I’d have to see the sp… specialist.” Charles clasped his hands tightly in front of him. He’d learned to contain his actions after the time he’d accidentally wrecked Mouse’s workshop. Now, when he got agitated, he became very still.
Peter kept his voice low, and comforting. “I did say that Charles, but he’s a friend, and I’m sure that if I explain the circumstances, he’d be willing to see you at my house.”
“Dev?” Charles looked up at him.
“I think you should do it, Charles. And if Peter doesn’t mind, I’ll go up and stay with you.”
“Of course, Devin. Whatever makes Charles more comfortable.”
Charles sighed with relief and looked up at Devin.
“Then we’ll do it, won’t we Charles? You don’t have to worry about the specialist right now. We’ll concentrate on getting you over this bronchitis; then we’ll move on to the next thing.”
“OK, Dev,” Charles finally agreed. “When do you want to go?”
“The sooner we can start treating the bronchitis the better, Charles,” said Peter. “I’ll write the prescriptions and get them filled. You can go up whenever you are ready. If I’m not back, you can just take your pick of the guest rooms. Lord knows I have enough of them. There are two rooms on the second floor that each have double beds and share a bathroom or you can take the bedrooms on the third floor that have private baths. The one on the front of the house has a king size bed, and the other one has a queen.”
“Sounds good, Doc,” said Devin, shaking his hand. “I’ll go get our gear and meet you Uptop.”
“Does Catherine live there too, Dev?” Charles asked later, as they were walking to Peter’s.
Devin explained about the duplex and that she’d be right next door.
“And I can go see the baby? I won’t scare her?”
“As long as Catherine says that it’s OK. At her age, babies spend most of their time sleeping, so don’t expect too much.”
When they got to Peter’s they decided to go to the third floor so they would have private bathrooms and the bigger beds. Charles took the room with the king size bed.
Devin dropped his gear and went to help Charles unpack. Charles had spent so much time on the road with his brother sharing a small trailer and having no real space of his own, that the first thing he always did when he arrived somewhere new was unpack and make the new space his own. He had one small bag that contained what he called “my stuff.” The book Vincent had given him the first time they’d visited the tunnels, a Santa Claus figurine that his mother had given him when he was five, several souvenirs that Devin had picked up for him from the places they’d visited after they’d left New York the previous winter, his pillow and last, but not least, a large, heavy, mug without a handle that he used for his coffee or tea.
“Sorry we had to pack up and move again so soon,” Devin said as he hung some things in the closet.
“It’s OK, Dev. It’s nice here, and we can go see Catherine and the baby a lot.”
“Not too much, bud. The baby needs to sleep, and Cathy had things she needs to do too.”
He was happy to see Charles taking such an interest in something.
Devin was unpacking later when he went back to thinking about Catherine’s problem. Since he wasn’t going to be in Vincent’s chamber to catch him when he got back, he was going to have to recruit some help.
When Vincent was seen heading home the next day, Pascal put the word out on the pipes. Kipper was listening for it. He ran as hard as he could to Peter’s to tell Devin.
Devin and Charles had just finished lunch. Devin left Charles to clean up, and he headed back to Vincent’s chamber. He’d only been there long enough to light some candles and build a fire in the brazier when Vincent arrived.
Vincent was surprised to see his brother sitting at the table.
“It’s good to see you,” he said as they hugged. “How long have you been here?”
“Just a few days. Charles needed medical attention, so we came back. We’re staying up at Peter’s.”
“Is it serious?” Vincent asked, as he hung his cloak on a hook near the door and started to unpack his backpack.
“It could have been. He had bronchitis, but that’s under control, and he’s probably going to need surgery for a tumor, but Peter says that it’s routine.”
“Why are you staying at Peter’s and not down here?”
“Charles’ bronchitis. Peter wanted him away from the smoke and mold down here.” Devin went back to the chair and sat. “So what’s up Bro? You look tired.”
Vincent continued to unpack, tossing dirty laundry into a basket and putting books on the shelf.
“I’ve been busy. I got the rest of the level the Great Hall is on mapped out. There is more there than any of us realized. I’m sure that if it had all been found back in the beginning, John Pater would have insisted that the entire community move down there.”
“Pops said that John wanted to use the Great Hall for his chamber when he first discovered it, so you’re probably right.”
“What about you?” asked Vincent as he dropped tiredly into the chair opposite Devin. “How long do you plan to stay?”
“Well, Charles is tired of the traveling. He says he’d like to stay in one place. We were renting a place in Ohio, but there were too many people around, and Charles wasn’t happy. He says he wants to stay here.”
“I’m not surprised,” Vincent ventured. “He’s traveled most of his adolescence and adult life. Maybe he thinks it’s time for him to be in one place for more than a month or so at a time. Have you talked to Father about staying?”
“We both did, right after we got here. Father is going to put it before the council at the next meeting, but he doesn’t think there will be a problem now that people have gotten to know Charles a little better.”
“Will you stay?” Vincent asked.
“As long as I need to, maybe longer.” Devin grinned. “I think I’m getting some of the wanderlust out of my system, too. I was looking back not long ago. I left here when I was fourteen, and I’m thirty-eight now. That’s twenty-four years of roaming and not having any place I could really call home. I don’t think I’ll stay Below, but I think I will stay in the city.”
“It will be nice to have you close,” Vincent told him. “Maybe you’ll find someone and settle down.”
“Are you going to hang around long enough for us to spend some time together, Little Brother? Father says you’ve been gone a lot lately.”
Vincent stood and started gathering things to bathe, but he didn’t meet Devin’s eyes. “I needed some time.”
“To do what?”
Vincent sighed and looked uncomfortable. “You’ve talked to Father?”
“Yes, and I’ve talked to Catherine, and I’ve met my niece. What are you going to do?”
“I’ve already done it. I told Catherine that she’s better off without me, and so is the child.”
“The child is your daughter, and she has a name. It’s Jennifer.”
“I know, Brooke told me. She named her after her friend.”
“Two friends, from what I hear. Her friend Jennifer Aaronson and Nan after her friend Nancy.”
“It sounds like she’s getting on with her life.” His voice was firm, but it sounded like he was trying to convince himself of something.
Devin waited while Vincent went to bathe. And while he waited he formulated a plan. Vincent had said that he might find someone and settle down...
Catherine had plenty of company.
The door between her place and Peter’s was hardly ever closed. Charles came over several times a day. Jennifer fascinated him. He wouldn’t touch her or even get very close, but he loved to sit and just watch her sleep. Brooke was in and out when Catherine needed her, and Devin visited often.
She didn’t question why Devin visited but was happy to have him there.
Charles’ bronchitis cleared up. The specialist examined Charles and had him scheduled for surgery at the end of the week, provided his lungs stayed clear. Charles was more nervous about being in the hospital than he was about the surgery itself. But he was going to be in a small, private hospital, and he was going to have a private room. Peter and Catherine had seen to that.
And, if everything went as planned, he would be home three days after the surgery.
The night before the surgery Charles couldn’t sleep. He was up and down all night. Catherine brought him a cup of chamomile tea since the surgeon had said only clear liquids after midnight. Devin read to him, they watched old reruns of Wagon Train on TV, and when the sun finally came up, no one had slept much, but Charles was ready. He’d resigned himself to the fact that it had to be done.
Catherine saw them off, and Devin promised to call her with updates as soon as he knew anything, and she promised that she’d let everyone Below know.
The surgery went well, and Charles had plenty of visitors while he was in the hospital. He felt good, and he felt even better once he was back at Peter’s. Charles was supposed to take it easy for three more days after he got home, then he could start following his normal schedule again. Peter didn’t want him going back Below until he was completely healed.
Devin had decided to start looking for a job, but he took time off from the search to spend time with Charles since Charles was spending so much time at Catherine’s that meant Devin did too. He was learning a lot about babies, probably more than he ever wanted to learn. He was changing diapers and feeding her, trying to convince Charles that if he could do it, anyone could.
Catherine found that she enjoyed cooking, especially when she had someone to enjoy the meals with. Devin and Charles were very appreciative of the home cooked meals.
It all hit the fan a few days into November.
Peter was at the hospital, checking on a patient when he had a heart attack. Catherine was called, and she rushed to the hospital, leaving Jennifer in Brooke’s capable hands.
After waiting almost two hours, she was finally told that it had been a mild attack; more of a warning than anything, and since it happened in the hospital, he’d had immediate attention and was doing well. He wanted to talk to her.
“Have you talked to Susan?” he asked after Catherine kissed him on the cheek.
“Not yet. I was waiting until I had something to tell her that wouldn’t totally panic her.”
“Why don’t you call her from here?” He gestured at the phone. “Maybe between the two of us we can convince her to stay home.”
“Good luck with that,” Catherine said as she picked up the phone and dialed the number. After she filled Susan in and reassured her that Peter was OK, she handed the phone to him.
They talked for a few minutes, and he shook his head as he handed the phone back to her.
“They will be here sometime tomorrow evening. She said she’d call you and let you know their plans. I told her that I had house guests, but she said that they’d work it out.”
“That’s not a problem. I’ll just tell Devin and Charles to move into my guest rooms. I’ve got plenty of room.”
“I don’t want to tire you out, so I’ll head home.” She kissed his cheek again. “You sleep well, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She went home and told Devin what was going on, and then she helped him and Charles pack up and move, again. After they cleaned up and changed the bedding at Peter’s, Devin headed Below to give Father the latest news.
Father and Vincent were studying the new maps when Devin found them.
“Have you heard anything about Peter?” asked Father.
“Catherine just got back. She said the docs told her that it was a mild heart attack. He didn’t think there was any damage to the heart muscle, but they’ll do more testing tomorrow. Peter’s daughter will be here with her family tomorrow. They are going to stay at Peter’s.”
“That won’t leave much room for you and Charles,” said Vincent. “Will you be coming back Below?”
“No, I don’t want to bring him back down here just yet. We’ve moved in with Cathy for the time being.”
Father nodded. “That’s a good decision. Charles only just recovered from bronchitis and he’s not healed from the surgery yet.”
Peter was home a week later and announced that he’d decided that he was going to retire. He said the heart attack was his wake-up call. He talked to his partners, and they agreed to buy out his third of the practice, then he talked to Catherine about buying the duplex. She called her accountant, and it was all arranged. Catherine was the new owner before the week was over. Peter would stay on until his doctor released him, then he would fly to Santa Fe.
“What about the furniture?” Catherine asked Peter a few weeks later.
“Susan has already shipped everything that she wanted. There’s really nothing else that I need to bother with. It can stay. If you decide to rent, you can rent it furnished. I did leave some things in boxes in the basement. When I find a place, I’ll have you ship it all to me.”
“I don’t know about renting it. The threshold is on your side of the basement, and unless I can find another Helper I’d have to block it or hide it, and it wouldn’t be usable. I was thinking that, instead of renting your side of the duplex to strangers, I’d offer to allow people from Below to use the rooms. It would be convenient for those who are going to school above, and with six bedrooms, there is plenty of room.”
“That’s a good idea. I’ve offered the rooms few times, over the years.”
“Devin was telling me that you are advising Charles not to try to live Below, because of his lungs.”
“Yes, it looks like his bronchitis is going to be a chronic thing. I don’t think it will be a problem for him to visit, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for him to be there all the time.”
“He’s going to be disappointed.”
“I know, but he has to think of his health.”
“Maybe Devin and Charles would like to stay permanently. Devin has been looking for work, and it’s close enough that they can go Below to visit and Charles can come over here to see Jennifer.”
“Sounds ideal for everybody,” Peter agreed.
Devin was in Catherine’s kitchen the next morning, making coffee and thinking how everything had played so well into his plans.
He’d been up early every day, spending the mornings looking for a job. He was starting with Helpers first.
After that, he was going Below and spending the afternoons with Vincent.
“How is Peter?” asked Father, when Devin joined him and Vincent in the study.
“He says he’s fine. His doctor says that he can travel after Thanksgiving and he’s booked his flight for Monday. He’s planning to come down for your Sunday evening chess game this weekend.”
“It will be nice to see him,” said Father.
“You’re going to miss him,” put in Vincent.
“Yes, but he’s been talking about this for some time now. He’ll enjoy being able to spend time with his grandchildren.” He glanced at Vincent.
“Catherine bought the house,” Devin told them. “She’s offered Peter’s side to Charles and me for a nominal rent. She’d also liked to allow people from Below to use rooms there when they need them.
“That’s generous of her,” said Father.
“Excuse me, Father. There’s something I need to do.” He left, and Father and Devin looked at each other and Devin grinned.
“I take it that was the reaction you were trying to get out of Vincent?” said Father.
Vincent dropped into his chair with a sigh. Devin had just shown him that Catherine had every intention of staying in the city. As long as she was renting from Peter, there had always been the possibility that she could decide to move, but now that she owned the house, there was a very good chance that she didn’t have any intention of going anywhere.
Later, in Vincent’s chamber, Devin spent at least forty-five minutes telling Vincent all about what Jennifer was doing, and how he and Catherine had taken her out in her stroller for her first walk the week before. It has only been up the block to a small grocery, but it had still been her first walk. He also filled Vincent in on what Catherine was doing.
“Is she enjoying what she’s doing?” Vincent asked.
“She’s not working full time. She works from home most of the time, and it’s volunteer. She invited Joe to the house last week to introduce him to Jennifer. He was surprised to see me there. We had some explaining to do, and he agreed to ignore the fact that I was practicing law without a license for almost a week when he found out I was family.”
“Family?” questioned Vincent
“Jennifer’s uncle. Remember?”
Vincent grunted. He was getting tired of hearing about all the time Devin was spending with Catherine and the baby.
“You’re spending a lot of time with Catherine,” Vincent observed.
“She’s going to be my landlady, and she is my neighbor and my friend. She’s been there for all of us. She’s so generous. She welcomes Charles into her home. She was at the hospital as soon she knew that Peter needed her, but she didn’t stop there. She moved Charles and me in with her so Susan could be with Peter when he got home. I tried to help her out as much as possible too. I even fed Jennifer a few times so Catherine could sleep.”
“Oh, did you? I thought she was nursing.”
“Catherine’s starting to wean her to a bottle to make it easier when she works away from home a few days a week after the first of the year.
Susan and the family had gone home the week after Peter was released from the hospital, and Peter left the Monday after Thanksgiving. Devin and Charles moved back into the rooms on the third floor on the other side of the duplex right after Peter left.
Devin found a job working as an insurance adjuster, something he assured everyone that he actually had the training to do. Things were settling into a nice, stable routine. Devin and Charles visited Below several times a week, and Father and Mary had even been Above a few times to visit Catherine and the baby.
Vincent had gone back to his normal routine. He was taking his turns on sentry duty, doing patrols, teaching and going out with repair crews when needed. The only time he’d been away had been the twice monthly supply runs to Narcissa’s.
Catherine had just finished putting Jenny to bed one night when there was a tap on the nursery door, and Devin stuck his head in.
“Am I bothering you?” he asked.
Catherine looked up and smiled. “Of course not. She just went to sleep. Let’s go downstairs.”
Devin followed her down to the kitchen where she filled the electric kettle and started a pot for tea.
“I came to deliver this.” He held a Winterfest candle out to her.
She stepped back and wouldn’t take it.
“I don’t think so, Devin.”
“Come on. Come as my guest. Father wants you and Jenny there and I volunteered to deliver it.”
“Jenny is too young. She’ll only be three months.”
“So you can take her, and she can stay long enough for everyone to see her and admire her then she can go up to the nursery when all the other little ones go.”
“I haven’t done anything social in months.”
“All the more reason to go. You’re a Helper, and this is a party for Helpers. You deserve to be there… and I don’t even know if Vincent will be there. He’s been so busy; I heard him telling Father that he’d help get everything ready, but that he didn’t think he’d be attending this year.”
Catherine considered it, then finally took the candle and agreed to go.
“Good! I’ll pick you up here around 6:30 on the evening of the 21st.”
“I talked her into coming to Winterfest,” Devin told Father the next morning.
“Good! Do you have a plan?”
“Yes, I think I do. Not only am I going to convince Vincent that he must be at Winterfest this year, but I think I know how to make him realize that what he’s doing is wrong.”
“How do you plan to do that?” Father asked.
“It’s still kind of sketchy, and I’d rather not talk about it right now.” He was afraid that Father would think it was too underhanded and veto it.
“If I can be of assistance, then let me know.”
A few days before Winterfest, Devin finally found Vincent soaking in the pool in his private bathing chamber.
“Devin, didn’t anyone ever tell you that some people prefer privacy when they bathe?” Vincent asked when he opened his eyes and saw his brother sitting on the bench next to the pool.
“You never used to be so hung up on privacy,” scoffed Devin. “Besides, this is the only place you sit still long enough to talk.”
“What do you want to talk about,” asked Vincent as he reached for the shampoo bottle.
