The Heart of Home
by Joanne Grier
The snow fell, covering the woods in a gentle blanket of white. The wind blew from the west, coating one side of the trees, surreal and feathery with the deft touch of the master painter. The fire had burned down, leaving glowing embers that created a soft light that kissed the darkness like a lover’s caress.
Some indefinable distant sound had brought Devin from his sleep and he had wandered to the living room hoping to rekindle his dreams. Bree slept, peacefully unaware that he had slipped from their room; he knew his restless tossing as he tried to recapture his sleep would awaken her and he wanted her to rest. She had just come off a ten-week-long case that had drained her physically and emotionally.
He had just begun to doze when the phone shattered the night’s stillness. Bounding from the recliner, he managed to grab it before the third ring and gruffly answered. He rubbed his face as he listened, his expression turning grim as the call lengthened. “OK, I’ll be there as quickly as possible.”
As he hung up he saw Charles standing in his bedroom door and Bree stood
in their door. His voice
was gentle but his tone indicated the urgency he felt as he looked
toward Charles. “Get
dressed in warm clothing, your boots; get some extra blankets and be
ready as quickly as you can.”
He rapidly crossed to Bree. “Please make some coffee; lace it
with brandy. Check the
first-aid kits. There’s an
accident up on
“I’ll get dressed, too, so I can go along. Dr. Edmonds may need my help.”
They swung into action, dressing quickly and collecting equipment and piling it near the door. Once he had dressed, Devin headed outside, carrying the first load of equipment, and started the truck. Once more he blessed his investment in a four-wheel drive vehicle and the snow tires he had put on at the beginning of the month. Hurrying back inside, he collected the blankets and thermoses. “Come on, let’s get going.” He headed out the door, going to the tool shed and collected two crowbars and an ax.
Thankfully there was only one person in the vehicle, which was severely damaged. It took all of Devin’s considerable driving skills on the slick, icy road to jockey his truck into perfect alignment so his headlights squarely lit up the wreckage. Dr. Edmonds had managed to wriggle inside the wreckage and was doing everything possible to save the life of the survivor. On the far side of the car, covered in blankets, were the bodies of the two victims who had been ejected from the car when it impacted the tree.
Together the four men used the crowbars, trying to pry open the driver’s side door.
“Devin, there’s a trail of blood over here that’s leading off into the woods. I’m going to follow it. I have the flashlight and the walky-talky.”
“Charles, go with her,” Devin called out above the loud grinding wrench as they broke the door free. “Take a blanket, too.”
Charles’s long stride took him quickly to Bree’s side as they headed into the woods. After only a few feet Bree stopped, pointing the flashlight at the ground. “It’s a dog. See the prints. It’s badly hurt from the amount of blood on the ground.” They walked rapidly, swinging their flashlights in a wide arc. Some two hundred feet further from the wreckage their lights picked up a large dark mass. “Be careful. A wounded dog can be dangerous,” Bree warned.
They could hear the whimpering as they slowly moved toward the injured animal. Charles reached the large dog first; immediately he began to softly speak as he lowered himself to the ground. Curling his fingers inward, he put out his hand, allowing the animal to sniff his scent. Following him down, Bree swept the flashlight over the dog’s body, trying to ascertain its injuries. Bree saw the pain registered in the huge brown eyes that pleadingly looked up at her.
The dog continued to whimper as it licked at Charles’s fingers. Bree gently set her hands to searching for the wound through the thick fur. She pulled the scarf from around her neck and began to dig beneath the dog, working the scarf into the opening and bringing it up over and around the dog’s body in an attempt to stem the flow of blood. “She’s pregnant and has gone into premature labor. She’s lost so much blood, I don’t think she or the pups are going to make it.” Just as she spoke, she felt Devin’s strong hand on her shoulder. He was holding a stretcher. “We don’t need this back there now,” his sad eyes telling her that the survivor had died, “but maybe we can get the dog onto it and carry her to the truck. Maybe between you and Dr. Edmonds you can save the dog and her pups.”
They covered the stretcher with the blanket and together the three of them supported the injured dog and eased her poor battered body onto the stretcher. Devin and Charles picked up their wounded burden as Bree kept her hand firmly against the wound, trying to maintain a steady pressure. As they reached the wreckage, Bree saw the blanket pulled over the form that remained in the car.
“Doc, we could use your help. We got a wounded pregnant dog that’s gone into labor.” They moved to Devin’s truck and, using one hand, he got the tailgate down. Charles eased the wooden rods down onto the tailgate, climbed in, grabbed the rods and, with Devin’s strong arms, they lifted the stretcher inside. Bree and Dr. Edmonds scrambled inside as Devin and Charles closed the gate then climbed into the cab. Devin started the truck, putting the heat on high, and began to back up the truck, hoping he could get them to the vet’s in time. Charles turned in the seat, watching as Bree and Dr. Edmonds worked over the wounded dog, trying to save her and the pups.
“Charles, take this puppy; put it inside your shirt like you do Angel. We have to keep it warm.” Bree’s voice was steady as she handed the minutes-old pup into Charles’s care. “Hold it against your body and rub it to help it get a good breath and help it stay warm.” Doing as Bree ordered, Charles unzipped his jacket, opened his shirt, and tucked the puppy against his chest, then buttoned the shirt and zipped his jacket. He continued to rub against the tiny bundle as he had done with Angel when he had come to live with them.
Going as fast as was safely possible, Devin concentrated on getting them to the vet. He regretted leaving the messy job back at the wreckage to Ed and his brother, but part of him was glad to get Bree and particularly Charles away from the gruesome site.
After what seemed like hours, they reached the vet’s office and were thankful the vet lived behind his office. Devin got out and headed for the house to awaken the doctor while Charles continued to rub the tiny life inside his shirt. The lights suddenly blazed inside the vet’s office, pushing back the deep shadows of black; the door quickly opened and Devin and the doctor came out to help carry the stretcher.
Bree ran ahead, coming face to face with Marilyn, Dr. Wilson’s wife and assistant, and together they hurried into the surgery to prepare to treat the injured dog and her puppies. Bree told Marilyn the dog’s condition as together they quickly pulled instruments from behind the closed cabinet doors.
Together, Devin and Charles lifted the wounded animal onto the table, talking in calm, soothing voices. The pain-filled brown eyes seemed to focus on Charles as he stroked her large head.
“Marilyn, get the puppy Charles has in his shirt and start working on it. Give it some oxygen, which can’t hurt it. Perhaps Bree can help you until I’m through with the mother.” Dr. Wilson’s voice remained calm as he gave orders to Devin and Dr. Edmonds, who worked at lightning speed, anticipating many of the orders in advance.
Charles reluctantly surrendered the pup, his eyes focused on the small life, as Bree and Marilyn worked on it. “Charles, in the second drawer on the left you will find some clean cloths; I want you to take one of them and go into the back, to the third cage, carefully open the door and put the cloth under the puppies there with their mother. Try to push the cloth down in between the puppies’ bodies. I want to get their scent on it. Just leave it there for now.” Charles moved to do as Marilyn asked, even though he didn’t understand why.
Having been to the vet several times with Angel, Charles was familiar with the layout of the facility. Finding the cage, he smiled when he saw the cage was filled with a mother dog and six wee puppies. Quietly, he opened the door, easing the cloth in between two sleeping puppies. He softly whispered to the mother dog that had awakened and was looking at him with concerned eyes. Using only two fingers, he gently stroked her head and then shut the cage.
Speaking only when necessary, the five-member team worked over the injured dog and the tiny premature pups. Devin became the extra hands, retrieving needed items, and standing beside the dog, willing it to live.
“Dam it! I hate this!”
Bree knew from Devin’s language and the raw heat of his words that they had lost the mother dog and her unborn pups. Dr. Wilson tore off his soiled gloves and slipped his hands into the clean new pair that Dr. Edmonds held, then swiftly walked to the table where Marilyn and Bree were working. Bree stepped away to allow the two experts to work. After removing her soiled gloves and washing her hands, she moved to stand beside Charles, wrapping her arms around him as his tears flowed. Several minutes later, Devin joined them, and his strong arms surrounded his family as he eased them toward the waiting area. They sat, cuddled together, as they waited for word on the surviving pup.
Nearly an hour passed before Dr. Wilson and Dr. Edmonds came into the waiting room. “We got the pup stabilized. We got some milk into her and then we rubbed her with the toweling Charles put in Pepper’s cage, so the pup smells like her puppies, and we tucked the orphan in with Pepper. When we left, the pup was nursing and Pepper was trying to give her a bath. The pup is fully developed, but is about a week shy of being full term, and is tiny in size so she is something of a runt.”
The smile on Charles’s face was beautiful. “Dev, I want to keep the puppy. Angel needs a playmate. Can I keep the puppy?”
“Let’s wait until the puppy is out of danger and then we can make a decision. It will be a few weeks before the puppy is ready to be separated from her adopted mom.”
Every other day either Bree or Devin took Charles to the vet’s office and he was allowed to enter through the family entrance at the back of the clinic, by-passing the public area. He sat on the floor outside of Pepper’s cage, talking softly with Pepper, praising her and her puppies. If the puppies weren’t nursing or sleeping, a member of the staff would retrieve the orphan pup and Charles was allowed to hold the sweet, tiny pup under the watchful eye of Pepper. Immediately upon the return of the pup, Pepper would dutifully bathe the pup and snuggle the pup under her protective front paw, close to her body.
Each day when Charles returned, Angel sniffed his shoes and pant legs, followed by a sniffing of his hands. Angel didn’t particularly seem to like the foreign smell and often he would hiss and shake his head. Other times, he would simply lick Charles’s hand, rubbing his chin against the hand, and then begin to loudly purr. Charles took Angel into his arms, holding him on his back, rubbed his face and then begin to rub his tummy, which caused the purring to increase in volume.
They had blended, almost seamlessly, into a cohesive family unit and once, not long ago, Dr. Edmonds had jokingly asked how long they had been married. Without batting an eye, Devin replied with a big smile, “All of my adult life.” Both Charles and Devin loved Bree and they never took her for granted, showing their love and appreciation of all she did for them in their every word and deed.
Compared to the life-style Devin had lived during his years of wandering, theirs was a relaxed, sedentary life. Between his fire look-out job with the forestry preserve and his own software firm, Devin was content. Bree worked only when a particular burn case interested her and she felt her services at the local hospital would aid in the rehabilitation of the burn victim. She found plenty to keep herself busy and vital when she wasn’t working. Although the distance might preclude the official title of “helper,” Bree worked on many projects that directly benefited her tunnel family.
Dr. Edmonds had become a vital part of their family and their family circle had increased when Ed’s brother, Bill, made Charles’s acquaintance. Bill had come along with Ed to help Devin wrestle the new bathtub into the ongoing construction site for the room addition and third bathroom in the cabin. Bill was immediately at ease with Charles, and Charles felt more comfortable after Angel was admired and petted.
Pepper and her pups were moved from the office back into their regular home in Dr. Wilson’s house. The orphan pup, while different from the rest of the pack, had been firmly accepted as one of her own by Pepper, and she guarded and nurtured her as she did the other six. The pups were now five weeks old, growing like weeds, and Charles was, as Devin had predicted, in love with all of them. Marilyn and Dr. Wilson understood Charles’ love of the puppies and had invited him to visit them twice a week now that they had been moved back into their home.
“You know Charles wants to bring all the puppies here to live, don’t you?” Bree’s face was filled with delight as she contemplated what their life would be like with seven puppies.
“I think we need to begin a gentle discussion about the six Lab puppies already being spoken for by several of Dr. Wilson’s clients. I don’t object to Charles keeping the orphan girl, but I don’t see how we could take any of the others, do you?”
Bree continued to smile at Devin’s suggestion. “I think I’ll let you start the discussion on this one. I’m still working on the ‘when Angel has his kittens’ theory.” Her laughter rippled through the air, causing Devin to smile at this ongoing problem that had developed about Angel’s ability to have kittens. “I thought we were off the hook on that one after Vincent talked to Charles when we went home last time, about how only girl cats could have kittens.”
“Well, you know Angel is a remarkable cat, and maybe he’ll prove the laws of nature wrong!” Devin grinned as he slipped his arm around her shoulder. “Maybe we should give Pops a shot at it next time. Hopefully, he might be able to do a better job than we have.”
“I just wonder what Charles is going to name his puppy. I can’t wait to hear, as I know it will be unique and as delightful as Angel.”
Vincent settled back on his bed, delighted by the three letters Peter had just delivered to him. He smiled as he looked at the distinctive handwriting on the envelopes. Reaching for the letter opener that he had carried with him from his desk, he carefully sliced open all the envelopes. He checked the postmarks, found the earliest one, and opened it first.
Our lives are becoming more routine now that my last patient has left the hospital. It was a long, rough road but the outcome has been good, so I am, of course, very happy.
The remodeling is all complete and I can’t tell you how proud I am of all the work Devin and Charles did. Our new bedroom is beautiful, light and airy, and I can’t say enough about the closets. Devin is now talking about putting a deck on the back of the house and smiling as he thinks about asking Cullen and Winslow to come up to help with the foundation work. Of course, you are his first choice to assist him. He longs to show you the forest and share the serenity with you.
Please give our love to everyone, won’t you? I wonder how I existed before, without having such a large, loving family. I never thought a blizzard would bring me two brothers, a substitute mother and father, and a sister, plus multiple new friends. Is it any wonder that I smile constantly when the snow begins to fall? It surely brought me to paradise. I am so very blessed.
We may have a puppy soon. The circumstances were not the best, but I’ll leave Charles and Devin to explain to you.
We are, I fear, continuing to have ongoing dilemmas over the question of Angel’s ability to have kittens. The topic has been at the forefront over the last weeks. Charles is of the opinion that Angel should have kittens so the puppy will have playmates! I know you are smiling as I, too, can’t help but grin.
One thing you can say, our life and our family are not dull.
seems like forever since we have seen you and you are missed so very
much. Devin is, I know,
working on a scheme to be able to bring you safely to
I’m mailing a box of sweaters for the children so I hope you will alert Mary that some new things are coming. I’ve also knit a few baby things, which I’m including with the sweaters, in the event that there are any new babies in the nursery.
We send you our love and best wishes.
Your loving sister,
Vincent smiled as he re-inserted the letter into the envelope. Bree’s letters were so like her, filled with love and happiness. He wondered what Father would say when he found out about the puppy, knowing full well that this pup would be included with them when they next returned home to the tunnels. His smile grew larger as he anticipated Father’s reaction.
He picked up the next letter, which bore Charles’ neatly concentrated script, and began to read.
