Meant To Be
What if Catherine had left
“I’m going to
“What?” replied Joe, digesting her news. “I don’t know. I guess I was kind of half hoping you’d go the other way.”
“Yesterday you said ...”
“Yeah, I know what I said yesterday, I even meant it.” Joe walked around his desk and stood in front of Catherine. “I’m not too crazy about losing you.”
“Thanks, Joe ... for everything,” she responded.
“You made the right call, Radcliffe,” said Joe, sounding supportive. “I’m gonna miss you.”
They embraced in a heartfelt hug.
The opportunity Catherine had been offered to go to
So much had changed in her life recently. More change wasn’t ideal but maybe it was necessary. Catherine had been confused since getting to know Vincent, after he’d found her dumped in the park following the vicious attack on her. Leaving her father’s law firm to work at the DA’s office had given her the professional direction she was seeking, but her personal life was in turmoil.
Vincent’s reappearance in her life after eight months had been wonderful. She’d thought she would never see him again and his visit to her balcony confirmed to her that what she was feeling wasn’t only on her side. He spoke of a “Bond” between them and this rang true in her heart. However, their tentative relationship was rocked when a subway vigilante’s actions caused Catherine to doubt her new friend.
Every meeting between them was fraught with tension. Catherine could sense the electricity around them, felt excitement at the prospect of getting to know him more deeply. However, for every step forward Catherine initiated, Vincent stepped backward, and frustratingly pushed her to “find someone to love.” That “someone” had turned out to be Elliot Burch who, for all his attraction, had revealed feet of clay. Catherine had started falling in love with Elliot and her disappointment in his behavior left her adrift once more. Elliot pursued every avenue to regain his lost advantage but Catherine’s sights had returned to the one man she knew would never let her down, the man with the penetrating blue eyes who had saved her life and become a part of her in a way she couldn’t explain, even to herself.
The only way to decide a course of action regarding this job offer in
Catherine had paced back and forth in front of the gate into the tunnel system. Once her message to Vincent was sent she’d tried to gather her thoughts and order her words. Sensing his approach, she’d turned back to the gate to see him silhouetted in the opening.
“You look like an angel standing there.” The awe in Vincent’s voice had been obvious.
“I wanted to see you.” She’d reached out and grasped a bar of the gate. “I have a decision to make … and I need your help.”
Vincent had moved through the gate and stood with his back to it, waiting for her to speak.
She’d looked up into his face, trying to see his eyes more clearly in the shadows of the tunnel.
“I’ve been offered another job, Vincent.” Her eyes had never left him.
“A much better job, with more responsibility. A chance to use my
training and to help people more than I’m able to now. But it would mean
“Where would you go?” He’d look down then, breaking eye contact.
“I don’t know what’s meant to be.” Her frustrations regarding this whole situation made her step away from him and then turn back. “Vincent, I care about you so deeply, but a part of me is unhappy … and we both know why.”
She’d given him a “knowing” glance to emphasize the point.
“Well, then you don’t have a choice.”
“But I do,” she’d insisted. “That’s why I’m here.”
“You didn’t come this far, Catherine, to turn back now.”
“I came this far because of you,” she’d confirmed. “I don’t want to leave you behind.”
“Beyond these tunnels, beyond this city, is a world of possibilities and wonders … and … and things calling out to be done.” He’d spoken with conviction. “These things I could only dream about until you came into my life. Catherine, don’t you understand? You must go, you must see, you must—do—everything you were meant to do, for me, for both of us. And then, I can truly be with you—always.”
“There’s no other way?” She’d nearly begged him.
“No. Not for us.” His words had rung with such lamentable pathos in her ears.
And then in a further act of separation he had retreated slowly beyond the gate and looked at her with heart-rending tenderness as he’d pulled the gate closed. He’d stood upright, turned, and pulled the lever to close the steel door with resignation. The clang of the door still rang in her ears and she knew it would ring forever in her soul.
“…When they came back nobody spanked anybody any more; and ever since that day, O Best Beloved, all the Elephants you will ever see, besides all those that you won’t, have trunks precisely like the trunk of the ‘satiable Elephant’s Child.” Catherine Chandler-Grayson leaned forward and swept her daughter’s bangs aside. She kissed her gently on the brow. “Goodnight, my beautiful Tia.”
“One more story, please,” a sweet-voiced child begged.
“Vincentia Rose Grayson, you are incorrigible and insatiable, just like that elephant child,” replied Catherine, tickling her daughter mercilessly before realizing this was no way to get the child to sleep.
“Please, please, please, one more, please, and then I promise I’ll sleep.” Green eyes twinkled up at her mother.
“All right, but then straight to sleep or we’ll be late leaving for Poppy Peter’s big party tomorrow.”
“Tell me about Belle and the Lion-man.”
“Again, you must have heard it a hundred times.”
“One more time and then sleep,” promised Tia, giving her best cherubic smile.
“Okay, you bandit. Once upon a time there was a girl living in
“And her name was Belle,” added Tia.
“That’s right, her name was Belle,” agreed Catherine.
“And Belle liked to wander
“And he and his father, who lived in a cave, looked after her until she was well again,” continued Catherine. “When Belle finally saw the Lion-man she was surprised because of how he looked and she threw a bowl at him which made the Lion-man very sad because he couldn’t help how he looked. But then Belle remembered his voice and knew there was nothing to fear. The Lion-man had only ever been kind to her.”
Tia started to yawn and her eyelids were finally drooping.
“And the Lion-man took Belle … home after … ten days.” Tia’s words were slurred with sleep now.
“And her Daddy was so happy to have her home that he gave a big party, but the Lion-man couldn’t come because he would scare people. So Belle took him cake in the park the next night and they became best friends forever and played in the park every chance they could. Now sleep, baby girl.”
Catherine crept quietly out of the bedroom and pulled the door nearly closed behind her. Tia had claimed this tale as her favorite one evening when Catherine had told it whilst feeling in a particularly nostalgic mood. She’d even drawn a sketch of Vincent for Tia, who kept it safely tucked into a big book of fairytales.
If only that was how the real story had ended instead of with the slamming of a cold steel door, final and irrevocable. She sighed as she made her way about the living room. She picked up toys and straightened cushions on her way to the kitchen for a cup of tea.
As she settled on the comfortable couch with her hands wrapped around her mug of tea, her thoughts turned to Dave Grayson, her late husband. Gone now for two years from leukemia, she would never regret the six years of their marriage. They’d had a good partnership and some great times together. Dave had come to work at her office after she’d been there a year. She was so serious about her work and emotionally fraught from trying to forget Vincent and recover from losing her father. Dave had seen her as a challenge and made it his mission to make her laugh again. And he did. Fun had been his middle name and Catherine had been ready for some laughter in her life. They’d fallen into easy companionship and twelve months later, to no one’s surprise, they’d married.
