Catherine finished placing the clean laundry in the basket then headed toward the bedroom. Opening drawers, she neatly stacked ‘the cleans’, smiling as she remembered this new term the tunnel children had given to this oh-so-now familiar chore. Giving a final pat, she closed the drawer and sighed, wondering if she would ever casually accept seeing Vincent’s clothing in this chest of drawers.
Moving down the hall she paused in the doorway of the small sitting room, her gaze focused on the bright patch of sunlight on the floor and the sight of a shirtless Vincent stretched out absorbing the heat. The sight of him bare-chested caused her heart to beat rapidly and the sight thrilled her beyond words. Unable to stop herself, she quietly moved to kneel beside him and placed a kiss on his warm skin. His arms quickly enfolded her and he brushed a kiss against her forehead. “This is wonderful. The sun is so warm and I can’t stop myself from seeking it.”
“I’m so glad we were able to install the skylight here in this protected area of our home. It's one thing I have always wanted to give you since the very beginning; the opportunity to feel the sun on your skin.”
“Having a home of our own is a blessing. Waking up and seeing the bright sky is something that will never become routine or ordinary.”
“If Peter hadn’t mentioned that Mr. and Mrs. Atkinson were preparing to
“The Atkinson’s were Helpers almost from the very beginning. He and Father were friends in their college days. They were such a part of my young years, I always felt that Mr. Atkinson was actually my uncle as he and Father were as close as brothers.” They remained there in the warm sunlight, softly talking and the whole time Vincent’s hands stroked and touched. Now that they had overcome the barriers, he found such pleasure and joy in simply being able to touch Catherine. The suppleness of her skin drew him and he found it impossible not to seek her softness. For him, there was no such thing as enough when it came to touching Catherine. He was awed by the knowledge that she felt the same about touching him. Daily, he wondered how he had survived without being able to unreservedly touch his Beloved, the joy he found in being able to freely touch his tunnel family without being plagued by fears of repulsion or rejection of his distinctive hands.
“What time are Father, Mary and the children coming?”
“I told them seven as that gives us time for dinner before the satellite broadcast begins. Viewing the lunar eclipse is something that few ever see and Father is so thrilled that your satellite system is carrying the event.”
“Getting the satellite system installed was just for such events. It has opened up the whole universe to the tunnel children and is surely better preparing them to take their places here Above. In many ways the education the children receive Below is far superior to that which is taught in many school systems Above.” Catherine’s tone was filled with pride.
“As much as I would love to stay like this, if we are having twelve for dinner I had better get the casseroles put together.” Slowly drawing away, Catherine began to re-button her blouse then, placing a lingering caress against Vincent’s sun warmed flesh, she rose. “Would you like to remain here or would you like to help prepare our dinner?”
He rose gracefully, grabbed his shirt from the chair. “There are four hungry teenage boys in the group so we should have plenty of food this evening.”
He consciously reached for her hand, wanting to continue their touching, as they walked downstairs to the kitchen and began preparing for their guests. After putting the extra leaves into the dining room table, Vincent began setting the table. Then he came back to prepare a large salad while Catherine prepared two very large casserole dishes. “What else are we having with the meal?”
“Oh, I got fresh broccoli and cauliflower since I know those are two favorites that aren’t often served Below. Would you start cutting them up? I got two heads of cauliflower and three bunches of broccoli. We can make a quick cheese sauce to serve over the veggies, too. I also got two jars of olives and pickles. I picked up a couple of large cheesecakes so that should satisfy all the sweet tooths.”
As Vincent filled the large pots with water his hips brushed against Catherine as she stood next to him causing her to smile. “This industrial stove of Mrs. Atkinson’s has certainly been great. I didn’t think about our feeding so many others when we first moved in but now I realize how functional it is to have six burners.”
After placing the casseroles into the oven to bake and setting the timer, Catherine turned toward Vincent. “I’m going up for a shower. If you’d like to come along, I’d be more than pleased to have your company.” The gentleness of her voice and the soft smile reached out to touch Vincent’s heart and to reassure him that his presence while she bathed was welcome.
The newness of this part of their relationship was still fresh and for Vincent his need to be near Catherine and to be able to freely touch her was fragile. His look was that of an eager child while the man, who was yet unsure of his own sexuality, was slightly fearful that his needs were not entirely normal. “If you are sure I wouldn’t be…,” his voice faded as Catherine took his hand and tugged.
“Come. I enjoy having you near me. Please don’t ever doubt that.” Together they climbed the stairs and moved into their bedroom.
“If you would prefer to have a bath, I could start the tub for you.” Vincent offered somewhat shyly.
“That would be wonderful. Perhaps you would consider helping me?” Although they had not discussed the depth of his needs, Catherine was very aware of how sensitive this need was and was determined to do all that she could to assure Vincent his touches were welcome. She followed him into the bathroom and while he was seeing to the tub, she quickly undressed. Stepping behind Vincent she wrapped her arms around him as she pressed her body against his. “If you are going to help me, you better get undressed, too, don’t you agree?”
“I’d very much like to help you.” He took a reluctant step away from her, tested the water and then turned off the faucet. Turning again he brought her into his arms, his mouth resting against her neck as he inhaled deeply, intoxicated, as always, by the scent that was uniquely Catherine. Without conscious thought his hands roamed over her back, slipping to gently caress the round curve of her bottom and brought her closer to his hips. He held her, rejoicing that he had the right to hold her so intimately. Minutes passed and his hands still moved gently.
“How about giving me some skin to touch, too?” Her smile was impish and playful. “I also like touching you, ya know.”
He held her for a few moments longer, then giving her a soft smile he sat on the bench and began pulling off his boots. Socks, shirt and pants were soon on the floor and when he stood up Catherine smiled, “You are so beautiful.”
She slipped into the tub and sighed. “The water is just right, so…”
“Toasty warm” he supplied with a smile. Her description of how she liked her bath water had been a delight to him and had become a part of their love language. He sank down to his knees, took the loofah and began to gently scrub her back.
“The whole idea of enlarging the bathroom was so that we could get this really large tub. I think you should join me so we can enjoy it together.” Her smile was dazzling and her eyes warmly caressed his face as her hand moved over his muscular leg.
He eased down gently to the tub unsure that his added weight wouldn’t cause the tub to overflow. “Hmmm,” she murmured, “would you consider sitting so I could rest against you?” He paused in mid-air as she scooted forward to leave space behind for him to sit. His long legs curved around her hips and she lay back against his warm chest. The water lapped gently against her breasts as they lay cocooned in its warmth. Turning slightly around, Catherine kissed him. “Right now I’m wishing that we weren’t having guests and that we could spend hours like this. This feels so right, so good. I want it to go on forever.”
“So do I. I could hold you like this all day and it still wouldn’t be long enough. To have this is still so new...so thrilling. I never thought to have such an experience and even now no matter how many hours we spend in touching, I still want more.”
“I know. There are times when I keep expecting to wake up and find it has all been a dream. Then I realize I’m not in my apartment, but in our bedroom and then I have to cuddle closer to you, to feel your heart beating and assure myself it isn’t a dream.”
They lay wrapped in each other’s arms until the water cooled slightly. Reluctantly, Vincent eased Catherine so that she once again was lying with her back against his chest. He reached for the bar of soap, “Leg, please.” She lifted her leg and his soapy hands began to massage her leg. She laughed as he soaped her leg then her foot. The other leg was quickly washed.
“Now you can wash the interesting parts…that is, if they interest you.” Her smile and breathless giggle tugged at his heart as she quickly moved to her knees and turned to face him. “Do you see anything that interests you?”
Gathering her close his mouth claimed a pert nipple as his hand roamed gently over her body. Her hands fisted in his hair, holding him closer and he suckled more deeply.
They had only been in the kitchen a few moments when they heard the distinct rap on the pantry door. Together they crossed to the door and warmly welcomed their tunnel family. Everyone talked at once, as families do, while making their way to the living area, divesting everyone of their heavier tunnel wraps and settled to chatting. “If I could recruit a couple of volunteers, we can get the food on the table while everything is the right temperature.” All of the children immediately jumped up to help Catherine and soon they were gathered around the table.
Catherine smiled looking down the table as her guests received her food with joy and gusto. One of the things she enjoyed most about the Tunnel traditions was that the children had been taught from infancy to hold conversations during their meals rather than simply just eating. The ebb and flow of lively talk circled the room and happy laughter echoed warmly as the meal progressed.
“It has been a lovely meal, Catherine, and I know I speak for everyone as to how much we appreciate your sharing with all of us,” Mary said warmly. “It is such a treat for us to have fresh vegetables in such abundance. No one had to be reminded of the importance of eating vegetables tonight.” She smiled sweetly as she looked around the table.
“I thought we might save dessert for later. My father always felt it was better after the meal had settled and then it could be properly appreciated. But if you would like it now, it won’t take a moment to bring out.” Looking around the table she saw eager faces of the teen boys smile but rather than speaking, they deferred to their elders for a decision.
“I’m in complete agreement with your father’s thinking, Catherine, that dessert is more fully appreciated after the meal has settled. Let’s everyone help clear the table so we won’t be late for the viewing.” Father rose, stepped away from the table and then reached for his plate and coffee cup, balanced them well in one hand and started for the kitchen. The rest of the guests followed quickly and soon the kitchen was a sea of activity.
“Hey, look, no dish washing. Father, we should get a dish washer for William, he’d really like that,” came the excited voice of Kipper.
“William already has a dish washer. Every tunnel citizen is a dish washer, assistant chef, pot boy, and kitchen helper. If you eat, you work. You may not get kitchen duty often, but the rotation system works out so everyone serves time.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Father,” Kipper responded. “It is like serving time.” Everyone laughed at his take on Father’s words and Father laughed the loudest.
Soon the leftovers were packaged for taking Below and stored in the refrigerator and the dishes loaded into the dish washer. Looking around the kitchen Mary deemed that everything was neat and tidy, telling the children they were now excused. Father took Mary’s arm and together they walked toward the large, comfortable family room.
As they all headed into the family room, Vincent’s arm slipped around Catherine's waist and he gently drew her against his hip as they walked. Never breaking her conversation, Catherine smiled up at Vincent and winked.
“How was it decided who was going to come here tonight?” Catherine asked. “I don’t believe I know and I’m certainly curious.”
“Well, the education committee decided the only fair way was to have a contest and the winner in each division would be allowed to attend tonight. We excluded the kindergarten; first and second grade children simply because of their bedtimes and everyone felt they would be falling asleep before the event. So the committee then prepared a special test covering all areas of education in all the remaining grades and those here are the winners.” Father’s tone spoke of his pride in the community educational system.
“It was really a hard test, too, Vincent, with lots of questions that could have several different answers. We really had to carefully read each question before answering. I hoped the test was going to be in one category – like science, but no, they...” Kipper’s hand motioned toward Father and Mary, “thought that wouldn’t be truly fair.”
Father smiled, “The test was devised to make you read and think before answering. Truly a good quality that will serve you well all of your lives.”
“I feel badly that the younger children were excluded, though I do understand why. Perhaps we can arrange a dinner party for them at an earlier hour and make it just as special as tonight has been for all of you. The younger children are so sweet and their interests are wide spread. Maybe I could find one of the early Disney nature films.” Catherine’s voice was soft, reflecting her tenderness for the younger children.
“OK everyone let’s get settled; the broadcast will be starting in a few minutes.” Vincent offered Father the big recliner Catherine had purchased for him, but Father refused, taking instead one of matching rockers, and Mary took the other. Some of the children claimed seats on the floor, taking some of the pillows kept for such purposes. Taking Catherine’s hand, Vincent moved toward the recliner and looking at her softly said, “We could share the recliner and then the smaller children could use the sofa, thus being higher than the heads of the children who are using the sofa as a back rest.”
Catherine let Vincent seat himself first and after he was settled she eased herself in beside him. With complete ease Vincent pushed the recliner back and picked up the remote. As Catherine accepted it from his hand, she looked up at him and whispered softly, “You do have great ideas.”
The satellite broadcast began and quickly all conversation ceased as the room became mesmerized by the nature of the planetary display. Afterward, their lively discussion filled the room with excited voices. “Can I interest anyone in dessert now?” Catherine asked as she rose from the recliner.
Jumping up, Kipper and two of the other boys volunteered to serve as helpers and runners to ferry the food back to the family. “Are you certain it’s all right to eat in here? Your stuff is new and nice and some of the little ones can get messy.”
“When we purchased the family room furniture I picked fabrics that didn’t easily stain as I hoped the room would become another home for all of our Tunnel family.” Catherine instructed the boys to get down two large trays, the dessert plates, forks and napkins. “Would one of you check to see if the adults would like coffee, please?” She quickly warmed the hot chocolate she had prepared for the children. Working together, they made quick work and soon returned to the still lively conversation in the family room.
“All right children. It’s time we need to leave so anyone who needs to use the bathroom be quick about it. The teens can help the younger ones and Vincent, if you could gather up the coats it will be helpful.” Mary’s voice was warm and filled with a mother’s caring.
The boys gathered together and all headed upstairs to the bathrooms there and the girls went toward the smaller powder room in the hallway. Soon all the coats and wraps were donned and hugs and kisses were exchanged. After helping Mary and Father down the stairs and getting several more kisses from two very sleepy eight year olds, Vincent watched as his family headed toward home. After refusing his offer to help escort them home, Vincent was delighted that the older boys each carried one of the smaller children and the older girls were each offering supporting arms to Father and Mary. He stood for a while listening to the happy voices that echoed back to him until all was silent. He pressed the latch and the brick wall opening slid shut with a firm sound of metal sliding home. Anyone who happened upon this section of tunnel would find only a solid wall and it was only known to a few of the tunnel citizens which bricks had to be pressed in order to open the door from within the tunnel. Vincent climbed the stairs then slid the steel door that blocked the entrance into their home closed and locked it. Once inside the pantry area, he also pressed the lever that closed the section of wall. The entrance and exit was a feat of tunnel engineering created in order to protect their valued helpers and ensure the tunnel secrecy remained valid.
“I’ll be down in just a few minutes.”
Settling in the recliner, enjoying the soft lighting, still not totally comfortable with the bright lighting within their home, Vincent sighed contently. When it was just the two of them, they used few lamps and had dimmer switches installed on several of the overhead fixtures.
“Want to watch a movie?” Pausing before the video cabinet Catherine was a vision of loveliness in periwinkle blue. The gown was cut low to reveal the fullness of her breasts and the lace of the peignoir hiding just enough to create intrigue.
Seeing the way Vincent’s eyes brightened at the mention of a movie, Catherine opened the cabinet. “Do you want some great literary classic, an adventure, serious drama, or something romantic?” They had spent many evenings curled on the sofa or in the recliner watching movies since moving into their home. It was wonderful watching Vincent’s face as he was completely absorbed in where the films took him.
“You select something tonight.”
“OK, then, here’s one of my all-time favorites entitled “’
“Are you warm enough?” he asked.
“Cuddling with you is like being against a toasty warm stove. I love it when we cuddle together; I feel so safe, secure and filled with your love. At times I feel like your body heat sends out waves of love and it wraps around me until it penetrates my whole being, surrounding me within the compass of your love. Your love is so beautiful it leaves me breathless. I wonder what I did to be blessed with finding you and having you love me.” The soft sincerity of her voice engulfed Vincent’s heart and the fullness of her love expanded within their bond. Casually but intimately Vincent brushed his hand down her arm, the man within simply needing to touch his love.
The screen credits rolled at the end of the film bringing a satisfied sigh from Catherine. “Do you see why I say it’s a love story and one of the best ever films?”
“The story in some way reminds me of our trials before we found our way through the darkness. The danger they faced, the loss of each other, the finding of the light and the knowledge that though they are separated, they will forever be together. The music is very haunting. I have heard Father whistle it a time or two when he was alone but I never knew what it was or that it came from a famous film. We should show it to him the next time they come for dinner. He’d probably enjoy seeing it again.”