I’m getting a puppy – a girl puppy. We tried to save her mommy but she was badly wounded in the accident and was just too hurt to survive. Bree and Dr. Edmonds helped to birth my pup, and I had her inside my shirt to keep warm until we got to the vets.
Right now she is living with her foster mom, Pepper, and Pepper is raising her right along with her own six pups. She is beginning to eat real food and doesn’t depend upon Pepper for breffest, lunch, and dinner. That means she will soon come home to me and Angel.
Will you help me think of a name for her? She’s beautiful.
I hope Angel will like his new sister when she comes home. Dev and me are building a sleeping box for her cuz I don’t think Angel will let her share our bed. Sometimes Angel spits and hisses at me when I come home from the vets and Angel smells my puppy on my shoes and trousers.
We will send you pictures as soon as she comes home.
Be well and hug Catherine for me.
Vincent’s smile only grew larger and his eyes danced with happiness. Charles was so serene in the woods, and now that Bree was there, he knew that Charles’ world was complete. He was so proud that Devin’s love and nurturing had healed Charles of the painful abuse Eddie had inflicted upon him.
Lost in his thoughts, he continued to hold Charles’ letter in his hands as he remembered their first meeting and how terrified Charles had been. He truly rejoiced that Devin had used all they had learned together as brothers and that knowledge had provided Charles with a loving, heart-centered home.
As he sat in his chamber, his memory turned back to the weeks before Devin and Bree had married, of the bitter disagreement between him, Father, and Devin, and how, for a time, there was no hope of an agreement ever being reached. It had been a time of personal growth for all of the Wells men, and the deep love they shared had led them to forge a path of forgiveness and hope. Within, he smiled, remembering Devin’s fiery temper and him telling Father he would take him away from the tunnels and Father would never see him again. The boy who remained within him still wished he had seen the look on the two men’s faces when Devin had uttered that statement. The tunnels were his whole world until he had started going Above and it was only after he found Catherine that his world had expanded to its current size.
In the weeks and months following Devin’s statement, as the rift had slowly healed, he found himself thinking on Devin’s words. His heart had finally accepted the sincerity and depth of Devin’s words, that they weren’t simply spoken in anger to goad Father but had been spoken from the profundity of Devin’s heart. Unspoken and rarely expressed though those feelings were for years, he knew Devin would take him, as he had Charles, and give him a world in which he could survive and thrive. Never in the years of their separation had he ever doubted the depth of love he and Devin shared. He was never more aware of the complexity of those emotions than when he had heard the words Devin had uttered to Father. Until they had been spoken, he had never thought of life outside the tunnels.
He felt enriched knowing that Devin stood ready to assume all the responsibility and duties to keep him safe so that he could live a life without limits. He knew within the depth of his heart that he would, in all probability, never leave the tunnels, but the knowledge that Devin and Bree wanted him provided him a certain mental freedom he had never known, and the knowledge had a profound effect upon him, providing him with endless possibilities and dreams.
Realizing he had been lost within his own thoughts, he withdrew Devin’s letter and began to read.
Our household is about to increase. No, you are not about to become an uncle!
In a few weeks, we will be adding a puppy to our world. How could I look at that sweet, loving face of Charles’ and deny him happiness? His smile is so filled with love and tenderness, there is no way I could contradict his wish.
I wonder what Pops will say when I tell him he will now have to adjust to a dog as well as Angel when we come to visit!
We were called out to an auto accident by Ed and Bill and found a pregnant dog, badly injured, not far from the wreckage, who was in premature labor. The pup, who was born in our truck on the way to the vet’s, was the only survivor. I’m sure you can guess what happened after Bree gave the pup to Charles to put inside his shirt to keep her warm.
If Charles has his way, he will bring home all six of the pups of the foster mother dog, Pepper, who happily accepted the orphaned pup into her new family.
I’m so glad that Bree’s job is over and that she is, once again, home with us full-time. Sometime I feel badly because I wish to keep her here with us 24/7, especially when I have seen how grand she is with her patients and know what an outstanding job she does to help bring them back to fully functioning.
We want to try to come home soon for a visit. I miss you and wish you were here.
Give Catherine my best and hugs from her brother.
Slowly, he refolded Devin’s letter and returned it to the envelope. The warmth and love of the letters surrounded him and he realized anew how profoundly he missed his brother. He put the letters inside his journal, collected his cloak, and quit his chamber.
“Devin, I’ve been doing some research and I feel honor bound to share what I have discovered. Until I saw the mother dog, I had never previously seen that particular breed. In fact, if you had asked me that night, I couldn’t have identified the mother at all. I simply saw what I always see – an animal in pain and a tiny life struggling to survive.
“Now that there have been no emergencies to fill my mind, I have been researching to determine just what breed of dog you will be taking into your home. I don’t mind telling you it was a struggle to identify, as you have rather a rare breed on your hands.”
Dr. Wilson walked over to his bookcase, withdrew a large book, and carried it back to his desk. Finding his bookmark, he opened the large volume and slid it across the desk toward Devin.
Taking the book, Devin began to read and, as he read, he muttered several times in loud exclamation. His features changed as he continued to read, and by the time he reached the second page, complete with pictures, he was laughing. “Pops is gonna kill me when he sees this pet! Maybe I’d better get permission to add another room onto the cabin. I can’t wait to share this with Bree. Never let it be said the Wells family had normal pets!”
Dr. Wilson smiled at Devin’s reaction and before long he, too, was also chuckling. “Perhaps you’d like to take the book along to show Bree just how your new housemate is going to look.”
Devin grinned as he accepted the book, offered his hand, and headed toward the door. “You know, don’t you, that there is no way we can’t take this pup, no matter what she is going to look like? Charles is already deeply in love and I could no more break his heart than I could fly. Know where I can get a discount on dog food? I fear I’m gonna need lots of it!”
That evening, as they settled into bed, Devin handed Bree the book Dr. Wilson had loaned him. “I thought you might want to see what our next child is gonna look like,” he uttered with a heart-stopping grin. He watched as Bree’s eyes grew large and then he saw her shoulders begin to shake. “Well, I always thought a large family would be nice!”
“I think we need to sign up for obedience classes right away. I surely hope that Dr. Wilson knows of a good trainer because I’m sure we are gonna need to start training immediately!” Bree smiled as she spoke and Devin knew that, within her heart, she had accepted the pup that Charles adored. “I’m sure the training will be helpful for when we have children.”
“Yeah, right! Stay, sit, down, and fetch are all words Dr. Spock highly recommends that all new parents teach their babies!” The bed shook with Devin’s laughter as he continued to rock back and forth, holding his stomach.
“Oh, well, the next few months surely won’t be dull!”
“You can say that again. We’d better have plenty of film on hand and maybe we should get a video recorder – otherwise, Pops is not gonna believe his new granddaughter!”
The first knock at the door came at approximately 5:10 a.m., and the second one was heard five minutes later. Devin staggered to the door, opening it a crack as he growled, “WHAAAT?”
Charles was completely dressed and he was shifting from foot to foot. “Can we leave now? Puppies get up early and they are all going to their new homes today. I don’t want anyone to take my puppy by mistake.”
“No, we can’t leave now.
It’s only a twenty-minute trip and I’m sure the
Bree was smiling as Devin punched his pillow none too gently, mumbling as he settled. She waited several minutes until she heard his breathing deepen and then she silently slipped out of bed. Gathering her robe and slippers, she paused only long enough to run a comb through her hair and brush her teeth, and then she slipped out the door.
Charles was pacing the floor, holding Angel, who was purring at warp speed. “We’re bringing home your sister today and she’s a baby, so you’ll have to be gentle with her. You can’t expect her to know how to play football with you, so don’t get upset when she doesn’t bat your ball back to you!”
Bree smiled as she heard Charles’s comment as she walked toward him. She stood on her tip-toes and kissed his cheek. “Let’s fix some breakfast and maybe if we keep busy, the time will go faster.” She tickled Angel under his chin as she took Charles’ hand.
Gently, Charles closed the kitchen door, hoping to block any of their breakfast sounds from awakening Devin. Angel wound around Bree’s ankles, rubbing against her, and softly mewed. She scooped up a tablespoon of the eggs she had scrambled into Angel’s bowl and then added a couple of spoonfuls of dry cat food to the mix and set the bowl on floor. Every morning they had eggs, particularly scrambled eggs, and Angel got her own personal spoonful. After getting approval from the vet, Bree had accepted this habit that Devin and Charles had started. The eggs were the only “people” food that Angel liked, if you didn’t count his love of ice cubes. He would hold the ice cube on the floor between his front paws, then lick and lick until his tongue was bright pink, and then he began his own personal game of hockey, batting the ice all around the kitchen.
Angel was a dainty eater, and it wasn’t until Charles and Bree were eating their own meal that Angel finished his bowl and jumped into Charles’ lap. He rubbed against Charles several times and then settled into the vacant chair and began to groom himself. Bree smiled as she watched, wondering what tomorrow morning would bring when the newest family member was there.
“Why don’t you start a letter to Vincent while I wash the dishes? That way you will have a head start on telling him all about this day and you can surprise him by telling him the name you have decided to call your puppy.”
Charles retrieved his notebook from his room and returned to the kitchen.
Bree and I are waiting for Dev to get up because today we are going to bring my puppy home for keeps! I got my camera all ready so we can take pictures. Bree already promised she’d take them immediately to the photo shop so we could mail them off to you and Father. Do you think Catherine will want one, too?
I’ve talked with Angel about how he will have to understand that babies don’t know how to play football or ice hockey and told him he has to play gently with his new sister.
Yesterday Dev went shopping with the list Dr. Wilson had given him of stuff we need for my puppy. We got bowls and then we got a stand to put the bowls in after she gets a little bigger. It’s something about digesting their food better if the bowls are raised off the floor after they start growing. We got a lead, plus a harness – not a collar – cuz Dr. Wilson said the harness was more secure. Dev got a tag to clip onto the harness which has our name and phone number in case the puppy got lost people would know where she belongs. We also got toys, doggy treats, and chew bones.
I was gonna name my puppy Hope as I knew a little girl named Hope. She was nice to me when I was a child, wasn’t scared of me, and I am happy when I think of her. But after what happened last week, I have changed my mind.
When I went to visit Hope, I was eating a muffin that Mrs. Wilson gave me. I gave Hope a bite and she liked it so much, I gave her another bite and then another. She was so happy; I decided to name her Muffin or Muffy for short. Don’t you think that Muffin Wells is a good name?
I miss Catherine. It has been a long time since she stayed with us and I wish she would come again. I miss you, too, and wish that you could come live with us, you could share my room. You would love our woods and the lake. The woodland sounds at night are great – much better than the Park sounds.
Dev and me are reading The Count of Monte Cristo and I like it lots. Bree said there was a movie made from the book and after we finish it, she said she would rent it so I could see all the actual sword fighting stuff. If you were here, you could watch it with me; I’d like that very much.
I got to stop now, will add more later after Muffin comes home.
Bree watched as Devin’s truck came up the drive and she couldn’t help but smile, as she knew this was the beginning of a new life for her family. She wondered if the puppy had ridden home inside Charles’ shirt.
After parking the truck, Devin got out and went around to the passenger side. Devin gathered up the lead and scooped the puppy up in his arms as Charles worked at untangling himself from the seatbelt, which he maintained was a living, breathing monster who tried to attack him. Once free of the seatbelt, Charles immediately reached for the puppy and sat her on the ground.
Muffin instantaneously began to sniff the grass, rolling and stumbling over her own awkward feet. Her attempt to bark was cut short as she tripped again, wrapping her paws in her lead as she fell on her face. She rolled around on her back, then finally righted herself, and started running toward Bree.
Bree was laughing as she watched her men make their way across the lawn, pausing as Muffin stopped to relieve herself in the grass. She bounded toward Bree and managed to climb the stairs with only a minor mishap.
“Why don’t you let Bree take her in? That way Angel won’t be upset and you can pay attention to him, then you can introduce Muffin. Angel is used to having all your attention. Remember what Dr. Wilson said about taking things slowly until Angel gets used to his sister.” Devin’s voice was calm and caring as he spoke to Charles. “We want them to get along, so let’s make the introductions gradually.”
Nodding his head, Charles transferred Muffin into Bree’s arms. Muffin at once began covering Bree’s face and neck with kisses, causing Bree to laugh.
Devin roared with laughter when Charles ask him if he had taught Muffin to play huggy bear, kissy face, which was the term Charles had used the first time he had seen Devin kissing Bree. Devin threw his arm around Charles’ shoulder as they walked into the cabin.
Angel was draped across the arm of the sofa and when he saw Charles, he jumped down and raced toward him. Abruptly, Angel stopped, sniffed Charles’ pant leg, then stiffened his whole body, jumped and hissed loudly. Charles reached down, extended his hand, allowing Angel to sniff him before picking up the cat. He held Angel firmly, his voice soft, as he began stroking Angel’s tummy and rocking from side to side. After fifteen minutes of tummy rubbing, Angel was in a mellow mood and Devin said that he would hold Muffin on his lap so they could introduce Angel to her.
Muffin was all wiggles and tried to jump down but Devin held on tightly. Charles sat down, angling his body so he faced Dev and Muffin. Angel continued to purr, head turning from side to side as he viewed this strange creature. Muffin continued to twist and then suddenly her tongue shot forward and she licked Angel’s tummy and stopped when she couldn’t quite reach his face. Angel shook his face, batting his paw at his exposed belly when Muffin again launched her tongue forward, licking Angel’s belly and this time getting some of his face.
Muffin’s tail beat a rapid rhythm again Devin’s leg while her body shivered in anticipation. An attempted thin bark was offered in greeting by Muffin as Angel glared but remained snugly in Charles’ arms. Muffin finally settled down in Devin’s arms, but her eyes were sparkling and it was clear she wanted to play.
“Angel, this is your baby sister Muffin, and you have to be gentle with her. In a while you can teach her to play football with you. She just left her mommy so you be nice as she is probably scared.”
Devin smiled at Charles’ words and he hoped that he didn’t start to laugh, as he knew how important this first meeting was in building a cohesive relationship. He was very aware of how large this puppy was going to become and he didn’t want either animal to become a bully over Charles’ affections.
He gripped Muffin more fully with one hand and put his other hand, fingers tucked in, near Angel’s nose and allowed Angel to sniff him. He sniffed and sniffed then abruptly began to lick Devin’s hand. The puppy abruptly yawned and they all got a look at what soon would become an extremely large set of teeth.
“Charles, hang on to Angel, as I’m gonna turn Muffin loose.”
