The Thaw of Winter

 

Part 6 of “The Guest

 

By Joanne Grier

 

 

 

Life in the tunnels continued much as it always had except for five people who wrestled with important personal issues, issues that could clearly impact how they lived the rest of their respective lives. 

 

Vincent, Devin and Bree talked long into the night of all that had been said. Devin was reflective, reliving many excruciating incidents that Father’s words had brought back from deep within his painful memories. Vincent was appalled to hear things he had been too young at the time to comprehend. He was sickened to realize the depth of disparity with which Father had treated Devin.  And he was ever more heartsick to realize how that treatment had impacted Devin’s view of life and caused him to run away.

 

Vincent tried to be fair, to view Jacob Wells as he would any other man - a man who had survived being blacklisted, had his marriage annulled against his will, and who had lost his entire world because of his sense of right. Yet as he sat, Vincent couldn’t help but think how all the many conversations concerning his differences, the negativity, and his sexual identity had impacted his relationship with Catherine. Almost all the things he believed were things he had heard and learned directly from Father. Would his life with Catherine be different if Father had presented a more truthful, positive image regarding his differences? Catherine was the center of his world but he wanted more, he wanted her as the center of his life – a full, rich adult life!

 

Both Devin and Bree had purposely waited to have this discussion with Vincent until Charles was asleep.  They understood from what he had told them that he was confused about his conversation with Father. He didn’t truly comprehend what Father had meant about “his silence” hurting Bree. Each of them had assured Charles that while Father was upset, rather than speaking in anger, he had maintained a silence which was oftentimes best, that perhaps it was best for Father to be quiet rather than speaking until he was calm. Devin knew within his heart that this would be a conversation that would be revisited until Charles was sure that his Angel Bree had not been hurt. And he knew how important it was to hopefully allow Charles to continue feeling the love he felt for Father.

 

It was nearly four a.m. and they decided they needed to sleep as there were many activities planned for the day.  With their wedding roughly thirty hours away, they each had a long list of duties.

 

Vincent lay in his bed then got up to pace his room. The thoughts and raw emotions that filled him made sleep impossible. He thought of his childhood, the years and adventures he and Devin had shared, how Devin had been the only one to understand the lure of Above, the scent of the grass, the tactile feel of the fresh earth in his hands as he dug, the bugs he chased with abandon, and the lights from the city. For the first time he acknowledged the resentment he felt every time Father told him no. His emotions were still raw as he remembered Father’s dire predictions as to why he couldn’t travel to Catherine’s cabin in the woods. Just to think of the joy on Catherine’s face when they had discussed the trip was a memory he treasured. And equally so he remembered her sorrow when he had said they couldn’t go.

 

He continued to remember the warnings, the negative statements about his differences, and how Catherine never mentioned his differences, she only praised and exalted his virtues, how before Catherine he had only existed, and since Catherine he now felt full of life. She had given that to him and his world was joyful because of her love.

 

Father’s love wanted to keep him imprisoned in the tunnels, keep him alone and lonely. He remembered everything, and as he weighed the scales of justice he saw how Father needed to change, how he must be allowed to live a life of his own choosing.

 

Physically and mentally exhausted, he once again sought his bed.

 

*******************

 

Father rose at his customary seven after a sleepless night.  His conscience had bothered him all night, leaving him exhausted and fearful the magnitude of his sins would not allow for forgiveness.  He sat drinking his tea, realizing that in his present state he simply couldn’t appear for breakfast. He needed to tender his apologies to Bree and Charles. I am appalled! My lack of discretion in my choice of words upset and wounded Charles. I truly hadn’t meant to do that, yet I haven’t been able to control my vile temper and my over-burdened sense of self-worth. When did I become so self-righteous and begin to view myself and my intelligence as superior to others in the management of the tunnel community?  Peter had been abundantly clear –I am not God.

 

After dressing he went to the pipe and tapped a message asking Mary if she would come to the library. Mary arrived, stating she hoped he could be brief as they were short one staff person in the nursery and she needed to return quickly.

 

Father didn’t mince words or try to paint himself in a better light.  He simply spoke his truth to Mary, saying he was hopeful Vincent, Devin, and Bree would forgive his scandalously bad manners, and he wished to tender his apology to her for his rudeness and lack of compassion over the last two weeks. “I also wanted to ask. If I am allowed to attend Devin’s wedding, would you allow me to sit with you? We have long been friends and I would deem it an honor to be able to view my son’s wedding with you seated at my side.”

