LOST AND RE-FOUND: THE SALVATION
An eerie quiet drifted over the pipe chamber as they prepared for the change of shifts. It had been a busy day, with several emergency messages; and the staff was mentally exhausted, eager for the evening shift to assume their duties. Pascal relayed the day’s activities to the night shift supervisor and wearily made his way toward the communal dining room.
He detoured in through the kitchen and grabbed a cup of coffee, ignoring William’s loud shout that the kitchen was still closed, and wandered to the far end of the room knowing he was less likely to be disturbed there. He sipped his coffee and tried to allow the stress of the day to roll off his shoulders. His thoughts were jumbled as he reviewed the day and momentarily wondered if he was getting too old to handle all of this. He was approaching his thirty-fifth birthday, and he had been in the pipe chamber since he was born. He found his temper was shorter; and he had been grumpier during the last month, which certainly wasn’t like him. Maybe he needed to think about taking some time off.
(Who do I think I’m fooling?) He was grumpy and out of sorts
because Erica had returned to the tunnels after a four year absence. His
heart hammered in his chest at the mere thought of her name. So far, he
had avoided her for the most part, just catching quick glimpses of her
at meals; and he hoped to keep it that way, allowing him time to work
through his feelings.
Her appearance had stirred up all his old feelings, the adoration and
love he had for her and his profound regret that he had never been able
to clearly express his feelings, to ask her to marry him. He ached when
she and her family had abruptly departed the tunnels because he had
thought they had the start of something special. He remembered the days
in the old piano chamber, playing music with Vincent and Erica.
Pascal looked up, his vision blurred as he looked into clear gray
eyes, and his heart began to hammer loudly. “May I sit with you? I’ll
understand if you prefer I don’t.”
He suddenly stood, unable to ignore a lifetime of manners drilled
into him by his own mother and then by Mary. He walked around the table
and held a chair for her.
“Thank you,” she said.
Then he returned to his own seat and openly stared. His emotions
warred within, and he didn’t know whether he wanted to jump and run or
if he wanted to gather her into his arms and kiss her until they no
longer had breath. Positive she could hear his heart pounding, he willed
himself to take slow, even, deep breaths.
“I realized coming home would be complicated, but I honestly didn’t
think facing you would be this difficult. There were many nights during
that first year when I cried myself to sleep because I missed these
tunnels so much, and I thought I’d die from missing you and Vincent. I
never meant to hurt you, but I know that I did. You wouldn’t have gone
to such lengths to avoid me since my return if I hadn’t wounded you.”
Tears stained her lashes and she swallowed repeatedly as she fought to
control her quivering voice. “I’ll understand if you can’t forgive me,
because leaving without speaking directly with you was unforgivable.”
The tears she had sought to control spilled down her cheeks as she
stood. “Please know that I did miss you so very much.”
The increasing noise in the dining room suddenly penetrated his thoughts, and he realized how long he had been sitting. He collected his empty cup and slowly made his way to the kitchen, depositing it in the sink after rinsing. He grabbed an apple, leaving the area as rapidly as possible. Meeting up with any of his friends was something he simply couldn’t tolerate today.
Resolutely, he made his way to the
Thoughts whirled within, creating a loud cacophony of sounds that
destroyed his sense of inner peace. He recalled the first shy innocent
kiss he had shared with Erica and his joy in knowing that she had never
been kissed before. (Why hadn’t she tried to contact me in the
intervening years?) Recalling her words, he could find no logic
between the prolonged silence of the last four years and her admission
of hurting him. It was very late when he left the falls and made his way
to his sleeping chamber. He undressed, slipped beneath the quilts, and
prayed that sleep would release him from his inner turmoil.
Groggy from lack of sleep, Pascal resumed his command of the pipe
chamber at eight o’clock. He consumed countless cups of tea and aspirin
as the day wound to a close. At the end of his shift he headed to the
library hoping to find Jacob alone. “Jacob, are you busy? I need a
private word with you.”
“Pascal, it’s good to see you. Do sit down and tell me how I may
“I’d like it if you could arrange the schedule so that I could have
some time away. Say four or five days. I’d like to spend some time at
the hidden lake alone.”
“Is there anything I may do to help? I hope you know that I’m always
ready to stand in your father’s stead. Your father was a dear friend,
and if I may help you, his son, I sincerely hope you will let me know.”
“Thank you, Jacob. It would help if you would just arrange the
schedule. I’d like to leave tomorrow or the next day at the latest.”
Jacob glanced quickly at the schedule book, flipped a few pages, and
made a note. “If you could wait until Wednesday I should have everything
cleared. You seldom ask for time so I don’t see any problem.”
Pascal left the library heading for William’s office and once there
he presented his request for enough food to last four days. William
reviewed the list and agreed to have the supplies ready early Wednesday
morning. “I’m happy to see you taking a break from your duties. We all
need some down time, away from the everyday burdens of our jobs. Wish I
could get away to join you.”
After slipping the food package into the large backpack, Pascal
settled the pack comfortably over his shoulders and onto his back. He
had only gone about a mile when Vincent appeared from one of the side
tunnels. “Would you object if I walk along with you for a while?
I’m headed to the next level where Cullen’s gang is working.”
His keen sense of empathy and their long years of friendship made
Vincent aware of Pascal’s unhappiness and his reluctance to talk. They
walked along and Vincent told him about the expansion of new chambers on
the next level, his conversation light and easy requiring no answer.
As they reached the next level, Pascal paused.
“If I may be of assistance, don’t hesitate to send a message. Your
well-being is important to me.” Vincent offered his hand and left Pascal
to continue onward alone.
It was late Wednesday afternoon when he reached the hidden lake and
set up camp. He collected enough firewood to last him a couple of days
and began to prepare his meal. William had packed a small frozen
meatloaf large enough to provide him three meals, so he set about
burying the foil-wrapped treat in the burning coals to bake. Three hours
later he feasted on the delicious meatloaf, a baked potato, and a piece
of cherry pie. He opened his book and began to read until his thoughts
turned reflective, and he settled into his sleeping bag, watching the
subtle light shifting within the vast cavern.
He awakened abruptly. Erica filled his dreams as vitally as she had
four years ago. He remembered the hours spent with her as the children
worked to complete the Lost and Found course. The sweetness of that time
haunted him. The adoring way she looked at him and how she had made him
feel like a hero. Slowly his love of the Lost and Found course had
returned after Erica left, and he again found joy in preparing the
children to be skilled and self-reliant. He continued to be proud that
the course he had developed had prevented any of the children living
Below from becoming lost within the warren of tunnels.
Vincent purposefully headed toward the table where Erica sat
consuming her meal. “May I join you?”
“Oh, hi. Please sit down.”
“Are you getting settled in comfortably within your new chamber? If
you need anything, please let me know, and we can raid some of our
storage facilities to make up for what might be lacking.”
“I brought a few things down with me and what is in the chamber is
certainly more than adequate. I’m sort of glad our old chambers had been
given to others, as I think the memories would have overwhelmed me. It
would have been far too large for just one person. Could we walk?”
Vincent stood and took her arm, escorting her into the passageway.
They walked seemingly without direction; and as they wandered, Vincent
showed her some improvements that had been made to the hub area. They
took several twists and turns and then arrived at an area that was
familiar to Erica.
“Is the piano still here?”
“Yes. So far no one has wanted the Maitland’s old chamber, so we just
left the piano here, as it would be an engineering feat to remove it to
another area. I clearly remember the struggle we had to bring it in.” He
shook his head and then offered a shy smile. “Some of the children
practice here, and I find myself using it, too. I have fond memories of
our time in that chamber.”
“Do you think Father would allow me to move in here? I have thought
about how I could serve the community since my return and I thought
perhaps I could give piano lessons. The other room would be a perfect
sleeping alcove. The main chamber could be a combination living area as
well as a studio for lessons.”
“There aren’t many families living in this area. Wouldn’t you be
lonely? The Johnson’s live further along the main passage, and the
Canfield’s are located at the last junction we passed. I believe Kanin
will have two more chambers ready in this passage within a month or
“Right now the solitude would be perfect. There are personal issues I
need to resolve, and the absence of immediate families would be a gift.
Our mutual need for solitude is one of the things we continue to share
in common,” she offered with a sad smile.
Vincent noticed her sadness, the sense of despair that surrounded
her. “You know, baby sister, time hasn’t diminished our friendship, and
if I may help, I hope you won’t hesitate to ask.” He took her hand as
they left the chamber, “Come, let’s find Father and see if we can’t
arrange for your move.”
Pascal quietly stood at the entrance and then silently moved away.
The addition of furniture and personal items clearly indicated that
someone had moved into the Maitland’s old chamber during his absence.
His feelings were mixed, as he had become accustomed to using the
chamber when he wished to escape from everyone. It was a place of
solitude, and it was also a source of happy memories. He had kissed
Erica in that chamber. He picked up his backpack and trekked toward the
pipe chamber and his own sleeping chamber.
His thoughts were still conflicted, but in some small way, he felt a
spark of peace. He had survived four years without Erica; surely he
could continue to survive now that she had returned. His heart had
hardened in the intervening time, and he had accepted that he would live
and die alone in this world his father had helped to establish. His
family name wouldn’t continue, but the heritage of all his father and he
had taught to the children would survive.
The days became weeks, and while he occasionally saw Erica in the
dining hall he didn’t seek her out. He nodded if they passed, but he
made no effort at conversation. Purposefully, he arranged his schedule
to take his meals late, and so far it had worked; he didn’t have to see
Erica at all.
He met up with Winslow, and together they headed for the bathing
chambers. Each of them had been involved in dirty projects, so they
wanted to swim and refresh themselves.
“It’s been weeks since we’ve had an opportunity to talk or just share
time. The work schedule has been hectic to say the least. Last night I
was literally falling asleep over dinner, I was so exhausted.”
“I know what you mean. The pipe chamber has been bedlam as people are
trying to master some of the newer codes. This week is the final week of
classes for the six-year-old children, and it’s a combination of
excitement and tears of frustration.”
“I ate breakfast this morning with Erica. I was surely sorry to learn
of the tragedy that happened to her family after they went Above. I’m
glad she adhered to the promise she made to Fielding to return to us.
I’d hate to think of her all alone in
“What do you mean alone? Gerald and Fielding are still living there,
Abruptly Winslow whipped his head around to stare openly at Pascal.
“Gerald died nearly three years ago; he was killed by a drunk driver. He
was the reason they pulled up stakes and moved to
“I swear I knew nothing about this. It was only a couple of days
before Erica returned that I learned she was coming back. I didn’t know
anything about Gerald, or that his health was the reason they left so
quickly; and I certainly didn’t know Fielding had died!”
“Jacob mentioned it at the last council meeting when he sought
approval for Erica’s return. If I recall correctly, you weren’t at that
meeting,” Winslow offered as they continued to walk to the pool. “And I
suppose you don’t know that Erica has moved into the old Maitland
chamber and is now giving piano lessons? Do I have to tell you every
piece of news? You are the master of the pipes, ya know!”
“No, I didn’t know about the move or the lessons. I thought she was
living in section C of level two, her name’s on the hangtag at that
location in the pipe chamber.”
“Maybe after our swim I need to come over to the pipe chamber and go
over the hang tags just to compare what you have with who’s actually
living there. I don’t get it! How can you be pipe master and never know
what’s going on within twenty feet of your work space? It used to be you
knew everything. You never told what you knew, but we all knew you were
aware of every message that went out. Lately, I have to tell you
After their swim, Winslow was as good as his word; he trailed Pascal
back to the pipe chamber and methodically went through all the hangtags
and made a few corrections. “It’s been years since I worked in the pipe
chamber, but I think maybe I should volunteer for a few hours weekly
just to keep you on your toes!” Winslow grinned at his friend, gave him
a playful punch on the shoulder and bid Pascal goodnight.
“Erica, are you here? It’s Mary, and I have brought you a new
student.” Mary stood holding the hand of a young boy whose red hair fell
forward over his eyes.
“Hello, Mary. Please come in. I’m so pleased to see you. Who is this
handsome young man?”
“Erica, may I introduce you to Adam Dixon. Adam, this is Erica, who
will become your piano teacher.”
Mary took a seat while Erica began her introductory speech to the
eager six-year-old. Mary withdrew her mending from the small bag she
carried and, after searching diligently, began to look around at the
floor. “Erica, would you have a needle? I seem to have misplaced mine.”
