Dreams that Include Me

 

Barbara L.B. Storey

 

Originally published during WFOL 2013 as part of the Reunion project

 

She stared out the window, mesmerized by the masses of clouds beneath them, feeling the thrum of the plane’s engines just below and behind their seats.  Strange to be leaving Alaska, the only place she’d ever lived, but she was excited.  More than that – thrilled to be going.  Because she hoped that this would finally be a place of their own, a place where they would both, finally, be content.  Especially him.

 

Turning to look at the sleeping man next to her – her beloved husband – Rowena smiled. Wanting to stroke his dark brown hair, but not willing to risk waking him up. Wanting to soothe the scars with her fingertips, those three ragged but long-healed marks that he refused to tell the history of, no matter how gently she asked. “A fight I lost,” was all he’d ever say. 

 

This had been a hard decision for him; no matter how many times she reminded him they were making it together, they both knew it was really his to make.  His, the reason to go . . . home.

 

What would it be like?  She closed her eyes for a moment, and tried to picture the place he had described to her with such passion and longing.  He’d tried to hide his need for that home for a very long time, and she’d had to coax it out of him – a name here, a word there, a cryptic reference now and then to . . . Below.  The way he said that word, she could hear the capital letter.  It was more than a location. 

 

Maybe there were bad memories from those days, she’d thought at first, worried about him; but he had assured her it wasn’t really about that.  “It’s . . . complicated,” he’d told her, and she’d had to be satisfied with that for a long time.

 

When he’d finally told her, started to really explain where he’d come from, in their second year together, her jaw had dropped in wonder.  A world right under the feet of one of the busiest cities in the world, and no one knew.  A secret place, a safe place.  Where people loved and protected one another, and created a life better than any they could have had in the world above. 

 

Rowena couldn’t wait to see it, had barely been able to restrain her eagerness while he made up his mind.  She’d had the strangest feeling ever since she’d known about Below, that she would fit in immediately, that it would be home for her, too. It made no sense, to feel connected to a place she’d never seen, but the feeling was there, undeniable.

 

She’d met him the year her parents had been taken from her: a horrible car accident in the heart of winter.  The roads outside Anchorage were treacherous in January, and Rowena had always worried when they went on one of their trips to display and sell her mother’s tapestries and rugs.  Her worst fears had come true that night, and for months she felt frozen herself, stunted and numb.  No creative urge or desire to continue her own work could make its way past her grief, even though Rowena knew this would disappoint and sadden her mother’s spirit. 

 

She’s not here to see it, though, is she? That thought, savage and bitter, was all that came to the surface of her mourning. The massive loom where her mother had taught her to weave as a young girl, where they had shared ideas and stories and patterns and the desire to create had stood silent in the back of their little shop for almost six months, as the “Closed” sign on the front door gathered dust.

 

But it was in the shop that she had first met him. Rowena smiled to herself as she remembered.  One day – Why had it been that day? Fate? – she had decided enough was enough. She didn’t want to shame them, to lose the threads – literal and emotional – that connected her to her mother. Standing there in the middle of the shop, trying to sort out how to begin again, Rowena had been startled by a sharp rap on the glass door, and when she looked up, he had been standing there, smiling. 

 

“Need some help?” He gestured at the tarps covering display cases and furniture.

 

She’d seen him in the diner once or twice, in the supermarket, and had heard he was a regular in the bar on the edge of town – a new person in a place as small as this got noticed immediately.  He had arrived  a few months before, and taken a job with Jake in his tourist excursion business.  Everyone had thought it an odd job for someone who was no more familiar with the area than a tourist himself, but he’d proven a quick study. Every single tour Jake took out, he was there, listening, absorbing details, seeing everything for the first time but also through the eyes of someone who loved the land and knew it well.  By the end of the first week, he was taking flying lessons, and Jake had told them all, one morning at breakfast in the diner, that this stranger had vowed to have his pilot’s license and be leading tours before the end of the year.

 

Rowena had smiled at him tentatively, not sure whether she wanted company or not. Then after a moment: “Sure, that would be great.  Thanks.”  As they put the shop to rights, they’d talked, and talked, and talked. Before she knew it, hours had passed; they headed to the diner, starving and still hungry for more talk. She saw the truth of what Jake had told her about this man: he knew how to draw you out, tell him everything about you, but all he ever gave about himself were stories, facts. Who he really was, he guarded carefully.

 

Shifting in her seat, Rowena closed her eyes and smiled, remembering how things had begun to change between them, how they’d grown closer and he’d relented, bit by bit, and began to let her really see him.  She knew, without knowing how she knew, that this was the first time he’d ever let a woman this close to his heart, to his soul. Within a year, he’d moved into her house. Two years later, in a quiet, outdoors ceremony in the middle of summer, they’d exchanged vows of marriage. She’d been blissfully content since then, and knew he was happy, too, but . . . something pulled at him, something from his past. And now, after two more years together, they were headed for—

 

“What are you smiling about?” 

 

His voice, low and soft beside her ear, made her smile grow even wider.  She opened her eyes and turned to look at her husband, finally giving in to the temptation to stroke his hair, trace the scar on his cheek. 

 

“We’re going home, Devin,” she whispered. 

 

 

####

 

 

Vincent awoke as he always did – all at once, eyes open where a moment before they had been closed.  He moved onto his side, careful not to disturb Catherine; she was still asleep, and he wanted to just . . . look at her. This had become his ritual, that she was his first sight of the day, always. Her warmth, her presence there in his – their – bed was still a marvel, a wonder to him, even after two years of marriage. Their union itself was a miracle, an unbelievable gift. He sighed softly, and smiled.

 

“Morning, love.” Catherine’s voice was sleepy and soft, and she turned instinctively toward Vincent, her body seeking the warmth of his. “Do I have to get up yet?” Her left hand slipped up and over his chest, seeking a tendril of his long red-gold hair to play with.

 

Vincent lifted his head slightly; he could hear, in the passageway outside their room, the exaggerated shuffling of children trying very hard to be quiet as they headed for the kitchen and Mary’s warm, comforting oatmeal.

 

“Nice and quiet!” Mouse’s voice carried above the others in a loud stage whisper. “Bad to wake Vincent and Catherine – must be careful not to bother!”

 

Vincent chuckled softly to himself; Catherine hid her face against his chest, both of them trying not to disappoint Mouse in his efforts by letting on they had been awoken. When she was able to speak with a straight face, Catherine sighed and answered her own question. “I guess I have slept in, if the children are all up and about.”

 

“They’re all awake earlier than usual these days,” Vincent said, shaking his head.  “Excited about Winterfest, wanting to help Rebecca with the candles and all the other preparations. You don’t need to go yet.” He pulled her closer.