 

“I know what it has cost you to apologize. You’re a proud man and you’ve never found it easy to admit that you are wrong. I can only pray this transformation comes from your heart and you’ll go forward with a renewed spirit. Devin is your son and it’s past time you treated him with all the love and respect that title bestows.  You will find life much easier, Jacob, if you lower the shield you have kept around your heart all these years. Love brings far more pleasure than keeping yourself shut away because you fear pain.

 

“If you are allowed – and I sincerely hope you are – to attend Devin’s wedding, I would be pleased to sit with you.”

 

**************

 

William decided to turn lunch into an impromptu wedding shower for Devin and Bree after he had heard how much Bree was looking forward to meeting and spending time with all the residents and the Helpers. His army of kitchen workers spread through the tunnels and everyone who arrived for lunch had their gifts stashed in nearby hidey-holes.

 

Embarrassed, Father remained in the library and would have stayed there except that Pascal appeared, saying his presence was needed in the dining room. Father tried to refuse, but Pascal simply ignored his protest, took him by the arm, and guided him up the stairs. “You know, Jacob, my own father had problems with apologizing and saying he was sorry. I know, because I inherited that trait from him. So if you accept my apology for calling you a horse’s rump, then I’ll accept your apology for refusing to be happy over Devin’s wedding and being a sourpuss.” Smiling, Pascal continued dragging Father forward.

 

Devin found it strange that after eating no one began to drift away from the dining hall. They continued to chat until all the food had been consumed and the dishes cleared. He had seen Father enter, escorted by Pascal, but he shrugged it off, thinking the old man had to eat.

 

William entered from the kitchen carrying a pot and a wooden spoon, which he began to bang against the pot. “You all know that tomorrow our Devin and his bride, Bree, will be married in the Great Hall. All of our Helpers have been invited to attend as well as all of our tunnel family. I happened to overhear that Bree was very eager to meet all of you and our Helpers and that she hoped she wouldn’t be too nervous on her wedding day to remember everyone’s names.

 

“Well, since I’m one who has trouble in occasionally remembering names, I wanted to help Bree. So today we are having an impromptu wedding shower so hopefully tomorrow Bree will only have to remember one hundred names, not two hundred!”

 

Bree’s face turned a most becoming shade of pink as she hid her face against Devin’s shoulder. Devin was smiling and laughing as people scurried outside, returning bearing their gifts. Vincent’s face was a picture of his joy; his eyes sparkled brightly as he witnessed his brother’s happiness. Charles was seated beside Vincent and he, too, grinned and immediately peeked down at Angel, who was contentedly lying inside his shirt.

 

The wedding gifts were stacked around the table until there was almost no available room for anyone to pass between the tables nearest them. Unaware of what had transpired, William banged on his pot and in the quiet he asked if Father would say a few words.

 

Father slowly stood, silently wishing the floor would swallow him and begging that a fool didn’t control his mouth. “What a delightful way to welcome Bree into our family. I’m certain I speak for Devin and Bree in thanking each of you for this enchanting and heart-warming celebration of their forthcoming wedding.” He managed to smile through his heartbreak and as he sat he rapidly blinked, trying to stem the tears that threatened.

 

Vincent and Devin exchanged glances and their silence spoke volumes. Mary stepped closer, handing Vincent a tablet and pen. “Would you write the list of what each gift is and who gave it? It will help Bree when she writes her thank-you notes.”

 

“Bree and I had requested no gifts but I told her it was senseless as I never heard of anyone getting married here who didn’t receive tons of loot!” As expected, the dining room erupted with laughter at Devin’s truism. “Come on, babe, let’s see what treasures we get to haul back to Maine.”

 

Gift after gift was opened as both Devin and Bree exclaimed over the ingenuity of the creators. Bree cried when she opened a portrait of a youthful Devin done by Elizabeth, painted shortly before his thirteenth birthday. Seeking Elizabeth’s eyes in the group, Bree smiled her thanks as she hugged the portrait to her body.

 

A set of soft sheets with delicately embroidered yellow roses intertwined along the border of the top sheet and cascading along the pillowcase borders were a gift from Mary. Her stitchery was superb and if Devin hadn’t known better, he would have sworn it was done by machine, but in his youth he had spent countless hours in the nursery reading as Mary had stitched.

 

The last gift they opened was a clock created from a ship’s wheel and in the corner a stylized “V” was carved. The brothers hugged, good-naturedly pounding each other on the back, and as they drew apart, Devin whispered, “Someday we will, Vin, someday, I swear it.” Devin smiled as he remembered all their dreams of sailing the ocean in a schooner.