“My sewing kit is on top of the bureau in the sleeping chamber; you
will find some there.”
Mary took her seat again, extracted a needle from the sewing kit, and
began her endless chore of mending. It had been a while since she had
listened to beginner piano student discourse; and knowing she was likely
to be asked questions, Mary listened very attentively. Adam had talked
of nothing but learning the piano for weeks, and Erica was delighted by
“I’ll see you Wednesday and Friday for an hour after your last class.
Do the music students still get out of classes at three, Mary?”
“Yes, Erica, that’s the same schedule we have maintained for years.
It gives the music students the opportunity to attend their music
lessons or practice while still having the same amount of leisure time
as the rest of the children. Come along, Adam, I’m sure Father will wish
to hear about your first lesson. Thank you for the use of your needle.
I’ll see you in the dining room later.”
“How is our newest piano teacher doing?” Vincent was genuinely
pleased to find Erica seated alone in the dining hall. He slipped into
the seat opposite her and gently squeezed her hand in greeting. “You
have been the object of much discussion by my students, as they are
thrilled that you are teaching some popular music as opposed to strictly
“I can snare more of them with pop tunes than I can with Chopin, then
after I get them hooked, I sneak him in.” Her smile was bright and her
eyes were sparkling. “I’m so pleased with all my new students, and they
all seem so eager to learn. Do you feel that way, too? You’ve been
teaching for so long, it hasn’t gotten routine, has it?”
Their conversation became animated as they discussed the pros and
cons of teaching, the benefits they derived, and the rewards they
received in watching the students grow and learn.
They had been talking for over an hour when Catherine joined them.
Catherine sat quietly enjoying the give and take of watching two
dedicated teachers expound on the theory of attracting and holding the
attention of the easily bored student. The conversation revealed another
side of Vincent’s character that she didn’t often get to see, and she
was thoroughly enjoying herself.
Pascal sat in the boulders lost in thoughts of Erica and all he had
learned from Winslow. (How is it possible that I didn’t know any of
the things Winslow told me? Where has my mind been these last four
years? Was I filled with such bitterness and despair that I have ignored
everything that transpired around me? What else have I missed?)
The thermos of tea was long gone when he became aware that Vincent
had joined him. “Have you been here long? I wasn’t aware of you until
“I could see you were lost in thought, so I’ve just been sitting
quietly awaiting your return.”
“It seems I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Winslow just told me
about Gerald and Fielding dying. I didn’t know anything about it. How
could I have been so absorbed that I missed something of those
proportions? It makes me question where my mind has been during these
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. The years since Erica went Above were
difficult for you. We all do things to survive…” His voice caught and
then became softer, “When we are dealing with our own wounded hearts.”
Pascal looked at Vincent with new compassion as the truth of his
statement settled within his mind and heart. “I remember how helpless I
felt to ease your pain when Devin left our world. Everything I thought
to say seemed such a cliché and without comfort or value.”
“But when you did speak, you spoke from your heart. It took years
before I was able to come to terms with his leaving. You were always
there for me; giving space when I needed it, while silently affirming
your support and friendship.”
“You knew about Gerald and Fielding?”
“Yes. Erica sent a letter to Father asking if she could return and
explained why she wanted to come home.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“She asked that it not be mentioned in general except for getting
council approval. I don’t believe you attended that particular meeting.
She indicated she would rather tell people in her own time and way after
Pascal stood, pacing frantically, his face contorted in rage, and he
began to swear loudly. He continued pacing and swearing until his pain
was spent. “She must hate me, because the one time we spoke she didn’t
“Erica is changed. I don’t think it is only the loss of her brother
and father; something deeper has changed her. She hides it, but I have
seen it lurking in her eyes. There is a quiet desperation about her that
was never there before. Her peace and confidence is missing.”
“The one time I spoke with her, which was right after she returned, I
noticed she was withdrawn, her posture different, and she didn’t look me
directly in the eye. I admit I wasn’t polite; she caught me unaware, and
I was defensive.”
“Your feelings for her, have they changed?”
“I honestly don’t know. I’ve spent the last four years being angry
that she left without a word, that she literally disappeared off the
face of my earth and I was left to grieve. You know how much I loved
her; for her to have left without a word, well, it crushed me.” His hand
brushed through his thinning hair, an outward sign of his frustration.
“I’ve never been all that self-assured as a man where women are
concerned; and when she left, all the confidence she gave me vanished.
I survived on bitterness and loathing for the first two years,
withdrawing into my own world.”
“I was aware of your grief; but each time I reached out, you
violently pushed me away. It was obvious that you were in pain, but you
refused all help. After a time, I realized that no matter how deep our
friendship or how much I love you, I couldn’t heal you; that was
something you had to do alone.”
“Apparently it isn’t a job I did well, if at all! I don’t think I
ever stopped to consider the last four years from Erica’s point of view,
which surely doesn’t speak highly of me as a person.”
“You’ve always been fair. I’ve seen you bend to be objective in your
dealings with the whole community. Perhaps now that you have the facts
you were missing, you will have a more impartial view of Erica and your
Pascal began to work in the pipe chamber only for his prescribed
shift and also began to take a regular day off each week. He spoke to
Jacob, simply telling him he needed more consistent time away from his
duties, the same as others did. He would no longer be available to cover
the extra shifts of others, who, for whatever reasons, needed to be
excused from their assigned duty in the pipe chamber.
He spent weeks alone in deep concentration, thinking through his
feelings of the last four years. He realized how he had shortchanged
himself and the community by withdrawing, mentally and spiritually, from
all those whom he held dear.
“Erica, its Pascal. May I come in?”
Slowly the heavy drape was drawn back, and Erica stood simply staring
at the man she thought she would never see at her chamber entrance. Her
mind filled with questions and her heartbeat quickened. “Won’t you come
in? I have some water on for tea. Would you like a cup?”
The old upright piano, with all its memories of their shared past,
stood opposite the entrance. There were several colorful rugs, retrieved
from the world Above, to add warmth to the cold stone floors; and two
comfortable chairs graced the area near the smaller chamber opening. A
steamer trunk served as storage chest as well as a coffee table. A small
desk and two bookcases completed the area. Family pictures were
tucked in on various surfaces. Overhead were two chandeliers filled with
Rebecca’s large candles, providing sufficient lighting.
“Thank you, but no. I finished my tea before I left the dining hall.
You’ve turned this into a very warm and homey place. May I sit down?
If you aren’t busy, I would like to talk.”
“No, I’m not busy, and yes, please do sit down.” She retrieved the
kettle from atop the warming brazier, which also provided heat to the
chamber, and added the hot water to the small tea pot on the tray. She
carried the tray to the trunk and took the chair next to Pascal.
“I’ve come in hopes of making peace with you, to end the gulf in what
was formerly a warm, caring relationship. It was only very recently that
I found out about your father and Gerald. I wanted you to know how sorry
I am. And I wanted to apologize for my behavior all those weeks ago when
you came over to speak to me. I was less than gracious, in fact, I’m
sure I was totally rude.” He glanced at the wall, unable to continue
looking into her sad eyes.
“In the months after you left, I kept to myself. I did my job, but
that’s all. I couldn’t bear for anyone to talk about you. I’ve felt I
was buried alive; my heart beat, but my mind had died. Vincent tried to
help but I ignored his efforts, pushing away his friendship and caring.
I had no idea of why you left so suddenly, and I was desperately
unhappy, felt dejected and angry. I sealed myself away, leaving only a
body that worked automatically but was devoid of all feelings.” His
voice trembled and then faded into silence.
“But I left you a note! You mean you never got it? I left it here on
the old piano, as I was sure you would come here when you found our
“I did come here to escape but never found a note. All that was here
was the piano, four folding chairs, some scattered ashes and a couple of
half burnt cigarettes.”
Tears filled her eyes as she openly stared at Pascal, her complexion
suddenly very pale, her shoulders shaking. “Then that’s why I never
heard from you. In my note I gave you the address where we were to live.
I sent you four letters, pouring out all of my fears, but you never
answered. Daddy said that some of life’s lessons were hard and perhaps I
needed to accept that your feelings had changed since we left.”
His voice rose in anguish as he spoke. “But I never got any letters!
Where did you send them?”
“Mr. Wilson’s house, the one we had used for years when we needed an
Pascal grimaced as his face filled with rage. “Mr. Wilson died in a
house fire two weeks after you left. Oh, God, it has all been for
naught, so senseless.” His voice broke and his fist came down violently
as he struck the steamer trunk, causing the tray and china to rattle.
Erica sat in stunned silence, unable to comprehend the enormity of
the situation. She trembled and her whole body began to shake as the
terrible realization of the trick fate had played. Suddenly, she began
to laugh, the laughter growing in volume and quickly turning to
hysteria, the sound filling the chamber as it echoed. Her eyes darted
around the room, tears streaming down her face as her hysteria grew to
soul-wrenching proportions, and madness seemed to consume her.
Pascal quickly grabbed her as her fist sent the china flying. He
pulled her into his lap, holding her tightly against his chest as her
hysteria increased. His mind was numbed by agonizing pain that
threatened to consume him. He could think of nothing to console her and
he only knew that he must prevent her from injuring herself. She
continued struggling against him, but he simply tightened his grip
against her consuming rage.
He lost all sense of time as he sought to protect her. She tried to
break free, but he gently caught her hand, pinning it between their
bodies, as her other hand pounded and pushed against him trying to break
free. Slowly, her keening stopped, and she slumped against him. He
gathered her into his arms and carried her into the dimly lit sleeping
chamber, placing her gently on the bed and drew the quilt over her. Long
after she had fallen into a deep sleep, he continued to sit holding her
hand, and it was then his own tears fell for all their lost dreams.
The candle had gutted out long ago and still he continued to sit. The
light from the piano room candles was still bright, and he was grateful
for that, recalling how fearful Erica had always been of the dark. He
remembered her fears from those long ago days when they had been
children together and she had become lost in the warren of tunnels.
Slowly, he released her hand, withdrew a candle stub and matches from
his pocket, and lit the stub. He didn’t want her to be frightened when
Two hours later she opened her eyes and he smiled. “Good morning. How
are you feeling?”
“You stayed here beside me all night?”
“Of course, I couldn’t leave you to awaken alone after what we
learned last night. There’s no way I could allow you to remain alone,
especially after your tears. I thought about how fate and circumstances
had combined to spoil what might have been a beautiful relationship. And
based on what I have felt for you all these years, I had to stay. I’m so
sorry about Fielding and Gerald. It must have been difficult for you
being all alone and having to deal with their passing. I’m so sorry. I
know how much you loved and adored them.”
“Gerald died instantly from his injuries, and I’m thankful he didn’t
suffer. Daddy survived the crash, but his injuries were so severe there
was no hope that he would recover. He lingered for almost two weeks, but
I was grateful that they put us both in the same room. The staff was so
sweet. They arranged our beds so we literally were side by side with our
heads facing each other.” Tears streamed down her face as she talked.
“They knew Daddy wasn’t going to last, and they tried to give us as much
time together as possible.”
“You were in the crash? How badly were you hurt?” His hand
automatically went out to hold hers, and his voice reflected the new
sorrow that filled his heart.
“I was in the hospital for almost four months. As far as my injuries,
I’d rather not talk about them now, except to say that the scars run
deep. When the end was near, Daddy made me promise that I would return
home to the family who loved me. I made the decision to bury him next to
Gerald and that I would be buried here, next to momma. It seemed to be
the only fair way to handle it. It’s hard, knowing Daddy and Gerald are
so far away. I always hoped we’d all be entombed here where we were a
family and happy.” Her voice ended in an explosive sigh and tears stung
“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to help you. It’s impossible, I’m sure,
for you to understand how I couldn’t be aware of any of these things
which happened. Physically my body was in the pipe chamber, but I had
built up such a wall, nothing registered in my mind or heart.”
Her hand stroked down the side of his face, trying to convey her
caring and concern. “But I do understand. I didn’t contact anyone here,
not even Vincent, during those years after the accident.”
After muttering his apologies for being late, Pascal assumed his
duties as pipe master. Within an hour, others assisting in the chamber
realized it would be to their advantage not to speak to Pascal, and they
left him strictly alone.
Erica had also struggled through the day, finding she had to
consciously work to keep her mind centered on her students. She was
relieved when the day ended and she was free of her teaching duties.