 

Catherine made a contented sound and snuggled in even closer. “Soon, though,” she said with a sigh. “I have a meeting with Edie today. We’ve got a lot to go over.”

 

“And I have many tasks today, too.” What he didn’t say, but knew that Catherine understood as well as he, was that he had taken on a lot of Father’s duties of late. The older man’s arthritis continued to invade his body slowly but surely, making him less and less mobile with every day, it sometime seemed.  He refused to go Above for medical attention, insisting that there was nothing that could be done and he wasn’t about to start a regimen of doctors and drugs that wouldn’t help and might only expose him to the authorities. He’d had quite enough of that, thank you. Vincent had learned not to argue with him on this subject; stubborn as they both were, it would only lead to quarrels.

 

“I can’t believe it’s only two days till Winterfest,” Catherine murmured. “The year’s flown past, hasn’t  it?”

 

“It’s been a busy time – and our little community has grown, as well.” Vincent began to slowly stroke her hair. “Thanks to you and Edie, many children who were at risk have found a haven here, and more than a few adults. I know Father worries sometimes that a greater risk comes with larger numbers here in the Tunnels, but I’m pleased. Everyone here knows how important our world is, and wants to protect their home as much as we want to keep it safe for them.” He paused, deep in thought for a moment.  “It will be all right.”

 

“Yes, it will.” Catherine agreed with a smile. “But that reminds me – Edie said she has another person to suggest, someone who needs the sanctuary of the Tunnels. I suppose I’d better get ready and go up to meet her, so we can talk.” But Catherine made no move to get up, only tucked herself in closer to Vincent’s side. 

 

He smiled, and suddenly – as often happened in the morning, he’d found – his love for her bloomed into a need, something that still amazed and delighted him.  The fact that he had a wife, and that he could fully express his love for her held both a joy and a peace he’d never thought he’d know. Vincent pulled Catherine close, burying his face in her hair. 

 

Catherine smiled to herself and slid her arm across Vincent’s waist and over his body, tugging him in closer. “Well, maybe not just yet,” she whispered, lifting her face for his kiss.

 

Vincent smiled back at his wife, and gladly obliged her. As their lips met and the kiss deepened, he could feel her need, her desire grow to match his own, and with a low rumble that came from deep in his chest and rose up into this throat, Vincent raised himself up above her, looking down into her clear, bright eyes with love and longing.

 

“Make love to me,” Catherine sighed, reaching up to link her arms around his neck, under the curtain of his hair.

 

And for a time all that could be heard in their chamber were the soft gasps and cries of joy at their joining, a passion that still seemed new every time they expressed it.

 

 

####

 

 

Making her way through the Tunnel passages some time later, Catherine’s face still held a contented expression, and a certain amount of languid, fond memory for the details of that morning’s activities lingered. It was always difficult to leave Vincent and go Above for the day, but there was business to be taken care of. He had wanted to walk her to the small alcove and ladder that would take her up to her old apartment, but she had reminded him of all they both had to do before Winterfest arrived. And she needed the time alone, to adjust her perspective from her home Below to the tasks at hand Above, and to being in the world she had willingly, gladly abandoned for her life with him. 

 

Four years ago, her father had had a massive stroke, and a few days later was taken from her forever. The sorrow, the loss of him had overwhelmed her, to the point where even Vincent’s strong arms and gentle words had barely registered on her worst days of grieving. Her first impulse had been to run to Vincent and his world, thinking to leave the pain behind and be safe, but he had helped her see that grief could not be escaped, and such a huge, life-altering choice could not be made at such a desperate, emotional time. She was a “woman of both worlds,” he had said, and Catherine had felt the truth of his words deeply, meditated on them deeply.

 

And as it always does, as Vincent had predicted, time passed and the pain took on a softer, more permanent nature, one she could – and would – live with for the rest of her life.

 

As she recovered, Catherine realized, slowly but certainly, that while she did belong to both worlds, where she really wanted to be was still . . . Below.  Looking at it from a calmer, more centered place, on the anniversary of her father’s death one year later, she realized that there truly was nothing left to keep her in the world Above. Yes, she had friends, but they were not part of her everyday patterns, and could always be visited, no matter what else she did with her life. And by that time, she had come to see, to know, that her heart lived Below, with Vincent. 

 

Of course Vincent had protested, tried to dissuade her, believing that committing herself to him restricted and cut her off from a full life. It had taken time, but she had finally convinced him that a life with him was the only one she wanted. The only existence that would make her complete. Father made it quite clear that he was not totally in favour of her decision, or her request to become a permanent Tunnel dweller.  But thank goodness Mary and Sarah had been on her side, helped calm his fears, and – in time – helped her wear down his objections.

 

Mouse’s enthusiasm for the idea, as unrestrained as always, had almost alarmed Father and worked against her, but Vincent had carefully and gently calmed the boy so that Father could be left in peace to absorb this change and what it would mean for all of them. And in the end – because, ultimately, it meant Vincent’s happiness, of that Catherine was sure – Father had relented and added his vote of approval to the unanimous decision of the Council.

 

At first she had moved into the room she’d stayed in the year before, after her father’s death, but it had not taken long before she and Vincent decided other arrangements needed to be made. Their wedding, six months after she became a Tunnel dweller and presided over by a Helper who was an Episcopalian minister, had been one of the biggest celebrations ever held Below. Catherine was aware that her new family loved her deeply, but it was their joy at Vincent’s happiness – a happiness they had all feared he would never know – that truly touched her heart that day.

 

Certain arrangements had to be made, though, for her to continue some sort of presence in the world Above. She had quit her job at the D.A.’s office, much to Joe’s dismay. But he had eventually accepted her story of opening up her own, small advocacy practice, geared toward helping women and children in distress, and extracted a promise from her to keep in touch. Her next move had been to track down Edie, who had left the office a year or so before. She had refused to tell Catherine what she’d been up to - “All very hush-hush and subversive, girlfriend. I’d have to, you know, kill you if I told you too much.” - but was otherwise as delighted to see her “uptown” friend as Catherine was to be reunited with her.  She knew instinctively that if there was anyone she could trust with her secret, it was Edie.

 

Her eyes wide in amazement at first, it hadn’t taken long for Edie to get serious. She’d dressed Catherine down thoroughly for holding out on her, and then briskly settled in to a discussion of how she could join in, before Catherine could even hint that that was what she was after. 

 

“Cathy, from what you’ve told me, I was born to be a Helper.  This is absolutely amazing, girl - I want in. How can we do this?” Catherine grinned as she made her way through the tunnels, remembering the relief Edie’s gusto has brought her.

 

A first visit to the Tunnels was arranged; Vincent had loved her, brash practicality and all, and Father had been left speechless. Edie was amazed and impressed – but not enough that she could ever do what Catherine was planning.  “Don’t get me wrong, Cathy, I think this place is FAN-tastic, but I’m a top-sider. Living in a cave? Not for this girl, uh-UH.” But as the years passed, Edie had come to spend a fair bit of time in the Tunnels, and was well-loved by all as one of their most . . . colorful Helpers. 