Gently, Devin set the puppy on the floor and, the instant her feet hit the floor, she was off running and sniffing. Muffin ran toward Bree, jumping against her legs, but just as quickly bounded away to explore her new surroundings. Immediately, she found one of the chew toys, snatched it into her mouth, and began running around the room, shaking the toy and tripping over her feet. Rather than getting up from the floor where she had landed, Muffin began to growl, holding the toy with her paws while shaking it with all her might.
All three of the humans joined in laughter as Muffin’s growls grew louder. She regained her feet, ran forward and, with a shake of her head, sent the chew toy flying airward then chased after it.
Angel remained secure in Charles’ arms as she intently watched the strange creature. Over the next half an hour, Muffin ran, chasing her toys and bringing them back to Bree or Devin, who threw them to set her chasing again. She ran, stumbled, fell and righted herself and finally she abandoned the toy, trotted over to Bree, heaved a big sigh and flopped at her feet. Bree reached down to pet her and after several minutes, Muffin was sound asleep.
Angel wiggled away from Charles, walked down the length of the sofa toward Devin, and stared down at Muffin. Gingerly he jumped to the floor, walked over to Muffin, and began to sniff her. After thoroughly inspecting the sleeping dog, he circled twice, eased down and sniffed Muffin’s butt, and then curled up beside Muffin and began to groom her.
Devin smiled as the look on Charles’ face was priceless. “Look’s like the first round was a draw,” he offered, not expecting an answer. He turned back toward Charles just in time to be blinded by the glare of the flash bulb going off as Charles took the first picture of the day.
Charles picked up his pen and began adding to the letter he had started earlier to Vincent.
We are home with Muffy and she and Angel did okay when we introduced them to each other. Angel just watched her play and after she went to sleep, Angel sniffed her butt and then gave her a bath. Dev says animals always sniff each other’s butts, it’s the way they get to know each other’s scent.
I took bunches of pictures so soon you will know what my puppy looks like. I even got pictures of her and Angel together. Be sure to show Cullen and Winslow my puppy so they will recognize her the next time they come up, ok?
Bree says we will get two prints of each picture, a set for me to keep in my album, and another set so we can share pictures with you, Catherine, Father, and Mary. Oh, and I have to give some to Dr. Edmonds, too. He’s gonna come over to meet Muffy and get to know her.
Dev is already making phone calls about finding a trainer for Muffy. He said she would grow up to be a big dog so she needs to begin learning how to behave properly around people. Dev said it was real important with big dogs to be socialized early. I’m not sure just what that means but I think it means being polite and not scaring people. Do you know?
We put Muffy’s bed on the floor in my room. It is a nice sturdy box, but has a soft, pillow thing in it. Angel sniffed it when we first got it and I caught him sleeping in it once.
I can’t wait until we come see you and you get to meet Muffy. She is beautiful and very friendly. She will kiss you a gazillion times if you let her. Her tongue is nice n soft.
Bree will be home soon with the pictures and then I can seal up this letter to you. I know you are eager to see my puppy.
After they cleared away the dinner dishes, they spread out the pictures on the kitchen table. Their laughter echoed as they looked through the pictures, selecting several for Vincent and for Catherine. “These are excellent, Charles. You did a great job. I’m sure Pops and Vin will appreciate these very much.” Devin slid his arm around Charles as he talked. “I think these two we should send to Catherine.”
From her side of the table Bree withdrew an envelope from the box and quickly addressed it to Catherine. She took the two pictures and slipped them inside. “You can write a note to Catherine after we finish selecting pictures for everyone.”
Absently, Charles nodded, as he was enthralled with studying the pictures of Muffy and deciding which ones to give Vincent. He wanted Vincent to love his puppy as much as he did. Finally, he selected four pictures and inserted them into the envelope containing his letter to Vincent.
It was about two in the morning when the whimpering awoke Bree; she grabbed her robe and went toward Charles’ room. After knocking, she opened the door to find Charles walking up and down with Muffy in his arms. Muffy continued to whine as Charles spoke softly. He was so grateful to see Bree; he rushed toward her and thrust out his puppy. “I think she’s sick; she has been crying for a long time.”
“What makes you think she is ill? Has she vomited?”
“No. She went to sleep but woke up whining and whimpering, like she hurt. Even when I picked her up, she only stopped for a few minutes and then started to cry some more.”
“Did she cry when you tried to put her back in her bed?”
“Yes. She’s not gonna die, is she?”
“No. I think she is just lonely for her mum and her siblings. This is the first time she has ever slept alone and she’s scared. Why don’t you slip on your robe, take her outside so she can relieve her bladder, and I’ll heat up a little milk. Perhaps some warm milk will help her to sleep.”
Charles slipped on his robe, retrieved Muffin from Bree’s arms, and together they headed toward the kitchen. After attaching the lead to her harness, Charles took Muffin outside.
Bree put a little milk in a small bowl and popped it into the microwave.
“Midnight feeding, huh?” Devin stood against the door, barefoot, wearing only his pajama bottoms; his hair was in eggbeater mode.
Bree smiled; the sight of him leaning so relaxed and happy caused her heart to beat rapidly. “Perhaps a little comfort feeding is more like it.”
“I’ll just think of it as practice for when the stork visits us,” he offered as he leaned over to kiss her.
Charles came bustling in the door and happily announced, “She peed!” He looked so proud that both Devin and Bree couldn’t help but smile.
Devin’s eyebrows rose when from the cabinet Bree withdrew a baby bottle and proceeded to fill it with the warm milk. “When did we get that?”
“I picked it up last week, sort of as a might-be-needed item for Muffy. I sorta figured the first couple of nights could be difficult, and some old comfort might be nice.
“Is it all right with you, Charles, if I attempt to feed her first, to show you how it’s done?”
“Sure. I don’t know how to give a bottle. I was too scared when Mary offered to let me feed one of the babies.”
Bree withdrew a towel from the drawer, wrapped it around Muffin, effectively swaddling her legs, and then laid her on her back in her arms. She spoke softly as she inserted the nipple into Muffin’s mouth and within seconds, she was happily suckling.
Charles stared in rapt wonder and, seeing the serene look on Bree’s face, Devin could only grin in complete delight. “Way to go, Babe.”
As Muffin consumed the warm milk, her eyes began to close, and before the milk was completely gone, she was asleep. Bree continued to hold her for several minutes then got up and started for Charles’ bedroom. “Devin, do we have an actual wind-up, ticking clock? The ticking will soothe Muffin and sort of remind her of the sound of Pepper’s heartbeat.”
“Yes, we do. I’ll get it.”
Charles trailed slowly after Bree, relieved that Muffin was no longer whimpering. Bree put Muffin into her box, then took one of the stuffed toys and laid it against the pup’s body. Devin handed her the clock and she slipped it near the sleeping dog. “Hopefully, between the clock and the stuffed toy, they will help Muffin sleep.” Bree kissed Charles goodnight and then left while Devin helped Charles get settled in bed.
As he slid into bed, Devin gathered Bree in his arms, lightly kissed her and as he settled he murmured, “Round two goes to you, Babe, for being so prepared.”
They had all slept later than normal and it was nearly eight-thirty before they gathered around the breakfast table. Charles chatted away, his usual bright and happy self, while Devin sat in his pre-coffee funk, patiently waiting for the java to perk through and awaken his sluggish body. Bree glanced at her men; the wonder of how different they were in the morning was evident. She smiled and continued to prepare breakfast.
Angel was sitting in his accustomed place near his feeding mat, eyeing Bree, emitting an occasional mew that indicated he hoped for eggs to supplement his regular cat food. Charles had taken Muffin out for her first potty break and now the pup was contently munching away on a chew bone. To their surprise, Muffin showed no interest in Angel’s food.
“Charles, one of the things necessary is that we don’t make Angel jealous of Muffin by paying too much attention to her and ignore Angel in the process of making Muffin feel at home.”
“I know. It talked about that in the book that Dr. Wilson loaned me, ya know, the one that talks of integrating a new pet into your family. I sure do hope they will love each other.” His voice faded in a wistful sigh.
Vincent slipped silently into the library and stood watching the chess game between Father and Peter. After Peter had made his move, inwardly Vincent smiled, as he knew within three moves Peter was going to be the victor. “If I may interrupt for a second, Kipper said you wished to see me for a moment.”
Peter glanced up, winked at him and silently shook his head. “In my coat pocket you will find several letters for you.”
“Thank you so much.” Vincent picked up the coat and withdrew several letters from the pocket, then turned and swiftly mounted the stairs.
He detoured into the kitchen, brewed himself a pot of tea, scavenged several of William’s oatmeal raisin cookies, and headed toward his chamber. After lighting a few new candles, he settled into his chair, poured a cup of tea and sorted through his mail. He smiled at the small stack of letters and felt as though he had hit the jackpot as he counted four letters. Seeing Catherine’s graceful script, he opened it first.
The trial is going well and I’m hopeful that we will be able to do our summation by Thursday. If the jury doesn’t take too long, I’m thinking I may be able to leave on Friday. Then we could have a marvelous long weekend together – that is, if you don’t already have plans.
I haven’t had a chance to phone Charles again but from all he said when we spoke before I left, I would imagine he has his new puppy by now. Have you heard anything? I can’t wait to see him with his puppy. My heart is continually delighted when I see him with his beloved Angel. Even though the circumstances weren’t the best, I had such fun with Charles and Angel while Bree was in the hospital. Remember what fun you had in taking Charles and Angel up into the park before the wedding?
I miss you and hope you are well. The minutes seem longer when we are apart and I can’t wait to see your beautiful face once more. I long to feel myself wrapped within your strong, warm arms and feel your heart beating close to mine.
Always and with love,
Vincent slowly brought the letter close to his nose and sniffed. He caught the light, delicate scent of Catherine’s perfume and he inhaled deeply. He took several sips of his tea and then began again to read Catherine’s letter. Within his mind, he could hear her voice as he read each word.
He slipped her letter back into the envelope, his finger tracing slowly over his name on the envelope. He sighed and then retrieved Charles’ letter from the stack. He was surprised as he pulled the letter free, saw that it was several pages in length, and also contained photos. On the back of each of the four photos, in Charles’ neat scroll, were his comments about his puppy. Shuffling through the pictures, Vincent smiled as he saw the newest object of Charles’ love.
As he read, he couldn’t help but laugh and smile as Charles described bringing Muffin home and all the adventures they had. And when he reached the comment that Angel had smelled the sleeping pup’s butt and then proceeded to bathe the newcomer, he was roaring with laughter. Finally, he wiped the joyous tears of laughter from his eyes and picked up the next letter.
What do ya think of our new child? Aint she a beauty? What’s Pops gonna say about his new granddaughter? You know we are a family of five now and we certainly can’t leave any of the kids home when we come to the city!
I guess that is just another of Pop’s rules that is gonna get blown out of the water!
The training is going well, I think. Dr. Wilson – our vet – found us a great trainer. She has MS and is a tiny little wisp of a thing but she certainly knows her stuff when it comes to animal training. We met up at the vet’s, as she does an introductory session there for her new clients, and we got to meet her dog, a gigantic Irish wolfhound named Piper.
When we got there Piper was sitting in the middle of the floor, and the dog actually stood and then bowed to each person as they came in! I was blown away. Then in walks this tiny slip of a girl, no bigger than a minute, who doesn’t even come up to my armpits, with braces on her legs and those arm band-type canes. She was very frank with people, telling them about herself and her limitations. She said flat out that she didn’t take clients without meeting them first because she wanted to be certain they could handle her physical challenges. Said she had no qualms about her ability to handle any dog, could train it and the owners, but that she couldn’t deal with people who felt sorry for her or were repulsed by her physical problems and speech pattern.
I instantaneously saw a couple of people cringe and one couple immediately got up and walked out. Stupid idiots! After her lecture, plus about a ten-minute demonstration on the part of Piper, she sat individually with each family. Bree and I were the last family, and when I told her what kind of dog Muffin was, she laughed and said what a good time we were going to have. I explained about Charles, his fears of people and his shyness until he was comfortable, and she instantly said she would come to him, something she normally doesn’t do, and all the training would be at our place.
Maybe I’m too protective of him. He wasn’t afraid of the staff at the vet clinic; he insisted that he would go visit Muffin while she was being fostered by Pepper. Dr. Wilson did forewarn his staff and they were great to Charles. Maybe he wasn’t afraid because his desire to see Muffin was greater than his fear, or perhaps he is beginning to be more comfortable with people. His experience at the hospital when I had pneumonia was positive. Ya know, Bree has done so much toward making him comfortable and how she reacted to him all those months ago. Your thoughts?
Charles has written to Pops, enclosed a photo of Muffin, and I can’t wait to hear his reactions. Clue me in.
I’m working on a plan for all of us. Think positively.
Vincent sat there wondering what Devin had meant about a plan and also what Father’s reaction would be to Muffin.
“Vincent, may I come in?”
“Pascal, of course, come in.”
“I need to check on a break in one of the pipes on the third level and wondered if you might like to accompany me. It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to talk.” He glanced at the letters on Vincent’s desk. “Of course, if you are busy, I certainly understand.”
“I’d be more than pleased to accompany you. I can finish reading my mail when I come back. Have a cookie while we walk.”
As they walked, they caught up on their week’s activities. “Will Devin and his family be joining us soon? It’s been great having him come home so often. Makes me remember all the fun we had as children and all the scraps we got into,” Pascal commented with a laugh.
“I don’t know if Father would completely agree with you about our adventures.”
“I saw Mary earlier and she was busy unpacking a box of sweaters that Bree had knit for the children. Mary said that every six to seven weeks Bree sends a box of things for the children - new sweaters, mittens, caps, and scarves.”
“Bree feels that distance is no barrier to her contributing to the family. I always thought Mary was a fast knitter, but after watching Bree, I can see how she manages a sweater in two, three days. She’s lightning fast.”
“He’s well and happy, as he has gotten his puppy. You remember the dog that was born after that dreadful car crash not far from them? Well, the puppy is now home with Charles and he’s so happy.”
“He deserves all the happiness in the world, he’s a great guy.”
They located the broken pipe and together propped it together using the duct tape Pascal carried. “That should hold it until the repair crew can get here tomorrow. The sound won’t be good, but this will prevent the area from being cut off from the hub. Thanks for coming along. I knew I could handle the job, but spending some time with you helped the time pass quickly.”
It was near before Vincent was able to return to his chamber. His conversation with Father, after he left Pascal, had been leisurely and long, as they had fallen into a lengthy dissertation on several passages of Shakespeare that Vincent was teaching.
Collecting his pajamas and robe, he headed to the bathing pool. Upon his return, he collected the unread letter from his desk and settled into bed.
I can’t wait for you to see Muffin and Charles together! You will be as delighted as I am with the newest love of Charles. She is quite a charmer and I’m sure you will adore her.
