The Ice of Winter
(Part 5 of The Guest)
by Joanne Grier
From the front porch they waved goodbye to Ed and were pleased to see him leave with two cartons of food from their refrigerator. Ed’s large family would certainly make use of the food, and neither Bree nor Devin could allow it go to waste. If their plans went well they wouldn’t return for at least six weeks. They were all packed; their luggage was already inside the camper shell Devin had attached to the truck, as were most of Angel’s gear and half his toys.
Charles sat on the living room sofa explaining to Angel about the trip – that they would once again see the Franklins who provided overnight accommodations on their trip home. Bree was eager to meet her first Helpers, as before the Franklins had retired to Connecticut, they had been Helpers for nearly twenty years.
Over the past two months Bree learned more about Devin’s tunnel community, and she was very impatient to meet Vincent. While Bree healed from the accident in the yard, they made most of their wedding plans. Reluctantly she contacted the burn center and tendered her resignation. In February she was due to begin her new position at the local hospital’s burn unit. After reading her credentials and glowing references, the hospital was eager to have her join their staff. They had agreed to allow her to work part-time, and that she would switch to full-time with the admission of any new burn patients so they might derive maximum benefits from Bree’s experience.
Devin had patiently taken her to every local dress shop as she searched for not one, but two wedding dresses. For their Above wedding she wanted something traditional, and for their Below wedding Devin had suggested she consider a shorter length dress perhaps of light-weight wool to keep her warm, and definitely one with long sleeves. Her conversations with Catherine had confirmed that wool would be perfect for the Below celebration. Both dresses were now concealed in long black plastic bags for the trip south.
They were awaiting final approval from the Forest Preserve Commission to build another room, closet, and bathroom onto the cabin. Devin presented his ideas at the last meeting, and if they were approved, he hoped that he and Charles could begin work in the spring.
Morning came too early, but after a hasty breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and endless cups of coffee, they gathered the last items and headed for the truck. Angel was tucked inside Charles’ shirt making him look like he was wearing an inner tube beneath his clothing. Devin wanted them well away from city traffic during the rush hours, and from previous trips, he knew it was important to leave no later than 4:30 a.m. The truck windows were smoke-tinted, a feature he had insisted upon when he had purchased the new, larger-cab truck last year. After everyone was properly seat-belted in, Devin shot down the long drive, and they were headed south.
Bree surprised Devin in that she thought of lots of games to play as they traveled and further delighted him when she proved to have a beautiful soprano voice. She knew most of the current pop tunes as well as the old standards and several light operas. Her delight knew no bounds as she taught Charles to sing several songs with her as she praised his voice.
The scenery rolled by quickly, and it seemed like only minutes rather than hours had passed when they pulled into the Franklins’ rural home. Mrs. Franklin had two rooms prepared and within two hours of getting up from an excellent dinner, all three of the travelers headed to bed. Again they needed to leave early to avoid the dense traffic around the major cities they passed through.
They reached New York about two hours after rush hour had ended. Devin dropped Bree and her luggage at her condo and then headed for the garage that a helper owned to stash the truck. From there it was only a brief walk to the nearest tunnel entrance. The sentries alerted Pascal that Devin and Charles had been sighted, and a couple of the older boys were sent to help bring their luggage down.
In the library the immediate family gathered. Devin considered Vincent, Father, Mary, Pascal, Elizabeth and Winslow as his immediate family and had asked for only those to be present when he and Charles arrived. Following a round of back thumping, glad smiles and joyful kisses from Mary and Elizabeth they settled to talk. Angel found willing and ample hands to pet and adore him, but after visiting everyone, he dutifully returned to Charles settled in his lap and presented his tummy, which Charles was only too delighted to stroke.
After answering all the immediate questions concerning their health, Devin broke his news that he and Bree were getting married, and they would have their ceremony here in the tunnels. Forcefully Devin presented his wishes that he wanted and needed to have both his brothers’ witness his marriage, and therefore, the wedding needed to take place where they both were comfortable and surrounded by those who loved them.
Vincent was aware of the look that passed between Father and Devin. He hoped that Father wouldn’t egregiously oppose Devin and go on endlessly about strangers being allowed Below.
Devin went on to explain they planned a ceremony Above for all of Bree’s friends, and it would take place after their ceremony Below. He asked Mary and Elizabeth if they would help to arrange things, and he would speak to William about a wedding dinner. They wanted to have their ceremony Below in two weeks, and three days later, the Above ceremony would take place.
Catherine had been working with Bree, and all the arrangements had been made for the Above wedding and reception. They planned a two-week honeymoon in Bermuda, and would it be agreeable that Charles could stay Below during that time? Vincent immediately spoke up saying how much he would enjoy having Charles’ company, not only while they were on their honeymoon, but also during the intervening time. Mary added that all the children would be eager to share their days with their beloved Charles.
Devin spoke up saying it was impossible for him to decide on a best man, so he was asking here and now if both Vincent and Charles would serve as his best men. Catherine had been asked to be Bree’s maid of honor for the Below ceremony. Both Vincent and Charles beamed proudly, then Charles said that he didn’t think he should, that it was Vincent’s place of honor to serve as his brother’s best man. Vincent thanked him, but indicated that since it was Devin’s wish that they both serve, he would be doubly honored to share the duties with Charles.
Mary volunteered to meet with the various women’s committees to make all the arrangement for the ceremony to take place in the Great Hall. “Do you wish to limit the ceremony to just the tunnel community, or are you also going to invite our helpers?”
“If we invite all the helpers, how many will that be?”
“Probably around two hundred including all of those Below.”
“Do you think there’s enough time to prepare everything for that many guests? I have to admit that I didn’t think about the time constraints as far as expediting a party Below. I’ll contact Mr. Fields to see if his print shop could quickly do the invitations rather than having to hand write them. That will surely save us some time. I brought along enough cash to cover the cost of food for our celebration. Have I missed anything?”
Father had remained silent while Devin held the floor ,and good as he was at reading Father, Vincent was unsure what his reaction was going to be as Father rose to stand. “It would seem you have thought of everything for your wedding. I would have preferred you had discussed this prior to making all these plans. The council will need to meet to give consideration to approving Bree before she is permitted to come Below. We must be certain she understands and abides by our rules of secrecy.”
Devin’s jaw tightened. “It’s late, and if everyone would excuse us, I’d like to speak to Pops in private. Vin, would you help Charles get settled into a guest chamber?” Turning to Charles, he reached out to touch his arm reassuringly. “Take Angel and go along with Vin, and I’ll be along soon to read to you.”
Everyone stood and reluctantly began to leave, aware of what surely was to be a loud and volatile disagreement. Vincent paused, looking directly at the tunnel patriarch. “Father, be kind. Devin is your son.”
Vincent took Charles’ arm, and together they left the library.
They stared at each other like two judging boxers before the first punch was thrown. “Devin, please sit down so we may discuss this calmly. Perhaps my choice of words was not as careful as they should have been. My position within the community requires I walk a delicate line. I must follow the rules, and if exceptions are made for my sons, then it will be expected that exceptions be made for all, and soon we would have no rules, no order.”