When their baby daughter came along, Catherine insisted on naming her Vincentia Rose, claiming it had sentimental family significance. Dave, being the easy-going man he was, accepted the name without question and always called the baby his “Tia Rose.” He was a wonderful father, but by the time Vincentia was two, Dave had been diagnosed with leukemia, so further children were not an option.
Catherine gave up work to nurse Dave, aided by a palliative care team. Until the end he maintained his humor, only losing it during one dark evening of introspection a week before his death. He’d revealed that he’d always known he wasn’t her soul mate. He knew there was always a piece of herself that she kept separate. He didn’t blame her for that faraway look in her eyes when she didn’t know he was watching. They’d cried together then, clinging to each other around the tubes and bags attached to Dave that prolonged what little was left of his time. He’d shushed her when she’d tried to explain and whispered in her ear that he understood. When he’d wished her a happy life, Catherine had sobbed uncontrollably against him, riddled with grief and regret, until they both fell asleep.
A week later she stood by his grave, Tia’s hand clutched firmly in
hers—a widow. The small group of mourners included, on Dave’s side, his
brother Frank, who’d flown in from
Ten years had passed since Catherine had left
“Welcome, my two beautiful girls.” Peter Alcott threw his arms around Catherine and Tia and drew them into the entrance hall.
“Happy birthday, Peter,” said Catherine. “You’re looking well.”
“For an old man, you mean.” Peter chuckled. “Can you believe 70 years on this earth?”
“You’re putting words in my mouth. I’ve never met a man with more zest for life than you.”
“Happy birthday, Poppy Peter.” A small voice came from beside Catherine.
“Why, thank you, Tia Rose,” replied Peter. “I’m glad you could come and stay for a few days.”
“Is Lindy here yet?” asked Tia, referring to Peter’s granddaughter who had become a firm friend last Christmas.
“She is, and I think you’ll be sharing a bedroom with her. How does that sound?”
“Yippee,” squealed Tia. “I’m going to find her.”
Tia disappeared into the house, leaving Catherine and Peter to deal with luggage and coats.
“How are you really, Cathy?” inquired Peter.
“I’m okay,” she replied wistfully. “I have more good days than bad days. Having Tia is a blessing.”
“When are you coming back to
“I don’t know, Peter.
After that they lost the chance to talk as more friends and relatives
arrived for the party. Catherine made herself useful in the kitchen. She
chatted with Susan, Peter’s daughter and mother of Tia’s friend Lindy
along with two older boys. Susan was easy company and Catherine had
known her for years. Susan and her husband Richard owned a
pharmaceutical distribution company in
The party was a great success. Peter’s friends roasted him mercilessly, but it was all good natured and fueled in varying degrees by old-fashioned high spirits and a liberal dose of alcohol.
Most of the guests had left when Catherine answered a knock at the front door of Peter’s brownstone. There was no one at the door, but an envelope addressed to “Dr Alcott” lay conspicuously on the doormat. Catherine picked it up and looked around the street. She caught the eye of a young man by a car. He slipped away quickly, almost as if he’d waited to be sure that the envelope was collected.
Catherine delivered the envelope immediately to Peter, who opened it, read the message and looked across at Susan and Richard with a worried expression.
“I have to go,” Peter announced as he passed the message to Susan and gave her a meaningful look. He hurried out of the room.
“Is everything all right?” Catherine inquired of Susan.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s fine.” Susan spoke in a calming voice. “Just one of dad’s few remaining patients has had a bit of an issue. He’ll undoubtedly be back before we get cleared up here.”
“Well, where shall we start?” asked Catherine, trying to look enthused about cleaning up.
“Why don’t you put the girls to bed while Richard and I start on the kitchen?” suggested Susan as she turned to her two boys. “Time for you to go to bed, too; off with you.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Catherine, feeling a definite sense of unease about events and Peter’s hurried leave-taking.
Teeth brushed and in their pajamas, Tia and Lindy snuggled down under the covers and were content with a quick kiss from Catherine. She had no doubt they would chat together until sleep finally claimed them for the night. She dimmed the light, left the room and headed down the staircase.
Passing through the living room on her way to the kitchen, Catherine spotted the message to Peter lying on the bureau. She looked at the folded paper for a long moment feeling … what? – a pull? Was it just curiosity or something else? Moving closer and feeling guilty for what she was about to do, she picked up the message and read:
“Peter, come quickly. It’s Vincent, an accident. Winslow.”
Catherine’s world rocked. She felt the blood drain from her head and grabbed the table for support before she sank into a nearby chair. All this time! Peter knew about Vincent and never told her. But then neither had she told him, or anyone. We’re all so well trained. Protect the tunnels and Vincent at all cost. Secret … forever secret. An accident!
Oh, please, God, don’t take Vincent. She sent her desperate plea heavenward.
“Cathy, are you all right?” Susan had entered the dining room to find her collapsed on a chair looking decidedly unwell.
“Susan, tell me,” she replied, holding the note out in front of her.
“What do mean?”
“I saw you read the note. Vincent, I know him,” she admitted and the mere speaking of his name released her welling tears, sending them coursing down her face.
“But how?” Susan asked, surprised.
“You may not remember as you were in
“I do remember. Dad told us about it.”
“Well, what Peter didn’t know, what nobody knew, was that I was dumped
“Oh,” said Susan, surprised. She recovered quickly and added, “Well all we can do is to wait for Dad to return, he’ll have news then. Richard and I only learned of the tunnels five years ago when we moved here. New helpers are always needed. We manage to keep them supplied with whatever medicines they need. Our company is quite big and the little they require is never missed.”
“So you know Vincent?” Catherine was suddenly greedy for any word of him.
“I wouldn’t say we “know” him,” Susan explained. “We’ve met him, of course. Since Father’s stroke he’s taken on most of the leadership duties.”
“Father had a stroke!” gasped Catherine.
“Look, Cathy, you’ll have to talk to Dad, he knows most of what goes on down there.” Susan seemed regretful. “We do our bit to help, but with a business and three children to rear, we have enough trouble remembering who’s on the school run each day.”
The house was quiet. Everyone except Catherine had retired for the night. She sat nursing a coffee mug, sitting on the living room sofa, waiting for Peter to return. It was a long, cold wait.
At a noise in the kitchen brought Catherine fully alert. Peter walked into the room, looking every one of his 70 years, disheveled and weary.
“Cathy, you’re still up?” he asked, not understanding why she wouldn’t be asleep at this hour.
“I have to speak with you, Peter.”
“What about?” he inquired, sounding a little worried.
“Please, sit with me, you look so tired,” said Catherine. “Would you like something to drink?”
He did sit down and then continued. “Cathy, what’s this about?”
“Vincent.” His head snapped up.
“Peter, I have an admission to make,” she said. “After the attack on me, when I was missing—I was with Vincent … Below.”
“I see,” was Peter’s inscrutable reply. “And?”
Catherine looked anxiously around the room. She was digging up memories she’d buried long ago.
