BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES
HE’S MY CHOICE
The young couple sat in the dark basement and held hands.
“Henry, please tell me that we’ll be able to be together soon.”
“Lin, I just need a few more months to save a little more money.”
“I don’t care about money! I told you already, we can both get jobs and work. As long as we’re together I don’t care what happens.”
“I know, but I just want to have a small nest egg in case of an emergency.”
“Don’t you love me, Henry? Don’t you want to be with me?”
Henry pulled her to his chest and kissed her passionately. “I love you with every breath I take, Lin. I just want to make sure we can get away from here, from all of this. The Chiang family’s control spans over many states. If I can get us enough money maybe we can go to California…far away from their loyal followers. ”
Lin smiled and kissed him. “Okay, I’ll wait as long as it takes. I love you.”
They kissed goodbye and Henry snuck out the back door to Lin’s basement, being careful to not be seen by Lin’s grandfather.
Lin’s grandfather looked out the window when he saw the young man leave. He scowled and called Lin to his room.
The young girl was walking up the stairs and she hurried to her grandfather’s bedroom.
“Lin, who was that boy?”
Lin hung her head in shame and looked at the floor. “Henry Pai.”
“He is not to come here again.”
Lin looked up sharply. “But...”
Dr. Wong held up his hand. “No, I don’t want to hear it. You’re not to see him again.”
“Grandfather, I love Henry! We are planning on being married!”
Dr. Wong shook his head. “I won’t allow it. You have been pledged to Peter Chiang, one day you will marry him. It’s best that you just forget this Henry boy.”
Lin began to cry. “I won’t!”
Dr. Wong’s demeanor changed to one of remorse and he absently caressed her hair as he did when she was a small girl. “You must honor the Wong name and stand behind the commitment I made when you were just a little girl! It will be best for all concerned!”
Lin looked at him through her tears and nodded solemnly. Dr. Wong smiled and caressed her cheek, thankful she was a dutiful granddaughter.
Lin left his side and walked into her room and stared rebelliously out the window. “How can you ask me to marry a man I don’t love, Grandfather?!” she muttered. “How can a man who knows nothing about me bring me happiness?”
Dr Wong closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep but was plagued by the look in his granddaughter’s eyes.
He would come to know that the only thing he succeeded in doing that night was to drive the young lovers closer together. Over the next few months, they became more creative in finding stolen moments to be alone and the two fell into an even deeper love.
But it was a beautiful, impossible love. Everyone was against them. No one wanted them together except the young lovers themselves. All of the girl’s arguments fell on deaf ears and the desire to disobey was great. Still, custom dictated that young woman obey her family’s wishes. To go against them was unheard of, and Dr. Wong did not believe she would do that.
One day, Lin Wong sat in her basement and thought back to the last time she heard of her fate.
The day her grandfather destroyed her dreams for her future:
Dr. Wong had motioned to his granddaughter. “Lin, come here, please sit down.”
Lin came over immediately and looked at him hesitantly. “Yes, Grandfather?”
What he had to tell his granddaughter would not be easy. She had known since she was a young girl that she was pledged to marry a boy. What she didn’t know was that the time had come to honor the pledge made by him so many years ago. Dr. Wong sighed. “Lin, I have met with Chiang Lo Yi.”
Lin nodded but a fear had settled into the pit of her stomach.
Dr. Wong looked at that fear as it flittered across his granddaughter’s eyes. “Chiang and I have decided that it is time for the union between you and his grandson. A union with Peter would be beneficial for everyone concerned. It will be the joining of two proud bloodlines and it will produce many fine grandchildren.”
Lin shook her head and answered quietly. “But Grandfather, I do not love Peter Chiang”
Dr. Wong shrugged his shoulders as he nodded sadly. “No, but perhaps you will learn to love him.”
Lin shot to her feet. “No! I have told you I am in love with Henry Pei. He holds my heart and I will love him forever. If he would ask me, I would marry him instantly.”
“Henry Pei is a poor boy who has nothing to offer you. Peter Chiang comes from one of the most influential families in Chinatown. Their wealth will bring you security and...in time...perhaps happiness.”
Lin started to cry. “But it won’t bring me love.”
Dr. Wong walked over to her. “Lin, I am an old man. I will not be around forever. I wish to see you taken care of as your father would have seen to it had he still been alive.”
Lin pleaded with him. “Grandfather, I’m an adult. I don’t need to be taken care of anymore, but I do need to be loved…”
“You know that after your parents died, I had to bring you here. Chiang Lo helped me to do that. It was decided then that when the time came you and Peter would be joined. You will do this for me. You will honor my commitment.”
Lin knew that he ordered her to do this. She was raised to be obedient and she must follow her grandfather’s wishes. She walked away from him, distraught and with the knowledge that the time of the union was upon them, she was desperate. She didn’t know how to stop the wedding.
Below, Vincent walked into Father’s study. “Father.”
Father looked up from his ledger. “Yes.”
“William is sending me to Dr. Wong’s for some herbs he needs for cooking. Do you need me to pick up anything for you?”
Vincent knew that it had been a month since he had last ventured to Dr. Wong’s. He knew Father’s supply was running low.
Father smiled at his son, thankful for his thoughtfulness. “Yes Vincent, thank you, please pick-up my standard order and ask if I could have an additional half order.”