“Perhaps you should find out first how he feels about the film. The story might remind him of Margaret and the tragedy of their relationship. I’m of the opinion he still has issues there that he hasn’t resolved and I wouldn’t wish to do anything that would add to his pain.”
“I’ll see what I can find out before issuing any invitation. You might be right, I hadn’t thought about how the loss of Margaret has impacted him. Over the last few years I have been more concerned about our problems and figuring out how to overcome those issues. If you hadn’t made me face my fears head on I would never know the joy of our complete love, being able to kiss and touch you as I always longed and desired to do. I’d still be hiding behind imaginary walls, unrealistic ideas and irrational sexual fears concerning my own body.” His final words came out in a soft shattering sound, giving credence to the knowledge that in some areas, he still had self-doubts. “It took such faith and courage on your part, Catherine, to leave and cause me to finally face all my fears. If Devin hadn’t been around then, I don’t know if I would have found the faith in our love and come to you, to find complete trust in our love. To come to you, asking you to accept me with all my faults, to allow me to be your husband. Devin mentally wrestled me to the ground to make me see the light.”
18 MONTHS PREVIOUSLY
They walked in silence following the familiar tunnels to Catherine’s apartment, each aware that any words spoken in this section could clearly be heard by the sentries stationed along this route. It was bad enough their disagreement had become public, something they rarely allowed to happen within the home tunnels, but to allow further harsh words to be overheard was not something either of them would allow.
“You certainly don’t need to walk me the rest of the way. I know how to get home from here.”
“I brought you down and I will escort you back home.”
“Don’t be false with me. You are angry and you won’t even acknowledge it. I’m not a child. I’ve had people angry at me before, including you, and I didn’t fall to pieces or lose my sense of direction! You should just go back to the safety of the home tunnels.”
“I will walk you home, Catherine, whether you wish my company or not.”
They reached the threshold to Catherine’s apartment building several minutes later. “Goodnight, Catherine. Thank you for coming.”
Two weeks became three weeks, then four weeks and Catherine was still as angry and upset as she had been at the beginning. She missed her tunnel family but knew that nothing would be resolved by going Below. It would only cause her further pain and she had just gotten a good grip on her tears, no longer crying herself to sleep every night. Her caseload was up to date and current from the long hours she had spent at the office. Her apartment had never been cleaner, her closets divested of clothing she no longer wanted nor wore. She had actually called two friends for dinner dates and had a nice time catching up with old acquaintances with whom she had lost touch, and renewing those friendships.
After dressing, she headed toward the kitchen to fix her coffee and decided she’d treat herself to oatmeal this morning. While the coffee perked she returned to the living room to retrieve the paper. On top of her morning paper was a sealed note. Recognizing the handwriting; she almost didn’t open it, not wishing to read another missive from Father telling her that Vincent needed her. Pouring her coffee, she sipped it for several minutes, feeling her courage was now strong enough to face whatever was inside the note. Ripping it open, she quickly scanned the brief lines, flipped off the coffee pot, and rushed to the phone.
“Joe, its Cathy. I have an emergency and I won’t be in the office today. I’ll take the day as vacation or if I don’t have vacation time, then it’ll just have to be LWOP time. I’ll try to call you tonight to let you know about tomorrow.”
Returning to the bedroom, she changed into woolen trousers, cotton knit shirt over which she pulled a heavy woolen sweater and took a pair of low heel boots from the now orderly shoe rack. Getting her purse and short red jacket she quickly closed and locked her door. It was still too early to worry about many of the building residents being awake so her wait for the elevator was brief. She balanced carefully on the top rung of the ladder then reached up to use the rope she had put on the tall box pulling it firmly backwards as she closed the door. Just as she eased her foot down, she felt strong hands encircling her waist. When she reached the ground, the hands moved away. She was surprised to see Cullen standing there.
“I’ve been waiting here since five a.m. since I didn’t know what time you got up. I didn’t want to knock because I felt it might frighten you. I thought about the phone but realized I didn’t have any money so leaving Father’s note was my only option. We’d better hurry.”
They walked rapidly, making conversation nearly impossible. After a few attempts, they both gave up in frustration and settled to as brisk a pace as possible considering the difference in their strides. After jogging the last half mile, they reached the home tunnels. Cullen indicated they should split off the main tunnel heading toward the hospital chambers. The tunnels near the chamber served as a gathering place as the anxious residents awaited word.
Cullen elbowed his way through the crowd and seeing Catherine behind him, the crowd parted, allowing her easy passage. She found Vincent seated on a stool much too small for his frame and Devin on the other side of the bed. Mary lay in the bed, her skin a pasty whitish gray color and her normally tidy hair cascading in a loose braid on the pillow.
“Catherine, thank goodness you’ve come,” Father’s voice was filled with concern and fear. “Mary has been asking for you. I’ve done everything I know how, but I’m frightened. We lost two of our family in two days and I think I might lose her as she is so very weak.” His voice shook with emotion and he tried but failed to conceal a choking sob.
Moving swiftly, Catherine gathered Father in her arms, holding him as his body shook. She tried to comfort him but knew it was useless; Mary had been Father’s rock and the fear of losing her was clearly written on his face. She stepped away.
Vincent had felt Catherine’s presence minutes before she stepped into the chamber. Her anxiety was palpable within their Bond and it echoed his own. The way she stepped toward Father, taking him into her arms and her attempts to comfort Father were familiar to him. The ache within him longed to feel the comfort of her touch as it had been weeks since he had felt the wonder of her embrace. Deep inside he acknowledged his envy, wishing he was in Father’s place with Catherine’s arms about him. Did everyone touch as freely or was it only Catherine who offered the wondrous comfort of her arms?
“Cullen, here, take my coin purse and get top side as quickly as you can and find a telephone. Do you know where Peter’s home is located? If not, try to find Benny as he does. If Peter has already left his home, have Benny go straight to his office. Tell Peter there is an emergency, Mary is critically ill and he’s to come immediately with a full medical bag. Have a couple of the best runners standing by at the nearest entrances to Peter’s home and office so they can get word immediately on the pipes.” She moved to her purse and thrust all the money in her wallet at him. “If Peter tells you to go buy something this should cover it. Here’s a credit card that just says C. Chandler so you should be able to use it without a lot of questions from one of the pharmacies that our Helpers own. GO! Run.”
Cullen took off with a couple of other men following him and he quickly disappeared from view. The community’s blind faith in Catherine’s leadership and her handling of this crisis was not lost on Vincent. Had he been oblivious to her developing leadership within the Home Tunnels? Did her skills develop after he and Father were trapped in the cave in? Or had the community accepted the way she stepped forward to assume responsibility, offering comfort by her word or touch as she had become more than a Helper; that she was now thought of as family? His thoughts whirled as his heart ached for Mary, who was to desperately ill, for Father who was filled with anxiety in being unable to save Mary, and for himself as he was hopelessly filled with envy of those who were receiving Catherine’s loving care. His own inability to put aside all his difference and just accept what she had freely offered him since that long-ago night when he went to her balcony after she returned to health.
“Take Father outside for a few minutes, get him some tea and help him regain his composure.” She nudged Vincent and he slowly got up, turning to face her. His face was streaked with tears but he moved to do her biding.
As soon as they left the chamber Catherine took Vincent’s seat, looking at Devin. “Quickly, tell me everything. When did this happen? What has Father done?”
Speaking in a low soft whisper Devin tried to briefly tell her what had happened. “Audrey and her baby died two days ago after a brief illness; Pop couldn’t save them. Vin has been upset these last weeks; he went off brooding as he always does. Mary was worried about him and decided that she was going to search for him herself. She went down two levels, where the Great Hall is located, as that was where we knew Vincent was hiding and she miscalculated her need for water. She apparently drank some water that must not have been clean. When she found Vincent an hour later she was already starting to feel bad. He carried her all the way back and by then she had a fever. He told Father what she had said about drinking some water that was falling off some rocks because she was so thirsty. Father tried everything to bring her fever down, then when she started asking for you he knew he had to send for you. He had tried to reach Peter but we weren’t able to locate him, we were told he was out of the city, and he hasn’t responded to any of our messages.
“Vin is taking this hard because if he hadn’t gone off to sulk like the shit head he can be, Mary wouldn’t have gone looking for him. Mary is the only mother he and I have ever known. He and Pops had words and somehow their angry tones reached Mary’s fevered state and she was crying and started choking. Of course that didn’t help either one of those emotional retards; that sent them both off onto another guilt trip that even Freud couldn’t cure!
“If you think you can stay here alone for a while, I’d better see to both of them. They both are so tense, testy, and angry they may start snapping at each other again. I’ve had a time keeping them both quiet.” Running a hand through his disheveled hair he rose and quickly left the chamber without waiting for Catherine to answer.
Catherine took the pan of warm water to the entrance and asked if she could have some cool water and a cloth. Eager hands reached for the pan. Returning to Mary, Catherine saw a thermometer in a beaker, shook it down and then slipped it into Mary’s mouth. As she waited, a pan of cool water appeared and she wrung out the cloth and placed it over Mary’s forehead. Reading the thermometer she once again went to the chamber entrance. “Do we have ice? I need several bags of ice. If there is none down here, will several people get ice from our Helpers Above? Quickly, please, I’ve got to get her temperature down.”
Vincent and Father re-entered the chamber several minutes later. “Her fever is up to 105°. I’ve asked for ice. Help me prepare her, Father, so the ice does the most good and the least damage to her skin.”
“Where is Cullen? Why hasn’t he returned? He never thinks of the needs of the community, only himself.” The desperation and anger in Father’s voice was clear.
“Catherine? Catherine? Help him. He needs your help, please help him.” The murmur was soft and faint.
“Yes, Mary, I’m here. Don’t worry I’ll help take care of you. Just rest. In a few minutes we are going to have some ice to help bring your temperature down. Peter is on the way so Father can get some rest and he’ll know you are in good hands.”
Mary drifted into a fevered sleep again as Catherine tenderly held her hand and gently spoke words of comfort. From across the room Vincent longingly observed this tender scene, wondering at the length of time it had been since Catherine had spoken so lovingly to him. His eyes filled with unshed tears and his heart ached for all that was now missing from his own life.
Catherine’s concern filled their Bond as Vincent felt her strength and purpose vibrating within his mind. Everything within her focused on Mary, comforting and easing her suffering with a tender touch of her hand, the calmness of her voice. All her efforts were, Vincent knew, without conscious thought or planned; they were simply a part of who Catherine was. If he could only learn to be so free, to touch without fear, if only…
Father took a step forward but Catherine immediately blocked his path. “You’re a doctor. Get a grip. This is not a time for emotions, however belated they may be, but a time for clear medical thinking. If you can’t help, then get out!” Her voice was barely whisper but it's tone lethal.
Devin heard the last of her words and silently took Father by the arm and pulled him out.
“Now, if you can’t help,” staring straight at Vincent, “you can leave, too, and Devin will assist me.” Catherine firmly touched his arm and her touch vibrated within their Bond, clearly that now was not a time to be concerned about their disagreement, but rather it was a time for only concern for their tunnel family.
His nod was all she needed. “We will need a medium weight blanket, several if we have them and a couple of sheets, I think. We need to protect her skin from the ice and we will have to keep shifting it around every 10-15 minutes. Do you have a first aide book? Ice and blankets are about the only thing I remember from my Red Cross class but not the specifics of what else to do with a high fever.”
Crossing to the rickety bookcase in the corner, Vincent withdrew a copy of the Red Cross Manual, checked the index and found the pages he sought. Bringing the book to Catherine, he read over her shoulder. “I’ll get the sheets and blankets. I think we have some plastic, too, but if not I’ll send someone up to one of the Helpers.”
He returned several minutes later with three sheets, two blankets and a large sheet of plastic. Moments after his return, Mouse and several others arrived carrying several bags of ice. “Need more, tell Mouse.”
“OK, we need to leave the sheet over her, put the plastic on top and then place the ice around her body, on her legs.” They swiftly worked side-by-side as they covered Mary with the blankets. Every ten minutes they moved the ice to rest against different sections of her body, hoping they were doing the procedure correctly as the instructions seemed a little sketchy to both of them. The area was so tight Catherine’s body constantly brushed against his, bringing him joy and renewed agony. He knew for his own sake that as soon as Mary was well and this crisis behind them he must speak with Catherine, to apologize for all the pain he had caused. He could not live without her!
The noise from the tunnel broke their rhythm and they heard the voices of Cullen and Peter. Cullen was taking Peter’s coat before he even got into the room and Devin was opening the medical bag. “Cullen has already told me everything. Right now I’m going to get some antibiotics into her system then we’ll draw some blood to see what we are fighting. What was her temp when you took it last?”
“Ten minutes ago it was still at 105°. We’ve been doing ice therapy for the last thirty minutes, changing the position of the ice every 10 minutes. We tried to follow the Red Cross Manual, but either it wasn’t clear or we weren’t reading it correctly as it seemed fuzzy to us.”
“Cullen, here’s the vile of blood, can you run it back to my office and tell my nurse I need the results immediately? You wait until she has them so I know what I’m fighting here.”
An hour passed, then two, as they labored to bring Mary’s temperature down. “Let’s try to get some liquid into her. I brought two bottles of saline. I’ll set up the heparin lock while you get the saline
bags hung. Where’s Jacob? Why isn’t he here?”
“Father is exhausted.” Catherine spoke, “and Devin has him resting for a couple of hours. He hasn’t had much, if any, sleep in the past 72 hours. We thought he needed to be relieved of his duties for a while since we didn’t want another patient.”
Catherine and Vincent continued to work side-by-side, moving the ice or adding more as it melted against Mary’s raging fever. They used clean towels to help absorb the excess water from the melting ice. Occasionally as their hands brushed, Catherine’s reassuring smile filled Vincent with warmth and renewed comfort.
It was well past midnight when they finally got Mary’s temperature down. She had two more rounds of antibiotics after Cullen returned with the lab report. “Let’s get the head of the bed raised. I don’t want to add pneumonia into our mix. She has enough nasty bugs swimming around inside without adding to her problems. Can you find some more pillows, Cathy?” Peter’s calm, steady voice worked its magic in calming the groups fear at the mention of pneumonia.
Working well together, Vincent and Devin took the piece of lumber Cullen brought in and as they both lifted the head of the bed, Cullen slid beneath it, placing the lumber so as to lift the bed up four inches. He slid back out then moved to the end of the bed, braced it with a steamer trunk so it wouldn’t slide off its new supports. Silently, they communicated by nods, touches or simple gestures as together the brothers lifted the mattress while Cullen worked the pillows Catherine found to further raise Mary’s body. After lowering the mattress Vincent gently eased an additional pillow beneath her. Grasping Vincent’s arm and Catherine’s hand Devin smiled. “We four work well together.”
“That’s good,” Peter offered. “The angle should help keep fluids from collecting in her lungs. When this is over, I need to find a couple of more modern hospital beds that have cranks to raise the head of the bed.
“I didn’t bring oxygen, so let’s figure out a way to create a steam tent to help her breath better. Will the four of you come up with a solution to that problem, please?” Working together as a single unit with only one purpose in mind, the four returned with a solution and soon they had their improvised tent filled with steam.
Catherine cleared her throat. “Could someone walk me to the closest tunnel exit so I can find a telephone? I need to leave a message on Joe’s machine that I won’t be at work this morning. If I don’t call, he will be at my apartment, beating down my door.” Reaching for her red jacket she slipped it on before stepping into the almost-deserted passage. Vincent stepped into the passage, “I’ll take you up, if you don’t object.”
“Thank you. If you’d rather stay with Mary, I’m sure Cullen would be willing.” Vincent had already decided that at the first opportunity, he would speak with Catherine. Cloak in hand he quickly stood beside her.
“Thank you for all you have done since arriving. Father is certainly not himself. He took the death of Audrey and her baby so hard, then to have Mary seriously ill, he is…” His voice faded away. “Mary is his rock as you know. He called Audrey Margaret several times during the crisis, begging her not to die and leave him so I think he was remembering. Even when Ellie died, he was totally professional and in control but when Mary became so ill, his professional demeanor slowly disappeared. You saw how he behaved. He would normally never have said or thought such harsh things of Cullen.”