“CRAP!! You’re just pissed because I didn’t come begging to you, so that you could give your royal blessing in front of your adoring audience! God knows I’ve tried, but you make everything impossible!” Devin shook with rage. “You can’t be happy and rejoice that I’m getting married. That the finest woman who has ever walked into my life loves me and wants to spend her life with me. Hell, no! It’s all about you and your damn authority and your abiding fear that anyone might conceivably be happy without your lordly permission!
“You ranted and screamed for years about Vin, implying he’s not a man; then you rail against Catherine threatening all sorts of dire predictions about what “that woman,” as you so lovingly called her, would do to him. Yet “that woman” has saved your mangy arse many times. What you can’t stand is that you’re no longer able to control Vin, that together with Catherine he now makes his own choices!
“And you can’t stand it that I – your biological son, the one you denied for years – the child who embarrassed you by flaunting all the rules and living a life that you disapproved of, should do an about-face, find a way to bring a normal life and happiness to Charles. Well, old man, get use to it! If you do anything,” Devin’s pushed his rigid fingers repeatedly into Father’s chest, “anything to spoil Vin and Charles from being able to witness my marriage, I swear you’ll regret it. I’ve taken care of Charles, protected him, and I swear to God, old man, that if you mess this up, I will take Vincent away and you will never see him again!”
The harsh sounds of Devin’s boots striking the library steps echoed as he disappeared into the passageway.
Devin sat with his legs dangling off the ledge high above the great falls, his mood as black and powerful as the falls that pounded the rocks. He lost all track of time, but wasn’t surprised when Vincent quietly settled beside him. Ever the master of compassion and understanding where his brother was concerned, Vincent said nothing, only draped his arm around Devin’s shoulder and squeezed. They sat in companionable silence, and Vincent knew that when he was ready Devin would talk.
“I swear, sometimes I positively hate that old bastard. He can never forget his less-than-sterling demeanor, that, in a moment of weakness with Grace, he became mortal and fathered a child. I’m the living image of his sin! Because he’s miserable, still ruminating on how his life Above was destroyed by the HUAC, he can’t stand to see anyone happy. And God help us if that happiness includes a woman!!”
Vincent let Devin ramble, venting his frustrations and rage over Father’s less-than-loving response to the news of Devin’s marriage. Within, Vincent knew all that Father had probably said about council approval and rules. He had, himself, been on the receiving end of that lecture more than once.
“Was Charles upset? I hope the old man never says anything derogatory about Bree in front of him. Charles loves Bree beyond all reason ,and he can’t stand to see her hurt. Dr. Edmonds had to sedate him after the accident with the buck in the backyard.” Devin suddenly turned and smiled at Vincent. “You should have seen him the night I snuck him into the hospital to see Bree. He was planning how he was gonna bring Angel to see her next time! His face was priceless!”
“I talked with Charles, explaining that Father gets extremely upset when the rules aren’t followed, and that seems to pacify him, although I’m certain he’ll question you further. It took a while, but I read him to sleep. I’m certain Mary will get him up in the morning and take him to be with the children all day, so if you need or want to go Above, don’t worry. We’ll look after Charles and Angel.”
They continued to discuss what had transpired in the library, and Devin told him about telling Father he would take him away if Father opposed his plans! “I hope your plans include Catherine when we leave,” Vincent said, as he ruffled Devin’s hair.
“I saw William in the kitchen going over his books as I came to find you. Would you like to go along and discuss the wedding dinner? I’d be pleased to accompany you.”
Devin smiled and knew that Vincent was subtly providing a united front to him, that in this battle they were one. Together they rose and headed to the kitchen.
William was overjoyed to see the brothers and heartily congratulated Devin when he was told the reason for their visit. Pushing aside his books, William drew out a pad of paper and happily began to write. “Of course, you’ll want a cake and perhaps punch. Do you have anything particular in mind for food?
“Whatever fruit is in season and available - maybe several kinds - I remember how I always wanted more than my share when we had fruit. What about those sandwiches that you used to make, where you cut the bread diagonally that had all the creamy goop and meat inside? Bree would love those! And those potato skins we use to have, plus some kind of veggie casserole, too. And could we have plain, unsweetened tea? Bree loves unsweetened tea.”
“You’ve given me several good ideas. Are you amenable to letting it be whatever is the best and freshest at the market? I’ll certainly do the cake and punch, of course.”
“Yeah, and speaking of the market, here’s the money for the food.” Devin dug in his pocket and came up with a wad of one hundred dollar bills. He counted out five hundred dollars and handed it to William. “Let me know if you need more money, won’t you?”
Bidding William goodnight, they left the kitchen. They stopped in Vin’s chamber and picked up his cloak before continuing onward. They reached a turn that was unfamiliar to Devin, but he followed along as Vincent continued walking. “Climb up and tell me if you see a light,” Vincent said.
Devin climbed and reported there was a light. Vincent motioned for him to keep going and he quickly following him up the ladder. Vincent parted the bushes that were concealing them, started across the yard, and knocked on the door, then stepped into the shadows leaving Devin in the exposed light. An elderly man looked out, then slowly opened the door. “What is it?” He stared, then pulled the glasses down from his forehead and peered again. “Devin, is that you? It’s been years. How are you boy?”
Vincent stepped from the shadows and warmly greeted Mr. Fields. “Lucas, I’ve brought my brother to you, as he has a problem and needs your help.”
Inside the kitchen, the three men sat sipping tea as Devin told him of his need. Overjoyed, Lucas excused himself and made his way through his house into his shop which faced the street. Returning, he carried a book. Soon he was flipping the pages, then turned the book to face Devin. “If you give me all the information, I have paper in stock, and I can set this up and print it first thing in the morning. I can then contact Bennie, and you’d have it in the tunnels before noon tomorrow.”
Together they puzzled over which style to pick, but Devin decided immediately when he saw a sample card that contained a tiny yellow rose. “That’s it! Bree loves yellow roses. It will be perfect.”
After writing out all the necessary information, Devin tried to pay Lucas, but he would have none of it. “All the years you did errands for Martha, came to read during her illness? This is the least I can do for you.”
True to his word, Lucas handed the box of invitations off to Bennie shortly after ten, and they reached Devin long before noon. Devin went to the communal dining room and selected a table at the back in a corner where it wasn’t likely he would be disturbed. Vincent strolled up to him, grinned as he stared down at the beautiful invitation that Devin was holding. “I’ll get Elizabeth and Winslow, then we’ll begin the addressing.” As Devin looked away Vincent slipped one of the invitations into his vest and left.
Boldly Vincent walked into the library, went to the file where the helper’s names and addresses were kept, pulled it out, and calmly tucked it under his arm. He walked up to the desk and carefully laid the invitation on the book Father was reading. Vincent spun on his heel, mounted the stairs, turned, and, with deadly calm, he spoke. “Make no mistake about it, Father. You are warned. If you oppose Devin, I will leave with him, and you’ll never see me again.”