Vincent looked up with concern. “Father, is your hip giving you more trouble than usual?”
Father sighed. “A little. It seems I’ve been extra sore lately.”
“It’s been less than a week since we were hit with heavy rocks during the cave-in, you sustained broken ribs as well. I can only imagine you would still be sore.”
“Yes, yes, I know. But the herbs do seem to help and I’ve been sitting longer in the hot springs.”
“Good, that should help with the stiffness.”
Father looked up at him gratefully. “You managed to get out relatively unhurt.”
Vincent shrugged. “I had a cut on my leg. Mary helped me stitch it.”
Father remembered that Mary had almost fainted when after the cave-in he suggested that she be the one to put stitches in his head. “Mary stitched it? However did she manage?”
Vincent sighed. He did not want his Father to feel guilty for not being the one to take care of him and he knew that he would. “Actually, Mary anesthetized the area and I stitched it myself.”
Father gasped. “Son, I am so sorry.”
“I managed. I didn’t feel anything and it was only four stitches.”
“Let me see!”
Vincent came over and pulled up his pant leg. Father gasped at the black and blue marks on his son’s legs then studied the cut carefully, looking for infection. He noticed how tight the stitches were and grunted in satisfaction.
Vincent pulled his pant leg down. “It was necessary.”
“Still...Vincent your strength amazes me. I meant to tell you how proud you made me during the cave-in. You took charge and never once let me falter.”
“I wasn’t so strong, Father. On the inside, I was an emotional wreck. I’ve never been as frightened in my life as I was when I couldn’t find you in the rubble and later towards the end when it seemed as if you were giving up. If they hadn’t broken through when they did...”
Father reached up and held his son’s head. “You would have managed, as you always do.” He kissed Vincent’s forehead. “Let’s just give thanks that Catherine was around.”
Vincent nodded. “I might stop at Catherine’s on my way home from Dr. Wong’s. It has been awhile since I last saw her and....” He stopped and dropped his head shyly.
“And you miss her.” Father chuckled. “Vincent, it’s only been two days since you saw her last.”
Vincent thought for a second and realized Father was correct. “It seems like longer.”
Father shook his head with amusement. “There is nothing wrong with that, She’s a good person and has become a good friend to all of us.”
Vincent mumbled to himself. “If not more.”
“HMMM, what was that?”
“Nothing, I’m leaving. I’ll try not to be late.”
Vincent turned to leave.
Father called out to his son’s back. “Tell Catherine I said hello and please be careful.”
Father couldn’t see Vincent roll his eyes but he noticed the wave of his hand in acknowledgment.
Vincent entered through the back steps at Dr. Wong’s. He was welcomed in as Dr. Wong put together the herbs for William.
Vincent smiled when he was handed the package. “Father’s been especially sore since the cave-in last week.”
Dr. Wong looked up as he mixed Father’s special blend. He nodded then grabbed another scoop of herbs and rolled it into its own package. “You tell him, I say to take this. Mix a small amount into his tea. No questions, he will find great relief and be back to himself in no time.”
Vincent nodded and took the package. “That would be good to see again. Thank you, Father will be very happy.”
Dr. Wong chuckled as he reminisced about how long he had been fixing this blend for Father. Vincent smiled saying he remembered coming here often as a boy.
“What I remember is you always helping Lin with her problems. It was nice of you to help someone so much younger than yourself. You always managed to help her find her way, no matter how trivial the problem seemed.”
“I only remember having wonderful talks with Lin. She is a beautiful girl, you should be proud.”
“I love Lin. She is all the family I have left. I only want the best for her.”
“Spoken like a true parent.”
“Since her parents death, I have stepped into the roll of her father. I wish I didn’t have to…I wish I could be the loving grandparent who loves and spoils her but I find myself wanting to guide her and help her have a better life for herself.”
“The only thing a person really needs is love…”
“Ah, Vincent…you forget about food and shelter.”
“A person can live in a mansion surrounded by lovely things and have all their desires at their fingertips but if they don’t have someone to share it with…it all means nothing. Loneliness is a powerful enemy.”
“Loneliness can be conquered by reading a book or turning on the TV or radio.” Dr. Wong scoffed. “Hunger…true hunger robs you of your ability to reason. When your body enters starvation mode it craves nourishment. When none is forthcoming it will slowly shut down all but the few organs that it needs to exist.”
“If you only live your life to exist…merely exist, eat, sleep, breathe, all that is in your heart, compassion, love, hate, all of the emotions will be gone and you will slowly die as well.”
Vincent gave up trying to convince Dr. Wong. He realized he had not lived the same trials that the older man had and he wouldn’t diminish his worries by arguing his own feelings.
Meanwhile, Lin had sat at a dinner in honor of her coming wedding. Chiang Lo announced it was to take place in three weeks. She couldn’t hide her true feelings and as Peter Chiang saw her home that night she was reprimanded by him for disgracing he and his family. He demanded she accept her future and act as though she were happy.
Lin didn’t know that as they spoke, across town Henry Pei was being beaten up by Peter’s friends as a warning to stay away from Lin.
Peter dropped her off at her home and after he left, Henry came out from around the corner. Lin was devastated by what had happened to him. He begged her to run away with him but she was afraid now. