Rites of Spring
By Joanne Grier
The weather turned unseasonably warm, hinting at the spring to come and making the children eager to return to their beloved park. They had been confined to the home tunnels for the entire winter, and as with all children, their excess energy often caused problems and frayed tempers as the adults sought to channel their high energy. Two hours after morning classes had begun, Father decided that the schedule could be abandoned in order to allow the children outside to burn off their excessive energy. Teachers, parents and the children scattered to various entrances nearest the park. Squeals of delight and laughter were high as the children made for the play equipment, running and whooping with joy.
Vincent sat in the dirt behind the almost closed park entrance door listening to the delightful, joyous sounds of his extended family enjoying the unexpected warmth of winter. A hint of a smile played at the corners of his mouth as he remembered other such seasonal breaks in the long winters. He remembered the first time Devin had snuck him outside at dusk when he was four and the tang upon his tongue at the first sniff of the warmed air. He also remembered the ensuing punishment when Father caught them coming back with Vincent’s pants covered in mud and hints of grass stains and the twigs entangled in his hair. He had cried during Father’s punishment of Devin but was stoically silent when he received his own punishment.
He continued to sit listening and remembering other adventures with Devin, who seemed to be the only one to understand his fascination and need to do all the things the other children did. He missed Devin now as much as he did when Devin left the tunnels all those achingly long years ago. Years that had been unbearably lonely for Vincent. As he matured, he realized that Devin needed to lead a life Above, but that understanding did not lessen the pain of loss. What would his life have been like if Devin had stayed? And being a fair man, he also wondered what life would have held for Devin if he had stayed Below.
He heard the sounds of protests as the gathering of the children for their return was begun. His own internal clock told him the children had been outside for nearly four hours. He rose, dusting off his pants, aware that he was removing the source of much teasing on the children’s part about Vincent’s having a dirty butt. They were constantly on guard to be the first to tell him that his sitting in the dirt had caused him a dirty butt. How this tradition had begun he didn’t clearly remember, but he knew it gave the children endless delight in catching him with dusty britches.
He joined Father in the library after he detoured past the kitchen to get a large platter of cookies, as he knew the children would be eager to tell them of their adventures. Cookies were necessary to the telling, he knew. He was as eager as Father to hear the stories, to see their enthusiastic faces as they shared all they had seen. Mary entered the library carrying two small vases knowing the children would bring offerings of growing treasures they had discovered. Eager Botany students sought to be the first to bring Father evidence of the Earth’s renewal and secretly hoped they would discover something that would stump Father’s expertise.
Soon the sounds reached them, and the room began to fill with laughter-filled voices as they came stumbling down the library steps. Ordered chaos ruled until Mary’s gentle but firm voice brought the room to quiet order once again. As the stories were told and the treasures shared, another adult slipped into the back of the room to enjoy the event. He smiled but otherwise sat quietly enjoying the expressions on Father’s and Vincent’s faces as they listened. They were the best audience possible, roaring with laughter and smiling with glee as all the stories were told.
“We have two hours until it will be time for our evening meal, and I would like to request that each of you prepare a short essay of roughly one hundred words for class tomorrow to describe your own personal adventures today. After you have composed your essay, I’m sure your mothers would be pleasantly surprised if you appeared for dinner all clean and shiny without having to be reminded. Run along now and I shall look forward to hearing those essays tomorrow in our classes. Thank you so much for sharing.” Father smiled as he delivered his yearly closing speech that brought the first adventure Above to a close.
Lifting his shoulder and pushing away from the wall, the late arriving visitor spoke. “Pops, that’s the same lecture you gave – word for word – when I was still too short for my legs to reach the floor in one of those chairs. Don’t you ever vary it?” Devin moved down the steps grasping Father’s hand and drawing him into a warm embrace. As soon as he released Father, Devin moved quickly into Vincent’s out stretched arms. The brothers embraced for a long time and, unembarrassed, shared a kiss on their cheeks before embracing again.
“Nothing really changes, does it? The first warm day and the kids will be frolicking Above in the park. I watched them for a while then took the long way down to avoid any of them seeing me. I wanted to surprise you both and from the looks on your faces, I did.”