It’s been marvelous to stay at home during this period; each day brings new delights, and I’ve never seen Charles so happy. I think I’d be heartbroken if the hospital called with a new case needing my assistance!
Angel and Muffin romp and play together. Each of them has completely accepted the other and don’ t know that tradition says they should be enemies. It gets pretty frantic when it’s bath time – meaning that when one of them decides to give the other a bath. Muffin usually starts it with belly licking when she finds Angel lying on his back. Before you know it, we have one very damp cat who is purring like a jet plane –remember Angel’s fetish for having his tummy rubbed – and actually looks upset when the bath is concluded!
Charles is doing well with the obedience training for Muffin and he seems to be getting along well with Audrey, our trainer. We had a long discussion with Charles after going to Audrey’s introductory session. We explained that since Muffin was his dog, he would need to be the one to train her to be polite, well-mannered, and not to frighten people because of her size. Devin and I both sit in on the training sessions and they have been a joy. The sessions have become more family-centered, as we are being taught all the commands the same as Charles.
How is Catherine?
She was so sweet to call Charles before she left for
I discovered a new recipe for a very decadent chocolate cake which Devin says will make you “spastic” with joy. I fully intend to make a couple of them to bring with us when we come home.
Isn’t it marvelous? I now think of the tunnels as home, just as Devin and Charles do. I’m so blessed in having such a large family now, and so many with whom I may share my love.
Give my love to Catherine, Mary and Father, plus all of our extended family. I miss you very much.
Your loving sister,
Life settled into a routine and there were many mornings when they were awakened to loud rough-and-tumble playing in the living room. Angel was usually the first to awaken and, when he failed to awaken Charles, Muffin fell heir to being his next victim.
The loud crash of a lamp hitting the floor, and the ensuing bark, immediately followed by agonizing whimpering howls, brought Devin instantly awake. He was out of the bed and into the living room immediately.
Muffin lay on the floor, her feet wrapped around the lamp cord and the shattered remains of the lamp scattered beside her trembling body. Angel sat on the sofa arm, giving Muffin an imperious look, and began to groom himself.
“Babe, I hope you didn’t treasure the lamp near the fireplace, cuz it’s toast!” Bree could hear him laughing as she crossed to the door, his slippers in her hand.
The howling continued as he stepped into his slippers and walked across the floor. “No, stay there,” he ordered as Charles walked toward the terrified pup. “Get your slippers on; no telling how far the glass has gone.” Devin scooped up the whining pup, who was shaking, and passed her to Charles.
From the look on his face, Bree could see that Charles was frightened that Muffin might have gotten hurt. “Why don’t you bring her in here and together we can check her over?”
Relief and love clearly shown on Charles’ face as he walked over to Bree and handed her the trembling pup. “I got to help Dev clean up. It’s my responsibility.”
“Go ahead and look after Muffin. I’ll handle this.” Snatching the trash bin from beside the fireplace, Devin began picking up the largest pieces of porcelain and tossing them into the bin. He walked over to the closet, got the vacuum, and began sweeping the whole area free of the tiny slivers. He spent thirty minutes going over the whole room three times to make sure he got all the slivers.
When he returned to their bedroom, Charles and Muffin were asleep on their bed and Bree was in the bathroom showering. Shaking his head and muttering to himself, he slid into the bed and waited for Bree to finish. Staring at the ceiling for several minutes, he again mumbled to himself, got up and staggered to the kitchen to start the coffee. Bree would need it just as much as he did.
Sitting there, his eyes fixed on the pot, willing it to perk faster, he wondered if this was what it was gonna be like when they had kids.
Muffin celebrated her fifth week anniversary of living with her new family when she had her first visitor. The slamming of the car door caused her ears to perk and she raced across the floor, skidding to a stop at the front door, tail thumping wildly.
Devin opened the door and allowed Catherine to enter before him. Muffin backed up and immediately sat as Devin commanded and pointed at the floor. Her eyes danced and her tail beat a wild rhythm on the floor as she whined and tried to bark her welcome.
Catherine took one look and immediately fell to her knees, wrapping her arms around the wiggling mass of fur. Laughing, she hugged and petted as Muffin began to cover her face with kisses. “Aren’t you a beauty,” she laughed as she sat and immediate tried to gather the squirming dog into her arms.
When Bree and Charles came in from the kitchen, they were greeted by the site of a laughing Catherine on the floor playing with Muffin. Charles was slightly surprised and immediately called Muffin to him. Obediently the dog came to him and plopped down at his feet.
Before Charles could say a word, Catherine offered her apology. “It’s my fault. I was just so thrilled, I immediate had to hug her and I sorta got carried away. She’s beautiful and certainly responds to your commands.”
Bree hurried across the room as Devin helped Catherine from the floor and Charles slowly followed behind Bree. Gathering Catherine in her arms, Bree hugged and kissed her. “I’m so happy to see you. It’s been too long and I’ve miss you.”
Charles waited patiently and when Bree released Catherine, he immediately wrapped her in one of his warm, gentle hugs. He held her for a long time as he struggled to control his overwhelming emotions. His face was awash with tears when he finally pulled away. “I wish Vincent was here, too.”
She smiled up at him as she tenderly wiped his tears away. “I know. I, too, wish he was here. He sends you his love and is looking forward to your next visit home. He’s eager to meet Muffin.”
They took seats on the sofa and immediately Angel presented himself to Catherine to be adored. She gathered him in her arms, petting and talking to him as he settled on his back, watching her expectantly, then nudged her with his head and softly mewed as she began rubbing his tummy.
“I’ve never seen a cat who loves having his tummy rubbed as much as Angel.”
“He loved it from the first moment I got him. When we go to bed, I rub his tummy and his purring is so soothing, I usually fall asleep before Dev has read three pages of our book.”
“I keep saying I’m gonna record it, loop it so it will play for an hour or so, and give the tape and player to Mary. It would be great in the nursery when the kids are restless.”
Catherine smiled at Devin. “Mary would love that. She had Angel with her several nights while you were on your honeymoon. He would sit in her lap, purring away, as she knitted and Charles read to the children.”
Catherine, Charles, and Muffin walked through the woods, laughing and talking, as they picked wildflowers for Bree. Her two days had flown by as she was surrounded by the love and affection of her extended family.
Catherine noticed how Devin had mellowed and became more secure in the warmth of Bree’s love. She adored the look on Devin’s face when Bree came into the room, how his face brightened and how his love flowed out to meet her. They were the perfect family, and she realized anew how proud and happy she was that Devin had found love and was also slowly becoming secure in Father’s love. His torment had finally succumbed to the open arms of love. After he left the tunnels, he never had a champion and defender as he had in Vincent until he met Bree, and her fierce defense of him against Father crumbled all the barriers that he had erected to protect his fragile heart caused by Father’s abandonment of him as a child.
And, she was aware of the changes in Charles, and how he had bloomed since Devin had removed him from the harsh environment of his brother, Eddie. Each time she was with Charles and Devin, she was aware of the love Devin lavished on Charles. For Bree, Charles truly was her brother and it was clear how much she adored and loved him.
After their walk and putting Bree’s flowers in a vase, they settled on the sofa and Charles began showing Catherine his photo album of Muffin. She wasn’t surprised at the quantity of photos, as on her previous visit she had seen his album of Angel.
“Muffin has certainly grown a lot since she’s been with you. She’s tiny in these pictures compared to now. What breed of dog is she and just how large is she going to be?”
“I got a book that tells all about her breed. Wait just a minute.” He crossed the room and disappeared into his bedroom. When he returned he again settled beside Catherine and opened the book.
Catherine turned the pages and stared.
“Oh, my, she’s certainly going to be large when she grows up!
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Leonberger* or seen one.
I thought I had seen every breed of dog there was on the streets
“That’s why we are taking obedience classes from Audrey. We are small compared to her dog, Piper, who is an Irish wolfhound and she’s really big. If she jumps on you, she is almost as tall as I am. But Piper has good manners and doesn’t jump. We are working on teaching Muffin not to jump except when I pat my chest and say ‘up’ to her.”
Catherine continued to read the book, fascinated about how the breed had been bred to resemble a lion, with the large furry ruff on its chest and the shaggy mane around its head.
“When she is grown, her height will be almost as tall as a five- or a six-year-old child and if she stands on her back legs she will be close to six feet tall,” Charles told her. “She’s gonna be a tall lady. But the book says how gentle and loving the breed is and she is already that. I’m happy she and Angel love each other.”
“I heard about how she likes to give Angel a bath and that Angel actually bathed her the first night she was here. That’s sweet.”
“Muffy likes to lick Angel’s belly cuz it makes him purr. She nuzzles up against his body and it looks like she is listening to the purring.”
Devin and Catherine sat before the fire long after Charles and Bree had retired. “There’s something I’d like to discuss with you, get your opinion.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Well, it’s about this plan I have for getting Vin up here for a few weeks. It would be great for him, and I’m planning on bringing Pops up at the same time. Bree and I both want you to come with them. We have the inflatable beds that Winslow and Cullen used when they stayed with us. I figure Vin and Charles could use those and we’d put Pops in Charles’ bed. You could bunk on the sleeper sofa in my office, just like you are doing now, and that way you’d still have your own bathroom. The guys would all share the one in Charles’ room.”
“The sleeping arrangements sound good, but why don’t you tell me about
this plan to bring Vincent here.
Devin stood and began to pace as he talked. “You know I want Vin to spend time here with us, and soon the weather will be such that I don’t like to travel in the winter with Charles because of his susceptibility to respiratory problems. So if it is gonna happen, it needs to be soon.
“I’m gonna need your help, as I already know all of Pop’s arguments and he will pitch a fit about both him and Vin being gone at the same time. But, hell, they’re all smart enough to take care of each other without them. Between Mary and Pascal, they know how to do everything, and Winslow and Cullen could handle sentry and security duty. And if I know you, you’d see that William has enough supplies for a month before you guys left. Peter would be willing, I’m sure, to handle any medical problems.”
Catherine grabbed his arm to stop his pacing. “Sit.”
He sank onto the sofa and ran his hand through his dark hair.
“Now, please, just calm down and tell me the plan in plain, simple English.”
For the next thirty minutes, Devin told her of his dream to bring
Vincent to the
“I think it sounds good, but why not eliminate the drive down to
“I never thought of leaving Bree, Charles and the kids here and flying,
but it certainly makes a lot of sense.
I could come in a couple of days early to help get everything
arranged and, if we left at 4:30 a.m., we’d be well out of the heavy
traffic before the sun is up.
We could by-pass
“We can take food with us so we don’t have to stop for that. The only problem I see is finding restroom facilities for Vincent.”
“You forget, guys are equipped for going in the woods, though I’m not sure how Vin is gonna feel about that!” Seeing the slight red that colored Catherine’s cheeks at his comment, Devin laughed.
It was exceedingly late when Devin slipped into bed and gathered Bree in his arms. He smiled into the darkness, closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep dreaming of his brother being with him.
Father, Vincent, and Catherine sat together enjoying tea and cookies after working to organize the newest selection of books Jenny had sent Below. It was always a laughter-filled session when the new books arrived and gave rise to Vincent’s wry wit over the author’s choice of title. The first time Catherine had participated in this endeavor, she was overjoyed at seeing this whole new side of Vincent’s humor.
“This all started, Catherine, when the boys were young and the idea of cataloguing books was considered punishment. They began to guess the subject matter from some of the obscure titles and it then became a family tradition. I don’t recall who started this game.”
Catherine heard the pride in Vincent’s voice, something she rarely ever heard, and his look of delight at having created this family game was also new. Inwardly she smiled, knowing she would treasure this moment and it would become another cherished memory.
The clattering of feet on the stairs caused them all to look up.
“Hi’ya, Pops.” Quickly, Devin crossed the room and gathered his father into his arms. Both men were smiling when they drew apart. Devin immediately stepped up to Vincent, wrapping him in a warm bear hug. “I’ve missed you.” His voice trembled with love as he held Vincent.
“It’s good to see you. I, too, have missed you.”
“Are Bree and Charles with you?”
“No, not this trip.”
After retrieving another chair, they settled to chatting as Devin
brought them up to date on life in
Their arrival in the library was warmly greeted and space was quickly cleared for the tray. William spent several joyful minutes with Devin and, after obtaining Devin’s promise of a long talk, William bustled off to finish preparation for dinner.
As they finished the meal, Devin smiled and patted his belly. “He never loses his touch, does he? His meals are consistently delicious. That was one of the things I missed when I left.”
Vincent noticed that Father’s face no longer had a pinched expression when Devin mentioned his years of wandering. He was thankful that the peace between Father and Devin was continuing to grow.
“Pops, Vin, there is something I’d like to discuss with you. I hope you will allow me to finish before you protest,” he grinned, “cuz, I know you’re gonna.
“Bree and I very much enjoyed having you with us last year, Pops, and we would like to do it again. Only this time, we want Vin to come, too.”
Immediately Father’s face changed and Devin could literally hear the protest forming in Father’s brain.
“I’d like to take you both up, and Catherine is coming along, and we would leave in two days. We’re going to rent an eight-passenger van, which means enough leg room for everyone to be comfortable and not be crowded by the luggage.
“Two weeks from Saturday is Saowen and that is the keystone of my plan.
We are going to travel dressed in costume as dramatic club
players who are performing at a private party.
The two of you,” he pointed at Catherine and Father, “will have
facial masks and I will have a partial mask.
A friend of mine is a sign maker and he has already created
magnetic signs that we will attach to the van.
The signs say ‘Wells Dramatic Arts - Themed Parties Our
Specialty.’ With the signs
on the van, anyone who sees us will assume we are in costume for a
party. On the return trip,
we will again don our costumes and they will think we are headed to a
Saowen celebration. With
Catherine along, we can make it a straight run between here and
“We have former Helpers at eight points along the route and they have all agreed to stand ready to assist us if we run into problems. From almost any point along the route, assistance wouldn’t be more than 70 miles away.”
The silence continued for several long minutes after Devin had stopped speaking. The three of them sat looking at Father, who sat in stunned silence, save for the continuous opening and closing of his mouth.
Vincent turned to discover that Catherine was grinning at him as she reached to take his hand. Her smile and laughing eyes were infectious and he found he, too, was beginning to smile.
“I even have a contract written up for the party where we are supposedly
Father glanced at the card and, sputtering, asked, “How… how did you get a photo ID of me? I haven’t had a picture taken in years.”
“Did you forget Charles’ love for taking pictures? I just cropped Angel out of the picture and, with the help of some software, morphed the snapshot into this.
“Vin’s was a little more involved. I have pictures of Cullen and Ed, my supervisor, and manipulated their features and came up with this. None of this would have been possible without all the photos Charles has taken over the last two years.”