Without further deliberation they continued walking. After they had walked some distance Catherine softly spoke. “A crisis often brings out all of a person’s unresolved issues, particularly if the issues involve the ill person. I could see from when I first walked in he was not himself.”
They hurried on in silence until they reached the Park exit and moved out into the cool night air. They continued to walk for almost a block until they reached a phone booth. Dialing Joe’s private office number, she was surprised when he didn’t answer on the first ring despite the lateness of the hour. He often didn’t leave work until She left a message saying she needed another vacation day as her friend was critically ill then hung up.
She paused while Vincent pulled the lever to close the Park entrance. Vincent stopped for a moment. “Catherine I need to talk with you about…” Catherine smiled up at him as she took his hand. “Let’s hurry; I want to get back as fast as possible. Peter may need our help. We will have plenty of time to talk after Mary is well. Our problems are minor at this point compared to those of Mary and Father.”
Reaching the hospital chamber, they joined Devin and Peter in waiting. Cullen was stretched out on the floor at the end of the bed, his back against the steamer trunk he had moved there. Catherine smiled at the sleeping form knowing he was exhausted.
“I’d like to get some more fluid into Mary. Do any of our Helpers run all-night pharmacies or at least live over their pharmacies? I’d feel better if we had another four or five bags of saline.”
“The Johnson’s live over their pharmacy,” the sleepy voice from the floor stated. “I’ll go, just give me a minute to get untangled from this blanket.” Cullen rose, stretching out the kinks that had developed from sleeping in such an awkward position. After a brief discussion Cullen took off at a quick pace, never aware of the petite blonde boy that stepped from the passageway to follow him.
“Why don’t you find some beds and try to get some sleep? There is nothing we can do now but wait for the antibiotics to do their job. You’ve done a fantastic job of helping to care for Mary. I don’t need to add more patients to this chamber. Why don’t you take over the beds in the smaller hospital chamber? You’d be close if I need you. It will be at least 90 minutes before Cullen returns so you should all rest.” Peter sighed as he sat down on the stool beside Mary’s bed, taking her hand in his.
Suddenly very tired, Catherine tugged on Vincent’s hand and then on Devin’s and the trio slowly left the chamber. Inside the smaller chamber were five beds. Devin walked to the farther bed, pulling the screen around it saying with a grin, “I’m shy when I sleep, I don’t like being looked at.” Moments later they heard the springs creak and then a sigh as Devin settled into a comfortable position. Minutes later they could hear the soft snore which caused them both to smile.
“He could always do that. Get in bed, turn over and be asleep in a minute. I always envied his ability to lie down and be asleep in a heartbeat when we were children. He was active, planning all sorts of adventures until the very moment his head hit the pillow and then he was asleep.”
Catherine walked to the opposite end of the chamber, sat down and pulled off her boots. She slipped under the quilt. “You can put up a screen if you want your privacy,” she said as she flipped onto her side.
“Let me know if you aren’t warm enough, I can get you another blanket.” He stared in the dim light as Catherine settled into sleep. He wanted so desperately to hold her, touch her soft skin, inhale the scent that was uniquely Catherine and beg her forgiveness for the last weeks. Sadly he recognized that he didn’t know how to begin and that now was certainly not the time or place for such action. He continued to sit on the side of the bed watching her sleep, ashamed of watching her so intently, yet unable to look away and give her privacy. His body shook as he fought to control his desire, knowing he would never know her physically. He knew his differences were too profound, there could never be anything more than a spiritual love between them. A moan escaped his lips and he fought the urge to simply touch her soft hand.
The sounds of pipe chatter awakened Catherine. Glancing at her watch, she was ashamed she had slept not an hour but five hours. As she pulled on her boots she could hear the deeper snoring coming from Devin and Cullen, who was in the bed next to him. Silently, she left the chamber and found the nearest bathroom. After washing her face and hands, drying her hands against her trousers because she had no towel, she finger combed her hair and longed for a toothbrush.
Entering the hospital chamber, she found it empty except for Vincent who was kneeling on the floor beside the bed, his body hunched over Mary, his shoulders shaking and his sobs audible. Seeing him so distraught broke Catherine’s heart causing tears to cascade down her face. Mary’s hand rested against his hair, one lone finger moved to stroke him. “Hush, Child, I’ll be fine. Jacob will see to that. Yes, yes, I know…” The weak voice faded and only the heart wrenching sobs filled the chamber.
Silently moving forward, Catherine softly touched his shoulder and he slowly turned. “Come. You need to rest and Mary needs to sleep.” He struggled to rise, still on his knees; he reached up, pulling Catherine against his shaking body. He sobbed against her and she curved her body to encircle him, holding him tightly. Slowly she sank to the floor, never releasing her hold as his sobs increased; she held him tightly, wrapping her arms about his large body. She soothed him as she would a small child, knowing that Mary was the mother of his young years and the intimate confidant of his teenage years; seeing her so ill had broken the man she had helped to form. In the distance she heard Peter’s and Jacob’s voices as they moved down the passage toward the hospital chamber. “See if you can stand. I’m going to take you to your chamber so you can rest.”
Struggling together they slowly gained their feet and with Catherine’s arm securely around his waist offering her support, they moved toward the entrance as Peter and Jacob entered. “I’m taking Vincent to rest.” Catherine’s face clearly indicated she would book no comment or interference from either doctor.
Catherine’s defensive stance, her willingness to strongly stand in defiance against both doctors was not lost on Vincent. In spite of their problems, she stood beside him ready to be his shield as his emotions broke, leaving him weak and defenseless. Her touch bolstered his spirit and calmed his fears. Even in his emotional wreckage he knew how soothing her touch was to his soul and how it renewed him physically. He needed her touch, he needed her.
Entering the passage, they saw both Devin and Cullen coming out of the smaller chamber, looking disheveled and each possessing very bad cases of bed hair. Devin’s steps quickened as did Cullen’s and both men slipped their arms around Vincent, relieving Catherine of her burden. They turned toward the small chamber and entered before either Vincent or Catherine could protest. Moving in unison they moved toward the bed that Devin had just vacated. “It’s still warm and he’s cold. He is always cold when he is emotionally upset.” Devin’s voice was that of a concerned older brother who knew all the secrets of his larger brother. Together he and Cullen lowered Vincent onto the bed. While Devin pulled off his boots, Cullen set a lamp in the chamber entrance to ensure that no one would enter. “You might want to stay with him for a few minutes Catherine; he doesn’t fall asleep as quickly as I do. Call me if he gives you any trouble; I’ll be with Mary.”
Catherine pulled up the blankets as Devin and Cullen left the chamber. She sat on the edge of the bed, suddenly aware of how much of a twin size bed Vincent’s large frame consumed. After sitting beside him for nearly thirty minutes, she started to rise but his hand stopped her. “Please, Catherine, don’t leave me. I don’t deserve your kindness, but please stay.”
Shivering, Catherine rose, stepped toward the bed Cullen had vacated and pulled the blanket off, wrapping it around her shoulders before returning to sit beside Vincent. “Close your eyes and try to sleep. You need to rest. I suspect you have been without sleep for at least four days. You may be strong but you do need sleep.” Her fingers stroked his temples tenderly caressing in hypnotizing slowness. Slowly, his body relaxed only to jerk suddenly awake, his eyes searching the dimness until he saw Catherine. “Mary?”
“She is probably being a good patient and sleeping. Please try to rest. She would be upset to find you ill when she recovers. Would you like me to ask Peter how she is doing now?” He nodded and Catherine rose and left the chamber. Minutes later she returned offering him a small smile as she sat beside him. “Peter says her temperature is only 100° now and her breathing is easier. He thinks the drugs are doing their job. And he said for you to get some sleep.”
Several hours later Devin looked in, seeing his brother asleep with Catherine curled against him. “You’re a lucky son of a gun and you don’t even realize it,” he said with a grin and left the chamber.
Weeks later Mary was still weak but improving. Vincent came to read to her daily, bringing treats from William’s kitchen in hopes of tempting her appetite. Often Vincent simply sat holding Mary’s hand, a lone finger gently stroking her hand as he spoke in soft whispers. Father was also a frequent visitor, staying longer than professionally necessary. He, too, read to her and shared all the news of the children.
It became a continuing habit; Jacob took Mary’s hand as he joined her, drawing his chair closer to her bed. “Mary, I am so glad to hear you are feeling better. I don’t know when I have been as scared as I was during your illness. I couldn’t do anything to help no matter what I tried. If Catherine hadn’t gotten here when she did, I feared I was going to lose you, too.”
“Jacob, I’m sure you exaggerate. You are the consummate professional and there are many in our community who owe their lives to your excellent skills as a physician.”
They sat in companionable silence, their hands still joined, before Jacob again found his voice. “Thank you, but you are wrong. I was less than professional as I allowed myself to view you not as a patient but as my dearest friend. I failed you completely as your physician and for that, I humbly apologize and beg your pardon. The thought of what life here would be like without your strength, support and nurturing frightened me. I didn’t realize how much I depended upon you for so many things in my life. Nor did I fully realize how deeply I care about you and your well-being.”
Mary’s blush was evident as she tried to reply. “I understand your feelings. I felt the same way when you and Vincent were trapped during the cave-in. I didn’t know how I was going to survive if anything had happened to you. I accept your apology but it certainly isn’t necessary, not between good friends such as we are.”
Mary continued to slowly improve and the tunnels resumed their normal rhythm of life. Catherine came to visit Mary but did not seek out Vincent as she knew that he had not resolved the issues between them. “Give him time, Catherine. He loves you but is so filled with fears, rubbish that Pops, Paracelsus, Mitch and everyone else fed him about being different, not a man. He is more man than ninety percent of the guys who strut about wearing their flies like a badge of honor!” Devin had assumed the role of walking Catherine home after her visits and he hoped their conversations were making them better friends. He desperately wanted his future sister-in-law to accept and like him.
“I know, but I can’t bend anymore. I have been honest with him, told him time and again how much I care...love him,” her voice wavered, betraying her emotions, “and want our relationship to move forward. He freezes up, going off on one of his tangents about how he isn’t normal, about his hands, how he is afraid he is going to hurt me, his fears of his rage when he has protected me from harm. He's built such walls and I just don’t know if I have the strength to fight them again and again every day. I’m so miserable, so grossly unhappy but this fight has gone on for three long years and we are still at square one.”
“Vin is worth the fight, ya know. When he gives his heart he gives it completely. The problem isn’t his heart, it’s his head. He’s so damn intelligent that he is ludicrous. He will argue the meaning of a mathematical theory for days on end but accepts what Pop and Paracelsus said about him as the gospel. Geez! I want to punch him out sometimes because he is so ignorant!”
The idea of Devin punching Vincent caused Catherine to smile. He grinned at her, thankful that he had said something to lighten her somber mood.
“Tomorrow when I get to work I’m going to tell Joe I want to transfer to another division where I won’t be working directly with criminal cases nor actively involved in criminal proceedings. I’ve come to realize that I have put myself in danger and by doing so I have also caused irrefutable damage to Vincent. It is not love to do that to a person as gentle as Vincent. I can’t ever forgive myself for not thinking about what my job, particularly the assignments I volunteered to accept, did to him. It was idiotic of me to think I had to prove myself by facing down danger after my attack; I didn’t prove anything to anyone, but I caused agony to the man I love.
“I may never have the life I want with Vincent, but I can make certain that he never has to protect or defend me against murderers and drug dealers. He has suffered so much because of my stupidity in thinking that by facing danger I was proving I was stronger than the Catherine Chandler who was attacked. You can add my name to those who have harmed your brother, Devin, and it should go at the very top!”
Devin squeezed her hand. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. At least you have learned from your mistakes. I’m planning on staying around. Maybe I can help my baby bro find his way to manhood. We fought when we were younger; I resented his following me everywhere and having to look after him. I purposely did things in acting out my resentment that put Vin in danger. When I left the tunnels I thought he was the reason I was leaving, to escape the responsibility that Pops always thrust upon me. After I was gone for a few years it was Vin of whom I thought. Not Pops nor Mary, Winslow or Pascal, but Vin. I truly realized what it meant to have a brother who loved me without reservations, who accepted all my faults and who stood beside me, willing to accept my punishment because he loved so deeply he couldn’t stand to see me hurt. Never have I been loved in that way by another soul. It is only Vin who gives such encompassing, unrestricted love that never quits.
“Mary was our substitute mother. She spent extra time with us not just because she loved us, but because I think in some way she hoped Pops would realize his own failures as our father, and perhaps in realizing those mistakes, he might also see the love shining in her own eyes each time she looked at him. Watching Vin fall apart in those days before you came down was so difficult. His normal gentle nature was shattered by the idea of losing the only mother he had known and then seeing Pops being less than stoic in his professional detachment equally destroyed him. He might argue points with Pops but I have never seen the two of them say such bitter things to each other. They were both so frustrated, blaming the other for Mary’s illness, snarling like caged dogs.”
“Have things improved between them?”
“I don’t know if they have actually sat down to discuss those days but their relationship seems semi-normal. Both of them have spent a great deal of time with Mary. Mary seems to be aware of the friction between them and is doing what Mary does best. She talks, dropping her jewels of wisdom without causing distress to either party and simply waits for the seeds to bloom in their new garden. She’s one tough cookie and her love does work wonders on wounded souls.”
They reached the entrance to Catherine’s building and said their goodbyes. “I’ll see you next time I come to see Mary.”
Devin hesitated then gave her a brief hug. “It’s no substitute for one of his hugs, but perhaps you could pretend,” he offered with a brief smile.
The meeting with Joe went better than she had expected. He protested her leaving on a personal level, saying how much he would miss her, but agreed that her reasons were valid. “I’m glad to see that you finally realized that accepting dangerous assignments didn’t validate your skills as a lawyer to the Department. Remember we talked about that when you accepted the first assignment, but I knew you were just blowing me off by your talk of needing a challenge, blab, blab. I’ll work on getting you transferred but until that happens, you are chained to that desk, and no matter how short staffed we are, you will not be offered nor will you be accepting any cases that are more dangerous than jaywalking. Got it, Radcliffe?”
“You’re just too cute, Joe, when you’re being forceful. I’m so glad I got you for a brother when I took this job.” Her smile brightened her face as she threw her arms around Joe, giving him an exuberant hug.
The weeks following her conversation with Joe were both dull and exciting. She found other aspects of the law she enjoyed while hating some of the law clerk type work she was performing. She counseled herself to be patient as she waited for her transfer to be approved and a new job assigned.
Three weeks passed since Catherine had been Below. She had sent notes to Mary and flowers via Benny and had received several replies. Tonight as she exited the office Benny casually bumped into her and she felt his hand slip inside her coat pocket. Hailing a cab and giving her address, she slipped the missive from the envelope, marveling anew at Benny’s ability to pass messages without anyone being aware of his sleight of hand. The message was from Devin saying that an impromptu party was planned for that evening to celebrate Mary’s return to good health. Would she please join them? Catherine knew she could not refuse nor did she wish to do so. Mary was such a special person and she had grown fond of her over the years she had been visiting the tunnels. She asked the cabby to stop at her favorite florist, told him to wait as she dashed in and returned in record time with a long box containing pink roses.
“Hello?” Catherine called, hoping that someone was meeting her. The box of roses was proving to be unwieldy while trying to close the door, hang onto the box and climb down the ladder.
“Hello yourself. Would you like some help?”
“Oh, Devin, thank goodness you’re here. Can you take this?”
“Just pass me the box and come on down. I’ll get the door closed for you. Who thought of the rope? Maybe we should put a shelf or something here so that you can put packages on it and still have both hands free for safety.”
They chatted all the way to the home tunnels with Devin carrying the box of roses like a football, tucked under his arm. They stopped in the library where Catherine left her coat and gloves before collecting the box and heading toward the dining hall. The party was well under way as they stepped inside and the room literally vibrated with the chatter of happy voices.