The three men sat talking over each other in their joy of reunion until things sorted themselves out and the conversation took on the normal give and take. Unaware, Devin periodically reached out, touching Vincent on the arm or leg as if to reassure himself that his brother was really beside him. They were still talking when Mary appeared, her diminutive hand swallowed up by Charles’s larger hand. “Did you have a good time with all the toddler and pre-school children?” Devin asked with a big smile.
“Yes, Dev, I did. They are sweet and so accepting of me.” The gentle giant gave a hint of a smile as he helped Mary down the stairs.
“They recognize a kindred soul in you, Charles.” Vincent’s voice was warm as he moved to embrace the larger man in a solid, but gentle hug. “It is good to have you home again, Charles, welcome.”
Father rose and warmly hugged Charles. Vincent and Devin stood, allowing Mary and Charles to take their vacant chairs. The conversation resumed as Charles told them of all that he and Dev had been doing since their last visit. They talked until they heard the tapping on the pipes that the evening meal was ready. Together the happy group moved toward the community dining chamber.
It was late when Vincent, Devin and Charles left the library, heading off for their respective chambers for the night. After helping Charles get settled in a guest chamber, Devin read to him until he was asleep. For all the physical problems Charles had, he was intelligent but when it came to bedtime he was like a small child. Devin never minded the extra hour it took Charles to settle into sleep as he read to him. In many ways the reading was a continuation of his own childhood when Father had read them to sleep more nights than he could count.
He stayed with Charles for several minutes after he heard his breathing soften, indicating he had drifted asleep, and then he set out in search of his brother. He was dressed in warm knit pajamas and a wool robe as he entered Vincent’s chamber. Vincent was similarly dressed for bed, sitting at his desk writing in his journal. “Do you mind if I come in for a while? After our long discussion tonight with Pops about our rites of spring antics, I guess, I’m remembering all the years we shared this chamber.”
“No, of course, I don’t mind. I, too, have been remembering our youth.” Closing the journal and recapping his pen, Vincent turned the chair to face Devin.
“It’s good to be home. Time seems to get away from me. When there was a hint of spring in the air, I knew I needed to come home. Charles has been eager to return, too, as he feels this is also his home.”
“You are happy living in the mountains.” Vincent’s simple statement was now no longer a question, as the last few years he felt the anxiety and need for adventure sliding away from Devin’s persona. Charles and the mountain had worked their magic and Devin was, at long last, at peace.
Devin smiled his awareness that Vincent’s perceptive ability to read him was as sharp as ever. “The mountains have brought me a peace of mind, and Charles has added to my peace. In many ways, I feel Charles has been the salvation of my soul, allowing me to give to him all that I took away from you when I left so abruptly.
“There were times, late at night when sleep wouldn’t come, when I acknowledged to myself that I was running because I knew to the depth of my soul what my leaving did to you. When I agreed to take Charles away, I saw your eyes and I knew that you had forgiven me for leaving. That freed me to leave with Charles, to give him all that I had always longed to give you.”
“When the children were in the park I sat listening to their laughter and was remembering our adventure . . . the first time you took me to the park, and knowing I had to return, no matter how much the punishment hurt. The scents carried on the air, the changing light, the hues of color, all called to me.” Vincent’s voice was softer than normal as his emotions strongly surfaced, causing Devin to shift forward in an attempt to hear more clearly.
“Do you remember when we found the pussy willows budding along the stream? How we thought we had discovered a new treasure to stump Father and how he was ready to thrash us when Mitch and several others put the buds up their noses? How they howled when Father had to remove them, and Mitch’s vow that he would have his revenge, saying we had forced them up his nose?” Devin laughed at their shared memory, his face turning slightly red he laughed so hard.
“And all the dandelions we picked and brought to Mary and how she exclaimed over them as if they were roses?”
“The bracelets we wove from new green willow branches and glued maple pods on them as jewels to give as birthday gifts to Olivia?” Their voices tumbled over each other, manners forgotten, as they sought to share their instant memories as quickly as the thoughts surfaced.
The brothers continued to sit sharing memories. They heard the sentries checking in as the pipes grew silent as the community settled to sleep. Drunk on their laughter, the brothers finally said good night.