 

*******************

 

Devin and Vincent went off by themselves after the party with Bree’s blessings. Cullen and several of his work crew helped to pack all the wedding gifts into huge boxes and then transported them to a storage area near where Devin’s truck was stored. They would be in a handy location for either transferring into the truck or taking them to a shipping office and having them shipped to Maine.

 

After discussing the shower and Bree’s joy over the creative and distinctive gifts, they fell to discussing their problem of Father.  “I’ve felt torn my whole life. All I’ve ever wanted was his acceptance and love, and that was withheld, and oftentimes I felt that it was a carrot Pops dangled, just hoping I’d take it so he could then pounce upon my heart.

 

“I’m bone-weary of the battles, the brief periods of peace before Father once again rips me apart over some perceived offense.” His voice wavered as he sought to control his rolling emotions.  Haltingly, he admitted, “I want Pops at my wedding and yet there is a part of me that wants to punish him for all the heartache he has caused. I want him to see that I have made something of my life, that his bad seed has found what completes his life, that I am whole while he’s still fractured! I want him to accept that the most beautiful woman, who is talented beyond compare, knows all of my past and she loves me.

 

“The hurt little boy wants to rub his face in it - keep him away so that he has to explain to his fiefdom why he didn’t attend his own child’s wedding. The child that still weeps for all that was missing wishes to strike back, making him suffer and feel the pain he inflicted on me all those years ago.

 

“Do you know how small and petty I feel in admitting that? I’ve been around the world more times than I can count but I’ve never been able to shake the pain of his abandonment.”

 

“Some pain never leaves us. It is a sore within our hearts and minds that never completely heals. It gets pricked and once again we are facing a gushing wound. If you deny him your forgiveness, will your soul be at peace? Will you, after he is gone, regret that you prevented him from attending your wedding? In the scheme of time, space and eternity, will it really matter?

 

“I think about how his teachings impacted my relationship with Catherine, how I’ve had to defend all our actions against his dire warnings - the influence he had over my self-esteem, my self-perception.”  Quietly, Vincent spoke of all he had thought during his sleepless night, and the telling rekindled his anger.

 

“I haven’t said it, but I want you to know of my appreciation for your offer to make a home for me with you and Bree. Your generous offer has meant more than I can possibly state. I never considered that another life might be possible for me, a world outside these tunnels.”

 

“When Charles and I left here, I wasn’t sure where we’d end up. He was and is my salvation because in saving him I was somehow making amends for leaving you behind. The northeast woods weren’t my ideal place, but I knew Charles needed a place remote from prying eyes where he could roam within limits and be free of fear. We tried a couple of other places before the forest preserve. It proved to be perfect; we are surrounded by nature, animals, flowers, wildlife and streams. Everything is there, all the things which bring Charles peace. They could bring you peace, too. If you wish to leave, you will always be welcome with us.”

 

“I’ll never forget your generous offer.”

 

****************

 

Catherine came Below immediately after getting home. She had a small tote packed and her bridesmaid dress was tucked inside a long cloth bag. Collecting her things, she headed Below so she could be of help to Bree.

 

As they walked toward the hub, Vincent filled her in on all that had transpired in the three days they had been separated. She was shocked to learn of Father’s about face and his apologizing to Vincent and Devin. It was hard to fathom him admitting he was wrong to Devin when Catherine was used to hearing him accuse Devin of wrongdoing.

 

They reached her guest chamber and after leaving her things they went searching for Devin and Bree. Over cups of tea they played cards and took turns in being honored when Angel presented his tummy for adoration. Angel was adapting well to life Below, as he had a built in audience of fans. He seemed to sense when it was time for his evening run in the park, when he would begin his rubbing and mewing against Charles’ leg.

 

Devin had purchased new clothing for Charles to serve as one of his best men and, with Mary’s special skills, the necessary alternations had been made. In the woods Charles wore boots, jeans, and a soft, loosely tucked-in shirt, but since being back to the tunnels he had reverted to his tunnel garb. Mary had made an extra set of tunnel clothing for him which she kept tucked away for his return.

 

Catherine suggested that she take Bree to the bathing chamber as the card game was breaking up. Both Devin and Vincent were going to the park to accompany Charles.