“Winterfest. Father told me that you said you weren’t going to go. Why not?”
“I don’t think I need to explain my actions to you.” Vincent had been having bad-tempered fits off and on for weeks, and it was only getting worse.
“No, but I’m here to ask you to reconsider.”
“Why?” he started to rub the shampoo through his hair.
“This is my first Winterfest in twenty-four years and Charles’ first ever. We’d kind of like to have you there to share the fun with us.”
Vincent hadn’t thought about that. All he’d thought about was that Catherine had been at the last Winterfest, and she wasn’t going to be at this one, and he didn’t want to be there without her.
He looked up at Devin. “As the children would say, you really know how to send me on a guilt trip, don’t you?”
“As they also say… ‘pack your bags.’ Come on. This is the one time all year that everyone lets loose and enjoys themselves. I even remember Father getting tipsy once or twice. You need this. You need to become part of this community, again.”
“I see your ability to talk people into things hasn’t changed much, over the years. I’ll think about it.” He dunked to rinse the shampoo out of his hair.
Devin waited until he came back up before he spoke again. “Don’t think about it. If you do, you’ll overthink it like you do everything else, and you’ll talk yourself out of it. Just say that you’ll go, and leave it at that.”
Vincent sighed. “All right, for you and Charles, I’ll go.”
“Thanks, little brother. Charles will be happy to hear it!”
“How is Charles?” Vincent hadn’t seen him since before the surgery.
“He’s doing great. He’s healed. His breathing is better; he can lay down to sleep again, he loves living right next door to Cathy. He spends as much time over there with her as he does at home.”
Vincent looked confused. “Why’s that?”
“That’s right. You’ve been gone so much you don’t know the latest. He loves Jennifer, and she lights up every time she sees him. Brooke even lets him help with folding her clothes or putting away her things.
“Cathy has become quite the cook, and she invites us to dinner a couple times a week. Charles loves to watch Jenny, although he’s still afraid to touch her. He says he’s too clumsy. He’s fascinated with her. He’s helping Cathy keep track of her achievements. He’s read the book on infant development that Cathy has; he’s almost memorized it.
“Cathy’s getting more sleep.” Devin chuckled. “She says it’s almost like being back at the DA’s office. She put’s Jenny to bed around midnight, and she’s actually sleeping all the way to 6am. And I swear she recognizes me, or at least the sound of my voice. She smiles when I pick her up and loves it when I hold her.”
As Devin watched Vincent’s reactions, he made the stories a bit more elaborate; talking more about Catherine and the baby. Vincent’s lower lip thinned out, a sure sign that he wasn’t liking what he was hearing. Devin could only wonder if he didn’t like hearing about Catherine, or if he didn’t like that someone else, namely him, was spending so much time with her and Jenny. He hoped it was the latter.
“By the way, I’ve got to work on the 21st. So, I might be a little late. I’ve told Charles to come down early and go down to the Great Hall with you and Father. I wouldn’t want him to miss the opening ceremony.” He was using that as an excuse for Catherine and him not to join the group when it headed down to the Great Hall.
Devin met Catherine at her house on the 21st, just as he said he would, but he was purposely a little late.
“Sorry, I was held up at work,” he hastily apologized. “I told Charles to go on ahead. We can take the short cut, and we might even get there ahead of most of the crowd.”
“There’s a short cut?” She asked as she put on her coat.
“Sure is. The long staircase is used because it’s easier for the kids and the older folks, and for the theatrical value. The staircase inside the Great Hall, where the tapestries hang, leads up and out to another tunnel. It’s more direct, but it’s narrow, and the stairs there are steeper. The youngsters who help William carry everything down use that route.”
He led Catherine down, and they arrived at the top of the stairs in the Great Hall less than twenty minutes later. The Hall was quiet, and there were only a few candles flickering.
“It was dark when the doors were opened last year,” she commented as they went down the stairs and found places at the table.
“They need a little light to see the stairs and to set out everything, but when those big doors are opened the wind rushes in and blows out the candles.”
“That’s clever.” She shrugged out of her coat but kept it around her shoulders. The braziers hadn’t been lit yet, so it was still chilly in the room. She settled the dozing Jenny on her lap as they sat down and waited.
It wasn’t long before they heard voices, then the huge doors started to push open. The wind rushed in, all the candles went out, and Winterfest began once again.
Catherine was shocked when she saw Vincent leading everyone in.
“I thought you said he wasn’t going to be here,” she whispered.
“Father must have had some success with his arguments,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t catch on to the lie.
Vincent took his usual seat near the head of the table, next to Father, and Catherine slouched back in her chair as if to hide behind Devin. Once everyone was seated, the hall grew quiet, and Father started the ceremony.
“The world above us is cold and gray, summer a distant memory. Our world, too, has known its winters, so each year we begin this feast in darkness, as our world began in darkness.”
Catherine listened to the words and watched as Father’s candle touched Vincent’s on one side then Mary’s on the other. Then the flame started to make its way down the table.
“Long before the city above us raised its towers to the sky, men sought shelter in these caverns.” The sound of Vincent’s voice took her breath way. He tipped his candle and lit Charles’ candle.
“In those days, these tunnels were dark places, and those who dwelt here dwelt in fear and isolation.” Mary tipped her candle to light the next one.
“This was a land of lost hope… of twisted dreams, a land of despair… where the sounds of footsteps coming down a tunnel were the sounds of terror… where men reached for knives and rocks and worse at the sound of other men’s voices,” said Vincent.
Charles smiled broadly and reached over to light Devin’s candle. As Devin lit Catherine’s candle, Vincent glanced down the table, and his eyes met Catherine’s for a moment. She didn’t breathe until he looked away.
Father spoke again. “But at last a few people learned to put aside their fear.”
“And we began to trust each other… to help each other,” said Mary.
“And each of us grew stronger… those who took the help, and those who gave it.” Vincent looked down the long table as he spoke.
Father finished the ceremony as solemnly as it had begun. “We are all part of one another… one family… one community. Sometimes we forget this, and so we meet here each year to give thanks to those who have helped us… and to remember… even the greatest darkness is nothing, so long as we share the light.”
Catherine tore her eyes away from the head of the table and watched as the hall brightened and the flickering flames made their way around the room and up into the chandeliers.
Vincent caught up with Devin at the buffet table where Devin was filling plates for Catherine and himself.
“You didn’t tell me that Catherine was going to be here,” he growled.
“It’s Winterfest. She’s a Helper. I thought it was a given.”
He left Vincent standing by the table and carried the plates back to where Catherine had settled. She was surrounded by people. All of them were oohing and ahhing over Jenny, and Brooke stayed with her to hold Jenny while Catherine ate.
About an hour later, Mary came over to where Catherine and Lena were sitting.
“Do you want to feed her before we take the babies back up to the nursery?” Mary asked.
“I don’t need to. I fed her just before I came down. I’m starting to wean her; there are a couple bottles in her bag. She shouldn’t be hungry for at least an hour.”
She handed the diaper bag to Brooke and Mary took Jenny. “You just have a lovely evening. You can collect this little lady on your way home,” Mary told her.
Catherine watched as Mary and several other women carried babies and a couple toddlers toward the main door. Vincent pulled it open far enough for everyone to slip out, then closed it behind them.
“Now,” said Devin as he walked up. “How about a dance?”
“I don’t think so.” Catherine had chosen her dress for warmth. It was a deep red velvet coat dress, with a high neck, long sleeves and a hemline that just brushed the floor. Now that the room was starting to warm up, she was beginning to feel a little too warm. She ran her finger around the collar and pulled it away from her neck. “But why don’t you go ask someone else?” she suggested.
“I think I will.”
He held his hand out to Lena who took it and stood. Before he returned to Catherine’s side he danced with Lena, Rebecca, Olivia, and Elizabeth.
When he returned, he was carrying two cups of punch.
“You should mingle,” he suggested as he handed her one of the cups.
“I was enjoying watching the dancing,” she said as she stood up. “It’s been months since I’ve seen everyone. They’ve been stopping to talk to me.”
“I heard about all the excitement last year. Father said that you really saved it all.”
She shrugged. “I just used some skills I learned working at the DA’s office. I’m glad we don’t have to worry about anything like that this year. I’m just sorry that Vincent had to go through what he did to make it that way. Killing Paracelsus, the way he did was terribly traumatic.”
“He hasn’t talked to me about it, but I’ve heard the stories. I have to think that part of him knew that the man he killed wasn’t Father. Vincent’s sense of smell is uncanny. I don’t know how many times when we were kids that we’d go back to our chamber and he’d sniff the air and tell me that someone had been there while we were gone. He could even tell who it was.”
“He was so sick! I doubt he was paying attention,” she argued.
“Maybe not consciously.”
“Well, maybe not, but it was still hell for him to go through.”
Devin moved to stand a little closer. Catherine had raised her voice and caught the attention of those around them.
“I’m really surprised that you can still be so sympathetic toward him, after the last few months,” said Devin in a quieter tone.
“I never stopped loving him, Devin,” she said with a sigh. “I’m angry and disappointed, but I still love him.”
“What if he walked up to you right now and begged your forgiveness?”
Catherine thought for a moment. “I’ve already forgiven him, but I am angry and hurt. I think it would be a long time before I could really trust him completely again, at least with my heart. He tried to send me away more than once, but I never went, and this time, when I did go…” she hesitated and closed her eyes. “I think that somewhere in the back of my mind I was expecting him to just show up in a few days, and everything would be fine.”
“For someone so smart, my little brother can be a real dunce sometimes.”
They both turned and watched the dancers for a while, and when the music changed from the contemporary tunes that had been playing to something a little more sedate, Devin leaned in and whispered in her ear.
“You know, I was a dance instructor once.”
She leaned back and looked up at him. “Oh, do tell.”
“Yeah, it was one of those Arthur Murray studios. I already knew some of the basics, Father used to make all the children learn, and the studio would train a new batch of instructors about once a year.”
“Is that your way of asking me to dance?” she asked with a smile.
He grinned and winked. “I thought that if I let you know that I know what I’m doing, I might have a better chance.”
Devin finally coaxed Catherine onto the dancefloor for a few dances. They started with a foxtrot then a quickstep, but Catherine stopped when a waltz began. They were on their way back to the bench where Catherine had been sitting, and she was fanning herself.
She hadn’t been aware that Vincent was watching from the other side of the chamber, but Devin knew and just for good measure he put his arm around Catherine as they stopped at the table for another cup of punch.
Catherine stifled a yawn as she took her seat. “I think I’m ready to call it a night. Do you think there’s someone who can guide me back up to the nursery?”
“Hey! I always leave with the same lady I came with! I’ll take you up.”
“You don’t have to leave just for me. It’s still early, and the party will still be going for a while.”
“I have to get up early for work tomorrow; it’s best I leave now too, or I’ll be drinking way too much coffee tomorrow.”
“What about Charles?” She nodded toward the group gathered around the table across the hall, where Charles and Father were playing chess.
“I’ll ask someone to take him up. He’ll be fine.” He glanced over his shoulder and saw Vincent watching them from the other side of the hall. If he was going to do this, he might as well make it look good. He angled his body so that he almost completely blocked Vincent’s view of Catherine, then he took one of her hands and leaned down to whisper in her ear hoping it looked like something a bit more personal from where Vincent was standing. “Father’s been teaching Charles to play chess, and he can still beat him, so I thought I’d let them keep playing. It will put Father in a good mood.”
Catherine actually giggled. “I was getting to the point where I was making him work for his wins.”
Devin stood and grinned down at her.
“I’ll go get your coat. I’ll be right back.”
Vincent was standing near the table where Catherine had left her coat on the back of her chair. He didn’t speak to Devin, but just stood and glared at him.
“Hey, Little Brother. Will you make sure that Charles gets back to the house? Catherine is tired. We’re going up to pick up Jenny then I’m taking them home.”
Vincent nodded, and Devin grinned at him pretending not to notice the glare. “Thanks.” He picked up Catherine’s coat and made his way back.
Vincent watched as Devin helped Catherine into her coat then led her up the stairs
He was fuming!
Devin had kissed her! He’d had the impudence to kiss Catherine right there in front of him and everyone else. And from the feeling in the Bond and the look on her face, she’d enjoyed it! If he hadn’t just promised to see that Charles got home later, he’d leave.
Devin accompanied Catherine into her kitchen. He put the diaper bag on a chair, said good night, and left. Catherine fed Jenny, then took her upstairs and put her to bed. Then she got ready for bed herself.
It had been a lovely evening; she’d enjoyed spending time with her friends. Vincent had been there, but she’d only seen him from a distance. She had covertly watched him. He’d been all over the chamber, but the closest he’d been to her all evening had been right at the beginning when they were all still at the table. A few times she’d had the feeling she was being watched and looked in his direction to find him just turning way.
Devin hadn’t left a party this early in years. He smiled to himself as he grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator and sat at the table with the newspaper.
His plan was moving right along if he did say so himself. He hadn’t told Father or Catherine what he was doing, mainly because Catherine would probably balk at the idea of manipulating Vincent, she wasn’t the type, and Father would worry whether or not it was ethical, but Devin was sure that this was one time where the end did indeed justify the means.
He hadn’t even finished his beer when he heard Charles and Vincent in the basement.
They were surprised to find Devin sitting at the kitchen table with the newspaper and a bottle of beer.
“You’re home earlier than I expected,” he said glancing at the clock. “It’s barely midnight.”
“Hi, Dev. Were you waiting up for me?” asked Charles, as they entered the kitchen.
“I didn’t read the paper this morning, so I thought I’d do it now.”
“You didn’t have to wait for me… Vincent made sure I got home.”
“I knew he would.” He smiled at Vincent then looked back at Charles. “Did you enjoy your first Winterfest?”
“Yes! No one a… acted like I was different… not even the people from A… Above who don’t know me.” Charles sounded like he was thrilled. “Some of the children asked questions… but they were just curious.”
“What did you tell them?”
“That I have a disease… It isn’t contagious. I told them what it is, and they had a hard time trying to pronounce it… Samantha even wanted to know how to spell it
“Samantha has told Father that she wants to be a doctor,” Vincent supplied.
“It’s nice to know someone will carry on in Father’s footsteps,” Devin said to Vincent. He turned to Charles. “Do you want something to eat?”
“No, I ate a little bit of everything at the party… I’m not hungry, but I am tired… Thank you for bringing me back, Vincent. ‘Night Dev.” He put the bag of goodies William had given him in the refrigerator and headed out of the room.
“You’re welcome, Charles. Sleep well.”
Vincent took a chair across the table from Devin, and they listened while Charles lumbered up the stairs.
“All those stairs aren’t too much for Charles, are they?” asked Vincent. “I noticed he was tired, coming back.”
Devin set aside his paper and took a sip of his beer. He was surprised Vincent was speaking to him; he seemed to have cooled down from earlier; he didn’t know if that was good. He wondered if Vincent had seen through the little charade earlier.
“He’s still recovering from surgery and tires easily, but the cardiologist who evaluated him before surgery said that the stairs, some daily exercise, and walking would be good for him.”
“Where does he exercise?” asked Vincent, knowing how much Charles disliked being among strangers.
“He works in the back yard when the weather is nice. He’s getting the beds ready for flowers in the spring, and he does most of his walking Below. Since I started working, if he doesn’t have lunch with Catherine, he walks down to the dining chamber and eats with Father. If you’d pay attention, you’d know all of this.”
“You sound like Father. He demanded that I stay closer to home, but since I have been he’s kept me very busy on the work detail roster. He says he’s tired of teaching my literature and history classes, and he’s sure the children are tired of him.”
“You’ve been home for a while now, you going to stay?”
“Except for taking supplies down to Narcissa every two weeks, yes I will.”
“It is nice seeing more of you; but it’s been just that; I’ve seen you in passing and not much more. I think I talked to you more tonight than I have just about the entire time I’ve been home.”
“I’m surprised you noticed,” said Vincent.
“What do you mean? I saw you on the dance floor will several different ladies.” Devin said with a grin as he stood and went to the refrigerator for another beer. “You want one?” he asked holding up a bottle.
Vincent nodded, and Devin carried both bottles to the counter where he opened them and grabbed a glass out of the drainer. Vincent could drink from the glass better than from the bottle. He set them in front of Vincent and went back to his chair.
“I danced with Olivia and Rebecca, and I think they were the youngest. I believe that Long’s mother-in-law was probably the oldest,” Vincent said, as he poured the beer.
“Well, all I can say is that you were doing a good job of keeping the ladies happy.”
“You were rather attentive to one lady in particular,” Vincent observed.
Devin considered whether he should play dumb, but decided that he’d go with it.
“She’s a beautiful woman, Vincent. It’s hard not to be attentive.”
He watched as Vincent’s jaw tightened; exactly the reaction he wanted to see.
“She’s vulnerable right now, Devin. Don’t take advantage of that.”