 

It had taken some time, but between the two of them, they’d finally worked out the perfect plan.  Catherine did indeed open a small office in Brooklyn, deliberately both far away from the main Tunnels and close to Edie’s home, that was in fact occupied by her friend and did give support to women and children in the neighborhood. This way, Catherine was able to maintain a legal presence in the world above, and could use that to meet any needs or assistance that the Tunnel world might need from time to time.  Despite Father’s wariness, Catherine felt it was a perfect resource when it came to things like health care at clinics that were used to women and children who didn’t want to be “found” by abusive spouses and parents – and doctors that did not ask the usual questions or demand the usual identification, especially when a lawyer whose only work was pro bono cases was making the request.

 

So the Charles and Vivian Chandler Center for Women and Children became Catherine’s link to Above, and through it she could – with Edie’s help as her legal assistant – make sure that those Below always had resources and health care and opportunities for the children when needed. The inheritance her father had left her made it all possible, and at last Catherine felt her wealth was being put to proper use.  She was sure her father and mother would be proud. And the secret activities of the Center made her feel she was contributing something to her new home - something important, vital.

 

The storefront had also became an unofficial clearing house for all Helper activity, thanks to Edie’s sharp, freewheeling organizational skills.  And once a week the two friends met in Catherine’s old apartment, which she also maintained for appearances and which Edie used from time to time, to discuss whatever projects were on the go and what new needs had come up.

 

At last Catherine reached the ladder that brought her up to the basement of her apartment building, and was soon in the elevator, rising quickly to her floor. She strode down the hall, key out and ready to open the door; once inside, she was met with the scent of a rich French roast.

 

“Ohhh,” she groaned, “Edie, you’re a life-saver. I could kill for a good cup of coffee.”

 

“Girl, you know I wouldn’t let you go without your java.” Edie sipped from her own large cup before giving her friend a once-over.  “You’re a little late this morning, Cathy.  Something keeping you busy Below?” she said with mock-innocence.

 

“Never you mind what I do in the morning,” Catherine replied with a raised eyebrow that was quickly followed by a knowing grin. 

 

“Mm-hmm, just as I thought,” Edie said with a wink.  “Nothing wrong with starting the day ‛appreciating’ your husband, I say.”

 

“You are wicked.” Catherine laughed and shook her head. “And speaking of ‛appreciation’, Nathan was asking after you when I saw him last night.”

 

“Well, of course he was.”  Edie took another sip, the smug expression on her face not hiding her pleasure. “The brother is a man of taste, that’s why he’s taken to me.” She smiled a very satisfied smile as she considered the news. “What did he have to say for himself?”

 

Catherine laughed out loud.  Nathan was a fairly new member of the community Below, a stone mason who had gotten his training at the Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. He had discovered the Tunnels through a friend who just happened to be a Helper, and who knew of Nathan’s discontent and desire to use his skills for a purpose that held a more personal meaning to him. He had taken to the Tunnels in an instant, applied for acceptance, and was now busily engaged in restoring and renovating their most-traveled passageways, and exploring new chambers and paths yet to be developed. 

 

“He wanted to know when you were arriving for Winterfest,” she told Edie.  “Says he has something to show you.”

 

Edie rolled her eyes. “I know what that’s about. Fool thinks if he carves out a brand-new, custom-made chamber, he can convince me to move Below.”  She paused, then smiled fondly before continuing in a softer tone. “I just don’t think I could do it, Cathy, you know? But I am touched that he’s trying so hard to convince me.”

 

“I don’t know what to tell you, Edie,” Catherine said as she settled on the sofa with her own coffee.  “The man loves you – how can that be a bad thing?”

 

Edie snorted.  “Oh, he’s ‛bad’ all right.  I’d just rather his bad self was top-side, is all. Why didn’t I meet him before he moved down there? Story of my life.” She sighed and shook her head. “I’m always in the wrong neighborhood at the right party when it comes to men. But,” she continued, becoming brisk as she sat down on a chair opposite Catherine, “enough about my love life, such as it is.  We have business to do, girlfriend. And we need to make a decision about Emil.”

 

“Oh, right – the photographer.”

 

Emil was a new Helper who wanted to give photography lessons to the children below, taking them out as a class into the city and teaching them how to “see”, as he put it. He thought the Tunnel children could use more artistic outlets, and was eager to help expand their world and help them develop their talents. Father objected because he thought it would make the children too obvious to casual observers in the city. Vincent thought it was a wonderful idea, and had even talked to Peter about night photography, something he could learn to do himself. 

 

“I’ve just about got Father convinced,” she said with a sigh. “I understand his concerns, though. Maybe we could talk Emil into taking just one or two of the children at a time – that would be less obvious.”

 

Edie nodded emphatically. “Great idea – I think I can talk him into that. Between us, girlfriend, we’ll get them both in line and with the program.”

 

Catherine laughed. “Damn straight!”  She got up to get herself more coffee, and then settled down to the rest of the agenda Edie had planned for the morning. Vincent had asked if she would be back for lunch, and she intended to be.

 

 

####

 

 

Rowena tried to stay calm as she and Devin walked, hand in hand, though Central Park, the afternoon light fading. She’d never been here before, and could see its beauty, wanted to take it all in – later. Right now she was too focused on their destination to really enjoy the sights.

 

She looked over at her husband’s face, noting the tension in his expression. He was not unhappy, more . . . nervous. Rowena wondered again why this reunion held such worry and distress for him, and hoped his nervousness would turn out to be for nothing. She wanted so much for him to feel some peace in this going home. But she also felt it was only right for her to hold back her enthusiasm for now, to let the experience be his, and not let her hopes and expectations and curiosity affect the experience he was facing.

 

“Are we almost there?” she asked, tugging on his hand so he’d look at her, and then smiling at him in encouragement.

 

Devin chuckled, and then wrapped his arm around her. “Yes, almost.” He looked all around then, to be sure no one was nearby, watching. They had left their bags at the hotel and changed before setting out. There would be time to go get them later . . . if all went well. 

 

He couldn’t help but worry just a little about seeing Father again. Even though things had changed, and he had kept in touch – sporadically – over the last five years, he still expected some sort of judgement from his father. A look of disappointment, frustration that Devin wasn’t using his gifts the way he thought his son should.  And when he heard why Devin had returned. . . . Was that going to be welcome news, or another poor decision, in Father’s eyes?  He realised, as they walked silently, just how much he wanted acceptance: from his father, from Vincent, from everyone in the world Below. That was a new feeling for him, to need all of them so much, one that had been growing ever since he had met Rowena and finally known some stability in his life. Coming home seemed like the next step, but was it really the right thing to do? Was he ready for it? Would his family be?

 

He sighed heavily, then pulled Rowena close.  “See, up there?”  He pointed to a small ravine just ahead. “See the drainage pipe ahead?  That’s where we go in.”  With one last look around to make sure there were no witnesses, he hurried into the concrete hole, drawing her along with him.  He still knew his way, even in the dark, and moved quickly; it wasn’t until they reached the gate that he pulled out the small flashlight he’d brought with him and paused to look around.

 

“This is just one of the entrances,” he said, almost out of breath after his hurry to reach the gate safely. “There are so many of them, all over the city, Rowena.”

 

She looked around, eyes wide and mouth slightly open in wonder. “I still can’t believe,” she whispered, that this . . . world exists and no one knows about it.  It’s amazing.”

 

“Father is very careful – everyone is,” Devin replied.  “It’s a very . . . precious secret. All their lives depend on it.”  He paused, then shone the light on the ground beside Rowena so he could see her better.  Our lives could depend on it.”

 

Rowena saw the question on his face, heard it in his words.  “Yes,” she said simply.  “Call them.”  She took his hand and squeezed it, reassuring him. “I’m ready.”

 

Devin laughed and pulled her in for a quick hug.  “You think you are,” he said fondly.  “But you haven’t met Vincent yet.”  He tugged her over to the grate, shone the flashlight on some scratchings on the wall – his and Vincent’s names. “He’s my brother, and he’s . . . not like anyone you’ve ever met.”

 

“So what are we waiting for?” Rowena tilted her head and smiled. “Call him.”

 

Devin stared at her for a moment. “This will change everything,” he told her quietly.  “I just hope. . . .”  He stopped, shrugged, and then bent to pick up a small length of pipe. He began to tap on the grate in a series of short and long bursts of varying strength, pausing for a moment, then starting again.

 

 

####

 

 

“Must be faster way to deliver,” Mouse insisted. “Have to find way.”  He frowned in frustration, staring at the box of Winterfest candles Rebecca has just handed him.

 

Vincent put a comforting hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “Mouse, if there were anyone who could find a way, it would be you, I’m sure. Your efforts over the years have been”—he paused, searching for the right words—“awe-inspiring.”

 

Father rolled his eyes and sighed. “Don’t encourage him, Vincent.”

 

Vincent smiled and gently turned Mouse to face him. “But think about this - ‛fast’ is not always best.  The main thing is for the candles to get to our Helpers intact, unbroken. And they like to see us when they’re delivered. It reminds them of the celebration to come. That’s a good thing.”

 

Mouse rolled his eyes. “See us when they get here! That’s good part!”  He shook his head, then tucked the box of candles under his arm and headed out of the chamber, muttering to himself.

 

Vincent looked over at Father, who was also shaking his head.  “He means well, Father,” he said with a smile. “Mouse has a good heart.”

 

“Yes, he does.” Father nodded in agreement. “And as long as we’re around to make sure he is guided by common sense rather than that well-meaning heart, he’ll be fine.”  He shifted in his chair; one hip in particular seemed to be bothering him today. “What else is there to do, Vincent?  Winterfest is tomorrow, and I think we’re almost ready, are we not?”

 

Vincent leaned on the desk, arms crossed over his chest. “Almost. Sarah and Mary and the children are doing some baking this afternoon, but I think it’s the last of the banquet to be prepared.  That was the last of the candles that just left with Mouse. Everyone has prepared their best outfits for tomorrow.  And Catherine should be home soon.”

 

Father smiled and nodded, knowing full well that Catherine’s presence was the only thing Vincent truly needed on an ordinary day, let alone their yearly celebration. “What about Elizabeth? Has she been convinced to put aside her brushes and join us for the day?”

 

Vincent chuckled. “Only because I reminded her that there would be many new stories for her to absorb, and then transfer onto her walls. It’s the only way we ever get her away from her work, even at this time of year. I was thinking I’d go down and check on her today anyway, remind her – unless you need me for something?”

 

“No, no, go ahead. Tell her I’m looking forward to seeing her, as always.”

 

Placing his hand on the older man’s shoulder, Vincent leaned down and kissed the top of his head.  “I’ll be back soon. Catherine said she would be home for lunch.” 

 

Vincent headed out of Father’s room and off down the path that would take him to Elizabeth’s painted walls.  It was a good twenty-minute walk, but he was in no particular hurry, and he smiled as the excited chatter of the children carried down one passageway to greet him as he walked by. 

 

He was halfway to Elizabeth’s chamber when he heard it – the thin, stretched-out echo of a series of taps on a pipe off to his right, still a fair distance away.  It sounded like . . . but how could it be?  Was he truly here, back in the Tunnels?

 

When he’d left them some five years ago, Devin had worked out a code on the pipes and shared it with him. If he ever returned, he’d said, he’d let Vincent know by using it as a greeting, so he’d know who it was.  Through the years, Devin had sent occasional letters through Catherine’s address, giving sparse details about his life, but there had been no letters recently, and Vincent would never have expected. . . . But then, he thought as he listened carefully, that would be just like Devin, wouldn’t it? 

 

After a moment, sure that he was hearing right and feeling hope and excitement rise, Vincent changed course and, with long, measured strides, headed for the gate the tapping was coming from – the old grate in the Park, the one Catherine used to use so much.

 

His heart was pounding with anticipation, but still, Vincent became more cautious as he drew closer to it; he wanted to be sure before he came forward and exposed himself.  Slowing his pace, he eased his way closer to the grate, looking and listening.  He saw one figure standing in the dim light and stepped forward, then shrank back again when a second person came into view, moving close to Devin and peering down the tunnel. Who would be with him? 

 

After a few moments, Vincent moved a bit closer. “Devin?” he called out softly.

 

“Vincent! It’s me, Devin!” Grasping the bars, he peered into the darkness, smiling at the sound of his brother’s voice.  “It’s all right – I have someone with me, but it’s okay, it’s safe.”

 

Reassured but still wary, Vincent walked up to the grate, keeping his face in the dark for the moment.

 

“Are we in time?” Devin asked, eyes bright with joy at seeing Vincent again. “Winterfest is tomorrow, right?  It’s so good to see you again.”

 

“You took me by surprise, but then . . . I’m sure that was what you wanted,” he said teasingly. Devin looked good: healthy, happy, excited to be there. “Yes, Winterfest is tomorrow. Who do you have with you?”

 

“Let us in and I’ll introduce you. Come on!”

 

With a smile, Vincent opened the grate, holding it while they slipped inside the tunnel and then closing it behind them.  Then he turned to face Devin – and the woman he now saw was standing beside him.

 

“Vincent, this is my wife, Rowena.  Rowena . . . this is Vincent.”

 

Sure that he looked as stunned as Rowena, Vincent managed to get out one word: “Wife?”

 

“Oh, my,” Rowena breathed, her hand covering her mouth. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I want to make a tapestry of you!” Then she blushed and began to stammer. “I-I-I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have said that first thing!  Forgive me.  Devin told me you were . . . different, but he didn’t tell me how . . . beautiful you are!”

 

Devin stood to the side, arms crossed over his chest, enjoying the scene – especially Vincent’s embarrassment.  “Yes, wife. What, did you think no one would have me?” he said with a smirk.  “And you,” he frowned at Rowena in mock-annoyance, teasing her. “I don’t know if I like you calling other men ‛beautiful’.”

 

Vincent shook his head, still bemused at the news. “Not so much that as surprised you’d stay still long enough for someone special to find you,” he admitted.  Then he turned back to Rowena, extending his hand and feeling a flush of embarrassment rise in his cheeks.  “No offence taken, Rowena. You flatter me with such a greeting.” He bowed slightly then, with a smile. “Welcome to the Tunnels.”

 

Rowena took his hand.  “I cannot tell you how happy I am to meet you, Vincent. To finally have . . . a brother.”  Her eyes shone with happiness, and she took his hand in both of hers before impulsively reaching out and drawing him into a hug.

 

Vincent, eyes wide, looked over her head at Devin, whose smile went from ear to ear. There was something different about him, Vincent could feel it.  A . . . peace that had never been there before. A centeredness that Vincent could only assume came from Rowena, from her presence in Devin’s life.  And his heart swelled with happiness, too, to see his brother so content.

 

“And I have never had a sister,” Vincent said softly. “We have much to celebrate this year.”  He stepped back, gently disentangling himself so that he could pull Devin into a hug himself. “Father will be so glad to see you.” There was a sudden, slight tension in Devin’s body, but Vincent hugged him a bit tighter and said it again. “He will be glad, Devin.”  Then he released him. “We should get away from the grate. I was on my way to check on Elizabeth when I heard your message.  Will you come with me, and then we’ll go to Father’s chamber?”

 

“Oh, Devin’s told me about her, and the Painted Walls! I’d love to meet her!”

 

Devin smiled, and linked hands with his wife. “Yes, I think that would be good. Give me a chance to ease into the Tunnels instead of. . . .”  He shook his head.  “Yes, let’s go. Lead on, Vincent!”

 

 

######

 

“They’re beautiful, Elizabeth, all of them. And so detailed!” Rowena gazed at the Painted Walls in wonder; here was the history of the Tunnels, all in one place. And as she admired it, she felt a longing to be a part of it. It was just as she had hoped and expected: this world felt like home to her already.

 

She looked back, wanting to say something to Devin, but he was several feet away, deep in conversation with Vincent, their heads close together as they walked.  Rowena smiled. It was good to see Devin like this, connecting with the family he’d always spoken about with a certain wistfulness, and a badly disguised longing. 

 

And Vincent . . .  Devin had told her it was better for her to just meet him, than for him to try and explain. She realized now that her husband had been right: Vincent could not be described in any way that could do him justice. She hadn’t meant to embarrass him, but he was beautiful.  And his physical presence, impressive as it was, had nothing on the beauty of his soul, his spirit.  Rowena could not wait to get to know him better, and she did actually want to make him the subject of her next tapestry.  But there’s time enough for that, she thought to herself.  First, please let Devin want to stay. She realized in a sudden rush of emotion that brought tears to her eyes how much she wanted to stay.

 

Wiping at her eyes, Rowena turned back to Elizabeth, leaving the two men to their conversation.  “Please,” she asked, “can you show me your newest painting?”

 

####

 

Devin glanced ahead at his wife, saw that she was more than content where she was, and turned his attention back to Vincent. “So, you’re a married man, too.  I have to say I’m not that surprised.  Had the feeling, last time I was here, that there was something going on between you and Catherine.”

 

Vincent smiled.  “With Catherine, my life is complete.  Once she moved down to the Tunnels, there was nothing more I needed, nothing missing, only joy.”  He, too, looked up the tunnel at Rowena, now walking with her arm around Elizabeth’s waist as the older woman pointed out different portraits and told their stories to her new admirer.  “And I can feel that there is something just as strong and beautiful between you and Rowena, as well.”

 

Devin sighed, and there was a softness in his expression, a look Vincent had never seen there before.  “I never used to believe in fate,” he said quietly, “but she came into my life at just the right time. She showed me what it was all about – love and commitment and life as it should be.”  He smiled. “She saved me, Vincent.  Rowena is the most amazing woman I’ve ever known.  And she was just as excited as I was to come here – maybe more.”

 

“Perhaps it was fate,” Vincent said, raising an eyebrow.  “For you to find her, and to come back here with her.”  He was quiet for a moment, then said, “How long will you stay?”

 

Devin was quiet for a moment.  “That depends,” he said.  “Speaking of which . . . I guess we should go see the old man, shouldn’t we?”

 

“Are you really dreading it that much?”  Vincent stopped, grasped Devin’s shoulders.  “He loves you so, Devin – please, give him a chance.”

 

Again Devin was silent for a moment or two.  “Do you think he’ll give me one, Vincent?” he finally asked, looking up into Vincent’s eyes, the tension back in his body.  “It seems . . . well, it seems I’ve grown up enough to want that, to want his approval. And to be afraid he won’t give it.”

 

“No fear,” Vincent said, his voice low but firm.  “It’s Winterfest, and all will be well.”

 

“I hope you’re right, Vincent.”  Devin smiled, gave Vincent a quick hug, and then turned back to see where the two women had gone.  “Rowena? It’s time to go meet my father.”

 

####

 

“Vincent, is that you?”  Father turned in his chair as he heard footsteps approaching, trying to see into the dark of his chamber’s entrance.  “Everything all right? You’ve been gone so long.”

 

“I’m here, Father, and all is well.  In fact . . . I have some visitors.”  Vincent entered the chamber first, Devin and Rowena hanging back a bit until he had broken the news.

 

“Visitors?  But everyone’s not due to arrive till tomorrow, I thought.” Puzzled, Father reached for his cane and struggled to get up from his chair.

 

“These are . . . unexpected guests.”  Vincent stretched out a hand to the entrance, and Devin stepped out of the shadows, a slightly wary look on his face.

 

“Another one of Edie’s ‛finds’?” Father asked with a chuckle.  He was concentrating on standing, his eyes down as he made sure of his footing. “She really does come up with the most interesting peo—”  He looked up, and his jaw dropped when he saw who was standing before him. 