After being stopped several times by friends wishing to greet Catherine, they finally reached the table where Mary sat in the center of the room. From his seat Vincent quietly observed the welcoming hugs and kisses bestowed on Catherine and her returning affection to various tunnel dwellers. Had this been happening for a long time and he had failed to notice? She was greeted as family and he sensed her joy at the warmth of her welcome. He longed to receive her warmth, feel her joy at the touch of his hand.
Father was seated on Mary’s left side and Pascal sat on her right. Vincent was seated across the table with a vacant seat next to him. After kissing Mary and giving her the flowers Catherine slipped into the vacant seat beside Pascal. Devin gave a slight shake of his head as he took the seat beside his brother.
The flowers were opened and tears streamed down Mary’s face as she turned to smile at Catherine. “Thank you so much. They are beautiful. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Just don’t get sick again will be thanks enough. It’s so nice to see you looking healthy and more like yourself. When I was last here you were still quite weak and not feeling perky.” Catherine grasped Mary’s hand in the warm, loving touch of friendship.
“Catherine, if you would like to sit beside Mary, I would change seats with you.”
“Pascal, thank you, but you deserve the seat next to Mary; after all, you are one of her boys and she is very special to you.” The pipe master blushed as the focus of the table shifted to him and the open acknowledgment of how Mary had stepped forward to care for him after his own mother had died.
Vincent openly stared, envious of the attention Catherine paid to Pascal and longed to be the object of her interest and devotion. The effortless way she briefly touched his friend’s hand allowed all who witnessed this to know she held Pascal in high esteem. It was so effortless and easy when Catherine performed this simple task. Could touching truly be so easy?
“Friends, if I might suggest, I think it would be nice if the community took this opportunity to acknowledge Mary and all she has done. Her accomplishments are many and we have never given her the credit she is due. I’d like to start.” The volume of Devin’s voice increased, calling for attention and soon the hall became silent.
“Friends and family we are here to celebrate the return to good health of beloved Mary. I want to share my own feeling - and I hope you will share your own – of how Mary has impacted my life.”
“Here, here” echoed around the room before silence was restored.
“One memory I have is being taught to sew a button. Simple, huh? But not to a rebellious thirteen year old who thought it unmanly to do women’s work. I seemed to have inherited the ‘women sew, men rip’ gene.” Laughter flowed across the room and several parents exchanged knowing looks with their own teen sons. “Mary sat me down, patiently explaining that sewing buttons wasn’t gender specific, but rather the skill of a person who wanted to be neat and tidy. Needless to say, my button sewing talent didn’t prove to be either neat or tidy. But there were many times while I lived Above that I blessed Mary’s determination to teach me a very necessary skill when I was all alone and it was ‘do it myself or it didn’t get done’. Many of her subtle life lesson seeds sprouted and it wasn’t until years later that I remembered who had planted and nurtured their growing. Thank you doesn’t seem enough but it is all I can say.” Devin’s loving look caused Mary to blush in pleasure.
Slowly people stood, giving voice to their memories of Mary’s importance in their own lives and her encouragement for all the children who made their home Below. Stories were told of heartbreak and healing. Often the story teller would choke with laughter while sharing their private memories in tribute to the quiet, slim lady who was beloved by all.
Mary smiled, laughed and cried as voices lovingly sang her praises. Unaccustomed to hearing such words spoken about herself, Mary tried to bring the gathering to a close by loudly saying, “It is past time the children were in bed.”
“I think we can suspend normal bedtime this night, Mary. There are more than enough adults here who can carry the children if they fall asleep while hearing the accolades of their favorite substitute mother.” Father’s voice was firm. “Besides, I have not spoken and I want everyone to hear what I have to say.”
Rising, he stepped away from the table and moving at a leisurely pace, he began to weave among the gathering. “Like many of you, I, too, came to the tunnels as a wounded soul in search of sanctuary and peace. The first years were chaotic as we tried to come together as a community instead of strangers hiding from footsteps in the passageways. Mary was one of the first who stepped forward offering to assume the responsibility of setting up a nursery and dormitories for the children. She quietly gathered all the lost children to her, making them a cohesive functioning family unit. If that wasn’t enough, she began our children’s library.
“She quietly studied medical books so she could begin to train a staff of nurse’s aides who were capable of assisting in hospital. Where she saw a need, she tried to fill it and in so doing, made the community a better place to live.
“In all my years as a physician I never saw a bug as vicious as the one Mary contracted from drinking water that was unclean. I have met some nasty germs in my days but nothing compared to what Mary contracted. While our resources aren’t vast, I have prided myself that what we have is the best we can possibly afford. Much of the funds we received from our Helpers and from those who work Above is placed in our communal fund. As the fund has grown we have been able to purchase medicines that benefit the whole community.
“But none of our store of medicines helped to cure Mary. I am here to praise Mary but also to publicly confess my private shame that I failed as Mary’s doctor to cure her. Five days into her treatment I lost my physician’s impartiality, no longer able to view her as a patient who was ill, but rather seeing her as my dearest friend whom I could not cure. Without objectivity a physician is useless to his patient. He is more than useless, he is worthless.” Across the room Mary’s cry of protest was clearly audible followed by her sobs.
“Yes, I publicly confess my worthlessness while adding to my failure by fighting with my son, trying to shift my malfunction as a physician to his shoulder, accusing him of causing Mary’s illness, using my personal pain to wound the gentlest soul whose only crime was his love of the women who has been his mother all these years. To the community I ask your pardon for failing to be all you have expected of me.” Jacob’s walk had brought him back to his starting point where he stopped, placing both hands on Vincent’s broad shoulders. “To Vincent I humbly apologize and ask your forgiveness in torturing your soul while you were in deep pain instead of giving you comfort. To my son Devin I offer my words of gratitude for your many skills during Mary’s illness, your compassion to me when I have not always treated you with such compassion or respect. To Catherine I may only add my thanks for all you did, your strength to strongly face a badly shattered man and treat him with firm kindness and sharp convictions when they were needed.”
Stunned at Father’s open admission of professional failure and his personal failure as a father Vincent felt the swirl of his emotions. Father’s pride was laid bare before the community, placing his self-esteem at the forefront of the public scrutiny. He had humbly asked for forgiveness of his sons. Vincent’s emotions were conflicted. A part of him wanted to acknowledge the pain Father’s actions in the hospital had caused him while his higher self recognized what it had cost Father to humble himself by admitting his failure as a father to him and Devin in so public a manner.
Father moved to stand behind Mary, his hand resting on her shoulder as she turned to take his free hand in her own. “Lastly, to Mary, who has privately forgiven me, I publicly thank you for your kindness and your ability to forgive an old fool. My world and life are blessed in the privilege of your friendship. Your voice was one of common sense and reason in the bedlam that often prevailed in our early days. Your quiet strength is the foundation which has been the bedrock of our community. The ambassadors of the world pale compared to your skills at diplomacy.” He bent forward bringing his face level with Mary’s and gave her a soft gentle kiss. The applause and cheering echoed as their lips continued to cling.
“Way to go Pops!”
The sound of Devin’s voice caused the shaken couple to draw apart for a brief moment then Mary’s hand fisted in Jacob’s hair and she gently kissed him again. Seconds ticked away and they slowly drew apart. From the right came the loud staccato tapping of the Pipe Master; standing, Pascal looked around carefully avoiding looking at Jacob and Mary, loudly proclaiming: “Well, friends, I think William has pie to share before we say good night.”
The sound of laughter and shouts rose as William’s helper began distributing pie. Only Pascal from his seat could see that beneath the table Jacob and Mary’s hands were firmly grasp together. He wore a smile as he consumed his pie. “That was sweet of you to draw attention to yourself so as not to embarrass them further,” Catherine murmured. She squeezed Pascal’s hand as she spoke.
From his seat across the table Vincent stared in open delight at Father and Mary, sensing their joy. He felt Catherine’s joy surge through the Bond and before she snatched the thought back, Catherine’s wonder as what it would be like to kiss him so publicly. He, too, wondered how it would feel to have another’s lips upon his. Could he learn to be as brave and open about his love for her as Father and Mary had been? He silently prayed for such courage.
The pie was consumed and soon parents began gathering their children while other sleeping children were carried toward the nursery chambers. Several young children who were literally asleep on their feet insisted on kissing their beloved Mary goodnight before being lifted to ready shoulders and carried away. As Jacob rose to help Mary stand, Vincent left his seat, coming to stand beside the tunnel patriarch. Silently, he gathered the older man into his arms, holding him in a tight full body hug that lasted for several minutes. Both sets of eyes were damp when they finally drew apart. “Am I forgiven for hurting you so deeply?”
“Yes. It was you who taught us that in loving we often cause pain, but that genuine love soothes unintended heartbreak.” Devin stepped up to replace Vincent in embracing Jacob and he was followed by Catherine.
“There is a fine moon tonight if you would like to walk home through the Park…” Devin’s voice was cut short by Vincent’s interruption.
“Thank you, Devin, but I will see Catherine home. You had the pleasure of escorting her Below and it is only right I escort her Above.”
“Why don’t we head toward the Park to see the moon and then decide who is walking me home? I’d love to see the moon tonight.”
It remained a mystery how something so innocent as looking at the moon had turned into a medical emergency. One moment the three of them were looking at the moon from the edge of the culvert and the next the night was alive with gun fire. The sharp retort of automatic weapons filled the stillness. Bullets sailed near the space the trio had just vacated. Primal instincts took over, running full-boar the brothers dragged Catherine forward, stumbling, falling all the while urging her to run faster. Devin faltered, tried desperately to right himself but fell to the ground. “Go on, get her out of here. I’ll be right behind you. Go on! Get away.”
Catherine stopped, turned and started back toward Devin but instinctively Vincent’s large hand grabbed her wrist, yanking her hard causing her to twist off-center. Seconds later they were at the gate, thankful they had left it open. “Stay!” Turning Vincent raced back toward Devin who was still trying to gain his feet. Grabbing him under the shoulders he shifted him upward, circled his waist grasping his belt and began running. Reaching the gate, they found Catherine tapping an SOS on the pipes. Vincent yanked the lever to close the gate cutting off the continuing sounds of automatic weapons firing.
“Some moonlight, huh? I... I think we interrupted a nasty party. I...” Devin had a strange look on his face as he pitched forward into the dirt the blood pooling on his jacket clearly visible in the dim lighting. Quickly falling to his knees, Vincent lifted the jacket; a groan escaped his tight lips, as he saw the gaping wound in Devin’s shoulder.
Vincent struggled to pull off his cloak while still kneeling and handed it to Catherine. “When I get him upright, wrap my cloak around him. We need to keep him warm.” Getting his arms under Devin’s still form, Vincent lifted him, holding him against his chest while Catherine draped the large cloak around his back and shoulder.
“Let him rest back against me, and then you can fasten the cloak around him.” Easing Devin against Catherine who had braced herself against the tunnel wall, Vincent quickly drew the cloak around Devin’s body then lifted him into his arms. They moved off rapidly but Vincent stopped after five hundred yards and lowered Devin to the ground.
“This jolting pace is causing him to bleed even more. We need to have a stretcher and Father here quickly. Can you support him long enough for me to add that message to the pipes?” Immediately Catherine sank to the ground as Vincent shifted Devin’s still form into her arms. Standing quickly he tapped a rapid fire message, repeating it twice more. He dug into his pockets, withdrawing a large handkerchief which he folded into a tight square. Securely holding Devin, Catherine helped to shift him as Vincent searched beneath the cloak for the wound without removing the protective warmth.
In the distance they could hear pounding feet striking the earth and loud voices. Around the curve came Cullen and Kanin on a dead run, carrying a medical bag and in each of their right hands they clutched heavy oak baseball bats. Skidding to a stop in front of Catherine they dropped the bats, pulled the blankets which were tied around their shoulders off and quickly spread one beside Devin’s prone body. “The others and Peter are about five minutes back. We made Father stay behind and prepare the hospital chamber. What happened? Where is he hurt?”
“He’s been shot in the back, upper left shoulder and he’s bleeding badly.”
Elbowing Vincent out of the way the two men eased Devin from Catherine’s arms, positioning him face down on the blanket. “Damn! This cloak weighs a ton; see if you can get it off his shoulder so I can get a look him.” Cullen worked at easing the cloak away and Kanin withdrew the scissors from the medical bag and began cutting away the jacket and shirt from Devin’s shoulder. Splashing alcohol over his hands Cullen began packing sterile dressings into the wound. Kanin donned gloves and took over applying steady pressure directly on the wound, hoping to slow the bloody flow
Time seemed to have stopped as the men worked over Devin. “The blood is slowing so I don’t think it got an artery but damn, I wish Peter would hurry. We know the basics but not a lot more.”
Cullen’s voice had only faded when Peter and five other men came around the curve. Kanin had gloves ready when Peter kneeled beside Devin and he immediately thrust his hands into them. He worked steadily only speaking when necessary.
“Let’s get him onto the stretcher. Don’t jostle him as those three sutures I put in are only there to slow the bleeding while we get him to surgery.” Gently, as if he were a baby, Devin was eased onto the stretcher, covered with blankets and then three strong arms joined Vincent in lifting him. “Go on, I’ll be right behind you.” Peter left the soiled bandages where they lay, recapped the alcohol and closed the bag. Picking up Vincent’s cloak, he took Catherine’s arm and together they hurried after the stretcher.
The hospital chamber passageway was lined with volunteer blood donors each ready to give blood for whoever was hurt. “It’s Devin,” someone whispered as the stretcher came into view as they flattened out against the walls to allow the stretcher bearers easy access. The hospital chamber was set up for surgery, saline bags were hung, two trays of medical instruments were at hand, and Jacob was already gloved and gowned. Vincent and Cullen lifted Devin’s body to the lower table beside the scrubbed surgery table and immediately began cutting away his clothing. Gently he was transferred to the larger table as Peter came in followed by Mary, who was also masked and in a sterile hospital gown. “Everyone out and let us get to work,” Peter’s firm voice echoed in the still room. The stretcher was snatched up and everyone moved into the tunnel.
Vincent and Catherine hung on the edges of the doorway unable to move away from the scene of horror. From further in the passage they heard Pascal urging people back to the dining hall, announcing that as soon as there was news they would be informed. “We need to clear this area. Ray, Edward, and Trisha, all three of you stay as you have Devin’s blood type. Come on, we aren’t helping standing around like this. William has tea and coffee going.” Reluctantly, the citizens began to move back along the passage.
“How did Pascal know who had the right blood type?”
“There is a list of all our citizens and they are indexed by blood type. Pascal has the list in the Pipe Chamber so he can alert specific people if they are needed. There is also one in the surgery. It was Mary’s idea.”
As the hours passed Vincent paced, five paces forward before turned to retrace his footsteps, his face a mask of anguish. Catherine sat in the dirt, her eyes never leaving the surgery entry. “Vincent,” Mary appeared at the entrance, “we need blood, get two people gowned and masked. Scrub their arms from finger tips to above the elbow, paint their elbow area. Hurry please.”
Edward and Ray jumped up, striding forward, heading directly toward the smaller hospital chamber. Inside were kettles of boiling water, gowns and masks lay wrapped in plastic nearby. The two men rolled up their sleeves as Vincent poured water into the basins to cool the boiling water. Handing them cakes of soap, they began washing their hands and arms, waiting as Vincent rinsed them. He then retrieved another pan of hot water and taking the liquid surgical soap and a brush, he began scrubbing the skin of one man. While the one arm air-dried he repeated the procedure on the other volunteer. “I don’t mind donating blood, but I hate that antiseptic stuff - Betadine. It stains the skin for weeks and only time wears it off.” The tone was light, wanting to break the tension in the room.
Vincent draped a towel over the arms of both men and then put a hand on each shoulder as he guided them back to surgery. “Mary, here are your volunteers.” Because they hadn’t the facilities to store blood, a transfusion was done the old fashion way with the volunteers laying on tables beside Devin, fists pumping to push the blood through the tubing into Devin’s veins. Primitive yet workable.