“I’ve never taken advantage of a woman in my life,” Devin swore. “And I’m not about to start now. Besides. Catherine Chandler is about the least vulnerable woman I’ve ever met.”
“You can’t feel what she feels like I do. You don’t know,” Vincent argued.
Devin leaned back in his chair and rubbed his finger over the light condensation on the beer bottle. He looked up at Vincent to judge his reaction as he said his next words.
“I think I can tell when a woman enjoys my company,” Devin said. “And I’m very sure she’d tell me to get lost if she didn’t want me around. She is renting us this side of the duplex, after all.”
“Just be careful with her, Devin.” Vincent didn’t raise his voice, but there was iron in it, nonetheless.
“What is this all about?” asked Devin after a short hesitation. He decided that maybe it was time for a heart to heart with his brother. “You don’t want her, but you don’t want anyone else to be with her? Is that it? A dog in a manger scenario? You sent her away, Little Brother, remember?”
“I sent her away because I love her and know that she deserves better than me.” Vincent was on his feet and pacing.
This is almost too easy, Devin thought. Regrets, Little Brother?
“And you think I’m not good enough for her?” Devin asked guilelessly.
“I didn’t say that. It’s just that you never stay in one place very long. I’d hate to see her hurt when you leave again.”
“Who said I’m going anywhere? I’ve been on the move for the last twenty-four years. Settling down in one place has begun to look more and more appealing. I would have happily stayed in Ohio if Charles had been more comfortable there. Settling down and starting a family sounds better all the time.”
Vincent stopped in mid-stride and turned to Devin. “But not with Catherine!” he growled.
“Maybe not, but then again, why not? Don’t you think that’s up to her? If you love her so much, why did you send her and your daughter away?” Devin had never raised his voice, but Vincent was getting more agitated by the second.
“It’s best for both of them if I’m not in their lives,” Vincent insisted as he resumed his pacing. “Catherine… both of them, deserve more than I can ever give them.”
“Has Catherine ever said that?”
“Then why do you insist on acting like an idiot? The woman loves you!”
“But you kissed her.” Vincent stopped again and turned toward Devin.
So my little ruse really did work. Devin almost smiled as Vincent resumed his pacing.
“I kiss women all the time. It’s enjoyable, but it doesn’t mean that the woman is in love with me, even if she kisses me back.”
Vincent had to admit that what he’d felt the Bond broadcasting hadn’t exactly felt like a kiss, but there had been pleasure. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with her,” he retorted.
“Yes, I have. I’ve never been an uncle before; I’ve never spent much time around babies, for that matter, and Jenny is cute. Charles adores her. We visit almost every evening.”
“Charles goes with you?” Vincent came back to the table.
“Almost every evening. He also has lunch with Catherine a couple days a week. He actually spends more time with her than I do.”
Vincent dropped into the chair and reached for the glass of beer. Devin watched as he tipped the glass and drank it down. Devin had heard that alcohol had very little effect on Vincent, but he wondered.
“Slow down. You’ll get drunk.”
“If only that were possible.”
Devin regarded him. “I didn’t even know you liked beer.”
“I don’t. Not that much.” He pushed the glass aside and stared at it, sullenly.
“Look, Vincent; you really need to go and talk to her. You are both miserable. Catherine is fine when she’s got something to occupy her mind, but when she’s quiet, she looks sad. She stays busy and tries to hide it, for the sake of the baby, but she’s not happy. And neither are you. It would be such an easy fix, so why not take that step?”
“It’s not right, Devin,” Vincent insisted, but his voice was much quieter than it had been minutes before.
Devin stood so abruptly that he knocked his chair over. He grabbed the empty bottles.
He really believes what he’s saying! he thought as he carried the bottles to the trash and tossed them in.
“Why not?” Devin demanded as he walked back to the table. He grabbed the chair and set it upright, but he didn’t sit down. He gripped the back and leaned toward Vincent. “Why aren’t you allowed to be happy like everyone else? God, the Old Man really has done a number on you, hasn’t he?” He jerked the chair around and sat down. “Look, Vincent; I don’t give a damn about what he says; you deserve happiness just as much any anyone else in this crazy, screwed up world. And so does Catherine! If being together is what makes you both happy, then that is the way it should be.”
“Father has given up his preaching,” Vincent told him, although Devin already knew this. “He’s been on Catherine’s side almost from the instant we told him she was pregnant.”
“See! What’s holding you back?”
“After all this time and what I’ve done? I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“First tell her you love her and then apologize; maybe even grovel a little. Women love that… the groveling part, I mean.”
Vincent looked across the table at Devin. Devin had seen that look before. The look he’d had when they’d dreamed about sailing down the Mississippi. Could he be coming around?”
“Do you think she’d listen to me?”
“I’m pretty sure she will,” said Devin with a grin. He glanced at the wall clock. “I’m willing to bet that she’s awake now. She’s usually in her kitchen about this time; you should go talk to her.”
“This late? It’s almost one.”
“She works from home most of the time and makes her own schedule. Or I should probably say that Jenny makes it for her. Catherine told me she’s never been a morning person, so she goes to bed late and gets up late. Jenny usually wakes her around six, but she goes back to bed for a little while after she feeds her.”
“If she’s not in the kitchen, then leave her a note and ask her when it would be convenient for you to visit. I’ve got to get up early and go to work, so…” He picked up the newspaper and stood. “… I’m going to bed. Good night.”
He dropped the paper the trash can as he left the kitchen.
Vincent sat for a few more minutes thinking about what Devin had said. He was right; he had to talk to Catherine. As he headed for the basement to go next door, he picked up a notepad and pencil from the table under the phone.
Catherine looked up from her planner when she heard someone coming up the stairs from the basement. It wasn’t unusual for Devin to visit late in the evening, but he usually didn’t visit quite this late, and he usually used the door in the foyer. She was surprised at the light tap on the door.
“Come in,” she called out.
She was even more surprised when she saw Vincent open the door.
“I’m sorry to be here so late. I wasn’t even sure you’d be up. Am I disturbing you?” he asked when he saw what she was doing.
It took her a moment to find her voice. “No, I was just going over my calendar for the next few days.”
“Maybe I should go… Is there a time when it would be convenient for me to visit?”
“Any time, really, but now is fine. Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to talk, but if you’re busy, maybe next week some time?”
“Please. Sit down. Hanukkah starts on Saturday, and my friend Jenn has invited me to dinner at her parents. She wants her parents to meet Jenny. I was just mapping out the next few days. Joe has invited me for Christmas Eve at his mom’s,” she tried to sound normal, not like she was suddenly all tied up in knots, inside.
In spite of Devin’s words, Vincent had his doubts. He was almost afraid to ask his next question.
“Will you go?”
“Saturday at Jenn’s, yes, but I’m not sure yet about Joe’s mom’s. The weather is supposed to be nasty on Christmas Eve.” She hesitated. “Why are you here?”
“I wanted to talk, but it’s late. I’ll go and come back at a better time.”
“No! Stay. I don’t think I’ll sleep much tonight, anyway.”
If he’s so determined to leave, why did he even come? she wondered.
“You’re tired,” he observed.
“Goes with being a Mom, I’ve been told. Besides, I have nowhere to be tomorrow.” She stood and started toward the counter. “Would you like something? I was about to make some cocoa.”
He nodded as he took off his cloak.
“Have a seat. This won’t take long.”
She poured milk into a pan and set it on a burner, then went to the pantry and picked up several items. She took a moment to take a couple deep breaths and calm herself. Her hands were shaking and she didn’t want Vincent to see that. The last person she’d expected to see tonight, or any other night, was Vincent.
When she felt calm, she carried everything back into the kitchen.
Vincent took the opportunity to study her while her back was to him. She was dressed for bed but not in one of the pretty, feminine nightgowns she used to wear. She was wearing a dark green flannel robe over lighter green flannel pajamas. He wondered at the change.
Did she wear the pretty gowns for me? he wondered. Or is flannel just more practical now that she’s a mother?
A few minutes later she poured the cocoa into a large ceramic coffee pot and carried it, and two mugs back to the table. She filled both the mugs and sat down opposite Vincent.
“What did you want to talk about?” she asked after her first sip.
Vincent cradled his mug in his hands for a few moments before he looked up at her.
“I want to apologize,” he finally blurted out.
“For being an idiot. For sending you and Jennifer away and expecting that to be the cure for everything.”
Catherine stared into her cup as she swirled the liquid, and blew on it.
“Why now? It’s been three months. In fact, it’s three months exactly. The 21st was Jenny’s three-month birthday.”
Vincent took a sip of his cocoa before he answered.
“I was too stubborn to see what I was doing before, and I didn’t stay around long enough for Father or Devin to point it out to me.”
“Stubborn is one way of putting it. Obstinate, hardheaded, and pigheaded are some of the politer words I’ve used,” she said seriously.
“Catherine, I’m not asking for things to go back to the way they were, but I do want your permission to be a father to Jennifer.”
Catherine was surprised at his request. He’d been so adamant that he didn’t want to have anything to do with either her or Jenny, now he wanted to be Jenny’s father. She was hesitant to speak.
Isn’t this what I want? she asked herself. But what if he changes his mind again, a little voice whispered. It’s one thing to risk me, but something altogether different risking Jennifer.
“Why this sudden change of heart?” she asked skeptically. “Anything to do with it almost being Christmas, and you seeing other families together and wanting to be like that?”
“I don’t really know, except that Devin pointed out that I’m miserable, and the reason I’m miserable, and that the cure for that would be a simple one. I don’t want just this holiday with Jennifer, but all the holidays and birthdays to come, and all the days between. I want to share the things I love with my daughter...” And with you, he added silently but wasn’t sure how she’d react if he said it out loud.
“Until the next time you get down on yourself and decide you aren’t worthy and take off again?” Her tone was hard and sarcastic.
“I won’t do that. I promise. If you allow me to be in Jennifer’s life, I will be there for every day of it, not just the convenient or easy ones.”
Catherine sipped her cocoa and watched him over the rim of her cup. She swallowed and set the cup down, carefully.
“I don’t know, Vincent. I don’t think I’m as trusting as I once was.”
He nodded. He’d opened himself to her feelings earlier in the evening; he could feel just how torn she was right now. She wanted to say yes to his request, but something inside her was holding her back.
“May I see her before I go?” he asked.
“Of course!” He was surprised at how quickly she said yes to that. “She’s upstairs.”
He followed her up three flights of stairs and into the temporary nursery.
“Isn’t this an awfully long way from the first floor?” he asked, as he stood at the end of the crib and looked down at his sleeping daughter.
“She’s very seldom up here alone,” she told him, “and there’s a baby monitor for when she is. Most of the time she’s with me. I have portable cribs in several rooms, so she can be close to me.”
“She’s grown so much,” he said as he looked at her.
“She was six and a half pounds when she was born and is just over twelve pounds now. The doctor told me that we won’t know her final eye color until she’s six months to a year old, but I’m pretty sure hers are going to be blue. They just seem to get bluer every day.” Catherine stifled a yawn. “I’m sorry. It’s been a long day, and she will be waking me in a few hours. I think I should try to get some sleep.”
He knew that she was hinting for him to leave.
“May I stay a little while?” he asked. “I won’t disturb her. I just want to spend a little time with her.”
Catherine considered for a moment. She knew she could trust him to do as he said. She nodded.
“I’m going to bed. Just leave the door to the bathroom open when you leave. It connects the two rooms, and I can hear her if she wakes.”
“Thank you.” He watched as she went into the bathroom and closed the door.
Vincent sat in the rocking chair and watched his daughter, taking in every tiny movement, facial expression, and sound like a parched man who’d just been given a cup of water. The night light didn’t throw a lot of light, but it was enough for him to see by.
He kept telling himself he should go, but then he’d tell himself just one more minute. Each minute led to another and before he knew it the sky outside was starting to get gray and it was after 6am.
Jennifer was stirring, and he knew that she’d be wanting her breakfast soon. Catherine was sleeping soundly, and he decided to let her sleep.
He was leaning over the crib when Jennifer opened her eyes. She smiled and melted his heart even more.
He picked her up and took her to the changing table, where he changed her diaper. He wrapped a blanket around her and went to the kitchen in hopes of finding a bottle. He knew that Catherine was breastfeeding, but he also knew that she’d had bottles in the diaper bag the night before.
He was in luck, and there were two small bottles in the refrigerator. He warmed one and sat down at the table to feed Jennifer.
The change of person didn’t seem to bother her at all. She finished the bottle, and after inspecting his fingers and trying to get one into her mouth, she went back to sleep.
Back in the nursery, he decided he liked holding her and sat back down in the rocking chair and started to rock.
Twelve pounds. Catherine says she weighs twelve pounds. He shifted her a little, so he could reach the top of her head with his lips. He dropped a kiss there and closed his eyes. She doesn’t feel like she weighs twelve pounds.
He inhaled and took in her scent. She smelled like a mixture of Catherine and baby powder.
Catherine woke and looked around the room. It was full daylight, and the clock said it was after nine.
What in the world? Why isn’t Jenny awake?
She jumped out of bed and rushed into the nursery on the edge of panic, but she had to smile at the sight that greeted her. Vincent was sitting in the rocking chair with Jenny tucked securely in his arms. They were both sound asleep. Taking advantage of the few extra minutes, she tiptoed back into the bathroom.
When she went back to the nursery, she was wearing her robe and was brushed, washed, and smelled of toothpaste. Jenny was beginning to wake, and Vincent was immediately wide-awake.
“Good morning,” she said, trying to hide a smile.
He looked a little sheepish. “I’m sorry, I know I said I wouldn’t stay long, but before I knew it, she was waking. I thought that since you indulged me and allowed me to stay, the least I could do was take care of her breakfast. I hope that was all right.”
“No, don’t apologize! Thank you. That is the first time I’ve slept that long all at once since I was about six months pregnant. Almost a full eight hours! I feel like a new woman.”
Vincent rose and handed the yawning baby to Catherine.
“I was supposed to meet Father at breakfast this morning. And I’m late.” He turned to leave, but when he reached the door, he turned back. “May I return?” he asked.
“Yes, anytime. When I’m not here, Brooke is with Jenny. We’ll be at the Aaronson’s tomorrow night, but I haven’t made up my mind about Christmas Eve yet. Depends on the weather.”
“Thank you, Catherine.” He was gone before she could say anything. When she sat in the rocker to feed Jenny, she was shaking her head.
When Vincent entered Father’s study a little while later, Father was consulting one of his never ending lists.
“I missed you at breakfast this morning,” he commented, as Vincent took the chair in front of the desk.
“I wasn’t at breakfast.”
“You slept in? Heaven knows that with the way you’ve been working for the last week, I can’t blame you.”
“No, I didn’t sleep in. I was at Catherine’s.”
Father removed his reading glasses and peered across the desk at his younger son. “You visited Catherine?”
“It’s about time I came to my senses, isn’t it?”
“As long as you’re the one saying it, I’ll have to say that I agree. I just hope it’s not too late. Have you and Catherine reconciled?”
“I’m trying, but I’m not sure we can ever truly reconcile. I did apologize, and I asked her to allow me to see Jennifer.”
“What did she say?”
“She told me that I was welcome to spend time with Jennifer. I hope I’m able to see her every day, and I hope that Catherine will allow me to bring her Below when she gets older.”
“This is a huge change in your way of thinking,” Father commented as he watched Vincent take off his cloak and sit.
“More like a change in my actions. My thinking has been very confused since Catherine told me she was pregnant. At first, I was sure that the child would look like me, so I knew it would live Below, and I’d be a part of its life, but then Peter did that ultrasound and said that he didn’t think she would be like me, and I began to question.” Vincent looked up at Father. “Father, my decision was based on faulty reasoning. I was still thinking in terms of that kind of life, that kind of relationship not being possible for me. But obviously, I’d come to the wrong conclusions… Perhaps I’m too late to repair the damage I’ve done with Catherine. But if she allows it, perhaps I can still be a father to Jennifer.”
Devin’s words echoed in his mind, and he hesitated a moment before speaking.
“Devin said something, and it makes sense,” he finally said. “He asked why I’m not allowed to be happy like everyone else.”
Father shook his head and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I just thought that your happiness would come from a different source. That was my monumental error.”
“I wouldn’t call it monumental. No parent is perfect… we all make mistakes.” He smiled wryly. “I’m learning that.”
Father nodded. “Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes… with both Devin and you.”
“I’m trying Father… I truly am.”
“So, why were you there all night?” Father asked changing the subject. “Did you talk?”
“We talked a little, but I was in the nursery when Catherine went to bed. I asked if I could stay a little while and she said I could. Before I knew it, it was dawn.”
“I know what you are talking about. There is just something about watching your child sleep. Everything just seems to fall into place.” Father smiled. “And when they are sleeping, that means they aren’t crying and needing to be fed or changed.”