“Vincent and I … we became … friends … more than friends, Peter.” She
was breathing raggedly now and looked at him in despair, hoping for
understanding. “But … he could see no future for us. It’s because of
Vincent that I left
Peter sat quietly, contemplating Catherine’s revelation.
“Peter, please tell me, what’s happened? Is he all right? I have to know.”
“He’s alive. He was working with a team repairing a damp section of tunnel, replacing the supporting beams. From what I’ve been told, the main beam started to collapse and Vincent held it up long enough for everyone to reach safety.” Peter watched Catherine carefully as he spoke the words. “The beam was just too heavy, even for Vincent, with the rock and earth above it. He was trapped under it for several hours until they could dig him out. That’s when they sent for me. He has injuries along the whole of his left side. His arm and leg are broken. I still don’t know about internal damage, but he has broken ribs, so the risk of a punctured lung is fairly high. We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s so frustrating not having him in a hospital with all the right equipment.”
“Peter, I have to see him.”
“I don’t know if that’s wise, Cathy.”
“I don’t know what’s wise anymore. But I have to go to him; he’d do no less for me. I still care for him. I’ll go with or without you, Peter. I remember the way.”
“It’s all right, Cathy, calm down, I’ll take you,” Peter said, relenting. “I’m just here for a few hours’ sleep and a change of clothes and then I’ll be going back. He’s unconscious at present. I’m working on a plan to best deal with his injuries.”
“Don’t leave without me. I’ll ask Susan to mind Tia.”
“Tia,” he repeated. “Now it makes sense. Vincentia.”
“So now you know. And after all these years, I still love him,” she admitted to Peter … and herself.
“I’m sorry you’ve gone through everything on your own. If only I’d known.”
After two restless hours of sleep Catherine was woken by Tia, who was ready to take on the day.
“Wake up, Mommy,” demanded the little girl. “Lindy’s asleep and I’m hungry.”
“Are you now, Miss Bossy Boots?” Catherine replied, ruffling Tia’s hair and trying to sound cheerful.
“Please, Mommy, please. Pancakes,” she demanded.
“All right. I’ll just quickly get dressed.” Catherine pushed back the bedclothes and headed for the bathroom.
Shortly after, Tia was sitting up at the kitchen bench enjoying her pancakes whilst Catherine hovered over the coffee pot, willing it to brew faster. What a night. She felt totally drained and was fearful for Vincent. First though, she must organize Tia to spend the day with Lindy.
“Hmmm,” was the reply around a mouthful of pancake.
“Have you had fun with Lindy?”
“Yep, she’s my best friend,” Tia supplied.
“Would you be okay to play with her today?” asked Catherine.
“Well, you can play with Lindy and Mommy needs to go out with Poppy Peter to see an old friend who isn’t well.” Catherine never lied to her daughter and there was truth in these words.
“Is he sick like daddy was?” she asked innocently.
“Not like daddy,” she answered. “He’s had an accident and is hurt.”
“Oh.” She considered what she’d been told. “Okay, Mommy, I’ll play with Lindy. We can make a cave under the dining table and live in it all day.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea. Wish I could live in it too.” Her daughter’s imagination astounded her at times.
“You can when you come home, Mommy.”
Peter escorted Catherine into his basement and through a concealed threshold into the tunnels. He explained that he only left by the front door the previous evening because so many people were still in the house. This morning that wasn’t an issue. Before long they were making their way closer to the center of the tunnel world.
Catherine felt physically sick about what was to come. Seeing Vincent after so long, and the fact that he was hurt, would be joy and sorrow entwined, but then so many of their meetings had combined these same opposing emotions. Was he still unconscious? Would he recognize her? That he might not want her there was her biggest fear, the one that gnawed at her insides and caused a thumping pain in her head.
“Are you all right, Cathy?” Peter inquired, ever the physician. He took her arm to give her support.
“Truthfully, Peter, I’m terrified,” she admitted.
“I can take you back,” he offered.
“No, that’s not an option,” she responded adamantly. “It’s not just Vincent; it’s seeing Father, and how he’ll react when he sees me.”
“Don’t worry about Jacob, you’ll find he’s changed too. I think having the stroke has made him realize what is important in life. When Vincent finally escaped from the university …” Peter started.
“What do you mean? What happened?” she demanded, stopping in her tracks and turning to face Peter.
“Around the time you went to
“Oh, no …” She gripped Peter’s arm. “I can’t believe this.”
“It appears that in the end he formed an understanding with the professor, who destroyed his research and released him. During Vincent’s escape late one night the assistant appeared, killed the professor and tried to stop Vincent leaving—the assistant was killed too.”
Tears threatened to spill from Catherine’s eyes. “If only I’d known, I would never have left. I would have searched this city until I’d found him. How Father must have hated me, to not ask for help.”
“Come on, Cathy. It’s ancient history now,” Peter reminded her. “Let’s just deal with this current situation instead of worrying about past slights.”
“I’m sorry, you’re right, Peter,” she conceded. “What are you planning?” They commenced walking again and soon could hear the tapping on the pipes as people communicated with each other.
“It’s a radical plan, I’m hoping Father will see it’s for Vincent’s best,” said Peter. “I won’t go into it now; I want to see how Vincent is this morning first.”
In due course they reached the central area and went directly to the hospital chamber. A throng of tunnel dwellers huddled outside as they waited for news of Vincent. As Peter passed by with Catherine, who was a stranger in their midst, they drew back against the walls and looked upon her with suspicion. They whispered amongst themselves.
To them Vincent was “everything”: their leader, protector, confidante, educator and friend. This vigil was all they could do given the circumstances; to them he was nearly invincible and his injury was an injury to all who lived here—they loved him and depended on him.
Upon entering the hospital chamber their passage was blocked by a large black man. His arms were folded across his chest and his feet were astride. He stood immovable and unmoving.
“Peter, who is this?” His words were spoken quietly but forcefully.
“A friend of Vincent’s, Winslow. This is Catherine.”
“She’s a stranger to me and Vincent never goes Above. How could she know him?”
Catherine moved forward and spoke to the man. “Some years ago I spent time down here with Vincent. He rescued me in the park and brought me Below.” She hadn’t counted on the protective barrier the community put around Vincent and was grateful for Peter’s presence.
“Well, that may be, but so what? He doesn’t need you here now,” Winslow decreed.
Unobtrusively, in the background another had been listening to the unfolding events. The refined older woman with the shawl around her shoulders moved forward and placed a hand on Winslow’s arm.
“Winslow, it’s all right. I remember this woman. Her being here will not hurt Vincent any further than he is already hurt. Now, out of the way and let Dr Alcott in so he can see to him.”
“Thank you, Mary,” replied Peter, pushing past the large figure still half-heartedly blocking his way. “How has he been since I left?”
“No change; he’s just so still. If he didn’t have a pulse I’d think he was dead,” Mary admitted. “I’ve cleaned him up as much as I can but without moving him there’s only so much I could do.”