The weather the next day was even warmer and once again Father allowed the children and supervising adults to head to the Park. Devin went along to help.
“Would you like to hear what’s going on in the Park?” Vincent knew Charles wished he could go along with Dev and he wanted to make the day as special for Charles as it was for the children. Taking Charles by the hand, they started to walk, chatting as they moved along the various tunnels. Vincent showed Charles the secret markings along the tunnel walls, noting that if he followed them back, he would be back at the library.
Reaching the entrance, he asked Charles to sit and then manually opened the entrance door a scant inch and the tunnel was suddenly filled with childish squeals and laughter. Charles’s eyes grew large and he grabbed Vincent’s hand and squeezed it hard in joy. They continued to sit, enjoying the sounds carried to them by the air currents. Charles smiled the whole time and several times, he shook in shared laughter at the sounds he heard. The time sped by and soon the sounds of protests were again heard as the call to return home was given.
Vincent asked Charles to guide them back to the library and was rewarded with a smile as Charles took up the mantle of student to one of his favorite teachers. Whenever he and Devin came home, Vincent made sure that Charles always knew how to return safely to the library. He knew how easy it was to become lost within the twisting labyrinth of tunnels.
That evening the four men were sitting in the library as Father read to them. During a break while they consumed cups of fresh, hot tea Devin spoke his mind. “Do we still have a spring dance, Pops?”
“No, we haven’t had a dance in several years. If I remember, it was three years ago and the winter had been especially difficult for us as we were plagued with several bouts of flu in epidemic proportions, and there was no one well enough to plan the spring dance. The next year we were beset by water problems and the season passed unnoticed,” Father’s voice faded away.
“We should have another one. They were always such fun and the games were grand. I’m surprised Mary let you get away with abandoning the dance, as I remember she is extremely fond of dancing.” Devin’s smile was bright as he stared expectantly at Father, hoping to get a rise out of him. “Maybe you should bring the idea before the council to see if that tradition could be brought back to life.”
“Devin, since you brought up the spring dance and the council has approved, I wonder if you wouldn’t be good enough to draw up a poster we could put in the community dinning chamber to serve as an announcement.”
“Sure thing, Pops, I’d be happy to draw up something.”
“William and his committee will oversee the food. As soon as we settle upon a date, Vincent and his students will prepare the invitations for our Helpers Above. Cullen and his crew will oversee the inspection of the Great Hall, the washing of the tables, and will make any necessary repairs. Mary and her committees will handle the other areas, as I am certain the ladies will wish to add their special touches.”
The air within the community took on one of happy excitement as the news of the return of their traditional spring dance circulated. The music committee selected appropriate songs while their talented musicians practiced to be ready to provide an alternate selection of tea dance music.
The candles burned late in the tunnels, particularly within Vincent’s chamber, as he and Devin worked on their own special surprises. Daily, Devin went Above with a trash bag and returned with it brimming to capacity and together the brothers labored into the night.
The dance was still weeks away when Catherine
returned from spending nearly three weeks attending special training
Within two days of her return, she asked Vincent
and Devin to meet her at the threshold to help carry items back to the
home tunnels. Upon arriving
at the threshold they were greeted with six overflowing trash bags.
As they stood there, three more
bags were dropped down. “
Catherine only smiled, picked up two bags and started walking. The brothers shrugged, gathered up the bags as they knew they were expected to do, and followed along in resigned silence. They were lead to Mary’s chamber and then ever so politely they were dismissed. Again they exchanged manly shrugs and retreated to the library where their intelligence was not questioned.
Mary literally squealed with delight as Catherine opened the various bags. Moving to an adjacent pipe, Mary tapped out a message asking for a dozen of her helpers to immediately come to her chamber.
The next hours were spent in joyful laughter and conversation flew as suggestions were made, rejected, and solutions found. It was one of the happiest times Catherine had spent Below and while her talent and skills weren’t advanced, she was able to make a fair contribution to the products being created.
The tunnels were always busy, but since the announcement of the spring dance, it became a beehive of secret activities. Tight little groups met in the tunnels, breaking apart if a non-group member happened upon them. All conversation ceased until the visitor was safely out of hearing and then the whispered conversations were resumed.