Several hours later Edward and Ray slipped out of surgery, assuming their seats further up the tunnel beside Trisha. Another hour passed and finally Peter stepped into the passage, indicating the need to transfer Devin to the small chamber. From the shadows, Mouse appeared, “I can help carry him.” Together Mouse, Peter and Vincent carried Devin to the nearby chamber and carefully put him to bed.
“He was very lucky. The bullets didn’t do as much damage as I feared. His shoulder is probably going to be somewhat stiff as one bullet lodged roughly about a quarter of an inch in, but didn’t shatter the socket. The second and third bullets broke his left clavicle and we had to suture some badly torn muscles. There were a lot of bone chips and bullet fragments to remove. Jacob is going to want to spend the night sitting here but I want your help in convincing him that he needs to rest.” He nodded toward the bed farthest away from Devin. “I’m going to get some coffee then I’ll be back to sit with you Vincent but I want Jacob resting. Can I bring you some tea or coffee? I won’t be long.” Peter walked away just as Father entered. Catherine quietly slipped out into the passage as Peter exited.
The man who entered was the consummate professional, sure of his status as a physician and surgeon who had done an excellent job with his patient. The man who had earlier given a speech about failure existed no longer. “Peter has gone for some coffee and he will take the first shift. He said it was a difficult surgery and he felt comfortable in sitting up for the first shift so you go ahead and lie down.” He steered Father toward the bed that he had previously used, ignoring the patriarch’s protests. “It’s going to be a long night, Father, so you should rest while you can. Don’t worry, Peter will call if your expertise is needed.” Wearily, Jacob lay down, positive he would not rest, but soon his even breathing alerted Vincent that he had drifted off.
“Vincent, it’s nearly seven o’clock and I have to go Above to talk with Joe. I’ll be back as soon as possible.” Peter looked up from checking Devin’s blood pressure as Catherine prepared to leave.
“Could you call my nurse and tell her I won’t be in, ask her to reschedule my appointments. I’d feel better staying here for another few hours until he’s out of the woods. Jacob did a tremendous job in the surgery but he needs his rest; these last weeks have been hard on him. See if Cullen is available to walk with you. It’s been a long night for you, too.”
“Don’t worry. I’m fine but I’ll look in the hall to see if he is still there.”
Rather than finding Cullen Catherine found Mouse and asked if he might be willing to walk her home. “Do what you need. You belong to Vincent so you belong to us.” His words made Catherine smile, the first time she had smiled since this dreadful shooting had happened. Her legs felt like lead and after what seemed like forever, they reached the threshold.
“Thanks so much, Mouse. I’ll see you later on today.”
“Joe, hi, it’s Cathy. Could you possibly come by my place before heading into work? Thanks so much. I’ll explain when you get here.”
She tried not to linger in the shower but the water felt so warm.
Slipping into her robe, she made a pot of coffee knowing Joe
would want some immediately upon entering.
“What am I going to tell him?”
Then realizing she had spoken out loud, she shook her head and
muttered, “Get a grip,
Joe took the proffered coffee and sat down on the sofa. “What’s up?”
“I need to take another couple of vacation days. My friend’s had a relapse and I need to be with his family. I feel badly in having taken so much time when you are so short-staffed but I don’t feel I have any other option at this point.”
“Is your friend seriously ill?
“Last night it was touch and go, we weren’t sure he was going to make it through the night. I just can’t leave his family. I only came home to phone you and get a change of clothes”
“You got a lot of overtime hours on the books so take as much time as you need. Don’t worry about checking in with me, just bellow when you’re coming back and I’ll re-weight your desk with all the crap no one else wants to tackle! The staff will just have to get along without their favorite social butterfly,” he grinned, gulped the last of the coffee and headed for the door.
“Joe, how can I thank you. You are such a good friend. I’ll call when I feel I can come back. Hopefully it won’t be longer than a week at most.”
After phoning Peter’s nurse, Catherine packed a small duffel with the basics for several days Below. She took time to eat a hearty breakfast then headed Below. No one answered her call so she dropped her duffel wishing to be safe on her climb down. Dusting off the duffel, she stifled a scream as she nearly tripped over a sleeping form just as she stepped into the tunnel passage. “Mouse, what are you doing here?”
“You hurry, come back, I wait. Got sleepy, so I slept. We go now, huh? Vincent misses you, I bet.” Grabbing her duffel he started walking, never looking to see if Catherine was keeping up. After several yards, Mouse stopped and waited for Catherine. “Bad manners, Vincent says good to walk with girls. Get lost easy.” Together they started off again for the Home Tunnels.
The hospital surgery had been restored to its pristine condition, standing ready if needed. Mary and her team had silently moved in, disposing of soiled gauze and pads and sterilizing the used instruments. Clean sheets and blankets were placed in the a locked cabinet along with drugs needed for immediate care.
Standing beside Peter, Catherine quietly confirmed that she had been in contact with his nurse who assured her she would reschedule his patients. Because she wasn’t overly questioned about where Peter was, Catherine wondered if his nurse was a Helper but didn’t ask. “How’s Devin doing?”
“He is in a lot of pain. The ricocheting bullets chewed up a lot of muscle tissue which causes great discomfort. The pain meds are keeping him sedated, but we need to begin cutting back on the drugs so it won’t be long now until he regains consciousness. Later today I’m going Above to get some drugs directly from the Johnson pharmacy. Let me know if you think of anything you need for your stay.”
Vincent was in the exact same position where she had left him two hours ago; clinging to Devin’s hand, his head bowed. Jacob sat on the opposite side of the bed and by the placement of his hand; Catherine knew he was checking Devin’s pulse. Moving around to stand beside him she waited until his fingers moved before placing her hand on his shoulder. He looked up as Catherine gathered him in a fierce hug. Feeling the older man tremble Catherine hugged him harder and placed a kiss against his cheek. “May I do anything to help?”
“Pray,” was Jacob’s only response.
Finding another stool, Catherine moved it closer to the bed but kept out of the direct area in the event that Jacob or Peter needed immediate access to Devin. Mary came in bringing tea and distributing warm touches to everyone, quietly reassuring them that this would pass and the family would once again be normal. Her touches were light, easy. Soothing fingers paused to rest comfortably on weary shoulders, tender loving words of hope were whispered, and soft caresses were given as she passed a tea cup. Her movements were gentle but their intent to comfort communicated itself immediately to her beloved family. Her belief that human touch was important to those who guarded their loved ones during times of crisis was clear. Her touch calmed and helped the anxiety of trauma to become bearable.
Peter returned, his face bearing a grin of a satisfied shopper as he sat a large shopping bag near the chamber entrance. “Mr. Johnson runs a first class pharmacy. He had prepared a box of supplies he thought we might need and was going to bring them down. We won’t have to worry about dressings for the rest of this week. I’ll get more from my supplier before these run out.
“Vincent, how about letting me sit there? You need to take a break, get some food and then you need to rest. Jacob and I will watch over Devin. We know how much you love Devin, but you won’t be doing him any good if you are exhausted. Cathy, why don’t you walk with Vincent up to the kitchen and see that he eats.” Peter slipped his hands around Vincent’s arms, urging him up. “Come now, go along and eat something.” Vincent stood, his face a mask of pain as Peter took him by the shoulders, easing him forward. “An hour away will do you a world of good.” Peter continued to guide him toward Catherine. “See that he eats, won’t you?”
Slipping into the passage, Catherine took his hand, urging him to walk with her. “If you would prefer not facing the questions in the dining hall, I could get a tray and bring it either to your chamber or the library. Earlier Mouse spoke of some delicious soup William was making. That and some tea should make you feel better.” They continued walking, moving steadily toward the library.
Leaving Vincent, Catherine slipped into the hall, saw William immediately and asked for a tray of food for Vincent to be delivered to the library. She hurried back unsure that Vincent would remain there without her presence. Entering, she found him seated at Father’s desk reading the large medical book open before him. Minutes later William hustled into the library carrying a large tray which seemed to hold enough food for five people. He balanced the tray on the edge of the table, casually lifting the book out of the way, and removed the large covering napkin. “There’s beef barley soup, fish sandwiches, tea, milk, banana pudding and the very last slice of pie we have. Don’t worry about people coming in; I put a lantern by the entrance so you won’t be disturbed.” He moved around the desk, took Vincent by the shoulder and lifted up him, engulfing him in a consuming bear hug. “Everyone is praying for him,” his normally gruff voice soft, filled with love and concern. He released Vincent, turned, and as he passed Catherine said: “There is enough food for you, too, so eat up. I’ll be upset if both of you don’t eat.”
Catherine took the bowl of soup, napkin and spoon and placed them in front of Vincent, moving the medical book further away, placing her soup in the vacant spot. She drew a chair closer, seating herself close to Vincent. “Try the soup, please. You haven’t eaten in nearly 48 hours.” Long minutes passed before Vincent reluctantly picked up the spoon and began to eat. Watching closely, Catherine saw the subtle change in his body language as the warmth of the soup permeated his chilled flesh.
His comfort with Catherine made Vincent less self-conscious as he bit into the sandwich. He was always aware of his mouth and teeth whenever new residents joined the community. He avoided the dining hall for weeks after meeting new citizens, allowing them to become comfortable with his looks before he joined in communal dining.
Understanding that food was precious within the community and waste was not allowed, Catherine slid the banana pudding forward indicating with a simple nod that he should also eat this food. The pie and milk followed.
“Thank you. I didn’t realize I was hungry. I do feel better now that I have eaten. I should get back; there might be a change in Devin.”
“We can go back, but you will not be sitting beside Devin. You are getting in bed to rest for at least two hours. Even you have your limits and if you want a fight, just try getting back on that stool. If I have to, I’ll get Kanin and Cullen to help me tie you in bed!” Determination filled her voice and her body language clearly indicated she was ready to physically fight. Taking him firmly by the hand, they mounted the stairs, silently leaving the library.
They quickly entered the chamber and Catherine allowed Vincent to get a close look at Devin before using a thrust of her hip to firmly push him away, directing him toward the freshly made bed behind the screen in the corner. “Sit.” She bent to remove his boots then nudged his knees with her hand and he slowly swung himself into the bed. “Would you like me to sit with you for awhile?”
“Yes, that would be nice.” His shoulders trembled and he pulled the quilt higher on his chest. “I can’t seem to get warm.”
“A simple trip to look at the moon turned into Devin being shot caused traumatic stress to all of us. When I got home I was shaking with emotional cold, sick with worry and no amount of hot water on my shoulders made me warm.” He continued to shake with cold as Catherine tucked his arms beneath the quilts, drawing the quilts up to cover his shoulders. Without conscious thought, Catherine pressed her body against the quilts covering his chest. “Turn on your side so I can slip in beside you.” Hearing no protest, she stood, lifted the quilts and lay down with her back toward him, pulling the quilts over their bodies. His arm slid over her waist drawing her closer, his mouth nuzzled against the warmth of her neck while he continued to shiver. Catherine felt him struggling to breathe normally, fighting emotions that were overwhelming. “Would you like me to hold you?” A shuttering sob followed by a brief nod prompted Catherine to turn, gathering him close. He shifted in the small bed, sliding down to bring his face closer to the incredible softness of her breasts. Her arms held him tightly as she murmured soft words against the tangle of reddish gold hair. Their disagreement was momentarily forgotten as they cuddled together, seeking to somehow blot out the horror of the past hours.
Peter walked over to the screen surrounding the bed where Cathy had taken Vincent three hours previously; reluctant to invade their privacy he called softly “Vincent. Cathy. Devin is beginning to awaken.”
“Yes, thank you. We’re coming.” They scrambled out of the quilts, boots forgotten as they eagerly approached Devin’s bed. Father and Mary stood together holding hands, their faces reflected their eagerness to witness Devin’s awakening. Peter stepped back allowing Vincent to take his place. Vincent drew Catherine forward to stand beside him, his hand reaching for hers. Mary tentatively touched Devin’s arm as she gently called his name. His eyes fluttered then closed again. Again Mary called him and he tried again to answer the voice of his childhood.
“Mary, Pops, is Vin OK?”
“He’s standing right beside us and so is Catherine. Tell me, how you are feeling?” Jacob’s voice shook with the emotion, thankful to see his son’s eyes.
Devin’s tried to turn his head, but he winced in pain. The deeply resonant voice whispered gently, “I’m here beside you. Catherine and I are fine; you were the only one who was hurt. Thanks to Father and Peter, they put you all back together again.”
“It doesn’t matter about me, just as long as you didn’t get hurt. I’m supposed to protect you, you’re my baby broth...” his voice faded as he slipped into unconsciousness once again.
Vincent’s audible gasp at Devin’s love-filled words shattered the thinly held rein of emotions within the small closely gathered group. Tears streamed unbidden down Vincent’s face when Catherine drew him into her waiting arms. They stood together locked in an embrace aware only of their joined need to comfort and ease the suffering of each other.
“My son, my son,” Jacob sobbed as he buried his face against the side of the bed, his hand resting firmly against Devin’s face. “You were so young. I never meant to ignore …”
“Hush, hush,” Mary whispered trying to soothe. She, too, reached to encircle Jacob’s trembling shoulders. “He’s going to recover. You have time for all the other healing that needs to happen.”
“Oh, God, I need him, I need them both to understand and forgive me for all I did in the name of love. I was so wrong, so wrong…”
In the following days Devin drifted in and out of consciousness, always finding himself surrounded by family when he awakened. Vincent and Pops were always with him. More than once he awoke to the sound of Vincent’s reading to him or the soft sound of Mary singing a lullaby from childhood. Slowly he began to remain awake for longer periods and once he awakened repeating “It was the best of time, it was the worst of time.” When he looked up he saw a hint of a smile on Jacob’s face. After remaining alert for four days Devin asked if he could be moved out of the hospital chamber.
“I could put you in my chamber and sleep on the old sofa,” Jacob offered.
“No, I’d rather room with Vin, Pops. He and I have a lot of talking to do. In my weakened state, he won’t dare run off if the issues get uncomfortable. He needs to talk and I need to help him since I am also the cause of some of his sorrow. I don’t mean that unkindly, Pops, but you aren’t the only one who caused him untold pain in his youth.”
“You have grown wiser, my son. If I have learned nothing in these past two months it is the courage to seek forgiveness, no matter how old the sin. It is humbling but the rewards far outweigh the momentary embarrassment,” he offered with a shy half smile.
“When I awoke the first time surrounded by all of you, felt the touch of Vin’s unique voice filling my heart and mind, seeing your face so near, I knew truly for the first time the meaning of the ‘healing touch of love.’ Despite all the problems, fights and bitterness in the past, in those first moments as I returned to consciousness I knew deep within my soul that I was loved. Each time I slipped into consciousness I expected things would be as they had been; the ‘glad to see, how soon will you leave again’ feeling I had each time I came home. Perhaps being shot was my blessing in disguise. My intention is to be worthy of being the older brother and son. I grew up a lot with Charles, but I still have unfinished business here. Pops, do you think Catherine would loan me the money to get Charles here? He has been alone longer than ever before in the cabin, even though Dr. Anastasio will check on him. Maybe she’d loan me enough so that Cullen and Kanin could go after him. He knows them so he wouldn’t be frightened.”
Jacob smiled, taking Devin’s hand. “Catherine and I talked about Charles last week. We were happy to know Charles had made friends with the local doctor and that he would go to him in an emergency. Cullen and Kanin should have reached the cabin two days ago and hopefully have started back. They are driving the van Catherine rented for them. She was afraid Charles would feel confined in a car plus the openness of the windows might make him fearful. Vincent even wrote a note to Charles reassuring him that Cullen and Kanin were friends and he should trust them. He made Cullen take two books and got him to promise to read to Charles during the trip. If all goes well they should return within another day.”
Devin attempted to grasp Jacob’s shoulder, but grimaced in pain with the sudden pulling of his shoulder. He breathed deeply, attempting to swallow the pain, his eyes bright with unshed tears as the waves of endless pain washed over him.
