On Her Side Of The River

By Sue Glasgow

 

“On Her Side of the River" was a commissioned piece which was to have appeared in a special zine seven years ago. An editor had the lovely idea of building a zine on the theme of Catherine and the men in her life. The stories were to be written in first person from Catherine’s point of view, and the volume would have included a separate story for each man... Vincent, Charles Chandler, Joe Maxwell, Peter Alcott, Jacob Wells, etc. I was asked to write the Jacob story because the editor liked the way I dealt with Father in my story, “Run to the Sea”. Unfortunately, the zine was never finished. My story was returned to me unpublished and it’s been in the bottom of my file cabinet ever since. I shared it with a few friends, and the ladies of CABB asked to print it

 

I’d like to comment on three features of the story. First, the use of first person is rare in fan writing. The above editor asked for this style, and I found it an interesting challenge. Secondly, most of the story takes place Above, with distance separating Catherine and Father from Vincent. The structure of the requested story made this mandatory. I like it best when our lovers are together. Finally, in this story Father requires hospitalization Above. Medical procedures have improved enormously since 1989. Kidney stones are now reduced to dust with sonic impulses, making the surgery minor. Ten years ago, the operation was a major invasive event. I thank CABB for giving “On Her Side of the River” a home. Sue G

 

The following story takes place a few months after Song of Orpheus, preceding Shades of Grey.

 

Prologue

 

“Vincent?” Father did not look up from the medicinal powder he was measuring into small capsules. Behind the elderly man, Mary entered the hospital chamber and glanced around the room finding the physician alone.” No, Father. It’s me.” In her arms she carried a box of freshly sterilized medicine bottles.

 

Casting her an irritated glance Father turned back to his work. “Where is Vincent? I specifically told him to meet me here after the noon meal.” Mary came to his side and gently set the glass containers on the table.

 

Father continued, “He’s with her, isn’t he? And he knows I need him here.”

 

“Father, you’re not being fair. He has worked hard all week, and if he wants to be with her that is his privilege.” Mary emptied the box and set it on the floor. “However you are wrong this time. You told him to meet you here tomorrow. He promised Rose Fu he would help her move some large crates to the basement under her store today.”

 

The old man frowned. “Well, he should be back by now.”

 

“He’ll stay to listen to Rose’s children’s recitations after school. Ever since Rose’s oldest boy left with Peter Alcott for that seminar in Chicago there is no time for her to listen to the younger children.” Mary handed an empty bottle to the aging man.

 

Father muttered, “Still, I need Vincent here.”

 

Mary watched as her friend bent over his work. There was something about the stiffness in his actions which concerned her. At last she asked softly, “Father, are you feeling well?”

 

He did not acknowledge her question. After another long silence she asked again, “Father? Are you...?”

 

He snapped, “Yes, Mary. I’m fine.” He poured a handful of capsules into the bottle.

 

She continued, “Peter said you never gave him that specimen he wanted from you before he left.”

 

“Peter is overly solicitous.”

 

“But he was concerned. He told me you deliberately avoided arranging a time for your physical examination.” With a frown, Mary handed Father a pad of gummed labels.

 

“There will be time enough for that when he returns.”

 

She persisted. “But that will be three weeks from now.”

 

Tearing afresh label from the pad, Father sighed heavily, “Mary, what can possibly happen in three weeks?”

 

“Just the same, I wish you would ask Dr. Evans to see you.”

 

“Ben Evans is in semi-retirement teaching at the university, and he certainly has no time for routine examinations.” Father pushed away from the table. “Now, if you would please let me change the subject...hand me that marker before I forget what I just put in here.”

 

The woman was about to answer when two tiny heads peeked around the entrance to the chamber. A very young voice asked, “Mary, Toby says we don’t have to take a nap.”

 

Mary turned to the two little girls. “Whatever are you children doing here? I told Helen to put you to bed.”

 

“Helen’s asleep. Toby said we could get up.”

 

Shaking her head, the woman replied, “You both know better. Now get yourselves right back to the nursery.” They stood staring at her in silence until she added, “Scoot!” As they vanished down the tunnel. Mary sighed. “I’m sorry, Father. If Helen truly is asleep, I should go back with them.”

 

Wordlessly Father motioned her away and returned to his work

 

After she was gone he stopped to wipe a thin film of perspiration from his face. He reflected gratefully that Mary had not noticed he had left his lunch untouched. Shaking his head silently he considered how that woman always over-reacted to the slightest provocation. Still, perhaps it would be a good idea to let Peter examine him when he returned.

 

A short time later there was no one in the hospital chamber to watch as Father grimaced and painfully doubled over in his chair.

 

********

 

I kicked the apartment door closed behind me, dropped my briefcase into a nearby chair, and locked the door. Slipping out of my shoes, I glanced through my mail and found that the only item of interest was a postcard from Dad and Kay, postmarked in Venice. The picture showed the obligatory gondola on a canal. I smiled as I read Kay’s brief note. She assured me that she would have a great story to tell me about Dad when they got home.

 

Throwing the letters onto the dining table I moved to the terrace. The night air had been cool and inviting and I had no desire to spend the evening inside. I hoped I might not have to spend the hours alone, but as I opened the doors I knew without a doubt that Vincent had already been there and had gone. Then I realized it was not the night air I craved. Closing the doors behind me, I slipped back into my shoes and left my apartment.

 

In the subbasement below my building I pushed a stack of boxes aside and descended the set of iron rungs into the darkness. I heard my name from the darkness as my foot touched the floor at the bottom of the ladder.

 

“Catherine.”

 

He was there in the shadows, beautiful and silent, waiting as I had known he would be. I smiled and leaned into his welcoming arms.

 

Tilting my head up, I sighed, feeling completely at home in his embrace.

 

“I was afraid I had missed you,” I whispered.

 

He shook his head in amusement. “No, you weren’t.”

 

I laughed. “What do you mean?”

 

His quiet voice responded. “You knew I would be here.”

 

Pushing my hands against his chest I feigned a frown. “I’m not really that vain, you know. I do realize you have other things to do besides loitering beneath my apartment building.”

 

His brows raised. “Loitering?”

 

I laughed aloud as his question brought mental images of Vincent leaning against a city lamp post idly watching the crowds pass by. “Well, possibly that was a poor choice of words.”

 

Large furred fingers surrounded my hand as a smile came to Vincent’s eyes. His golden lashes created sparkles in the shadows of his face, the effect was overwhelming and for a moment I found it hard to breathe. I barely heard as he asked, “Have you eaten yet?”

 

After a moment, I realized he expected an answer. I shook my head. “No, not yet.”

 

“Neither have I. The evening meal Below is over but I’m certain we can find something in William’s kitchen. Will you come with me?” He cocked his head in the way I have always found irresistible, And without waiting for my answer he led me into the darkness of the Tunnels.

 

As we passed Fathers study, Vincent stopped and asked me to wait a moment. I knew he had been concerned about Father’s health ever since he had suffered an episode of severe cramping and back pain two days ago. Mary had grown suspicious of Fathers behavior while they had been packaging medicines, and she had returned later to find Father in pain. Later, the older man had scoffed at the concern Mary and Vincent had expressed, but Vincent obviously had not forgotten the incident.

 

I waited outside the chambers, and in moments Vincent returned assuring me that Father was reading and did not want to be disturbed.

 

A few minutes later, we were in the deserted dining chamber, eating sandwiches made of cold chicken and homemade bread. I sensed Vincent’s quiet concern, then I looked into his eyes and caught the anxiety in them.

 

“What is it?” I asked.

 

He shook his head and poured two glasses of milk. “It happened again this morning, but he still insists it is nothing.”

 

“Vincent,” I asked. “If it’s going to bother you this much, why don’t you get him to see a doctor?”

 

His mane stirred the air as he shook his head. “His doctor is in Chicago on business.”

 

“I know you told me that yesterday. But there are other doctors.”

 

Vincent didn’t answer.

 

“I could make him an appointment with my own doctor. She is busy, but I think she could work a friend of mine into her schedule.”

 

His blue eyes looked up at me quickly, and I could see the denial in them even before he spoke.

 

“Catherine, you don’t understand. Father won’t go Above.”

 

“I do understand. but in the case of an emergency.”

 

He shook his head again. “Father says this is not an emergency.”

 

I sighed. “I hope it doesn’t come to that But, Vincent,” I put my hand on his arm. “You may need to be prepared to make some difficult decisions just in case.”

 

He looked at me silently as he bit into his sandwich, and I knew the subject was closed.

 

********

 

I didn’t see Vincent again for three days. I felt certain he was purposefully staying close to home because he was afraid for Father. On the fourth day I came home from work early and was surprised to find a note on the floor inside my door. Not even taking the time to change clothes I hurried Below.

 

Kipper answered my tapping on the pipes, and as we hurried to Father’s chamber the boy told me Father had collapsed in severe pain while he and Vincent had been working on plans for a new project. It had happened several hours ago and Father was still very ill. Kipper had heard snatches of the conversation between Father and Vincent. Evidently they had argued violently about notifying me, and finally Vincent had sent Kipper to deliver a note to me against his father’s objections.

 

As we entered the study, Kipper and I heard voices from Father’s bed chamber. I called Vincent’s name, and his great form emerged from Father’s private quarters. I was shocked by the raw fear in his eyes.

 

His voice was husky with measured control. “Catherine, thank you for coming.”

 

Crossing the chamber quickly, I reached for his hand. “How serious is it?”

 

He looked down at the young boy who had followed me across the room. With great care, Vincent said, “Kipper, thank you. If you hurry, you still have time to attend your final class of the day.”

 

“Aw, Vincent.” The boy started to protest, but a second look at Vincent’s expression silenced him. “All right.” He paused, “Is Father going to be all right?”

 

“He’ll be fine. Don’t dawdle in the Tunnels or you’ll be late.”

 

“I won’t be late.” The boy left us alone.

 

Turning back to Vincent, I asked again, “Tell me.”

 

“He’s bleeding, Catherine. Mary is with him. he won’t let me tell anyone.”

 

Vincent’s previous concern for Father had now crystallized into anguish, darkening his eyes and causing his hand to tremble in mine. I felt my own fear blend with Vincent’s. “Does he know what it is?”

 

“He says the symptoms suggest a kidney stone.”

 

“A kidney stone.” I remembered a friend’s experience with a kidney stone several years ago. “That can be serious, but there are things that can be done. The hospital treatment is fairly routine.”

 

Shaking his head, Vincent turned his back to me and moved to the table in the middle of the study.

 

Softly he spoke, “Father says that is out of the question.”

 

Following him, I put my hand on his shoulder. “What does Father want to do?”

 

“He still wants to wait for his doctor to come home.” Vincent leaned against the table and lowered his chin.

 

His shoulders shuddered with tension as I shook my head. “Vincent, he belongs in a hospital.”

 

As I moved to his side, he lifted his eyes to mine. “You know how he feels about Above.”

 

“Yes, I know. I have been with him Above. I remember his face when I found him in that jail cell. But his feelings do not alter the fact that he needs professional medical care. And that care is not available here Below.”

 

Vincent shook his head. “I just don’t believe he will go.”

 

A harsh pain-filled moan followed by the sounds of labored breathing came from Father’s bed chamber. Almost immediately Mary appeared in the entrance. “Vincent, we have to do something. He is so sick.”

 

The great maned head turned away, dropping the protective shield of his hair between his face and us. I watched him for a moment, and then I realized Vincent had already made his decision when he had sent for me. With a boldness I did not feel, I said to Mary. “I am taking Father Above.”

 

The woman gasped. “Above?” She put her hand to her throat. “But it is so dangerous for him Above. So many things can happen.”

 

I continued, “I’ll take him to a hospital. I’ll find someone to...”

 

Vincent’s voice interrupted me as he lifted his gaze to meet my eyes. “Catherine, he has no identification. No money, no insurance. There will be questions...”