Vincent came Above only twice since Catherine’s return, as he and Devin worked fiercely in his chamber nightly. Their meeting was bittersweet as always and they each longed for the days when they were free again to spend each evening together. The second night they met, they simply held each other, finding their need to share the twin beating of their hearts more profound than normal. Words were not necessary as they pressed light kisses against each other’s bodies, touching and holding each other closely. Vincent nuzzled against her hair and she pressed lingering kisses against his throat. Their contented sighs and murmurs were mute testimony to their love and the joy they shared in being together.
It was late when Vincent returned, but the candles in his chambers were still burning brightly. Devin sat at the desk, working industriously, as Charles was peacefully asleep on top of Vincent’s bed. “He was only going to rest for a moment and next time I looked, he was sound asleep. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, of course, not. He has been such a help with our projects for the dance. He is surprisingly adept at the small work; far better than either of us are at such tiny details.”
Catherine arrived for the dance early and immediately went to Mary’s chamber to see if her assistance was needed. She had come Below earlier in the morning to deliver the two large packages of deli meats she purchased as her contribution. William and his crew were already busy preparing food when she arrived, but as always, William stopped to have a cup of tea with her while he expressed his thanks and appreciation for her meat contribution. They had already made several dozen tuna and egg salad sandwiches which he knew the ladies would enjoy. He was grateful Catherine volunteered to bring several pounds of sliced deli meats which the teenaged boys and the men would favor.
Father noted to Devin that he had seen several of the ladies scurrying about with their hair in curlers and in various states of preparation for the dance. The children were excited as they too prepared for the dance; this was, for many of them, their first opportunity to formally test their many hours of participation in dance class. Everyone from first grade on attended dance class, learning to waltz, fox trot, and do the swing step. The teens learned all the latest dances crazes from Above and shared them with any willing members of the community.
Garbed in their coats, or long cloaks to ward off the exceedingly cool air as they descended to the Great Hall, the community moved as one happy group. The Hall was bright with many spring green candles that Rebecca had made for the occasion. Among the cast-offs from Above that had found their way Below were large selections of artificial flowers. Tonight the Great Hall was feted with a variety of spring flowers from their vast collection. Daffodils, tulips, and jonquils were arranged in pleasing bouquets and placed along the tables. The area where the orchestra would perform was lined with equally pleasing bouquets, and the entire hall had green branches appearing in random patterns reminiscent of early budding spring trees.
Father took Mary’s arm, and Devin took
The community settled at the various tables, chatting and laughing as they waited for Father’s opening speech. His ability to find the most appropriate words to touch all hearts was legendary, and he was, as he often told Mary, fearful that words would fail him and he would disappoint the citizenry.
“My dear friends, I welcome you once again to our annual spring dance. Winter’s long fingers have loosened her grip upon us, and we joyfully await the complete awakening of spring in all her glory. Rebecca has blessed us with an abundance of light to remind us of the glory of the sun and the many blessings which the light has brought to us. To our Helpers, we are eternally grateful and blessed by your continual sharing of the riches of the Earth with us. To my extended tunnel family, I reaffirm that we are indeed fortunate in coming together in caring and love, which is the hallmark of our creed. May each of you be fortunate in your daily lives and conduct yourselves with the spirit of love that brings us together this night.”
Father lit the green taper and held it toward the
chandelier, and then passed it along until all the candles were lit and
the chandelier rose above the table to add to the brightness.
Laughter and excited chatter dispelled the silence as William
announced the buffet was now open.
As was his habit, Vincent waited until most of the community had
passed through the line before he rose, taking Catherine’s hand.
As the temperature in the Great Hall rose, the
ladies began to remove their wraps and around the room the men became
silent. Many of the ladies
were dressed in their finest old clothes from their former lives Above.
An equal number were wearing new old dresses that had been
created from the bounty that Catherine had brought Below.
Metallic blouses were paired with warm patchwork skirts, sequin
covered shawls glittered against white sweaters; gaily decorated formals
were paired with warm woolen stoles.
Several ladies had flowers woven into their newly styled hair.
Mary slipped off her cloak to reveal a pearl studded blue sweater
of angora and a soft wool skirt.