Gulping two aspirins, she curled into the chair and freed her emotions
allowing the tears she had fought to be released. It was later that
Vincent found her quietly sobbing, curled into a ball with her arms
wrapped tightly around her legs.
Tenderly, he lifted her and settled her on to his lap, his arms
holding his childhood friend gently as she cried. He didn’t question, he
simply surrounded her with his encompassing love and strength, cradling
her within his strong arms, taking her pain and sorrow within himself.
Her sobs broke his heart, but as he had always done, he ignored his
discomfort and sought only to ease her throbbing pain.
He felt her impotent rage, the bitterness and anguish that consumed her. Continuing to hold her, he allowed the presence of his arms surrounding her to convey his caring, assured in his knowledge that now was not the time for words. Long after the tears had ceased, her breathing came in soft hiccupping starts, she still trembled. Furiously she wiped at the large circular wet spot on his vest where her head had rested. Frantically, she again rubbed trying to vanquish the wetness.
Vincent’s hand reached out to entrap her fingers. “It’s all right, it
will dry.” He continued to hold her calmly and steadily as her breathing
returned to normal. “Would you like to talk; or, if you prefer, I shall
just continue to hold you until you feel stronger.”
Again she placed her head against the solid strength of his shoulder
and after some minutes tried to give voice to the chaos within her mind
and heart. Vincent listened to the discord of disjointed words and
phrases, the renewed bouts of tears, until all the pain and bitterness
were expunged and he knew what had transpired with Pascal. He sharply
felt the pain of his two childhood friends.
“Pascal has been hurt, and there are things which now make any
relationship impossible. He talked about his bitterness, and I saw that
in him, how he has changed and how skeptical he is. Maybe it would be
best if I leave and go back to
“Perhaps it would be wiser to wait and give the situation here some
time before you make a decision about leaving us.”
Sleep was elusive that night as she tossed and turned trying to
resolve her problems. Should she go back to
Pascal appeared suddenly asking if he could walk with her. “These
past days have been difficult in coming to terms with everything and to
find some meaning in what happened to your note.”
Together they left the dining hall and headed toward the
“I don’t think Vincent would object. We don’t frequent it as often as
we did when we were teens still filled with the angst of life.” He took
her hand as they entered the passage that would take them to the niche.
“Do heights still bother you? I remember you were slightly nervous in
the beginning when we’d all troop up here.”
He settled beside her and was surprised when she turned on her side.
“Do you mind if I cuddle against you?”
His voice failed him, and he cleared his throat once before he could
speak, “No, of course not. We have been friends for forever.” He slipped
his arm around her shoulder as she settled more firmly against his body,
her head cradled against his chest, and her hand resting against his
“You and Vincent are my closest friends. There are things that
happened that I know, for my own emotional well-being, need to be
discussed. I’ve heard all about Vincent and Catherine since I’ve been
back, but I haven’t heard about you. Have you found someone that you
love, someone who is special to you? Have you married?”
Pascal’s eyes clearly revealed his apprehension at her question, and
he was slightly shocked at her intimate query.
“Childhood friendships change when the individuals fall in love and
that love brings a new person into the relationship. I’ve seen and read
so much concerning how long friendships fade, and I don’t want that to
happen to us. I’ve spoken to Catherine, and I think she realizes that
I’m not a threat to her relationship with Vincent. If there is someone
you love, I want to meet her and establish a good relationship with her,
too, as I don’t want to lose your friendship.”
Pascal felt his face warm, and he hoped he wasn’t blushing at her
“While I knew coming home would bring painful memories, I also knew
those memories would be bearable because of you and Vincent. I’m not
sure I could stay without the ongoing support of your friendship.”
His arms tightened around her drawing her against his work-hardened
body. Without conscious thought, he allowed his heart to speak. “I was
in love with you when you left. No one has replaced you in my heart.
I’ve loved you since I was twenty years old and I still love you.”
“All those years we were both alone thinking the other no longer
cared. What a waste.” Fresh tears streamed down Erica’s face. Her eyes
were drawn to his mouth. “I dreamed of doing this,” she whispered as she
kissed him. Her lips were soft as Pascal returned her kiss and then
deepened it, claiming what had captured his heart all those long years
ago. His arms tightened, he angled his head, changing the kiss to taste
all that had been denied. Breathlessly, they drew apart only to seek
again the pleasure of which they had been deprived.
Slowly they drew apart, their hearts pounding loudly, and they sought
to simply breathe. “I thought I’d die alone. Nothing touched my heart
since you left; my life and world were empty without you. I was thrilled
you were coming home, but feared how difficult it would be seeing you
again. I was afraid you had found someone else in
“I went out a few times in
Her hands touched his face gently tracing the contours of his beloved
face. Her lips mapped his features, and she remembered when she had
first done that shortly after their first kiss.
Sighing, she settled against his chest. The steady thrumming of their
hearts settled around them in a joyous song of love.
“I decided I had to know if you had found someone else, because I
wanted to become friends with her like I am becoming friends with
Catherine. I didn’t want there to be a barrier of jealousy that would
spoil the deep friendship we share. I didn’t expect to hear you say you
still loved me.”
“Since you had the courage to ask, I had to have the courage to
express that love.” His smile lit his whole face, “To know that you
still care, that you still love me, fills me with joy.”
Her fingers traced his face as she gathered her courage and tried to
compose her face to say what she must. “There are things I must share
with you, things which won’t be pleasant or easy for you to hear. Things
which will impact how...if...we move forward, things I am honor bound to
tell you, for they will affect you and any future we might have
together. We need to be assured of privacy while we talk. I’d prefer
that we talk in my chamber.”
“If that is what you wish, then we shall go there.” They slipped out
of the niche and began the walk to her chamber. He was concerned about
what she could possibly have to say that she felt would impact their
lives. He was puzzled, nervous and filled with dread.
From the torch that burned, Pascal lit the candle stub he removed
from his pocket and entered Erica’s chamber ahead of her to light
several candles, pushing back the darkness. He took the lantern and
placed it in front of the drawn tapestry that served as the door to her
chamber to assure they would have privacy.
They settled facing each other on the small sofa that replaced one of
the chairs she surrendered to the nursery. “It’s cowardly of me, but I’d
feel better if I could hold your hand while I speak. I know what I must
say will be difficult for you to hear.
“When I woke up following surgery I was wrapped in a sea of bandages
and plaster. If it hadn’t been for the medics, we would have all died at
the crash site. The fireman literally cut the car from around us,
leaving parts of it in our bodies, as the metal’s pressure against the
arteries was the only thing that kept us from bleeding out.” She watched
as Pascal paled, his eyes swimming with tears and she felt the increased
pressure of his hand within hers. Swallowing repeatedly, then slowly,
she picked up the threads of her story sparing him none of the details.
“The first time I saw myself naked I actually got sick to my stomach and
threw up I was so horrified. It’s gotten easier over time. They
suggested I consider plastic surgery because the scars are large.
“I know how much you want children, what continuing your heritage
means. The accident stole that. I can’t give you children. When I
decided to come home, I didn’t think the degradation of my body would be
an issue. You see, I thought some other lucky girl would have claimed
you, and since I knew I still loved you, this carnage,” she gestured
with her hand, sweeping it down her body, “wouldn’t matter, as I knew
I’d never love anyone except you, and that you would never need know
“I never dreamed that you would still love me. But because you do,
this wreckage is a problem. It was wrong of me to ask what I did, but I
was terrified of losing your friendship because your wife wouldn’t want
you to be friends with a woman you once loved. Now I’ve brought
something heinous into your life.” Tears streamed down her face, gliding
down her throat as she sobbed. “I should have never come back, I
His mouth abruptly cut off her words. His arms encircled her, drawing
her tightly against his chest, and he continued to kiss her, wanting and
needing her to be only aware of his mouth and the love that flowed into
her as he claimed her. Their tears mingled and still he continued to
kiss her, breathing fire and life into her screaming lungs. All the pain
dissolved under the onslaught on her mouth, showing and telling her of
the depth of his love.
Slowly, he eased away, aware of how tightly he was holding her,
suddenly fearful that he might be causing her delicate body pain, and he
allowed his mouth to become gentle. “Whatever happened to your body
doesn’t matter. I love you and want you to be my wife. I’ve never wanted
anything more than to spend my life with you.”
She sobbed against him knowing she had to make him understand all he
was abandoning with his declaration. She wanted nothing false between
them, and she prayed her courage wouldn’t fail her. “You can’t throw
away your chance to be a father. All you ever talked about were the
things you would teach your children, how you longed to share your
heritage. You would be denying that if you stay with me. You need
someone who can give you children and a rich, full life.”
He eased her away bringing his arms to rest against her shoulders. “I
need only you. I’ve been half alive since you left, and I am whole only
when we are together. We’ll be a family and we’ll have children.
Abandoned children come to us, and one of them will become our child,
the child of our love.”
“I can’t deny you the privilege of fathering a child. You need to
forget me and find someone who can give you children.”
“You may as well ask me to stop breathing. I love only you and want a
life only with you.”
“No. It will either be you or it will be no one! You possessed my
heart since we were teens; nothing will change how much I love you.
While you were gone I went through the motions of living. I worked, ate,
slept, and did all that was expected of me, but inside I was dead
because my heart lived only with you.”
She wiped the tears that streamed down her face. Standing she took
his hand and tugged, pulling him to his feet, and walked into her
bedchamber. After lighting several candles, she sat on the bed and then
patted the space beside her. “You need to know what you are getting, the
abomination I live with daily.”
Her hands lifted the edge of the tunic she wore, pulling it over her
head. “No, you needn’t do this.” His voice was whisper soft as he tried
to still her fluttering fingers. She pushed away his hands, drawing away
the warm thermal shirt and she stood. Painstakingly, she removed her
skirt and slip then turned her back to him as she released the bra and
stepped from her panties. Filling her lungs, her hands going quietly to
her side, she turned.
He stared, his eyes took in the whole and then slowly his vision
focused on the massive scar that ran curving across her flat stomach,
ending abruptly leaving two inches of clear skin within the thatch of
pubic hair. An equally large scar snaked down her right hip ending just
below her kneecap. Along her right shoulder were thick surgical scars.
Where her right breast should have proudly stood was a depression of
sunken multi-directional scars, thick and thin, bearing brute testimony
to the visceral damage that happens when steel ravages tender flesh. His
eyes returned to her face, seeing clearly her pain and her shame.
Gently, he allowed his hands to touch her hip, and he drew her into the
vee of his legs.
She looked in terror unable to comprehend what he must be thinking of
the carnage before him.
Tenderly, he brought her closer and softly began to pay homage to her
body. Across her scared belly lightly he kissed each intersecting line,
his voice filled with reverence as his lips languidly swept across her
quivering flesh. Incredibly slowly, he tenderly laved each surgical
scar, kissing his way to her kneecap and then he began again making his
way across her shoulder.
His mouth moved like soft, delicate butterfly wings sweeping across
her flesh, incredibly slowly as he moved. She felt his long eyelashes
sweep against her skin, and her audible sigh seemed to echo in the
Instinctively, he knew the evisceration of her breast still hurt,
shamed and embarrassed her. Tenderly, his mouth paid homage; lovingly
his lips claimed each inch of the scarred tissue until her flesh was wet
with his delicate ministrations. Tears streamed unbidden down her face
as the scope of his enduring love washed over her wounded body and soul.
His mouth cleansed the pain that haunted her, renewing her spirit and
making her whole in the light of his love.
Gently her arms encircled him, drawing him closer until his face
pressed against the deep depression that had once been her breast. He
continued to lovingly kiss the scar tissue as he reverently caressed
her. Slowly, he lowered her to his lap seeking her mouth. He worshipped
her with his lips as he told her of his love. “I love you, Erica, and
I’ll never love you more than I do at this moment.”
Releasing one hand, he searched beneath the pillow and his hand
closed over her nightgown. With incredible gentleness he slipped the
gown over her head and eased her arms into the sleeves, lifting her
enough to allow the gown to pool beneath her hips. Still holding her he
stood, bent and swept the quilts down and laid her tenderly against the
sheets. He toed off his boots, slid in beside her, and brought her to
rest against his chest. He held her through the long purging as she wept
for herself, the family she had lost, and for the children she could
never give him.
He clearly heard the third round of the night shift sentries
reporting all was quiet, and he automatically calculated the time. He
flexed his fingers trying to restore his circulation, but he made no
move to ease his arm from beneath Erica’s head. She had finally fallen
into a deep sleep, her body snuggled against him, and he had held her
through the night.
At six o’clock he heard William’s message that coffee was on, and
reluctantly he eased from the bed. He either had to report to the pipe
chamber or have John cover his shift. Looking down at the evidence of
tear strains on Erica’s face, he made his decision knowing he could not
leave her to awaken alone. Swiftly, he pulled on his boots, stepped into
the passage and tapped a message asking them to notify John he needed to
fill-in for him today.
When she awakened, Pascal made tea and they talked quietly for the
rest of the afternoon. The more they talked, the more Pascal realized
how fragile Erica was emotionally and physically and didn’t press her
for additional information, simply allowed her to speak of what she
Entering the passage that led directly to the bathing pool, Catherine
hoped she wasn’t too late to find Erica there. She called softly
but heard no reply. Thinking maybe Erica might be swimming, she called
more loudly. She walked onward, and just as she was about to turn back,
she saw Erica. Hearing her name Erica turned and immediately grabbed for
The sight of Erica’s nude body caused Catherine to gasp in horror and
she rushed forward. “Erica, my God, what has happened to you?” Seeing
the look of repulsion registered on Catherine’s face Erica’s eyes rolled
back and she fainted. Catherine reached her side and for a few moments
she could only stare at the disfigured woman. Pushing aside her
feelings, Catherine checked her pulse, moved to straighten Erica’s body,
covered her with the towels that lay nearby and began to chafe her
“Just lay still, don’t try to move or sit up just yet. Give yourself
a few minutes then I’ll help you. Are you cold?”
Erica glanced down at her body and sighed, thankful she was covered.
“I’m sorry I’m causing you a problem.”
Catherine slipped her arm beneath Erica’s shoulder and eased her into
a sitting position then she took off her jacket and placed it around
Erica’s bare shoulders. “No, don’t apologize. I startled you.” They sat
in silence for several minutes. “Erica, I’m sorry about what I said.
Seeing this was such a shock. Normally I’d never react with such poor
manners. I hope you will accept my apology for my rudeness.”
Erica stared as she remembered all the kind and caring things she had
heard about Catherine since she returned home. “It is a repulsive sight,
I know. It’s my body, and I still have trouble looking at it. I don’t
think I’ll ever accept the humiliation and disgust I feel when I see the
way I am now.”
Catherine kept Erica’s hand in hers as she calmly asked, “If you
would like to talk, I’m willing to listen, but don’t feel you need to
say anything. Please know that if I can help you in any way, I will.”
The warmth and compassion of Catherine’s caring touched Erica, and
she slowly began to tell her of the accident.
Catherine’s face was awash with tears. “Oh, Erica, I’m so sorry, so
sorry.” Catherine’s arms eased around Erica as she cried, holding her
gently as she sobbed for all that had been taken from her. Erica’s eyes
were swollen almost shut when her tears ceased. Gently, Catherine helped
her to dress and then supported her as they walked to her chamber.
The library was empty when Erica entered. She spent several minutes
just chatting with Father before she told him that she was going Above
and expected to be gone for four or five hours. He was curious but
refrained from asking, instead wishing her safe journey and reminding
her that she should alert the sentry before she left.
Upon reaching the surface she quickly reviewed her notes on how to
reach her destination, which buses she would need to take. She had
traveled about the city in
She gave her name, took a seat and was prepared to wait, as she was
early for her appointment. Much to her surprise, she heard her name
being called after only ten minutes, and she followed the young lady
inside the office.
“Erica, how good it is to see you. Jacob told me you were returning.
You left us a gangling teenager, and you have returned a beautiful young
lady.” Peter embraced another of the tunnel babies whom he had helped
deliver. “I’m sure this isn’t a social call, so tell me how I may be of
service to you.”
From her purse she withdrew a heavy folded envelope and passed it to
Peter. “This will explain everything.” She stared out the window of
Peter’s office as he read the contents of the envelope and carefully
avoided looking at his face. Only when he turned the last sheet of paper
face down upon his desk did she look at him. His facial expression
hadn’t changed but his eyes were filled with sorrow.
“I promised Dr. Knolton I would bring these to a doctor as soon as I
“I’m glad you kept your promise and came to me. Let me ring for my
nurse, and we’ll get you into an exam room and begin.” He buzzed for his
nurse, gave his instructions, and Erica was escorted out. As the door
closed, Peter lowered his head into his hands, and he sat there trying
to regain his control and composure. He shook his head, picked up the
stack of papers and began to re-read Erica’s medical history.
He was stoic, compassionate, and professional as he examined Erica’s
ravaged body. She had left them with the healthy pristine body of a
teen, and she returned with a body that had been subjected to twisting,
grinding metal that had chewed her flesh and had required multiple
surgeries to repair the damages. After completing his exam, Peter asked
his nurse to help Erica dress and he would speak to her in his office.
“Would you tell me about how this happened?”
“We had finally been able to afford a car and were on our way to shop
for groceries. We were about two miles from the store when this man
struck us head on, flipping the car. He spun out of control and then hit
us again rolling us down an embankment. He was drunk and didn’t even get
hurt. Gerald was killed instantly and Daddy and I were mangled in the
wreckage. It took nearly two hours for them to cut us out. Two of the
medics somehow managed to crawl far enough inside that they able to help
us while the firemen cut away parts of the car, leaving the pieces that
were embedded into us where they were to prevent our bleeding to death.
I don’t remember them getting us out of the car or anything until I woke
up in the hospital room with Daddy. Dr. Knolton insisted that we be
placed in the same ICU room, as he knew Daddy wasn’t going to recover.
“My breast was nearly detached but the metal stopped short of cutting
through the ribcage. The way it was lodged stopped all the bleeding but
the nerves and tissue in the severed parts were dead because of lack of
blood by the time they got us out and were so badly mangled they
couldn’t attempt to re-attach.”
She stopped talking, fighting to control her wildly fluctuating
emotions. Peter poured a glass of cold water, tapped a pill into her
hand, “Swallow this.”
Obeying Peter was second nature to her and she automatically
swallowed. “There were multiple surgeries over months. Daddy died about
two weeks after the accident. His injuries were profound. I was in
rehab for a long time, learning to walk again. Dr. Knolton said I might
need further surgeries on my leg, and he suggested I should consider
plastic surgery to remove the scars and perhaps consider breast
“If you do decide on plastic surgery, I can certainly help you in
selecting a doctor. I also know several excellent orthopedic surgeons,
if surgery on your leg becomes necessary. How are you doing on
your medications? Do you need refills?”
“I’ll need refills within a couple of weeks. Peter, could you suggest
a good attorney and a bank? The man who hit us was extremely wealthy and
before he went to prison, he settled the lawsuit privately out of court.
I need an attorney to handle all the legal matters, taxes, and arrange
to put the money to work. I’m hoping you know an attorney, who is also a
Helper, as I want to use some of the money to help the community.”
“Have you met Catherine? Vincent’s Catherine? She’s an excellent
attorney and also a Helper.”
“Yes, I have met her. I have a letter of credit from my bank in
Peter checked his personal phone list and wrote down both Cathy’s
office and home phones. “Is there a particular reason you came to me
rather than seeing Jacob?”
“I knew you would be more current on all the procedures that were
done to me and would have the names of other doctors if I need them. And
to be honest, I’d feel funny about having him examine me.” She gestured
downward at her body. “I was seeing a psychologist in
“If I may suggest, I think it would be wise to simply tell Jacob that
you had seen me because I’m current on a problem you have. If there were
a problem, he would notify me and would simply make you comfortable
until I could reach you. Jacob will understand. I have a few other
private patients Below, so you won’t be the first. Why don’t you let me
phone Cathy and see if she has time to see you today while you’re
“That’s very kind of you, thank you.”
He picked up the phone and seconds later he was connected. He
explained that Erica was in need of her services and asked if it were
possible for them to meet. After he hung up he wrote down an address and
handed it to her. “Cathy asked you to come to her office, and she has
about an hour she can give you today. Just ask for her. Keep in touch
and if there are problems, don’t hesitate to reach me either here or at
home.” He hugged her and then walked her out.
The meeting with Catherine went far more smoothly than Erica had
expected. She told her briefly about the settlement she had received and
that she wanted to use some of the money to help the tunnel citizens.
Erica reiterated that no one Below except Pascal knew the details of the
accident that had claimed the lives of her brother and father.
Catherine asked several questions, making notes on a legal pad, and
explained it would take a couple of weeks to get everything set up.
“Together we’ll come up with a plan that will allow you to help the
community secretly. I’ll let you know when we need to meet again Above.
And please know that anything you say is bound by attorney-client
“Catherine, I want to thank you. I appreciate your time, and you have
made this amazingly easy.”
“It’s my pleasure. If there is anything else I can do to help you,
please don’t hesitate to ask. While my experience wasn’t like yours, I
do understand about the mental scars from trauma. I was attacked, my
face slashed, and I was thrown out in the Park.” A small smile teased at
the corner of Catherine’s generous mouth. “In fact, I can now tell you
my attack was the pivotal point in my life. If it hadn’t happened, I
never would have met Vincent, and he changed my life.”
As she stepped off the bus, Erica thought about what Catherine had
said about her attack. She hoped she could hold on to that thought as
she continued her own healing.
Erica continued with her teaching, and weekly she ventured Above for
her appointment with the psychologist Catherine had recommended. For the
first month she felt it was a waste of time, as she did nothing but cry;
but slowly she was able to speak more calmly about the accident during
the weekly sessions.
Pascal was continuously aware of Erica’s grief and her struggle to come to terms with all that had happened. He remembered what a loving and caring couple his parents had been, and he wanted the same type of relationship with Erica. He knew if he was to have that same connection with her, he had to intelligently understand her experience; but more importantly, he had to emotionally comprehend the total trauma that had damaged her body had also ruined her perception of herself.
He became a regular visitor to the upper regions of the library
chamber seeking information on physical trauma. When he had exhausted
the few resources available to him, he borrowed a jean jacket from one
of the pipe students and pulled on his one pair of unpatched jeans and
left the tunnels. After a couple of false turns, he acclimated himself
to the streets and walked up the steps of the main branch of the New
York City Library. Finding what he needed, he settled into a chair and
began to read.
He read for three hours, making notes on things he wished to research
further. Checking the nearby clock, he realized that if he didn’t hurry
he would be late for his pipe code class.
“Hey, Erica, wait up.” Turning, Erica saw Winslow rushing toward her.
The gentle man enveloped her in a warm hug. “It’s good to see you. If
you aren’t rushing to a class, I wondered if you’d have lunch with me.
Pascal’s having a meeting so I thought I’d see if I could have the
privilege of your company. It’s been a couple of weeks since we talked.”
“I’d like that very much.” Taking his hand, together they joined the
throng of citizens eager to find the source of the tantalizing smells
coming from the area of the dining chamber.
Vincent saw his two friends and joined them to share the delicious
soup William was serving.
Winslow smiled broadly as he finished his first spoonful of the soup.
“I’ve been smelling this for the last two hours, and it thoroughly
exceeds the dreams of my stomach!”
As they continued eating Vincent, was delighted to see that Winslow
had lost none of his charm with Erica. He had her smiling and laughing
throughout the meal. There had always been a special bond of friendship
between them since Winslow had become thirteen-year-old Erica’s math
tutor; and with his help, she had aced her courses. Their laughter
echoed over the din, and many heads turned as their shared joy rose to a
Together the trio left the dining hall and headed toward Erica’s
chamber. As they reached her passageway, they bid her goodbye and headed
back toward their respective jobs.
“Let’s do this again. Erica needs to laugh more, and I haven’t
laughed so much at lunch in a long time.” Winslow’s voice held the
caring and love he had for Erica as he continued, “There is still a deep
sadness about her that seems to be beyond mere grief. I want to help her
in any way I can.”
“I’m sure Fielding knew that her tunnel family would care for and help her. With our love, hopefully we can help make our baby sister whole again. Shall we try again tomorrow at lunch?”
The large, fur covered hand was extended and Winslow grinned at
Vincent and knew the same secret pact they had shared as children to
protect and guard the members of their gang had just reasserted itself,
and together they would do all that was necessary to help their baby
sister to heal.
Vincent passed the nursery chamber and heard Erica’s voice as she
softly sung to the child she was rocking. The sound of her voice made
him smile as he walked on toward the Falls. As he reached the Falls, he
heard the sounds of rocks breaking. He knew of no construction work in
this area and his curiosity drove him to hurry.
He reached the small opening just prior to the entrance that opened
onto the rocky cliff he and the others used to view the Falls. Stepping
into the softly lit cavern, he saw Pascal with a sledgehammer, flailing
away at the rock wall. With each stroke he swore and cussed, using words
that Vincent was unaware Pascal knew. He stood silently until Pascal
paused, bent over, leaning heavily on the hammer gasping for breath.
“Is there anything I may do to help?”
“No!” Aware of how harsh his voice sounded, Pascal turned to face his
oldest friend. “Thank you, but no,” he offered in a softer tone.
“I’m just working off my frustrations and anger.”
Momentarily stunned, Vincent stared at his friend before he spoke.
“I’ll be at the overlook if you’d like to join me later after your
work-out is over.” He turned on his heel and left the small chamber. As
he settled on the cliff’s edge, he heard the continuous sounds of the
hammer slamming into rock. The sounds continued for over an hour before
it stopped, and he was again surrounded by the tumultuous sounds of the
Pascal dropped down beside him, breathing hard and wiping his red
face free of sweat with his handkerchief. After a prolonged silence
Pascal looked at Vincent and sighed. “Come on. Let’s go to the pool; I
stink of sweat. While I bathe, could you get me some clean clothes? I’m
supposed to pick Erica up in the nursery.”
Together they easily jogged down the passage, parting company as
Vincent headed toward Pascal’s chamber for clothing, and Pascal entered
the pool. The water eased over his sweaty body, and he began to feel his
tight, tense muscles relax as the water soothed. The pounding of the
rocks had helped ease his frustrations and anger. On his most recent
trip to the city library, he had searched for and found the articles
written in the
Quickly, he had exited the building, running down the steps to
The whole time he had swung the sledgehammer, he had seen the face of
the playboy before him, and he imagined his fists pounding into him
until his face was beyond recognition. From deep within, he found that
he now totally comprehended the rage that drove Vincent to kill to
protect his family when the tunnels had been invaded. He knew without
doubt that if he were to meet that drunken playboy, he would kill him,
and smile as he watched him die! He could literally see the face that
now haunted him as he mentally drove his fists repeatedly into the
He climbed out of the pool, toweled himself dry and dressed. Picking
up the towels, he joined Vincent, returned the unused towels to the
storage locker, and slung his wet towel over his shoulder. “May I walk
with you? I’d like to say hello to Erica, and I haven’t seen the nursery
They continued on is silence and just before reaching the nursery,
Pascal stopped. “You look fine.” The gentle voice caused Pascal to
exhale loudly as they resumed walking. Quietly, they slipped into the
nursery and silently walked into the inner chamber where all the
children were sleeping. Erica was rocking one of the toddlers, and with
profound gentleness, Vincent picked up the not quite sleeping child and
began to walk, rocking and whispering softly. He smiled at the infant
who was patting his cheek and nodded to Erica. Pascal took Erica’s hand,
and they left Vincent, secure in the knowledge that the child would soon
fall asleep under the spell of Vincent’s hypnotic voice.
As they reached the outer chamber, Pascal thought he heard a soft
whisper coming from the nursery. For a brief moment he paused then his
mind heard the sound again, “Love is the truth that will guide you.” He
was positive it was Vincent’s voice he heard. He smiled to himself, as
he had never doubted Vincent’s ability to dwell within the hearts and
minds of those whom he loved.
Later that night, after escorting Erica to her chamber, Pascal
wandered through the tunnels into the deeper regions, knowing he still
needed time alone. He had done what his conscience had known was right,
but he knew that he needed time to mentally come to grips with all that
had happened to Erica. There was no doubt within his mind of his
enduring love for her, but he wasn’t sure of his deeper feelings about
not being able to have children of his own. Wisely, he realized that his
attitude toward the carnage done to her body would be the key to their
future relationship and happiness. His shock had been great, and he was
aware that Erica had expected scorn or despair when she bared her body
to him. Her bravery in baring her ravaged body was something he knew had
required great courage on her part. He could never have envisioned from
mere words the scars and physical damage.
As he walked, his thoughts turned deeper as he knew he must come to
her honestly and openly. The horror of what had happened, lying in the
wreckage knowing Gerald was dead and seeing pieces of metal embedded
into her flesh must have been a psychological nightmare. And being in
the same hospital room with Fielding, knowing he was mortally wounded
and that each second might be the last, surely must have left severe
Suddenly it dawned on him, if she had been in the hospital all that
time, Gerald and Fielding had obviously been buried without her in
attendance. To have been buried without anyone to mourn their passage
was shattering to him.
As he walked, he was totally unaware of the tears that streamed down
his face. At the next passage, he turned left, going down to the level
where the last traces of the ghostly voices from the chamber of the
winds could be heard. The sounds were eerie, and few ever ventured
there. As a boy, he had been fascinated by the voices, wondering where
within the vast city Above were the people who belonged to the ghostly
He found a spot that gave him a clear line of vision and settled into
the dirt. He remembered how beautiful Erica had looked as a teen when
they had all gone swimming; how in love he was with her shapely body and
the dreams he had of what lie beneath those two pieces of cloth. His
vision blurred, the bathing suit gone, and he once again saw all that
had been done to her body – the heavy scaring, the marks that had been
created by all the sutures used to close the wounds, and the deep
depression that had once been her breast. His hands covered his face as
his body silently shook. Unable to control himself or his agony, he
cried out as he allowed the anguish and horror to be released.
Time ceased as he sat there sobbing for the degradation of what had
happened to Erica and all that it had robbed from their life together.
His tears became more intense when suddenly he felt a lone, strong arm
slip over his shoulder and he found himself pulled against a muscular
There were no questions. Vincent simply sat in the dirt alongside his
dear friend and held him as he sobbed. And he knew that when Pascal’s
pain ebbed there would be no embarrassment between them. Pascal had been
the one who had held him when he had sobbed for days after Devin had
Pascal tried to speak but only the heartbreaking keening of
soul-shattering pain continued to pour from his body. Vincent’s strong
arms held him and he felt the lonely desolation of agony that surrounded
his friend. Some hours later, Vincent passed his handkerchief to Pascal,
and they continued to sit in silence. “If you need a listening heart,
you know I shall be there for you, or both of you if you wish it.”
Upon leaving the dining hall, Erica asked if Pascal would mind
detouring past the library, as she needed to speak privately with
Father. Not wishing to intrude, Pascal waited in the passage as she
walked into the library.
Quietly, Erica told Father she had decided to use Dr. Alcott as her
physician of choice because he was current on her medical problems.
Father was neither shocked nor upset by this news; he calmly accepted
her statement. “If anything should happen to you, I will do what is
needed to make you comfortable as well as notifying Peter. He has
several patients within the tunnels, and it has never been a problem. He
and I work things out for the well-being of the patient. I do appreciate
your telling me, and I’ll note it on your medical card both here and in
“Thank you for being so understanding.” She chatted for a few more
minutes and then went to rejoin Pascal.
By unspoken agreement they returned to Erica’s chamber and settled on
the sofa. “I informed Father that Dr. Alcott is to be my personal
physician. The fewer people who know about what happened to me, the
better I will feel. People would be kind, but I would be uncomfortable
if everyone knew. I don’t want to be the object of their pity.”
“I can surely understand. I’d probably feel the same way if it were
me. There are certain things I don’t mind people knowing; but like you,
I am essentially a private person. You, Vincent, and Winslow know me
completely, but others only see what I want them to see.”
The hours passed quickly as they continued to talk. Pascal spoke of
his plans for the coming week when the four-year-old children would have
their first experience at seeing the pipe chamber. Afterwards they would
return to their pre-school class and instructions would begin on
teaching them to code their name and the word “help” on the practice
“It’s late; I should let you go back to your chamber.” Her voice was
wistful ending in a soft sigh.
Carefully he leaned to kiss her. “If you would allow me, I’d like to
stay with you again, holding you through the night as you sleep.” His
voice was a bare whisper as his eyes caressed her face. “Having you in
my arms would simply fill my heart with joy. But if you prefer to be
alone, I will certainly understand.”
Her heart hammered, and she was positive that it was visually
pounding enough for Pascal to see. Tears stained her lashes, and as she
spoke, her voice was shaking with emotion. “I was so scared you wouldn’t
ever want to touch me after you saw my body. I thought perhaps it was
only pity. You are so honorable, but I don’t want to hold…”
“Erica, I love you,” he firmly stated as he interrupted her. “If I
never touch your body, we would still have more than many couples. If we
had been married and this had happened to you, I couldn’t turn from you.
You have experienced something harsh, mind-changing, and it requires
time to heal. I want to give you that time, but I’m selfish enough to
say I like holding you in my arms.” He paused wanting to say what was
clearly within his heart. “You returned expecting to find me married and
to spend your life alone. You could have ignored your feelings,
pretended you no longer cared, and we wouldn’t have spoken of all this.
I’ve never known you to take the easy road.
“I still love you, but know that we can’t rush. There is too much
trauma and pain involved. I don’t think you are ready for a serious
relationship with me or any other man. You still need to heal
emotionally and physically.”
“Dr. Alcott said he could find a plastic surgeon if I want to have
the scars removed or buffed and maybe reconstruction. I don’t know; I
have mixed feelings about it. The thought of another surgery terrifies
me. I don’t know if I can do it, but the thought of living with this
abomination is equally terrifying.”
“You need to consider what would be best for you. If plastic surgery
would make you feel better, then we’ll find the money. I’ll go Above,
get a job, and we’ll save for the surgery.”
Her hand stroked his face as his words melted the fears that consumed
her. His simple honor was clear. She was his woman and it was his
responsibility to provide for her. Her hands continued to stroke him,
her lips trembling as she tried to express the multitude of thoughts,
the love that whirled within as his love continued to wash over her.
“Your understanding is more than I ever conceived possible. I’m
ashamed of how I felt about coming home. The selfish side of me wanted
you to be alone so I could still dream about a life with you. But then
I’ve felt so guilty and depraved in having such thoughts. The selfless
part of me wanted to find you married and surrounded by your children,
because I knew that would fulfill all your dreams.”
He heard the pain and sorrow that echoed in her voice as she revealed
her deeper feelings. “I, too, had similar thoughts. Part of me wanted
you to see me and realize what you had abandoned. So, you see, our
feelings aren’t that much different.
“We need to move carefully, allow ourselves time to adjust to the
changes, speak openly and honestly so that later we don’t accidentally
hurt each other.”
Her arms tightened around him as she brushed her lips across his.
They both realized the weeks and months ahead would be filled with
difficult moments. “I’m certain if we go with love and care, we will
come through this with a deeper love and respect. I love you so much,
Erica; and whatever we need to do, I’m willing to work hard so that we
can have a happy life.”
As the weeks passed, the community became accustomed to seeing Erica
and Pascal together, and they were thought of as a couple. Often times
they were together with Vincent and Catherine or with Olivia and Kanin,
and it became common to see the couples together.
Erica continued to go Above weekly to see Dr. Grafton, the
psychologist that Catherine had recommended. The sessions with him were
difficult in the beginning, but she knew that when she returned, Pascal
was waiting for her, offering his strong support. Slowly, she began to
become emotionally stronger and her smile had returned.
“Father, do you have a few minutes? There is something I would like
to discuss with you.”
“Erica, my dear, I always have time for you. Come sit and tell me how
I may help.”
“I would like to arrange to have Gerald’s and Daddy’s bodies
disinterred and brought back here to have them entombed in the catacombs
near Momma. Would the council object? The idea of them in
“I’ve never had such a request, but I certainly will speak to the
Council. I personally have no objections, and we do have a Helper who
owns a funeral home so I think it would pose little, if any, logistical
problems. May I speak in your behalf or do you wish to address the
“I’d be grateful if you would speak for me. I still have problems in
speaking about them, and I fear I would become too emotional; I couldn’t
explain how much this means to me.”
“I will consider it an honor to speak in your behalf. We have a
Council meeting tomorrow, and I will add your request to the agenda.”