 

After a leisurely swim and bath, Catherine and Bree donned their gowns and robes and made their way back to their guest chambers.  Bree talked of how nervous she was about the wedding and meeting all the Helpers. She also described some of the lovely gifts she and Devin had received at their impromptu shower. When they had settled in Bree’s chamber, Bree began to talk of her conversation with Father. “Normally I’m very polite, but I have been so troubled over how he has humiliated Devin with his ceaseless haranguing. I can’t stand see the pain in Devin’s eyes and how distraught he is. Doesn’t Dr. Wells realize what he’s doing, what he has done to his own flesh and blood?

 

“Both Devin and Vincent are wrestling with the problem, for after he apologized to them, he asked for their forgiveness. Wisely they said nothing, only that they needed time to think over all he had said. We have tried, as much as possible, to keep the bitterness away from Charles, only telling him that Dr. Wells is upset because we broke some rules.”

 

“I know I felt the conflict in Vincent when I arrived and then again upon seeing Devin,” Catherine said. “I’ve had my own share of battles with Father over Vincent and I know how wearing his diatribes can be.”

 

“I want tomorrow to be a happy, joyful day, but I know it will have a pall if Devin’s father doesn’t attend,” Bree replied. “Yet I don’t want Devin to forgive him just for the sake of the wedding; I want Devin’s forgiveness to be from his soul, something that will bring him a lasting peace.”

 

“We have to trust that Devin and Vincent will speak from their hearts and pray that the outcome brings peace to all.” Catherine hugged Bree, kissed her cheek, and then left for her own chamber.

 

After returning from the park where Angel romped and played for more than an hour, the weary trio made their way back to the home tunnels. By then Angel was tired and his soft mewing caused Charles to pick him up and carry him. As soon as Angel was in Charles’ arms he butted his face against Charles’ chin, rubbing to show his love for being carried. They collected their night clothes then went to the bathing pool, taking Angel along with them and putting a rock on his lead so that he couldn’t wander away while they bathed.

 

“We’ll tell Bree in the morning and then go see Father.”

 

*****************

 

They met in the communal dining room where William himself served them breakfast and claimed a wedding-day kiss from Bree.  After Charles left with Mary, Devin and Vincent shared their decision and soon left for the library.

 

A meeting was in progress and they quietly slipped into Father’s sleeping alcove to wait. It had been many years since Devin had been in this room and he was surprised to discover a miniature of the portrait Elizabeth had painted of him on Father’s bureau.  Vincent said nothing, offering only a slight, hesitant smile before turning away.

 

Hearing the meeting break up and the participants leave, the brothers stepped into the library. “May we speak with you, Father?”

 

Father turned pale at seeing his two tall impressive sons standing before him in the shadows. Quickly recovering, he asked them to be seated.

 

“You asked for our forgiveness for your present and past sins. We told you we needed time to consider all you had said concerning your reasons for abandoning Devin and feeding a steady diet of negativity and doom to me.”

 

“There were and are many things we needed to evaluate before reaching a conclusion,” Devin added. “I have to consider the impact my answer would have upon both Bree and Charles, particularly as to how possibly severing a relationship with you would affect Charles’ emotional and mental well-being.”

 

“And I had to consider how your interference has impeded as well as impacted my relationship with Catherine. At times you have treated me not as an equal, a grown adult, but as a wayward teen who needed your constant guidance. If I am to remain in this home, that behavior will cease and it will cease now!” Vincent’s large hand struck the table, causing the books to dance.  Instinctively Father jumped as the sound echoed.

 

“Why is it, Pops, that it took a crisis of these proportions for you to ever truly share yourself with us? Why did you think it was necessary to keep yourself locked away from your children? Was your shame of illegitimacy so great that you had to abandon me in order to make yourself less guilty?” Father’s audible gasp was heard as Devin spit out the last words.

 

Vincent knew this would be traumatic, but he also knew that if they were to achieve peace there could be no holding back; all the hard truths had to be laid upon the table. “We haven’t come to rip you apart by reiterating your crimes, Father, but there are still hard, bitter questions that we need to have answered. We’d like a lasting peace, not one for a few weeks until one of us unknowingly crosses the line to become the serf being beaten by the king.”

 

“I feel like you have always chosen to sacrifice me and my well-being when it came to the community or me, that I was never good enough for you to defend and so you pitched me out with the bath water,” Devin revealed. “Those first two years Above, I stole, ate out of garbage cans, slept in doorways in December rather than admit defeat and come sniveling back home to your ‘I told you so’ attitude. I learned to lie and cheat in order to survive and each time I did it, I knew it was wrong, but in some way I wanted to get caught so I could tell you I was just as bad as you predicted!”

 

Tears spilled down Father’s cheeks as he heard all the things Devin had done to himself trying to pay him back for denying him.