“I changed her and fed her and let Catherine sleep. That’s why I was so late.”
Catherine had to smile as she checked the list in her planner. She had chores now; a daily list of them, something she’d seldom had before in her life. Chores that the comfort and well-being of another human being depended on. She’d had obligations before: school, her job, her dad, her other relationships. Some of them had been more onerous than others.
In spite of everything that had happened in the last year, all the changes, she was content with her life; not ecstatically happy, but content. She loved being a mother, and no one had been more surprised than her that she’d been willing to put her career on the back burner in favor of raising Jenny.
What was still sinking in was that Vincent was edging his way back into her life. He was being cautious, and she was probably even more cautious, but he wanted to be involved in Jenny’s life, and that was something she wanted for her daughter. It was going to take a lot of thought.
She was sorting laundry in the basement when Brooke arrived after lunch.
“Vincent said he visited last night,” she said with a grin. “He asked me what my schedule was with you.”
“He was here. We talked a little. Why did he want to know your schedule?”
“He said he was going to ask your permission to fill in for me occasionally. He specifically asked me what days you were away from home. I told him that you go to the office every Monday morning, and do errands on Wednesday afternoons. He also asked me why you hadn’t decorated for Christmas. He said you always did before.”
Catherine thought it was odd that he’d notice the lack of Christmas decorations. She shrugged. “Jenny isn’t old enough to notice, and I just haven’t seemed to be able to find the time. It’s my favorite time of year, and I love decorating. I got all the decorations out, but I never got around to it.” She pointed to the boxes stacked by the stairs. “That’s all my stuff, some of my Dad’s, and a few things that Peter left.”
“Do you have a tree?”
“No. That’s one of the things that held me up. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get a tree home; I got rid of my car.”
Brooke reported what Catherine had said about decorating for Christmas to Vincent when she met him at dinner later.
“Do you know where to buy a tree?” he asked her.
“I’m not sure, but I do know that they are kind of expensive. Maybe you should talk to Devin.”
Devin and Charles were cleaning up after dinner when Vincent walked into the kitchen, a little while later.
“A Christmas tree? Yeah, there are a lot of places in the city. In fact, there’s one not far from my office. Why?”
Vincent explained his plan and Devin started to grin. “How big a tree were you thinking?”
“I’m not sure, but the ceilings on the first floor of this building are ten feet, and the tree that Peter used to put up almost touched the ceiling once it was in the stand and had the angel on top.”
Devin looked over at Charles. “Looks like I’m going tree shopping tonight, Bud. It’s the 22nd; I just hope there are some good ones left. You want to come? You can stay in the car.”
Charles surprised him by nodding eagerly.
“When do you plan to do this?” he asked, turning back to Vincent.
“Tomorrow evening? Catherine says that she and Jennifer are going to her friend’s house for dinner.”
“We will have to move fast,” Devin said, as he finished loading the dishwasher. “She won’t stay out late with the baby.”
“I’ve already got several people lined up to help. We can do it.”
“How about this one, Dev?” called Charles.
Devin had been surprised when Charles had said he wanted to get out of the truck and help when they got to the lot. The tree lot wasn’t crowded, and Charles had a hooded coat.
Devin wove his way through the trees that were left and found Charles.
“The tag says it’s eight and a half feet.”
Devin walked around the tree. He couldn’t see anything wrong with it. Maybe it was just too big for the normal New York Apartment.
“It’s a live tree,” Charles pointed out. “It’s in a big bucket… We could plant it in the back when Christmas is over.”
Devin looked at the tag. “It’s a lot more expensive than a cut tree,” he said.
“Does it cost too much?” Charles was used to budgeting the money they’d had up to now, but Devin’s new job paid well, and Catherine didn’t charge them a lot for rent.
“No, I think we can afford this. You stay with it, and I’ll go get the attendant. I sure hope he has instructions on how to plant it.”
They managed to get the tree secured in the back of the pickup truck that Devin drove, and once they got home, they got it into their side of the duplex without Catherine seeing them.
“That thing is heavy!” Devin exclaimed as they set it on the rug in the hall. “We’re going to have to put it on a plastic mat of some kind, so we can water it and not ruin the floors.”
“There’s something in the basement… It might work.” Charles took his coat off and hung it up, and left Devin with the tree. A few minutes later he was back with a round tub that was a few inches larger than that plastic pot the tree was in. Once they lifted the tree into the tub, there was plenty of clearance around the outside.
“That’s perfect. The tree can be watered, and it won’t leak. We can cover it all with a tree skirt, or a sheet or something.”
“We did good, didn’t we Dev?” Charles was beaming. He had been delighted when Vincent had told them his plan.
“Yes, we did,” agreed Devin. “And we will have our work cut out for us tomorrow. Vincent has big plans.”
Those plans were put into action almost before Catherine was in the taxi the next evening.
With Vincent’s help, Devin and Charles moved the tree through the connecting door in the foyer into Catherine’s living room, to the spot in front of the big window where Peter always used to put his tree.
Vincent had brought Brooke, Mary, and several of the children, and everyone went to work as soon as they arrived.
Brooke wound the pine garland around the stair banister, then added twinkling white lights. Mary set up nativity figurines on the cabinet in the hall and put out other decorations. Everyone else set to work decorating the tree.
Vincent entered the hall to find Devin with Eric on his shoulders. Eric was tying something to the bottom of the small chandelier that hung there.
“What are you doing?”
“Putting up the mistletoe. The guy at the tree lot had some. Said it’s the real thing. Threw it in for free with the tree and the two wreaths.”
The final touch was to hang the wreaths on the doors.
“But it will give it all away,” warned Samantha.
“I don’t think so, Sammy,” said Devin. “She’ll probably just think that Charles and I did it. Especially since there is one on our door too. They match.”
The children took care of cleaning up and taking the boxes back to the basement.
“Do you want us to get lost, Little Brother?” Devin asked as Vincent handed him an empty box.
“There’s no need. You all helped.”
“But it was your idea, so I think that we need to get out of here so you can collect your thanks without us interfering.” He turned to everyone standing in Catherine’s kitchen. “OK, everybody next door to my kitchen. I’ll make cocoa, and I think there may be cookies in the pantry.”
After all the activity of the previous few hours, the silence was deafening. Vincent went through the rooms turning out lights and turning on the Christmas tree lights and the lights in the garland. It wasn’t long before he heard a car pull up in front. He cracked the curtains and saw that it was a cab. Catherine was getting out with the baby. He heard her key in the lock; the door opened, and she stepped inside.
“What the…?” He heard her say as the door closed behind her. He heard her locking it then rose as she came into the living room.
She looked from him, to the tree, then back at him.
“Did you do all this?” she asked.
“I had help.”
She stood in the arch between the hall and the living room, and did a slow turn, taking it all in: the twinkling lights, the candles, the tree and the decorations.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you.” And before she could stop them, tears were running down her cheeks. She hastily tried to brush them away. Vincent went to her and took the baby.
“Are you all right?” he asked, as he carried a sleeping Jennifer to the portable crib in the corner of the living room.
“I’m fine. It’s just that while I was at the Aaronson’s, I started to regret not decorating. Jenn’s family has always celebrated both holidays, Hanukkah and Christmas since they have both Christians and Jews in the family. Their house is decorated, and it looks great.”
She took off her coat and hung it on the hook. She set the diaper bag next to the stairs. “Then I come home to find my house beautifully decorated.”
“I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he began.
“That’s OK. These are happy tears, I assure you.” She finally crossed the room to him. “Thank you, Vincent. This was so thoughtful! And You blended everything so well; my decorations, my Dad’s and Peter’s. And where did you find that gorgeous tree?”
“Devin and Charles picked it out. It’s a live tree. Charles is very excited that you’ll be able to plant it in the backyard, once the ground thaws in the spring… although I’m not sure what you’re going to do with it for the next three months.”
“We’ll figure something out. I won’t disappoint Charles.”
“I’m sure you won’t. Did you enjoy your evening with your friends?”
“Very much. Jenn’s family is great. Her mom was a little upset with me for not telling them I was pregnant, but I was forgiven when they met Jenny and found out that I’d named her after their Jennifer. Even Jenn’s Aunt Leah was sweet.”
“Her aunt usually isn’t sweet?”
“She has her moments.” Catherine chuckled. “She’s fond of telling everyone that her name means weary and that she was born tired. She has threatened to write any family member out of her will if they name a daughter after her.”
Catherine headed toward the kitchen.
“Sounds like an interesting woman.” Vincent followed her.
“She certainly is that. She was born in Russia in 1900, but her immediate family came here in 1910. She was the oldest child and never married. She took care of her parents until they were in their 80’s. She still lives by herself.”
Are we reduced to small talk? she questioned herself. But then, again, at least we’re talking and not standing around staring at the floor and shuffling our feet.
She turned on the kitchen light and saw Vincent reaching for his cloak.
“No. Don’t go. Not yet. Would you like something? Tea? A soft drink? Wine? Water?” Catherine didn’t understand why she suddenly felt that she had to get him to stay at least a little while longer.
Vincent dropped his cloak back to the chair.
“Wine?” he said tentatively.
“Of course. I have a nice red in the pantry. I didn’t know you liked wine.”
“Not the red, it gives me a headache. You have a bottle of a white I like in the refrigerator.”
“Most reds give me a headache too,” she said as she got glasses out of the cabinet and went to the refrigerator.
Vincent watched as she expertly wielded the corkscrew, opened the bottle and poured two glasses. He followed her back to the living room when she picked up the bottle and her glass and went back to the couch.
She sat and kicked off her high heels, and put her feet up.
“I’ve been on my feet almost all evening except when we were eating. I should have worn sensible shoes.”
Vincent had taken a seat on the opposite end of the couch from her. He set his wine glass on the coffee table and took one of her feet in his hands.
“What?” she started to pull away.
“Relax,” he told her. “Your feet hurt. You’re not used to those shoes anymore. Isn’t this the first time you’ve worn them since you stopped working at the DA’s office?”
She knew that he was privy to what she felt, but didn’t realize that he paid that much attention to the reasons for those feelings, at least the physical ones.
“To tell the truth, I think it’s the first time I’ve worn them since the last time I was in court.” She leaned back and closed her eyes. He’d rubbed her feet and ankles when they were swollen during her pregnancy.
“That feels good.”
He knew just where her foot hurt and concentrated on those spots.
She didn’t know if it was the foot massage, the wine or a combination of the two, but ten minutes later she was feeling much better.
“I don’t think I’ll be going to the Maxwell’s tomorrow night,” she said as she sat with her eyes closed.
“It was starting to rain when I came in, and from the sounds of it, it’s turned to sleet.”
Vincent listened. “You mean the sound like someone is throwing tiny pebbles against the windows?”
“Yes. I’ll call Joe in the morning and tell him that I prefer to stay home.”
“That would probably be the smart thing to do, but that means you’ll be alone on Christmas Eve.”
“Not if you agree to come and spend some time with Jenny and me. I won’t ask you to come for the whole evening; I know you’d probably like to spend it with your family and friends Below, but…”
“Catherine,” he interrupted. “My family is here. Jennifer and… you.”
She opened her eyes and looked at him. She took a deep breath.
“I want to try, Vincent.” She shook her head slightly. “But letting you in again? I don’t know if I can do that. It hurt so much when you sent me away, and I was so tired of trying so hard.”
“I let you do all the work, and I’m sorry for that. At the time, I thought it was the best thing. Now I know that it was a mistake.”
“Vincent, I never really understood why you’ve always thought that we shouldn’t be together. Was it Lisa?”
Vincent turned and picked up his wine glass. After a sip, he sighed.
“Yes, but not just that. There were times when I allowed myself to hope, to dream. When you were Below after your father died. I thought that I might be able to follow those dreams. When you were near, it gave me the courage to try. But when we were apart, I would start to doubt.”
“We were together a lot while I was pregnant, but you hardly touched me during that time, except to rub my feet and legs, and sometimes my back.”
“I felt responsible for your discomfort; I wanted to help you.”
“Is that the only reason?” she asked, and he could feel her pain.
“No. I love you, and I wanted to help you all I could.” He was suddenly agitated and on his feet, pacing. “Is that what you want to hear?”
“It is, if it’s the truth, since I love you too.” That made him stop and turn to look at her. “I never stopped, Vincent. That is why it hurt so much. Do you remember anything about Jenny’s conception?”
He sat back down and turned toward her. “I remember that it didn’t happen in the cavern below the catacombs, as I first thought it had. I went to Narcissa, and she taught me some meditation techniques. I used them and remembered that it happened in your bedroom.”
“Yes, and you actually made the first moves. I was stunned, at first.”
“But you were willing,” he put in. “I had been so frightened that I’d forced you. That I might have hurt you.”
“You would never have hurt me,” she assured him. “Do you remember what you were thinking? Why you chose that particular moment?”
He shook his head and shrugged. “I thought I was dying. It’s said that when a person is dying, they often rally and feel better for a short time, and I thought that was what was happening, and I didn’t want to die without knowing you like that; being with you like that.”
Catherine had thought that it was probably something along those lines.
“I wasn’t thinking of possible consequences,” he continued, “or anything beyond that room and that moment. It was totally selfish.”
“It wasn’t selfish,” she argued. “I wanted it to.”
But the look he gave her told her that he didn’t agree. He got up and went over to the crib.
How can I convince him of that? she wondered. How do I convince him that it was a forever commitment on my part? Should I even try? Regardless of what he was thinking at the time, we have Jenny, and it doesn’t matter if we ever have the same kind of relationship we had before, we have to have some kind of a relationship for hDo I have the strength or the courage to take that plunge again? I love him, but can I convince him our love can be sweet and passionate, not just desperate? She closed her eyes and sighed. She knew that he could feel what she was feeling, but wondered if he had any idea of what she was thinking. Can I take it, if I’m wrong, again?
Across the room, Vincent was feeling what she was feeling, and he thought he had some idea what she was thinking. He felt that he was walking a thin line; as much with himself as with Catherine.
“So, will you join us tomorrow evening?” she asked, after a while. “It was always the tradition in my family to have the big dinner on Christmas Eve, then have a quiet day on Christmas Day. We used to open our gifts, have a big breakfast, and then friends would drop in during the afternoon and evening.”
Jenny opened her eyes and began to move around. He could tell she wanted to be picked up, so he leaned down as he spoke.
“I would be honored. And maybe you’d like to join me Below for dinner on Christmas Day.”
“That could be a possibility.”
Vincent stayed long enough to give Jenny her last bottle.
“I thought you were nursing,” he said as he fed her and Catherine watched.
“I was, but she’s already getting teeth, and I’m going to be working away from home two days a week after the first of the year, so I thought it would be easier to wean her to the bottle. Mary said that the crucial time is the first few months. I’m only nursing twice a day now.”
“I’m surprised that she seems so at ease with me,” he commented as he lifted her to his shoulder to burp her.
“Why shouldn’t she be at ease with you? She heard your voice while I was pregnant. You said that you have a bond with her; maybe she can feel you too.”
“Perhaps she can. When she was sleeping while I watched her the other night, I could feel what she was feeling in her dreams. At times it felt as if she was dreaming of being back inside you. She felt warm and almost as if she was floating.”
“Hmm, that Bond with her could cause her some problems when she’s a teenager and starts crushing on boys,” Catherine observed.
“It’s not like that; not like the Bond I have with you. With her, when we are apart, all I can tell is that she is well. It’s when I’m close to her that I can feel her hunger, when she’s uncomfortable. It’s all somewhat basic.”
“If she’s ever sick, I’ll have to call you so you can come and tell me where it hurts.”
Vincent stood and handed Jenny to her.
“I would come even if you didn’t call me,” he assured her. ““I really should go now and let you get some sleep. What time should I be here tomorrow?”
“Dinner at seven? I’ve got a roast in the freezer.”
“I’ll see you then.”
Father was dozing in Vincent’s chair when Vincent got back to his chamber.
“Did it go well?” he asked. “Did Catherine like her surprise?”
Vincent was surprised that Father had waited up. He hid a smile. “She loved it. She’s invited me to dinner tomorrow evening.”
“That sounds promising,” said Father hopefully.
“It also sounds as if it could be terribly awkward,” said Vincent wryly as he helped Father to his feet.
Vincent stood in front of the mirror in Mary’s chamber while Mary adjusted the front of the shirt she’d just made a quick repair on. He hadn’t noticed the small hole in the seam at the top of the shoulder, but when he’d stopped in the study to tell Father he was leaving, she did. When he said he’d go change his shirt, she assured him that it would only take a few minutes to fix. She’d made the shirt for him several years before, and he knew that she liked to see him wear it. It was also one of Catherine’s favorites. He’d added a black leather vest that Devin had given him, and a pair of black jeans.
“Do you think I’m dressed appropriately?” he asked.
Mary smiled as she finished buttoning the vest. She patted his chest.