 

“Money is not a problem.” I said. “I can pay any expenses.”

 

“And identification? They will want a name...a social security number.” Anxiety emphasized Vincent’s lisp.

 

’I’m a lawyer. I can arrange all that.”

 

Vincent looked at me evenly. “Legally?”

 

I returned his stare meaningfully and said nothing.

 

When he was certain I had no reply, he continued, “You could not handle it alone. You would need help.”

 

“You told me you have helpers.”

 

Mary stepped forward. “I believe she’s right, Vincent. Lou would help us.”

 

I put a hand on Vincent’s arm. ’I’ll bring a van to the park as soon as it’s dark. Bring Father to the entrance, and I will meet you there.”

 

He looked down at my touch upon his sleeve. “Where would you take him?”

 

Mary’s voice answered him. “Lang General.” She paused a moment. “Father and I were talking about Benjamin Evans a few days ago. Dr. Evans used to be on the staff at Lang before his retirement.”

 

Vincent frowned. “He gave up his practice two years ago.”

 

“Not completely. He would do this for Father. You know he would.”

 

“Benjamin Evans.” I committed the name to memory. I didn’t recognize the name, although I, myself, had been a patient at Lang not long ago. “He knows Father? Would he help me admit Father to Lang?”

 

Mary looked up into Vincent’s face. “Vincent, what do you think?”

 

After a long moment of silence, the gentle voice conceded. “It’ll be dark by eight o’clock, Catherine. Can you have a van at the park entrance by eight-thirty?”

 

In relief I nodded. “You contact Lou and Dr. Evans. Ask them to call me if they need a ride. I will be there.”

 

Vincent returned my nod. “There seems to be no other way. I will tell Father.” He hesitated, placing his hand on my arm. “I will need to guide you home.”

 

His lingering look toward Father’s doorway did not escape my notice. I touched Vincent’s shoulder gently. “He needs you here. I’ll get one of the children to guide me out.”

 

Vincent nodded again. “I will locate one of them for you.” He turned. “Mary, I’ll be right back.”

 

A low sound came from Fathers inner chamber, and Mary stepped to the chamber entrance. Just before she slipped from the study she looked at me. “Thank you, Catherine. Thank you.”

 

I gave her a gentle smile, then I followed Vincent up the steps.

 

By eight-thirty Father was too ill to challenge his son’s decision. I watched in the silent darkness as Vincent and a large balding helper lifted Father’s stretcher into the van.

 

Dr. Evans stood at my side in the evening mists of the park. I found myself liking the tall aging Black doctor immediately. He exuded a soothing reassurance which had had a calming influence upon Vincent’s anxiety.

 

As the shadowy figures inside the van worked to make Father comfortable, I handed an extra blanket to Vincent and stepped back. I whispered to Dr. Evans. “Father told Vincent he thinks it’s a kidney stone.”

 

Evans nodded. “He could be right. We won’t know for sure untill we have the results of the lab work and the x-rays.”

 

“Will he need surgery?” I asked.

 

The doctor watched as Vincent climbed out of the van and Lou seated himself at Father’s side. “It’s too soon to say. Certainly he is a very sick man. I don’t think the hospital will do anything Until they get him stabilized.”

 

Vincent closed and secured the van’s rear doors. Then he stood for a moment pressing his hand against the cool metal in silence. I went to him. His expression was hidden in the deep shadows of his hood, but I did not have to see his face to feel his tension. Taking his hand, I held it between my own fingers. “I’ll send word to you as soon as they have answers.”

 

He nodded silently. I lifted my hand to his dark cheek. “He will be all right.” Again he nodded. “Try not to worry.”

 

I saw a tear glisten in the depths of the hood as he said, “Catherine, he is my father.”

 

The passenger door of the truck closed with a muffled thud as Evans took his seat. Vincent stepped to the open door on the driver’s side and waited for me to climb in. As he closed the door behind me, he spoke. “Take care, Catherine.”

 

I leaned through the open window and touched his face one last time. “I will stay with him every minute, and I promise you I will bring him back safely.” I felt him nod as my thumb encountered the tear on his cheek. I withdrew my touch and turned the key in the ignition. The motor responded, and I let the truck roll forward slowly with the headlights still darkened. In the rearview mirror I could barely discern Vincent’s great, silent form as he stood in the opening of the tunnel. He was still there when I turned the vehicle onto the street, switched on the headlights, and drove away.

 

********

 

Forging Fathers legal papers was easier than I had expected. My legal experience made the job relatively simple. Father was admitted to Lang General Hospital under the name of Lloyd D. Cramer. I claimed him as my uncle on my mothers side, and then I buried his personal background in a bureaucratic smokescreen. I even managed to give myself Power of Attorney so that Father wouldn’t be required to sign any papers. Ultimately all the hospital’s concerns were settled when I wrote a check for $20,000 and left it on deposit as a guarantee against the expenses Mr. Cramer would incur.

 

While the emergency staff was examining Father, Benjamin Evans called in several personal favors, carefully choosing the location of Fathers room and insuring that I would have unrestricted visitation privileges.

 

Three hours after we arrived at the hospital, I sat at Father’s side, watching a solution of antibiotics and analgesics drip into an intravenous tube which vanished beneath a piece of tape on his left forearm. Father’s discomfort had abated, and he was drifting in and out of consciousness.

 

After several minutes, I saw his eyes flutter. I whispered, “Father? Are you awake?”

 

Opening his eyes, he looked at me a moment with very little interest, but then awareness crept into his gaze. Through dry lips he murmured, “Catherine.” His eyes darted about the room. He asked weakly, “What...what is...this place?”

 

“It’s a hospital room. You’re in Lang General Hospital.”

 

Alarm flashed across his face. “Lang?” He lifted his head, only to have its weight drag him back down onto the pillow. “Above? No...I...”

 

“It’s all right, Father. Everything is taken care of. Dr. Evans is talking with your doctors right now”

 

“Evans...where...?” He shook his head. “No, I must go home.”

 

“Father.” I leaned closer to him. “It really will be all right. Dr. Evans and Vincent both agreed...”

 

“Vincent?” His eyes stared into mine. “Not here...”

 

“No.” I shook my head. “He is waiting Below. I promised him I would stay with you.” I drew even closer. “Father, can you understand me? I need your cooperation.”

 

He nodded with some difficulty.

 

I continued. “Your name is Lloyd Cramer, and you are my uncle. I need you to remember that.”

 

I hunted for assurance that he had understood, but he did not respond. Silently he drifted into a painless sleep.

 

Several minutes later the door to the hall opened. Benjamin Evans entered and glanced at me. “Everything okay in here?” He went straight to Father and performed a quick examination.

 

I nodded. “As far as I can tell. He woke up for just a minute and talked to me.”

 

“Good. He should be a little more comfortable now.” Evans walked around the bed and stood across from me. Pulling a second chair closer, he lowered himself into it as he spoke quietly. “It’s a kidney stone. In the ureter...creating backup pressure. Without attention, he would have risked uremia...possible kidney damage.”

 

I winced, then asked, “What will you do?”

 

“We have him scheduled for surgery at six-thirty tomorrow morning.”

 

“But you said he might have to be stabilized first. Could surgery so soon be dangerous?”

 

Shaking his head Evans said, “We weighed the risks. Jacob is tough, and all his tests indicate he can handle the procedure. Two other doctors and I agree we need to get that stone out of there.” The physician removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Jacob knows better than to let something like this go this long.”

 

“He was afraid to come Above,” I explained.

 

“Yes, I know.” He shook his head. “Damn fool. Been like that for thirty-five years.”

 

I looked up. “Have you known him that long?”

 

Evans grunted and nodded. “Longer. We interned together.”

 

I said in surprise, “I had no idea that anyone Above knew him back then.”

 

He leaned far back in his chair and sighed. “Those were hard times immediately after the war. We were all dirt poor...over-worked.”

 

“Were you friends then?” I asked. I wanted to know more about this man.

 

The doctor shook his head. “We worked twenty hours a day. There wasn’t any time for friendship. But we studied together sometimes...,” he paused, “...and he’d bring me burgers from the “whites only” cafe across the street from the hospital.” He ignored the look in my eyes as I reacted to old injustices. Evans smiled grimly. “It wasn’t long Until they found out what he was doing with the extra burgers...then it was peanut butter and jelly for both of us.”

 

I looked into Father’s face. “He was your friend.”

 

Hooking his glasses back over his ears Evans softened his smile. “Yes, maybe. Jacob always did have a soft spot for somebody who was different.”

 

“Where were you when he went to the Tunnels?”

 

Mississippi. I had had all I wanted of the North and I went home in ’49.”

 

“But you are here in New York now.”

 

Evans frowned and studied my face. After a pause he asked, “You really want to hear all this?” I nodded, resting one hand on the arm of the man who lay between us.

 

He asked cautiously, “How long have you been a Helper?”

 

I returned his look. I had never considered myself a Helper. In surprise I realized I now qualified for the title. “Not long.”

 

Evans dropped his gaze to appraise my clothing and he noted my expensive handbag which sat in the windowsill behind me. “You look uptown...East Side.” I smiled slowly as I nodded toward his right hand. “And that diamond on your finger is a full carat set in platinum.”

 

His full rich laughter filled the room. “Touche.” He grinned showing a row of large, very white teeth. “I like you, Catherine Chandler. What is Jacob Wells doing with a woman like you watching over him?”

 

I turned my gaze toward Father. ’I’m doing someone a favor.”

 

“Someone?” He narrowed his eyes and paused for a moment. I was certain he was remembering our final moments in the park. “Vincent? You and Vincent?”

 

I felt a slow blush crawl up my neck, and I turned my head letting my hair shield me from his stare.

 

“Well...,” he paused as he considered the thought. “Good. The boy deserves someone special.” After another pause he added, “But frankly I am surprised that Jacob likes the idea”

 

I let out a short breath. “He doesn’t. He has made it very clear to both of us that he highly disapproves.”

 

The doctor nodded silently. “Don’t be too hard on the old man. He has had his problems.”

 

I was about to ask Evans why he had returned to New York from the South when the door opened.

 

A young man in a khaki uniform leaned in. “I have an order for a reclining chair for this room?”

 

Evans turned. “Bring it on in.” He explained to me, “If you are sleeping in here, you’ll need one of these contraptions.”

 

I decided the term “reclining chair” was a euphemism. The chair was made up of three large black vinyl cushions mounted on a rack of aluminum rods and poles.

 

The young man pushed and pulled at the arms and legs of the thing Until it fell into a horizontal position. He moved back to the hallway and returned with a stack of sheets, blankets, and a pillow which he threw down on the cot. Just as he turned to leave, a graying nurse appeared in the doorway.

 

She edged past the aide and came to Father. Glancing at Evans she said, “Doctor. I haven’t seen you in a long time.”

 

As the woman checked Father’s pulse, Evans’s face settled into a soft grin and he asked, “Perkins, how much longer are they going to let you hang around here?”

 

She answered him with a smile. “A good RN. is hard to find.”

 

Evans sat back appreciatively. “I assume you are here to do the preop?”

 

The nurse nodded and continued taking Father’s vital signs.

 

Evans stood up. “Catherine Chandler, this is Irma Perkins.” He paused, speaking to the nurse. “Treat Miss Chandler good Perkins. She’s a friend of mine.” And then he leaned closer to me speaking softly. ’I’m sending word to Vincent before I go home. Any messages?”

 

“Tell him about the surgery. Tell him to try not to worry...and promise him that I won’t leave Fa....” I glanced at the nurse, “...Uncle Lloyd.” I paused. “Can you get a note to him for me?”

 

He nodded, “Walk me down to the elevator while Perkins does her job.” He took my arm.