“That’s fine, Mary. Has Father been in at all?”
“He sat with him most of the night. I’ll go and bring him now. He asked to be woken when you arrived.” Mary hurriedly left the chamber, pleased to have an activity to perform.
Catherine edged around Winslow, who practically snarled at her, and moved further into the room, coming to a stop beside Peter.
What she saw ripped at her, heart and soul. Vincent lay on the bed totally unmoving, swathed in bandages across his chest and shoulder and down his left leg. Tears ran down Catherine’s face as she absorbed her first sight of his precious face in over ten years. Ten—long years. The face she looked upon was older, etched with lines from burdens borne from trying to be everything to everyone—ignoring anything he might want or need. She ached for him and could feel her throat constrict as she tried to push her emotions down. She could hardly breathe. Moving to the far side of the chamber so as not to be in Peter’s way, she pulled a chair close to the bed. Gently she lifted Vincent’s uninjured hand into her own. The man called Winslow continued to glare at her from the doorway, watching her every movement.
A groan issued from Vincent’s parched lips and his face creased in pain, exposing his sharp teeth. Catherine tightened her grip on his hand and noticed an answering pressure. As consciousness neared, beads of sweat formed on his brow and his head thrashed from side to side. His body heaved on the bed; Peter called to Winslow and the two men endeavored to restrain his movement.
“We have to keep him still until these bones can be set,” commanded Peter.
Catherine thought of the “Bond” Vincent used to have with her and wondered if holding his hand had somehow triggered his return to consciousness. Surely, after all the time that had passed, it wasn’t possible for their connection to be still active? Could it? Worrying further that she was the cause of his agitation, Catherine placed his hand back beside him on the bed.
Suddenly, Vincent’s eyes flew open, wild and unfocussed. “Catherine?” he rasped.
“I’m here,” she replied. “You have to be still, Vincent; you’ve been hurt.”
“Dreaming,” he stated, continuing to thrash his head about.
“No, I’m here,” she repeated.
He whispered as he gasped for breath, “She is only in my dreams.”
“I’m no dream, Vincent,” she promised as she clasped his hand in hers once more, “and I won’t leave you again. Please, you must be still. You have broken bones.”
Whether he believed her or whether his injuries had claimed him again, Catherine wasn’t sure, but slowly his eyelids fluttered closed and he settled more quietly on the bed. His grip on her hand remained firm.
Catherine lifted her eyes and was shocked to meet the inscrutable gaze that fixed on her from the entrance of the chamber. Father, in a wheelchair, with Mary behind him, had entered. Her attention had been so focused on Vincent that she wasn’t aware he’d arrived or how much he had witnessed. She lifted her chin defiantly and refused to break eye contact with the tunnel elder; she would not concede. This man had indoctrinated Vincent to the point where he believed he was entitled to nothing except perpetual duty and a solitary existence. Certainly there was comfort and love in Vincent’s world, but only as far as an invisible line, a demarcation that Vincent was forbidden to cross. As far as Father was concerned, Catherine existed across that divide.
Peter witnessed the stand-off between his two friends and tried to ease the situation. “Jacob, I’ve been thinking long and hard about the best course of treatment.”
“What have you … decided,” replied Father, his voice weak and slurred. He shifted his attention to Peter.
Catherine became aware of the evidence of his stroke. His face appeared slack down one side and his lip drooped; his left arm lay useless in his lap. Compassion surfaced for Vincent’s father; the stroke had robbed him of so much, particularly of his ability as a doctor. She couldn’t imagine the frustration he must feel, unable to render assistance to his son.
“I set things in motion this morning. There’s a hospital room in my house that was set up when Cynthia was ailing and I never had the heart to touch it afterwards.” Peter saw realization dawn in Jacob’s face; he’d had a stroke but his brain was as quick as ever.
“You can’t … move him Above,” Father ground out. “It’s not safe.”
“I must. I need access to my X-Ray and ultrasound equipment. He’ll have to have surgery to repair the damage to his tibia; it’ll probably need a plate inserted. His broken ribs may have punctured a lung and I’ll have to put in a drainage tube if that’s the case. And there’s still his fractured arm and clavicle. Before I do anything I need X-Rays and the power supply Below is too unreliable. I must have him Above.” Peter concluded his argument - not truly an argument, more a statement of facts.
“You’re right, you’re right,” Father agreed. “We must … do this for Vincent.”
“Try not to worry, Jacob,” continued Peter. “My house is safe. I’ll look after him.”
Mary, who had stood behind Father with an arm of support resting on his shoulder, stepped forward.
“Peter, I’ll come with you to help. You’ll need an assistant during surgery. Olivia and Sarah will see to Father’s needs.”
“Thank you, Mary, if you’re sure you can be spared,” accepted Peter. “We’ll need some strong men to carry the stretcher; I want him moved now. If I can operate while he’s unconscious it will save him feeling the pain.”
Catherine gasped when she heard Peter’s last words, thinking of all that lay ahead for Vincent. She knew he healed quickly, had witnessed it years before when he’d been caught in an explosion and held captive by a street gang. But this current accident could be life-threatening if not handled properly.
“What can I do, Peter?” Catherine asked.
Before Peter could reply, Father spoke again. “I would like to speak with you in private … Catherine.” His words were slow yet deliberate, and brooked no argument. “If you would be so kind as to … push this infernal chair.”
Catherine complied through necessity, but she resented leaving Vincent’s side. She placed his hand back on the bed after giving it a gentle squeeze and prepared to push Father and his wheelchair from the room. “Peter, if you’ve left I’ll find my way back to your house. I think I remember the way.”
“I’ll organize an escort to be available,” said Winslow. “Peter, I’ll gather some of our stronger men to help with the stretcher.” Winslow moved past Catherine and Father and disappeared around a bend in the tunnel.
“Shall we …?” suggested Father, nodding toward the doorway.
Catherine looked back at Vincent helpless on the bed and, without answering Father, pushed the chair out of the chamber with perhaps more force than strictly necessary.
Following Father’s pointed directions, Catherine found herself in Vincent’s chamber. She wondered why he’d brought her here and not to his library. She had spent ten days in this chamber so long ago and she now drew on her inner strength to give her courage to handle this encounter with Father. Her eyes wandered about the room; so little had changed since last she’d been here. Lady Liberty still guarded the entrance and it gave Catherine comfort to be under her gaze. Books filled shelves and Vincent’s “treasures” adorned the ledges around the chamber, filling every nook and cranny. A book rested, lonely, on his pillow, waiting patiently to be picked up and read once more. She lifted it now and read the title, War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Catherine huffed. She had her own war of the worlds about to start right now.
“Please sit,” directed Father; his steely eyes followed her around the room.
“I’ll stand, thank you.”
“I … will be … direct. Speaking is … not always easy for me.”
Catherine nodded in answer.