Upon his return, Devin dropped to his knees, taking
Catherine watched as Devin knelt before
“He has loved
“Catherine, Mary tells me you are responsible for the lovely party finery our ladies are wearing. How did you manage to collect all of this?” Father’s arm swept out to encompass the Hall. “Surely not all of this came from your closet,” he teased openly.
“Only a few came from my closet, the rest were the cast-off of a friend who runs a bridal rental shop. Most of what I brought down was from her vast mother of the bride collection that is no longer fashionable in my world. I knew I didn’t stand a chance of being able to get enough dresses in all the right sizes but I figured if we took all the sizes and re-cut them to fit the ladies; we’d have new fashions for everyone wanting one. Mary and her committee worked very hard with all the ladies to create these lovely garments.”
“Catherine is too shy to tell you she helped in the creation of many of the dresses, pinning and fitting various parts of the original dresses to create new,” Mary offered with a sweet smile. “She also helped with all the necessary sewing.”
“My mother loved to sew, and she taught me from an early age the joy of creating beautiful clothing. I don’t practice as often as I should but I was so glad my skills were still good enough to help Mary.”
The orchestra began to tune up and soon they were
playing a time honored waltz.
Father escorted Mary to the floor and began the dance.
Trying not to be offended by Geoffrey’s brashness, Vincent saw Samantha seated, walked over and asked if she would honor him with a dance. She happily blushed and accepted. As they moved around the crowded floor, Vincent heard various comments about how wonderful it was to be dancing once again.
Much to Vincent’s displeasure, it was two more dances before he finally was able to claim Catherine for a dance. A sense of peace surrounded him as his arms encircled Catherine when they began to dance. Their steps blended perfectly as they happily smiled. “Do you remember what Father told us long after your first Winterfest about dancing?”
Her smile was radiant as she replied. “That dancing is a perfect way to hold the person you love in public without anyone objecting. It’s still perfect in my opinion, only I’d like it much better if you were holding me closer.” He drew her closer and she resettled her head against his chest as he whirled her across the floor. Although the sound was slight, Vincent heard the contented sighs that Catherine uttered as they continued to dance.
The dancing continued for more than an hour before the orchestra took a prolonged break. At the side of the Great Hall games for the children were drawing a large gathering of eager participants. There were even adults participating in the ring toss after the targets were moved to allow for the greater reach of the adults. There were several adults holding the younger children out at arms length in order to assist them in winning one of the prizes!
Joy and laughter filled the hall as the community danced and spring games were played with abandon. All their cares and worries were forgotten as they allowed the magic of spring to weave through their world.
Father announced that the next two dances were for all the children of the community who were from age five through eighteen so that they might share their progress in mastery of the dance. The orchestra once again began the time honored waltz and after a small amount of confusion over the bowing and curtsying was resolved, the dance began. The proud parents and friends gathered to watch, encouraging them by word and applause. The next dance was the swing step which after several minutes saw the older teens breaking into some of the latest steps they had learned from the world Above.
After the applause had died down Father called for quiet and announced that he had been reminded of the need for some fast jive music and dancing for those interested. Catherine was immediately claimed by Cullen who led her into a new version of the Twist. Vincent watched as she laughed and her face grew brighter as her body bent and twisted to the lively music. He smiled as Catherine looked his way, aware of her happiness as she danced.
Much to his surprise, he saw Devin and Olivia doing a down and dirty version of the Twist as Kanin looked on slightly mystified at seeing his normally sedate wife dancing so wildly. Vincent and Kanin stood together laughing as they watched.
As they music ended Devin took Olivia’s hand as he led her back toward his brother and Kanin. “Thanks for allowing me to dance with your wife. She was the first girl I ever tried to twist with some twenty years ago when we were both just fourteen. It was a blast reliving the experience. She’s a great dancer.” Devin’s face was shiny and his smile bright as he handed Olivia back to Kanin. He took a step backward and bowed, his laughter joining with Olivia’s as she curtsied. “We must be good examples to the children and our teachers,” Devin’s voice again rumbled with laughter.