“You look very handsome,” she assured him. “And you are dressed just right for dinner at someone’s home. You won’t need all the layers you normally wear down here. Catherine keeps the house warm so that little Jenny will be comfortable. That’s always a problem down here. Babies are always kicking off their blankets, and I’ve never met a baby who wasn’t happier in nothing but a diaper and shirt.”
“Father told me that it was nearly impossible to keep me in my clothes. I had a habit of taking them all off and running through the tunnels naked,” Vincent told her with a chuckle.
“That is pretty normal,” she agreed with a laugh. “Lena’s little one, Caty, does it all the time.”
She nodded at the two wrapped packages on the table.
“Gifts for Catherine and Jenny?” she asked.
“Yes, but I’ve been wondering if it might be inappropriate of me to give a gift to Catherine.”
“Why would you think it’s inappropriate?”
“I don’t know where we are yet. We are parents, but what else? I don’t want her to think I’m making assumptions.”
“No! You’re giving it from your heart. There is nothing inappropriate about it. She’s the mother of your child.”
Vincent put on his cloak and picked up the two packages.
“Thank you, Mary, for the repair and the advice.” He kissed her cheek and left.
He’d debated over what to give Catherine, or even if he should give her anything. Jennifer’s gift had been easy, but Catherine’s had required some thought.
What do you give a woman who has given you the world, but to whom you’ve only given heartache?
It was only a short walk to the threshold, and Devin was in the basement went he arrived.
“I heard you were having dinner with Catherine tonight.” He said as he picked up a basket of laundry he’d just finished folding. “Good for you. Things must be going well.”
“I hope so,” Vincent answered with a shrug.
“You don’t know?”
“It’s hard to tell.” Vincent followed Devin up the stairs into his kitchen.
“You mean that famous Bond of yours doesn’t tell you?”
“That’s just it. I can feel what Catherine is feeling, but when she is with Jennifer, the feelings are for her. And when she’s with me they are… muddled.”
“Maybe she’s as confused about all this as you are,” Devin suggested, as he set the laundry basket on the counter. He looked at the clock. “When are you supposed to be there?”
“I was so worried about being late that I’m a good forty-five minutes early.”
“Then sit down. You want a beer? Tea? Water? Something to eat?”
“That beer you gave me the other night was better than most. Do you have any more of that?” He took off his cloak and sat down.
Devin took two bottles out of the refrigerator and set them on the table. He went to the counter for the opener and a glass.
“She’s probably as nervous as you are,” he suggested, as he came back to the table and sat down across from Vincent.
Vincent closed his eyes for a moment, concentrating. “She’s busy,” he said. “A little preoccupied. I don’t sense any nervousness.”
“She was preoccupied when she came over here earlier to borrow some flour,” Devin agreed. “She said she’d planned to go out to get a few things for dinner tonight, but the weather has kept her from doing it. She didn’t realize she didn’t have flour for a pie crust. She borrowed some from us. What she is cooking smells delicious.”
“The weather is that bad?”
“Terrible! The sleet started last night, and everything was iced over this morning. It turned to rain for a while, but the temperature started dropping again this afternoon, and it’s freezing again. The TV weatherman said that it’s brought the City to a standstill. It’s even been difficult for the trucks to get out to spread salt. Hardly anything is moving out there. I saw a kid ice skating down the sidewalk when I went out to put salt on the steps earlier.”
“We should be grateful we all have warm places to shelter,” Vincent commented.
They drank their beer in silence for a few minutes.
“Where’s Charles?” asked Vincent.
“He was next door helping Catherine earlier; now he’s in the living room watching some Christmas special on TV. This is his first Christmas away from his brother, and he wants to do it all. He wants to do it like they did it in his home when he was a kid.”
“So, he did have a good childhood?”
“Pretty normal up to the time his disease started to make a difference in his appearance. He said that between his twelfth and thirteenth birthdays he started to have a lot of pain and the tumors started to grow. Too bad that Eddie didn’t have it in him to be a better brother when their parents died.”
“He’s got you now,” Vincent said. “And the rest of us.”
“And living here in New York City, he will also have the best doctors. Peter referred us to a clinic that specializes in this disease, and there are several doctors there including neurosurgeons, neurologists, and plastic surgeons, not to mention they do research. They said that Charles is one of the more extreme cases they’ve seen, but because they want to follow him and learn from him, they aren’t charging as much as they normally would, and Catherine has set up a trust for Charles’ medical care. So, I’m beginning to think that this move was probably the best thing we could have done.”
“You are going to stay?”
“Yeah, I think I am. I’ve found a good job that has the potential for advancement. And I think I’m done wandering. This place,” he waved his hand indicating the house around him, “feels like home.”
Vincent looked at the clock and stood. Devin stood too. The two men hugged.
“I’m just glad to finally have you home again,” Vincent said.
Catherine had been rushing around most of the afternoon, but she felt as if she had everything under control. Dinner was in the warming oven waiting to be taken to the table. The table in the dining room was set with her best china, a Christmas centerpiece, and candles. There was a bottle of wine, uncorked and “breathing.” She just hoped she hadn’t forgotten anything. She went over her list one last time, to reassure herself.
She’d wondered about what to wear. She wanted to be comfortable since she was cooking and serving dinner, but she felt Christmas Eve, and Vincent visiting warranted something more than jeans and a t-shirt. She finally settled on a dark green heavy silk skirt that had been hanging in her closet since the previous winter. She’d never worn it. It was full and comfortable. She paired it with a cream-colored cashmere sweater with ¾ length sleeves and a cowl neck. Deciding on sensible shoes tonight, she slipped on black leather ballet flats.
She opened her jewelry box and chose a pair of diamond earrings that had been her mother’s. The crystal necklace was next to them, and she started to reach for it but changed her mind.
Not yet, she told herself.
She fed Jenny and put her in the crib in the living room. She and Vincent should have at least two hours for dinner before Jenny woke and started demanding attention.
She was lighting the candles on the table when she heard a light tapping on the door.
“Come in,” she called out as she blew out the match and headed for the kitchen.
“It smells wonderful in here,” Vincent commented, as he stepped into the room.
“Thank you. Give me a few minutes to get everything on the table. Would you like something to drink?”
“I’ll wait,” he said. “Where’s Jennifer?”
“She’s asleep in the crib in the living room. Go on, and I’ll call you when everything is ready.”
Vincent went into the living room where he put down his cloak. He took the two gifts out of the inside pocket and slipped them under the tree where there were already several gaily wrapped packages; then he went over to the crib where he stood watching Jennifer.
He could see so much of Catherine in her, but surprisingly he could also see himself. Aside from the strawberry blond hair, she was long and lean. There wasn’t a lot of the baby fat that he usually saw on babies, and her muscles were more developed than most three-month-old babies. Father had told him that he’s walked at just over nine months. Jennifer would likely walk early too.
He was startled when Catherine called him to dinner.
The meal wasn’t as difficult as Vincent had feared. It started a little awkwardly but improved as they both relaxed. By the time she served the apple pie that she’s borrowed the flour from Devin for, they were laughing.
“I was hoping to have ice cream to serve with this, but the weather kept me from going out to get any, and Devin didn’t have any vanilla,” she joked.
“What did you borrow from him besides the flour?” he asked.
“Only a bay leaf for the roast and some cinnamon for the pie. I’ve got to restock my spice rack.”
“Have you always cooked?” he asked her.
“I have a limited repertoire,” she admitted, “but we had a housekeeper who taught me the basics. I’ve never had anything go so wrong that it wasn’t edible. It’s taken me a while to perfect the pie crust. The first one I made melted and I wound up pouring the pie over the ice cream; the second one disintegrated when I cut the pie. I’ve been getting steadily better ever since.”
“It was all very good,” he complimented her.
“Thank you. I haven’t tried a turkey yet; maybe I’ll have progressed to that by next year.”
“Charles was telling me that one of the things he wants to plant next spring in an herb garden, that should keep your spice rack stocked.”
“He told me. He said that his mother used to have one and she taught him all about caring for the plants.”
When they were done, Vincent helped her clear the table and put away the leftovers.
He followed her into the living room when they were done.
“We should have about half an hour before Jenny wakes up.” She told him. “I usually play with her a little after she eats and she’s been sleeping through most nights.”
The radio had been playing continuous Christmas music since he arrived, and now the announcer cut in with a weather update.
“There is a winter storm warning for New York City and the surrounding area,” he declared. “The freezing rain should be turning to snow soon. But that will only make matters worse. The snow on top of the ice is going to make for some very slippery conditions. City and state officials here, in the surrounding area, and in New Jersey are advising everyone not to venture out unless they absolutely have to.”
Catherine got up and went to look out the window.
“At least it’s pretty,” she said as she felt Vincent come up behind her. “It’s started to snow.”
“You weren’t planning to go anywhere tomorrow, were you?”
“No. I used to go to Daddy’s on Christmas day. And I am planning to rent a car and drive up to visit a great aunt; Daddy’s aunt Millie, in Greenwich, Connecticut, on New Year’s Day. Hopefully, this will be gone by then.” She walked back to the couch and sat down. “That was always our tradition. She called me last week and told me that she hoped that I wasn’t going to quit coming up to see her. She’s very outspoken and no-nonsense, but she’s got a great heart. She’s looking forward to meeting Jenny. She’s only five years older than Daddy was, and she never married.”
She smiled and went to the tree.
“I have a little something for you. Actually, it’s from Jenny and me.”
“I left something under there for you too,” he told her.
She picked up the gift she’d wrapped and the two packages wrapped in brown Kraft paper and tied with red velvet ribbons.
Vincent was seated on one end of the sofa. She handed him his gift then went to sit on the other end.
“Go ahead, open it,” she urged.
“Are you going to open yours?”
“I’ll open Jenny’s first.”
Vincent carefully removed the ribbon from the small package, then slit the tape on the back and removed the paper. He opened the long thin box to reveal a pen and pencil set.
“Thank you, Catherine. It’s beautiful!” He removed the cap and admired the fountain pen. “How did you know?”
“Charles told me that you’d dropped a stack of things and that your fountain pen was in it and was broken. I tried to find one that was as close to the old one as possible. The mechanical pencil was part of the set.”
“Thank you. I’ll use it with joy! Now you.”
Catherine opened the small box that had Jenny’s name on it. She was surprised to find a miniature version of the crystal necklace that Vincent had given her on their first anniversary.
“I know she’s too young to wear it now, but I thought she might enjoy having it when she gets older.”
“Oh, I’m sure she will! It’s beautiful. Thank you!” She held it up to the light, just as she had done with her necklace, and smiled at the memory.
She carefully replaced it in the box, then reached for the other package. She opened it to find a copy of The Poems of Dylan Thomas. There was a bookmark at Fern Hill.
“Thank you. I didn’t have this, but it isn’t your copy, is it?” she asked, worried he’d given her his.
“No, it’s the same edition, but I found it in a used bookstore that is owned by a Helper. I was helping him unpack and catalog a shipment of books he got from an estate sale. I found this, and he gave it to me for helping him.”
“I hope it’s not all you got,” she said.
“No, we got several boxes of books for the classroom. He works with us a lot. Cullen builds bookshelves for him. He sells surplus books that we occasionally have. It works for everyone.”
Jenny chose that moment to wake.
“I’ll take care of her,” he said, as he stood.
Catherine stood and headed for the kitchen.
“I’ll just go warm her bottle.”
Catherine was very organized and had caches of baby supplies in every room where there was a crib. He quickly changed Jenny’s diaper and lifted her out of the crib. He rubbed his cheek against hers, and she gurgled and waved her arms around. She found a handful of his hair and held on.
“What do you think?” he asked the happy baby as he untangled her fingers from his hair. “Does your mama like me a little better than she did a few months ago?”
“It amazes me just how good you are with her,” Catherine said as came back to the room with the bottle.
“I get a good deal of practice Below,” Vincent assured her. “Children of all ages like me, and I’ve never met one under the age of ten or eleven who reacts badly to me. A baby Jennifer’s age doesn’t really know that there is a difference, and in general, they all react rather like Eric did the first time he saw me.”
“That’s one thing that Daddy always taught me: Prejudice is learned. It’s passed from the parents to the children.”
When Vincent was finished feeding her, he played with her for a while before Catherine took her upstairs to the nursery. She returned a few minutes later with the baby monitor.
“Devin said that he put salt on your front stairs and the sidewalk when he did his earlier,” Vincent said, as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
“He did? That was nice of him.” She went to the front door opened it a crack and peeked out, he joined her and looked over her shoulder. “For whatever good it did. The ice might be melted underneath, but now it looks like there is about two or three inches of snow on top of it.”
She closed the door, locked it, and turned to face him. When she looked up at him, she noticed the mistletoe that was hanging from the chandelier right above his head.
Should I? She wondered even as she stepped closer, went up on her toes, and kissed him on the cheek.
He was surprised but managed to smile down at her.
“Merry Christmas, Catherine,” he said.
The evening ended well and hadn’t been nearly as awkward as Vincent had feared. When he left, he found a note on the threshold door:
If it’s not too late when you leave, come on up and have a Christmas Eve nightcap with me.
Vincent shrugged, pocketed the note and turned around to go up to Devin’s kitchen. Devin was sitting there with a book, a bottle, and two empty glasses.
“Don’t you have a more comfortable place to read?” asked Vincent.
“Habit, and I like being near the refreshments.” He picked up the bottle and poured a little into each glass.
Vincent sat down and pushed his cloak off his shoulders. He picked up his glass and took a sip.
“Father’s favorite brandy?” he asked.
“I seem to have developed a taste for it, and don’t worry, I’ve got a bottle for him too. It’s under the tree. I’ll bring it down tomorrow… How was your evening?”
“I think it went well.” Vincent smiled. “She never felt uneasy, and I sensed nothing but relaxed pleasure from her. Dinner was wonderful, and she kissed me.”
“She kissed you?” Devin grinned. “Things are definitely looking up!”
“We were under the mistletoe you and Eric hung.”
“And what did you do? Did you kiss her back?”
“It was only on the cheek, and I wished her a Merry Christmas.”
Devin rolled his eyes and flopped back in his chair.
“For heaven’s sake, Vincent. You had your chance; you should have kissed her. Just grabbed her and kissed her!”
“Devin, I don’t grab people and kiss them. I very seldom grab anyone. It’s just not something I do.”
“Sometimes you are just too nice. So, did she like the gift you gave her?”
“Yes, she seemed quite pleased. It was a copy of The Poems of Dylan Thomas.”
“Oh, now that’s sexy,” said Devin with a grin. “Dylan Thomas? You couldn’t have chosen something a little more… ah… current?”
“I’ve never heard that.” Vincent seemed surprised at himself.
“It’s from a book I have somewhere. I’ve still got a few boxes to unpack. I’ll find it and loan it to you. Did she give you something?”
Vincent reached into the pocket in his cloak, pulled out the box and slid it across the table to him. Devin opened it.
“A fountain pen. Gee, can you kids get any more romantic?” he said with a laugh.
“It is a very thoughtful gift. Charles told her that my pen was broken, and she knows I prefer to use a fountain pen.”
Devin just shook his head and laughed.
“I invited her to come Below for dinner tomorrow, and she agreed,” Vincent told him.
“Good move, Vin. Father’s been complaining that he hasn’t had the time to go up and visit Jenny, lately. Maybe he and Mary will take her off your hands for a while so you and Catherine can take a walk.”
“One of the reasons I invited her was so that I could spend some time with my daughter on Christmas,” Vincent told him.
“Vincent! Geez, man! I thought you were in love with the woman.”
“Then act like it! Ask her to go for a walk. Take her to listen to the Christmas Carols in the Whispering Gallery. Be romantic! It’s great that you love the kid, but you’ve got to show the mother that you love her too. That’s where a lot of relationships go off the rails after a baby is born. Both parents get so focused on the baby that they forget to treat each other special. And on top of it, you’ve got some major mistakes to make up for. You don’t want her to think that the only reason you want to be with her is Jenny.”
Vincent could see sense in what Devin was saying.
“You’re probably right. Where did you learn all this?”
“I read, Little Brother. I read a lot.”
“I think you need someone, Devin,” Vincent said seriously.
“I’m working on that,” he answered with a grin.
“Anyone I know?”
“You know of her. I’ve only met her once, but I’ve convinced Cathy to introduce us.”
“Who is it?”
“Her friend Jenny. I met her the day Charles and I got here, but I’ve been so busy with Charles and trying to get you back on track, that I haven’t had time for myself.”
Vincent was up early the next morning. He always made sure he was the first into the dining chamber for breakfast on Christmas morning. Their Christmas tradition Below had started when he was a child. They would put an old artificial tree in the dining chamber a few weeks before the holiday, and the children would make ornaments and decorate it over the next couple of weeks. By the time Christmas arrived, it was usually difficult to find the tree under all the homemade ornaments, construction paper garlands and popcorn strings.