 

Evans stood over me as I wrote a message to Vincent. Minutes later I watched the elevator doors close behind the doctor, and I tried to imagine Father smuggling hamburgers to his young Black friend. Then I realized I could not even imagine Father eating a hamburger.

 

*********

 

I slept fitfully on the vinyl cot. The room had grown cold after midnight, and I debated whether to hunt for another blanket. I had spread my extra covers over Father’s sleeping form when the temperature had dropped.

 

Late in the night his breathing created the only sound in the semi-dark room. Still unable to sleep, I got up to go to the adjoining bathroom and when I returned I could no longer hear Fathers quiet snoring. As I came closer his head turned toward me.

 

“Who’s there?” His voice was laced with drugs.

 

I leaned nearer so he could see my face. “It’s Catherine, Father.”

 

“Catherine?” He frowned severely and asked, “What has...happened?”

 

“How much do you remember? Do you know where you are?”

 

Shaking his head he whispered, “No.” Then he amended, “Yes.” A shudder passed across his shoulders. “Lang General. Somebody...said I was in Lang General.”

 

“That’s right.” I sat in the chair at his side.

 

His watery eyes peered into my face. “You don’t belong...here. Where’s Mary?”

 

His words hurt. A defensive response colored my answer. “She stayed with the children..and I do belong here. I made a promise to Vincent.”

 

The weakened voice cracked, “I told him...I would not come... Above.” He caught his breath. “He had no right.”

 

I answered firmly, “He had every right. He loves you, and he was afraid for your life.” I paused and continued more gently. “Don’t blame Vincent, Father. I took full responsibility for bringing you here. It was my decision.”

 

He frowned again and silently turned his face from me.

 

Finally in an attempt to soothe the tensions between us, I asked, “How do you feel?”

 

He seemed to spend a moment appraising himself. After a breath he whispered, “The pain is easier.”

 

“That’s the effect of your medication.”

 

“Medication.” He was silent for another long moment.

 

I watched him. “Are you warm enough? Can I get you anything?”

 

“I’m thirsty.”

 

I’m sorry. I can’t give you anything to drink. You are scheduled for surgery in just a few hours.”

 

“Surgery?” His breath caught in his chest. “What...” The fragile voice failed.

 

“You have a kidney stone, Father.” I continued quietly, “Benjamin Evans and two other doctors have decided you must have it removed as soon as possible.”

 

He held his breath.

 

I continued. “You knew, didn’t you?”

 

With a slight nod he whispered, “I knew. I hoped...it would pass.”

 

“Dr. Evans said if you had waited much longer you could have had serious complications.” I paused, “He isn’t very happy with you.”

 

“No...I don’t suppose he is.” He caught a ragged breath and asked, “Is there...damage?”

 

“He didn’t say. I don’t think they know yet.”

 

The pale eyes closed, then after a few moments he seemed to regain strength. “Surgery,” he whispered. “Does Vincent know?”

 

“Dr. Evans said he would tell him.”

 

“It will be difficult...for Vincent.”

 

I nodded, “He loves you very much.”

 

Father opened his eyes slowly and looked into my face. “I didn’t get to...to tell him good-by.” He struggled with the words. “There are things.. needed...to tell him.”

 

“You can tell him later. You need to rest now.”

 

He shook his head. “No...I...” With another shudder he whispered, “Catherine...he still needs...me.”

 

I frowned. Something in Father’s tone frightened me. “Of course, he does. You will be with him in just a few days.”

 

“You don’t...understand. Catherine...” He forced the words. “My father died...on the operating table..”

 

My suspicion of his fears had been confirmed. “Father, you are not going to die.”

 

“Prostate surgery...He died in prostate surgery...cardiac arrest.”

 

I felt a tension swelling in my chest. Something in his fear was releasing carefully suppressed fears of my own. I murmured stiffly, “Surgery is much safer now. Nothing is going to happen.”

 

“He was twenty years...younger than I am now.” His eyes focused upon mine. “If I die...”

 

I pulled my hand away and came to my feet. “Don’t say that!” I was surprised by the anger I felt toward him. My voice rose. “It was my idea to bring you Above. I promised Vincent I would watch over you. and that I would bring you home to him. I am not going to go back to Vincent and tell him I let you die!” Tears formed against my will and my voice trembled. I could barely see his startled look. “I know you don’t approve of me...but right now I am the only person who can do this for Vincent. And you and I are going to do this together...for him.”

 

Silence fell between us like a heavy curtain. Father lay with his eyes closed, and I paced to the window. The Venetian blinds traced patterns of light upon the floor. Across the street several windows glowed brightly and I wondered why all those people were awake. Parting the slats and looking down from our fourth story window I watched an ambulance come around the corner and disappear under a carport below me. It moved without sirens and I wondered if it was empty or if speed could no longer help the person inside.

 

I saw the outline of a black grate in the middle of the street. The roof of Vincent’s world. Aware of my racing heart, I tried to calm myself, knowing Vincent would react to my heightened emotions. I wiped a trace of moisture from my cheek and came back to the bed.

 

I whispered, ’I’m sorry. I should not have raised my voice.” Father did not move. I couldn’t let him go to surgery with this tension unresolved. “Father,” I spoke softly. “We both love him. He needs us...both.” I paused. “I believe you are going home to him. I need you to believe that, too.”

 

His eyes slowly opened, and for long moments he looked into my face. With difficulty he murmured, “I wasn’t going to pass this stone...I knew that.” He hesitated and dropped his gaze. “Uremic poisoning...renal failure. I would have died Below, Catherine.”

 

I leaned over him. “Then why did you refuse to come Above?”

 

His answer was so softly spoken it was difficult to hear. “I thought dying Below...with friends...was preferable to dying Above...alone.”

 

My tears spilled over. “Father. You’re not alone. Dr. Evans will be here for you. And I will be here...all the time.” I wiped my fingertips across my cheek again. “Dr. Evans says you are strong. He believes you can handle this.”

 

Father let out a short breath. “Ben Evans is an idealistic optimist.” He coughed softly. “He had a dream… that a Black man could study medicine in 1947.”

 

I smiled. “He made his dream come true.” Then I added, “Besides that, I hear he owes you.”

 

His aging eyes met mine. “Owes me?”

 

I nodded. “Hamburgers.”

 

Father snorted softly. “Hamburgers.” He shook his head on the pillow. After a long pause he licked his tongue over his lips and sighed. “You tell Ben Evans that if he gets me...through this surgery.. will buy him a whole sack...of hamburgers.” My chin trembled as I smiled. “And, Catherine...” His words were growing indistinct. “Tell Vincent...”

 

I interrupted him. “You tell him, Father. Tell him yourself.” I sat back down in the chair and watched as he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

 

********

 

Sometime during the very early morning hours an anesthetist came in to speak with me, and I was asked to sign more papers. A young girl came by to offer me coffee.

 

As I sat sipping from a steaming styrofoam cup I listened to Father’s labored breathing. He had awakened briefly, but he had not spoken. A nurse had given him a sedative and I had been relieved to see the look of pain and anxiety fade from his eyes. Benjamin Evans came to assure me he would be closely monitoring all the activity as he observed in the operating room, and that he would report any news to me.

 

I tried to analyze my own feelings as I waited for the gurney which would take Father to surgery. I was surprised by the amount of concern I was feeling for him. Of course I would have been concerned for the health of anyone whom Vincent cared for, but I found a more personal anxiety rising inside myself.

 

A short time later I watched the doors of the surgical area swing shut, separating me from Jacob Wells, and I experienced a feeling of fear and loss which surpassed any obligation I had assumed in my promise to Vincent.

 

********

 

The waiting room was cold. I pulled my light jacket more firmly about me and watched the young couple who sat at the far end of the room. I had over-heard enough conversation to know they had brought their daughter into the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Finally a doctor came to talk with them, and I smiled to myself as they relaxed in relief and hugged each other. The mother began to cry happy tears and her husband led her out the door with his arm wrapped tightly about her shoulders. My own shoulders shivered in the chill, and I yearned for the warmth of leather and wool and a furred touch upon my skin. Reminding myself that Vincent was enduring this wait also, I tried to send him reassurance through our bond. My emotions were his only connection with this hospital room, and I vowed to guard those emotions carefully. I would not send him unnecessary anxiety.

 

Sometime later Evans came to me briefly and assured me that the surgery was proceeding satisfactorily. Jacob’s blood pressure had fallen, but he had stabilized and there had been no further complications. Evans left me alone again. As time passed, my fatigue from the sleepless night overtook me, and I dozed in my chair.

 

“Catherine.”

 

I was dreaming that my father was leaning over me as I slept in the enclosed porch at my parents’ summer home. I reached for something...but I couldn’t remember what.

 

“Catherine.”

 

My eyes opened to the sight of a strong black hand on my shoulder. Startled I sat up fully awake. “Father...?”

 

“He’s fine. They successfully removed a large kidney stone. He’s been taken to recovery.”

 

“Everything went all right?”

 

“Text book.” Evans handed me my purse. “It’ll be a while before he’s ready to go back to his room. Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”

 

Shaking my head I said, “We need to tell Vincent.”

 

“Kipper is waiting at Lou’s barber shop.” The doctor helped me to my feet. Reaching into his pocket he gave me a quarter and the telephone number.

 

Moments later, I hung up after cautioning Kipper for the third time to rush the news to Vincent. I stood for a moment staring sightlessly at the phone. I felt an illogical resentment that Kipper was on his way to the Tunnels, while I was obligated to stay here, separated from Vincent when he needed me. As if reading my mind, Evans answered from behind me. “He told me he wanted you to stay here.”

 

I nodded. “I know. He told me that too. But still...”

 

“He needs the assurance that you are here for Jacob.”

 

I turned and looked up into Benjamin Evans’s eyes. “You understand them, don’t you? Both of them.”

 

Evans shrugged. “I suppose.” He paused. “It’s not hard. Jacob functions by a pretty simple set of rules...and he raised Vincent the same way.”

 

I nodded. “Love.”

 

The doctor agreed. “And helping other people. Keeping your priorities straight.” I dropped my eyes and bit my lip gently. With a slight frown, Evans watched me, and I knew he was also understanding me. Quietly he said, “Unless I’m wrong Vincent’s life has gotten a lot more complicated lately.”

 

Wondering why it was so easy to talk with this total stranger, I nodded. “You’re not wrong.” Together we fell into step and walked to the elevator door in the hall.

 

After he pushed the button, Evans spoke again. “Are you in love with Vincent?”

 

I winced at the bluntness of his words. Vincent was everything to me, but so far he and I had carefully avoided the phrase, ’in love’. I said softly, “You don’t believe in wasting words, do you, doctor?”

 

He shrugged. “If I did, I’d probably still be in Mississippi.” The door slid open, and we entered the crowded space in silence. It was not Until we left the elevator that I gave the doctor his answer.

 

“Vincent and I share something very special. Neither of us has given it a name. Whatever it is, Father is very much opposed to it. And, yes. All of the simple rules have suddenly gotten very complicated.”

 

Evans smiled, showing his white teeth. ’I’ll bet poor old Jake is fit to be tied.”

 

I smiled at his response. “You don’t agree with his concern?” We entered the cafeteria and Evans filled two styrofoam cups with coffee from a large pot. He paid the cashier and guided me toward a table.

 

“Should I agree with him? Are you going to do something that will hurt Vincent?”

 

I pulled back. “Of course not.”

 

“Then maybe Jacob ought to get back to his simple set of rules.”

 

I ignored the chair he offered me. “Love.”

 

With a nod, Evans smiled again. “That’s the way I understand it.”

 

“Doctor,” I came to a quick decision. “I think I would rather drink this coffee in Fathers room. Would that be all right?”

 

He produced two plastic lids from his pocket. I wondered how he had known we would need them as he snapped them onto the styrofoam. Handing me one of the cups he said, “Don’t look so surprised, Chandler. I don’t know you, but I know Vincent. And you just did what he would have done.” He took my elbow and together we returned to the elevator.

 

********

 

A flurry of activity accompanied Fathers return to his room. I waited in the hall Until the patient was settled safely in his bed and all the equipment and tubes were in place. A self-administering morphine unit called a PCA pump had been ordered, and Evans showed me how it worked. He explained that the doses were carefully controlled making an overdose impossible, and that the machine would give Jacob a sense of control. He tested it by pushing the button that was pinned to Fathers bed rail, and a soft chime came from the machine as a measured dose of morphine was released into Father’s I.V.

 

Evans turned to me as we stood together. “Jacob’s doctor will stop by later on. If you have any questions, he will be glad to answer them.”

 

“Aren’t you going to be his doctor?”

 

Shaking his head, Evans replied. ’I’m just window dressing around here. Lots of advice and no authority.” He looked around the room. “I hate to sound callous, but I’m teaching a class this afternoon, and I really need to do some preparation.”

 

I nodded. “I understand. You go on. we’ll be fine.”

 

“Can I get you anything? Magazines? Newspaper?”

 

“I do need some things from my apartment.”

 

He nodded and had me make a quick list. I handed it to him with my key, and he promised to have the things delivered to me. Tucking the key in his breast pocket, he asked “Anything else?”

 

“No.” An unexpected tension developed in my chest as I realized I was about to be alone in my responsibility for Father. “You have done so much already.”

 

He pressed a business card into my hand. “Keep my phone number handy. Let me know if they give you any trouble.” He grinned. “Believe it or not there is still a person or two around here who is afraid of me.”

 

I smiled. “Is that so? Should that include me?”

 

He looked down at me and a strange expression came into his eyes. After a silence he said softly, “Something tells me you don’t scare easily, Catherine Chandler.” After another silence he looked at Father and then back at me. “If his woman had been more like you, things might have been different now.” As I tried to understand the implications of his statement, he moved to the doorway. ’I’ll come by this evening.” One last time he looked back at me. “You and Vincent, huh?” He shrugged. “You could do worse.” And he was gone.

 

The hours moved slowly as the day dragged into late afternoon. A bag of my personal things arrived, and I gratefully brushed my teeth and changed my clothes. Occasionally a nurse came in to check Father’s vital signs. He awoke once or twice as they spoke to him, but for the most part Father slept soundly, and I had my first taste of hospital boredom. Id forgotten how awful daytime television could be, and the lounge’s magazines were all at least two months old. Father’s doctor came briefly and assured me that Mr. Cramer was doing well. All indications were that my uncle could expect a full recovery, but with a scowl the doctor cautioned me never to let Cramer ignore his health so seriously again. I assured him I would watch Uncle Lloyd carefully from now on.

 

Dr. Evans came during the late evening while Father was sleeping. The doctor had been Below, and he brought me a written message from Vincent. I was certain Vincent had meant the note to be encouraging, but not even his carefully restrained words could conceal the terrible fears which were haunting him. The letter made me want to cry. Finally bedtime came, and I was relieved to have this day come to an end. I fell asleep sending reassuring mental images to Vincent... and trying to imagine the comfort of his embrace and the fragrance of leather and wool.

 

*******

 

The moon was shining in the window when I woke in the middle of the night. My pillow had fallen to the floor and my sheet had slipped, exposing my cheek to the bare vinyl. I could feel the imprint of the plastic on my face. Fumbling for the pillow in the semi-darkness, I became aware of a change in Father’s breathing. His gentle snoring had been replaced by silences, soft gasps and grunts. Immediately I moved from my cot to his side. Small grimaces passed across his face, and the space between his eyes wrinkled.

 

“Father?” I touched his left hand. He didn’t respond but he obviously was no longer in deep sleep. I pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat wearily. Leaning my head back I closed my eyes. I hated hospitals. I hated the sounds, the smells, the boredom...the fear. Ever since Mother died, hospitals had held a special repugnance for me.

 

In many ways being the care-giver was worse than being the patient. Time froze, muffling the differences between day and night, creating a sense of isolation and separation from everything beyond the white walls. My world was narrowing to this room...and to a small chamber deep below the city.

 

Vincent was awake. I was certain of it, although I couldn’t feel him as he could feel me. He would be awake, worrying about his father and thinking of me. If only I could be with him for just a few hours... But I couldn’t violate my promise to him, no matter how much I needed to be in Vincent’s arms. I belonged here at his father’s side, Until Father and I could return to the Tunnels, together.

 

A low sigh broke the silence of my thoughts, and I straightened in my chair. Father was breathing more rapidly. I leaned toward him, watching his face. His mouth opened slightly. Putting a hand on his forehead, I asked, “Father? Can you hear me?”

 

He shuddered beneath my touch, then his voice gasped, “Sick.” Grasping his meaning I rapidly searched the bedside stand in the dim light. Finding the emesis basin, I held it below his chin as he heaved. His empty stomach had nothing to give up, but he spat into the bowl as a fresh wave of nausea convulsed him. I could only imagine the pain the spasms must be causing. “Breathe deep.” I spoke softly, trying to give him reassurance. “Just try to relax. It will pass.” He coughed, then at last his head fell back on the pillow. I took the basin into the bathroom and left it there in case die nurse would want to make note of its contents. Dampening two washcloths, I returned to the bed. Gently I ran a cloth across Father’s forehead and then wiped his lips and chin, carefully cleaning his beard. I asked, “They said you can have some ice. Do you want a piece?”

 

He nodded, and I took a chip from the water pitcher. Slipping the ice between his lips, I folded the second damp cloth and laid it across his brow. As I sank back into the chair, I rested my arm on the bed near Fathers hand. For several moments he let the ice melt between his teeth as his breathing calmed and slowed. I asked softly, “Are you in very much pain?”

 

His ragged breath was my only answer. I checked my watch. The nurse had said not to let the pain mount, and it had been a while since the last morphine had dripped into Fathers IV. I reached across him and pushed the button. The soft chime answered my action. “You should be more comfortable in just a little bit.”

 

Fathers eyes opened slowly and tears escaped to slip down his temples. I lifted the cloth from his forehead and wiped it gently across his eyes. To my surprise, his hand lifted from the sheet, and he grasped my wrist. His weakened voice refused to form words for a moment, but then he murmured softly, “You are so very beautiful.”

 

I pulled back with a start. Perhaps I had misunderstood him. In confusion I pulled my hand from his fingers. The watery eyes sought me in the darkness. “Stay...” He gasped “Please...stay.”

 

“Father...” My thoughts tangled in confusion as I straightened.

 

“It’s...going to be…all right.” His breathing accelerated again. “I...promise you. Your father will...understand.” He paused and whispered, “Margaret, don’t go.”

 

Margaret. I shook my head. Margaret. The anesthetic and the morphine had led Father to another place and time...and another young woman. Father’s hand reached outward, his fingers openly seeking the touch of those long ago times. I sorted through all I knew of his history. Margaret had been Father’s wife for a short time decades ago. Vincent and I had read the letter telling of the annulment, and we had watched Father and Margaret together for those last few days after their reunion. Father had held the failing woman in his arms as she had died. But it was not those final days which Father was reliving in his delirium. The hallucinations he was experiencing now were taken from his youth.

 

“Father...” No, not Father. “Jacob, listen to me. It’s Catherine.” In an attempt to bring him to reality, I took the extended hand. His fingers enclosed mine, and to my dismay he pulled my hand to his lips and I felt the whisper of a kiss upon my palm.

 

With difficulty he rasped, “Promise me...you...will stay.”

 

I resisted the warmth of his breath against my hand and wondered frantically what I should do. I was totally unprepared for his next words. ’I’ll make him...understand. We’ll keep the...” his voice faltered, “the baby. I promise I will take care of you...both.” As he slipped again into unconsciousness, he whispered, “Stay.”

 

Baby. I caught my breath. A baby? Neither Father nor Margaret had ever indicated there had been a pregnancy. I supped my hand from his and sat back in astonishment. Suddenly a pattern emerged. Margaret’s father had taken her to Paris, and what better place would there have been for a wealthy young woman to have an abortion in the early 1950’s? It would explain so many things - Margaret’s deep guilt, her hesitancy to face Jacob again for so many years, and the terrible loss and anger which had driven Father to abandon society. He had lost not only the woman he loved, but a complete family.

 

Pulling the sheet up around Fathers shoulders, I allowed my thoughts to move forward in time. The tragic loss of a child gave new meaning to Father’s response to the tiny abandoned baby which had been brought to him over thirty years ago. Fate had given him a son who desperately needed the love he had never been able to give to Margaret’s child. I remembered Margaret as I had last seen her, dying in the final haven of her loved one’s arms. The years had given Jacob a child, but what had there been for Margaret? She had tasted life and all its possibilities, only to have everything snatched from her by an overbearing and powerful man.

 

Before I had met Vincent, I had been content to live in my father’s shadow and to accept his plans for my life. Feeling my deep kinship with Margaret and my regret at her loss, I whispered silently, “Oh, Margaret. I’m so sorry.” Now I was seeking my own happy life, and I was frightened by the specter of her loss. She and I had dared to seek love outside of the world we had known, but Margaret had lacked the strength to fight for her happiness. I silently promised myself that I would have the fulfillment she had been denied. Learning from her failure, I vowed that I would use her weakness to reinforce my strength. I had no idea what the future would offer Vincent and me...but I knew I could never allow Father or anyone else to rob that future from us.

 

********

 

When he awoke the next morning, Father was more alert; however he made no mention of the conversation we had shared during the night. I tried to help him eat the broth and gelatin on his breakfast tray, but he complained of nausea and we sent the tray back to the kitchen untouched. A doctor visited us briefly to examine Father and to answer his questions. He explained the function of the PCA pump to Father and taught him how to operate it.

 

After a dose of morphine, Father slept much of the morning. He woke up twice and pushed the button each time. Then he dozed in and out of sleep, and it wasn’t Until Benjamin Evans came into the room just before lunch that Father responded with interest. Father had been asleep during all of Evans’s previous visits, and the Black man smiled wickedly when he finally found Father awake. “Well, Jacob. I still like my burgers thick and the buns lightly toasted. Baby green onions and a whole dill pickle on the side.”

 

Father muttered in painful disgust. “What...in the devil’s name...are you talking about?”

 

Evans winked at me. “Chandler here told me you promised me a sack of hamburgers if I got you through surgery alive. I’m hanging around to make sure you don’t croak before I collect.”

 

Father narrowed his eyes at his visitor and replied quietly with a very British obscenity which I never would have expected from his lips.

 

Evans responded with a full-throated laugh, and he dropped his large frame into the chair beside the bed. “Jacob. You haven’t used that phrase since Vincent was born.”

 

Then the Black man softened his expression and said more seriously. “I talked with your doctor. He’s satisfied with your condition.” I sensed relief in Father’s sigh. “You were in bad shape when we brought you here.” Evans motioned toward me. “Do you realize this young lady probably saved your life?” Father glanced at me and then closed his eyes.

 

After a pause, Evans added, “She has been very good to you, Jacob.”

 

Weakly Father responded, “I know that. And I am...grateful.”

 

“Having her here has made this so much easier for Vincent.”

 

The gray eyes opened. “Vincent...is he all right?”

 

“He’s fine. He’s worried about you of course. Concerned that we did the right thing.”

 

Father was silent for a moment, then he whispered, “When can I go home?”

 

Evans held up his hand and waved Father off. “We’ll talk to your doctor about that in a day or two. Right now you just concentrate on getting well.” He looked toward me, not seeing Father’s grimace of pain. “And, Chandler, I want you to take care of yourself too. Hospital life can be hard on the toughest people. Make sure you eat right...get enough rest.” I nodded. I was finding it very easy to like this big man.