Devin met up with Charles, and, together, they headed for the bathing pool. Dev put up Vincent’s sign requesting privacy, and then they undressed and slipped into the pool. While they swam, Charles told Devin about his morning with the children and how Angel had loved all the attention. Later, they retrieved the soap and took their baths.
Charles had been invited to attend one of the children’s concerts, and Devin was going Above to see Bree. After assuring Charles that they would go Above together to Catherine’s apartment the following evening, where he would be able to spend time with Bree, Charles bid Devin goodnight.
Bree looked like an angel, Devin thought, as he wrapped her in his arms, and his mouth claimed hers. The kiss deepened, and they were both breathless when they drew apart. Unable to resist Devin kissed her again and found himself lost in her sweetness. They slowly parted and walked over to the sofa. Withdrawing the envelope from his pocket, Devin showed Bree the invitation he had selected to announce their up-coming marriage to all the helpers. Tears gathered on her lashes as her finger stroked the raised print. “It’s so lovely, and you remembered I like yellow roses. You’re so sweet.”
They cuddled ,and Devin sighed loudly. “You’d think we had been apart weeks! I couldn’t get here fast enough, and it’s been forever since I’ve held you.”
“I know. Me, too. The clock didn’t move at all today, and I thought tonight would never come.”
“I have to tell you, things didn’t go smoothly last night. Pops was a butt about your coming down, rambling about needing council approval and breaking rules. We got into a heated discussion, or rather, I lost my temper, blew up, and told him a few truths that didn’t set too well. You know about the problems in the past, and how I have tried to maintain an amicable relationship with him, but I lost it completely and said a lot of things I had been concealing forever. I was harsh, but I’m not sorry I said them.”
“Does he think we shouldn’t get married, that we haven’t known each other long enough?”
“No, he’s upset at me because I didn’t ask. I just announced.”
“Does it mean we won’t be able to marry with Charles and Vincent being able to witness the ceremony?” Tears clung to her lashes, and she blinked rapidly trying to stop them.
“No, it means nothing of the kind. Vincent, Elizabeth, Winslow, and I spent three hours this afternoon addressing the invitations; they will be delivered tomorrow to all our helpers. Last night Vincent and I sat with William and worked on the menu for our wedding feast. We’re gonna have all the things I told you about – all the things Williams makes that cause your mouth to water!
“Tell me, did you have any problems with your ankle today? It didn’t give you any trouble, did it?” Devin was aware that Bree was upset, and momentarily, he regretted telling her about his argument with Pops, but then he realized that he had promised himself and Bree that he would always be truthful with her. She had been aware for months of the often-time love-hate relationships, how implacable his father could be, and how Devin had been trying to make the relationship work.
Haltingly she told him of her day, that she had visited with Mrs. Hawkins and had seen the Campbell sisters who asked about him. She had given the apartment a thorough airing and dusting and had ordered some food since the fridge was bare. She added that her ankle was a little tight, but she had soaked it as the doctors had instructed after doing her exercises to improve her flexibility.
“We have to make certain you have low heeled shoes for our wedding ,as the tunnel floors are rocky and not totally level. Perhaps Catherine could go shopping with you to be certain you get something that is practical for tunnel travel. We’ll ask her tomorrow. Oops, I forgot, we’re due at Catherine’s tomorrow evening at eight, so Charles can spend time with you.”
His conversation turned to Charles, and he told her about his day with the children, and how Angel literally had the fur petted off him as there were so many eager hands who wanted to touch him.
Devin parked the truck, and he and Charles slipped out. Charles had on a hat that shielded his face, leaving it in shadows. Together they moved into the service elevator and were whisked to the floor below Catherine’s apartment. They took the stairs that brought them out opposite her door, and, after checking the hall, Devin crossed and knocked. Catherine opened the door, and they hurried inside. After hugging Catherine, Charles immediately headed to Bree and wrapped her in one of his bear hugs.
“Have you been here long?” Devin’s face was alight with a heart-melting smile for Bree.
“No, I only arrived just a few minutes ago. And I did take a cab as you suggested.”
Briefly ignoring Catherine, Devin crossed to Bree and leaned down to kiss her. Charles sat beside them intently watching with a delighted grin on his face, and his hands silently came together as if any moment he was going to burst into applause. He glanced up at Catherine, and his smile became broader.
Devin lifted his head, looked over at Charles, and ruffled his hair. “What are you grinning at? I let you hug her first, didn’t I? A guys gotta kiss his almost-wife, doesn’t he?” Charles smiled even more, and his laughter joined with Bree and Devin’s.
“Dev likes to play kissy face with Angel Bree, Catherine. He does it lots and lots.”
“So I see.” Catherine, too, wore a broad smile as she watched the happy exchange between this new, growing family. Her heart beat rapidly with the knowledge that Bree had brought joy to Devin’s wandering soul, that he finally truly felt peacefully at home within the circle of her loving heart, and that Devin now felt worthy of such devotion. Catherine’s own respect for Devin had grown over the years since he had assumed responsibility for Charles and made him a priority in his life. That Vincent now had his brother back erased so much of the pain that had haunted him for years.
“Devin, there’s something for you in the bedroom. Why don’t you go in and get it?”
Devin slightly frowned at Catherine’s mysteriously look but rose and strolled to the closed bedroom door. From behind the closed door ,they heard Devin’s low voice, and after several minutes the door opened again. From the doorway where he stood grinning, Devin looked directly at Catherine. “You stinker!”
“Bree, honey, I’d like you to meet my immediate family.” From behind him, the people who nurtured and loved Devin began to file into the room. Bree jumped up, rushed forward to meet his family, a joyous look of welcome on her face.
A thin, stately woman stepped forward her arms open in welcome. “Bree, I’m Elizabeth. Devin was my prize art student. I’m so very pleased to meet you.” She kissed Bree’s cheek and then moved away.
Equally impressive, Mary surrounded Bree in a warm welcoming hug after she introduced herself.
“Hello, Bree, I’m Pascal. Welcome to our family.” Bree wrapped the Pipe Master in her arms,, as she remembered stories Devin had shared.
With total gentleness the very large man tenderly surrounded Bree, “I’m Winslow. I’m so pleased to meet the beautiful lady who has captured our Devin’s heart.”
Bree stood looking as tears streamed down her face. “I’m so very honored to meet all of you. I feel in a way I know each of you, as Devin has told me stories concerning you and growing up in the tunnels.”
She turned to Devin who was still standing inside the bedroom door, a silly grin on his face. “Did you know about this?” He continued to grin, loving the gracious, joyful way she had met each member of his family.
“Babe, I have one more person for you to meet.” Devin stepped back, and Vincent eased through the doorway,. He stood still allowing her to become accustomed to his appearance. Their eyes locked, and instantly Vincent knew, and he stepped forward as Bree moved toward him.
Bree’s quick steps brought her to Vincent’s side, before he had taken two full steps. “You’re magnificent!” And with those words, she put her arms around him, tightly hugging him. Releasing one hand, she lightly touched his unique face, and then stretching up on tiptoes she placed a light kiss against his cheek. “Hello, brother.”