Gifts would usually start to arrive a few days before Christmas, and they would be kept in one of William’s kitchen storage areas. Most of them were for the children, but there were usually a few for the adults too. Vincent was always the one who carried all the gifts out and arranged them under the tree.
Everyone would show up for breakfast, most much earlier than usual, and once breakfast was done the distribution of the gifts would begin. Vincent would retrieve the gifts from under the tree and give them to Father, who would read the tag out loud then hand it to one of the children to take to the recipient. The children always vied for the privilege of the job, but only five were chosen every year.
As Vincent was handing the gifts to Father, he recognized Catherine’s handwriting on a lot of them. She’d managed to provide a gift for each child, and for the adults she knew.
Once the gifts were handed out, there was silence as they were carefully opened. It was punctuated only with the sounds of rustling paper and an occasional squeal of delight.
“What do you have there?” asked Father as he and Vincent walked back to the study.
“Several books, a ceramic candle holder, a small tray to hold the things I take out of my pockets at night…” He looked over the stack of things he carried. “… oh, and several monogrammed handkerchiefs, bookmarks… and you’re just going to have to look. I can’t remember it all.” He laughed. “And you?”
“Nearly the same things you have, I think, and a bottle of brandy from Devin and Charles. How was your evening with Catherine? Did you give her a gift?”
“Yes, a book of poetry and she replaced my broken fountain pen.”
“Did you invite her down for dinner tonight?”
“I did. I’m supposed to meet her at her threshold at three.”
As luck would have it, Vincent was called away to deal with a small emergency right after lunch, and didn’t return to his chamber until just before he was supposed to go meet Catherine. He asked Geoffrey to meet her for him.
Geoffrey arrived just as Devin, Catherine, and Charles stepped through the threshold into the tunnel.
“Hi, Catherine. Vincent couldn’t come, so he sent me. He said he’d meet you in Father’s study as soon as he could.”
“I hope nothing’s wrong,” she said as they all followed Geoffrey.
“Nothing much,” he told them. “Just an intruder down near Belvedere Castle. Turned out it was just a homeless person trying to get in from out of the cold. Vincent said he wasn’t a threat, but he did make sure that the part of the tunnel the man was in was blocked. Then he sent someone back with a basket of food, warm clothes, and blankets.
Devin and Catherine looked at each other and smiled.
“Yep, that’s my little brother,” said Devin.
They were all gathered in the study when Vincent arrived. He stopped just outside the entrance to take in the scene in front of him.
Father sat in one of his comfortable chairs, holding Jennifer, while Catherine sat on the arm with her arm across the back. Devin and Charles were playing checkers, and Mary was bustling around the chamber with a pot of tea, making sure everyone was comfortable and had a full cup. It made him smile. All the most important people in his life were all in one place for a change, and Father and Devin weren’t arguing.
After dinner, they were treated to an impromptu concert of Christmas Carols by the children’s choir.
“Are you going to ask her to take a walk with you?” asked Devin, as he and Vincent brought up the rear of the group heading back to the study after dinner.
Vincent nodded. “I’m just not sure how to go about it,” he said.
“How did you used to do it before everything went haywire last spring?”
“I’d just look at her and hold my hand out.”
“Yeah, you might need to do a little more than that,” Devin agreed.
“I’ll come up with something.”
They arrived in the study and Catherine reached for the coat she’d left there earlier. Vincent thought she might be ready to leave until she spoke.
“William put on quite a feast, and I ate way too much! I need to walk some of it off. Anyone up to walk with me?” She looked at Vincent.
“Ah, I was just thinking the same thing,” he said. He helped her with her coat.
“Do you mind looking after Jenny for a while?” Catherine asked the room in general.
“You children go on. Jacob and I will be here. We’ve had a little experience with children,” Mary said.
Devin laughed as Vincent and Catherine left the chamber.
“Did I just hear Mary call Father, ‘Jacob?’” Catherine asked after they’d gone a few yards down the tunnel.
“Yes, she’s been doing that for several months now. No one Below uses his given name. And Peter has only been doing it for the last year or so. It sounds strange to hear it.”
“Has something changed in their relationship?” she asked.
“If it has, it’s either been very subtle, or they are being very discrete.”
They walked along until they reached the main tunnel intersection.
“Anywhere in particular you’d like to walk to?” he asked.
“How about the falls? I haven’t been there since before Jenny was born.”
As they walked, neither spoke, but Catherine remembered the way they used to walk these tunnels, hand in hand. Sometimes it was the only way they got any privacy.
The huge chamber was dark, but someone had placed torches in brackets on the walls. She couldn’t see the falls, but she could hear it in the distance.
“This is new,” she said as they sat on a bench that had been built close to the cliff.
“Father suggested it. He said that the older residents liked to visit here too, but it was difficult because there was no place to sit and rest, after the walk.”
“Older folks and pregnant women. I walked down here with Lena a couple weeks before Jenny was born and I thought she was going to have to call for help to get me up off the floor. I didn’t have any trouble getting down, I just kind of slid down the wall, but getting back up was another story.” She laughed and shook her head. “God, I felt like a beached whale. I thought you were keeping your distance because I was fat and ugly. I didn’t realize that you had other things going on in your head.”
He turned to her. “You weren’t fat, you were pregnant, and you could never be ugly. You were never more beautiful than when you were pregnant with my child.”
“Swollen ankles and all?” she asked.
“Swollen ankles and all,” he assured her.
“You were always there to rub my feet and my back,” she mused, remembering the sight of her foot in his hand, the other night.
“As I said before, I felt responsible for your condition,” he told her. “I wanted to help.”
He shouldn’t have put it that way; he didn’t want her to think that was the only reason he’d done those things.
“It takes two, Vincent, but it’s obvious you’d lost track of your need to help by the time Jenny was born.” As soon as the words were out, she wanted them back, but it was just proof that she was still cautious. He had to be feeling that. “I’m glad you found it again.”
He was feeling her wariness.
Is this how we find our way back to each other? he wondered. Three steps forward and two back?
Catherine’s thoughts were similar. Does he remember what we were? But what we were didn’t work very well, did it?
There was so much he wanted to say. She knows that I love her. And that I hurt her, hurt them both. Does she really know I was doing it to try to spare them from the limits I bring?
“As am I,” he assured her. “I look back on my behavior, and I don’t know what I was thinking, or perhaps I wasn’t thinking.”
“Or thinking too hard… It was a mess,” Catherine agreed. “But the important thing is that you’re back in Jenny’s life now, and she’ll grow up knowing that she has a father who loves her. I don’t think you know just how important that is to a little girl. You and Father do a good job of being the stand-ins for so many of the young women and girls here Below.”
Vincent looked out over the chasm in front of them, considering his next words carefully.
“Thank you, Catherine, but I was wondering… You’re allowing me time with Jennifer, but what about you. Was last night and today just because it’s Christmas or am I back in your life? Truly back in your life?”
Catherine had been looking out over the chasm toward the head of the falls that she could hear, but barely see. Now she turned to face him. She knew she had to say it, even though much of it had already been said, between them. It wasn’t a thing she wanted to do. On the other hand, it wasn’t a thing she wanted to let lie, either.
“As I said before, Vincent. I love you, but I’m not sure where that might be headed. You tried to push me away so many times. Every time something happened that reminded you of our differences you’d either leave or tell me to leave. If we are going to go any farther than being Jenny’s parents, then I’m going to have to learn to trust you again.”
“And for you to learn that, I’m going to have to be consistent,” he conceded. “I know I have to do more than promise, but I do promise to be available to both Jennifer and you. For anything either of you needs. And I will follow through on that promise.”
Neither of them spoke again until they were back in the study.
Catherine looked at her watch.
“I think I should be getting back,” she told everyone with a glance at Devin. “Jenny should sleep well tonight.”
Devin started to volunteer to walk her back, but one look at Vincent changed his mind.
“I think I’m going to hang around for a little longer. Dad and I haven’t had a chess game since I got home. I think I’m up for one tonight if he is.”
He looked over at Father, who took the hint.
“Certainly. Let me set up the board.”
Mary helped Catherine gather everything. Vincent picked up Jenny, and he and Catherine set out for her threshold.
“Brooke told me that you aren’t going to be working this coming week, but I’d like to come and spend some time with Jennifer.”
“Any time, Vincent,” she told him. “I need to run some errands on Wednesday and Brooke says she can’t look after Jenny. Will you be available?”
“Of course. What time?” he was surprised at how formal their conversation had suddenly become again.
“Would morning or afternoon be better for you?”
He knew that Catherine didn’t like mornings. “How about the afternoon? I can arrive right after lunch.”
“That will be perfect. Thank you. And come any other time you want. You know our schedule.”
“I’ll do that. Thank you.”
He carried Jenny into the kitchen and put her in the crib. He said good night and left.
Catherine didn’t want to deal with their discussion but took Jenny upstairs where she bathed her and got her ready for bed.
“Your Daddy is going to drive me crazy,” she told Jenny as she put her sleeper on her.
Jenny grinned, showing off her new teeth.
“But I know you don’t have to worry about him. He will always be here for you.”
Catherine had started keeping a journal shortly after she found out she was pregnant. She’d recorded the changes her body had gone through and her feelings about it. And since she was born she’d been documenting Jenny’s life. The baby book had all that too, but the journal had Catherine’s impressions and feelings about each milestone.
There hadn’t been much about Vincent in it; one entry a few days after she’d returned home after Jenny’s birth, but after that, there hadn’t been much about him until his reappearance after Winterfest.
Now she wanted to say something about what was going on, but the words didn’t come easily. It was all about the feelings, and it was hard to put those into words.
It was her words to Jenny that had her thinking.
He will always be there for you… I said that to Jenny tonight while I was putting her to bed. I meant it. Vincent will always be there for her. It’s whether he will be there for me that has me wondering.
He asked me if he was back in my life; I guess he wants to know where he stands; maybe he’s as off balance as I am. I’m afraid my answer was a bit vague and non-committal. I told him that I love him, but that I’m not sure where we are going with that. I’m still so wary of being pushed away again and I tried to make that clear to him. I think he understood; I hope he understood.
He promised that he’d be there for both of us, but I can’t help wondering… is it only because of Jenny?
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was a busy one for Catherine. Vincent stayed with Jenny when Catherine had to be out of the house, but he left almost as soon as she got home. He visited at other times but didn’t stay long. It was almost as if he was trying not to intrude.
She was even busier after the new year. She didn’t work from home as much, but she was in the office all day on Mondays and Tuesdays. She reserved Wednesdays for errands, but that didn’t usually take all day.
On the Wednesday after New Year’s she and Jenny had an appointment with a photographer. When they’d visited Aunt Millie, a photo of Jenny had been requested. Aunt Millie had a wall in the main downstairs hall where she hung family portraits.
“In fact, you could give me a photo of the two of you,” Aunt Millie suggested. “The last thing I have of you was taken at your sweet sixteen party. It’s a little outdated.”
That gave Catherine an idea.
“It would be nice to have some professional photos of Jenny,” she agreed. “And maybe one of me and her together. I’m sure a few friends would like to have pictures. My friend Nancy always sends me her kids’ school pictures.”
She called and made an appointment at the first opportunity. She even knew what they would both wear. She had the white dress that she’d worn to her first Winterfest. It was the perfect dress to wear to show off her crystal, and Jenny had a little white dress with a light sky blue velvet pinafore. And her crystal was ideal with it.
The photo of Jenny would be the perfect birthday gift for Vincent.
On the day they had the pictures taken, she swore the photographer took a couple hundred shots.
He even talked her into a few shots of her, alone.
“Trust me,” he told her when they were done. “I’ll pick the best ones, make prints in a lot of different sizes, and send them all over to you by messenger. I guarantee you’ll love them.”
She had to smile… The man’s confidence reminded her of Devin.
Sure enough, the photos were all delivered on Friday. She had a week to get the one for Vincent framed. She decided to have several of the pictures of Jenny framed, so she could give them as gifts. She only had one of herself framed; it was the one she intended to send to Aunt Millie with the photo of Jenny.
She had to admit, the photographer was good, and he’d chosen some great shots.
Vincent’s birthday was on Friday, and she’d asked him to stop by in the evening. She called her favorite bakery and had a cake delivered. She knew that there would be a celebration Below at dinner, so she told him to come for dessert.
When he arrived, the birthday cake and his gift were on the dining room table.
Catherine heard the knock on the door from the basement.
“Come in,” she called out, as she finished lighting the candles. “We’re in the dining room.”
Jenny was sitting in her new high chair and was joyfully throwing toys around the room.
Vincent walked into the room with is cloak over his arm and stopped just inside the door to take in the scene.
“Do you need the fire extinguisher?” he asked, as he eyed the candles on the cake.
“There are only thirty-six candles… but I think there is a danger of melting the frosting if we let them burn down too far.”
Vincent leaned over and kissed Jenny then sat down at the head of the table where the cake was. He closed his eyes for a moment then opened them and blew out the candles.
“You made a wish?” she asked as they started to remove the candles.
“Of course, isn’t that the tradition?”
He wiped some of the frosting off one of the candle holders with his finger and held it out to Jenny to taste. That was when Catherine noticed his hands.
“What happened?” she demanded as she grabbed one for a closer look.
“Rocks fell on my right hand. Nothing was broken except a few nails, I trimmed them all short and then noticed that my dexterity was better, especially with the children. It’s been especially helpful since Jennifer has decided that my fingers are her favorite teething toy. The cuts and bruises are almost healed.”
Catherine couldn’t get over how strange his hands looked. They were still strong and capable, but so different. It would take some getting used to.
“Do you plan to keep them that way?” she asked, as she let go of his hand and picked up the knife. She handed it to him to cut the cake.
“I’m not sure. Maybe at least until Jennifer quits trying to chew on my fingers.”
Vincent cut the cake while Catherine went to get the ice cream out of the freezer.
She handed the gift to him before she sat down.
“That’s from Jenny and me,” she said, as he pulled the paper off.
He smiled at the picture of Jenny.
“She’s wearing her crystal,” he observed.
Catherine smiled in agreement. “Only for the pictures, so far. She kept trying to eat it. She’s cutting teeth like crazy, and everything goes straight into her mouth.”
“I’ve noticed,” Vincent agreed.
When they finished with their cake, they moved into the living room. Vincent carried Jenny and sat on the couch to play with her.
He noticed the other photos, some framed and some not, on the end table.
“You had a lot taken.” He picked up the stack and started looking through them.
“Aunt Millie started it. She wanted pictures of Jenny and me; then the photographer talked me into having some taken of just me. The framed ones are for Aunt Millie.”
Vincent picked up a small wallet-sized photo of Catherine.
“May I have this?” he asked, holding it up.
“Of course.” She watched as he slipped it into a pocket inside his vest.
She picked up a couple others of Jenny and her and Jenny alone and handed them to him.
“For Father, and maybe Mary,” she said.
“Do you have one for Devin?”
“Yes, and for Charles. Charles has declared himself her other uncle.”
A few weeks later, Vincent had a very restless night. He’d woke up several times. He couldn’t put his finger on what it was but finally decided that there was something wrong with Jenny. When he rose for the day and felt Catherine’s worry, he was sure there was something wrong.
He arrived at Catherine’s just in time to catch her as she was heading out the door.
He was even more worried when he saw how she was dressed. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, she was wearing no makeup, had on jeans, a sweatshirt and her orange wool coat. Even her shoes were evidence that she’d dressed in a hurry; she was wearing plain black flats with no socks. She was carrying Jenny and the diaper bag.
“Is something wrong Catherine?” he asked, as he headed up the hall toward her.
“Jenny is sick. She’s got a fever of almost 105o and I haven’t been able to get it to stay down. I called the pediatrician, and he said to bring her in. I’m on my way now.”
The taxi pulled up outside and honked.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No. This shouldn’t take long. I should be back in an hour or two. I’ll let you know if we need anything.”
She was out the front door, trusting him to lock up behind her.
He watched from the window beside the door, as she went down the stairs and got into the cab. He locked the door. He had an uneasy feeling, but he had a class to teach and could do nothing here, but wait for Catherine to return, so he headed back Below.
He and Father were in the middle of demonstrating debating techniques when he felt a surge of panic and fear from Catherine.
“What is it?” asked Father, when he saw Vincent go completely still.
“Catherine took Jennifer to the pediatrician this morning; she has a fever. Something just frightened Catherine, and Jennifer’s part of the Bond is completely still. I can’t feel anything from her.”
The lines between Vincent’s eyes deepened, and Father could tell he was worried.
“Do you know who the pediatrician is?”
“No, only that Peter recommended him and that he’s not very far from her house.”
“Then go! Go up to her house and wait for her. Let me know what it is when you find out.”
Vincent didn’t have to be coaxed into going. He didn’t even stop for his cloak but ran all the way to Catherine’s.