 

Silently Father reached over to the button on the bed rail and punched it emitting the soft chime. Evans leaned over and read the dial on the machine. “You’re hitting it a little often, aren’t you?”

 

Father frowned. “I was told it is self-monitoring.”

 

“That’s right.”

 

“Then I fail to see why you should be concerned.”

 

The doctor shrugged. “It’s your button.” Evans had brought a brown package into the room with him. Now he pushed it toward Father. It was bulky and soft. “Here.. thought you could use this.”

 

Father rasped weakly. “What is it?”

 

“Open it.”

 

With a shake of his head Father declined, “Possibly later.”

 

Evans shrugged again, “Suit yourself. But don’t put it off too long. You’re going to need it this afternoon.”

 

The gray eyes looked up. “What will happen this afternoon?”

 

“You walk.”

 

I was not surprised, but Father obviously was. “Walk?” He paused and shifted painfully. “You can’t be serious...I was in surgery twenty-four hours ago.”

 

Evans gave his slow smile. “Welcome to the eighties, Jacob. We walk surgical patients almost immediately now.”

 

Father must have been stronger than I had realized, because I could see him rallying for a confrontation. “That’s barbaric.”

 

The Black doctor shrugged. “That’s progress. If you’d come up out of those Tunnels once in a while, you’d...”

 

Fathers face was beginning to redden, and I interrupted. “Doctor Evans.” These two men reminded me of two old rams about to butt horns. I changed the subject. “Have you seen Vincent since yesterday?”

 

Evans threw me a look that assured me he was in total control as he slid back in his chair. “No, but I’ll be seeing a helper in a couple of hours.”

 

“Could you have another message delivered to him for me?”

 

“You write it, Chandler. I’ll see that he gets it.” He smiled again. “I’ll tell you what. You go to the cafeteria and eat a long slow lunch. Write your letter to Vincent, and I’ll stay here with Jacob.” I glanced nervously from one man to the other. Evans continued, “Don’t worry. I’m bound by the Hippocratic Oath to take good care of him.”

 

“Father?” I sought his consent. His hand waved me away. I asked “Can I bring you anything?” He shook his head, and I left the two men alone.

 

Evans’s gift had been a woolen robe. When I returned, Father was wrapped in it as he sat in the chair at the bedside. The PCA unit had been converted to battery power, and the two men were waiting for me to assist in the walk Father was about to take.

 

********

 

We made an interesting parade. Father leaned on Dr. Evans’s arm as Evans pushed the I.V. standard, and I brought up the rear with the pump. Two other similar groups were walking the halls, and we nodded to each other as we passed. One man was walking alone, pushing his own IV. and I wondered why he was here as he rapidly went around us on his laps of the floor. I discovered later that he was trying to pass a kidney stone of his own before his surgery which was scheduled for the next morning.

 

The walk to the nurses’ station seemed interminable, and at last Father painfully settled into a chair in the hall. He pushed the button on the pump and sighed as the drug dripped into the I.V. line. I was certain only his lack of breath prevented him from telling Evans his opinion of modern medical techniques. Finally he gathered the strength to negotiate the return trip.

 

With relief I assisted Evans as he helped Father back into the bed. With a sigh Father reached for the button at the bedside, but Evans shook his head, “You can push it if you want to, Jacob, but nothing will happen. It’s too soon.”

 

Father winced and lay back. “Modern conveniences.”

 

Evans put his hand on Father’s shoulder. “We can take the edge off the pain, Jacob. We can’t eliminate it completely.”

 

“I know that.” Father took a deep breath and shuddered. “I think I’d like to sleep now.”

 

“That sounds like a good idea.” Evans nodded. I’ll stop by tomorrow. Catherine knows where I am if you want me.” Father closed his eyes.

 

As we moved away from the bed, I gave Evans the letter I had written to Vincent. “Are you sure Father is all right?”

 

He nodded. “Give him a chance to rest. The first time up is usually the hardest. He will walk twice tomorrow, and it will get easier every time.”

 

********

 

After the doctor left Father slept again. In the mid-afternoon he awoke thirsty, and for the first time he was able to drink apple juice without becoming nauseated. As I placed the glass back on his tray he reached for the button on his rail, but it had supped and was out of reach. Quietly I reached across him, leaning over his bed retrieving the cord without looking down at him. As I handed him the control, he looked at me very strangely. He ignored the button, and after a moment I pushed it for him. I sat back down, wondering what had just passed through his mind.

 

His next words surprised me. “Last night...in the dark...” He paused. “It was you, wasn’t it?”

 

“Me?”

 

“I thought I had dreamed it...but just now... when you leaned over me...” His eyes did not leave my face as I straightened. “What did I say to you last night?” he whispered.

 

I pushed a strand of my hair back behind my ear. “What do you remember?”

 

After a moment of silent concentration, he said hesitantly, “I was sick, and somebody washed my face.” He paused. “I thought it was...” His voice faltered as his memory returned. He whispered “I behaved improperly...I...I apologize.”

 

“You have no reason to apologize, Father.” The fingers of my right hand folded in on themselves and rubbed involuntarily across my palm, denying the kiss that had been placed there.

 

Father whispered, “I embarrassed us both... and I am sorry.” Unsure how I should respond, I looked up as an aide came to take away the remains of Father’s lunch. I felt Father watching me anxiously as I gathered the soiled napkins and several empty coffee cups and put them on the tray. After the aide left, Father said softly, “Catherine... about Margaret... If I told you...if I said anything that...” His voice fell away.

 

I interrupted him gently. “Vincent doesn’t know what she did, does he?”

 

Fear flashed through his eyes and after a long pause he slowly shook his head. In a voice so quiet it was almost inaudible he whispered, “Catherine, she had...no choice. You didn’t know her father. He... controlled her.” He paused weakly. “I wouldn’t want you to...think less of her.”

 

I sat down near him. “Father.” His hand was lying at his side, and I was tempted to touch it, but I did not. “Remember that I met her. She was a lovely and gracious lady who loved you very much. I know she would never have chosen to hurt you.” I paused. “It must have broken her heart.” I thought again of the young girl, in love, pregnant, cruelly separated from the man she loved, and forced to deny both her husband and her child. I continued. “Father, everything you said to me last night was confidential. Even from Vincent, if you want it that way. I agree with you that telling Vincent about the abortion would only cause him pain, and there would be no reason why he should know.” I paused. “You were dreaming and hallucinating. I would never repeat anything I heard under those conditions.”

 

He sighed deeply with relief. “Thank you, Catherine.”

 

Suddenly I felt very hurt by his distrust...by his concern that I would divulge his most personal secrets. I had done nothing that could justify his lack of faith in me. Yet, he seemed to believe I was using him and his son in some terrible scheme. I finally asked, “Father, I want only what is best for you and Vincent…and all your people. How can I convince you that you can trust me?”

 

His face was pale as he closed his eyes. After a long pause he spoke. “Catherine, I have told you before...my feelings about you are not personal.”

 

“But they affect me personally. They form an obstacle between Vincent and me and the joy we take in each other.”

 

He was obviously tiring. As important as this conversation had become, I knew it could not go on much longer. “I promise you I will never leave him...or cause him pain.” Remembering the greatest pain in Fathers life, I finally touched his hand. “Father, don’t expect me to repeat Margaret’s mistakes.”

 

His gray eyes looked into my face, and I watched a tear trail down his temple. For a long moment he lay very still, then his lips trembled as he said in a half-sob, “She was beautiful, Catherine.”

 

I squeezed the weathered fingers beneath my touch and I whispered, “I know.” And I held his hand until he fell asleep.

 

********

 

That night I was so tired that I expected to sleep more soundly. The vinyl cushions had actually begun to feel comfortable, and I had acquired two extra pillows. Hospital life was beginning to assume a routine, and I no longer had to ask my way around..or wait for permission to do the things which I knew would make Father and me more comfortable.

 

All the lights had been dimmed and the halls had become hushed and still. I was grateful for the room Evans had chosen for us. Located at the far end of the hall, it was the quietest and most isolated room on the floor. Father had slept through the evening meal, and he showed every indication of sleeping all night. After watching the news on Fathers television, I gathered my blankets and pillows about me on the cot. This was the hour when I missed Vincent the most. The late evening was our time together, when darkness gave us safety and security. Warming my heart with the memory of Vincent’s eyes, I lay in the silence and finally went to sleep myself.

 

********

 

My dreams were laced with images of Tunnel people dressed in white uniforms. Two worlds merged into one as I entered Father’s study and found it had become an operating room. The pipes no longer vibrated with tapping sounds; they chimed softly sounding exactly like Fathers PCA pump. The only person in my dream who was not dressed in white was Benjamin Evans. He was fully outfitted in Tunnel garb, except for outrageously large diamond rings on both hands. Conspicuously absent from my dream was Vincent. Slowly the whole dream evolved into a search for him, with Father’s hands holding me back.

 

Suddenly Vincent’s shadow brought me back from my search, and I teetered between sleep and reality. Opening my eyes, I thought I must still be dreaming as I saw the huge dark figure bending over Father. I must have gasped, because the figure turned toward me and I was startled into full wakefulness by the concerned blue eyes. Vincent put his finger to his lips and cautioned me to be silent.

 

Without hesitation I threw off the blankets and ran into his arms. As his caress closed around me, nothing was as important as the feel and the fragrance of him. I buried my face against his chest, but then I remembered where we were, and I pulled back in fear. I whispered, “Vincent, you shouldn’t be here. It’s too dangerous. What if somebody sees you?”

 

“I had to come, Catherine. The last two days have been unbearable. Not knowing...”

 

Taking his hand, I murmured, “I wanted to come to you so badly, but all I could do was send notes.” I hugged him again. “I tried to tell you everything was all right.”

 

He nodded. “I know.” Almost apologetically, he explained “But I had to see for myself.” He turned his gaze back to Father. “He’s so still.” Vincent’s eyes traced the path of the IV tube, and then his look settled on his father’s white face.

 

“He’s fine. He has had some discomfort, but they are controlling it with morphine. He walked yesterday.”

 

“Walked?” He indicated the tubes and the I.V. standard.

 

I smiled. “I told Father he had an entourage. Dr. Evans steered Father while I pushed the machine.”

 

For the first time Vincent smiled. “Doctor Evans has been a good friend.” He paused. “Catherine, how can I thank you? I had no right to ask so much of you.”

 

“I wanted to be here.” I hugged him tighter. My memories went back to the time I had been a patient in this same hospital. I murmured, “You were here for me.”

 

His hand supped to the place on my back where the bullet had left a scar. “I almost lost you that night. When I think...”

 

I put my finger to his lips and shook my head. After a silent moment with an old memory, I whispered, “The morning after you came, I wasn’t certain you had really been here. I could remember dreaming...about ice cream...but then I found the rose.” I brought my hand to his face and traced the lines of fatigue and worry around his eyes. “Are you all right?” I paused thinking how difficult it must be to wait alone Below. “I should have come to you.”

 

“No.” He shook his head. “If Father were to wake up afraid and alone...or if something happened.” His big hand gently pressed my head close to his breast. “The last time he came Above...if it had not been for you...” He was silent a moment, then he said very softly, “Catherine, you have saved his life again. I am certain he did not expect to survive this operation.”

 

Now I understood why it had been so difficult for Vincent to let Father come Above. “You knew about his own father...how he died?”

 

Vincent nodded once. “I discovered his fear of surgery when he broke his hip. He told me then that his father had died on the operating table. Father’s recovery after his fall would have been so much easier if he would have consented to surgery, but he would not even consider it.” He paused. “He would not come Above then...and he was furious with me when I suggested it this time.”

 

“Vincent, he had no choice.”

 

I could hardly hear his response. “I know that.”