Vincent studied the man in the photo, who was obviously big-boned, and his height and weigh corresponded to his own and the hair was a golden red.
Leaning toward Vincent, Catherine quietly whispered, “I prefer the original. He’s far more handsome.”
Vincent blushed at her words and hoped that his face didn’t become red enough that Devin’s eagle eyes would notice. “Thank you.” His voice held a shivering note as his body flushed with the warmth of Catherine’s smile.
“Devin, we couldn’t possibly leave in two days. There are…”
Devin’s loud laughter cut off Father’s words. “I never expected those to be your first words!” Devin’s eyes twinkled as he continued to laugh.
Father smiled at the joyous sound and soon the room was rocked with laughter as Vincent and Catherine joined them.
Deciding not to give his father a second chance to protest, Devin began listing what steps would be necessary for the community to function without their two leaders. “First off, I think we tell only Mary, Pascal, Winslow, Cullen, and William. Pascal needs to be able to direct messages to Mary on any emergencies and then contact Peter. Winslow and Cullen can deal with the sentries and the security patrols. William will need to handle any food issues as well as supplies for any emergency.”
“May I add a word to the discussion?”
“Of course, Catherine, we welcome your comments.”
“Thank you, Devin. I concur
with Devin’s idea that only those he mentioned need know about the trip,
especially since they comprise most of the council.
Remember how everyone got so upset a few years ago when Vincent
was considering a trip to
“You now have emergency teams in place and Mouse knows the tunnels as well as Vincent. Between Winslow and Cullen they could rein him in, if necessary. Mary is very competent, as you have stated many times,” she nodded at Father, “to handle the hospital and assist with most medical situations. And she has trained both Jamie and Olivia to work in the hospital chamber. Peter would, I’m certain, be willing to help.”
“Father, it would be wonderful to spend time with you in
“Pops, come on, say yes. You know you want to. If we pack tonight, we could tell those that need to know tomorrow afternoon, and that would still give everyone time to finish up any last-minute jobs, get in a few hours of sleep, and we could be away very early.”
Father looked at the eager face of Vincent and knew that if he refused,
Vincent probably wouldn’t consent to go.
Devin would, he was positive, consider his refusal a slap that
would peel away layers of the newly healing forgiveness between them.
Catherine’s face clearly revealed her love for Vincent and her
wish to see him as he discovered the beauty of the
“Devin, dear boy, you are ever a constant surprise. You never have given up in your desire, your dreams to share all the glories of the world with your brother. I’ve never stopped to realize the depth of love that has always driven you to give him everything that the world would keep from him. I always faulted you for your dreams and your encouragement of Vincent’s own dreams. I saw only the difficulties and terror. You saw the possibilities.
“This is such a surprise. It’s a lot to consider at once. Please, would you mind going over everything again in infinite detail? I fear I can’t comprehend all you have said and clearly form my own coherent thoughts.”
Devin jumped up from his chair and loudly kissed Father. “I’ll take all night and tell you every detail ten times if it means you will say yes.” He settled into his chair and began to detail the trip.
As Devin talked, Vincent and Catherine exchanged looks and Catherine silently crossed her fingers, wiggling them at Vincent.
It grew late and the tunnels became silent as the citizens drifted off to their chambers and the pipes became quiet. The group talked well into the early hours and slowly Devin’s logic and planning won Father over.
Their laughter exploded into the stillness when Father simply stated he had nothing to wear save his suit trousers and the pair of jeans Devin had bought him last year. “Don’t worry, Pops, I’ll go Above today and get you a couple more pairs of jeans and some sweaters. Just tell me the inseam measurement. You, too, Vin, you could use a couple more pairs of jeans.”
“It is late and Catherine is tired. I need to walk her home.”
Catherine tried to control the yawn she was experiencing. “I’m sorry. I’ll rent the van at lunch, pack after work and be ready. Where do you want me to leave the van so it is convenient for our leaving?”
“Do you know where the Mallon warehouse is, over on
“Yes, I know how to find it; I’ve been there several times.” She stood, kissed Father, whispered her thanks, and then hugged Devin. “I’ll see everyone later this evening.”
Devin headed toward Vincent’s chamber, where he planned to sleep for a few hours. He had a lot to accomplish Above.
Father slowly made his way to his chamber, wondering if he had done the right thing. (Would they be safe? What would the others say when they discovered he had abandoned his responsibility to the community?) Slowly he undressed, slipped beneath the warmth of the quilts, and tried to settle to sleep.
Joe was in a spectacularly good mood and he readily agreed when
Catherine confronted him the first thing in the morning, asking for two
weeks comp time, starting tomorrow.
He teased her a little, but knew how much overtime she had put in
over the last six weeks, which didn’t include all the overage from the
Outside she found a cab, giving the address of the van rental company. She had phoned in her reservation first thing that morning and then contacted one of the Helpers who owned a bakery, ordering hearty breakfast fare that could be delivered when the staff opened the bakery at 2:30 a.m.
Upon reaching home she began to pack, limiting her luggage to two cases.
Since she knew they wouldn’t be dining out or leaving the cabin,
she kept her choices of clothing to slacks, jeans, and sweaters, plus
her lingerie and night things.
She added a warm fleece jacket, a waterproof windbreaker, and a
heavy sweatshirt. Sitting
the luggage by the front door, she headed for the kitchen to check the
refrigerator. A half-empty
carton of milk was the lone item that she disposed of; the refrigerator
was quite bare, as this was supposed to be her weekend to grocery shop.
Glad that she had hit the bank during her lunch hour, she knew
she had enough cash to cover their expenses during the drive up to
After a quick shower, she blew her hair dry and left the apartment to drive to the Mallon warehouse. Leaving the van in Mr. Mallon’s care, she caught a cab back to her apartment, set the alarm, and settled into bed to get a few hours’ sleep.
spent two hours with William, knowing that William would remember their
talk if anyone was upset about Pops and Vin leaving the tunnels for
He left William, headed Above, and quickly completed his shopping for
both Vin and Pops. He found
a warm jacket to fit Vin and a hat, plus found similar items for Pops.
He knew neither of them had anything suitable for tromping the
When he reached Vin’s chamber, he found Vin’s backpack and began filling it with his purchases, and then stuffed the whole thing back into the cupboard, hiding it from any prying eyes. As he passed the classroom, he heard Vin’s voice and knew that Shakespeare still reigned supreme. He moved silently through the passages, slipping into Pops’ chamber, and searched for his suitcase. After placing the new clothes in it, he returned it to the cabinet alongside the costume that Father was to wear and went to join Pops in the library.
It was nine o’clock when both Vincent and Devin quietly conferred with Mary, Pascal, Winslow, Cullen, and William, asking each of them to come to the library without mentioning their destination to others. The chairs were all waiting and Father sat behind his desk.
“Thank you all for coming. What I am about to say will be something of a shock and I ask each of you for your promise that you will not speak of this outside this chamber until sometime after lunch tomorrow.” He quietly waited and then slowly everyone nodded in agreement.
tomorrow morning, Vincent, Devin, and I are leaving the tunnels,
Vincent stood, silently looking at each of his friends. “I know you have questions and concerns, but I hope you will allow us to speak and hopefully negate your concerns.
“Several years ago, I wanted to travel to
Devin stood and moved beside his brother, gently putting his arm around his shoulder, offering a united front to all those who were seated. He briefly outlined his plan, the precautions that he had taken, and the assistance that would be provided by former Helpers.
“We wanted each of you to know, because there are duties that you will need to perform that aren’t in your normal purview. Mary, you will need to assume the duties for the hospital chamber, medical care and, if there is an emergency, issue the orders to have Peter contacted. Pascal, it will fall to you and the Pipe Chamber staff to route any medical issues directly to Mary.
“We’d like to have Winslow and Cullen assume the mantel of coordinating sentry and security details during Vincent’s absence. In the event of an emergency, both of you would be responsible for Mouse, encouraging him to focus on what must be done quickly and discouraging any of his wilder schemes. And William, dear friend, it would be up to you to handle supplies for any emergency, as well as seeing that the meals continue to be nourishing and hearty.”
The group looked at each other, the majority of their faces unreadable, until suddenly William chuckled. “I, for one, think it’s high time you did something like this, Jacob, with your sons. I’m all for it and I’ll do everything possible to see that the kitchen and dining room run smoothly.”
“You’re gonna love the cabin and woods. I had a ball up there last year and frankly, I’m jealous I can’t go along with you!” Winslow was grinning broadly as he gave a playful punch to Vincent’s arm.
Cullen sat silently but he, too, was smiling.
“Friends, your reactions have truly warmed our hearts and we thank you for your acceptance and willingness to assume these duties so that my sons and I may have this special time together.”
“I couldn’t agree more with Father and want to add my thanks for your
willingness to help.
Perhaps I was harsh in my earlier statement about my previous trip to
“Personally, Vincent, I think it was more shock than fear that caused so many to react poorly and without thought to your needs and wishes.” William’s voice was full of emotion and his smile was soft and genuine.
They broke up into groups, with Devin and Vincent going over sentry and security issues with Winslow and Cullen while Father sat with Mary and Pascal discussing hospital and emergency communication plans. William sat beside Mary, contributing when it was necessary.
It was nearly three-thirty a.m. when Catherine stepped onto the threshold ladder, and a moment later she heard Vincent’s soft voice. “Is there anything to carry?”
“Here’s a basket from the Burnett’s bakery that has rolls, bagels, and fruit for our on-the-road breakfast. Mr. Burnett just dropped it off a few minutes ago.”
She stepped to the ground and into Vincent’s arms. “Only you could make waking up this early such a pleasure.” She pressed a kiss against his heart and smiled as she looked into his eyes.
“Your costume is quite becoming. Isn’t that what you wore to your first Winterfest? You look as beautiful now as you did then.”
“The jacket does add a certain flair, don’t you think?” Her laughter was infectious and Vincent offered a small shy smile as he nodded, noting her concession to warmth.
“Father is also in his costume but isn’t wearing his mask until we actually are in the van. He maintains he needs all his vision to navigate the tunnels safely. He and Devin are waiting near the passage that will take us to the Mallon warehouse. Once we get there, Devin and I will leave you and Father, take all the luggage with us and, after it is stored in the van, we will come back for you.”
“My luggage is already in the van, so I can assist Father in walking while you take the luggage, so as not to delay us. I can also carry the breakfast basket.”
They continued to chat as they made their way to where Father and Devin were waiting. “I took our cases on over to Mallon’s and I just got back. What’s in the basket? It sure smells good.”
“Good morning Father, Devin.”
“Catherine, my dear, good morning; you look beautiful as always. I have to add, the basket certainly does smell good.” Father leaned to embrace Catherine.
Catherine explained about the basket contents and smiled at the looks of anticipation clearly visible on the faces of Devin and Father.
“Shall we be away?” Devin slipped a support arm around Pops’ waist as they started toward the warehouse.
They had been driving for nearly an hour and Vincent’s hand was still
tightly grasped in Catherine’s.
His eyes constantly shifted from side to side as he took in the
cityscape he had never seen in his travels about
She smiled, aware from the tiny ripples beneath the surface of his hand that he was somewhat nervous. His travels had taken him to many of the boroughs, but he had never seen the distance edges of the city through which they were now passing. “Turn around and look back. The lights stretch for miles.”
He was still looking back at the lights when Devin asked, “How about breaking out some of that food? I’m starving.”
Vincent quickly peeled an orange and passed it up to Devin, who immediately began to chomp on it while Father carefully sectioned off his and began to eat. Between them, Vincent and Catherine fixed two bagels, spreading them with cream cheese and adding several strips of bacon, and then passed them forward. Devin’s sigh of delight was clearly audible as he finished his first bite.
Their breakfast complete, Vincent repacked the basket for later. There was still enough food for another meal. Catherine rested against Vincent’s chest and soon the steady hum of the wheels lulled her to sleep. Devin looked in the mirror and smiled at seeing the serene look on Vincent’s face as he held Catherine. (She does complete him, he thought as he again glanced in the mirror.)
It was nearly when they pulled in to fill the gas tank. Father got out to walk around as Devin stood filling the tank.
“Catherine?” Slowly her eyes opened and she smiled at him.
“We have stopped for gas. If you need to use the facilities, now might be a good opportunity. We haven’t passed too many gas stations along this route.”
Slowly, she stretched, gathered her long skirt, and stepped from the van. “Did you have a nice nap?” Devin asked as she passed him.
Devin whispered something to Father, started the van, pulled around the building, and stopped by a large dumpster with the passenger door facing the woods. He looked around then turned toward the back seat. “If you ease the door open and step past the dumpster, you will be hidden from view and can relieve your bladder.”
Vincent carefully looked around, drew the hood up on his cloak, and disappeared from sight. As soon as Vincent returned, Devin dropped the van into gear and pulled up near the area where Father was walking. Several minutes later, Catherine reappeared, carrying a small sack. Pausing at the door before getting in, she asked, “Devin, do you want me to drive now?”
“Naw, I’m good for another hundred miles or so, but thanks for asking. What’s in the bag?”
“I thought some fresh coffee might be nice.” She handed the sack to Vincent and then accepted his hand and climbed in. “I left about a half inch of space so the cups would be easier to drink from as we drive. I can’t tell you the number of times,” she laughed, “that I’ve ended up wearing coffee in the car from a too-full cup!”
The miles rolled by and Devin entertained his family with stories of
other drives and the fun adventures he and Charles had had.
Once they had by-passed
The sun was just setting when Catherine pulled the van into another gas station. “I’d feel better if we fill up now, since we don’t know the hours the stations in this area keep.” Father got out to pump the gas while Devin snored away, as he felt it was not a duty ladies should perform.
He was standing there waiting when the driver of the car beside him walked back to his vehicle. “Neat-looking costume you’re wearing. You gonna perform around here?” The man gestured toward the sign on the van.
Without so much as a blink, Father turned to address the man. “No, sadly, we still have some distance to travel, that’s why we’re traveling in our costumes. We will only have twenty minutes or so after our arrival, so felt it was best to come prepared.”
“Well, good luck to ya and may the road be smooth.” With that the man grinned, got into his car and drove off.
Catherine was grinning madly as she handed Father the cash to pay for the gas and he walked inside to pay. Laughter filled the van as Father returned and the noise awakened Devin. “What’d I miss?” he grumbled, rubbing his eyes.
Vincent took great delight in telling him of Father’s conversation.
“Damn! I always miss the good stuff.”
“I was totally amazed myself,” Father uttered. “The words were out of my mouth before I even had time to think!”
They had driven for another hour and were on a long, deserted, dark stretch of road. “Catherine, the next wide spot you come to, pull over. I gotta use the facilities.”