Father looked down for a moment at his hands and then lifted his head. Was that hostility or fear in his eyes?
“What are your … intentions … toward my son?”
“Sir, with respect, that is not your business.”
“With Vincent,” he swallowed, “it is my business.”
“My relationship with him is between the two of us.”
“Your “relationship?” You left … years ago. Vincent is … changed. He is not the man you once knew.”
Suddenly she felt overwhelmed by events and began to question her right to even be here. A scant 24 hours ago she was living another life. What could she be to Vincent after so long? She knew what he was to her, what he had been and always would be – everything. She sank onto the edge of Vincent’s bed.
“Leaving Vincent behind was the hardest thing I have ever done. I don’t know what will happen, but I do need to talk to him.” She bent her head.
“Don’t … misunderstand me, my dear. I am not … your enemy.” He cleared his throat. “After twice being caught Above, by that street gang … the Silks, and that torturous month he spent caged at the university, he … hasn’t been Above since.”
“No, never, and after … my stroke he took over leadership here Below. It’s all been at … a cost. There’ve been … many trials over the years.”
“Why didn’t you tell me when he went missing?” This question had plagued her since Peter’s revelation. “You knew I cared. I would have done anything to find him.”
“Vincent … wasn’t himself when you left. I thought it was better to let the separation stand.”
“Better for whom,” she cried, “Vincent or yourself?” She felt he had much to answer for and refused to make it easy for him.
The old man sat momentarily with eyes closed before continuing. “Pride, stubbornness … I was wrong. I was a fool. Age and … infirmity bring nothing if not clarity. I made many mistakes … trying to keep him safe. I’m responsible for the emotional prison he now inhabits, no matter how loving a jailer I am. The lifetime of edicts I subjected him to, and his … sense of duty have kept him chained. I see it all so clearly these days. This chair is a wonderful vantage point. Vincent doesn’t smile … anymore—at least not with his eyes.” He mused as he wiped his own eyes on his sleeve. “And what has happened with you, my dear? Ten years is … a long time.”
“I am not the same person either,” admitted Catherine, shrugging her shoulders. “Life, events … change us all. I’ve been a widow for two years and I have a young daughter.” She didn’t elaborate.
“So, there are many considerations?” Father looked up to plead with Catherine. “Do you … think we could … start over?”
She could see the sincerity in his eyes. “Yes, I’d like that,” she responded.
She extended her hand to him and he took it in his good hand and shook it. Their eyes met and held in burgeoning respect and solidarity.
“You must head on up now,” said Father. “Will you take … clothes for Vincent, and some books?”
Father directed her about the chamber. She located a duffel bag and lined it with books at the bottom. Opening his closet felt strange and wrong, as if she was violating him in some fundamental way. Practicality won out and with Father’s advice she selected items of clothes he would need. The touch of the well-worn tunnel garments and the scent of soap which rose to her nostrils affected her on many levels. It took her back to another time, a time when she had felt safe and cared for in Vincent’s arms. A time when she’d thought anything was possible, if they wanted it enough and believed in their hearts that it could be so. A time before limits.
Vincent swam upward. He’d been at the bottom of the ocean with Captain Nemo, peeping in the portholes of the Nautilus. He’d tapped repeatedly on the thick glass. Those inside merely laughed and pointed at the cat-like creature, hair floating in a halo around its head, and mused about the abundance of strange creatures living below in the dark and cold.
Tired of their ignorance, he swam away from the Nautilus and toward the time machine. Maybe he could ask for a ride away from this time to somewhere different, somewhere he could start again. But the closer he swam, the further the time machine appeared to be, until it disappeared completely from view.
Bother, thought the dreaming Vincent. That only leaves swimming up. He lifted his head and breathed deeply but the salted water hurt his lungs; he felt like he was breathing soup. He pressed on and gradually the colors around him lightened from blacks and dark grays to hues of middling greens. Swimming further, the colors bled from cobalt blue to aquamarine. Where am I going?
“Arrghh …” His breathing felt constricted and he couldn’t move. Pain. Crushing pain in his chest. Must escape. His eyes flew open and he searched the unfamiliar room in a panic.
Where am I? Oh, no, I’m caught again. I’ll die this time.
“Vincent, calm down.” A voice he recognized? Was it still the dream? “You’re safe. Vincent, it’s Peter, you’re in my house. You’ve been hurt. Remember?”
“The beam fell,” whispered Vincent. “Everyone out?”
“Yes, you got everyone out.”
Relief flooded through him. They were his responsibility, couldn’t lose them. “I have to go, I can’t be here.”
“Listen to me. You’re hurt, the beam fell on you. You’ve already been here over a week,” said Peter. “Now be calm; just take slow, even breaths.”
“How bad?” Vincent asked.
“That pain in your chest—you have a punctured lung from several broken ribs. I’ve put in a drain and strapped your chest. The more you move, the more you’ll hurt,” warned Peter.
“But I—can’t move.”
“Vincent, the beam fell heavily; you have other injuries.”
“Tell me?” he insisted, determined to know the full extent of his injuries.
“Your clavicle is fractured on the left, along with both the bones in your lower arm.”
Vincent reached across and felt his arm, covered in plaster and trapped inside a sling to stop him from moving his shoulder.
“Thank you, Peter,” said Vincent. “I’ve been a burden.”
“You’re never a burden,” Peter assured him. “However, there is more.”
Vincent looked with worry into his friend’s eyes. “More?”
“You have a major break, a compound fracture of the tibia. I had to conduct a surgical repair of your leg. I’ve inserted a plate and surgical nails to hold it and I’ve placed your leg in a plaster back-slab so I can watch for any infection.”
“I see,” was all Vincent could muster.
“You’re in a bad way. I know you heal quickly, but it will still take time, and none of us is getting any younger.” Peter chuckled at the look Vincent turned on him.
“You should have left me buried,” remarked Vincent, closing his eyes.
“Now, stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“Not sorry, just practical.”
“Yes, Peter?” He opened his eyes again.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
Vincent reflected for a while. “Only dreams, of swimming under the ocean and of … someone long lost.” A faraway look shadowed his eyes.
Peter placed a hand on Vincent’s shoulder and patted in his best “doctor” fashion before he helped him to drink some water through a straw. “Rest for now. I have you on a glucose drip. I’ll get some solid food organized for you. It’s good to see you awake again, son.”
“Thank you, Peter, for your care of me. I owe you everything.”
“I’ve known you since you were born. You are like one of my children, Vincent; you own me nothing.”
Peter left the room, leaving Vincent to stare at the shut door.
With little to do but think, Vincent reflected on his dream of Catherine. It had seemed so real. He could still feel the Bond as it had risen up and shattered his subconscious. As deep as he had buried this Bond, it always had a will of its own, surfacing and filling him with her strongest emotions. Over the years he had witnessed Catherine’s sadness occasionally, her joy rarely, but poignantly, and her guilt and regret regularly.