 

“Devin?” he whispered. “Oh, my.  Oh, my. . . .”  It took a moment for Father to recover from the sudden shock of seeing the last person he would ever have expected to turn up for Winterfest.  But when he was able to collect himself and speak, he held out his arms. “Devin . . . my son,” he said, his voice quiet and clear. “I am so very glad to see you.” 

 

The tension in Devin’s body suddenly let go, and his tentative smile grew wider. “I’m very glad to be here . . . Father,” he said, voice rough. Then he moved quickly across the chamber and into Father’s arms. 

 

Vincent let go the breath he’d been holding.  Looking over at Rowena, he smiled and nodded.

 

Father pulled back after a moment.  “You should have let us know you were coming!  And just in time for our most special day! Come, sit down, tell us what you’ve been doing, where you’ve been! It’s wonderful to see you again. Some days, I wondered if I’d ever. . . .”  He let the words trail off, nervous for a moment that Devin might take them the wrong way. “It doesn’t matter,” he continued.  “You’re here, that’s all that’s important.”  He cupped Devin’s cheek in his palm, studying his face to see what changes the years might have wrought.

 

Devin smiled, and then bit his lip. “It’s . . . not just me that’s here.”

 

Father looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

 

“There’s someone you need to meet.” Devin turned and beckoned, and Rowena stepped out of the shadows. “Father, this is my wife, Rowena.  And this, Rowena, is my father.”  He took Rowena’s hand as she came closer, and put his arm around her, his love written clear on his face.

 

Again Father found himself without words. “Wife?” he repeated, looking first at Rowena, then Devin, and then to Vincent before bringing his astonished gaze back to the couple in front of him.  “Oh, my goodness.” He kept a hand on Devin’s shoulder to steady himself as he absorbed this news. “This is . . . well, this is . . . wonderful!”

 

Rowena reached out to take his other hand.  “Father,” she said, smiling. “You are just as I pictured you, from all the stories Devin has told me. I can’t believe I’m finally meeting you. I feel . . . honoured to be here.”

 

Father blinked, a bit flustered at her greeting - and her words. He looked to Devin, so many questions in his eyes, but a grateful pride as well. Devin blushed, just a little, and said nothing.  But he put his own hand on Father’s shoulder and smiled.

 

“Perhaps,” Vincent said softly, “we should all sit down while we catch up.” He was instinctively protective, concerned that Father would be a bit too overwhelmed and that he and certain that things would proceed more smoothly if they all returned to a more normal conversation.  Moving across the room, he sat on Father’s desk and gestured to the three of them to be comfortable. 

 

Father nodded and slowly eased himself back into his chair.  Then he leaned forward eagerly. “Yes – please, sit down.  So many questions, so much to tell!  Where have you been, first of all?  I can’t wait to hear what parts of the world you’ve explored, Devin.”

 

“Well, actually. . . .”  Devin smiled at Rowena again, still holding her hands as they sat.  “I’ve been in Alaska.  Five years now – and that’s where I met Rowena.”

 

“Five years in one place?”  Father was incredulous, and showed it – then instantly wanted to take back his words when he saw Devin’s face tense, his whole body stiff and wary.  “I mean, you’ve always had such an adventurous spirit, I didn’t expect—”

 

“We didn’t expect,” Vincent interrupted, “that you would find someone who could capture your heart without restraining your spirit.  Or that you would sit still long enough for her to find you.”  He nodded at Rowena, who smiled back at him.

 

“Yes, exactly,” Father said, relieved.  “As usual, Vincent, you find the heart of the matter and go straight to it.” He looked hopefully at Devin.

 

“We met at just the right time for both of us.” Rowena squeezed Devin’s hand, silently encouraging and reassuring him. “I had just lost both my parents, he had just discovered his. We needed each other. It was meant to be. And since that first day, it’s just been . . . right.” She looked at her husband, love and pride shining in her eyes.

 

Devin stared at her for a moment, then visibly relaxed and smiled.  “Yes, everything about it was right.  Father . . . after you told me about . . . us, about me being your son,” he paused, took a deep breath, “I have to admit I started feeling more centered, more comfortable with myself.  I finally knew who I was, I guess. And thought I never meant to stay, once I met Rowena, well – it was like the other part of me was finally there. We were together, I found a great job—”

 

“He works for Jake, leading tourist excursions, and he’s the best guide Jake’s ever had, he said so!” Rowena interrupted eagerly.

 

“She’s not prejudiced at all, of course.” Devin laughed. “Yes, I lead excursions, and I even have my pilot’s license now. Which, by the way,” he raised an eyebrow at Father, “I studied for, took all the proper lessons, and am actually, officially licensed to do. My first honest trade, I guess you’d say.”

 

“Devin.”  Father’s look was reproachful. “You’ve always been honest in your intent to help others, to live life fully. I know that.” He looked down for a moment, remembering past quarrels, then put his hand on his son’s arm. “But I am proud of your accomplishment – not because it’s proper, but because it obviously means so much to you.  I want only your happiness. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

 

Devin looked surprised for a moment, and then, slowly, a peaceful expression came over his face, and he grasped the hand on his arm with his own. “Thank you, Father.”  His voice was thick with emotion, and he blinked and looked away for a moment.

 

Vincent couldn’t keep away the fond smile that now overwhelmed him, and when he looked at Rowena, he saw tears in her eyes. His heart was full at that moment, so overjoyed was he at these changes in his family, the love – always there – finally being expressed, expanding, coming to a new completion. He watched as Devin released his breath, letting go of his fears and relaxing, as Father cleared his throat and leaned back in his chair, his eyes still taking in the man before him as if he could, still, scarcely believe he was there.

 

“And we are all,” Vincent said softly, “very blessed to have the two of you here for Winterfest.  In fact, I have some work to do in the Great Hall, in preparation for tomorrow.  Perhaps you could give me a hand, Devin.”

 

Devin looked over his shoulder and grinned. “Love to, Vincent. When do you want to go?”

 

“Catherine said she’d be back for lunch, which means she’ll be here any minute.  She’ll be thrilled to see you.  And then, after we eat, we’ll have time.”

 

“Speaking of time,” Father said eagerly, “how long do you think you’ll be staying with us?”

 

Devin suddenly looked down at the floor. “Um, not sure, really.”  He stole a glance at Rowena, who did her best not to give away her emotions. “We were just focused on getting here in time for Winterfest. Rowena really wanted to experience it. Let’s talk about later . . . later, okay?”

 

Father opened his mouth to speak, then paused and nodded.  “Of course, Devin, of course.” 

 

There was a heavy silence in the chamber for a moment, and then Catherine’s voice, raised as she came down the passageway to Father’s chamber, broke the stillness.

 

“Vincent? Jamie said she’s been looking for you, and Mary is about to start lunch without you and Father.” Catherine entered the chamber, taking off her coat as she did, her eyes searching for her husband. She smiled when she saw him, and then stopped still when she took in the rest of the room and saw who was seated there.