 

I pulled back from him and looked into his eyes, but before I could answer, our attention was abruptly directed to Father. Perhaps he had heard our voices, or maybe he had been dreaming, but something had torn him from his peaceful sleep. “Vincent,” he lifted his head, “Vin...” Suddenly his left arm jerked to his chest pulling the intravenous tube with it. Instandy his breathing became a frightening wheeze as his head came up off the pillow. Straining in a series of ineffectual pants, his body tightened in a shuddering spasm. The alarm on the standard activated, and the whole room filled with a high-pitched squeal. Vincent recoiled in my arms and gasped Fathers name. I could feel fear wash across him, paralyzing him in helpless panic. “Vincent,” I grasped his shoulders. “The nurses will be coming. You’ve got to hide.”

 

“Father!” He cried again, and his hand reached out to take the man’s arm.

 

I pulled at Vincent, terrified for both of them. “He’ll be all right.” But Father was fighting for breath, and the alarm pierced the silence of the night so sharply that I shared Vincent’s panic. Glancing at the closed door of the room I knew it would swing open within seconds.

 

“Vincent, you have to hide!” My eyes searched the room. “How did you get in here?” Vincent was riveted in his place. “Vincent!” I grasped his sleeve, trying to get him to look at me. “Listen to me. You can’t stay here.” At last he looked at me. I asked again, “How did you get in here?”

 

“The window.” He released Father’s arm. “There is a ledge and a fire escape.”

 

Pulling him from the bedside I pleaded, “Wait for me on the fire escape. I will come to you as soon as I can.”

 

“But Father...”

 

“There is nothing you can do. The nurses will take care of him.” I held the blinds back as he seated himself on the windowsill and swung his legs outside. At that instant the door opened, flooding the room with the light from the hall. I dropped the Venetian blinds back into place and spun around to greet the nurse. Vincent’s breathing could still be heard on the other side of the shades. In an attempt to cover the sound I said too loudly, “Thank goodness you came.” The nurse was already bending over Father as her free hand switched off the alarm. I continued “He was just fine, but then he suddenly started thrashing around in his bed.” I knew I had given no explanation for my presence at the window, but her full attention was on Father.

 

She spoke into the intercom as she put a stethoscope to Father’s chest. “Room 457. Patient is in respiratory distress. I need a doctor, stat.” She took Father’s blood pressure and did not even look up as another nurse and an aide rushed into the room.

 

By this time Father’s face was colorless and his eyes were staring sightlessly at the ceiling as he struggled for air. I heard the nurse say something about morphine. She was on the intercom again telling the nurses’ station that the doctor would probably be ordering a Narcon injection. The second nurse was working with Fathers IV. when she realized I was still in the room.

 

“Miss Chandler. Would you step outside, please?”

 

I tried to control my voice. “Will he be all right? What is it?”

 

“Outside, please.” This time she did not phrase it as a question.

 

Gathering my purse, I snatched a quick look at the window. Silence greeted me, but I could almost feel Vincent huddled outside on the fire escape. Torn between my urgent concern for Father and the need to give Vincent reassurance, I left the room just as a man in a white coat was entering.

 

As I stood in the hall I could hear some of the conversation inside the room, then another nurse passed me and she pulled the door shut behind her. The silence was frightening. Father had been recovering so well. All our fears had centered around the operation itself, and I had not allowed myself to consider the possibility of a relapse. For a moment I thought of going to Vincent, but I knew he needed me here. I could do nothing except wait for someone to come tell me what was happening.

 

Several people came and went, but none of them would answer my questions. I paced the hall outside Father’s door trying to remain calm and trying not to think of Fathers face as he had strained for breath. I sensed his son’s helpless terror, and I wondered where Vincent was. In his fear he could be taking unnecessary risks. If he were to be seen on the fire escape.. prayed for the cover of darkness for him. And I watched the door of Father’s room.

 

At last one of the nurses came out looking relieved, and I no longer detected a sense of urgency in the room. Much later, the doctor himself emerged carrying a chart. He wrote on the page briefly, then he looked up and saw me.

 

Coming toward me he asked, “Are you a family member?”

 

“I am his niece.” The lie was becoming easy.

 

“Good.” He tucked the chart under his arm and removed his stethoscope.

 

I held my breath. “How is he?”

 

He nodded. “He’ll be all right.”

 

“What happened to him?” I tried to control my voice.

 

His answer came with aggravating slowness. “He had an adverse reaction to the morphine.”

 

“The morphine. But the doctor said that that machine...”

 

“Let me explain, Miss...”

 

Chandler. Catherine Chandler.”

 

“Miss Chandler. The machine had nothing to do with it. This same thing would have happened if the nurses had been administering the prescribed dosage.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

He sighed. “Come with me to the nurses’ station.” As I fell into step with him he continued. “Mr. Cramer’s records are incomplete.”

 

I nodded. “He is from out of town. I didn’t know where to send for his records.”

 

At the station he looked down at me. “How old is he?”

 

“I don’t know. Is that important?”

 

He wrote on the chart, then he read for a moment. At last he asked. “And he has not previously been taking any medication?”

 

“Not that I know of. Why?”

 

Putting down the pen, he looked at me. “Apparently your uncle’s body has not been processing the morphine properly.” He paused. “In effect, his system has been stockpiling the drug...allowing it to accumulate Until it reached dangerous levels.”

 

“He overdosed.”

 

He frowned. “Under normal circumstances...” He interrupted himself and continued slowly. “Tolerance for narcotics is unpredictable at best. Without records of your uncle’s medical history we were unfortunately unable to foresee this complication.”

 

Fearfully I asked, “And now?”

 

He laid Fathers chart on the counter. “I have given him an injection which has reversed the adverse effects of the morphine. I’m sure his doctor of record will prescribe a different analgesic as soon as we are satisfied that he has stabilized.”

 

I glanced back toward Father’s room. “How is he right now?”

 

“He’s responding well. I’ll have him closely monitored for the next few hours, but I don’t believe you have to be concerned.”

 

“May I go back in now?”

 

He nodded. “There’ll be a nurse in the room for the rest of the night.” After a pause he asked, “You’ve been sleeping in his room?”

 

“Yes.” I bristled, ready to defend my rights, but it was unnecessary.

 

He continued. “Use this opportunity to get some sleep. You look like you need it.” After saying something softly to the nurse at the desk he turned away from me, and I hurried back to Father.

 

Inside the room I found everything had returned to normal, except that the pump was gone. Father was sleeping peacefully, his chest rising and falling in a steady reassuring rhythm. A nurse was recording his vital signs, and she looked up as I entered. A brief conversation with her restored my confidence. Moments later I excused myself telling her I would return.

 

*********

 

I could not even remember the elevator ride down to the ground floor as I raced through the main lobby and out the front door. Turning to the right, I ducked into the shadows of the hedges and trees. Then, running the full length of the building, I moved around the corner at its far end. Searching for the fire escape, I clung to the brick wall as I passed in the nearly total darkness under the heavy shrubbery. Suddenly I was brought up short by a touch on my shoulder. Wheeling around blindly, I fell into Vincent’s strong arms and felt the fear surging through him.

 

“Vincent.” I gasped for breath. “He’s all right. He’s all right.”

 

He held me away from him as his eyes searched my face. “Catherine, are you certain?”

 

“Yes.” I nodded vigorously. “It was a reaction to the morphine. They gave him an antidote of some kind and he responded well. He’s out of danger.”

 

Releasing his grip on my arms, he turned his face toward the wall and leaned his great bulk against the building. I went to him wrapping my arms around him. Pressing my face against his back I gave him time to recover.

 

His heart was racing so powerfully that I could detect his pulse even through all the layers of his clothing. We said nothing, but at last he turned in my embrace, and his knees bent as he took me to the ground with him. He rested his back against the wall and pulled me against his chest.

 

I asked softly. “Are you all right?”

 

“Catherine,” he whispered. “I thought it was his heart...I thought he was dying.”

 

“I know you did.” I lifted my hand to rest against his cheek. “I had the same fear.”

 

“Without him...”

 

“Shhhh.” My fingers touched his lips. “It’s over now.”

 

He looked up toward the windows above us. Afraid that he would try to return to the room, I cautioned him, “A nurse has been assigned to stay with him all night. You mustn’t try to see him.”

 

“No.” As he lowered his face, his hair fell about me, separating me from the rest of the world, enclosing me in his very essence, creating the only place where my heart was at home.

 

A great shudder passed through his frame, and I pressed more tightly against him. “Vincent, he’s going to be all right. I’ll bring him home to you just as soon as I can.”

 

His warm breath came more slowly now, calmer. After a long silence, he whispered, “I have felt many different emotions in you. I felt your apprehensions...your fears.”

 

“I tried to control them. I didn’t want to worry you.”

 

He shook his head. “I have been so open to you...” He began again. “I need to feel you. My connection with you is the only thing that makes the waiting endurable.”

 

After a moment, I sensed his thoughts focusing on a new concern. As he lifted his eyes slowly to look at me, his tears glittered in the darkness. “Catherine, when I told him I was sending him to a hospital Above, he was so angry...he said terrible things. He accused me of...”

 

I put my fingers to his lips again. “Don’t say it. He was afraid and in pain. He didn’t mean the things he said.”

 

Vincent trembled beneath my touch. “If he had died...with those words being the last ever spoken between us...Catherine, how could I have lived with that?” He caught his breath, trying to smother a sob. My heart went out to him as I took his face in both my hands. Refusing to meet my eyes, he whispered, “Catherine, is he still angry with me?”

 

“Oh, Vincent.” I pulled his head down to my shoulder and stroked his flaxen hair. It seemed impossible that a being of such power and strength could be so vulnerable and fragile. I wanted to hold him and take away everything in his life that wasn’t good and beautiful. At this moment he was a frightened child, suffering in the midst of his parent’s disapproval.

 

I rested my lips against the tangled softness of his hair. “Vincent, you did the right thing.” Holding him tightly, I let my fingers smooth the golden strands Until finally my touch settled to the back of his neck. I massaged the tension I found there, feeling him relax in my embrace. After a long silence, I whispered, “He had to come Above or he would have died. He knows that. Do you?”

 

I waited Until he nodded reluctantly, then I continued. “At first he was very unhappy with us both...but after the surgery....” I smiled. “You should have seen him and Ben Evans bickering with each other. Vincent, I never heard anyone talk like that to Father before. And Father let him.”

 

He sighed and lifted his head. “Father and Ben share a very long and outspoken friendship.”

 

“It’s wonderful to see them together. Dr. Evans brings out a part of Father I have never seen before. Vincent,” I paused. “Father cursed!”

 

I felt a hint of a chuckle deep in his chest as he replied, “A purely British profanity.”

 

My eyebrows rose and “I leaned back to look at him. “Yes, but how did you know?”

 

“I have heard him occasionally...when he thought he was alone and the provocation was sufficient.” He looked at me with his head tilted. “But I cannot imagine he allowed it to happen in your presence.”

 

Touching his face again, I smoothed away the last remnants of his tears. I hesitated, considering other lapses Father had experienced in my presence. A barrier had stood between himself and me. But now great chinks had opened in that barrier, and I had glimpsed the hidden man who shielded himself behind the patriarchy he had so carefully created. With a feeling of reverence, I realized I now shared secrets with Father that could not be told even to Vincent.

 

I shifted so that my head rested against Vincent’s vest. “I feel like I am beginning to know Father...for the very first time.” After a pause, I added, “We have never had to spend so much time together before.”

 

“Catherine,” he rasped. ’I’m sorry.”

 

“Sorry?” I asked. “What do you have to be sorry for?”

 

“I have asked you to assume such a great responsibility.”

 

Shaking my head quietly I said “No, Vincent.” I paused in thought, and I made a discovery about myself. “When you first asked me to watch over him I wanted to do this...for you.” I took his hand and held it tightly. “But as time goes on...” I brought his hand against my face. “As time goes on, I’m finding I am doing it for Father and for myself.” I paused. ’I’m beginning to understand him better. His life has been more complicated than we know.” I looked up into his eyes. “Vincent I want to be there…for him.”