The pain he felt in losing her appeared to flow both ways along their connection, as if she, too, shared in it. But how could he not have encouraged her to leave? She deserved a happy life, a better life than could be found in the narrow confines of his dark world. He had given her back the whole world by letting her go—given her the light.
The door to his room slowly creaked open. Vincent looked across to see a small child peeping around the corner of the door - a little girl with big soulful eyes dressed in jeans and a pink t-shirt with a white and yellow daisy on it.
“Hello,” she whispered.
“Hello,” he replied, his voice croaky from lack of use.
“Can I come in?” she asked.
“If you like,” he replied, amazed she showed no fear.
She entered the room and quietly shut the door, turned around and leaned back against it.
“You’re the Lion-man, aren’t you?” Amazement shone in her young eyes.
Bemused, Vincent answered. “I suppose I am.”
“My Mom told me about you.”
“Yes, you saved Belle in the park and looked after her in your cave.”
“And what happened then?”
“Don’t you know?” A puzzled look crossed her face.
“I’d rather you tell me.” Vincent inclined his head toward her.
“Belle and you became best friends and played in the park all the time.”
“Ah, yes, of course.” A wistful reply.
“Does it hurt?”
“Everything!” replied the child, looking at the mass of plaster and bandages covering his body.
“It’s not so bad.”
“Will you tell me your name?” Vincent asked.
“Tia,” he repeated.
“Vincentia Rose Grayson,” she recited proudly.
“Vincentia?” His heart was now pounding in his chest and the pain he felt was not connected to his injuries.
“Yes, but Mom calls me Tia or Tia Rose, except when I’m in trouble.”
“I see. And are you often in trouble?”
“Uh hah.” She nodded her head. “At least once a day. I’ll be in trouble when Mom finds out I came in here.”
“I’m not sure why. It’s all a big secret. Her and Poppy Peter whisper all the time and don’t think I can hear. I’m little, but I’m not deaf.”
“Mom comes in too,” she revealed, “but only when you’re asleep, and sometimes she cries.”
“I better go,” said Tia. “Can I come again?”
“I’d like that.” Vincent nodded his head in a formal way and added, “It is a pleasure to meet you.”
Tia opened the door and waved goodbye before she drew it completely closed.
Vincent closed his eyes and rested his head back against the pillow.
What a beautiful child … a miniature of Catherine.
Vincent tried to take comfort in the fact that for Catherine, leaving him behind had been the right choice. She had moved on, had a husband and a child, perhaps more than one. No wonder she hadn’t been to see him while he was awake. How like Catherine to want to protect him. He could sense her confusion and knowing she was so near was a torment.
In due course Peter entered his room bearing a tray containing his lunch. After checking the area where he had earlier removed the drainage tube from his chest, Peter suggested that Vincent should try and sit in the chair beside the bed to have his meal. Peter helped him into fresh clothes. A soft top fitted easily over his arm, which was still bound across his chest to stop his shoulder from moving. The pants weren’t quite as easy, but Vincent managed to balance on his right leg while Peter worked them up and over his injured leg. Eventually he was seated in the chair, which was large and welcoming.
“Now we’ll both need a sleep,” commented Vincent following their exertions. It felt strange to be upright at last. “This is a wonderful chair.”
“All part of the service,” replied Peter. “I’m very pleased with your progress.”
“What is it, Vincent?”
“Is Catherine here?” He lowered his eyes and held his breath, waiting for a reply.
“She is,” confessed Peter. “It’s such a coincidence, her knowing you. I delivered Catherine when she was born. I’ve been a friend of the family forever. After her father died I made it my business to keep her close; she’s like one of my own.”
“May I see her?” It was dangerous to his equilibrium to even ask.
“I’ll tell her you’re asking for her,” promised Peter. “Now have your lunch and try not to worry.”
Peter patted Vincent comfortingly on his shoulder and left the room. Lunch untouched, Vincent sat quietly with his eyes closed, concentrating on his connection with Catherine. He could pinpoint the exact moment when Peter spoke to her—felt the leap of her heart and the happiness, anxiety and confusion combined in that one heartbeat.
Come to me, Catherine.
His gaze never left the door. He could feel her standing outside as she tried to find the courage to turn the knob.
“Catherine,” he called, “please come in.”
The door inched open and she came into view. He would always remember this first sight of her after so long. She was so beautiful, her strength evident in the tilt of her chin, her green eyes shimmering - a more mature version with the passage of years and, like a fine wine, worth the wait.
“Vincent, you’re out of bed. You look much better.” She walked nervously into the room.
“I feel much better,” he replied. “Will you sit?”
She located a chair by the wall and brought it closer.
“Are you well, Catherine?” Vincent inquired, not knowing how to progress the conversation past pleasantries.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine.”
“It is amazing that we both know Peter,” he stated.
“You can’t imagine my surprise.”
“I think I can,” he concluded as he raised an eyebrow.
“I spoke with Father,” she supplied. “He’s very concerned for you.”
“They’re hoping to bring him up to visit soon,” he said.
“That’s good,” she replied.
“Do you still live in
“Yes, at present.”
“You have a daughter.”
“Yes, Tia is six.” Her eyes lit up at the mention of Tia.
“Your husband doesn’t mind you being away?” He lowered his gaze as jealous green hands wrung his heart.
“I had a husband, Vincent. Dave was a good man.” Her voice sounded flat in Vincent’s ears. “He died two years ago. It’s just Tia and me now.”
“I’m sorry, Catherine,” he said huskily, and truly meant it, and remembering she’d also lost her father, continued, “You have suffered much.”
“It appears we have both … suffered. Father and Peter told me a little about your capture.”
“It has not been all bad. But the years have been … long.”
“Can you talk about it, about when you were held captive?”
“I try to forget … I do my duty Below. Help Father. Life goes on.” A faraway look dimmed his gaze.
“Is that all there is?” Her heart was breaking for Vincent, for herself, for everything spoken and unspoken between them. There was ten years of anguish and loss buried in every sentence—an eternity of longing hidden behind every word.
“What more could there be, for me?” A look of resignation filled his face.
And so the days passed. Incrementally, their initial discomfort gave way to familiarity. They built on old memories and made new ones. When Catherine introduced Tia Rose formally, she wondered at their instant rapport and was suspicious of the wink Vincent gave Tia. She knew she’d been had. She smiled knowingly at the pair. Tia and Vincent were wonderful together. Tia thought it was “extra specially wonderful” that she and Vincent shared a name. Catherine often found them telling each other stories and reading books, Tia tucked into Vincent’s side on the bed.
Visitors arrived from Below, bearing gifts and books and food. Father had been once, too, and was anxious to have his son return Below soon. On their behalf Peter stalled the inevitable, giving Vincent and Catherine the time he could see they needed, time to reacquaint, time to heal past hurts … time.