 

“Devin?”  She stared for a second, stunned, looking at Vincent as if for an explanation. And then Catherine saw the look of quiet joy on her husband’s face, and knew the details didn’t matter at the moment. She walked over, gave Vincent a quick hug and a kiss, and then moved to Devin’s side, enveloping him in a bear hug. “It’s a Winterfest miracle,” she said, teasing him, when they parted and she could take a good look at him. She turned towards Rowena. “Hi – I’m Catherine, Vincent’s wife.”

 

Rowena stood up, extending her hand. “Hi, I’m Rowena, Devin’s wife.”  She knew immediately she was going to like Catherine. “That makes us sisters,” she said with a wink.

 

Catherine’s eyes went wide. “I see,” she said slowly, a pleased expression on her face as she looked between Devin and Rowena appraisingly. Then she laughed and pulled Rowena into a hug. “No formality between sisters – and by the way, I’ve always wanted one.” She stood back for a minute, shaking her head; now she knew why she’d been feeling so much emotion from Vincent, through their bond, all morning. It had distracted her from her work more than once, and earned her a couple of digs from Edie. Catherine let his joy well up inside her, becoming her own as well.  She turned to look at him, her eyes telling him how happy she was for him, before returning her attention to Rowena.

 

“Now - I think some explanations are in order here. I go away for a few hours and look what happens! Come on! I want you to tell me everything over lunch. Which we’d better get to, before Mary sends out a search party!” 

 

She linked her arm through Rowena’s and headed out with her newfound sister in tow, peppering her with questions and exclamations. Their talk and laughter quickly faded as they disappeared down the passageway.

 

“Well,” Devin said into the sudden quiet between the three men. “Looks like they’re going to get along famously.”  He grinned at Vincent, who laughed. 

 

“There was never any doubt in my mind, knowing Catherine as I do. Come, Father, let me help you. I think we’re all hungry – for food and for news.”

 

He offered his hand to the older man. Devin moved quickly to Father’s other side, and together the three of them followed the sound of the women’s voices out of the chamber, headed for the noonday meal.

 

####

 

 

The wind whipped, playful and wild, through Rowena’s long black hair; a denizen of the world below in its own way, it seemed to belong to it as much as any of the people who lived there. She clutched Devin’s hand as they made their way down the narrow rock stairs, following right behind Father, Catherine, and Vincent as they headed for the doors of the Great Hall.

 

The last twenty-four hours had been . . . she wasn’t sure there was even a word for what she had felt and experienced. Amazing seemed inadequate. During lunch the day before, she had watched and listened as Devin was greeted warmly by Mary and Sarah and Pascal and William – all the older inhabitants of the Tunnel world who remembered him from his childhood amongst them. His happiness at seeing them, the easy comfort he slipped into, being with them, made her heart glad.  He had flushed and blustered when they started regaling her with tales of him as a boy: the mischief he had gotten into with Vincent, the gray hairs Father insisted Devin had added to his head every day.  Rowena had laughed and cherished every story, every glimpse into the past he would never have willingly shared.  The boy is father to the man, her father had always told her, and she loved knowing at last this part of Devin’s journey through life.

 

When Vincent had stood up and reminded Devin of the repairs he’d asked for help with, he was glad to escape the good-natured ribbing, and after a quick kiss on her forehead, had left her with Catherine. The afternoon had been spent just talking, getting to know her new sister – the thought that she now had a sister still thrilled her. Catherine seemed to be pleased with this new development in her life as well. 

 

Rowena had listened with horror to the story of the attack that had left Catherine near death in the Park above, and then sighed with relief as she explained how Vincent’s rescue had changed her life, in every way imaginable. Then Rowena had shared her own story, the loving closeness she had known with her own parents, the unbearable pain and grief at their loss, and how Devin had helped her recover from what had seemed like the end of her life. 

 

She and Catherine were very different, in external ways – where they’d been raised, what they did for a living – but in other ways they shared so much.  Alone, without parents or siblings, deeply passionate about their work and about the people they loved. And - Rowena was beginning to see - in love with the Tunnel world. It was not that it was a haven or an escape, as some might have labeled it; it was just as full of love and pain and joy and struggle and complications as any family above. But the level of commitment to each other was something rare; Rowena found that the more she learned, the more she craved to be there, to be allowed to stay.

 

And the more she wondered what Devin was thinking and feeling, and if he had made his final decision yet. Certainly he had come back with the intent of staying, but she knew him well enough to understand that he was also a bit wary and wanted to be sure, to spend time with his family again before making his request.

 

After their time alone, she and Catherine had spent the rest of the day helping with final preparations for Winterfest, and Devin had had to practically drag her out of the Tunnels quite late that night.  A short and restless sleep later, she’d been up before him, as excited as she’d always been for Christmas when a child, not leaving him alone until he’d got out of bed, dressed, and they were off for breakfast with what she was already thinking of as her new family.  They went to another, more secluded entrance this time, Devin explaining that it was safer never to use the same entrance twice in a row.  And moments later, after another tapped-out message on rusty pipes, Vincent and Catherine were both there to take them below again.

 

“I’d ask you if you were excited, but it’s pretty obvious from your face that you’re about ready to burst.”  Devin’s voice, soft and low next to her ear, teased her; she could feel the smile in his words before she turned her head to look at him.

 

“I love it,” she whispered.

 

“But Winterfest hasn’t even officially started,” he said, raising an eyebrow.

 

“Doesn’t matter,” she said, shaking her head. “We’re here, at the beginning, and it’s about to.”  Rowena squeezed his hand. “Oh, look!”

 

Devin chuckled and turned to see what she was pointing to. Just below where they stood on the last steps, Vincent was lifting the great wooden bar off the doors to the Great Hall, everyone watching and waiting. A vivid memory, long-buried, suddenly came to Devin: he and Vincent, too small for such a task, watching two strong, young men of the community lifting that bar in years gone by. They’d been so fired up and impatient with waiting, the two of them had practically bounced through the door once it was opened, not heeding or even hearing Father’s warnings to be careful. Devin looked down at the children around him, and saw the same eagerness in their faces.  He smiled; it was good to be home.

 

The doors were finally opened. Rowena watched, breathless, as Vincent extended a hand to Catherine, offering to guide her through the darkness beyond.  His words, and her answer - “There is no darkness, Vincent, when you’re with me.” - both had the weight of ritual. Perhaps not as old as the celebration itself or its traditions, but the emotion and significance of the words was undeniable. The others waited until Catherine had crossed the threshold before surging forward, eager for Winterfest and all it meant.

 

Devin lifted Rowena’s hand to his lips and kissed it lightly. “Ready?” he said, love clear and deep in his eyes.

 

“More than ready.”  She smiled up at him. “You are my guide through the darkness, Devin.”