“Hold on to me. Try to relax.”
Several minutes passed before Devin fully relaxed. “How much longer before I can have some of that joy juice you keep giving me? I don’t want Charles to see me like this. He will be frightened big time if he sees me swathed like this.”
“Vincent and I plan to talk with him before he sees you. Cullen and Kanin had strict orders not to tell Charles of your injury.”
“Pops, would you find Vincent? I want to ask him if he’d let me room with him so I can get out of here.”
With only minute changes to Vincent’s chamber, Devin was moved in. Jacob wouldn’t hear of them sharing the same bed, fearful Vincent’s restless tossing might injure Devin. They moved the old steamer trunk and a small table to a storage area then eased the hospital bed into the chamber, leaving the wing and desk chairs in place for visitors. Mary was a faithful visitor, checking every few hours to see if all was well with her boys. One evening she came to give Devin an alcohol back rub. “Mary, it’s late. As much as I like the soft touch of your hands, Vin can do that so you can skip off to dreamland. Give me a goodnight kiss, though, before you leave.” Receiving the requested kiss, Devin wished Mary a goodnight as she left.
Ignoring the slightly fearful glance as Vincent looked first at his hands then at him, Devin urged him into action. “Come on, Vin. My muscles hurt and a back rub feels so good. If you put me on my back, then my shoulder hurts and if you put me on my gut, then the broken bone screams in protest. Those big mitts of yours should give a really great rub down,” he grinned wickedly.
This was his brother Vincent told himself; he had touched him many times before, but his memory of when he scared Devin’s cheek filled his mind. Finding no acceptable excuse, Vincent stepped forward and tenderly helped Devin to lie on his stomach. He pulled his big sweater Devin was using as a sleep shirt up then opened the bottle of alcohol.
“Come on, bro, get started before I get cold again. If I get cold then you gotta give me a whole body rub and you know how people would gossip if they found your hands on my nekkid butt, cute as it is!”
Vincent poured some alcohol into his hands, waited as he had seen Mary do to warm the liquid then began to slowly spread it over Devin muscles careful to avoid the large bandages surrounding his left shoulder. As he worked he heard low moans coming from Devin. “Am I hurting you?”
“Nope! Just feels so good. You got a good touch, Vin. Not too hard or too soft, just right. I’d better not tell Mary or she might be jealous,” he said with a grin. Vincent continued rubbing until he was aware of the nasal sounds coming from Devin. He pulled the sweater down, brought the quilts up, tucking them around his brother mummy fashion, remembering how he liked to be wrapped up tightly when he slept. He blew out the candles near Devin then began his own preparation for bed. Just before drifting asleep he wondered why he had been so fearful of touching Devin, his hands hadn’t hurt him and helping his brother made him feel good.
Even Charles’s tears did not spoil the joy of the reunion with Devin. Charles spent the day with the brothers, eagerly listening as Vincent read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as Charles requested. He and Devin had started it before Devin had left the cabin. Jacob waited until Vincent was at the end of a chapter before entering the chamber. “Charles, if you would come along with me, I’ll show you to your chamber and help you with anything you need before you get into bed.”
“I itch,” he said simply.
“Have you remembered to bathe regularly while I have been away?”
“Not as good as when you help, Dev,” the simple man offered.
“Charles, let me accompany you to the bathing pool and perhaps I can help. If you tell me how Devin helps you, surely I can assist you.” Vincent’s genuine caring eased the unassuming man past any embarrassment. “We’ll stop by your chamber to get your night clothes and then head to the pool.”
“Hey, bro, don’t forget you owe me another back rub when you get back. There should be some salve in his kit, if he has any deep scratches, OK?”
“I could give you a back rub, Devin.”
“Thanks, but no, Pops. This is about my teaching Vin something and it’s just getting off to a good start.” The quizzical look failed to provide further information so Father chose the path of wisdom, ignoring the urge to press the issue.
“Has Charles seen a doctor recently? If you feel it wise, Peter could come down and together we could give him a physical, see if his disease is progressing or if it is still dormant.”
“Let’s wait a few days until I can manage to get up. Things would go easier for Charles if I were with him. I’m certainly not eager to revisit the hospital chambers so soon. Too many recent bad memories,” he added softly.
Vincent returned several hours later looking slightly damp. “He’s clean and asleep. I don’t think anyone else could have gotten him to bathe. I finally got undressed, got into the pool and after some urging he finally joined me.” A slow, sneaky smile appeared then quickly vanished from Devin’s face. “I had to use some of his salve on a few places but otherwise, he seems to have done well in the hygiene department. I know that Cullen and Kanin didn’t stop at motels; they just pulled off in secluded areas to sleep in the van. All three of them were without bathing facilities on the return trip, not just Charles.”
“Thanks for helping out. He still has trouble in remembering that bathing is a daily routine if I’m not around. When we are alone at the cabin, he follows along with whatever routine I set. He connects bathing with bedtime stories, so he is usually happy when it comes to bathing. You won’t mind, will ya, helping him with bathing until I can get around better?”
“Charles is special and helping him isn’t a problem. His shyness about his physical appearance is well understood. He seems to be planning on caring for you himself. He wanted me to show him on my body where you were shot. He indicated if he knew, he could be more careful so as not to hurt you.”
“Did you show him? I’ll bet he wanted to touch you, too, didn’t he? When I have to explain things to him about his body, he always wants to be shown on my body since he doesn’t have full use of his neck muscles and can’t see where I’m pointing on his body.
“I hope his wanting to touch you wasn’t a big deal for you. Charles is very gentle when he touches. One night he asked if he could hold my hand until he fell asleep. I asked him why. He said he liked to touch soft and warm skin, saying his skin was neither of those things. Days later out of the blue he asked if holding my hand was “a good touch or bad touch” thing like he saw on a TV program we had watched. Boy, did I wish you or Pops were with us then. I do OK when it came to explaining the nitty-gritty’s of sex to him, but the fetishes of those perverted bastards wasn’t easy. I was too angry and at first, I scared Charles. It took several days of talking for him to understand what good/bad touch was. Don’t go panic if he asks to hold your hand at bedtime, bro, he’s not after your hot bod!”
Later as they settled to sleep Vincent wondered about Devin’s comment and what he had meant by his ‘hot bod.’ How could anyone consider a body such as his pleasing? The question echoed in his mind as he drifted to sleep.
One morning Mary appeared at Vincent’s chamber discovering Charles trying to wash some oatmeal out of Devin’s hair. Charles looked distraught but Devin was grinning and laughing. “Don’t you believe anything he says, Mary, I lost my place in the book he was holding so I could read to him while I ate and missed my mouth big time!” Vincent was seated on his bed shaking with silent laughter.
“You’ll have to clean up yourself. I have come to ask Charles if he would like to be the reader this morning for the younger children.” Turning to Charles, Mary took the large man’s hand, “I’d be honored if you would agree to help. We need to have a short meeting and the children are too young to be left alone without supervision. When they heard you were here, they asked if you would come to visit them.” Her smile was sweet, serene and her eyes filled with love as she spoke.
Devin was grinning and nodding. “You sure are lucky, getting to spend the day with Mary and all the books she has. You’ll tell me all about it when you return, won’t you?” His smile was warm and filled with love for Charles.
Seeing Charles’ answering smile, Mary gave a small tug and together, hand in hand, they left the chamber. Mary’s soft voice faded as they moved down the passage.
“Thanks, bro. You’re getting good at this caring business,” as he handed his hair brush back to Vincent. “Where’s Catherine? I haven’t seen her since I moved in. Maybe my moving in wasn’t a good idea. My being here surely cuts in on your special time alone with your lady. She’s one foxy broad and I know I’d miss being near her, if I were you,” he sighed. “I guess I could go back to the hospital chamber if my being here is crowding you. I thought my moving back home would help Mary; she wouldn’t have to keep traveling all the way from the nursery to the hospital chamber. But I didn’t consider what my bunking here would do to your alone time with Catherine.” Devin continued to stare expectantly at Vincent waiting for an answer.
After several minutes of silence he finally spoke. “Catherine and I are going through a difficult period. She feels some time apart might be wise.”
“This is a recent thing, huh? She surely didn’t look like she wanted to be apart from you when I saw her snuggled against you in the hospital chamber during Mary’s illness. She looked like a contented woman sleeping in her lover’s arms. You surely must be doing something right, bro, cuz a woman only wears that expression when she is well-loved by her man. You didn’t look like you had protested her being there either. I haven’t seen you so relaxed in sleep since you were a wee toddler. If I were you, I wouldn’t be here when Charles returns. I’d be Above, begging forgiveness so I could be loving my woman all night long!”
Completely uncomfortable, Vincent mumbled something about needing to see Father and rapidly exited the chamber.
“Oh, God, I hope this works. He needs her so badly he makes me ache,” Devin’s whispered prayer echoed in the stillness.
The mist of the falls rose, filling the air with a salty tang. Breathing deeply, Vincent stared into space, neither seeing nor hearing the roar that filled the vast chamber. He pulled his cloak around his shoulders, suddenly aware of his coldness. His raging, chaotic thoughts swirled within leaving him, anguished and tormented. His intellect told him he was right, there was no life possible for him and Catherine; but, his heart railed mightily, denying that any life without his love was possible. His body might survive but his heart and soul would die. An anguished cry split the air as he buried his face in his hands.
“Did I mention that Charles is helping get the little ones down for the night? If you need anything you’d better tell me so I can pass the word. Where’s Vincent? He wasn’t here for lunch or dinner.” William removed the tray and bid Devin goodnight.
From the passage, Devin heard the echoes as William greeted the returning Vincent. He glanced at Devin, hung his cloak in the wardrobe, went to the bookcase, pulled out two volumes, settled into the wing back chair and began to silently read. He read steadily for an hour before Devin’s voice sliced through the stillness. “You’re gonna have to talk and it might as well be now while Charles is in the nursery. For one intelligent man, you behave stupidly. As you so concisely told me years ago, running away from a problem is never the answer; one has to face the problem squarely or forever be defeated by it.”
“You’re an expert on facing problems? You ran rather than face Father down or be honest with me about why you were leaving. How many years did you let me think your jealousies of my relationship with Father was the cause? How many?” Vincent’s voice was tight with repressed rage.
“At least I have progressed forward, but you are still stuck wallowing in all that shit Pops dished out about your differences. He raised you to the heights with intelligence while condemning you to hell about being different! Anyone who looks knows you are different, but everyone is different. That’s what makes us individuals. Maybe they can’t label you, but who the hell wants to wear a label? Labels are for clothing not for people!
“All that crap about your being special and different was just that – crap, bull-shit or whatever you want to call it. I’m the one – not Pops – who slept in the same bed with you, bathed with you, and except for being a little hairy, you don’t look any different than any other man. Once you reached puberty you stopped swimming butt nekkid with the rest of us. You even refused to share the pool with me after one of Pops lectures about your differences. What makes you think you’re any different than me or Pops in our birthday suits?” Devin’s chest heaved and his breath came in angry spurts.
“So you had a fight with Catherine. Go apologize and have make-up sex – it’s the best; you ought to know that by now.”
Eyes blazing, Vincent stared at Devin, his fists clinched and his lips clamped tightly closed. His mind screamed, “I can’t, I can’t touch her. I want her touch, I need her…”
“Go ahead, spit it out. Whatever it is, say it. Don’t keep it locked inside.” Vincent whirled, heading for the entrance, but just as quickly he turned back coming to an abrupt stop in front Devin.
“Catherine is coming down the passage. I can’t let her see me like this!”
“Grab the bedpan, cover it and make a point of holding it so she will see it as you pass. I’m giving you fifteen minutes and then I’m gonna start yelling, so you’d better drag your sorry arse back here PDQ!” Vincent grabbed the pan, managing to cover it and headed for the passage.
Muttering to himself, “Damn, just when he had to say something, she comes. Damn, damn, damn!” Using his one good hand, he rubbed his face violently then tried to compose himself for his guest.
“Hi, Devin, may I come in? Sorry I haven’t been down to visit for a while, but you know how busy the DA’s office is.” Pulling the desk chair closer to the bed Catherine brushed a light kiss against Devin’s cheek before sitting. “So tell me how you are feeling? Are you still in a lot of pain?”
“Pops and Peter still have me pretty well confined, but I’m determined I’m getting on my legs tomorrow. The shoulder still is painful and itchy so I figure it’s healing. I want to thank you for everything you did to bring Charles here. As soon as I can access some cash, I’ll repay you for the van and the cash you advanced for his travel.”
“Nonsense. There’s no need to repay me. I didn’t see Charles in the library with Father so I was hoping he would be here.”
“He may be along, but then he could already be in bed awaiting his nightly dose of bedtime reading. Pops said he had only previously known one person who was as eager to be read to as much as Charles. He spent the day in the nursery reading to the children then he volunteered to help get them all to bed. You know what a challenge getting twenty preschoolers to bed is. With Charles hugging all the children, it could take an extra hour before they get settled.”
“Is there anything special I can bring you from Above when I next return? Some special treat that you’d like, a magazine, a book, or anything at all?”
Approximately fifteen minutes later Vincent re-entered the chamber. The air seemed to tense as he reappeared. The brothers exchanged guarded looks without realizing Catherine watched them closely. “Have I come at a bad time? Please tell me if I’m interrupting,” she softly queried.
“No, no, not at all. Vin and I were just discussing opposing point of views, that’s all. Neither one of us is open to the other’s view. How about a game of three handed bridge? Or if you aren’t up to bridge, how about poker?”
“Either is fine with me. While you get set up, I’m going to run back to the kitchen as I brought down about eight dozen brownies and I made William promise to save six of them for us. I’ll be right back.” While Catherine hurried off to collect the treats, Vincent found the cards, and then helped Devin get comfortably situated in the bed. He retrieved the adjustable table on wheels from the hospital chamber and wheeled it over to Devin’s bed. Several minutes later Catherine returned bearing a plate with the brownies, three mugs and a small pot of tea. “There’s sugar in the bottom of two of mugs and only enough tea for one mug apiece. I couldn’t carry anything more.”
“If you’d like to sit on the bed with me, then you won’t be at a height disadvantage. Vin’ll sit in the wing chair so that makes us all somewhat even.”
“Are you sure my sitting on your bed won’t jostle your arm and shoulder?”
“I’ve had several nervous toddlers who wiggled like they had ants so I doubt your tiny bum is gonna cause a problem.”
Gingerly, Catherine eased onto the bed, after removing her shoes, sitting cross-legged. “What are we playing?”
Vincent watched the easy give and take, the friendly banter between them with slight amazement. Devin spoke with the ease of having known Catherine forever and Catherine appeared to be equally comfortable with Devin. He was envious that Catherine sat so close to Devin, remembering the times she had visited in his chamber and had always been seated in a chair. He was, he realized, jealous of this ease between them, wishing for just an instant, that he was the one in bed and Catherine was seated so near him.
“Down and dirty poker. Vin, you can be the banker, you deal Catherine and I’ll be the one-armed sous chef.” While the others were busy Devin dealt a round of paper napkins, putting a brownie on each, poured tea and handed the mugs all around.
The game began in earnest and soon became rowdy and loud as Devin’s wit came to life. “Look out!” His warning came too late; Catherine dragged the sleeve of her jacket into the brimming mug, the dark liquid wicking up the fabric even as she pulled her arm away. Turning, she slid off the bed, holding the sleeve aloft not wishing to soil Devin’s bedding. Moving across to where a basin of water sat, she pulled off the jacket and dipped the soiled sleeve into the water. She hung the jacket over the desk chair, starting back to the game. Abruptly she came to a halt as she plowed into Vincent’s rigid body.
He tried to grab her arm just as she realized her three-quarter sleeve sweater did not fully cover her wrist. She tried to hide it behind her body, but Vincent only reached behind her bringing it back into view. “Catherine, what happened to your arm? Let me see.” His voice shook then gentled as he heard his own echo in the suddenly still room.