Late one night, when the lights were dimmed, Vincent revealed to Catherine in a quiet voice what had happened during the time he’d been held captive at the university. He spoke about the humiliation and degradation he had endured, the pain and fear and the utter hopelessness he’d felt. He’d found a level of trust with Professor Hughes toward the end, felt they could have become friends eventually and Vincent may have even discovered his origins. But it was not to be.
Catherine talked about her time in
Two more weeks passed before Peter X-Rayed Vincent’s arm and removed the cast. It felt stiff and weak, but it was wonderful to be able to stretch it once more. Vincent even managed to hobble to the dining room to share a meal.
One evening, after Tia’s request for “one more story” from Vincent had been satisfied and she’d finally succumbed to sleep, Catherine returned to the living room with mugs of tea for herself and Vincent. Peter was out visiting his daughter and grandchildren.
As Vincent accepted his mug, his hand brushed Catherine’s, sending a spark of awareness through him. He felt like a young boy, not the man in his forties he now was.
He opened the conversation with, “Tia is a wonderful child,” as he willed the flush her touch had ignited to leave his cheeks.
“Thank you.” Catherine smiled, thinking of her daughter and noting Vincent’s blush. “Although, she can be a little headstrong sometimes.”
“Headstrong, well, she does take after her mother.” A small smile lit the corners of his mouth as he tilted his head fractionally to the left.
“Just what are you implying?” She smiled in return.
“On occasion that word could have applied to you.”
“You’re the one who taught me to be strong, Vincent.” Her voice turned serious now.
“No, Catherine, it was always within you.”
“But you showed me how to find it,” she said, “and I’ve needed it over the last ten years.”
Vincent could suddenly see the weariness about her as memories resurfaced.
“Catherine, forgive me. I didn’t mean to remind you of sadness.”
“I don’t need reminding,” she confessed. “I live with it daily. Tia will never know her father and Dave will never see the wonderful person she is growing into.” Tears threatened to fall. She sniffed them back and wiped her eyes with the heels of her hands.
“I am so sorry.” He bent his head low, feeling wretched.
“Dave was such a good man,” she revealed, “and he deserved—better than me.”
“There is no one better than you, Catherine,” he replied in a fervent tone.
“But what kind of woman marries a man she doesn’t truly love?” Her eyes entreated him as she revealed this deep truth that had caused her much guilt.
“A lonely woman,” responded Vincent. “I felt your loneliness; and you had so much to give.”
“But only to you, Vincent, and you didn’t want it; still don’t.” She jumped up then and gathered the untouched mugs of tea and strode in the direction of the kitchen.
Vincent struggled up from the sofa and followed in her wake. He found her holding the side of the sink, her whole body shaking. He could feel her anguish through the Bond.
In a quiet, desperate voice he spoke. “That—is not true … I wanted nothing more than your love, but by what right could I ever have claimed it?” He stood directly behind her, not touching her.
“Did you think I didn’t really love you, that I would just go away and forget you?” She spun around to face him. “Because God knows I tried.”
“How could I have offered you anything, in my position, with what—I am?” He spread his arms wide before him, open, exposed to her inspection, feeling raw and vulnerable.
“And just “what” do you think you are, Vincent?”
“Catherine … don’t,” he begged, looking desperate.
“No, tell me, I’m interested,” she commanded, refusing to back down. “They locked you in a cage like an animal, drugged you and stuck needles into you. They were less than human, not you. They ran who knows what tests on you. So—what did they find?”
“Please … Catherine …,” he cried, shaking his head from side to side. “I don’t know. I still don’t know. In the end Professor Hughes destroyed everything.”
“Vincent, it didn’t matter to me before and it doesn’t matter now,” she declared. “I’ll tell you what you are, what you’ve always been—you’re the man that I love. And we have to find a way forward, because … I won’t let you push me away again.”
“Oh, Catherine,” he rasped, “I cannot lose you again, but I cannot have you either.”
“You used to speak of destiny,” she reminded him. “It brought me full circle, Vincent. You are my destiny. Why won’t you let me in? Just want it, just want us.”
“I do want it, but what I can offer is so limited.”
“Life is full of limits. It ends, Vincent—Above or Below, old or young, it’s not forever, nothing’s forever.”
“I know, Catherine.”
“Just hold me, Vincent.”
He opened his arms and received her into his embrace.
Time passed. Catherine had to make decisions. Tia had been away from school for too long. Vincent’s leg was healed and his return Below was imminent.
Catherine returned from paying bills one day to find Vincent and Tia
ensconced under the dining table in one of Tia’s “caves”. Vincent’s feet
were poking out the end. They were surrounded by coloring books and
pencils and the toys that Tia had brought to
“Hello, you two,” called Catherine, dumping her bags on a chair before lifting the flap of blanket hanging down from the table.
“Mommy,” squealed Tia, “Vincent said we can visit his cave.”
“Did he now?” Catherine met Vincent’s impossibly blue eyes with a questioning look. How can eyes be so perfect?
“What I said was—if it was all right with your mother.” Vincent looked away, suddenly shy. I can’t lose her again.
“Is it all right?” begged Tia. “Can we go? Please, please?”
“I suppose so … When?”
“Tomorrow. It’s time I returned,” said Vincent. “I’ve been away too long.” I wish I could stay here forever.
“Oh—tomorrow,” replied Catherine, feigning cheerfulness. “Then tomorrow it is.” Oh God, I’m losing him again.
“Yippee, yippee, yippee!” cried Tia before throwing herself full tilt at Vincent and giving him a big hug.
Catherine and Vincent’s eyes met in a look of such longing, such despair that, stifling a gasp, she turned and ran from the room.
Much later that evening, Peter knocked on Catherine’s bedroom door.
“It’s Peter. May I come in?”
“Yes, of course.” Catherine lowered the book she was trying to read.
Peter entered the room and perched on the side of her bed.
“So,” he began, “how’s things going with you and Vincent?”
“Slowly … I don’t know.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I don’t know if it’s too late for us.”
“Do you want to talk?” He placed a fatherly hand on her knee.
“Before … he thought there was no possibility we could have a future. With all that’s happened to him over the years … well, let’s just say he still believes that.”
“And you don’t?”
“No! All he can see are the “limits” and all I want to see are the possibilities,” she said. “Am I just blind to reality, is there truly no way?”
“How much do you want him, Cathy?”
“It’s not “want,” Peter, I need him. He’s the missing piece of me. He fills the empty space I’ve been carrying around.”
“Then move back to
“You’ve been thinking about this, haven’t you?”
“It makes sense. There’s an entry to the tunnels. There’s a school close by for Tia. I’m all but retired and can finally indulge my passion for travel or visit Susan and Richard without worrying about the house being empty while I’m gone.”
“I want to say yes,” she admitted as she gave Peter a hopeful look.
“Then say it!”
Confusion reigned in her heart. “He’s going home tomorrow.”
“I know. But it’s not that far away.”
“It feels like the end of the earth.”