 

“You ripped my heart apart when you refused to even say one tiny word of congratulations but rather you elected to focus upon my not seeking your approval before planning to bring Bree down. Do you never stop to think how harsh you are or how embarrassing it is to always be berated by you in front of an audience – for you always made sure there was an audience so you could prove me wrong and yourself right!”

 

“Father, do you have any concept of the emotional scars you left me with over what happened with Lisa? Did you ever stop to consider what your words and actions did to me, how demoralized you left me, feeling as if I were a perverted fiend instead of a young boy who didn’t understand the natural callings of his body? If you couldn’t discuss sex with me because of your own embarrassment then why didn’t you ask Pascal’s father to talk with me? Did even that prospect embarrass you?”

 

Their conversation went on and on and slowly Father began to address their issues. Tempers flared on all sides until all the questions were answered and their voices were hoarse.

 

Devin stood and walked directly in front of Father. “I have to leave to prepare for my wedding and I need time to calm myself so that Bree doesn’t detect my distress. I would like you to attend, but I want you to understand that I want your attendance only if you can come with a glad heart and a determination to establish an ongoing, working relationship with me and my family that is based solely in love and respect. I honestly don’t know if I forgive you, but I have to try for my own sake as well as my family.”

 

“I also must go, Father. I hope we can move forward to a more amenable adult relationship. When I ask for your guidance, give it; but until I do, extend me the courtesy of not inferring in my life.  Right or wrong, allow me to make my own decisions. Like Devin, I am trying to forgive you, but you need to meet us more than half way by accepting that we are grown men who are leading our own lives and must be treated with respect.”

 

As he reached the top step, Vincent turned. “I’ll see you at the wedding in two hours.”

 

*********************

 

Catherine and Mary helped Bree to dress after they had donned their own wedding clothes.  Catherine’s dress was a soft green that played up the color of her eyes, and around her waist was a tiny belt with embroidered yellow roses and twining green vines.

 

Bree slipped into her dress as Mary smiled in appreciation. The dress was tea-length with a full skirt. The satiny smooth white wool hinted at touch of shimmer woven through the threads. The long Juliet sleeves were perfect against the modest square neckline. Her bouquet was a mixture yellow and white roses and baby’s breath and the shoulder-length veil was held in place by two tiny clips bearing small diamond chips that had belonged to Bree’s mother. Catherine held a long woolen coat which would cover the dress as they made their way to the Great Hall.

 

The Great Hall was ablaze with candles. The tables had been arranged at angles so that everyone could have a clear view of the services. At the front of the hall a small altar had been arranged and Dr. Wilson stood waiting for the happy couple. He had a small non-denominational church Above and he had officiated at several Below weddings. 

 

Devin had requested that Vincent wear his long poet’s shirt and his high red boots, saying that was how he thought of him. Charles was dressed in blue trousers, a pale blue striped shirt, deep blue tie, and rather than a traditional coat, Devin had had a long stylish vest made for him which he had known would be far more comfortable for Charles. And, by his side, Angel wore a green ribbon that matched Catherine’s dress and a new pristine white harness.  

 

Devin was resplendent in his black suit, white shirt, a yellow tie and a yellow rose boutonnière. His smile seemed to be permanently etched on his face, his joy obvious.

 

The orchestra began the time-honored wedding march and Vincent and Charles, with Angel in his arms, duly took their places and, breaking with tradition, they walked up the aisle toward the altar.

 

Catherine’s radiant smile stole Vincent’s heart as she walked toward him. Their eyes held each other as she approached then stepped to the side.

 

The music swelled as Peter and Bree stood ready to walk up the aisle. Bree was breathtaking in her beauty, her smile radiant, and her eyes held Devin’s as she came forward. Peter kissed her cheek and then stood beside Catherine.

 

“We have gathered together to unite our friends Bree and Devin in marriage. Let us rejoice as they pledge their love before this company and in the sight of God. Rather than the traditional service, Bree and Devin have decided to speak their own wedding vows.

 

“Do you, Devin, take Bree as your lawful wedded wife by the giving and receiving of a ring?”

 

“I do.” Devin’s hand trembled as he slipped the wide gold band onto her finger. Carved within the band were finely etched roses, twining together in an endless circle.

 

“And do you, Bree, take Devin as your lawful wedded husband by the giving and receiving of a ring?”

 

“I do.” She slipped a matching gold band which was engraved with two intertwined hearts onto his finger.