A few miles later, Catherine eased the van over. Devin nudged Vincent, helped Father out, and altogether they walked a few feet and disappeared into the thick brush.
Vincent climbed back in after helping Father back into the van, but Devin walked around to the driver’s side and helped Catherine out. “I’ll take us the rest of the way home.”
He waited while she got settled and fastened her seatbelt, and then dropped the van into gear. “Bree, babe, we’re nearly home!” He grinned at Pops, who smiled back at him.
It was well after midnight when they pulled into the long drive that led to the cabin; they could see the lights of welcome burning brightly. As soon as they stopped, the door opened and Bree came running out; she flew down the steps and into Devin’s waiting arms. After a long, welcoming kiss, she finally stepped away and turned toward her guests.
Father smiled in delight when he heard her say “Jacob.” It had taken forever for her to stop addressing him as Dr. Wells, and when that had happened, he knew the rift that had occurred prior to their wedding had truly healed.
Vincent drew back in startled surprise when Bree hugged him and then pressed a brief kiss to his lips. Catherine saw the brief exchange and inwardly smiled, knowing he would think about that kiss for many hours and ponder why Bree had kissed him.
From inside the cabin they heard howling and then a struggling bark that finally gained volume. “Charles tried to stay awake, but he lost the fight a few hours ago. I think our youngest child is now intent upon awakening him.”
While Vincent and Devin grabbed the luggage and ferried it to the porch, Bree and Catherine were assisting Father across the yard; his legs were weakened after so many prolonged hours of sitting.
When they all trooped in, they were greeted by the sight of Charles sitting on the floor holding a mass of wriggling fur that was happily covering his face with sloppy wet kisses. At seeing Devin, Muffin wiggled harder and gave more vocal yips of welcome.
“Let her go.”
Charles released her and she bounded across the floor, wiggling as she ran. Devin planted his feet and then patted his chest several times, then held out his arms as Muffin left the ground and soared into his waiting arms. Immediately, his face was covered as Muffin happily licked.
Vincent stood listening to the barely audible words of love as Devin talked to the squirming mass in his arms. He knew instantly that Muffin had wormed her way into Devin’s heart as much as Charles’s. Seeing this new side of Devin brought joy to Vincent, knowing that he was seeing yet another of Devin’s carefully constructed walls crumbling in the face of unquestioning love.
Devin returned Muffin to the floor, pointed, and firmly said, “Sit.” Muffin dutifully sat but her tail steadily wagged and her bum wiggled as she continued to vocally express her happiness.
Catherine immediately dropped to her knees, wrapping her arms around the squirming mass of fur. “You’ve gotten so big. What a beauty you are.” She laughed, hugging Muffin and petting every inch of her large, warm, writhing body.
The commotion now had Charles fully awake and he slowly ambled across the floor to join the group. Immediately, Vincent stepped toward him, gathering him into a warm embrace. Tears were shining in Charles’ eyes when he pulled away. “I’ve missed you. Have you met Muffin yet?”
“Not yet. She seems occupied with Catherine for the moment.”
“Muffin, come meet Vincent and Father.” His voice was gentle, but held a firmness, and when he snapped his fingers, then pointed to the side of his leg, Muffin immediately moved toward him and sat.
“Father, Vincent, I would like you to meet Muffin. She’ll shake hands with you. Me and Dev taught her.” He proudly grinned.
Father dutifully stooped and offered his hand and Muffin extended her paw. Father’s dislike of animals was well known, but from the expression on his face, Devin was positive Muffin would join Angel in winning Father’s approval. Before Father could react, Muffin’s tongue quickly licked as she offered a welcoming kiss. Father’s looked turned hard, but as he saw the concern on Charles’ face, he slowly offered a smile.
Both Catherine and Devin waited, eager to witness the exchange that would happen when Muffin greeted Vincent. Once again Charles said “Sit” and the squirming dog dutifully sat. She whined, her voice a clear indication of her eagerness, and she looked up at Charles, her eyes begging him to release her.
Vincent dropped to his knees, sitting back on his ankles, as he looked at the unique dog that had won the hearts of his brothers. “Come, Muffin, come.” His voice was gentle as he opened his arms and mimicked Devin’s movements, patting his chest. The dog wiggled frantically, looked up at Charles, and then Charles simply pointed at Vincent and Muffin bounded forward, launching herself into Vincent’s waiting arms.
Vocalizing her joy between sloppy, wet kisses, she wiggled and squirmed, trying to get closer. Vincent held the happy, excited pup and he suddenly remembered how he and Devin had wanted a dog when they were young boys. He was thrilled with the joy he felt as he held the pounds of unconditional love securely. His voice was a velvet whisper, audible only to Muffin, as they communicated their mutual admiration.
Devin looked at Catherine, seeing the bright tears that brimmed her lashes and her endearing smile as she watched Muffin and Vincent. He captured her eyes with his knowing smile and she grinned even more. His gaze turned to Pops and he saw that Pops, too, recognized the unbridled joy on Vincent’s face. As he turned to Charles, he saw the happy tears that streamed down his face, proud and delighted that all his family adored his pup.
After they carried the luggage to the appropriate rooms and due homage was paid to Angel, they all settled around the kitchen table for tea and scones. Bree was sure they would be hungry so she had whipped up a batch of scones as their late-night snack. And like most families, the kids joined them. Angel nested, purring, in Charles’ lap while Muffin curled atop his feet beneath the table.
It was nearly three-thirty when Father looked around the table and admitted that he was literally asleep on his feet. Devin helped him to his feet and, together with Charles, they headed toward Charles’ room. Catherine helped Bree with the clean-up and after they finished, she realized Vincent was no longer in the chair behind her. Seeing her quizzical gaze, Bree nodded toward the door. “He slipped outside about ten minutes ago.”
Catherine opened the door and stepped outside. It was totally dark but the sky was brilliantly alive with thousands of stars. “Vincent?”
“I’m here, Catherine, to your left on the steps.”
She followed the sound of his voice and stepped down as he took her hand. He shifted slightly then she felt herself being wrapped in the warmth of his cloak as he brought his arm up, surrounding her shoulder in woolen warmth.
“It’s breathtaking, isn’t it? The first time I was here, we spent several nights just sitting here enthralled by the splendor.”
“It’s beyond anything I have ever seen.”
They sat huddled together, serenely content, and the winking stars spoke to their hearts.
Later, they heard the door open and Devin’s soft voice. “Mind if I join you?”
“No, of course, not,” came Vincent’s gentle reply.
Devin squeezed in beside Catherine, the three of them sitting hip by hip between the balusters of the deck railing. “Pops is snoring away and, not to be outdone, Angel is purring loudly, trying to overcome Pops’ noise. Muffin is in her bed, but has her paw on Charles’ arm. I don’t know if that’s protecting him or she’s holding him there so he doesn’t get away!” His laughter rang softly in the stillness.
“How did the reading go tonight?”
“Pops started it, but between his yawns, he conceded defeat after about twenty minutes, so I took over. I had them both asleep in less than thirty minutes.”
“Speaking of conceding to defeat, I think I shall have to admit mine. I’ll say goodnight and seek my pillow.” Vincent stood and walked Catherine to the door. She hugged him, placed a kiss against his heart, and slipped inside.
Once Vincent had again taken his seat, he studied the stars. “I can see from this canopy of beauty why you adore living here. They are,” he pointed skyward, “like nothing I have seen before and the heavens are immense.”
“I’ve never grown accustomed to them; each time it is like I’m seeing them for the first time. This one clear patch between the trees gives us an unrestricted view of the celestial show.”
They continued to sit, lost within the visual display of the inky blackness. Finally, the long hours of travel and the fresh air caused them to become sleepy and, regretfully, they made their way inside.
It was late morning before the houseguests stirred and everyone had showered and gathered at the breakfast table. Devin and Vincent took charge of cooking and soon the air was filled with the scent of frying bacon, coupled with the sweetness of freshly sliced cantaloupes.
Angel and Muffin were having a wiggle-off from their seats on the floor, vying for attention as they begged to sample the breakfast fare. Being the youngest, Muffin was having great difficulty in remaining seated with so many new people to greet and their scents calling to her.
Devin retrieved two eggs, quickly broke them into a bowl to scramble, and before Bree could protest, he had the eggs cooked. He took down the pet food, measuring the food into the individual bowls then added a spoonful of eggs into Angel’s and dumped the remainder into Muffin’s. The wiggling and tail-thumping went into hyper-drive as the bowls were lowered.
Vincent watched in amused silence as Angel presented his rump to Muffin and began to daintily eat. Surprisingly, Muffin did not bolt her food, but ate slowly, too.
“She only tried to steal Angel’s food once. Angel bopped her on the nose with his claw and that was enough for Muffy; she has never tried to get Angel’s food again, and Angel is really a slow eater.” Charles’ voice was filled with pride as he looked at his beloved pets.
“They do seem to get along amazingly well, especially when you consider their disparate sizes,” Father commented between sips of tea.
“From all the books we read and from what Dr. Wilson told us, when you raise a cat and dog together from a young age, they are surprisingly affectionate and tend to get along very well. Angel was aware of Muffy’s scent long before she came home. He would sniff me thoroughly when I returned from the vet’s when I visited Muffy. We even took a hand towel to the vet’s, rubbed Muffy down, and then brought it home for Angel to smell; we also did the same with Angel’s scent for Muffy while she was still with her foster mom.”
It was easy for everyone to see the love and affection Charles had as he spoke so openly about how they prepared Angel for Muffin’s arrival.
“Pops, after breakfast, how about we go up to the lake and try our luck at fishing? I took the blade off the riding mower so we’d have extra ground clearance against any of the taller tree roots and you can ride to the lake. It’s really great up there and you have to see it. Everyone else will walk, but I think the terrain is a little too rough for your hip.”
Father looked dubious but wanted to spend as much time with Devin as possible. “It sounds like an enjoyable adventure.”
Bree and Catherine prepared food to take, packed everything into the large picnic basket in which they carried their on-the-road food, and then went to change into walking shoes and get their jackets.
Charles took care of the food for Angel and Muffin, got their inflatable water bowl and bottled water, the leads and harnesses, and he and the furkids waited patiently by the back door for the others to assemble.
Father and Devin had been at the lake fishing for more than an hour when the rest of the group joined them. Devin had heard their chatter long before they reached the small clearing.
“How long did he walk before he started begging to be carried?” Devin asked with a wide, easy grin.
“We probably were only about a third of the way when he decided he’d had enough and wanted to ride inside Charles’ shirt like always.” Bree was smiling and laughing, as riding in Charles’ shirt was something Angel had done since he was a tiny kitten.
“He and Catherine are bringing up the rear; there were just too many things he wanted to see up close. They encouraged us to come ahead while they checked out some late-blooming wildflowers and watched some birds. They’ll be along.”
Devin’s face was a study in bemusement, as he knew his brother was inspecting everything in fine detail. Ever the scholar, Vincent was curious about everything, and Devin couldn’t be more delighted that Vincent was proving his insight to be correct. Vincent wanted to see everything!
Charles joined in the fishing while Bree romped and played with the curious Muffin, who was taking her first foray into the edges of the lake. None of the fishermen seemed to mind that Muffin’s joyous barks were scaring off the fish; they were simply enjoying the time together.
“How would it be, Jacob, if next summer we brought all the children up for a visit? They could go camping, stomp through the woods, and we could take them over to the caves. And the best – take them to a drive-in movie! I’m sure that Winslow and Cullen would be happy to come along as helpers. Maybe Kanin, Olivia, and Luke could come, too. We could rent tents for the backyard for sleeping. It would be such a wonderful experience for our extended family. Promise me that you’ll think about it?”
Father was aware of the unbridled joy clearly written on Bree’s face as she spoke, and he saw the way Charles looked at him, his eyes filled with silent pleading for his beloved children.
“I’m willing to think about it, and I’ll present your wishes to the Council at the next meeting. Are you certain you’d want all the children at once? Would it not be more suitable if it were broken into age groups?”
The subject was in full debate when Catherine and Vincent joined the group. They settled on the grass, listening as the discussion continued.
“They’d be easier to manage in small groups, Babe, if we brought up the five- through nine-year-olds and then did a second group for the ten- to fifteen- year-olds. Fifteen is the oldest we currently have, isn’t it, Pops?”
“And whose gonna be the bad guy and break the news to the ones that aren’t coming the first time? Not me. One of you can be the bad guy; I’m for having them all at once.” Bree’s look of defiance was one Father remembered clearly, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to go head to head with her fiery temper again.
The discussion raged on, debating the pros and cons of all the children versus two or three smaller groups. Vincent watched in consummate delight as Catherine eloquently argued first for the benefits of the large group and then for the uniqueness of the small group experience. She turned to look at him, hearing his low chuckle, and it was only then she realized what she had been doing! She grinned and then pushed her elbow into his ribs, muttering quietly, “Why didn’t you stop me?”
“You were equally determined in both points of view.”
Devin sat listening to all the arguments, amused, as the family discussion continued. Seeing Bree, Charles, and Catherine take on Father caused him to smile as, up until last year, Father was a law unto himself and his wishes were seldom questioned. Since the major dispute at the time of their wedding and the ensuing healing, Father was now more open to opposing points of view. Devin had been utterly surprised when Vincent had shared in one of his letters that Mary had even questioned Father’s opinion. Secretly, he wished he had been there to have heard that discussion and seen the look on Father’s face!
“You can debate all you want; as for me, I’m going to start cooking and freezing enough meals to feed all the children at once. I’m gonna make this as simple for me as possible so that I can play with the kids the whole time they’re here!”
“Guess that means the grocery bills are gonna be high for the next couple of months.” Devin grinned at Bree. He knew that Bree was gonna wear Pops down and that next summer he would have every five- through fifteen-year-old tunnel child in their home for several weeks.
“We,” he indicated Charles and himself, “could get some lumber and build several sets of triple bunk beds; otherwise we’d have to tent the whole back yard. We could easily get three stacks of bunks each into those two tents we have in the storage shed, and I’m sure Ed has some tents we could use.”
“I’d be happy to supply inflatable mattresses for the bunk beds as my contribution to the children’s holiday,” Catherine offered with a happy smile. “Maybe I could even arrange some time off so I could come along to help; that is, if that’s okay with you?”
While the debate continued, Vincent and Charles took care of feeding Angel and Muffin and then began to pass out the bagel, cream cheese and ham sandwiches Bree had packed for their lunch.
From his position lying on the ground next to Devin, Charles had been watching Vincent playing with Muffin and he was pleased that Vincent liked his puppy. He nudged Dev and nodded toward Vincent, who was teaching Muffin to roll over. The dog seemed to be as captivated by Vincent and his soothing voice as were all the tunnel children. Every time Muffin rolled over, Vincent praised the dog, who then wiggled in delight at the treat she was given, and she showed her appreciation by bestowing sloppy kisses to Vincent’s hands.
Father watched, and could easily read the pleasure Vincent was experiencing. “He’s so open to all experiences, eager to learn all new things. He was like that as a child,” he commented to Catherine, who was seated next to him. “I never thought I would see him like this, surrounded by nature, relaxed, and totally free.” The normally firm voice trembled slightly and Catherine reached out to take Father’s hand, offering her comfort, as she was aware of how touched Father was.
Vincent played with Muffin until she was exhausted and stretched out across his lap, kissed his hand once more and closed her eyes.
“He’s so happy and utterly relaxed.” Bree looked at Catherine as she spoke, happy to see her nod in agreement. “I’m so pleased Devin’s plan worked out. He has talked of bringing Vincent here for more than a year. And it’s nice to have Jacob back, too. I’m hoping we can make this a yearly event.”
“He and Father will discuss this over many long winter nights. It has been such a happy experience for both of them.” Catherine’s smile was radiant with joy at seeing Vincent so happy.
The return trip was filled with laughter and joy as they all trooped home. By the time the others reached the cabin, Devin and Father had a fire going, soup simmering, salad made, and the dining table set. After their hearty meal, cleaning the kitchen and doing the dishes became another shared event.
From his position at the sink, Devin announced they had rented several films, ranging from the newest to several classics plus several wildlife specials. Following Devin’s directive, Vincent joined Father on the sofa as they went through the selections, arranging the films in their preferred viewing order.
Catherine literally spent the first two hours simply watching Vincent as he watched the film. He had been eager to see the wildlife specials and his life-time love affair with knowledge held him enthralled, seeing the animals in action within their own habitat.
Muffin walked over to Vincent, whined at him, and just as though it was a normal daily event, Vincent scooped the pup into his lap and began to pet and cuddle her. It was obvious to Devin that Muffin had fallen under the magical special affinity Vincent had with all living creatures, as she had divided her time equally between vying for attention with first Charles and then Vincent.
Angel was completely happy resting on his back in Charles’ arms, having his tummy stroked. Devin grinned because, during the silent moments in the film, the high-powered level of purring contentment could clearly be heard. And, to his ear, the sound was better than all the great orchestrated works of the grand masters.
As the final credits flashed and the nature preserved faded, Devin jumped up yelling, “First in the bathroom,” and took off running. Behind him he heard the clatter of the heavy boots of Charles as he hit the floor.
Vincent and Father exchanged bewildered looks as both Bree and Catherine joined the exodus.
Devin returned, looking quizzically at the two solitary figures that still remained. “Bathroom break, Pops, before we start the next film. You dunna want to miss any of the action in your first movie in thirty years, do ya?”
“Oh, no, no, I don’t. Please excuse me.” He stood and walked toward Charles’ bedroom just as Charles re-entered the living room. “You, too, Vin. You can use the bathroom in our room; Bree’s in Catherine’s room.”
As Vincent walked past him, Devin noted the slight blush on Vin’s face and couldn’t help but smile. (He’s missed so much by Father’s more formal manners and I bet that’s the first time he’d heard “bathroom break” spoken in mixed company.) He continued to grin as he headed toward the kitchen to make popcorn and collect sodas for everyone.
A lively discussion followed the last film, as there were varying opinions of the story line and its merits. Vincent immediately stood and started collecting bowls when Bree picked up a couple of items and headed toward the kitchen. “Please allow me to help.”
“I appreciate the offer, but there really isn’t much to clean up. But, please do stay and talk. We’ve had so little time to chat since your arrival. Is it all to your liking and are you enjoying yourself?”
“It’s beyond my dreams. My mind couldn’t begin to process all the sights and scenery as we traveled. The speed at which we traveled and blur of the countryside as we whizzed by was more than I had ever imagined.”
“Yes, I imagine it was difficult for you to comprehend. When I awoke on the morning your travel started, I couldn’t help but hope that the landscape would thrill and delight you. When I’d check the clock, I’d imagine where you were and what you were seeing at that exact moment. Charles and I checked the route map during the day and then we discussed what you were probably seeing at that particular moment. Charles so wanted you to have fun on the trip up and enjoy all the sights he loves.”
“Might I have a cup of tea?”
“Of course. There’s no need to ask; whatever you wish that we have is yours for the taking.”
“You sit and I’ll put the kettle on. Would you also like a cup?” Without waiting for Bree’s reply, Vincent began to fill the kettle and placed it on the stove then turned on the burner. While the water heated, he got down the teapot, cups and saucers. Bree noticed the quickness and sureness of his movements and was pleased that he felt so at ease in her kitchen.
As they sat sipping their tea, Vincent was once again aware of how comfortable he was with Bree. From their first meeting in Catherine’s apartment, her wholehearted, total acceptance of him and the joy she radiated had overwhelmed his usual reticence in meeting new people. From the moment Devin had told her about him, she had completely accepted him as her brother. She was so like Catherine, in that she acknowledged his uniqueness but never had made it the focus of her acceptance; rather, her recognition of him was exclusively based on his being the brother of the man she loved.
“Bree, may I ask you a personal question?”
“You may ask me anything you like; I harbor no secrets.”
He stood and restlessly began to pace. After several trips back and forth, Bree reached for his hand and drew him back to the chair. “You and Devin are so alike, pacing while you try to compose a question that you fear will cause embarrassment or is concerning a subject that you aren’t comfortable discussing.”
“How alike Catherine you are. She, too, is aware of the cause of my often endless pacing.”
“I’m certain that, surrounded by her love, you have learned there are few things which can’t be openly discussed between two hearts that love so profoundly.”
He remained silent and then sighed. “When we arrived, you greeted all of us, but when you came to me, you kissed me on the mouth and...”
“You want to know why?” Her eyes were clear, as she had anticipated this question.
“Yes. I don’t understand why a lovely woman such as you would voluntarily kiss someone like me.”
“I kissed you on the mouth for the same reason I kiss Charles on the mouth when we have been apart for a prolonged period. You are my brothers, and it is how my birth brother and I greeted each other when we had been apart. It is how everyone in my family was greeted. My grandfather, father, and brother all kissed each other hello and goodbye.
“My life was very empty when my brother, his family, and my parents died in the same auto accident. There was no one to hug and no one left to kiss. I was bereft and my world collapsed when they died. I vowed that if I ever did fall in love, marry, and have a family of my own, I would re-establish that tradition.” Her eyes were bright with unshed tears as she spoke.
“But my mouth is so different from yours, it is….”
“As mine is different than yours, as is Charles’, Jacob’s, Mary’s, Pascal’s, Cullen’s, and Winslow’s. They are the mouths of the people I care about and I find nothing strange or abhorrent about any of those. You and Charles are the brothers of my heart and I fully intend to go on kissing you hello and goodbye until I’m dust, so you might as well accept it. If you don’t want to be kissed on your mouth, then you’re gonna have to turn your head, cuz that’s where I’ll be aiming!”
Her radiant smile captured his heart, overriding the logic of his mind and his fears. Suddenly, he understood how Father must have felt after his first introduction to Bree’s fiery sense of indignation and justice as she had faced him down over his objections to her being in the tunnels without prior Council approval.
She stood, gripped his hand and tugged. “Come along; let’s rejoin the rest of our family. We don’t want them to start the movie without us.”
Charles was snuggled in his bed as Father read to him. Angel and Muffin were in their accustomed places and, from their looks, Father’s voice was also assuring that they, too, would soon be drifting asleep. He enjoyed these nightly sessions of reading to Charles, not only because Charles was an appreciative audience, but because it gave him the opportunity of getting to know Charles more fully. And, too, it gave Devin a break and allowed the couples to spend quality time together.
Father had realized that their visit was an unexpected holiday together as a family and was a gift to his sons, allowing them to come to a deeper, more profound understanding of each other as adult men. He admitted it also gave them a bonding experience in seeing each other as they interacted in a happy, serene setting with the women they loved. Bree’s deep love and dedication to Devin were openly displayed each moment of the day. Catherine’s love of Vincent was more subtle, but the depth of it was joyous as it gently surrounded and supported him continuously. He had never seen his sons so content and peaceful as they were encircled within the wings of love that Catherine’s and Bree’s committed devotion gave to them.
The clock had chimed, making them aware of the lateness of the hour. Everyone headed toward their bedrooms except Vincent, who remained on the couch. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to rewatch a couple of the nature films.”
“Of course, you can rewatch them. Do anything you like, bro, this is your vacation and there are no rules. Enjoy.” Devin slipped his arm around Bree and together they walked into their bedroom.
Catherine returned from the kitchen where she had washed the few remain dishes. As she entered, Vincent looked at her and his heart began to flutter rapidly. They had been together, but it had been forever, or so he thought, since they had had any time alone. “Would you like to watch a little longer with me?”
Her smile was radiant as she nodded her agreement and came to sit beside him. She took the remote control and showed him how to rewind the film, then explained the “play” and “pause” features.
“Do you object to my taking off my shoes?” she asked with a laugh. “I enjoy movies so much more with my feet free.”
“No, of course not. May I help?” Without waiting, he leaned over and began unlacing her boots.
“You should try it. Take off your boots. I’ll put pillows on the table and we can put our feet up. It’s ever so much more comfortable with your feet up.” She grabbed two pillows, placing them on the coffee table, and then swung her feet up. “Oops, one minor adjustment and then it will be perfect.” She eased the table forward about an inch so the table no longer cut into her heels and repositioned her feet. “Perfect.”
Vincent removed his boots and then imitated Catherine’s actions.
“Your socks look toasty warm.”
“Mary makes socks for those of us who are blessed with larger size feet, which is mostly me, Winslow, William, and Cullen. We get socks from a Helper who owns a clothing store, but unfortunately he often sells out of all his larger size socks, so Mary knits.”
“Mary is certainly a lady of many talents. Your socks look like those I have seen in some of the finest department stores.”
He slipped his arm around Catherine’s shoulder and she readily snuggled solidly against him. “I’ve missed this,” she sighed.
“As have I.”
The film began and the world of the African plains opened to them. Roughly every ten minutes or so, Vincent would pause and then rewind the film so he could rewatch the intriguing actions of the animals. Catherine watched in total joy at seeing the consummate teacher clarifying points to discuss with his students.
“I think upon our return I shall buy some of these films, plus other educational ones. I could have the children come Above on Saturday mornings, as the films would certainly open an entirely new viewpoint to them. Do you think the Council would approve?”
“I’m almost certain they would, but wouldn’t it take up a lot of your free time? Your work schedule is heavy and you have so few hours in which to relax.”
“Being with the children is always relaxing. And if something came up, the children could still come, as I could show the older children how to operate the TV and VCR. I could give you a key for them to use. It would be such fun for them.”
The film ended and Vincent touched the rewind button. “Could we watch it once more? There are a couple of things I wish to see again so I’m not giving false information to my students.”
She reached across him and then, smiling, hit the “play” button. She snuggled against his chest, wrapping her arm tightly around him; he settled deeper into the sofa as his whole body relaxed.
As she watched, Catherine’s fingers alternately stroked his muscular arm in a slow hypnotic rhythm and twisted strands of his flowing tresses around her fingers in a loving caress. He was instantly aware when she touched his hair. The first time she had caressed his hair, the electrical jolt to his body was visceral, causing intense yearning. Now it was something he constantly craved.
He tried to remain calm, to not succumb to the rapid thrumming of his heart. In their relationship over the last year, many things had changed, but he had never been able to reveal his addiction to her hands stroking his hair. He struggled to control his breathing.
“It’s all right,” she gently offered. “I sometimes forget and am simply overcome with my desire to play with your hair. Our relationship is changing and I understand the newness of it can be difficult for you.”
“It is something I don’t feel comfortable in discussing just yet. It is all so new and I’m still coming to terms with this new phase of our relationship.”
“I understand, truly I do. It’s just that I am so comfortable with you that I sometime forget that it is new to you and my instincts to touch your hair get the best of me.”
He blinked then drew in a deep breath; his eyes spoke of a love that was beyond his ability to vocalize.
They cuddled close together and slowly they refocused on the film.
It was several hours later when Vincent awoke, realizing they had fallen asleep wrapped in each other’s arms. Slowly he shift, gathered Catherine to him, stood, and quietly carried her to her bedroom. He pulled the blankets around her, kissed her on the forehead, and returned to the living room.
He was wide awake and decided to watch more of the nature films. He raided the kitchen for Bree’s decadent chocolate cake and then settled on the sofa. When he saw his boots alongside Catherine’s, he smiled; his boot was lying across hers. He murmured into the stillness, “Someday they will always be that way.”
The sounds of happy chatter filled the cabin and the backyard. Father and Charles were involved in the completion of a new model ship that Catherine had brought along for Charles. As she passed through the living room and saw the concentration and intrigue on Father’s face, Catherine realized she might have discovered a source of new gifts for Father and for the children.
Returning to the kitchen, she sat alongside Bree, who had several cookbooks and a stack of bookmarks. Together they were searching for the recipes that Bree would use for the children’s visit.
In the yard, Devin and Vincent were inspecting the tents, taking measurements to determine how many bunk beds each would accommodate. They had emptied the large storage shed and were sorting and cataloguing the multitude of items. Alone with Devin, Vincent had conceded to the unexpected late fall heat and had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt.
“I’m thinking I may need to fence the yard come spring. Muffy isn’t gonna be content to stay in a confined space and it will be a while before Charles becomes comfortable allowing her off her lead. Remember how long it took him to allow Angel to roam?”
“Yes, as I recall, it was a time of great personal difficulty for him.”
As they worked, their conversation was light and easy, each of them aware of how special this time was and that it was the culmination of a lifetime of shared dreams. “Bree’s gonna be pleased that the shed is cleaned out, re-ordered, and some of the old items are going back home with you. We’ve worked some of these puzzles so many times we can literally do them in our sleep!
“Do you think the Council will put up a lot of objections to our idea of bringing the children here? Bree has her heart set on this. She wants to share our world with them so badly. She was still talking about it when I fell asleep,” he grinned.
“While I lock up the shed, why don’t you go inside and get a couple of towels from our bathroom and then we can head down to the lake. The water’s cool, but not cold yet, and we could get in a quick swim before we start to fire up the grill.”
Vincent started across the lawn, only to be stopped before he reached the door. “Hey, in the large bureau, third drawer on the left, get me a clean pair of skivvies, will ya?”