When he got there, he did a quick check of the numbers beside the phone in the kitchen, and he found the name Dr. Edward Clark listed as a pediatrician. Without a thought, he picked up the phone and dialed the number.
“Dr. Clark’s office. How may I help you?” a voice answered after only two rings.
“I am looking for Catherine Chandler. She was taking her daughter to your office this morning.”
“And who’s calling?” the woman asked.
“I’m Jennifer’s father,” he said after only a short hesitation.
“Oh, Mr. Chandler. I was wondering if Mrs. Chandler needed to have anyone called. I was just going to ask the doctor. She went to the hospital with the baby. They left in the ambulance a few minutes ago.”
“An ambulance? What happened?”
“The baby had a seizure. The doctor was sure it was only a fever seizure, but he didn’t want to take any chances. We called an ambulance that sent them to the hospital.”
“Which hospital?” he asked.
“Lang Memorial. I can give you the number.”
She read off the number to him, and he wrote it down, thanked her and hung up.
He stared at the number for a moment then picked the phone up and dialed again, but this number was one he had memorized.
“Devin Wells,” came the answer.
“I’m glad you’re in the office today. I need you to do something for me.”
“Vincent?” came Devin’s incredulous voice.
“Yes, it’s me. I may live in a hole in the ground, but I know how to use a telephone. Can you get away from work to do something for me?”
“Sure, what is it?”
Vincent explained what had happened at the doctor’s office.
“And you want me to go to the hospital to check on them and let you know?”
“Yes! Can you do that?”
“Absolutely! Where are you now?”
“I’m at Catherine’s.”
“Stay there, and I’ll call you as soon as I know something.”
Vincent hung up and started to pace.
Devin left the office after briefly telling his boss what was happening. His boss, who had three children of his own, understood and told him to go.
Devin walked into the ER and went straight to the nurse at the desk.
“I’m looking for Catherine Chandler. She brought her daughter, Jennifer in maybe thirty, forty-five minutes ago.”
“The lady with the baby who came in in the ambulance?”
“They’re in exam room 4.”
When Devin headed for the swinging doors behind her, she tried to stop him. “Sir, you can’t go back there.”
“Are you going to stop me?” he asked as he kept walking.
A security guard stepped in front of the doors just as Devin reached them.
“Who are you?” the nurse asked.
“I’m her husband!” Devin quickly ad-libbed. “The doctor’s office called me.”
The woman’s expression softened, and she turned to the security guard. “It’s OK, Derrick. I’ll get someone to take him back.” She turned to a volunteer. “Agatha, will you please take Mrs. Chandler’s husband to exam room four?”
Agatha nodded, pushed open the doors and waited for Devin to follow. When they got to the room, she held the curtain back for Devin to pass through.
“Mrs. Chandler, your husband is here.” She dropped the curtain back in place as Devin stepped through.
Catherine’s head came up. “My hus…? Devin? Why are you here?”
“It’s a long story.” He walked over and took her into his arms and gave her a hug.
“How is she?” He looked around the room. “Where is she?”
“They think she’s fine. Dr. Clark thinks it was only a fever seizure, but they aren’t taking any chances. They are running some tests now.”
“What kind of tests?”
“The usual blood, urine, an x-ray.”
“What are they testing for?”
“Nothing specific, really. Dr. Clark thinks it’s a virus and that it will run its course in twenty-four to forty-eight hours. He just wants to make sure she doesn’t have pneumonia.”
He’d never seen Catherine looking so disheveled, as if she’d just thrown on clothes before leaving home. The ponytail, lack of makeup and mismatched clothes were very telling
“Are you OK?” he asked, knowing full well she wasn’t.
“I’ve been better,” she admitted.
Devin made her sit in the only chair, and he took the stool the doctor usually used.
About ten minutes later, a nurse came in carrying Jenny, who was crying. She handed her to Catherine.
“The doctor will be here in a moment,” she told them and left.
Catherine tried to comfort Jenny, who was having none of it.
“She’s probably hungry. I wish I was still nursing; I didn’t think to bring a bottle.”
The doctor came in, and he was smiling.
“We couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. I think Dr. Clark had it right. It’s just a virus. We would like to keep her here for a little while longer, so we can get some fluids into her and get her fever down a little more. It was 103.2 when she got here, and it’s 102 now. I’d like to see it a little lower before she goes home.”
The doctor left, and a few minutes later the nurse was back with a dropper of baby Tylenol and a baby bottle of clear liquid. She administered the liquid in the dropper and handed the bottle to Catherine.
“What’s in the bottle?” Catherine asked, as she held it up and looked at it.
“It’s an electrolyte solution,” the nurse told her. “Kind of an infant version of Gatorade.”
“I’ll check back in a few minutes,” she said, leaving the ‘couple’ alone with their child.
Jenny was drinking greedily when Devin stood.
“I promised Vincent that I’d call and let him know what is going on. I think I’ll go find a phone.”
Catherine, who’d been concentrating on Jenny, looked up in surprise. “Vincent sent you? How did he know?”
“How does he ever know? He said he felt your fear and that he wasn’t feeling anything from Jenny. He went up to your place and found the pediatrician’s number and called. He identified himself as Jenny’s father, and the receptionist told him where you were. He called me and asked me to come down and see how you both were doing.”
He left Catherine and went out to the lobby to the payphone in the corner.
Vincent must have been sitting right next to the phone because he picked it up on the first ring.
“Everything is going to be OK,” Devin assured him before he went into any details.
“When will she be home?” Vincent asked.
“The doc wasn’t specific; just said that he wanted to see the fever lower before he sent her home. I guess he doesn’t want a repeat of the fever seizure.”
“Tell Catherine I’ll wait for her.”
“I’ll tell her. You relax. It’s going to be OK.”
Vincent hung up and went to the basement then into the tunnels to send a message asking for one of the children to come to pick up a note.
Back in the kitchen, he was just finishing the note when Eric arrived.
“You needed something, Vincent?” he asked.
“Yes. Give this note to Father for me.”
Eric took the note and was gone, and Vincent went back to the table and sat down.
It was a long wait and he was trying to distract himself with a cup of tea when he felt Catherine getting closer. She was tired, but the fear he’d felt earlier was gone.
He looked at the clock. Catherine had left around nine that morning. It was almost four in the afternoon. No wonder she was tired. He put the kettle on and went to meet her at the door.
Devin was with her when they came in.
“She’s all right?” he asked his eyes going from Catherine’s face to the baby.
“The fever broke, and she’s fine now.”
Vincent took Jenny while Catherine took off her coat.
“And you?” he asked as he handed the baby back to her.
“I think I’m going to make it.”
Devin spoke up. “OK, so why don’t you take the little miss up to her room and put her to bed and then take a nice hot shower or bath and let Vincent and me take care of dinner?”
Catherine nodded and started up the stairs, as Devin grabbed Vincent’s arm and propelled him toward the kitchen.
“Have you seen Charles today?” Devin asked.
“He came in several times. He spent part of the day with Father. He said he’d be back for dinner.”
He dropped Vincent’s arm and went to the table under the phone and pulled several delivery menus out of the drawer.
“What sounds good? Chinese, Italian, burgers?”
“Then that is what we are eating.”
He dialed the restaurant and placed an order.
While he was on the phone, Charles arrived. When he found out Devin was ordering Italian food, he requested extra garlic bread.
Devin and Charles were setting the table and putting out the food when Catherine came down in her bathrobe. Her hair was wet, and she was carrying Jenny who was sound asleep.
“Sorry, I couldn’t leave her upstairs alone,” she said as she put her in the crib.
“Is Jennifer going to need to be fed?” Vincent asked as he held her chair for her.
“Not for a while. She had a bottle at the hospital. We have some time.”
Charles joined them, and they started passing the food.
Catherine looked better than she had earlier; tired but more put together, even in her robe. Vincent had seated her in the chair closest to the crib, and he was beside her.
“Save some of the garlic bread for the rest of us,” Devin joked as he passed the plate to Charles. Charles ducked his head and grinned sheepishly.
“Have you eaten at all today?” Vincent asked Catherine.
She shook her head. “No, not really. Devin went to the snack bar in the hospital and got me some coffee, and the nurse snagged a sandwich from somewhere for me, but I didn’t eat much of it.”
Vincent looked across the table at Devin. “You didn’t make her eat?”
Devin held up his hands. “I pity anyone who tries to make this woman do anything.”
“Don’t blame him. The snack bar only had coffee, soft drinks, candy bars and pastries. He brought me a cheese Danish, but I only ate a bite of it.”
“Yeah, and I finished it and the sandwich the nurse brought her.”
“You always were a bottomless pit,” Vincent commented.
“Look who’s talking,” said Devin with a laugh and a nod at Vincent’s plate.
“I didn’t eat all day either,” he said sheepishly. “Like Catherine, I was too worried.”
“Pot calling the kettle black,” Catherine mumbled just loud enough for Vincent to hear.
“Guilty,” he muttered back.
Now I understand some of the things Father does, Vincent told himself. Worrying is part of being a father too. He glanced at Catherine. At least they had worried together.
Devin and Charles stayed to clean up and sent Vincent and Catherine to take Jenny up to her room. Devin knew Vincent was dying to spend some time holding his daughter.
Vincent watched as Catherine settled Jennifer in the crib.
“She’s really all right?” he asked as they stood next to it.
“Just fine. The fever broke, and her temperature went back to normal, and she was Little Miss Sunshine in the cab coming home. How can she bounce back so quickly? If I’d had a fever like that, I’d be flat on my back for days.”
“If I’ve learned anything from Mary, it is that children are resilient. If an adult had gone to the emergency room with a fever as high as Jennifer’s, they would have been hospitalized for at least a few days after the fever broke.”
“The doctor said to keep an eye on her for the next day or so and if she starts to run a fever again to bring her right back. I also learned that a normal temperature for a baby can be anywhere from ninety-seven to a little over a hundred degrees. I didn’t know that. And I haven’t seen it in any of the baby books I’ve read.” She looked up at him. “Did you know it?”
He nodded. “I’m not susceptible to a lot of the viruses that the children catch, so I often help Mary and Father when we have an outbreak of something. Father told me that.”
“What else do you know that you could teach me?” she asked as she dropped into the rocking chair.
“I know that you are exhausted. Go to bed and let me sit with her. I’ll call you if anything changes.”
“But you need your sleep, too.”
“But I wasn’t awake all last night with a sick baby,” he responded. He hadn’t slept well, but it had been better than her sleep.
“You’re sure?” She stood.
“She’s my daughter too, Catherine. I need to be responsible and help you. If this is the only way I can do it, then this is what I’ll do.”
“Thank you!” Catherine went to the crib for one last look at Jenny; then she left the room. Vincent heard her in the bathroom, using the blow dryer to dry her hair, then a few minutes later, he felt her relax as she slipped into sleep.
Vincent looked around the room. If he was going to be here all night, he’d need a few things. He turned on the baby monitor and took the receiver with him and went back downstairs.
Devin was still in the kitchen, finishing up.
“Aren’t you staying?” Devin asked as he hung up the dishtowel.
“Yes, but I came down to get a few things.”
He put a few bottles in the insulated bag that Catherine used, unplugged the baby bottle warmer and set it next to the bag. He went to the living room and returned with a couple books that he added to the collection.
“You want to take a snack up with you?” Devin asked.
“No, I’ll come down later and make some tea and get something.” He started picking everything up, then he stopped and turned to Devin. “Thank you for your help, today,” he said sincerely.
“Anytime, Vin. Does the old man know you won’t be home tonight?”
“No, would you go down to the pipes and let him know?”
“Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it. You have a good night, and I hope Jenny is OK.”
“I’m sure she will and thank you. It eased my mind to know that you were there with them today. Good night.”
Vincent left, and Devin headed for Father’s study.
When Devin arrived, Father was sitting in an easy chair reading. Devein told him what had happened.
“And Vincent is staying to look after Jennifer, while Catherine gets some rest?”
“That’s what he told me.”
“Do you think they’re going to be all right?”
“Sure, Jenny’s temperature is back to normal…”
“No, I meant Vincent and Catherine. They seem to be working together well as parents, but do you think they will be able to move their relationship forward?”
Devin dropped into the chair across from Father. He shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I mean, they’ve both confided in me a little, but neither of them seems to go past a certain point. Both of them keep a lot of their feelings inside. Cathy seems more like the old Cathy when Vincent is around, but I don’t see them together very much. I did notice that Vincent can’t take his eyes off her when they are both in the same room together.”
“But they are getting along?”
“They are. Cathy was even joking with him a little tonight. I don’t claim to be any kind of an expert…”
At Father’s raised eyebrow, he chuckled.
“At least not where this kind of thing is concerned, but I’d say that there is a good chance that Vincent is going to be spending more and more time at Catherine’s.”
“He’s already there almost every day.”
“But that’s usually with Jenny when Cathy’s not there. I’m talking about him spending time with her, not just Jenny.”
“I certainly hope so.” Father took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I’m tired of him moping around, all the time.
Back at Catherine’s, Vincent had just returned to the nursery when Jennifer woke and started to fuss a little. Her temperature was still normal, so he changed her and gave her a bottle. She made quick work of her dinner but didn’t seem to be in any mood to go back to sleep just yet, so Vincent held her, rocked her, and talked to her for almost an hour before she went back to sleep.
He’d dozed off in the chair when something woke him with a start. He rose quickly and went to the crib, but Jennifer was sleeping peacefully.
He checked his Bond with Catherine. She was dreaming. It wasn’t exactly a nightmare, but it wasn’t pleasant either. He went into her bedroom and stopped a few feet from the bed.
She was agitated and mumbling something. He thought he heard her say his name. Then she sat straight up in bed and saw him standing in the room.
“Is everything all right?” she asked.
“Jennifer is fine. She’s asleep, but you seemed to be having a bad dream. What was it?”
She was quiet for a moment. “I’m not sure, but I think you were going away or had gone away. Jenny was older, and she kept asking me where her Daddy was and I didn’t know what to tell her. She looked at him. “You won’t do that, will you?”
He crossed the room and sat facing her on the side of the bed. “I have no intention of leaving again, except for work details and my supply trips to Narcissa,” he promised. “I’ve learned that I don’t need to run away; I shouldn’t even try. I need to stay and face my problems with the people who can help me work them out.”
“Father and Devin?”
She reached out and placed her hand on his chest; he covered it with his. He carried it up and kissed her palm before putting it back over his heart.
She moved closer and leaned her forehead on his chest.
“Thank you, Vincent,” she said.
“For giving me Jenny, and for being here.”
“I should be thanking you, Catherine. Not only for Jennifer but for my... humanity.”
She looked up at him with her brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
“I am Jennifer’s father, and she is a normal baby. There is nothing different about her. Peter did tests and found nothing, and surely if there was anything, the tests they did today would have shown it, at least a hint of it, but there was nothing. If I wasn’t human… a man… then I wouldn’t have been able to father such an ordinary human child.”
She smiled at him. “I’m glad you finally realize that.” She yawned. “Although I hardly think of our daughter as ordinary.”
“You need to get some more sleep,” Vincent said as he started to stand.
Catherine didn’t let go of him; she wound her fingers into the sweater he was wearing.
He could tell what she wanted, needed, and he moved closer and took her in his arms. She nestled close, rested her head on his chest and let out a deep sigh. Her arms moved around his waist, and she pulled herself closer.
“I’ve missed this,” he heard her say. “I’ve felt so alone since you sent me away. It’s nice to have someone to share it all with.”
She stayed that way for several minutes before she pulled back and looked up at him.
He hoped he was interpreting what he was feeling from the Bond and the look in her eyes correctly, as he leaned forward and kissed her. She whimpered and tried to get closer to him, and he deepened the kiss. When they finally separated to breathe, he took her by her shoulders and pushed her away a little.
“You really do need to get some sleep,” he insisted.
“Will you stay? I mean with me, not in the nursery? I just want you to hold me.” She was clearly still exhausted, and he hoped she wouldn’t regret asking in the morning, but he didn’t have the strength to tell her “no.”
“Just a moment.”
He rose and left the room, and was back a few seconds later with the baby monitor. He put it on her nightstand.
“When she wakes, I’ll get up to take care of her.”
He’d taken his boots off earlier; now he shed his belt and the sweater before he climbed into bed next to Catherine, in well-worn jeans and a t-shirt.
She held the blankets for him, and he noticed what she was wearing as he joined her. She’d come a long way from the pretty, feminine nightgowns and negligees she used to wear. She had on an oversized t-shirt. At least she was comfortable.
He laid down, and she curled into his side with her head on his shoulder. He put his arm around her and held her close.
She was more content than she’d been in months.
Catherine went back to sleep quickly, but it was a while before Vincent followed her.
What does this mean? He wondered. Does it mean that she wants to go back to where we left off? There were so many questions. But the there was a voice that sounded strangely like Devin echoing in his head: “Quit questioning it; just enjoy it. She loves you.” And I love her!