 

“I, Devin, do take thee, Bree, as the wife of my heart. I promise to honor you with the truth, to share all that is within my heart until my last breath. I will honor you, my soulmate, my helpmate, as my dearest friend and companion. My life is enriched by your love.  You are my safe place, the repository of my heart and soul. And you truly are my heart’s best treasure. My heart peacefully rests within yours.”

 

Bree looked up at Devin, her eyes clear and bright as she spoke her vows. “I, Bree, do take thee, Devin, as my husband for life. You will ever be first in my heart, and my love is as endless as your ring which I now wear. I pledge you my heart, giving it joyously, and I also pledge to hold your heart in devotion and love until the end of our days. My soul resides with you and you, too, are my heart’s best treasure.”

 

Bree’s eyes left Devin’s and settled on the men who stood solidly behind him.

 

“I, Bree, do also take Vincent and Charles as the brothers of my heart, and I promise to always cherish, love and protect you. I am blessed to gather you within my heart and promise to hold you close as we begin this new family, united as one.”

 

“Before this company, I pronounce you man and wife. May God bless and keep you all your days. You may kiss your wife.”

 

Catherine looked at Vincent as his eyes filled with tears; he had not known about Bree’s special vow. Charles stood silently grinning as Devin bent to kiss Bree. Together they turned, smiling, to their friends who had watched their joining.

 

There were tears in Mary’s eyes as she sat beside Father. “It was certainly lovely of Bree to include Vincent and Charles in her vows, telling them publicly how important they are to their marriage.”  Mary turned to look at Father as she spoke and she saw the tears brim his lashes and saw the trembling of his shoulders.

 

“They express their love so openly, without a thought of public scrutiny; they make it look so easy.”

 

“It is easy, Jacob, for they are bound with love and caring. The sorrow they have borne gives them courage, for this is the time when love has taken their hearts and has made them complete.”  Mary’s look was wistful and momentarily she remembered another life and her own love. She patted his hand then stood. “Come along now. It is time you congratulated your son and kissed your new daughter.”

 

The receiving line was long as everyone came forward to express their good wishes to Devin and Bree. Bree was thoroughly kissed by all of Devin’s friends, and all the girls took one last opportunity to kiss Devin. Catherine, Vincent and Charles received their shares of hugs and kisses as the happy citizens passed through the line.  And Angel was not ignored as he was petted while Charles held him in his arms. Several people laughed, hearing the loud contented purring as his public came forward to adore Angel.

 

When the last hand had been shaken the orchestra began to play and Devin led Bree to the floor. He held her close as they begin to waltz; after several minutes Vincent and Catherine joined them and then Mary came forward with Charles. They whirled around the floor then Mary tapped Devin on the shoulder and, smiling broadly, he surrendered Bree to her beloved Charles. Once again they changed partners and Bree whirled away with Vincent as Catherine danced with Charles. Slowly others joined the spinning crowd. Pascal was the first of Devin’s friends to claim Bree and they chatted easily until Winslow tapped him on the shoulder.  Olivia and Kanan smiled as they danced passed, pausing only long enough to exchange kisses with the happy couple.

 

The dancers simply stood chatting together as the orchestra took a break. Weaving their way through the crowd, Mary and Father finally came to stand beside Bree and Devin. Devin had seen them approaching and he stiffened, prepared as he always was for one of Pop’s sharp barbs.

 

“Bree, I wonder if you would honor me with the next dance?” His voice was slightly shaky, not his normal crisp baritone.

 

“It is I who would be honored, Dr. Wells.” 

 

As the music started, he slipped his hand to her waist and they slowly began to waltz.

 

“Come along, Devin.” 

Devin took Mary into his arms but his eyes followed Bree, ready to intercede if Pops said anything that upset her. Mary’s hand lifted and stroked his face. “He’s embarrassed and wants to tender his apology to Bree, but he is uncertain as how to begin. He’s fearful that his temper has ruined the future, for he knows if Bree can’t accept him, then you are lost to him.”

 

Devin shook his head and tried to smile reassuringly at Mary, but his body was still rigid as his eyes followed Bree. At the end of the dance, Father led Bree to a bench and together they sat, obviously in deep conversation. Devin started forward but a quick glance from Bree had him stepping back. He stood some distance away, watching, still not trusting the old man.

 

Vincent, Catherine and Charles came to join him. Catherine could feel the strain in Devin as he stood watching and she was concerned that Charles would soon also be aware of the tension.  As the music began again, she took Charles’ hand and asked him to dance. He smiled happily as they walked to the floor. While they whirled, Charles told her about watching Angel Bree dance with Dr. Edmonds on Thanksgiving Day, and how much fun they had together when Bree had taught him how to waltz.