Catherine stood smiling, blinking rapidly to hold back the tears that wet her lashes. She sees his beauty and knows how special he is.
Vincent’s arms stole around Bree, as he looked deeply into her eyes. Openly, she assessed him, and he felt no fear within her, just a calm, steady acceptance. “You’re far more beautiful than the picture Devin drew. Catherine is, I think, very fortunate to have you. I can feel your love for her; it shimmers from within you.”
Vincent, Devin, and Bree took seats on the floor leaving the loveseats and chairs for the other guests. Reaching over, Bree took Devin’s hand and squeezed it. She felt the sorrow that was within him that his father was not present.
“Who planned this shindig?” Devin asked with a laugh. “Whoever it was is surely good at secrets.”
Catherine appeared from the kitchen carrying a tray of dainty sandwiches, and both Pascal and Winslow got up to help. Soon the party was rolling as everyone ate and laughed. A plethora of Devin-stories were told, which made both Bree and Charles laugh with delight. Some Charles had heard directly from Devin, but many were new, and he was giddy from learning of some of Devin and Vincent’s adventures.
The coffee and tea flowed as they consumed a delicious spice cake that was Devin’s favorite. Bree took delight in telling them about the special tea she had found that helped Charles to sleep soundly. Casually Bree moved around the room, sitting beside all the various members of the tunnels as she was eager to become friends with Devin’s extended family.
When she sat with Elizabeth, she was overjoyed to learn how Elizabeth had enticed Devin to art classes. She made certain that the pre-teen boy overheard her mention that the class was going to use nude models in a few weeks. The next day Devin strolled in and boldly told her he wanted to learn to draw. He attended everyday and became more intrigued with how a portrait was created.
“Yeah, Bree, she roped me in. But you know the nude she promised? It was a year old baby! That sucked big time!!!” All the guests roared with laughter, Pascal and Winslow punching each other remembering how they, too, had been suckered into art class.
“Yes, but you did stay and became a fine artist. I still have some of your portraits in my collection.” Elizabeth warmly smiled, as Devin came over to plant a loud kiss on her lips.
Vincent sat beside Bree, and they spoke in soft tones. Vincent shared his joy that Devin had found such a lovely woman to be his wife. “You are as beautiful on the inside as you are outside. I am sorry that Father could not be here to welcome you.”
Bree reached out, touched his hand, and squeezed gently. “You don’t need to cloak your words. I know all about the disagreement between Devin and his father. Many months ago Devin told me all about his past, the fake IDs he had to gain jobs. How he had pretended to be a doctor and lawyer, and all the less than honest things he had done to survive. He made a vow to never be less than completely honest with me, and I did the same with him.
“I know he’s still angry and hurt that his father isn’t here. I can’t begin to understand why his father reacted as he did, why he couldn’t be happy for Devin. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity for me to speak to Dr. Wells and alleviate some of his fears regarding secrecy.” Vincent was touched by her sensitivity, her concern for Devin and his pain. Her concerns echoed his own.
It was quite late when the party broke up. Devin insisted that he would run the tunnel members to the nearest entrance to the hub in his truck. It was a long walk for Mary and Elizabeth, and he preferred to get them home by the easiest route. In the garage he assisted Mary and Elizabeth into the cab while Pascal, Winslow and Charles climbed inside the camper shell. He had leered very suggestively at Catherine when he asked if Bree could stay while he ran the others home.
Catherine, Vincent, and Bree settled to chatting, and it was clear to Catherine that Vincent was comfortable with Bree. She was aware that his greater love for Devin had allowed him to face his fears and to be inside her apartment in a very social setting. As Devin and the others lefts, she threw the dead bolt and hooked the chain, silently reaffirming to Vincent that his safety was paramount to her.
In less than twenty-five minutes, Devin was back from his fast trip. The couples talked for more than an hour, and Catherine caught Vincent’s mysterious shy smile as she felt their Bond suddenly fill with warmth. The word family kept popping into her mind, as she realized that Vincent was filled with happiness in being with Devin and Bree, sitting in her home and chatting just as other families do. She could feel his heart swelling with pride and joy. Her smile told Vincent that she shared his feelings, and she reached out sending her understanding and love through their Bond.
Devin unlocked Bree’s door and together they slipped inside. It was quite late, but neither of them had wanted to leave Catherine. Just to have been sitting with Vincent in Catherine’s apartment had been so unexpected, and he was overwhelmed with the happiness that consumed him. It was all so normal, something he had dreamed of for many years. The typical was so rare for Vincent, seeing how at ease he was with Bree, her complete acceptance of him, and the way she had reacted to him, had made his heart swell with pride. As they walked over to the sofa, his mind replayed the way she rapidly moved forward to take Vincent’s hand first and the calmness as she said “Hello, brother.” He knew that Bree had won Vincent’s heart with those serenely spoken words.
“It was a great party. I’m glad you were able to spend time with the people who influenced me, though I wish you hadn’t heard some of those stories!”
“I loved every one of them. They helped to fill in the blanks of what your childhood was like and all the fun you had with your friends.”
They cuddled together sharing loving kisses between their contented sighs. “Could I hold you in bed until you go to sleep?” His voice was thick with emotion as it had been almost a week since he had last held her throughout the night, rejoicing in the deep pleasure he felt in having her in his arms.
Bree slipped out of his arms and headed to the bedroom. “I’ll call when I’m ready.”
She was already snuggled under the blankets when Devin came in. He pulled off his boots and lay down on top of the sheets and tenderly moved Bree so that she lay against his chest. His deep sigh of contentment shattered the silence as Bree’s hand slid over his heart.
When Vincent went to collect Charles for breakfast, he was surprised to find Mouse and Charles on the guest chamber floor constructing a strange looking object. Angel set behind them playing with a soft ball and every now and then presenting his tummy for Charles to stroke. “What are you building?”
“We’re making a climbing tree for Angel to take to the school room. He needs to climb out of reach or else the children will keep petting him all day. He likes to be petted, but they pet just a little too much.”
“Oh, I see.” Vincent wasn’t positive what a climbing tree was, but he was certain it was vitally important to Charles and Angel. Glancing down, he saw a drawing on the floor and picked it up to study. After a few seconds he settled to the floor to assist in the construction.
Sensing a new victim, Angel leaped onto Vincent’s crossed legs, circled around five times ,and then presented his tummy to be adored. Never breaking eye contact with Mouse, Vincent began stroking Angel and was instantly rewarded with loud, happy purring.
Devin joined Cullen’s work crew in preparing the Great Hall for the wedding. There was much joking and teasing as the group worked to make the Hall shine. The older children had been given the job of delivering the wedding invitations to all the tunnel residents, and the teens had gone Above to make deliveries to the Helpers.
“Devin, may I speak with you for a moment?” Mary stood inside the door, looking on expectantly.
“Is anything wrong?”