Vincent woke later as he felt Jennifer start to wake. Catherine had turned in her sleep, but she hadn’t moved far from him. He was spooned against her back and had his arm around her waist. They were sharing the same pillow, and his nose was buried in her hair.
He breathed deeply and took in her scent. She always smelled so good, and he’d missed it; the smell of her shampoo mixed with her own personal scent. It was intoxicating.
He lay, just breathing her in until he heard Jennifer whimper. She was hungry.
He carefully slipped out of bed and went to take care of his daughter.
Catherine woke to find herself alone in the bed. It was just after seven and just starting to get light. Vincent must have gotten up to feed Jenny. Had he left or stayed with Jenny?
She stretched and made herself get up. She’d gone to bed early the night before, but with the stresses of the day spent at the hospital, she still felt exhausted. Her feet still throbbed and her back hurt.
Vincent walked back into the room just as she returned to the bedroom from the bathroom.
“I thought you were going to sleep in a little today. I’m here to look after Jennifer.”
“I didn’t know you were still here,” she said, as she rubbed her lower back. “Thank you for staying last night. I know I slept better knowing that I had back-up than I would have, otherwise. And thank you for humoring me regarding my request to stay with me. I know that wasn’t fair, asking that of you.”
Fair? he thought. If that is unfair; I’ll take it over my previous ideas of fair anytime.
He smiled as he walked across the room and took her arm and guided her back to the bed. “You needed the reassurance.”
Catherine winced and kept her hand on her back.
“You’re in pain, what’s wrong?”
“Too many hours on my feet, in the wrong shoes, pacing on those hard hospital floors. I don’t know how I used to do it. I should have worn my athletic shoes.”
He remembered the shoes she’d worn the day before; no support, no padding. She might as well have been barefoot. “You didn’t know what was going to happen. As worried as you were when you left here yesterday morning, it’s a wonder you even remembered shoes.”
He gestured toward the bed. “Lay down, and I’ll rub your back for you. That used to help when you were pregnant.”
Catherine didn’t argue. She crawled back onto the bed and stretched out on her stomach.
Vincent hesitated before he raised her t-shirt a few inches to expose her lower back. When he’d rubbed her back while she was pregnant, he’d done it though her clothes, but this time he wanted to touch her skin, to connect. He wasn’t prepared for how tiny her panties were; “bikini’s” he thought they were called.
He leaned over her and began to work the muscles of her lower back. The Bond told him that he’d hit the right spot, and her groan confirmed it.
“That feels good,” she said after a few moments. She was surprised when she felt his hands move up her back, under her shirt, to her shoulders and neck. She didn’t even try to think or analyze it; she just relaxed and let it go.
His hands felt good. She’d had lots of massages from professionals, but they always had soft hands. Vincent’s were different; just as strong but there were calluses, and the hair on his hands was just a little extra something when he used a knuckle to work out a particularly stubborn knot. She missed the occasional scrape of a nail. Never enough to do any harm, but just there, as a reminder. They would grow back.
She remembered his hands on her from another time, before his backrubs became purely helpful, to relieve pain. She’d been waiting for something, but now, she wasn’t even sure what. A signal from him? Her trust to return?
She had fears, but the old saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ certainly applied here, but they both needed to take that leap… together, and maybe, for the first time in their relationship, Vincent was standing closer to the precipice than she was.
She’d wondered about him being there for her and his actions of the last twenty-four hours had just proven that he was, that he would be, for both her and Jenny. For even the little things, like a bad dream.
She was sure that she could trust him; had been since he’d asked to be allowed to see Jenny; she just hadn’t been willing to admit it to herself. She knew he wasn’t going to try to push her away again. If something was troubling one of them, they would talk about it and clear the air before it grew into something too overwhelming for them to handle. He’d proven himself.
From her point of view, the time was right for the physical expression of their love. She knew she was in love and totally committed, and she was sure he was too, but was he ready for the next step?
Vincent could tell she was thinking about something; just not what, exactly. Something was making her feel good, relaxed, but he couldn’t be sure if it was his backrub or what she was thinking about.
Her skin was like satin. He knew she used lotion; it smelled faintly of almonds and vanilla. It was part of the scent that he equated with her.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on the Bond as he was kneading the muscles and didn’t even notice when his hands left her lower back and moved up to her shoulders and neck. When he did notice, he quickly got up and stepped back from the bed.
Catherine stood and stretched again, testing the muscles.
“That’s much better,” she told him. “Thank you.”
She looked up at him, undecided what she should do.
He decided it for her when he curved his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. He nuzzled her neck but didn’t say anything.
“Is this the part where I wake up and realize I was dreaming?” she asked, gently pushing his head up so she could see his face.
“To hell with it, kiss her!” a voice that sounded a lot like Devin said in his head. Now he was not only dealing with “the Other” but Devin?
He dropped a light kiss on her lips, making her shiver.
“I love you, Catherine.”
He’d taken the decision out of her hands. She let her head fall back as she smiled up at him. “I love you.”
The sunrise was full of magic; as full of promise as it had been that other morning last spring. The room was swathed in the soft rays of the rising sun. She’d gone to great pains to make this room perfect. When she’s chosen the furniture, even the bedding, she’d had Vincent in mind. She wanted to make sure Vincent was comfortable with everything. She’d bought new bedding, and the soft pillows and thick comforter were very inviting; she hoped he thought the same. At the time she’d had no doubt that he’d be sharing it with her.
“What are you thinking?” he asked. He’d sensed a sudden worry running through what she was feeling.
“Nothing important. I was just hoping that I’d made the right choices in here; that you were comfortable with the house. When I was furnishing it, I kept thinking of you, and I tried to make it so you’d be comfortable.”
“You needn’t worry. Your home suits you and is more comfortable than your apartment was, even though I miss the balcony,” he whispered.
Catherine reached up and tugged at his t-shirt. She ached to touch him, experience him completely, the way she’d fantasized since the previous spring.
Can we get rid of this?” she asked shyly.
He pulled the shirt over his head, and she was finally able to smooth her hands over the soft, golden hair that covered his chest.
He groaned. Held the hem of her shirt he looked at her.
With a nod, she answered the question in his eyes.
He lifted it off over her head, leaving her with nothing but the pale pink bikini panties.
Vincent smiled his appreciation, his eyes darkening, as he unbuttoned and pulled off his jeans, leaving him in only his underwear.
He was as beautiful as she remembered; all thick ripples of muscle, tight abs, with the soft covering of surprisingly silky hair almost everywhere.
His legs were long, the hair lighter on the muscled thighs that tapered to well-toned calves. He took a step toward her as she moved toward him, and their skin touched.
Catherine murmured her pleasure, clasping his shoulders just as he moved in to kiss her.
He kissed her deeply, finally using his tongue, rasping the slightly rough, well-developed organ along the inside of her lips, then her teeth.
Hands explored flesh, skimming, discovering, relishing the freedom they were finally allowing themselves.
Vincent’s fingers slipped inside the waistband of her panties on both sides and teased over her bottom before he relinquished her skin, picked her up and carried her to the bed.
Setting her on the soft comforter, he gazed down at her, finally pulling his underwear off then removing her panties.
He leaned down to kiss the faint stretch marks on her stomach and hips. Her hands went to his thick hair, trying to guide his mouth back to hers.
He made his way back to her mouth in his own time, and his kiss was slow and gentle, his chest rumbling with a groan.
Catherine closed her eyes in anticipation. Vincent took his time, stroking, licking, kissing; exploring her body.
His fingers found the small, pink bud he was looking for and Catherine saw stars and flashes of color behind her eyelids as she writhed and whimpered her pleasure. Her ecstasy flowed to him through the Bond.
White-hot desire snaked upward until she exploded. She rode the crest of her climax, fighting the urge to scream her delight, for fear of waking the baby. She gripped the comforter and moaned softly. The sweet torture was a tidal wave of pleasure, lifting her up then dragging her under, leaving her boneless and weak.
Vincent kneaded her thighs, massaging the muscles to ease the tension until she felt like a puddle of silly putty. When she’d recovered enough to move, she reached for him.
Tugging on his wide shoulders, she pulled him closer, his chest rubbing against hers, his abs pressing into her belly. When he kissed her again, she wanted him right now, but she resisted in favor of slowing down and making it last.
She pushed him over onto his back and pinned him with her leg across his thighs. She pulled his head close for another kiss, as she reached for his erection. He pulsed against her fingers when she skimmed the hot flesh.
Vincent cupped her breast, running his thumb over her nipple, sending waves of heat through her, renewing the embers of her desire.
Her pulse raced, as she tried to slow her aching need to have him inside her. She stayed on her side next to him and allowed her hands to wander.
She caressed his erection, grasping him firmly, moving up and back down, along the length. He writhed, much like she had done when he’d caressed her. Vincent tensed, his body rigid, as she touched him intimately. He moaned, long and low, muttering something unintelligible.
He dragged his hand down her back, pulling her close.
“No more,” he panted, husky and deep, grabbing her hand and pulling it away.
Catherine wrapped her arms around his shoulders and moved on top of him. Trying to hold him still, she captured his mouth as she straddled him.
She looked down at him, this man she’d fallen so deeply in love with, and her chest tightened. She knew his look reflected hers. It held everything neither of them had the words for; love, hope longing and desire… yes… desire.
He let his fingers slide up her arm, across her shoulder, to the back of her head. “I love you,” he said again before he pulled her down to kiss her.
She caught his other hand in hers and cupped it against her cheek. She closed her eyes, inhaling the scent that was all Vincent. “And I love you, Vincent.”
His moan of urgency made her lift her hips, allowing him the space to move beneath her and settle at her entrance.
This was the moment she’d waited months for. The moment when they’d become one, again. Holding her breath, Catherine looked down, storing the picture in her mind of their flesh, his dark gold, hers lighter, preparing to connect.
Vincent’s first thrust upward made her gasp, stretched her, causing her to brace her hands on his chest, as she adjusted. It had been a long time.
That moment, that utterly sweet moment when they connected, was sheer bliss. Her eyes drifted closed; her body swayed in his arms, which had come up around her.
Strong and sure, she gripped his forearms and raised her hips, thrusting downward on him, whimpering at how completely he filled her.
They found their rhythm, the special place where their Bond took over and began to lead them to completion.
Catherine could feel it, the Bond. It had been like this the first time, too. She had some idea of the kind of connection that he always had with her. For her to feel it intensely, however, it seemed they had to have just this kind of a physical merging.
Vincent knew she felt it. He suddenly went still, and she opened her eyes to see what had happened. She saw his eyes open wide, just before they became heavy with desire and he captured one of her nipples in his mouth.
Wrapping her arms around his head, Catherine cradled him close as their flesh met and pulled away. Their chests rose and fell; their breathing became labored.
That rush of heat assailed her again, rushing along her veins, pulsing in ripples of need, until she knew she couldn’t hold out much longer.
Vincent’s last thrust drove her over the brink, the pleasure so intense she cried out and gripped his shoulders.
The world tilted and crashed around her. The pounding of her pulse in her ears drowned out everything else. Everything but Vincent and the steady beat of his heart and his moans of pleasure as he, too, found release.
As the last remnants of her climax subsided, Catherine clung to him, tears stinging her eyes. One managed to escape and roll down her face, dropping on his cheek.
He drew back so he could see her, then moved to hold her face between his hands. He wiped her cheeks with his thumbs and smiled as he cradled her in his arms.
“You’re all right?” he whispered.
“I’m more than all right. What about you?”
“How could I be anything but?” he asked with a chuckle.
“Well, I did kind of take over,” she said as she cuddled closer.
“I think that might have been what we both needed,” he conceded. “If you hadn’t, we might still be hovering on the brink, as they say... You did seem to be in rather a hurry.” He had a sudden thought that made his brow furrow. “In so much of a hurry that neither of us thought about precautions.”
“Precautions?” She was puzzled.
“Well, it only took once the last time, and now we have Jennifer.”
“It was actually three times, the last time,” she said with a chuckle.
The golden glow that was Vincent’s blush spread up his face, and he pressed his lips together, trying not to smile. “I stand corrected, but what if…?”
“I started taking birth control as soon as Jenny was weaned,” she assured him. “I’ve taken it since I was 19. The only reason I got pregnant was that with everything that was going on back then, I’d forgotten to get my prescription refilled and had been off it for a while. In spite of everything that we went through… I’m glad I was forgetful.” She smiled at him. “Jenny is worth it.”
“I’m sorry I was stupid and stubborn.”
“Are you ever going to stop apologizing?” she asked. “I forgave you a long time ago, and I should have told you. You’re always stubborn; I think you learned that from Father, but you’re never stupid. You were just… cautious and afraid. I am too, sometimes. We have a lot to learn from each other and from Jenny.”
After a few minutes, he let her slide off his chest and curl into his side. He pulled the covers up over them.
“Now will you sleep a little more?” he asked.
“I’m sure I can. Will you be here when I wake?”
“I promise I will be. If I’m not right here next to you, I’ll be in the nursery or the kitchen.”
“After you’ve slept some more.”
“So, when’s the wedding?” Devin asked as he helped himself to coffee from the pot on the counter.
“April,” Vincent answered as he dumped vegetables he’d just finished cutting up into the stew pot. “The twelfth. It’s a Thursday. It will be in the evening, to accommodate any Helpers who want to come but can’t get off work earlier.”
“No, actually, he’s giving the bride away. We have asked Father Pritchard to do the ceremony. It won’t be legal Above, but it will be Below, and in the eyes of God.”
“I can’t believe that you are really living up here.”
“It’s an easy commute,” Vincent said with a grin. “And I haven’t given up any of my duties Below. Catherine refers to the entire duplex as The Tunnel Annex. With Mouse’s new gizmo I can be contacted anytime, day or night in case of an emergency.”
“And Jenny is Below whenever you are. You do realize that the old man is spoiling her rotten, don’t you?”
“Isn’t that what grandparents are supposed to do?” he finished stirring the pot and put the lid back on. “Speaking of Jenny. How are things with Miss Aaronson?”
“They’re great.” I’m supposed to go with her to meet her parents on Friday. I’ve been invited to dinner.”
“That was quick. You’ve only been seeing her for two months.”
“Hey, when it’s right, you know it. I’m working on introducing her to our world Below in the next couple weeks, so she can attend the wedding. Father and the council have given me the go ahead. I think Father is salivating at the idea that she works for a publisher. He’s seeing visions of a new Helper and new textbooks for the classrooms.”
“It will be nice to be able to surprise Catherine with her friend. Mary will be her Matron of Honor, but she hasn’t asked anyone to be her Maid of Honor. I’m sure she’d love to have her best friend there, in that capacity.”
“I’m working on it, believe me. First, I’ll tell her about the world Below; then we’ll work on springing you on her.”
Vincent went over to the playpen in the corner of the kitchen and picked up his daughter. He carried her to Devin to hold, while he fixed her dinner. He looked right at home in the modern kitchen, a chef’s apron tied around his waist and a dishtowel thrown over his shoulder.
I would never have dreamed it, Devin said to himself. I guess ‘Happily Ever Afters,' really do exist.
If you are a Beauty and the Beast fan you will recognize that I used a not only Catherine and Vincent, but some of their words from the show. Some paraphrased, and some straight off the small screen.
If you liked this you’ll love the…
The 30th Anniversary Online Beauty and the Beast Convention - 2017
- Is a completely FREE online convention celebrating everything B&B
- Will bring together artists, writers, actors, crew and fans
- Will showcase music, artwork (real and digital), videos, handicrafts, stories
- Will celebrate episodes, memorabilia, acting, scripts, and production
- Will offer games, education, interviews, tours and chats
- Will be a place to participate, meet friends, make a wish, find a recipe
- Will offer new places to explore and old ones to enjoy anew
OR by using the official link:
OR by using the shortcut URL: http://tinyurl.com/zfu2pxt
And yes, it's already underway! It was launched on January 1, 2017 and it never closes. Drop in and explore.
New additions to the site are posted every week. Look for the rotating globe on the convention homepage menu.
Some special treats are being reserved for September 25, 2017, the 30th Anniversary of the airing of the pilot episode in 1987.
Everyone is welcome. This convention is all season - and there's an ADULT section for those who like to fantasize a little more intensely.
Participation is encouraged. Write a story or poem, take a photo of your favourite memorabilia - and tell us why you love it, share a B&B anecdote, tell us what the series means to you, suggest a recipe for William's Bistro.
Of course there will be fan fiction! Naturally, there will be a 30th Anniversary conzine of new fiction to mark this year, PLUS there will be a second, retrospective conzine recognizing some of the wonderful writing from the past.
Both conzines will be completely FREE and available in digital format for download and printing. A CD of the zines will also be available.
There will be no official charity, but we welcome links to non-profit organizations who exemplify the spirit of our series.