When the Council met, they were unanimous in their agreement that
Erica be given approval to have Gerald and Fielding brought home. Father
sent a message to Mr. Browning and asked that he come Below at his
Erica met with him in the empty dining hall and worked out the
arrangement. Mr. Browning was surprised when Erica wrote out a check to
cover the costs, but he didn’t bat an eye when she explained that it was
Several weeks later, the tunnel community gathered at the Mirror Pool
to pay their final respects to Gerald and Fielding. Father’s voice
trembled as he tried to express his feelings. “Fielding and Maria came
to us early, when we were still afraid of footsteps in the dark. But her
generous heart and his wide, easy smile soon managed to disperse the
darkness with their own personal light. Gerald was born within these
tunnels, bringing joy and happiness as we watched him grow from infancy
to a delightful young boy, eager to serve and always willing to help.
Our hearts ache that Gerald and Fielding were taken from us far too
early, but we rejoice that Erica has returned home to us. The burden of
their passing is made easier now that their earthly remains have been
brought home to reside with their beloved Maria.”
Father stepped forward placing his personal message of love into the flames, then offered his hand to Erica as she stepped forward.
“Goodbye Gerald, I miss you. I remember how proud you were when you
finally passed your Lost and Found course. Your token from finding
Vincent is now my prized possession. I miss you, Daddy. I am so blessed
in having had you as my father and knowing your generous love. I know
Momma is happy to see you again. I love you so much.” The flames
brightened as they consumed her message.
Pascal stepped forward. “Know that I will guard and protect Erica now
as I did when we were all children. She will always be safe with me. She
will never be alone, and I shall always love her.” He slid his message
into the fire and stepped to place his arms around Erica.
One by one Vincent, Winslow, William, Mary and the others came
forward to honor Gerald and Fielding. After the ceremony was over, all
the mourners made the long trek to the catacombs, and there Winslow
replaced the temporary stone that had been used to mark the grave with
the one he had carved bearing their names.
Over the weeks since Erica returned, the community consciously became
aware that, unlike Vincent, Pascal no longer maintained an open door
policy at his personal chamber. He began to establish limits for
intrusion upon his after-work hours; a policy he wanted to have firmly
in place when he and Erica married. He was aware of the invasion upon
Vincent and Catherine’s private time by the citizens, knew that he,
himself, had been guilty of that; and he strived to correct this policy
within his own world.
As he and Erica entered his chamber, he automatically placed the
lantern in the passage leading to his entrance and drew the heavy rug
that served as his door over the access. They settled on the sofa, and
Pascal sighed as he toed off his boots. “It’s been a very long day, and
I didn’t manage more than ten minutes off my feet all afternoon.”
“If you are too tired, I can wait until tomorrow to talk. It doesn’t
have to be tonight. I know how hard you work.”
“No, I’m never too tired to talk with you.” He settled more
comfortably, drawing her into his arms.
“I’ve been trying to think of a way to tell you this, but I couldn’t
decide on a way that wouldn’t be a shock to you. I’m sure you have been
curious as to how I was able to arrange to have Gerald and Daddy’s
remains returned home and how I am paying for my mental health
“Well, at first I was curious, but then I figured it had been
insurance money that you used.”
“It wasn’t insurance money. The man who hit us settled the lawsuit
out of court before he went to prison. It was a considerable amount of
money, even after the lawyer’s fees, and it is all in a bank, here in
the city. My lawyer asked for and received five times over what his
expert surgeons said reconstructive surgery would cost, plus suing for
pain and suffering, mental anguish as well as loss of income from Daddy
and the potential lifetime earnings for Gerald.”
Pascal’s eyes widened as he tried to comprehend all Erica had said.
He honestly had no concept of what lawyers were able to obtain in such a
wrongful death action lawsuits.
“You’re saying you’re rich?”
“I guess you would have to say that. I don’t really want the money,
not for myself. I want to use most of it to help our community, get some
of the things that would ease the strain we place on our Helpers to
assist us, and I want the money to go toward helping the children have
the best possible education.”
“I don’t know what to say. I’m speechless.”
“I’ve hoped that you could help me think of ways to use the money
without it becoming known that I actually have it. Some might feel that
with money, we shouldn’t live here. I never want to leave our home.”
“Does anyone else know about the money?”
“Catherine does, because she helped with the transfer of funds,
setting up the bank accounts, and the payment of taxes. She allowed me
to use her address for tax purposes. Peter knows, because he directed me
to Catherine in the first place.”
“Then perhaps she could help with your plans to assist with the
children’s education. I’ve always felt that she does more than what she
ever admits as far as helping us is concerned.”
“There is something else I have to tell you.” Her eyes filled as she
took his hand. “Catherine also knows what my body looks like. She came
searching for me at the bathing pool and saw me as I was getting out.
When I saw the look on her face, I fainted. She also encouraged me to
see Dr. Grafton to help with my healing.”
He lifted her face from his shoulder and lightly kissed her as he
smiled. “I’m happy that you will have another sounding board. Catherine
has such an understanding heart.”
Pascal lingered in the passage, aware from the sentry alert that Catherine was on her way to the main hub. He also knew that Vincent was still teaching, so he hoped to have a few minutes alone with Catherine.
“Pascal, what a pleasure it is to see you. It’s been too long. Are
you well?” Her whole face brightened with her radiant smile as she
grasped his hand in welcome. Her face was flushed a delightful shade of
pink, an indication that she had been walking rapidly.
“Catherine, may I have a word with you in private? Some place where
we won’t be interrupted or overheard?”
“Of course. Where do you suggest?”
“It’s not far to my chamber, and we would have privacy.”
“Then let’s go there. Tell me how have you been?”
As they walked Pascal told her about the new beginning pipe class for
the four-year-old children, the joys and frustrations they were
experiencing in learning to code their name and the word help.
Once they settled onto the sofa in Pascal’s chamber, he immediately came
to the point.
“I wanted to thank you for everything you have done for Erica –
helping her with her settlement and recommending a psychiatrist. I’m
grateful she has you to discuss the trauma done to her body. It helps
for her to share with another woman.”
“Oh, Pascal, I’m only too pleased to be a listening ear for her and
to help in any way I possibly can. I had heard about Erica many times
before she returned, and she was obviously a special favorite of the
community. Vincent spoke with such fondness of his baby sister; and when
she returned, I was so pleased that I could finally put a face to the
name I had heard so often. And I was so delighted when we met that she
wished to be friends. If there is anything more I can do for her – or
for you – I hope you won’t hesitate to ask. My situation was different,
but I do understand what Erica is going through. I’m pleased she is
seeing Dr. Grafton.”
“He is making a difference. In the beginning, she came home in tears,
and all I could do was hold her,” he offered shyly.
“There are more times than you know, Pascal, when simply holding the
person in pain is what they truly need and want. The warm contact of
another body holding you tightly can ease and heal far more than words.
Don’t ever discount the importance of holding Erica as she heals and
after. Grief is shared more profoundly when in the arms of your
“I want to do everything possible to aid in her healing. I’ve loved
her since I was a teen and thought I would die of grief when she left
Catherine reached out, taking his hand within her own. “Loving can be
a journey with many twists, but ultimately it is worth everything and
more. The joy is far greater than any sorrow. It is beyond measure. I
know that’s the truth.”
Pascal stared openly at Catherine, realizing anew the intensity of
her love for Vincent and all of his uniqueness. She understood the
complexity of his dear friend as few others did. He hoped her
wisdom would aid him in his love of Erica.
Pascal continued visiting the city library, determined to learn all
he could that would aid him in comprehending all that Erica faced. And
when his frustrations and anger became too great, he returned to the
same cave by the
He sat on the high cliff having settled there after another one of
his most violent sessions of smashing the walls into shambles of broken
“Your strength is growing stronger,” the gentle voice stated as
Vincent eased down beside him. “Kanin will probably soon be asking you
to abandon your beloved pipes in favor of joining his chamber-building
Pascal smiled because he knew Vincent was aware of how much he hated
breaking stone, the deep bone-jarring trauma to his body with each
stroke of the hammer. They had split many stones together as teens, as
it was a tunnel rite of passage for the boys as they grew to manhood.
“Sometimes sanity is only maintained when physically exhausted.”
Vincent chuckled at Pascal’s words. “And next, you the non-believer,
will be telling me that Shakespeare did know everything!”
“He did! You told me so countless times, and you never lie!”
“Are things becoming easier for you? I have observed you are a little
“You can say that when I’m sit here sweating, red-faced and so
whipped I couldn’t fight off a flea?” The smile on Pascal’s face was
bright as he laughed. Vincent joined in his laughter and the joyful
sound rolled across the huge cavernous space.
“I have been remembering things my father told me about loving
someone. He said it was the most rewarding experience, but also the most
challenging. He said you had to love deeply enough to let go with joy,
knowing that in the end, the love always returned more immense and
wondrous than you ever imagined.
“He also said that loving my mother was beyond all he ever
expected…and more difficult than his father told him it would be. She
was his world; but like all humans, she came with foibles and
idiosyncrasies that would test a saint. Their problems often seemed
insurmountable, yet, together, they persevered.”
“Your father was very wise. As teens we thought being in love would
solve all our problems. But as we mature, we realize that in loving a
person it is only the beginning as we grapple to understand all that the
word encompasses. It is the good and bad, right and wrong, joy and
sorrow, passion and abstinence, health and illness, plenty and want that
is the ongoing challenge but the love always gives life its enduring
Although Vincent said nothing further, within his own mind he heard
the one word that summed it all up. “Catherine.”
The silence grew lengthy as both men were lost in thought of the
women they loved and the responsibilities to their loving.
The next time Erica went Above to meet with Dr. Grafton, she arranged
to meet Catherine for lunch at
“Catherine, I’d like to begin helping the community, using some of
the settlement money I received. Here’s a list of some of the things I
would like to do.”
Unfolding the paper, Catherine quickly read down the list. “You’ve
been busy, I see,” she said with a smile.
“I’ve been quietly observing where we needed help and also ways to
improve things. One of the things I see is that our children are lacking
in some skills that will make them more employable if they elect to live
Above. The boys are taught woodworking and they know how to be a
stonemason. The girls are taught sewing and practical nursing, but they
need a certificate for that from a recognized school Above to gain
“I know that electric typewriters are the trend and that manual
typewriters are on the way out. I thought if we could get several manual
typewriters, they could be used to teach typing to the children, which
is a good skill for them to know. I also thought if we could secure
automobile engines from wrecked cars, teaching mechanics would offer
another skill for the boys or even the girls.”
“These are great ideas. I wish I had thought of them myself!”
Catherine grinned joyfully, then grabbed Erica’s hand enthusiastically.
“I’m almost positive that Kanin has automobile skills, as I remember a
conversation where he was talking about his teen years and working on
his family’s car.”
“If not, perhaps one of our Helpers could teach such a class.”
As they ate, they continued to discuss ways to ease some of the
shortages Below without anyone connecting the gifts to Erica. “I’ve
worked out arrangements with other Helpers,” Catherine offered casually,
“who have allowed me to purchase items of need, but the actual donations
were made by that other person. Not strictly above board,” she smiled
openly, “but it does allow for needs to be met without my enduring one
of Father’s lectures.”
“Catherine, on a more serious note, I have a favor to ask of you. I
would like to have a consultation with a plastic surgeon about my body,
but I’m too terrified to go alone. Would you go with me?”
“Of course, just let me know when and where and I’ll be there.”
“I wasn’t going to consider it, but Pascal and I are much closer. He
knows about all the scars and how disfigured my body is. Now I think I
have to consider the intimate side of our relationship, so I at least
want to hear what a surgeon would have to say about reconstruction and
removing some of the heavy scars. The one thing that no doctor can fix
is my inability to ever give him a child,” sadness filled her eyes and
she blinked rapidly. “All of our lives, Pascal has talked about
‘when’ he has children and how they will carry on his heritage.”
Catherine reached over, taking her hand and squeezing, “There are
always children Below who need parents. Pascal would be a perfect father
and you would be an ideal mother.”
They continued to talk of ways to help the community as they
completed their meal.
After thanking Catherine for the delightful lunch, Erica went to her
appointment with Dr. Grafton, and afterwards, she paid a visit to
Peter’s office to obtain his recommendation of a plastic surgeon. “I can
give you two names, and I can tell you they are the same two names I
recommended to Cathy following her attack in the Park. There are none
finer in the city.”
“Could your office arrange for an appointment for me?”
“Of course, I’ll have my nurse phone, and if necessary, I’ll speak to
the doctors to see that you are given an early appointment. I’m glad you
have decided to investigate this option.”