 

A warmth filled his gaze, and he gave a sigh. Removing his hand from my grasp, he wrapped both arms around me, and together we sat Until the glow in the eastern sky forced him to seek the shelter of home.

 

********

 

When I reentered the hospital room just before dawn, I found Father remarkably improved. He slept while the nurse explained that the Narcon had given him almost instant relief, and that he would probably have no aftereffects except for sore ribs and a tenderness across his midsection. A short time later Father’s doctor appeared, and the nurse was relieved from her watch. The doctor examined Father quickly and assured me there was no reason to expect any further complications.

 

Later that morning, Father and I were alone when I awoke from a nap feeling his eyes upon me. With a weak smile I greeted him. “Good morning.” I leaned over and placed my hand on his arm. “How are you?”

 

He bunked at me and frowned slightly. With effort he formed a word, but the sound from his throat was hoarse and uncooperative. I reached for the water glass, lifted his head, and tilted the glass against his lips. He sipped and then waved the drink away. “Enough.”

 

I said softly, “You gave us a big scare last night. Do you remember?”

 

He nodded once. “What happened to me?”

 

“You reacted badly to the morphine. They gave you an antidote.”

 

He closed his eyes and said almost automatically. “Narcon.”

 

For some reason I was surprised at his professional assessment. “That’s right. The doctor said you should be all right now.”

 

After a long pause he opened his eyes and looked at me. “Vincent was here.”

 

I glanced toward the empty hall beyond the door. With a nod I replied softly. “Yes.”

 

He frowned urgently. “It’s too dangerous...he...”

 

“Father,” I put my hand on his arm again. “He’s safe. He went home before dawn, and nobody saw him.”

 

With an attempt at authority, he shook his head. “He must stay away.”

 

I squeezed his arm gently. “He knows that. He promised me he won’t try to come again.”

 

He asked more calmly, “You’re certain he is all right.”

 

I’m certain.” His blanket had slipped to one side, and I pulled it back into place. “He won’t relax Until you’re home, but he is all right.”

 

At last he rested calmly against the pillows. His eyes followed me as I finished adjusting his covers. I gestured toward his breakfast tray which had been left at his bedside. “Are you hungry?”

 

He considered the question and finally nodded. “Yes.” He seemed surprised. “Yes. I believe I am.”

 

********

 

The rest of the day brought a series of pleasant surprises as Father’s strength returned with his appetite. He sat up in a chair much of the morning and he complained when Ben Evans had to cut his afternoon visit short. We walked the halls together twice. Then late in the evening Dr. Evans returned. He was visiting with us when Father’s doctor entered the room.

 

After a brief review of Fathers chart the doctor looked up at his patient. “Well, Mr. Cramer. Barring any unexpected developments, I believe you can go home tomorrow.”

 

“Tomorrow.” Father’s eyes widened.

 

Evans grinned wickedly. “What was it you were complaining about the other day? Something about barbaric theories in modern medicine?”

 

Fathers doctor glanced up. “There will be someone who can look after you at home? I wouldn’t want you being alone for the next few days.”

 

I smiled. “He has someone, doctor. I can promise you he will have excellent care.”

 

The physician nodded. “Good.” He closed the folder. “I think you can plan on checking out tomorrow afternoon.”

 

Father lay back with a look of intense relief on his face.

 

Dr. Evans and Vincent had already made plans for Father’s return to the Tunnels. Because the park entrance was too public, they had decided I should drive Father to an abandoned warehouse near the East River. The warehouse was the site of a large freight elevator which led Below. Once inside the building, we could take our time, and Father’s trip could be made smoothly and privately.

 

A note detailing the final plans was delivered to the hospital just before bedtime, and Father nodded his approval as he scanned the page. Removing his reading glasses, he closed his eyes and sighed. “It will be good to go home.” A nurse brought him a pain pill and readied him for the night. On her way out she switched off the overhead light, leaving only a small bulb glowing over the head of Father’s bed. The result was a dimly lit room, not unlike the Tunnels.

 

After she left, I retrieved my bedding from the corner and began to make up my cot for the last time. Quietly Father suggested “You could go home, Catherine. There’s no reason for you to sleep here tonight.”

 

I continued to work with the blankets while I shook my head. “No. I promised Vincent I would stay.”

 

“It truly isn’t necessary.”

 

“I know.” I paused. “But I think I would rather be here.”

 

Glancing up moments later, I was surprised to find a very gentle and paternal expression in his eyes as he watched me. I smiled at him as I straightened. Tilting my head, I asked, “What are you thinking?”

 

He snatched his gaze away almost like an embarrassed school boy. With a hint of being flustered, he murmured “It was nothing.”

 

I asked, “You were looking at me so strangely.”

 

After a silence, the gray eyes returned to mine and he said softly, “For a moment...for just an instant...” He cleared his throat and put his reading glasses on the table at his bedside. I waited. He seemed about to say something, but then he changed his mind. His words did not express his original thought. “Your father must be…very proud of you.”

 

“Thank you, Father.” His compliment was unexpected. I paused briefly before I probed for that original thought. “But that is not what you were about to say.”

 

“No,” he admitted. I waited again. “I...” He sighed deeply. “Catherine, for just an instant...” With difficulty he continued, “I saw you…as Vincent must see you.”

 

Surprised, I asked, “I don’t understand.”

 

He replied gently, “You are a remarkable woman. You have been patient...and forbearing.” After a pause he added “I have not been an especially...amiable patient.” If he expected me to argue with him, I didn’t. He continued with his eyes downcast. “Ben told me you have assumed full financial responsibility for my medical bills.” The gray eyes lifted to mine. “You know I cannot possibly repay you.”

 

“Father, we don’t keep ledgers on each other. You have taught your people to help one another...to share what they have without thought of repayment.” I paused. “You and Vincent saved my life. I could never pay you for what you have done for me, and for what Vincent has meant to me.” I smiled. “I am just grateful that my money has been useful.” Then I stopped smiling as a more somber thought came to mind. “There have been times when I wondered...”

 

Father waited a moment, then prodded, “What have you wondered, Catherine?”

 

I hesitated to change the comfortable nature of our conversation, but I still had questions which remained unanswered. “I have wondered if my...financial situation...” I had difficulty choosing the right words “...if my social position...” With a guarded breath, I asked, “Would it have been easier for you to accept my...relationship with Vincent if I had been less...comfortable?” I waited for him to respond, but he just looked away from me, fingering the blanket across his chest. At last I added “I know Margaret was extremely wealthy. And I thought...” My voice faltered, and I felt very self-conscious.

 

For a moment Father frowned severely and he seemed deeply disturbed. I wondered if I had offended him, and finally I whispered, I’m sorry if I said something I shouldn’t have.”

 

“No.” His weathered fingers passed over his hair and he sighed heavily. “No. That isn’t it at all, Catherine.” He continued, “Your question is a valid one, and it touches upon...thoughts I have had recently.” He coughed once and cleared his throat. I’ve been considering something you said to me “

 

“Something I said?”

 

He continued hesitantly. “I believe your words were...” He paused. “You cautioned me not to. compare you with...”

 

“I told you not to expect me to repeat Margaret’s mistakes.”

 

“Yes.” He nodded and looked away from me. “Exactly.” I waited for him to continue. “Catherine, I loved her...so fiercely…she filled my life. She was the reason for everything I did...everything I was...everything I wanted to become. And when she left...” He amended, “When her father took her...” For a moment I thought he could not possibly continue, but at last his voice resumed almost inaudibly. “There was nothing.” He turned his eyes slowly toward me. As he spoke, his voice broke. Coughing softly, he reached for a drink of water. After putting the glass down he asked quietly, “Catherine, have you read Swinburne?”

 

Puzzled I answered. “Not enough to be familiar with him.”

 

His gaze went beyond me toward the window. “It was Swinburne who said ’At the door of life...by the gate of breath, there are worse things waiting for men than death.”

 

I felt the sting of hot tears. “Father,” I whispered “you don’t have to tell me this.”

 

“No, Catherine. Somehow I want.. need...to tell you these things. You deserve to know.” He reflected a moment and then resumed solemnly. “If it had not been for the Tunnels...for the few good people who were already there...” He sighed deeply, and his voice continued with more strength. “I was brought to them.” He finally looked at me. “At first I just went through the...motions of living. Day by day. Pascal’s father found things for me to do...things he insisted were essential...to the community.” With a sigh, he continued. “And at the end of a year... Well...” He massaged the bridge of his nose. “By the end of a year I faced the...possibility that I might live.” He looked deeply into my eyes. “I had made a pact with Pascal, you see.”

 

“A pact?” I had a suspicion of what it had been.

 

He nodded. “I promised him...because I admired him and valued his counsel...I promised him...” His voice broke again. “I promised I would wait...a full year...before I...”

 

Stunned, I shook my head. “Father, you value life too dearly. You would never have been able to end anyone’s life...not even your own.”

 

“Oh, yes, Catherine.” He nodded. “You were not there. You could not know the depths of...despair...the hopeless misery.”

 

“But you lived.”

 

He nodded “I did.” At last his expression softened. “And a few years later I found a new reason to take joy in life.”

 

“Vincent.”

 

Finally his tired eyes smiled. “He was a miracle. Even at the very first, when he cried so uncontrollably...when no one thought he would live.. loved him even then.” Father’s eyes misted with old memories. “He had a way of burrowing under my vest or sweater as I held him. And later...when the crying was over, he would look at me with those huge blue eyes and I would see such total faith and trust in them.” Father shook his head in wonder. “Pascal said Vincent was the only being in the world who thought I was perfect.”

 

I smiled. “In many ways he still does, Father.”

 

“Because he sees me from his own perspective. Vincent hunts for the best in everyone. Somehow in spite of all the injustices he has endured...he still believes in beauty and goodness...” After a hesitation Father sighed heavily. “And so...after I began to believe he would live...I knew that I must live too. And somehow...everything that had happened to me began to have a purpose, a value. My loss…all the pain...had led me to that miracle child, and I was the only one who could create a place for him...a place where he and all the other cast-off children could grow and thrive.”

 

“And you became Father to them all.”

 

“Yes.” He looked at me carefully. “He justifies it all, Catherine. His life gave me the ability to accept all the suffering...to forgive all the hurt.”

 

I touched Father’s hand. “Even Margaret.”

 

He flexed his hand slightly. “Especially Margaret.” He continued hesitantly. “Catherine, I have never spoken of this to anyone…not even Vincent.” In silence, I waited for him to go on. His voice trembled as he whispered, “All those years...for over thirty- five years…she lived with the conviction that I would be unable to forgive her for...denying life to our child. And possibly...in the deepest part of me...I wasn’t certain.” He looked into my eyes and his hand turned under mine Until he held my fingers. “And then...you gave her back to me, Catherine. If it had not been for you...” With a tremor he whispered, “Because of you we had those last seven days, and all the hurt was forgiven. I can never adequately thank you for what you did for her...and for me.” He looked away, “When I think how ungrateful I must have sounded...there on the steps to the subway...and all the times since then.”

 

I did not answer.

 

Father closed his eyes. After a long silence he said, “He loves you...in much the same way I loved her.” He looked back at me. “That is what frightens me so much, and that is why I am telling you this. I want you to know why I feel so strongly. If you know what I went through, perhaps you will be able to understand why I would do anything to shield Vincent from the pain I endured.”

 

Disappointment swept through me. I had hoped he had finally accepted my role in Vincent’s life. Pulling my hand from his, I pleaded, “Father, you can trust me.”