“No, no, dear boy, nothing is wrong. I just wanted to let you know I have arranged a guest chamber for Bree. I assumed from what was said last night that you plan to bring Bree down two days before the wedding. I have everything prepared, making sure I have included extra quilts for her comfort and I found an extra mirror which I have put in her chamber.”
She reached out taking his hand in hers. “Don’t worry. Jacob will come around. He can be difficult, but in the end he will relent.”
“You have more faith in him than I do, Mary. I’ve tried but he always seems to be waiting to jab that scalpel in my heart with the least provocation. Whatever my sins, he is determined to rub salt into them, and nothing I ever do is good enough. I’m always the bad seed.” His breath came in an explosive sigh, and he turned back toward the work crew.
“Oh, Mary, do come sit. I’ll only be a moment; I just have one more entry into the ledger.” Father continued adding figures to the already long column, then put the pen down and looked up at her.
“I’m very upset, Jacob. No, I’m angry with you for refusing to attend the party at Catherine’s. How could you purposely break Devin’s heart and insult Bree by absenting yourself from their celebration? I’ve never seen you be so utterly heartless!
“It’s time, Jacob; it’s more than time that you give up your foolish need to always be right where your son is concerned. You drove Devin from his home years ago with your endless yelling, making him the object of every wrong doing where Vincent was concerned, and never acknowledging his paternity. Who did you think you were fooling? Everyone knew that Grace bore your child, that he was your son!
“He came home seeking peace. He took Charles so that he might have a normal life. He’s changed, and yet you continue to abuse him, while he alone continues to try to establish a relationship with you. How can you be so heartless? How?
“If you spoil your son’s wedding by refusing to allow Bree access to our community, you also deny Charles and Vincent the joy of witnessing what should be the happiest day of Devin’s life. How you could do that while maintaining that you love Vincent, Charles, and Devin is preposterous. Can you actually be that cruel? Well, if you are, I, for one, won’t continue to call you friend. Do this and our friendship will end!”
Mary stood and calmly walked to the stairs. Father sat at his desk, his mouth opening and closing as he was still trying to think of some retort to her charges. He had, he knew, done none of the things of which she accused him.
Slowly and with great regularity, one by one, the members of Devin’s immediate family came to the library, each telling Father, in no uncertain terms, he was being bull-headed and obstinate, and Pascal told him, in glorious and long details, very bluntly, he was a horse’s ass!
Suddenly, three days later, without notice or prior warning, the members of the council entered the library, stating they had come to settle the matter of Devin’s bride. Mary put the question to the quorum, never once acknowledging Father’s presence in the room, and Pascal seconded the motion. Winslow called for the vote, and the motion was passed that Bree be allowed access to the tunnels, based solely upon the interviews the majority of the members had conducted at their engagement party. Like an advancing army, the council struck with lightening speed and demoralized their chief detractor before he could raise his saber.
The tunnel citizens diligently worked to collect and gather appropriate wedding gifts. They were creative, as always, in making items for the cabin in the woods. Collectively, each citizen forgot Devin’s request that they not be given gifts, as they had all they needed. As items were carefully wrapped, they knew it was not the gift, but the outward symbols of love in which they held Devin that they were giving. The gifts were images to remind Devin and Bree that, through all the good and bad times of their life together, they had a family who loved them.
Devin received a message from Catherine that Bree wanted to see him as soon as he could come Above. No, there was nothing wrong, and she wasn’t hurt, just that she wished him to come to her apartment. After reading the note, Devin quickly headed for the bathing pool, dressed, left a note asking Vincent to look after Charles, and went Above.
He was anxious by the time he walked into Bree’s apartment. After reassurance that she was okay, he kissed her, allowing all his pent-up emotions free reign. His hands roamed as his mouth took hers on a journey of sensory delight. “You’re making me crazy with desire. Just how many more days is it before I don’t have to stop kissing you?” His lazy smile belied the tension and longing in his voice.
She sat facing him on the opposite end of the sofa, because it was just as hard for her to control her emotions. “Would you take me Below right now? I know I’m not supposed to go until tomorrow night, but I don’t want to wait. I want to go tonight. There are things I want to discuss with Vincent and Charles, things to be said before our wedding. I also want to talk directly to your father. I don’t want him to know, I just want to appear in front of him, to beard the lion in his den.”
He saw the fortitude in her face and her calmness. She wasn’t fearful; she was determined to speak her piece and let the chips fall as they may. She wanted peace for Devin’s sake, but if this man wanted war, then she was prepared to battle for the right of Vincent and Charles to see their brother wed, with their father in attendance. There was steel in her spine, he knew, and she would face anyone who tried to hurt Charles, and now that she had met Vincent, he pitied anyone who dared to hurt him, too.
“OK, if that’s what you want, we’ll go face the old bastard in his lair.” Her bags were all packed, and she carefully folded the bag that contained her wedding dress over her arm as Devin picked up the luggage.
Reaching the first sentry, Devin announced his presence and asked they be accorded silent passage. Bree’s face registered her continuing surprise in the world she saw. As they walked, Devin explained about how the old pipes were used for communication, and that along the rock walls there were also false walls where sentries stood guard. Devin had brought them to the closest entry to the home tunnels to shorten Bree’s walk.
They turned into the passage that would take them directly to the library and met Vincent. Bree smiled, offered her hand, and then briefly hugged him. “I’ve come to beard the lion.”
“Then we shall go together.” Vincent’s voice was soft, but Bree felt the strength behind the gentle tone. A look passed between the brothers, each wondering if Father was prepared for the tornado that was about to descend upon him.
They listened and heard no voices coming from the library. “Both of you stay here. I must do this alone.”
Bree stepped away, walking into the library and stopped at the top of the stairs. Silently she stood, and finally the man at the desk looked up, then loudly gasped. “Dr. Wells, I’m Briana Wellington, and I’m going to marry your son.”
“How did you get here? Why has no alarm sounded?”
“May I come in?” She waited, but when he said nothing, she lightly stepped down the stairs and walked toward him. He continued to stare, saying nothing as she advanced. “Yes, thank you, I would like to sit.” She slipped into the chair, crossed her long legs, folded her hands, and met his steely stare. “We could continue this for as long as you like, but I prefer that we talk like civilized adults and not as petulant children squaring off on the playground.
“I met Devin last year when he saved my life after I had become lost in a blizzard. A few days after that, I also met Charles for the first time. But you, Dr. Wells, already know all of this.
“When others were still playing childhood games, I was getting an education. I graduated high school at 15, a full three years ahead of schedule. By profession, I am a Registered Nurse, as well as a Licensed Physical Therapist, and I hold a Bachelor’s in Psychology. Until very recently I was on the staff of the Cornell Burn Center, which I’m sure you are aware is the premiere burn treatment center on the east coast. I am a highly respected member of the medical community.
“In my career I have met and dealt with severely burned patients, worked daily along side of mangled burned tissue, still smelling of cooked flesh that would even cause your stomach to heave. I’m not sickened by deformities or individuals who are less than perfect.