Thanking Peter for all his assistance Erica went back to the
reception room while his nurse telephoned. When she left ten minutes
later, she had an appointment scheduled in twelve days and a list of
what she should bring to the appointment.
After leaving the plastic surgeon’s office, Catherine invited Erica
back to her apartment where they could talk in private about all that
had been said during the meeting. “I wish Pascal were here so we could
all talk together,” Erica said wistfully.
“I can arrange that,” Catherine happily offered. She telephoned Peter
at home, asked him to tap a message to Pascal via the pipes located in
the tunnel beneath his home. He readily agreed and wished them a happy
Catherine ordered pizza, knowing it was a favorite of Pascal’s and
something that wasn’t available too often within the tunnels. Within the
hour, Pascal arrived, and Catherine immediately made him feel at ease
within her home. Over their dinner, they discussed the mountain of
informational material Erica had been given. Catherine spoke candidly
concerning her own surgery, discussing her fears and her recovery time.
As Peter had prophesied, the surgeon indicated after examining Erica
that corrective surgery would be lengthy, and three separate surgeries
would be required. He frankly stated that her new body would be a long
way from perfect, but he felt certain he would be able to obtain at
least a 60% overall improvement of her appearance.
After quietly listening for thirty minutes, Pascal finally spoke.
“Are you certain this is what you wish to do? You’ve spoken of being
fearful of more surgeries.”
“I still have some fears, but slowly the fears are beginning to
disappear, thanks, in part, to my therapy with Dr. Grafton. It’s been a
long road, and I feel more peaceful. I’m able to speak more easily about
Gerald and Daddy without bursting into tears. Right now I just want to
have all the information so I’ll know what I’ll be facing in terms of
the surgery. And I wanted Catherine to go with me as extra ears, but I
wanted you here so we could openly discuss this. I felt Catherine could
help answer any of our questions from the point of someone who has had
Erica turned on the love seat so that she was squarely facing Pascal.
“I very much want to be beautiful in your eyes on our wedding night.”
Pascal stared for several long minutes, swallowing repeatedly until
he found his voice. “If tonight were our wedding night, you would be
beautiful in my eyes, because your beauty shines from within.” He leaned
over, gently kissing her, completely forgetting that Catherine was in
the room. When he looked up he saw tears brimming Catherine’s lashes,
and she was smiling happily.
Vincent and Catherine became constant companions with Erica and
Pascal in the weeks before the first surgery. Vincent was aware there
was something going on, but refused to use his empathic powers to invade
the privacy of his friends. Shortly before the first surgery was
scheduled, they reached a joint decision to share the nature of Erica’s
surgery with Vincent.
While Pascal was Above with Catherine on the day of the surgery,
Vincent sat high above the
A year slowly passed, and two of the necessary surgeries had
successfully been completed. The tunnel citizens became accustomed to
Pascal’s new schedule and were growing comfortable with the strict
schedule of hours he worked in the pipe chamber and when his office was
open. They now never invaded his privacy while he was in his chamber. He
continued to give unstintingly to the community, his smile was always
there, and he was always willing to help others; but he allowed nothing
and no one to interfere with his time with Erica while she recuperated
from her surgeries.
It became equally known that when Vincent was with Erica, he allowed only Catherine to interrupt their time together. While she recovered, Vincent and Pascal took over her piano lessons in addition to their other duties. When she was first allowed up, it was not unusual to see Pascal or Vincent carrying her the four feet from her bed to the living area of the chamber. Finally, it was Peter’s stern admonishment that made the two knights cease their pampering and allow her to begin regaining strength in her legs.
Everyone smiled whenever the couple passed them in the tunnels. The
light of their love shone around them warming everyone with its glow.
Mary’s smile was constant when she saw the combined happiness of her two
grown, adopted sons stroll the passageways with their chosen ladies.
Even Father found himself smiling when he passed Pascal and Erica, his
heart suddenly lighter in the open joy he saw visible on their faces.
Between the surgeries, Erica worked secretly with Catherine and
several other Helpers to arrange that some needed items found their way
Below. Six dozen army surplus blankets arrived, as did several new
pickaxes and shovels. Father was delighted beyond words when two cases
of multi-vitamins arrived just before the start of winter.
A great fury of activity occurred when the son of a long-time Helper
came to call upon Father, stating he felt he had been neglecting his
tunnel duties and offered to provide and would also teach classes in
automotive repair. He had three engines stored in his garage, and he
would be happy to donate those if Father could provide the labor to
bring them down. He laughed as he said his love for working on motors
was well known within his family and every year they gave him tools for
his birthday, so he surely had more than enough to share with the new
William was especially joyful when a wide variety of foodstuffs began
to appear regularly. He had become an expert at making do and turning
little into hearty meals. He was now in his glory as he had enough food
that he now could offer larger portions, and his beloved pies became a
weekly staple on the tunnel menu.
Pascal began preparing for the final phase of the Lost and Found
course for the older boys as Erica returned home from her third and
final surgery. During the day he worked with Vincent and Winslow as they
plotted the course Vincent would lead the children over. Each night, as
soon as his relief arrived, Pascal grabbed clean clothing, made a quick
trip to the bathing pool, and immediately went to Erica’s chamber. Often
upon arrival he found Vincent or Winslow there ahead of him, reading or
simply talking with Erica, helping her to ease the hours until his
arrival. As soon as he arrived, the perfunctory excuses would be made
and after kissing Erica goodnight, her brothers would leave.
He settled onto the edge of her bed and simply smiled. “Since there
seems to be a lot of kissing going on here, mind if I get in on the
action?” His kiss was long and gentle, as he was aware of her fragility
and her newly-healing body.
“How are you feeling?”
“Weak and sleepy, I’ve had such trouble staying awake today. Livvy
and Luke came to visit, but I kept falling asleep.”
“You know what Peter said. It’s your body’s way of saying it needs
more rest. This is your first week home after spending your first four
days out of the hospital at Catherine’s. You’re just impatient, as you
were after the first two surgeries.” He leaned forward, kissing her
forehead and again smiled.
“I hope tomorrow you and Vincent will allow me to sit on the sofa
while you give piano lessons. I miss the children and love seeing them
practice their music.”
“We’ll see how you’re feeling then before any decision is made. Would
you like some tea?” She nodded, and he went into the living area to brew
the tea, collect the cups and the cake William had sent. As they sat
drinking their tea, they heard Peter’s greeting from the passage.
“How’s my favorite patient doing today?” Peter smiled as he shed his coat, then opened his bag. “Go ahead and finish your tea.”
After drinking their tea Pascal collected their cups and then excused
himself to settle on the sofa to wait until the exam was over. Later he
heard his name being called, and he re-entered the bedroom. Peter was
smiling as he spoke. “She’s healing nicely, no sign of a fever, and
things appear to be right on schedule. Are you seeing that she does her
leg exercises twice daily? And following all the other instructions of
“I don’t want you, Vincent, or Winslow carrying her around. Her leg
will only become stronger with continuous use. I know all of you mean
well, but you aren’t helping.”
“If you had two brothers as big as Winslow and Vincent, you’d know
what a battle I have in getting them not to carry me.” She laughed as
she talked, but both Pascal and Peter saw the love for her two brothers
that shone brightly in her eyes. “It’s like talking to a stone wall!”
“You have your first post-surgery appointment with Dr. Nichols next
Monday,” Peter stated. “I’ll pick you and Pascal up on the Park drive at
nine, as I know Cathy has a court date.”
Mary and Olivia scurried about collecting appropriate items from
their store of patterns and fabrics. Olivia had sketched a design that
Erica approved, and the search began for fabric for her wedding dress.
She didn’t wish to have an “above” style dress but wanted something that
represented her tunnel heritage. Mary found an aged piece of lace for
her veil, that once laundered, had a lovely ivory patina and looked
beautiful against Erica’s delicate skin.
Together the members of the tunnel sewing circle worked tirelessly on
creating the perfect dress with soft, long sleeves that ended in Juliet
points. Tiny stitches were lovingly sewn into the aged fabrics, and as
they stitched, the ladies told stories of their own tunnel weddings.
Their shared laughter and joy echoed within the chamber. Catherine was
overjoyed she had been asked to participate. Her smile was radiant as
she listened to the stories about her adopted family and she learned of
their wedding traditions.
While the ladies stitched, Kanin, Winslow, Vincent, and Cullen began
the arduous task of creating a new chamber for Pascal and Erica. Both of
their current chambers were too small for two people and the
accompanying larger size bed. Pascal wished to bring along three of the
pieces of furniture from his current chamber that his father had
crafted. Kanin carefully measured those pieces and made certain the new
chamber would be large enough to accommodate them.
After a long day breaking rocks and finally free of the dust and
pebbles that clung to his hair, Vincent emerged from the bathing pool
and headed for the Falls. As he had anticipated, he found Pascal sitting
with his back against the wall, a thermos of tea beside him. “How’s the
“It’s going smoothly so far. Kanin thinks it will be another month before both the chambers are complete and we get some of the more jagged edges smoothed and create some shelves. Then Cullen’s woodshop gang will be in to install the sconces on the walls and hang chandeliers.
“How was Erica’s latest check-up with Dr. Nichols?”
“He said she was healing nicely. He also said the first sets of scars
were fading, becoming less noticeable as they age.” Pascal sighed as he
settled more comfortably against the rock wall.
“You’ve been exemplary in your support throughout all the surgeries
and in the previous days. Your faith has sustained her through it all,
and your dedication to Erica speaks highly of the depth of your love and
“I kept remembering things my Dad said about being supportive, even
while his heart was breaking when Mom became ill. They are my idols as
to what love, partnership, and marriage mean. Every time I became upset
by what that drunk did to Erica, I had to get away. Take out my
frustrations and anger on the rocks.”
“I know. That formerly small cave behind us has gotten considerably
larger while you beat out your demons. Just last week as I was walking
Catherine home, she said how proud she was for all you have done to help
Pascal blushed. Catherine’s compliment made him proud, as he knew
what a struggle he had endured to surmount several issues, particularly
that he would never have children of his own.
“I’m so scared, Catherine, I haven’t looked at myself since Dr.
Nichols released me. When I have taken my baths, I’ve kept my eyes
closed because I didn’t want to lose hope that Dr. Nichols had been
correct about the improvements. I’ve told myself I should look so I can
prepare Pascal – the wedding is only three weeks away. He’s so loving
and wonderful, and I want to look beautiful when we make love for the
“You are already beautiful in his eyes. He saw you at your lowest
point, and Dr. Nichols removed much of the damage. I’ll wait in the
bedroom while you look.” She leaned over, giving Erica a reassuring hug
and then closed the door.
Erica stood looking at her reflection in the brightly lit bathroom of
Catherine’s apartment. Slowly, her hands moved over the buttons on her
blouse, then she removed it. She took a deep breath, hoped it would calm
her nerves, and began to undress. She stood with her eyes closed for
several minutes, then allowed her eyes to open, focusing on the image in
She could only stare, and then she began to loudly sob. She heard
Catherine’s knock as she continued sobbing as she stared at her
“Erica, are you all right? Erica?”
“Oh, Catherine!” She reached for the doorknob and pulled the door
open as tears continued to cascade down her cheeks.
Catherine stood there, happy tears wetting her face, as she smiled.
“Erica, you look lovely.”
“I expected it would be better,” her hand brushed down her body, “but
I never dreamed I would ever look like this again!” She continued to
stare at her reflection.
Catherine quietly closed the door and moved toward the balcony. She
stood looking out over the lights as her happy tears continued to fall.
Basking in the moonlight, her thoughts turned to Vincent; and she sent
her love winging to him, knowing he had felt her earlier alarm and how
uneasy he would be. Quietly, she whispered into the night, “Your baby
sister is beautiful.”
Catherine and Erica sat on the loveseat as Erica softly talked of all
she was feeling. “I still can’t get over the change, even though I stood
naked in your bathroom for over an hour.” Her voice trembled as she
tried to control her emotions. “Part of me wants to run home and
immediately show Pascal how I look.”
The smile on Erica’s face was catching and Catherine began to giggle.
“I hope you don’t do that in the middle of the pipe chamber! Although
I’m sure Pascal would enjoy it.
“I want to make this offer, but you are under no obligation to
accept. If you would consider it, I’d like to offer you my cabin in
“Oh, how that’s so sweet of you. It sounds perfect and wonderful.
I’ll certainly mention it to Pascal and then let you know our decision.”