 

“I believe that now, Catherine. But you must understand there are other factors involved...things only Vincent can tell you. But beyond those...” He paused. “I believe you would not hurt him intentionally, but I also believe that the relationship between you and Vincent cannot help but result in heartbreak and disaster.”

 

I shook my head, feeling my chin tremble. “No.”

 

I’m sorry, Catherine. I am truly sorry. You have been so good to us both. You deserve happiness.” His eyes misted again.

 

Lifting my chin defensively I fought back my tears. “I won’t give him up..not unless Vincent himself asks me to.”

 

He nodded. “I think I know that now.” He reached for my hand as it rested in my lap. “I am not your enemy, Catherine. Please believe that I care for you both. I want what is best for you...both.”

 

“Then, Father...you have to give Vincent and me the freedom to discover what is best for us...together.”

 

His gaze fell upon our clasped hands, and he did not answer.

 

I continued “I know you want to protect Vincent...”

 

He interrupted “I want to protect both of you.”

 

With a nod I whispered, “I believe you. But, Father, as painful as your relationship with Margaret was, it was your choice to be with her. You had the opportunity to make your own decisions and your own mistakes. And you grew from it. You used your past to build a future for Vincent and all the others. Your wisdom built the foundations of your society, and that wisdom is the result of all the experiences you have had...good and bad.” I paused. “But now you want to deny Vincent his right to live his own life. Trust him, Father. Let him go.”

 

He whispered an echo. “Let him go.”

 

“You have taught him well, Father. Believe in him.” Still holding his hand, I pleaded, “He won’t disappoint you...he already has such great strength. But he needs your approval.”

 

I sighed. “You can’t imagine how difficult it was for him to send you Above for this surgery. His opposition to your instructions saved your life...but still...” My eyes met Father’s. “Last night he asked me if you were still angry with him.”

 

Father released a great breath. “Angry?” His fingers tightened over mine. “Is that what he has been thinking all this time?” I nodded. The gray head shook slowly. “I added that burden...to everything else he has had to endure.” He looked at me sadly. “And you call me wise.”

 

“You are, Father.” With a gentle smile I added, “You are also human...and no matter what Vincent thinks, none of us is perfect.”

 

His free hand came to my face and he lifted my chin with one finger. Traces of a smile flickered through his eyes as he asked, “How did you come to be so wise, Catherine? You are so young…Where have you found your wisdom?”

 

I leaned my cheek into his hand and shook my head. “It’s not wisdom Father. I just try to follow my heart.”

 

His smile deepened, and I could almost see Vincent in his eyes. Softly he said, “It always comes back to him, doesn’t it?”

 

“It has to, Father. For me there isn’t anything else.”

 

He nodded wearily. “I know. I may not approve...but I am trying to understand.”

 

I lightly traced his aging knuckles. “Father, Until now, you and I have had so little in common...except that we both love Vincent.” I looked up. “I am grateful for these past few days we have shared.”

 

“Catherine...” His eyes had grown heavy, and I glanced at the clock by his bed. The hour was very late. I pulled my hand from his and switched off the light over his head. As I stood he took my hand one more time. “Catherine. In one aspect, I can happily compare you with Margaret.” He whispered. “You are both very beautiful.”

 

I felt a quiver in my chin as I kissed his forehead gently. And within moments he was asleep.

 

********

 

“Father, are you sure you want to go in my passenger car? I could easily rent the van again.” I pulled open another drawer, making certain I had forgotten nothing.

 

Father watched me as I packed the few things we had accumulated. “Nonsense. I am perfectly capable of sitting in a car seat.” Fully dressed he sat up straighter in the bedside chair, as if to prove his point.

 

“All right,” I acceded. “But promise me you will not argue with Vincent when we get Below. He’ll be waiting with a stretcher. He said it’s a very long walk from the warehouse elevator to your chamber, and we all agree you should be carried.” I latched the suitcase and set it on the floor. Father opened his mouth to reply, and I interrupted him, “Vincent will finally have an opportunity to help you...don’t deprive him of the pleasure.”

 

He closed his mouth and sighed. “Very well. But just this once. I will not be mollycoddled and treated as an invalid.”

 

With a smile, I watched him rub the handle of the cane he held between his knees. He had insisted that Evans bring the cane to him along with his suit, shoes, and tie, and I suspected Father felt the stick gave him style and flair. Shaking my head I cautioned, “You had major surgery four days ago. This is not the time to try to impress everyone with your physical fortitude.”

 

He gave me the very same look my own father had given me when I had made Dad go home from the office with the flu.

 

His reply was silenced by Ben Evans’s arrival. “All signed out and ready to go.” Evans was followed immediately by an aide with a wheelchair. “Hop in, ...Lloyd.” He grinned and motioned toward the chair.

 

Father looked at me with an appeal in his eyes, but I leveled a stare at him. Docilely, he climbed into the chair. He had abandoned the cane when he needed both hands to rise from the bedside chair, and I picked it up. “There is something about a cane,” I said as I polished it a bit more. I handed it to him and grinned. “It gives even the wisest and most conservative man a touch of panache.”

 

*********

 

The afternoon sun was shining brightly as Father, Dr. Evans, and I drove up to the warehouse door. I had expected Vincent to wait for us at the bottom of the elevator shaft, but when I drove through the wide doors, I saw him inside with several young tunnel dwellers. Almost before the car stopped, Vincent snatched open the passenger door and knelt on one knee within Father’s reach. Neither of them spoke as Father smoothed his son’s heavy hair back from his face and looked into the brilliant blue eyes. Then after a long moment, the older man leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss upon the concerned brow.

 

Sometime later, Mary and I were waiting in the study when Dr. Evans emerged from Father’s private bed chamber. Seating himself the doctor accepted a cup of tea He must have seen my eyes as I looked expectantly toward Father’s chamber. With a slight nod, he explained, “Vincent will be out in a minute. Jacob chased me out. When I tried to get him to sleep, he said he needed to talk with Vincent alone.”

 

Several minutes later, Vincent returned to us, tucking something into the pocket of his tunic and looking very relieved and grateful.

 

“Is he okay?” I asked.

 

He nodded and took my arm as he extended his right hand to Dr. Evans. “Benjamin,” he clasped the doctors hand and hesitated “...there is no adequate way to thank you for what you have done for us.”

 

Evans’s dark face spread into a slow smile. “Did Jacob tell you to say that?”

 

Vincent tilted his head and his eyes sparkled. “No.” He smiled with mischief. “Actually he told me to tell you that ’there is no need for you to wait around for him to croak anymore.”

 

Mary’s kind face recoiled in horror, but Evans gave a hearty laugh. “Well, I knew all along he was too ornery to die.” He put down his tea. “Do you think he’ll let me come back in now and form my own opinion?”

 

“I believe so.”

 

Evans motioned to Mary and the two of them returned to the private chamber. Vincent’s hand slid from my arm and took my hand sending a pleasant tingle through me. “I’ll walk you back to your car, Catherine. I don’t want you going back to the warehouse alone.”

 

Glancing toward Fathers chamber, I said, “I haven’t had a chance to say goodbye.” I hesitated. “Do you think it’d be all right if I drove my car home, and then came down through the sub-basement to spend the evening here?”

 

He gazed down at me. “I was about to suggest it.”

 

I smiled and we left the study together.

 

We walked Until we were beyond the living chambers. When we were alone, I squeezed Vincent’s hand and looked up at him. I was surprised to see his eyes twinkling with good humor. Unable to contain my curiosity, I asked, “Dr. Evans said Father refused to rest just now Until he had spoken with you privately. Can you tell me what he said?”

 

Vincent’s hand returned my squeeze. Then he released my hand, and his arm came up across my shoulders, pulling me closer to him as we continued walking. He answered softly, “He called me in to ’correct some of my misconceptions’.”

 

“I don’t understand.”

 

“He said it’s time for me to become more realistic in my expectations of him.” Only half-seriously, he asked, “Catherine, where did he get the idea that I expect him to be perfect?”

 

I smiled. “Can I assume that we are forgiven for taking him Above?”

 

“He asked me not to make a habit of defying him...but in this case, it’s possible that I was right, and I am forgiven.”

 

Coming to a stop, I exploded. “Why that incorrigible old fraud!”

 

“Catherine.” His eyes widened.

 

“After everything he put you through, he still won’t admit he was wrong.”

 

Hugging me, he sighed peacefully. “It’s enough that he is not angry with me.” His hand rubbed my arm lightly and I could sense his contentment. We began walking again as he continued to hold me close. After several minutes he said softly, “I sense that much has happened between you and Father since you went Above.”

 

I’ll tell you about it later.” I paused at his look of mild concern, and I explained, “I have so much to think about.”

 

“Everything is all right...between you and Father?”

 

I hugged him tightly and nodded. My heart was very full of things I wanted to share with him...but some of the most important things were secret, and I did not dare to talk seriously with him Until I could sort out my thoughts. We walked in silence Until we were beneath the warehouse where he guided me into the elevator.

 

As we ascended, I buried my nose against his vest, experiencing a cherished, familiar sensation. I inhaled deeply and sighed. Then I pulled a fold of his cloak against my face and drew in another breath.

 

“Catherine?” He looked at me. “What are you doing?”

 

I smiled. “I am enjoying the smell of leather and wool.”

 

He made no reply, but I saw amusement in his eyes. The elevator arrived at the warehouse level, and Vincent pulled the protective gate open while he gazed at me indulgently.

 

As we walked toward my car, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled bit of paper. He placed it in my hand, and I recognized it as a five dollar bill - a Silver Certificate dated 1951

 

“What is this for?” I asked.

 

“I was hoping you could tell me,” he frowned. “Father told me to give it to you. He was very cryptic...he said that you should ’get a sackful. And don’t forget the baby green onions and the pickle’.”

 

Suddenly I was laughing. Laughing harder and more wonderfully than I could ever remember. I was dimly aware of Vincent’s look of bewilderment, and I was certain he must have been very confused by my reaction. But I threw myself into his arms, hugged him tightly, and laughed harder. When I finally found my voice, I pulled back from him. “Tell Father I understand.” I smiled up at those wonderful blue eyes and smoothed my fingers across the worry lines on his forehead. I’ll explain it all tonight, I promise.” I climbed into the car and waited while Vincent opened the large double doors of the warehouse. He returned and closed my car door. Rolling down the window, I looked up at him. “I will see you in an hour in my basement.”

 

He backed away and nodded as I turned the ignition switch. The motor started and I let the car roll forward slowly, but then a marvelous idea came to me, and I backed the car up while Vincent watched me, still bewildered. I leaned from the window and smiled at him, “Make that two hours, and tell William not to cook supper.” Then I said to him more softly, “Vincent, I missed you more than you can know.” And I drove away.

 

Epilogue

 

Both men and Father looked up as Catherine and Vincent carried a tray into Father’s bed chamber. “What have you there?” Father asked from his bed.

 

“Hamburgers, Father.” Vincent explained. “Catherine brought supper... hamburgers for everyone in the Tunnels. She insisted that we bring these to you and Ben.”

 

Ben Evans grinned as Catherine handed him a large brown paper sack. The young woman smiled at him. “Thick…with the buns lightly toasted.”

 

Father looked at her questioningly. “And the other things?”

 

She nodded. “It’s all there, Father. As requested.”

 

“Good,” he nodded. He glared at Benjamin Evans. “This makes us even, Benjamin. Agreed?”

 

The doctor opened the sack and inhaled deeply. “Agreed.”

 

Benjamin hardly noticed as Vincent and Catherine slipped out of the room. But then he looked at his graying friend and saw an unusual expression in Jacob’s eyes as he watched the couple walk away hand in hand. Ben listened to the sound of Catherine’s soft voice as it faded in the distance. Then, looking back at his friend, he stated, “She’s worthy, Jacob.”

 

Father sucked in a breath. “I know she is, Benjamin.” He sighed deeply. “I know she is.” And he reached for a hamburger.