“It’s nothing. Let’s get back to the game.” She took a step but winced in pain as Vincent continued holding her wrist. “I’m fine, really. Don’t worry.” She patted his arm with her free hand hoping to reassure him.
“No, I want to know what happened, why your wrist is bandaged and why you are in pain. There are streaks of blood on the bandage, what happened? I have a right to know.” The gentle tone disguised the fierceness behind the gentle heart that thundered in his chest at the mere thought that his Catherine had been hurt.
“Vincent, please don’t ask me. Please accept my assurance that I am fine, it is nothing.” She felt the stirring of their Bond, trying desperately to block his probing search, willing away the connection that previously thrilled and comforted. She had to stop him. “Don’t! Please, Vincent, don’t do this I beg you, please stop.”
Ignoring her tears he lifted her, carrying her toward Devin’s bed and gently sat her down. Using one finger he gently picked at the edge of the bandage until it lifted and he could carefully pull away the tape. Layer after layer of gauze fell into her lap; each layer wet by the flow of her tears. “Please stop now, please.” Each successive mound of gauze contained brighter streaks of blood.
“Good Lord, Cathy, what have you done? Why on earth did you carry that tray with your wrist like this? You must be in agony.” Devin’s voice seemed to fill the chamber, his sorrow clear. “You’d better get Pops, Vin, this needs immediate care.”
“No, no. Just let me re-wrap it and it will be fine. It’s nothing.”
“Nothing,” roared Vincent. “You are bleeding and you say it’s nothing!” He turned, striding briskly from the chamber. Moments later they heard his rapid tapping on the pipes. Seconds later they heard the return reply then all was silent.
When he returned he dug into the bag that contained the bandages for Devin’s shoulder, pulled out one and moved toward Catherine. He laid the bandage over her wrist, took her other hand placed it on top of the wound. Her tears silently continued flooding her eyes and spilling unbidden down her face cascading off her jaw. Vincent gathered her in his arms, tenderly holding her as she continued to sob.
Jacob entered the chamber suddenly filled with anguish seeing Devin lying against his pillow his eyes closed. Catherine was in Vincent’s arms weeping loudly, one look at Vincent’s face showed he was in agony. “My son, my son,” voice choking as he frantically searched for Devin’s carotid artery.
“Pops, I’m OK, it is Catherine who needs you, not me.”
Tenderly, Vincent lifted the corner edge of the bandage allowing Father a brief view of her wrist. He gathered her into his arms as Father spoke, “Take her to hospital.” Catherine’s sobs continued until they reached the surgery and Vincent had placed her on a chair.
“Are you acting as my physician? If you are then I demand patient confidentiality. I prefer to be treated with only you in the room and no one else, is that clear?”
“Catherine, all whom I provide care are accorded the patient/physician code of confidentiality. Surely you know that.”
“Very well, then ask him to leave.” The coldness of her voice was shocking to both men.
Jacob turned, “Please leave the room, Vincent. Thank you.” Shaking with anger Vincent did as he was asked.
Prior to donning surgical gloves Jacob gathered gauze, tape, antibiotic salve, a set of sutures and surgical soap. Once he was ready he sat across from Catherine and carefully examined her wrist.
“These are new sutures. Do you want to tell about this?”
“It was infected and Peter had to re-open it to clean it out, it was filled with nasty pus and other icky stuff. He had to dig around to get the gunk out, and then put in the new sutures. This is the second time he’s had to drain it.”
“Obviously you don’t want Vincent to know about this. Does it in any way involve him?
“Promise that you will say nothing about this to anyone. Promise.”
“You have my word of honor as your physician.”
“When we heard the gun fire, both Vincent and Devin grabbed me and we started running. Devin fell but Vincent kept running with me until we were almost at the Park tunnel gate. I broke away from him, trying to go back for Devin. Vincent grabbed me so hard, dragging and yanking me forward toward the gate. He yelled I was to stay then he went back to get Devin. When we were coming back, behind the stretcher I realized I was bleeding. After reaching the surgery, I slipped into the smaller chamber, got a couple of bandages on it, enough to quell the bleeding and came back. Luck was with me as somehow Vincent never noticed, or if he did, he thought it was Devin’s blood as I was holding Devin while we struggled to keep him warm with his cloak.
“After the surgery was over, I caught Peter as he was going for coffee and he took care of it. I made him swear, too, that he wouldn’t speak of the accident.”
“I’m confused, what accident are you talking about?”
“When Vincent grabbed my wrist in such a panic, two of his nails penetrated my flesh, that’s what the holes are. We stumbled, fell a couple of times and Peter thinks all the dust and dirt, whatever bacteria that was under Vincent’s nails, particles of rust that were airborne around the entry door got into the open wound. Vincent would be consumed by his guilt driven rages if he knew that his hands had injured me. You know how he reacts, how he feels his differences are going to cause me harm. I won’t have him blaming himself for this. It was an accident, pure and simple. He would use this as another false excuse why we shouldn’t have a life together. This will drive a wedge between us nothing will heal! I’ve thought about this since it happened and I know I can’t fight this battle. He can’t know; it will kill him.” Her voice shook and she sobbed, her breath coming in a heart-breaking cry.
Gathering her close, Father held her while she shook. Sadly, he knew she was right, knew Vincent’s angst concerning Catherine and his abiding fears of somehow harming her on a physical plane if their relationship moved forward. Hadn’t he contributed toward those fears by constantly restating the obvious to the young child about his differences?
Slowly, he released her, once again assuming the mantle of the consummate physician. “Let’s see what needs to be done and get you re-bandaged. When did this start bleeding?”
“I carried a tray of tea and brownies to Devin and it was heavier than I should have carried. My wrist hurt when I was half way back, but I was too stubborn to call out for help. I didn’t think the tray was pulling at the stitches. I had most of the weight in my right hand, but obviously I did something wrong.”
Silently, he worked with the quick positive movements of a skilled doctor, knowledgeable and assured of his proficiency. “I’ll have to clip Peter’s sutures as the tray pulled two of them loose.” Catherine grimaced as he pulled out the ragged sutures. “I’m sorry I don’t have anything to lessen the pain while I re-suture; just some spray that will ease but not numb it completely.” She nodded and he began to clean the punctures, and then stitch the edges together.
Catherine sat in silence as he cleaned up the surgery area. “Would you send a message asking Cullen to accompany me home? I don’t want to be alone with Vincent. He’ll insist on walking me home. If we were to walk alone, we’d just end in another fight and I don’t know have the strength to handle it.” They continued to sit in silence after Father had tapped the requested message to Cullen.
“If you would like to stay here tonight, I could make up one of the beds for you. I don’t mind staying here while you sleep. I’ve spent many nights here caring for my patients,” he offered in a warm, caring voice of concern.
“No, I think it would be better for everyone if I go back Above. I have some pain meds at home that Peter gave me, but thank you. That’s very kind of you.”
Vincent paced the passage, his angry strides biting heavily into the dirt, sending silts of dust spraying over his boots. He was deeply hurt and admittedly frightened of why Catherine blocked their Bond, kept him from knowing the source of her pain and injury. She had no right to close him off! He cared, no, he loved her deeply. She simply had no right, none! Suddenly he plowed into a body that was rushing toward him.
“Pardon me, Vincent, I didn’t see you. Excuse me, Jacob sent for me.”
“What?” he bellowed, his voice echoing against the walls. “You aren’t wanted or needed. Catherine is my responsibility, not yours!”
Several minutes later Catherine emerged with Cullen’s arm securely around her waist. Father walked in front of them and reaching Vincent he took his arm, “Come, we must return to Devin, he’ll be concerned. Come along now."
“Go along. I’ll be in momentarily.” Father stood outside the entrance to Vincent’s chamber so he could see Catherine and Cullen pass on toward the library to retrieve her coat. When they had passed he leaned against the wall, wiping his forehead wondering how to handle this without a breach of confidentiality nor further enraging his son. Sighing he pushed away from the wall and entered the chamber.
“I’m going after Catherine.”
“No, you are not! She made it abundantly clear she wished Cullen to walk her home, not you. Stay here and cool off. You’ll only make it worse if you follow her.” Father’s voice took on a tone reserved for the school room causing both brothers to stare openly. “Please sit down. Catherine asked for confidentiality so there is no use in asking me anything. It is enough that you know I took care of her tonight and Peter is caring for her Above. She is receiving the best of care. You should take comfort in that and grant her the privacy she has requested. Remember there have been countless times when you have requested privacy for yourself, which has always been respected by everyone. Hard as this is, you need to return the courtesy.”
Devin blinked looking at Pops with new respect. Mentally cheering Father’s choice to make Vin be accountable, knowing it was another step forward in this battle. He’d have to share, he supposed with Pops, his new found admiration for this new tactic in dealing with Vin.
“How is your shoulder? Are you having more or less pain?” Jacob continued as though his conversation with Vincent had not occurred. After several minutes of checking Devin’s shoulder, he announced that he was going to bed and hoped no foolishness would awaken him.
The pipes had been silent for several hours and only the occasional tapping of the sentries checking in was audible. Silence and darkness settled over the tunnels, cloaking their world in sleep-filled dreams as the weary citizens sought relief from their industrious labors.
“I can literally hear your thoughts, you’re thinking so hard. You might as well light a candle unless you want to tell ghost stories in the dark.” Even in the darkness Devin knew Vincent had smiled, remembering the times they had scared each other with their tales of ghostly horrors. The distinctive sound of match striking flint, then the light pushed back the darkness, bathing the room in soft shadows. Sitting on the edge of his bed Vincent was bedraggled, weary from his restless tossing and turning.
“Come crank me up a little so I can look at you while we talk and how about a cool drink of water, too?” Vincent began turning the newly repaired crank, raising Devin’s upper body and then moved to physically lift him into a more comfortable position. “Are there any brownies left?” Accepting the proffered treat he settled to munching coupled with moans of culinary delight. “You gotta try one of these! They are fabulous. Maybe you shouldn’t eat one, that’ll leave more for me!
“You’d better hope hair-do magazine doesn’t show up, cuz you look like you could be named king of the egg-beater hair contest of the year! What were you doing over there, spinning around on your head?” His gentle laughter filled the chamber, the sound seeming to further push away the shadows.
Ignoring the comments, Vincent retrieved a brownie for himself before returning to his bed. Pulling loose one of the quilts, he shifted three pillows into one pile laying them at the former foot of the bed bringing him into a position where he could face Devin.
“Do you want to discuss what occurred here tonight with Catherine or are we going to pretend, like always, that it never happened?”
“We have a special bond which allows us to feel each other’s thoughts and emotions. It is how I have known Catherine was in danger. How she knew Father and I were in peril before she knew of the cave-in. The bond has always been there and to have her purposefully cut it off so that I didn’t know of her injury is incomprehensible. I was stunned when she demanded I leave the room while Father treated her and demanding patient confidentiality, well, it deeply wounded me. Our relationship has been built on trust, truth, and faith.”
“Perhaps you need to not overly analyze what happened. Have faith Catherine has good reason for her actions. You must trust in your love that her actions have merit and that the intention was to protect rather than wound. When the time is right the truth will come to light. Perhaps this is the time when you will learn to be more patient and accept that Catherine never does anything which isn’t in your best interest. Even I know that and I haven’t been around the two of together all that much. Her every breath concerns what is best for you; surely you know that about the lady you love?” Devin quizzed easily.
“What you share with Catherine is incredibly beautiful. I envy it completely. You have what all men dream about, but few ever find; you should rejoice in the sheer wonder of having such a dynamic, beautiful, intelligent women love you. I’ve had my share of women, but I’d give my soul for a woman like your Catherine. I haven’t been home long, yet I am aware that whatever disagreement you two had is still unresolved. I sensed a change in your relationship even before you mentioned that Catherine felt you should have some time apart.”
“Did she talk about us when you walked her home?” Vincent wanted to know but was ashamed of his thoughts and even more shamed that he was compelled to boldly ask this question.
“Yes and no. She never mentioned what had caused the rift just that you were going through a difficult period. From her posture, body language and what she didn’t say, she is as miserable as you. Why don’t the two of you go away for a few days? Perhaps alone together you can resolve the problem.”
“The difficulty of our relationships is beyond what you can imagine. It is impossible. In three years we have found no solution.”
“You’re saying this is an old disagreement that has gone on for three years? How can that be? Mary has mentioned in her letters how tender and loving you and Catherine are together. There was no mention of any disagreement. Mary would certainly have said if something was amiss. One thing about Mary, she may not always verbalize everything, but within the heart of our World she misses nothing. Absolutely nothing!
“Are you open to discussing this three year difficulty? As adults we haven’t spent a lot of time together but there used to be nothing we couldn’t discuss. I hope we haven’t lost our ability to openly talk with compassion and love that we have shared. Our paths may have gone differently, but our souls have always known the extent of our deeper respect and genuine affection.” Devin’s voice was warm, caring as he sought to ease his brother’s growing discomfort.
“When I first took Charles away from his dreadful environment it was for a combination of reasons. The inhuman way he was treated, but deep within I was seeking forgiveness for leaving you. The more time I spent with him, the more I saw similarities between his world and your world. The outward differences that were seen by the world, but within I found two of the gentlest souls ever created.”
“Yes,” the voice from the distant bed came softly, “Charles is one of the kindest, gentlest men I have ever met.”
“Do you realize you just described yourself? You are also a kind, gentle man who puts everyone above his own needs. How can you intellectually say Charles is a man, yet classify yourself not by your sexual identity as a man but with labels handed to you out of fear for your safety? I know Pops told you all that stuff about your differences to protect you, to keep you safe, but a man of his intelligence should realize constantly pounding negatives into a child doesn’t produce a normal, well-adjusted child. He wanted to protect you; he wanted to show no favoritism to me by denying my paternity. What kind of sense does that make? Has he ever once actually told you he regretted filling your childhood with fears while exalting your intelligence? He’s never sat down with me expressing his regrets for conveniently forgetting to mention I am his only begotten son.”
“He regrets it all.” Vincent’s voice had a slight edge as he continued, “you heard him the night of Mary’s party. He was shattered by having to admit publicly he failed. He didn’t have to admit that nor publicly admit he had falsely blamed me for his failures. If he hadn’t been defeated by his failure, do you think he would have actually admitted his feelings for Mary, let alone kiss her publicly?”
The tension built again within the chamber as they moved closer to
truths too long held at great distances.
“There is no reason for you to defend him.
If we can’t discuss our own father without being defensive with
each other, how are we ever going to reach the truth?
We may not technically share the same genetic pool but we are
brothers, brothers of the heart and soul,” Devin’s voice filled with the
rich force of love that vibrated wildly within his heart.
“What’s the real problem with you and
Rising from his bed, Vincent began to pace the small area, feeling caged by Devin’s words which hung as strongly as a metal door that locked him within his chamber. He was as uncomfortable discussing these problems with his brother as he was with Catherine. But could he continue with this chasm that grew deeper within his being? He had been beyond desolate by this riff with Catherine. He wasn’t positive he could actually recall the circumstances that caused this distance.
“We, that is, no, I haven’t been willing or able to move our relationship forward as she wishes. She deserves a rich, full life with friends, children and with my difference it is impossible.”
“Whoa! Is this about what you want for her or what she wants for herself? Those are two clearly different areas.”
“She deserves everything; not a half life with me, hiding, giving up her friends, her interests because of me. She deserves children and I could not, that is, I’m not able to give her children.”
“How do you know that? Have you been tested? Peter has a great lab and he’s a fantastic technician himself in the lab. Talk with him. Maybe your fears are groundless.”
“It’s not that, I’m not sure I can func…,” his voice faded before completing the word. The unfinished sentence seemed to visually hang in the cool air. His body seemed warm, causing him to flush with embarrassment.
“Vin, come over her and sit down.” Reluctantly he moved to sit at the end of the bed, but Devin’s patting on the bed clearly indicated his wish that his brother sit next to him. Rising one hip, he sat easing down until he faced his brother squarely. “At some point all men question their ability to function sexually and there are times when they have ‘equipment failure’.” His hand reached out to momentarily touch the hand of his brother before he continued. “They don’t discuss it but it’s still a fact of life.