The tunnels were filled with the excited voices of many Helpers and citizens as they all converged on the Great Hall for the wedding. William had outdone himself in creating a wedding cake that would be talked of for many years. No one wanted to staff the sentry posts or the pipe chamber, as all of Pascal’s friends wanted to witness his wedding. Thinking of no other way to maintain security, Father finally decided that a lottery draw of names for duty was the only equitable solution.
Rather than risk hurting the feelings of any of her friends, Erica
decided she would have no attendants and was pleased when Winslow and
Vincent agreed to serve in her father’s place. Catherine arrived early
wishing to assist in helping Erica get dressed.
Pascal shifted nervously as he stared expectantly toward the entrance
of the Great Hall. As soon as the music began, he straightened, standing
very erect when Erica came into view. His hand went to his heart which
he was positive was going to jump out of his chest as he saw how
beautiful she looked with both her arms draped within the muscular arms
of Vincent on her left and a beaming Winslow on her right.
From behind him Pascal heard Father’s whisper, “Breathe,” and he took
a deep calming breath. The smiles of their guests grew as the trio moved
up the aisle and came to a halt. Erica stepped forward as Pascal offered
“Dear friends, we have gathered today to bless the union of two of
our citizens who have expressed their sincere wish to be joined. They
have grown up within our home, and it has been our great pleasure to see
them mature from toddlers to adults within our family.
“We are here to witness the exchange of their vows as they join our
community as husband and wife. There are few, if any here, who have not
shared in the joy of seeing their love, grow and blossom. It has been a
blessing to have shared in their ecstasy, and our own hearts have grown
lighter as we observed their love become deeper.
“Who giveth Erica to be joined to Pascal?”
Winslow and Vincent stepped forward and jointly their voices rang
out, “On behalf of Erica’s family, we stand united as the brothers of
Erica’s heart to give her hand to be joined to that of our brother
Pascal.” They each kissed Erica on the cheek and then took their places
in the seats beside Catherine and Mary.
“If you will join hands…” Father waited as Pascal took Erica’s hand
in his. “Do you promise before God and this company to honor and love
each other, to be ever faithful in mind, body, and spirit, and to
cherish each other all the days of your life?”
Pascal looked deeply into Erica’s eyes as he responded in a strong,
clear voice. “I will.” He then placed a ring upon her finger.
Erica stared into Pascal’s eyes, swallowed, and triumphantly said “I
so promise with all my heart.”
“Then you may now kiss your bride.”
As Pascal kissed his wife, a loud wave of applause and happy voices
joined in cheering the joyful couple. The sound grew in volume until it
became a mighty roar that echoed within the vast hall.
Blushing and smiling they turned to face their friends and we were
greeted by a plethora of smiles that stretched the entire length of the
Great Hall. The receiving line was quickly formed, and the blissful
couple was soon engulfed in a sea of warm hugs and kisses. The smiles,
laughter, and merriment continued for hours as the tunnel community
In a small group of friends standing a few yards away from the happy
couple, Catherine, Vincent, Winslow, Mary, and Father stood. Each time
they looked at Pascal and Erica, Vincent and Winslow broke into carefree
smiles. “She’s truly happy, and she has healed,” Winslow offered to no
one in particular.
“Yes,” Catherine replied, “she truly has, and I’m certain much of her
healing has to do with Pascal’s steadfast love and the constant, ongoing
support of her two brothers. The support, in all the hundreds of ways
you have shown it, helped to heal her as much as Pascal’s love.”
The limousine turned into the lane and wound its way up the mile-long
drive. In the distance they saw lights from the cabin shining in
welcome. After carrying their luggage inside, the driver tipped his hat
and turned to leave. “I’ll pick you up here two weeks from today. Enjoy
Together Erica and Pascal looked around the first floor of the warm
and welcoming cabin. There was a supply of wood stacked and ready for a
fire to be built. And in the kitchen they found a well-stocked
refrigerator and an assortment of canned goods tucked within the
cabinets. “It’s totally beyond what I thought a cabin would be. I
thought it would be more rustic.”
“Catherine said her father wanted the quiet of the country, but that
he enjoyed the comforts of city living as did her mother, so when he had
the cabin built, he included all the comforts they were used to in the
city.” Erica smiled as she took Pascal’s hand, and they ventured onto
the deck that wrapped around the back of the cabin.
They stood staring at the dark night sky, and overhead a carpet of
stars winked. Erica’s gentle sigh echoed in the stillness, “It’s so
breathtaking. It’s superior to the night sky in
After exploring the rest of the cabin, Pascal took their luggage into
the first floor bedroom. They settled on the sofa before the fire place.
Pascal’s arm enfolded her, and her head rested against his chest. “I
didn’t know it was possible to feel so happy and at peace.” He smiled
down at her, placing a gentle kiss against her forehead.
“We haven’t talked about tonight. I don’t want to rush you as you are
still newly healed. If you wish to wait to begin our physical
relationship, please don’t hesitate to speak. We have a lifetime ahead
of us. I won’t rush you.” Pascal’s voice was strong, but gentle as he
spoke of wishing Erica to be comfort with him.
Erica lifted her head and kissed him with all the love and longing
she felt. “I spent an hour naked staring at myself in Catherine’s
bathroom. I simply couldn’t believe how different I look now after all
the surgeries. I wanted to rush home to show you,” she giggled. “I don’t
want to wait; I want to erase the memory you have of how I use to look.”
He took her hand and together they stood and crossed the floor to the
bedroom. The gentle glow of the moonlight bathed the room in softness,
and the light from the bedside lamp chased away the dark edges of the
shadows. Together they turned down the bedspread, carefully folded it,
and lay it upon the cedar chest. Then they folded the blankets back.
“You go ahead, and I’ll go use one of the other bathrooms.” Pascal
removed his night things from his suitcase and left the room.
Nervously, Erica retrieved her gown and robe, found the small cloth
sack that contained her toilet articles, and walked into the bathroom,
closing the door behind her. She started the bath water and found the
bath salts that smelled like wild flowers. Catherine had given them to
her, after she had admired the scent during the time she spent
recovering in Catherine’s apartment. She added a small capful to the
water and gracefully sank into the fragrant water.
Later she exited the bathroom, finding several lit candles glowing
softly on the bedside tables. Pascal was stretched out on one side of
the bed, his eyes following her movements as she removed her robe.
Reaching across the bed, he took her hand. “You look so beautiful.” His
eyes glistened as he pressed a gentle kiss to her hand.
She eased onto the bed, her body trembling as Pascal took her into
his arms and settled her firmly against his body. Gently, he held her
and slowly her body ceased to quiver. His voice was soft and soothing as
he spoke of his love. “The first time I kissed you, I thought my heart
would stop, it was beating so fast. Later that night as I lay in bed, I
could still taste how sweet your kiss was.”
“I, too, lay awake after that kiss. I felt so changed, suddenly aware
of a thousand new feelings within my body since the moment your lips
touched mine. It took forever for me to go to sleep, and I kept touching
my lips, remembering how yours felt against mine.”
Their voices became softer, more hesitant as Pascal began to kiss her
and allowed himself to gently stroke her body. Her murmurs became sighs
of delight as he continued to kiss her, moving from her lips to her neck
“Oh, my love, I don’t want to wait. I want to show you my body, to
feel your hands upon me.” Her voice quivered with the deep emotion she
felt. All the months, the pain of each surgery was past, and this
was the moment she had dreamed of as she healed ─ to be reborn in
His smile was soft and gentle as he helped ease her gown up, sliding
it upward until he could slip it from her body. She lay there quietly
and only the slight trembling beneath her hands as they touched gave
evidence to her nerves. He rested on his elbow as he allowed his eyes to
view her. His mouth opened but no words were uttered as his eyes
glistened with moisture. His eyes spoke silently of his ecstasy,
devotion, and love as they traveled from her face down the length of her
The massive scars were gone, replaced by softened lines that gave
mute evidence to the past. The sunken depression, which had formerly
been her breast, was nearly smooth with only a faint lingering redness.
He could still see the suture lines that ran across her shoulder, but
they were no longer thick and heavy. The longest scar that had traveled
down her hip to her kneecap had been buffed and softened, and while it
was noticeable, it still gave silent evidence of how badly damaged her
leg had been.
Tears cascade down her cheeks as she witnessed again the powerful
love that radiated from within Pascal’s dark eyes. Tenderly he moved so
that his body rose over hers; and then, with exquisite slow, gentle
movements, he began to pay loving homage to her.
His hands and his lips became his voice as he worshiped at the shrine
of her body. The callused hands lovingly stroked, each finger mutely
spoke the song of his love. She felt his long lashes sweep against her
sensitive flesh as he tenderly kissed the area where her breast had
proudly stood. Continually his lips soothed the area, and her voice rose
in loving sighs to acknowledge his adoration.
Repeatedly his mouth returned to kiss her, taking her on a joyous
adventure as he deepened each kiss to explore her mouth more fully. As
he kissed her throat her hands tugged at his clothing, urging him to
disrobe so that she might feel his warm skin upon hers.
Eagerly her hands set the shirt of his pajamas flying as she covered
his chest with kisses. Together their hands slid the pants down his body
and he kicked them away. Timidly her arms encircled him, pulling him
close and closer still until he covered her. He tried to rise aware of
her newly healed body, but her arms tightened around him. “No, I want to
feel you, all of you touching me.” Her voice was exquisitely soft,
throbbing with need as she sought to feel his body more fully.
His arms slipped beneath her shoulders and he rolled onto his back,
settling her length fully upon him. Her radiant smile delighted him as
she wiggled against him until her lithe body matched his perfectly. “You
feel wonderful, I’ve dreamed of this.”
He smiled softly at her words, delighted to know that she, too, had dreams of their making love. “This is much better for you. It’s too soon for my weight to rest fully upon you. I don’t wish to cause you pain.”
“Lying like this is like heaven. Feeling you beneath me could never
be painful; it could only be beautiful.”
They continued to touch, free of the restrictions they had imposed as
she had healed. The joyous sound of their voices softly echoed, mingling
with the delicate night sounds of the woodland creatures.
Pascal was a tender lover, aware of her virginity, and his wish to
give her only joy as their bodies became one. Her cry of pleasure
as she climaxed beneath him brought tears glistening in his eyes. And,
when his voice joined hers in rhapsody, her tears of joy stained her
Later he lay awake, her body curved firmly against him, and her leg
thrown possessively over his, Pascal smiled into the darkness. As a
young man he had envisioned his wedding night, but his dreams were
nothing compared to the rapture he had felt this night. This night had
been beyond all his dreams.
He remembered when he had first become aware of girls, his
bewilderment as his body grew and changed, and his awakening sexual
feelings. And, he remembered that long ago day when his father had sat
with him high above the Great Falls and talked very openly about sex,
men, and women. He smiled as he remembered and how surprised he was
when, one day, his father had asked Winslow to accompany them.
The words weren’t as clear in his mind as they had been, but he
remembered the profound love in his father’s voice as he gave credence
to Winslow’s questions as he did his own. It wasn’t at all strange to
Pascal that his father had included Winslow, who was an orphan, in this
discussion. Winslow had eaten and slept far more nights than they could
count as a member of his family.
Pascal paused in his reminiscing as Erica stirred beside him, turning
with her so that he lay spooned against her back. Automatically his arm
slid over her, gently bringing her closer to his body. As he
noticed the faint coming of dawn, the subtle shift of the bedroom
shadows, Pascal thought of the last two years and the journey it had
been for both of them. He had grown as a man, and he knew that he owed
much to the steadfastness and love of Vincent and Winslow. The weeks and
months had been soul searching, and although he had despaired, his
brothers had always stood shoulder to shoulder with him and Erica. As he
had struggled to overcome his remorse that he would have no child of his
own, Vincent had supported him without asking questions. Winslow’s great
strength had resolutely met Erica’s grief and steadily helped to bring
her back into the light.
His gentle sigh caused Erica to stir in his arms, and she turned to
face him. “Good morning, dear husband,” she offered sleepily as she
placed a kiss against his chest. His heart soared at her greeting.
“What a wonderful sound to awaken to. I think I could become very
accustomed to hearing that each morning.”
“Momma said that every morning to Daddy, and it always made me feel
so blessed and loved.”
“Then, dear wife, they shall become our greeting. With those words we
shall re-pledge our love daily for the rest of our lives.”