 

 

####

 

 

Hours later, Rowena leaned back against one of the tapestries and gazed down from the gallery onto the crowded hall below. She’d come up here to catch her breath, taking a few quiet moments to savour the beautiful overload of emotions from the day. It had begun with everyone – Tunnel dwellers and Helpers together – seated around a massive table, each holding their special Winterfest candle and passing the flame along to each other. While they spread the light, the elders recited the history of the Tunnels, the struggles and triumphs they had experienced to get to this day, this time, and Rowena had listened, spellbound with wonder at the richness of their world.  A tear had escaped and rolled down her cheek as the story was spun out, and Devin had looked at her with concern, but she had shook her head and smiled. No, she was fine – better than fine, as Mouse would say – aside from a small pang when she thought how much her mother would have loved every minute of this. 

 

“We are all part of one another. One family, one community,” Father had intoned at the end, and she could feel and see those words alive in the faces of everyone around the table.

 

Then there had been food and games and music and dancing and even magic from Sebastian, the street magician Helper. So many Helpers – she couldn’t wait to meet them all, to find out just what their part was in this world Below. And the children. . . .  Rowena’s heart melted at their innocent joy, marvelled at the safety and love they knew so well, so instinctively it was never questioned. This was a place for a child to grow and flourish.  She smiled and allowed herself a little dream for the future.

 

As if he’d been hearing her thoughts, Devin was suddenly there, bounding up the steps and gathering her in his arms. “Are you okay?” he asked, nuzzling his face into her hair and planting a kiss there.

 

“I am wonderful.  Fantastic. Blissful,” she said, slipping her arms around his waist and pulling him close.  “Just taking a moment to quietly drink it all in.”

 

“Mmmm.”  Devin tightened his arms around her, and looked down on the happy crowd below, studying them along with her.

 

“What about you?” she prodded gently. “How are you feeling?” She left the crucial question unspoken, not wanting to interfere with his thoughts and emotions.

 

He laughed quietly.  “I’m . . . happy.  More so than I expected to be.”

 

Rowena turned in his arms to face him. “Truly?” she asked, searching his eyes. “Tell me. . . .”

 

He shook his head.  “First, I want – no, I need to hear it from you.”  He paused, searching for the right words himself. “I’m . . . still not sure how this would work. Should we ask to live down here, Below? Or should we be Helpers and stay mainly above? I’m just not sure. Will they say yes to our request, even? But . . . can you really see yourself living here, in the Tunnels, if it came to that?”  He took his chin in her hand, frowning a bit as he concentrated on getting it right. “If all this feels right to you, then I will trust that, I’ll know we’ll be okay. You’re my heart, my life,” he said softly. “Wherever I am, I’ll only be truly happy if you’re there, too.”

 

Rowena smiled up at him, tears of joy once again trickling down her face. “Devin,” she said quietly.  “I feel so utterly at home here, it’s . . . it’s like a gift. Only twice before this night have I felt this complete. First, when I sat beside my mother at the loom, learning from her to weave the threads and tell stories, create dreams with simple thread, to move with her as if we had the same heart and hands and the same memories. And then again, the day I fell in love with you.”

 

Devin gazed down at her for a moment, then leaned in and claimed her lips in a gentle, tender kiss that she returned with just as much emotion as he gave. When they finally parted, slightly breathless, he smiled and took her hand.  “Come on, let’s go down and talk to Father.”

 

As they descended to the hall below them, Rowena saw that something new was happening. All those gathered had started to form a circle, hands joined and stretched as each person took their place in it. As she and Devin moved forward, they suddenly found themselves in the space in the middle, surrounded by smiling, loving faces.

 

“Come,” Vincent gestured to them from his place at Father’s side, Catherine holding onto his other hand and smiling mysteriously at them. Rowena wondered, and then realized she would not be surprised if Catherine knew what she and Devin had been talking about, had decided. Not much passed her by. Rowena gave her a smile and a wink.

 

“Yes,” Father said, holding out his other hand to Devin. “Join us.” He smiled, obviously overjoyed to be celebrating this special day with his son again – and just as obviously not expecting what was about to come.

 

Devin took a deep breath, but he did not move.  “First,” he said, his voice quiet but clear and firm, “I have something to say.

 

Father looked at him, puzzled. Vincent’s head tilted as he studied first Devin and then Rowena, then looked at Catherine – and suddenly smiled.  But he said nothing.

 

“I have not been here for a very long time,” Devin began, suddenly nervous. “Many of you know me from the past, some of you may barely know who I am. But this place, the Tunnels, is where I was born. I am a part of this world, even though it took me years and quite a bit of wandering to realize that.”  He glanced down at his feet for a moment before continuing. “I’m far from perfect,” he finally continued, “as Father and Mary can tell you.” 

 

Mary laughed fondly, and Father shook his head, chuckling to himself.  “Son. . . .” he began.

 

“No, Father – I need to finish, please.  I’m not sure how this would work out, in terms of everyday life, or what I could . . . contribute.” Devin licked his lips anxiously.  “But . . . I am asking now, while everyone is gathered, if I – we – can come back to live here, in the Tunnels. Be a part of the family again” He took another deep breath and looked straight at Father and Vincent.

 

The look of astonishment on Father’s face was matched only by the joy on Vincent’s. “But you’ve always been part of our family,” Vincent said softly. “You’ve always been my brother.”

 

“True,” Devin conceded. “But could you stand having me around all the time?”  He smiled at Vincent, suddenly feeling more sure of himself.  The expression on Vincent’s face – and Catherine’s echoing smile – said more than words ever could have.

 

“Can I say something, too?” Rowena spoke hesitantly.

 

“Of-of course,” Father tripped over his words, amazed eyes still on his son.

 

Rowena cleared her throat and looked around the circle. “Of course, since we are married, this request includes both of us. Where my husband goes, I go,” she said, her voice now strong and confident. “But I want you all to know, I would make this request on my own, if that were the way I had come to you.  Not since I lost my parents have I known a space or a heart – hearts - so full of love and acceptance and connection as I have experienced here. I have felt at home since the first second Devin brought me Below, and I want to stay, to be a part of this family. If you’ll have me.” She looked now at Father, then at Vincent and Catherine. “Here, in the Tunnels, is where we both want to be.” She tightened her hold on Devin’s hand as they waited for Father to speak.

 

The whole circle seemed to be holding their breath, watching him, too. But Father’s gaze was focused only on Devin, and for a long moment their eyes were locked, communicating in a way only parent and child can. Then . . . slowly and with a look of peace and contentment that took years off his face and made him stand straighter than he had in a very long time, Father smiled and again extended his hand to his son.

 

“Details can be worked out later,” he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. “Come, Devin and Rowena Wells - complete our circle.”