Vincent collected several glasses of water and stood waiting as Cullen brought Catherine back to his side. He passed glasses to Olivia, Devin and Cullen before handing Catherine a glass. “Oh, thank you. I got so hot out there! It’s been a long time since I danced like that.” Catherine’s grin was infectious as she stood staring up at Vincent.
He leaned closer, whispering softly near her ear. “You looked totally relaxed and happy in spite of your warmth.” He smiled warmly, a throaty low chuckling as he watched her face continue to softly glow. Her delight was infectious and he felt the Bond sing with her joy. They continued to openly stare at each other, completely unaware of Devin’s eyes and his grin.
When there was another fast dance announced Devin took great pleasure in asking Catherine to be his partner. After a few minutes he taught her the steps and moves for the down and dirty version of the Twist he had done with Olivia. Their laughter joined as their bodies moved faster. They were still laughing when Devin brought her back to Vincent after the music had ended.
William took over the bandstand after the next
dance to announce that the desserts were now ready as well as sweet tea
and lemonade. Devin
After finishing their desserts Devin and Vincent disappeared for several minutes and upon their return, they took over the bandstand. They said nothing, but slowly the community became silent and openly stared at them. “We don’t mean to interrupt the festivities but we have items to bestow upon the lovely ladies of our community. When we were youngsters we use to take great delight in making spring bracelets as our contribution to the dance festivities. We have learned much in the intervening years and have somewhat perfected our craft.” Devin’s voice rang with laughter as he spoke. “At least we hope the ladies will think we have improved especially since we had the added help of Charles in our creations. His skills were surely an added benefit and will be most appreciated we are sure.”
“Charles, Devin and I humbly thank you for all the late nights you put in to help us with this long forgotten tradition.”
“Seeing as how we are all grown up and have learned the art of foraging Above for cast-offs, our efforts no longer have a limited shelf life and will last longer than the two weeks our former efforts did.” Devin smiled as the audience grinned at him.
Together the brothers exited the stage, and each picked up a bag and began circulating among the community. As they reached the first table, the bags were opened and each of the ladies was asked to select an item. They quickly moved through the Hall and when all the ladies had received a gift, they asked that everyone open their spring gifts.
True to the tunnel code of thrift, the gifts were wrapped in bits of newspaper, colored pages from ads, and the comic section; and each were tied with bits of twine. The gifts were unwrapped, and soon voices rose in praise.
Mary found a lovely brooch that was wire wrapped around fashion stones in shades of blue. Bracelets were discovered with various center stones with intriguing wire wrapping holding their treasures carefully.
Father rose and called for silence. “Would you mind explaining how you found all this Above? I’m sure others are just as curious as I as to how you found so much wire and fashion jewelry items.”
“I went dumpster diving behind the street fairs and
going out of business sales, knowing that many toss items rather than
hauling their stuff back home.
I got most of the jewelry there during several visits, some of
the wire I found at one of the street fairs and the other findings I
purchased when I could “find” what we needed.
Vincent, Charles and I worked late at night, removing the stones
from the costume jewelry and then fashioned it into our own designs
using the wire wrapping techniques that
Cullen, who was seated next to Charles, offered his hand in congratulations, and others murmured their own words of appreciation for his work. He grinned shyly as the others praised his efforts.
Hugs were exchanged, and words of gratitude were
shared as the spring dance drew to a close.
The ladies were now all wearing their new jewelry and several of
the teens were begging
Catherine and Vincent moved about the Great Hall extinguishing the remaining candles, as they were the last to leave. “I think your jewelry making was a big hit. Will you tell me about what you used to make when you and Devin were younger? I’d like to hear the full story.”
“I’ll tell you my story after you tell me how you learned that dance you did with Cullen, the same one he did with Olivia?” The whispery velvet voice was pitched low and held a hint of laughter. “Did they really teach such dances in your school?” he asked in open wonder.
Looking up at him from sooty lashes, Catherine murmured softly, “If you want to come back to the apartment tonight, I’d be happy to tell you all about my school dances.” Her hips brushed lightly across his as Catherine began to kiss his throat. “You do want the spring dance to continue, don’t you?” she whispered.
His hand slid around her waist, bringing her hips closer as he bent to claim her mouth. “Let’s hurry, I can’t wait to learn.”