“What I am sickened by, Dr. Wells, is people who openly inflict pain on those people who society classifies as different. I am appalled when supposedly sane, rational people perform acts that will inflict suffering on people who have already suffered enough by the very simple act of being exceptional.
“You, Dr. Wells, are one of those people. Charles has never spoken of you except in love. I found it endearing that he refers to you as Father. He loves Devin as he loves Vincent, and to Charles, they are his brothers. I’ve seen his joy when he received a letter from you and how eager he is to share his ecstasy over Angel with Vincent. I know all about Eddie and his treatment of Charles. Are you aware that for the first six months they were together, Charles had horrific nightmares about Eddie beating him, and that the only way he could sleep was for Devin read him to sleep and spend the night sitting in the chair beside his bed?
“Yet you purposefully elect to inflict pain because Devin had the effrontery to think it was his right to announce he wanted to be married in front of the people he considers his family, with his brothers standing beside him. Instead, your ego felt he should have come to you to humbly beg that he be allowed to bring his bride Below. I abide and live by the sacred tenets of confidentiality and those, Dr. Wells, haven’t changed since you took up residence in these tunnels! Yet you assume your position within this community assures that your voice is the only one that can assess a person’s worthiness to be admitted to this secret society. Your life must be very sad and pathetic if you find joy in treating your son as if he were an irascible child, rather than a full-grown man.
“I know everything about Devin’s past – everything. There is nothing, nothing you can tell me about Devin that I don’t already know. We plan to be married here within these tunnels within two days with both of his brothers witnessing our union. Your objections are now a moot point. I’m already here, and I don’t intend to leave until I’m married. It’s up to you, Dr. Wells, whether you wish to be a part of that celebration. If you stay away you will be the loser. You will harm and openly hurt Charles by refusing to make peace with Devin, and I’ll never forgive anyone, including you, who hurts Charles. We have made a home for Charles where he is peaceful, surrounded with love and joy, and I tell you this most sincerely, I have no qualms that we can’t do the same for Vincent.”
Bree stood and quietly quit the library. Devin and Vincent pushed away from the walls where they had waited. Her voice had been low but they had heard some of her words. “Would you please take me to Charles?” she asked. Without a word Devin scooped her into his arms and felt her tears on his neck.
Instinctively, Charles knew that Bree was upset when she walked toward him. Devin had left her outside his guest chamber. He sat on the small love seat, patting the seat beside him, and after she sat, he gathered her to him. With the gentleness of one half his size, Charles tenderly held Bree as the storm of her tears soaked his shirt. He didn’t pry, nor ask her to stop; he just surrounded her with his caring heart.
Softly, she spoke after her tears had ceased. Her words came calmly as she spoke of her hopes that Dr. Wells would also attend their wedding. When Charles questioned, she simply explained that he was upset because they had broken some of the rules. No matter what her threats were to Dr. Wells, she couldn’t destroy the love Charles felt for the man he called Father. Charles had survived a childhood and moved into adulthood without love, and she could not be a party to annihilating what now brought him joy.
As she had always done, she spoke from her heart to Charles. While being truthful, she also strove to present a picture that did not frighten nor bring fear to him. His strides since living surrounded by Devin’s love had been great, but his memories of anger and loud voices could shatter his peace quickly. Gentle and soothing were all that he had known with Devin, and Bree knew arguments, hostile acts, and acerbic battles were to be avoided.
She tried to prepare him for the fact that Father might not attend their wedding, trying to reassure him that Father’s behavior had nothing to do with him, nor with Angel, that he was upset about rules being broken. She stated that she felt it best that they not pressure Father to attend, that it was always best to allow adults to reach their own decisions in their own time.
They continued to talk, and she could see from his expressive eyes that he was more comfortable. Proudly, he told her how, when it was almost dark, Dev would take him and Angel up to the park, allowing Angel to walk about on his extra long lead, and how delighted Angel was by all the smells. And that last night Vincent had taken them to the park. His sweet smile was endearing, as he reiterated all they had done, and what fun they had.
Devin stepped into the chamber, asking if Charles wanted to take Angel for his run, and if he did, Vincent would look after Bree until they returned.
Vincent asked Bree if she would care to walk, as there was something special he would like to share. After reaching the great falls they sat on the ledge to talk of all that had happened since Devin came home.
“I don’t wish to influence you, Vincent, but I want you to know that if you wish it, I, too, would be happy to have you make your home with us. I mean that sincerely. I love and adore Charles, and I know that if you came to live with us, in time I would also love and adore you. You are Devin’s brother, and, happily, I also wish you to be mine.
“It would be a big decision to leave this place where you have spent your whole life. I don’t want you to feel that this place is your only choice. Charles has been happy within the forest preserve, and he has made friends with Dr. Edmonds and Ed, Devin’s friend and supervisor.
“Within my heart, I want peace between Devin and his father, because I know that constantly being on guard, waiting for Dr. Wells to strike at him again, tears at Devin’s heart. I know all about the fights, how he blamed Devin for literally every hurt that happened to you growing up, and how Devin fought the constant degrading way he talked about your differences, that you weren’t a man. You have a very strong champion in your brother.”
“Yes, I know.” Vincent’s voice was filled with quiet sadness and the deep lingering grief that tinged it still. “I was heart broken when Devin left, thinking for years that he was dead. It took a long time to accept why he left, that no matter how deeply we dreamed, there was no place for me in the world in which he needed to live.”
Time slipped away as Vincent quietly talked, telling Bree of the long history of disputes between Devin and Father, the many responsibilities that Father bore, and his resounding sense of duty to the community that had saved his life. How a proud man had been reduced to starvation, had come Below by the gentle urging of a lady promising him peace after his life had been destroyed Above. “He is complex, and even I do not know his whole history.”
The constant tapping on the pipes were at such a level that Father’s head throbbed violently. He had remained in the library after Bree had left, but her voice continued to echo within his head. He was outraged that she had spoken to him in such ire. Her manners were certainly less than lady like, just another example of the lack of breeding and contempt that were the hallmark of the world Above. Their lack of respect for their elders was appalling.
He sat lost within his own frenzied thinking, his temper climbing as he thought of all the insults heaped upon him since Devin’s return. Devin had caused even mild-mannered Mary to insult him, not to mention having suffered through the diatribe of Pascal saying his intellect was akin to a horse’s ass!
All I asked was that the simple rules under which we operate be respected and honored. Was it too much to ask permission to bring a Top-Sider into their midst? Could Devin not comprehend the importance of order to a society? Haven’t I worked all these years to form a cohesive world where families could reside in peace and harmony? Haven’t I chosen this world to dwell in with my own family? Haven’t I made this world safe for all families, and hadn’t my son chosen to abandon my world, the world he was suppose to lead to become a roving con man in their world?
Startled by his thoughts, he jumped when his name was called. Bewildered and slightly frightened, he looked wildly around, wondering who had come to harangue him. Was he to have no peace?
His arms filled with large boxes, Peter Alcott stepped into the library. “Didn’t you hear me calling you? These boxes are darned heavy. Here are all the samples I promised, as well as some pre-natal vitamins, and a few drugs to fight off your germs. What’s wrong? You look like you just went ten round and lost!”