“We men don’t always think about our partner’s pleasure. Men have a short fuse while women take longer to reach orgasm. Without giving complete pleasure to our partners, men have sex with a body; they never enjoy the true rapture of loving a woman completely. Men need sex like breathing but most fail to realize without rapture it’s only a bodily function that their minds control. The difference is enormous but a lot of guys don’t want to become involved because if you once experience true glorious rapture with a woman, you never want to simply share sex with a body. You deserve to know rapture, the soul satisfying rapture that happens when the heights are climbed together, when your soul is no longer your own but joined wholly with the woman you love completely.” Devin’s testimony condensed thousands of pages of clinical text, hours of therapy and lectures in a simple statement that defined sexual love completely.
“The unknown frightens me. You say I’m just a man but how many men have nails like claws, or fangs like a jungle cat or a mouth like mine? As far as we know, I am one of a kind. There has never been one like me."
“Damn! Why do you always
dwell on the negatives about yourself?
There are two tunnel members who work Above as manicurists, have
them file down those nails.
Make ‘em short and round.
Don’t like your fangs, get caps! Have
plastic surgery to fix your mouth.
Do it all if that will make you happy.
We’ll find the money if that’s what you want. But there is no
surgery that is going to erase your self-doubts or low-self esteem about
your looks. You are the
only person who can do that.
When you aren’t endlessly analyzing or over thinking, your sense
of self is great.
“How can I discuss this with Catherine when I can barely discuss it with you? It sounds easy when you say it; your words encompass all my dreams for the life I wish to lead with her.”
“Then take a leap of faith, go to her and begin the dream. Believe in her completely. Trust that she wants the dream as desperately as you. No, there won’t be obstacles, only possibilities. There will be sweet love that will obliterate, reduce and blow away the obstacles if you have the courage to move toward love. If you don’t move toward love then you are condemning two souls to the agony of a living death. Each of you alive in a world that gives constant pain in remembrance and alone while surrounded by friends.”
“But how do I start?”
“You like touching her, don’t you? Start by touching. I’ve seen you touch people in affection here in our world. The kids all adore you and eagerly throw themselves into your arms. Mary loves you and she doesn’t shrink from your touch or touching you. I’ve seen you holding hands with Jamie, Olivia and others. So why is it different for you to touch Catherine? You looked like you enjoyed holding her when you slept. If you aren’t prepared to have sex right now, touching is a good way to begin. Hold her; ask if she would allow you to spend the night holding her, cuddling together. Intimacy will come with time but you have to make a start. Catherine is obviously ready for more than the chaste relationship you have. Ask her forgiveness for your behavior today. Tomorrow is Friday, go to her then and plan on spending the night or if you can’t wait, find Benny and send a note asking if she could take the day off. Not fast enough? Go Above, find a phone and call her right now. You want a life, well, bro, you gotta begin to live it. Neither Pops nor I can do that, you have to man up yourself!”
The night stillness was destroyed by the sharp ringing that brought Catherine from a deprived, weary half sleep. Struggling, she found the phone muttering a greeting. “Vincent, what’s wrong? No, please, I don’t want to fight. We need to be apart, have some separation from the pain we cause each other. No, it’s too late, it wouldn’t be safe. You’re where? Oh, all right.”
Staggering into the bathroom she brushed her teeth, splashed water on her face and ran a comb through her hair. In the bedroom she put on a warm robe to ease her chilled skin then moved into the living room. A small lamp provided enough light for safety and she flipped the switch to start the gas fireplace. In the kitchen she heated water for tea and set out cups, taking down the larger ones she had purchased to fit Vincent’s large hands. Just as the kettle began to boil she heard the gentle tapping followed by the terrace door opening. “May I come in?”
“Of course, I’ve made some tea.”
Surprised, she watched as he removed his cloak, then saw a small bundle slip to the floor. He walked toward her with the easy grace that was a hallmark of his being. Stopping at the small sofa, he gently took her hand. “May I sit beside you, please? Our separation has been painful for both of us, but I realize it will never be solved unless we… I… have the courage to discuss those problems. Perhaps if you would allow me to hold you while we talk I can begin to find the courage to unscramble some of our sorrow. We desperately need to talk about the things I have avoided, even run from these last three years.
“First I want to ask if you would call Mr. Maxwell to request a vacation day. I would like you to remain here with me.” His voice was a soft whisper that gave evidence to his emotions. “I don’t want to leave after only a few minutes, I need to talk openly and I hope you will listen.”
“I already have the today off so there is no reason to phone Joe.” Her eyes filled with compassion as she slipped her hand into his larger one. A small sigh escaped his lips and she felt his body relax slightly.
“Will you, in time, be able to forgive my behavior of earlier? Realizing you had been injured shattered the trust I have placed in our Bond, to know when you are in danger or hurt. Until I saw the bandage I wasn’t aware of your injury and that knowledge crushed my belief that I could always protect you. I felt like Father; that I had failed in my primary responsibility in life – guarding your safety.” Gently he lifted her injured wrist kissed it once then again pressed his lips to the bandage. “You are my life, my world I…”
“Hush, it’s over. Accidents happen. You were concerned about Devin; you didn’t need to worry about me. Please forget it.” Gently she brushed away the tears that clung to his cheeks.
“When I saw Devin’s wound I realized how fragile life is, that in seconds it can be gone. All the times we had gone Above as children he protected me. One moment we were enjoying the Moon and the next my brother was bleeding in the dirt. Life is so precious and yet everyone takes it for granted.” His angst and sorrow changed the normal soft voice into one filled with repressed rage and horror of what could have been. “My brother was bleeding and I had never told him what he means to me, how much I love him.” His voice wavered, gone was the steady control.
Seeking his warmth, Catherine cuddled closer, burying her face against his vest. She inhaled deeply the scent she had missed; the scent of candle wax, smoke and the distinct masculine scent that was Vincent. His scent never left her, she could almost taste it on her clothing after they hugged goodnight, or feel it clinging in the air each morning when she opened her balcony doors. They continued to cuddle, holding each other as the pain within began to thaw, weeks of internal ice and separation eased, leaving them bathed in the glow of warmth.
“Vincent, I want you to know I have asked for a transfer to another division; one where I won’t be placed in dangerous situations or asked to deal with dangerous criminals. I realized during our time apart that I was adding to your fears by accepting dangerous assignments so that I could prove to myself I was in control of my life, that I was over my attack. I humbly ask your forgiveness for willingly putting myself in danger to prove a point and by proving that point; I injured you by indirectly forcing you to protect me.” Tears fell as she looked deeply into the eyes that reflected love. “The need to prove myself by facing danger was my way of proving I was stronger than my fears. I failed to consider what my actions were doing to you. It wasn’t until we disagreed almost three months ago that I realized how selfish I was and I knew I had to do something to stop the danger. I don’t know yet what my new job will entail but I won’t accept if it means being put in danger.”
“I am overjoyed by your decision. Life will be easier knowing that you aren’t being placed in danger by your job responsibility. On the nights when we weren’t together, no matter what I was doing Below, I was concerned, worried for your safety. I was terrified that you would fall upon some form of danger and I wouldn't be able to reach you in time.
“Devin had a long talk with me after you left today. He was relentless in pushing me to face issues, breaking down my barriers with the tenaciousness of a pit bull. He worked at ways to get me to do things I normally wouldn’t do. He let me volunteer to help Charles with his bathing, knowing in the end, I’d have to get in with Charles to help him bathe. He swore he was dying from back pain so I had to give him a back rub. All the while telling me I was good at caring, that I had a gentle touch.”
“But Devin is right. You do have a gentle touch when you aren’t constantly concerned about your differences and how those differences might conceivably impact the person you are touching. I love your touch, I crave it constantly.”
He flashed a shy half smile at hearing Catherine acknowledge how much she craved his touch. His heart thudded, skipping several beats as his joy replaced a long held fear. She wanted his touch!
“In his own way Devin is as special as you are. He is sensitive and wants only the best for you. I imagine he fights as hard against Father’s dictation in your life now as he did when you were younger. He’s fierce where you are concerned. He would give you the world. By taking Charles to live in the woods, doing his computer work from there, he is able to give Charles all he could never give you. Charles is the redemption of his soul because he wasn’t able to forgive himself for leaving you.”
Catherine’s recognition of Devin’s devotion to him brought added credence to his own earlier thoughts on his relationship with Devin. Thoughts which now filled him with joy as he accepted their truth.
Catherine tried to hide her yawn, burying her face against his chest. “You’re tired. Twice you held me when I was exhausted so that I could sleep. My sleep while being held by you was the deepest most peaceful sleep I have ever known. Would you allow me to spend the night holding you? My joy would know no bounds if you would allow me to hold you.” His voice was like a gentle breeze against her hair bringing hope for their future.
Catherine raised her head. “I don’t want to misunderstand what you are saying. It’s too important.”
“I wish to spend the night in your bed with you in my arms. We must begin to live our dream and perhaps this small step toward intimacy will be the beginning. You know my fears. I must move past them and if we are to have the dream we both want, perhaps we can begin tonight by simply holding each other.”
Sobbing with joy, Catherine threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. “Yes, oh, yes. It would be a dream come true to have you hold me all night long. To awaken in the morning to your beautiful face on the pillow beside me would fill my heart with unbound joy.”
They rose from the sofa, retrieving Vincent’s small bundle from the carpet and walked to the bedroom. “You go ahead in the bathroom.” Vincent carried his bundle toward the room and closed the door. For several minutes he stood shaking, uncertain what to do, fears filling his mind while he heard Devin’s voice speaking of rapture. He removed his vest and his heavy shirt, then his belt. He sat on the edge of the tub to remove his boots and socks and as he rose, he stepped out of his jeans. From the bundle he removed his toothbrush and his light-weight sleep wear, an often washed shirt and soft knit pants. After brushing his teeth he neatly folded his clothing, stacking them on the small vanity chair. Opening the door he found only a candle burning and he realized anew how sensitive Catherine was of his fears and that the bright lamp light was often painful to his eyes.
He blew out the candle as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “I pulled the blankets loose at the foot of the bed so your feet wouldn’t feel restricted. My bed isn’t nearly as long as yours.” Sitting with his back to his love, he began to tremble.
“Forgive my fears. I want so much to lay here with you but my fears are consuming me.”
“Would it be easier if you lay on top of the blankets at first? We could hold each other and it would be somewhat like when we were in the hospital chamber. When you are more comfortable, you could slip under the blankets.”
Her face was angelic as she sought to make him comfortable. “No, I need to just get under the covers now because if I wait, I fear I will never be brave enough.” With one swift gesture he lifted the blankets and slipped beneath them. Several minutes passed and slowly his trembling began to abate. Catherine lay close beside him, touching only his hand until his body ceased to tremble. He shifted, turning to lie on his side, gathering her close. Her head pillowed against his chest and an arm encircled his chest drawing them closer together. His heart thudded loudly against her ear as they settled into a comfortable position. Cocooned together they felt a glow of happiness enveloping them in sheer wonder of their closeness.
“I have waited so long for this moment, to feel you against my body, to hold you so intimately without feeling ashamed of my desire. The road ahead may be long, but we must begin with small careful steps. Just being able to touch you fills my heart with joy, happiness beyond that which I ever thought I’d know.”
Gentle sighs and whispered words were shared. His need to touch her softly increased with each murmur. Their shared body warmth melted the layers of heavy restrictions he had placed between them; gathering them into a deeper oneness of the heart and soul. The pale light of the approaching dawn brought no fears of discovery, only the shared joy of a new beginning. Each sweet touch was echoed by an answering murmur of joyous contentment. Cuddled together, sleep escaped them but was replaced by the tactile glow of soft touches. He gave her his first shy kiss and felt the spiraling answer of joy within the Bond. The peace of human touch, the need to be touch wove its magic surrounding his fears and muting them into the silence of a wondrous joy. He understood the truth that all of humanity needs to be touched as his own needs encompassed his soul, freeing him, giving birth to a world of sensory delights.
The sun was high overhead when they left the bed. He took his first shower in a modern bathroom, exalting in the wonder of hot water. Afterward he dressed in jeans, a light weight sweater and covered his feet with grey homespun tunnel socks. He set the table while Catherine showered then together they ate a simple breakfast of oatmeal and strong tea. Throughout the meal his fingers stretched out to give a gentle caress, his need to freely touch her consuming him. A lone finger softly stroked a wisp of hair that escaped from behind her ear. When he rose to bring fresh tea he kissed her forehead and when he returned he caressed her shoulder in passing.
Later they sat before the fire cuddled together, finding that words were not necessary, their senses and warm touches replacing the need to speak. His heart thudded loudly when Catherine’s fingers slipped beneath his sweater to stroke his bare chest. The touch of her soft hand caused his body to tremble. The trembling slowly ceased, replaced by a thread of joy that pulsed steadily within the Bond. Catherine’s joy in freely touching his bare skin circled his heart and banished his fear. He gloried in her touch.
The day became night and still they sat before the fire. Catherine now sat in his lap and he worshiped at the shrine of her body. She forbade him nothing, rejoicing in his each new shy discovery. She found he enjoyed her soft nibbling against his ears and he was especially sensitive when she kissed the length of his throat. Each new discovery and touch brought renewed joy. With their fingers stippled together Vincent discovered the inside of her fingers very sensitive to touch as he slowly moved his fingers up and down the length of hers. The moon was high overhead when they left the fire and returned to the bedroom. Together they folded the bedspread and placed it on the long stool at the foot of the bed, then turned back the blankets. While Vincent was in the bathroom Catherine changed into a soft linen gown and stood at the balcony doors admiring the moonlight. He came to stand behind her, his arms encircling her as he drew her back against his body. “How are you feeling now?” Her voice was whisper soft.
“My heart has never known such joy. The gift of your acceptance of me, allowing me to hold and touch you freely has been beyond all my dreams. I can’t seem to stop touching you; the softness of your skin is like a drug addiction, I have no control over my hands, the feel of your skin calls me as does the very air I breathe.”
Together they moved toward the bed. He lifted her onto his lap, holding her close, and he began to gently kiss her face. His lips moved over her eye lids, then nuzzled the side of her jaw, moving to bathe the scar that remained by her ear in delicate kisses. Arching her head back, she allowed him free rein to place kisses along the length of her throat. Lingering there he moved to kiss her shoulder before his mouth glided over the swell of her breasts. The whispered sigh of joy filled the air as Catherine’s hand moved to hold his head there. “Oh, yes, your mouth feels so good. Having your mouth on me feels so heavenly, don’t stop.” Continuing to nuzzle, his heart hammered joyfully. The taste and fragrance of her skin – her breasts – delighted him, feeding the Bond with endless exploding lights of splendor.
He slipped the straps of the gown off her shoulders and stared in loving awe at the beauty of her breasts. Gently he moved to touch but his hand paused, stopped by long-held fears of his hands hurting her. With tenderness she took his hand and placed it over her breast. She held his hand there, her eyes filled with love and longing. “I want you to touch my breasts with your hands as much as I want to feel your mouth on them. I ache for you to love my breasts with your beautiful hands and mouth.
“The words may not have yet been formally spoken, but you are my husband, my dearest friend, my heart’s best treasure and all that I ever dreamed of having in my life. Your beauty of soul and spirit surround you with a glow that is unique among men. Your heart is generous and your love all- encompassing. I want to be your wife, your soul mate, and with you until time is no more.”
“Will you marry me? Be with me forever and always?” His lashes brimmed with joyous tears, his eyes were alive with love, and his shy, soft smile turned his angular face into a soft focus of rapture.
“Yes, yes, yes, forever and always.” Their lips met to seal their commitment and promise of a life together.
“We will be together like this forever. Touching and being touched. Our path to intimacy is as certain as our future. To love and be loved completely without fear or reservations. How we manage our life together is yet unknown but I know we will have a life now that all the barriers are broken"
The Rest is a Joyous Silence