“Now, off to sleep, doctor’s orders,” he said as he squeezed her knee. “Things will seem brighter in the morning and I want you to seriously consider my offer.”
“Peter, thank you—for everything.” She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “You have a wonderful bedside manner.”
So, the next day arrived and Vincent packed his belongings into his bag with a heavy heart. Breakfast was a strained affair, eased only by Tia’s excitement about her pending adventure into the tunnels.
“Are there lots of people at your home, Vincent?” Tia asked.
“Yes, quite a few,” he replied.
“Will we meet them?” she continued.
“I expect we shall.” He smiled indulgently at her.
“Will Belle be there?”
“Belle?” He stole a glance at Catherine.
“You know, from Belle and the Lion-man—your best friend.”
Vincent and Catherine locked gazes. Both blushed and looked away. Peter noted this exchange.
“I’m not sure, Tia,” Vincent answered quietly.
“Come on, Tia, stop asking so many questions,” reprimanded Catherine gently.
“It’s fine, Catherine, she’s just excited,” replied Vincent.
Tia resumed her questions. “Are you coming too, Poppy Peter?”
“Yes, I’m coming to visit Vincent’s father and hopefully play some chess.”
“Do I need a coat? Can I bring my doll? Will we have lunch there?” The questions were endless.
Catherine chuckled. “Yes, you will, yes, you may, and I’m not sure. Now, if you’ve finished your breakfast, off you go and clean your teeth.”
Tia jumped down and dashed out of the room, headed for the bathroom.
“She’s a bundle of energy today,” commented Catherine. “She needs to go back to school soon.” The moment she’d said it, she wished she hadn’t.
“Yes.” The single word was Vincent’s only reply. He pushed scrambled egg around his plate with his fork.
“I’ll go get ready,” said Catherine. She rinsed her plate under the tap and placed it on the dish rack before leaving.
Vincent continued to chase food around his plate.
“Vincent?” said Peter.
“Yes, Peter.” He looked with sad eyes at his friend.
“Don’t lose her again,” advised Peter. “I’m an old man and you can tell me to mind my own business, but I’ve watched you two for weeks and you belong together. I know there’ll be challenges, but so what. Challenges are better than the alternative.”
“Loneliness,” Peter said quietly and looked at Vincent to see if what
he’d said had sunk in. “I’ve asked Catherine to come back to
“I think she needs a sign from you to say it’s what you want,” said Peter. “It is—what you “want,” isn’t it?”
“It is my dream.”
“Well, there you have it. It’s within your grasp.”
“I’m starting to believe it might be possible.”
“Of course it is. There’s a new millennium approaching and all things are possible.”
Peter got his game of chess with Father and they enjoyed a good measure of old malt whiskey during the game. Enjoyed it so much in fact that the pieces on the chess board rarely moved at all. They discussed a replacement doctor for the tunnels. Peter had been watching a particular fellow for some years and felt he could be trusted and reliable. A few young women Below had taken nursing training Above, but they’d never managed to produce a doctor from their own ranks.
“Things are changing … Peter,” commented Father, sipping his whiskey.
“Well, yes, but that’s life, Jacob,” replied Peter. “You didn’t think it’d last forever, did you?”
“No, not forever … and … I’m not finished yet,” he pointed out. “I worry about Vincent … after I’m gone.”
“We all worry about our children,” agreed Peter, “but Vincent is older than you were when you first came to these tunnels. He’ll be fine.”
“I made life … harder for him … than necessary, denying him … companionship.” He nodded thoughtfully into his glass, swirling the amber liquid with his good hand.
“Well, Jacob, fate has stepped in and brought Catherine and Vincent together again. I’ve offered her the use of my house. Let’s leave it up to them now.” He lifted the whiskey bottle. “Another drink?”
“Thank you, Vincent,” yawned Tia, “for showing me your home.”
“You are most welcome,” he replied, as he stroked her hair where it lay on the pillow.
“Can we go again?”
“I’d like that,” he admitted.
“Good night, baby girl,” whispered Catherine, kissing her cheek. “See you in the morning.”
“… morning,” she yawned, asleep instantly.
They had spent a wonderful day. Everyone was so pleased to see Vincent well again that their happiness overflowed into welcome and acceptance for Catherine and Tia. Even the imposing Winslow had softened toward Catherine after their awkward first encounter. William had prepared a feast in honor of Vincent’s homecoming and the dining room overflowed with tunnel-dwellers, all vying for Vincent’s attention.
Tia had been enthralled by Vincent’s “cave” and played for ages with the contents of his toy chest. She particularly liked the carousel and wound it several times to watch the horses rise and fall along with the music. She had also been immediately accepted by the tunnel children, who kidnapped her to play in their chambers.
“I suppose I must be going,” Vincent said with reluctance as he descended the staircase in front of Catherine.
“I should,” he confirmed.
They had reached the bottom of the stairs and Vincent turned to face Catherine, who still stood on the first step, bringing them eye to eye.
“Peter told me of his offer to you,” revealed Vincent, looking unsure.
“Did he?” She refused to make this easier for him.
“Yes,” Vincent confirmed, glancing left and right, avoiding her eyes, before closing his own completely. “Catherine, will you please—stay?” He let out a ragged breath before opening his eyes.
“As long as we’re clear on one point,” she replied, as her heart pounded in anticipation.
“What my “staying” means—for us.” She looked intently at him, willing him to understand.
He returned her look with earnest eyes. “That we can see each other—be friends.” What more could there be, for me?
“Just—friends?” She pierced him with a look of smoldering desire, leaving no question about what “staying” meant to her.
“I … I ….” He searched unsuccessfully for words.
She grew serious then and spoke simply, truthfully. “I don’t just want a friend, Vincent. I want all of you; I need all of you. I need touch, Vincent - your touch.”
“I … need that too, Catherine.” He looked into her green eyes with such deep yearning and accepted everything. He finally acknowledged all he had previously denied himself; his need to love and be loved by his Catherine.
“Yes,” he replied simply. “Do you know why I never went Above after my escape from the university?”
“I have no idea, Vincent.”
“It was because you were no longer there. I’d found what I’d been subconsciously searching for all those nights I’d wandered the city, and once you went to Providence … there was no more reason.”
She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him close, their lips meeting for the first time. It was such pure relief and joy for both of them, to finally be in each other’s arms. Their kiss deepened and slowed and Catherine’s arms went from around his neck to around his waist, as they pulled each other nearer.
Eventually they parted, with a look of complete happiness mirrored in their eyes and hearts.
“There’s no going back,” said Catherine.
“There is only today,” added Vincent.
“… already loves you.”
“She is the daughter of my heart, Catherine,” he revealed.
“Tia has loved you for years, just like her mother.” Love and hope shone in her eyes.
“Ah, yes, fairytales!” Vincent pulled Catherine even closer and breathed in her sweet scent, making a precious memory. “My beautiful Belle.”