“I’m fine, or I was until you came to berate me! There is nothing wrong that a little peace and quiet wouldn’t cure. I’m sick of people coming in here and telling me I’m an idiot!”
“Well, have you been one? Your manners certainly aren’t warm and friendly. You got a stinger up your butt, Jacob?” Peter’s smile was friendly, but his eyes were cold, letting his friend know that he wasn’t going to accept his rudeness and ill temper. “Why don’t you sit down and calmly tell me what’s wrong?”
Between sitting and pacing, Jacob unloaded on Peter, telling him all the insults that had been hurled upon him in the last two weeks, how the council had dared ride shotgun over Robert’s Rules of Order, that he had been insulted by everyone in the tunnels, and he had been threatened after all he had done for them! On and on he blathered, canting each offense against his personage by the citizenry of the world he helped to create.
“Jacob, listen to yourself! You are acting like a raving lunatic, or, at the very least, a badly spoiled brat who has gotten his first richly-deserved spanking. Stop! Listen to what you have said. So far all I’ve heard is “you, you, you. Your sacrifices. Your rules. Your regulations.” You aren’t a god here, ya know. Now stop all this nonsense and tell me in simple English what has happened.”
“I thought you were my friend, yet you criticize me and tell me I’m behaving like an ill-mannered child!”
“If I wasn’t your friend, I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about your irrational behavior. Now calm yourself, start at the beginning, and slowly tell me what has happened.”
Over the next two hours, Father reiterated each offense, starting with Devin’s total lack of regard for their rules, his cavalier attitude that he could just bring anyone into the tunnels. Father was shaking with anger, and his voice filled with venom. “And that woman he is marrying threatened to also remove Vincent from my care.”
Peter sat in silence, then began to laugh, and he continued to laugh until tears ran down his face. Taking out his handkerchief, he wiped his face. “Do you mean you ran afoul of Briana Wellington and she threatened you?”
“She most certainly did! She said I either came to their wedding or she would encourage Vincent to leave and go live in the woods with them!”
“Jacob. Jacob. How do you manage to abandon your brain and get yourself into these no-win situations with your children? Some times I think you truly are a masochist!
“First all, I have known Briana Wellington since she was a baby, and Devin couldn’t be marrying a finer lady. She’s intelligent, has a superior education, is highly respected in her field, survived and went on to do great things after her entire family was killed by a drunk driver. Her parents … well, I can’t say enough good things about them. You should be proud to have her as a member of your family.
“One thing I do know is that Briana is a fighter, and no one ever makes a cutting remark concerning anyone who is disabled or in any way is different than the norm in her presence. I’ve witnessed her cut a Pulitzer Prize-winning author to shreds when he asked how he could describe a ‘burned up gimp’ in his next book!
“You’ve always railed against Devin. Held him to a higher standard than the others, wounded him to the quick by never admitting to him for years and years that he was your biological son. Instead you treat him like he is the misbegotten spawn of the devil put on earth to torment you and Vincent! All Devin ever wanted - and still wants - is for you to stop trying to fill Vincent with negativity and to cease telling him he isn’t a man. Get out of his life, Jacob, and let Vincent live it his way! Vincent isn’t a child “in your care”; he’s a grown intelligent man who doesn’t need your interference.
“You’ve done a valuable job here, but you aren’t God. You’ve begun to see yourself as infallible, that your background makes you superior to the rest of the citizens and they should blindly follow your every dictate. Step back and look clinically at this argument. Instead of accepting Devin’s statement that he wishes to be married in the tunnels so that Vincent and Charles can witness the ceremony, you go off on one of your tangents about rules. Where is your fatherly love and joy for your son? Did you even tell him you wished him happiness? You refuse to attend a surprise engagement party because Devin didn’t seek your prior approval to bring his bride Below? You feel threatened because Bree wants to take Vincent away from an atmosphere where he constantly fed negativity and told he isn’t a man, when it obvious to everyone but you that he is most certainly a man.
“Jacob, you are completely and utterly wrong. If you don’t sincerely make your apologies and humble yourself to ask forgiveness of each person you have wronged, you will find yourself a very sad, lonely man. Your sons will be forever alienated from you, and you will be without the friends and the companionships that have sustained you through your darkest years! You don’t have much time. Devin and Briana’s wedding is in less than forty-eight hours, and I hope to God, for your sake, that you are there to witness their joy. I intend to be there, as I’m giving the bride away.”
After Peter left Father continued to sit, lost within his whirling thoughts. Rules and order are vital to maintain the community. There had been no order in the beginning, and we lived in chaos until I and the others established a system that brought peace to all. The others, almost all of them, are long dead, and I am the only one left to assure that peace reigns. I maintained their peace. I and no one else! The times by sheer will alone I forced the proper point of view on the council,l so that my world could be maintained!
His world? His force? Had he truly used the power of his voice to force the council to adhere to his way? Vincent’s need to go Above – what did he know of the world above’s destructive powers? How the topsiders would take his innocent actions and turn him into a scientific experiment! He knew nothing of the horror their world could generate. Nothing! What did he know of being stripped of all dignity, the degradation of being locked within their jail.
Hadn’t he protected Vincent, even against the cruel remarks hurled at him by the tunnel citizens when he was a baby? He had kept Vincent safe until Devin began to sneak him into the park. It was Devin who continuously failed to assume proper care of Vincent. Devin who took great joy in leading him astray with his wild adventures like going to the park. Devin who ignored all of Vincent’s unique differences and treated him like he was just another boy!
The countless times he had been embarrassed before the council by the trouble Devin got himself and other children into. How his dignity and authority had been questioned because he had no control over his sons? He was questioned because of an irresponsible child who never considered his father’s position within the community. Where was the respect he was due, that was owed to him?
Father continued to sit, as the voices within grew louder, and the questions became impossible to answer. Peter’s words echoed within his mind. Peter, who had been his friend, had failed to understand. Peter had always understood his point of view, hadn’t he? He had only done what he thought was right, hadn’t he?
Father forced himself to clinically review every word he heard within his mind, each perceived insult, each item on the long list of offenses committed by Devin. He was lost deep within his thoughts when he realized his face was wet and his body was trembling. His sudden sob destroyed the peace as he began to weep. His sobbing increased as he realized that he was wrong. He had committed all the sins and had blamed them on his son. He admitted his long embarrassment in having fathered a child who he had ignored for most of his life. His impotent rage at his own mistakes consumed him, and tears flowed steadily down his grief-stricken face as his sobs rent the air. How could I have done this? The questions spiraled within his mind until he thought he would surely go mad.
The figure paused at the steps, then silently descended and softly walked toward the man slumped in the chair. The large hand gently touched the shaking shoulder, then gathered the sobbing man to his chest. The weeping continued unabated as the disharmony of a lifetime was purged. Tenderly, the large hands stroked across the shaking shoulders, and slowly the tears stopped. Father’s body continued to shudder as he tried to gain control, only to find his tears renewed.