The heavens were alight with another brilliant display as the family sat on the deck following their late evening meal. Angel had arranged himself in Father’s arms and whenever Father ceased his stroking of Angel’s tummy, Angel would obediently wait several seconds then use his paw to tap Father, reminding him of his duty. Muffin was curled in Charles’ lap, content to simply be stroked and be the center of Charles’ attention. Devin and Bree were nestled in the hammock while Vincent and Catherine occupied the glider.
While the conversation flowed around them, Catherine whispered so that only Vincent could hear, “Is anything wrong? You’ve been lost in thought; it’s as if you were miles away.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just lost within the galaxy; the sky is incredible and I am hypnotized by its beauty. Today has been one filled with unique memories and unexpected treasures.” He brought his arm around her shoulder, drawing her closer, and he heard her soft, contented sigh.
Slowly, the group broke apart, leaving only Devin and Vincent to enjoy the night sky.
“This has been beyond all my dreams.”
“Mine, too. When the idea of traveling in costumes came to me, I was positive Pops would veto it with predictions of doom. I never thought I’d get him to agree without a major knock-down drag-out.”
“When you told Father last year that you would take me away from the
tunnels and give me a home here in the
“When Charles and I came here, I never envisioned this would become the place where my soul would find peace. We tried several places before we settled here. I wanted to stay close to home, though I wasn’t actually admitting that to myself at that point.”
Even in the semi-darkness, Vincent saw the flash of white teeth and a wide smile, and detected the note of happiness in Devin’s voice.
“We got along fine, but it was seeing peace settle over Charles, his nightmares vanishing and his becoming more tranquil, that made me know this was the place for him. And then when Bree found us that snowy night, both our worlds changed for the better.
“I never thought I’d ever find a woman like Bree, one who loved me completely and who was ready to defend me against anyone who attempted to hurt or harm me. Her love is so unconditional; it’s always there, and no matter how much love I take from her, she always has more to give. God surely blessed me,” he sighed.
“The right love is unending and we, the chosen ones, are allowed to plumb the depths of this wondrous potent promise.” Vincent’s velvet voice waxed glorious and his body trembled with the truth of his words.
Devin took two steps into the living room, stopped, shook his head, and then silently backed through the kitchen door and allowed it to quietly swing closed. He stood there, his shoulder shaking, and he was holding his stomach.
“Devin, what on earth is wrong with you?”
“Pops, you aren’t gonna believe this. It’s something I never thought to see.” His grin was a mixture of pure delight and total disbelief.
“What are you talking about?”
“Be quiet and follow me.”
Father stood and walked toward Devin, who gently reopened the kitchen door. They took a few steps and Father’s gaze followed Devin’s pointing finger. Father’s hand quickly flew to his mouth, covering it before an abrupt sound could escape.
Vincent was stretched out on the floor in front of the fireplace, sound asleep, and on top of him lay Muffin, while a purring Angel was curled around his head with his tail draped around Vincent’s neck, as if to hold him in place, with one paw resting against his chin. The two men stared; their delighted smiles spoke a silent language of suppressed joy.
They eased back into the kitchen, sat, and shook with silent laughter. “I shall never forget this, Devin. All my worries and concerns about this trip have flown in seeing Vincent in such a pose of utter relaxation.”
“I wish my camera was nearby, I’d love to capture that picture.” Seeing Pops’ concerned looked, Devin continued, “During the wedding and at the reception, Charles took lots of pictures; several of them included pictures of Vincent. I processed and developed the pictures here at home after we returned from our honeymoon. I only made three prints: one for us, one for Charles, and one for Catherine, all carefully marked as a Halloween party, and then I burned the negative.”
“I’d enjoy seeing your wedding photos. It was something we never got around to during my previous visit.”
The days sped by in a flurry of happy activities and, before they realized it, their time together was rapidly drawing to a close. They stayed up late and rose early, wishing to make the most of their final days together. They walked the woods frequently and watched in silent wonder as the deer and raccoons used the yard as a pathway to forage on the lush vegetation surrounding the cabin.
Charles was delighted with the tricks Vincent taught Muffin, and that Catherine had taught Angel to come on demand using a clicker and a treat.
Bree had started a growing list of preparations for the children’s visit, positive that Vincent would champion her cause before the Council. And, more importantly, she had already marked off the dates for next Saowen when her extended family would once again come to their home.
The van was repacked, including the games and puzzles they were sending to the children. Bree had included new sweaters she had knitted plus several new storybooks for the nursery.
It was still dark when the last goodbyes were said, and hugs and kisses shared. Bree and Charles stood in the yard, their eyes awash with tears, as they waved and called out one more time, “We love you, come back soon, and be safe.”
The silent van moved steadily southward. Catherine was curled snugly in Vincent’s arms as her tears fell. As he held her, he thought of these special two weeks, a time unlike anything he had ever known nor had expected to know in his unique life. He remembered all the childhood dreams with Devin, the adventures they wanted to experience, and the places their imagination had taken them. Those dreams had sustained him through the dark period when Devin had left the tunnels to wander the world.
“We’re almost home,” Devin commented as they passed the highway marker
denoting it was fifty miles to
“Devin, this time has been precious, and I won’t forget the unexpected pleasure you have given me by including me in your family celebration. I shall treasure these memories always.”
“But you are a part of our family. Bree and I think of you as our sister and you know Charles also thinks of you as his sister. We welcome you anytime and are certainly planning for your return visit next year.”
Devin pulled into the deserted alley behind Catherine’s building and Vincent slipped out. “I’ll see you at home.” He waited until the van was out of sight and then started climbing.
Driving around the corner, Devin stopped in front of Catherine’s building, helped her out, and then pulled her luggage from the back. Roger immediately unlocked the entrance and came out to carry her luggage.
“I’ll leave the van at Mallon’s. We can return it later on today. Get some sleep and thanks again, you helped make it a great two weeks.” He hugged her, returned to the van and drove off.
Once she was inside, Roger again locked the exterior door. “May I help carry your luggage to your apartment?”
“Thank you, Roger, but its light and I can carry it. It’s unusual seeing you here at this time.”
“Yes, it is. Tim’s wife went into labor about two hours ago, so I volunteered to take over for him so he could be with them.”
“Which hospital? I’d like to send flowers.”
He told her the hospital as he walked her to the elevator. “Goodnight, Miss Chandler; your costume sure is great.”
After sliding the luggage inside, Catherine closed and locked the door and placed the owl mask on the side table. Immediately, she went to the balcony, opened the door, and stepped into Vincent’s waiting arms. He pressed a kiss into her hair just as she placed a kiss against his chest.
“It was wonderful.”
“Beyond all imagining.”
They held each other, neither of them willing to relinquish this magical time they had together. As they looked out over the city, they saw the faint traces of light beginning to brighten the sky. Together they sighed, knowing the dawn would cause their parting.
“I’ll come down later this morning or early afternoon. I think the next few days will be difficult, as I’ve become so accustomed to seeing you immediately upon awakening and the last thing before I sleep.” Her eyes were filled with love beyond the meager words expressing her joy in spending the last weeks together.
“It was a perfect time. My heart is overflowing with happiness.” Again he kissed her forehead and exhaled a slow, shattering breath. “I must go. Sleep well.”
Her arms tightened, drawing him closer, and then she pressed a brief kiss against his lips. “Goodnight, my love.”
Devin helped Father into bed and then walked through the silent passages
toward Vincent’s chamber.
He undressed, borrowing one of Vincent’s sleep shirts, and got into the
bed. He was still too
wrapped up in the adventure of having actually taken Vincent to
“I’m not asleep, so go ahead and light a candle,” he offered as Vincent silently stepped inside the dark chamber.
The light pushed back the shadows and Devin was once again reminded of all the years they had spent together in this chamber. “I’m still amazed that you kept so many of the things we collected together. It looks almost identical to when we shared this space.”
“They are my memories, too,” his arm swept wide, “and they served to ease the ache in my heart when you left.”
“Look in my coat pocket, there’s something in there for you. Now seems to be the appropriate time to give it to you.”
Vincent retrieved a small square box from Devin’s jacket and moved to hand it to him.
“No, go ahead and open it.”
Vincent opened the box and simply stared at the contents. Carefully, he lifted an old pocket watch, the patina worn and buffed with years of handling and use.
“I looked at it every day for the first year I was gone, remembering when we found it, how we pretended it actually worked. It was my constant reminder of you and how much I missed you. You called me back, but it was my anger with Pops that kept me from coming home sooner.”
“I know.” The large unique fingers tenderly stroked the worn surface and he struggled to accept that this lost treasure of their youth was once more in his hands.
“There is an old man in
Vincent’s eyes lit with pure delight as he pressed the stem and the case popped open and the strains of “Rhapsody in Blue” filled the chamber.
“Mr. Kraushous estimated the watch was made in 1925, the year after Gershwin wrote the Rhapsody. He felt it was probably a commissioned piece, as the music box is all hand-made and quite complex.”
“Then you should keep it to give to your sons.”
“And what makes you think your sons wouldn’t want it? And, please don’t give me that malarkey about your never having children. If ever there was a woman born to have children, it is Catherine and, from all I have observed, when she does, they will be your children.”
“But you are the oldest, it should belong to you.”
“And you were the one who found it beneath a rock down in the old drainage area.”
“You helped me dig it out, so it is equally yours.”
“Will you just shuddup! It has always been your watch. I only borrowed it while I was gone and I had it repaired for you. So take it and hush! You are so hard-headed!” Even though his words sounded harsh, the smile and his laughing eyes clearly told Vincent how much Devin loved him.
Vincent retrieved clean pajamas from the drawer, blew out the candle, and began undressing. He slipped into bed and was immediately assaulted with memories of the last time he had shared this bed with Devin.
“Whaaat? Are we gonna stay awake all night telling ghost stories?”
“Do you want to?” The bed began to shake as Vincent laughed.
“I wonder if Catherine will love you as much once I beat you black and blue?”
“Catherine said she loved me when I bruised my hand trying to catch a falling rock. She said I was a lovely color and kissed my bruise to make it all better, I believe she said.”
Devin snorted, punched his pillow and tried to get comfortable.
“I’d’ve been asleep three hours ago if I was sharing the bed with Bree!”
“We haven’t been home three hours, so how could you be sleeping?”
“Idiot! Blooming idiot! Will you zip it?”
The bed shook violently as Devin sat up, grabbed the pillow, and began to pummel Vincent. Vincent grabbed his pillow and attacked Devin, laughing loudly as they fought.
“Boys! Stop this immediately, do you hear me? Immediately! People are trying to sleep and all your loud buffoonery can be heard well into the outer passages.” Father was leaning heavily on his cane, his hastily belted robe hung in a slipshod manner from his thin shoulders.
Devin slowly lowered his pillow and tried to shrink down so that Pops didn’t notice he was standing on the mattress battering Vincent. “Sorry, Pops, things kinda got out of hand. Could I help you back to bed?” Try as he might, he simply couldn’t keep the laughter out of his voice.
“Father, we do apologize for awakening you.”
“Please settle down and go to sleep. If you can’t peacefully sleep together then one of you should search for a vacant guest chamber. Goodnight!” Father turned on his heel, muttering something about young, thoughtless hooligans as he exited.
Vincent and Devin exchanged sheepish looks, grinned at each other, and then began to repair the damage done to the bed. Once repaired, they again settled into bed, only to discover that both of them were overcome with laughter.
“Devin, I do need to ask you something. It has been bothering me.”
“OK, what is it?”
“When you and I went swimming at the lake, I noticed that you still had your clean skivvies in your hand when we returned. If you didn’t want them, then why did you specifically ask me to get them?”
“Because I knew that you didn’t know about Bree’s father and that you were still puzzling over why she kissed you on the mouth when we arrived. I figured no matter what Bree explained to you that first night we were watching movies, you were still pondering and thinking it to death. I figured if you saw the pictures on the dresser, they would obliterate all your illogical logical thoughts, and hopefully you’d just accept that my woman loves you.”
“How did that happen to him?”
“Bree said they were at a picnic when some little boy’s clothing caught on fire and he started running. Christian caught the child, rolling his body over him trying to put out the flames. Christian’s shirt and hair caught on fire before he got all the flames put out on the boy. The boy died from his burns and Christian suffered first and second degree burns on his face, head, and neck.
“Plastic surgery hadn’t advanced back then and the facial scars were far more obvious. Bree was probably three or four when it happened. She felt the pain of his being ostracized and that’s why she specialized in burn treatment. If I remember correctly, she said her grandfather was deaf and people made fun of him. Between the two, that’s where she developed her sense of justice and her inner view of people rather than just seeing the exterior person.”
Silence filled the chamber as the story of Bree’s father consumed Vincent and he struggled to come to terms with how this had impacted Bree.
“When I knew I loved Bree and wished to marry her, I knew I couldn’t keep you a secret from her. I had no qualms in telling her as I knew she would accept you without question, just as she had accepted Charles. It’s an integral part of Bree’s beauty. She clearly sees the exterior of a person, but her focus is entirely upon personal inner beauty.
“Vin, Bree would never knowingly cause you pain, and if her kissing you is a problem for you, well... Are you good with this?”
“Bree’s heart is like Catherine’s. Catherine knows all that I am when I am lost within the darkness. She accepts all of me, my fears, my need to think carefully on every issue of our relationship. Her love is such a glory to my senses, filling me with sensate thrills beyond all my imaging, my waking and sleeping is consumed in grandeur beyond belief.” A shattering sigh rumbled deep in his throat.
As the sound reached Devin, he thought it was the beginning note in a verbal ode to love. In those few sentences, Devin knew that his baby brother had clearly revealed the depth of his love for Catherine.
“I agree. Bree and Catherine do share that unique ability that few women have: to love and accept us as we are without wanting to change us. They see with clear vision and surround us with such an intense love. Bree is utterly honest, but yet she accepted me and all the stories and outright lies I told in order to survive. She knows all my faults and continues to love me. She sees behind the walls I erected to protect myself from the pain and hurt of abandonment.”
Devin flopped over on his belly, punched the pillow, and tried to get comfortable as Vincent turned on his side. The sound of slow breathing filled the chamber as sleep began to claim the brothers. Their worlds were complex and different, yet the lifetime of love they shared cemented the unique men, who were united as brothers, for within each of them, they knew the other was truly the heart of home.
*Leonberger: To view this amazing dog, may I suggest you check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-lpq0V02oU.
Author’s note: I hadn’t
intended to write another story about Devin, Charles and Bree, as I felt
“The Guest” and the ensuing chapters concluded their happy life.
After watching Animal Planet’s “Dogs 101” and seeing the
Leonberger (and falling in love), I began to wonder what such a dog
might bring to the
For anyone else like me who doesn’t read uncompleted stories, I want to
assure readers that any future stories about the
I hope you enjoy these new adventures of Devin and his family.