 

“I wonder if I should break that up?”

 

“Give him some time. He’s obviously trying to find his way. It’s not easy for him, moreso because Bree is a member of his profession and doctors don’t know how to apologize to nurses, plus Father is never good at apologizing to women. Bree would let us know if she wanted our help.”

 

Devin looked at Vin, aware of the tug within his heart as he heard Vin’s use of the term “us.”

 

Catherine and Charles returned, retrieving Angel from Vincent’s arms. William’s loud voice called for attention as he announced the wedding dinner would be served in ten minutes. The crowd began to break up, returning to their seats to await the dinner. Using that as an excuse, Devin walked over to Bree, murmured to her and took her hand, and together they walked to their place of honor at the head table.

 

If anyone thought the head table was strange, they had the grace not to mention it. The head table was composed of only the bride and groom, the bridesmaid, and the two best men. Father and Mary were seated beside Peter, Pascal, Winslow, and Elizabeth at the first table to the left. Cullen, Olivia, Kanin, Mouse, Jamie and William occupied the first table to the right.

 

William’s staff had outdone themselves and the food was not only delicious but beautifully presented. The room rang with laughter as the community celebrated and honored one of their own. Happy toasts were offered by Devin’s smiling friends. In a moment of quiet he looked down at Bree, taking her hand and softly murmuring, “I didn’t know they cared this much.” Bree saw the raw pain in his eyes and saw him struggle to surmount it as he tried to smile. She kissed him softly and silently vowed he would always know how much she loved him.

 

Slowly the party wound down, and Devin and Bree slipped away after hugging and kissing Charles. Vincent and Catherine assured them they would look after Charles and Angel and they would see them in a few days. Cullen was waiting with Devin’s truck at the edge of the drive in the Park, and after saying their goodbyes they drove to the Waldorf, where Devin had reserved the bridal suite.

 

Catherine had arranged to have Bree’s and Devin’s suitcases taken to the hotel so when the suite door was opened their belongings were already there. There was a large bouquet of yellow roses on the living room coffee table and two smaller bouquets on either bedside table.  A bottle of champagne stood chilling by the sofa.

 

They smiled happily at each other as they stood touching the velvety petals.  “Our wedding surpassed all I thought it could be.  I don’t know what I expected, but it was all my heart wanted and more. Your friends were so warm, so generous in their acceptance of me.”

 

“You accepted everything about the tunnels and everyone as though being belowground was a daily occurrence for you. Bree, may I ask what Pops said to you?”

 

“He talked around things before he offered his apology for causing such an uproar, for his failure to offer his congratulations, and for his behavior when I went to his library. I firmly told him that I could overlook his behavior in the library, but I couldn’t accept his ongoing disrespect of you. You have paid for your mistakes and it was his responsibility to acknowledge your success. 

 

“I also told him that he needed to separate his personal problems from your birth and to love you completely as a man should love his biological child. I said that the future was in his hands, that he had spent twenty-plus years in blaming and disrespecting you; if he wants a future relationship with you and your children, he has to begin fresh and learn to express his love, to truly become a father to you. I said the remaining years of his life could either be lost in bitterness and self-righteousness or they could be joyfully filled with bliss, love and happiness - that it was his choice.”

 

Devin stared at this beautiful woman he had married and was astonished anew at the depth of her compassion and understanding of wounded people. She offered hope but put the responsibility for attaining a loving peace squarely on Father’s shoulders.

 

He slipped his arms around her, drawing her close, and allowed his hands to glide over her back and hips. His eyes spoke of the depth of his love as his mouth claimed hers. When he finally lifted his lips, he smiled as he murmured, “Tonight I don’t have to stop kissing you, do I?”

 

She managed a whispered “No” before his lips descended.

 

********************

 

Devin awoke, aware that Bree was nestled in his arms, her leg thrown possessively over his hip.  As he watched her sleep he was aware of the deep sense of peace that filled him; a peace he had never known before claimed him, and a stillness within his always aching heart. He was at last home and his heart throbbed knowing it was a home he would never willingly leave.

 

********************

 

Later, between bites of breakfast, he kissed her fingers, nibbling on her neck, and continuously ran his hands over her arms, her shoulders. It was impossible for him to cease touching her, knowing he now had the right. He loved the way she glowed in the morning light and her eyes sparkled as she kissed his face, murmuring of her love. He took her back to bed and worshiped her body again and again.

 

**********************

 

Two days later they walked out of the hotel and went Below to spend their last day before the wedding Above with Charles and Angel. Charles was overjoyed to see them and Angel took every opportunity to have them adore his tummy while he purred loudly.  They were seated in Vincent’s chamber; Bree was sitting on Vincent’s bed with Angel in her lap, stroking his tummy as she looked around at her family, her face alight with joy.

 

“May I come in? I heard that you had returned and I hoped I might spend a few minutes with you.”

 

“Yes, of course, Dr. Wells, do come in.”

 

Father slowly walked in, aware that the room was now silent; gone was the happy chatter. Vincent started to rise, but Bree waved him down and patted the bed beside her. Father settled beside her.  “Your wedding was certainly lovely and it has continued to be the talk of our community.”

 

Bree smiled and picked up the threads of the conversation, aware that Dr. Wells must be feeling awkward. Slowly the men followed her lead and their happy chattered returned. Bree gave them the details of what would happen at the wedding Above and about their trip to Bermuda and when they planned to return to New York.  “Catherine said she plans to have Charles and Angel come to dinner while we’re gone so he will have a break from tunnel living.”

 

Angel stepped off Bree’s lap, sniffed Father’s sleeve and then proceeded to begin circling his lap. Both Vincent and Devin quietly tensed, unsure of the reception Angel might receive. Father had an aversion to all animals. As they all anxiously watched, Angel continued to circle then with total aplomb lie down and roll over on his back, ready to have his tummy stroked. He stared up at Father, mewing softly, then he got up, putting his paws on Father’s chest, and butted his head against his chin. Bree was just ready to take Angel back onto her lap when Angel again circled and presented his tummy.

 

“He wants you to rub his tummy.” Charles looked rather quizzically at Father, not understanding that he didn’t already know of Angel’s love of having people rub his tummy.

 

Reluctantly, Father began to stroke Angel and was instantly rewarded when his loud purring filled the room. “He seems to like it. He surely is vocal in his appreciation.” Seemingly against his will, Father’s lips twitched and then he smiled and began to stroke Angel’s tummy with more assurance.

 

Although most of the day was spent with Charles, twice Father sought their company. He ate lunch with them, and shortly before they were to return Above, he came to wish them every happiness.  Devin tried to greet him with a happy heart but he had been crushed too many times to just accept the new face that was being presented to him. It would, he knew, take time before he would believe that Father was trying to change.

 

********************

 

Bermuda was everything the travel folders said. They swam and played on the beach like small children as they built sand castles.  The cares of life fell away as Devin was securely encircled in Bree’s love. They sent postcards to everyone, including Father, in care of Peter, putting them all in one giant envelope along with some beach sand for Vincent.

 

There days were spent in laughter and their nights were spent wrapped in each other’s arms. Devin was a tender, dedicated lover, bringing Bree breathless joy. He never tired of the way she whispered his name as she climaxed beneath him or the way her hands sought him as they scaled the heights together. Many times they dressed to go out for the evening only to stay within their suite, lost in the pleasure they found in each other’s body. Bree delighted in discovering ways to drive Devin wild, adoring his voice as he reached nirvana, and she held him until he was capable of speech.

 

They watched the sunset on their last night, wondering how the time had passed so quickly. The last evening they spent dancing and they returned to make love once again in the large bed that was bathed in moonlight.

 

******************

 

They dropped their luggage off with the doorman at Bree’s condo and drove to the nearest tunnel entrance. They were eager to see Charles and to reassure themselves that he had fared well during their honeymoon.

 

They passed Pascal, who wore an enigmatic look as he told them they might want to drop into the library. Unsure of what they might find, they hurried onward. They stopped on the library steps and both of their mouths opened in surprise.

 

Vincent and Charles were seated to the side and Father was in the larger chair that Vincent usually occupied. Beside him on the floor were scattered several books and a multitude of Angel’s toys.  Angel was draped upon Father’s chest, one paw on his face as he continued to butt his face against Father’s then mew softly as he rubbed his face against Father’s chin.

 

“There’s a good fellow. Now, come on, Angel, we have work to do, we’ll play again later.” Father lifted Angel from his chest, only Angel had other ideas; he simply flopped on his back and presented his tummy as his head cocked and he mewed once. “Oh, all right, but only for another five minutes.” His hand began the hypnotic rubbing as he smiled down at Angel.

 

Bree and Devin grinned, and as they walked forward, Devin nodded toward Angel., “I think he’s got another fan!”

 

 

 

The End*

 

 

 

*Coming soon: The Replete Heart.