Charles held Father, his own eyes wet. He didn’t understand, but he just knew that it was his responsibility to help this man he loved. After a long time, Father’s tears ceased and his trembling stopped. As Father looked up, he was greeted by the sweetest smile he had ever seen. “When I have remembered life with Eddie, Dev holds me, and I feel better. He makes all the bad go away. Eddie made fun of me when I cried, but Dev says tears are good.
“Would you like me to get Dev? He’s very good at making the bad things go away. Or maybe I could get Angel Bree. She reads good.”
Charles’ simple belief that Devin and Bree could make all things right was not lost upon Father. He realized how Devin had slowly filled Charles’ world with safety, security and an unshakable faith that he was truly loved.
“Thank you, Charles, but I fear my bad manners of late would not allow me to know the joy of which you speak. I have been unspeakably rude to Devin and, indirectly, to your Angel Bree. I need to tell them I’m sorry and ask their forgiveness.” Father was suddenly aware of the tension he saw within Charles at the mentioned his being rude to Bree. “Instead of rejoicing at the news that Devin and Angel Bree were going to be married, I allowed myself to become upset about broken rules. Rules which, in this case, weren’t important.
“When Angel Bree came to me, I was so upset I could not even speak to her. Instead, I allowed my silence to speak for me. Do you think your Angel Bree will be forgiving of my bad manners and allow me to speak with her?”
“You should not treat Angel Bree bad! She is wonderful. How were you bad if you didn’t even speak to her? Did you hit her?”
“No, no, of course I didn’t hit her. I was rude in that I didn’t answer her questions or address the problems she came to discuss. There are times when silence can hurt people.”
“Don’t you ever hurt Angel Bree again. not ever!” Abruptly Charles got up and left, his boots striking hard against the library treads.
“Oh, Lord. Can’t I say anything that is right? Is my every word to add further insult, when all I want is to make amends?”
“Vin, I just got a note from Father asking me to come to the library. Wonder what he wants?”
“I also got one. Shall we go together?” Collectively they left Vincent’s chamber and made their way to the library.
“Thank you both for coming. Won’t you please have a seat? My discussion will, of necessity, be long, and I prefer that you be comfortable.” Father moved from behind his desk and took a chair that put him closer to his sons.
“I’ve asked you both here because I need to apologize for my rudeness, for making what should have been a time of rejoicing and pleasure a time of sorrow and hard feelings. I have no excuses for behaving as I did, and I can only humbly beg your pardon.” He cleared his throat and continued as he recanted his offenses, not only of the past eight days, but also his irrationally faulty judgment during their lifetime.
He purged himself of every resentment he had harbored. His embarrassment that as a leader in the community, he had little control over his children. Often times, he thought not at all of them, but only about how their actions impacted upon his standing within the community. The humiliation he felt because he dallied with Grace, and she had borne his son, when within his own heart, he had continued to love Margaret and had felt they were still married. The shame he felt in using Grace when he had been so desperately lonely and bereft of all hope.
“I was embarrassed that as a doctor I had not prevented Grace from conceiving. In many ways I distanced myself from you, Devin, because in seeing you, I was reminded of the wrong I had done Grace. That certainly doesn’t abrogate my abandonment of you in not telling you I was your father. I loved you, but you were so different than I had been as a boy, I didn’t know how to deal with your differences. You were wild and adventuresome, while I had been less inclined to roam and was bookish. It was easier for me to simply turn you over to Mary’s care than to solve the differences that were too great a challenge for me. As you grew I felt more of a failure, because I dreamed of your assuming leadership in our world, and it became clear that your destiny lay in another world. A world that I hated. And in my twisted thinking, I resented that you didn’t want the world I had built. None of this makes up for the shameless way I treated you, my lack of overt parental love and affection. I can only offer you, belatedly, this information in the hopes that one day you will forgive me.
“Somewhere along the way I lost sight of the real purpose of what living here was all about. Instead, I began to feel it was a world that I had inherited, and it was my right to run it as I saw fit, and in that assumption, no one had the right to question my authority or leadership. Along the way I stopped looking at you, Vincent, as a person, but rather as the child whose life I had saved. I loved the adulation in your eyes when I taught you new things, and I feared the day when I would no longer see it there, that you would view me, not as the person who could solve all your problems, but as a simple human being. I never wanted to lose that hero worship I saw, so I began to fill you with fears that only I could protect you. Fears which were, in many ways, my own fears of Above and what had been done to me. I sought to protect, because I saw only your differences not always your humanity. I pandered to your intelligence while filling you with dire warnings that people Above would abuse you. Yet I didn’t stop to realize that all of our helpers were people Above, and they loved and respected you, not because you were different, but because you are a kind, generous, loving man. That is who they saw.
“Instead of joyously congratulating you on your coming marriage, Devin, I reacted in fear because my rules were challenged. Fear does dreadful things to an old man who knows he’s on the downhill run of life. The life I knew was over, the woman I loved was dead, and I stupidly thought by maintaining a firm grip on life within these tunnels, that I would be the one who escaped death. That so many candles would be lit, so many prayers said for me, that God would not call me home, but rather He would allow me to continue to rule this perfect world I had created.”
He slumped in the chair, his cheeks wet and his hands trembling. “I humbly ask your forgiveness. In spite of what you both may think, I do love you. It seems that much of that love has been locked within me, for I was fearful of your rejecting what has always been yours – my heart. If I may, I would like to speak to Bree and to Charles to beg their forgiveness for the pain and sorrow my actions have caused. And if I may, I would like to ask Bree if she would allow me to attend your wedding service.”
Devin and Vincent sat in stunned silence. Never had Father bared his soul, telling them things they had not known – his deepest, darkness secrets. They understood now much that had previously been a mystery to them.
Devin was still consumed by the old fears. Would this man once again turn on him, destroying all he had built in his new life? Did he dare open himself, Bree, and Charles to the savage temper that appeared to gleefully rent them apart? Could he knowingly put his life and the lives of Bree and Charles into the hands of a man who repeatedly stabbed him in the heart? He continued to sit, his mind numb from all that Father had said and the whirling thoughts from within.
Vincent looked toward Devin, and he clearly saw the conflicting emotions within his eyes. He was certain that if Devin looked at him, he would see similar emotions. He didn’t want to give mere lip-service to Father’s plea, but, rather, he wanted to clearly state his forgiveness, or say that it had been too little to late and he didn’t feel forgiveness in his heart. It was not something he was prepared to do without prolonged serious thought.
“Father, we appreciate all you have said, and while we know it was not easy, you must also know that your actions have caused deep wounds. We don’t mean to be cruel, but you must allow us time to think and consider before moving forward.”
“Vin’s right. We need to think. If you will excuse us, we will say goodnight.”
Alone in the library Father sat not certain he would ever see his sons again. What if they couldn’t find forgiveness? He would spend his remaining days bereft and alone. He had known sorrow, but this ice of winter would surely destroy him. “Please, dear Lord, allow them to forgive me. I need them so much.”
Coming soon: “The Thaw of Winter, Part 6 of The Guest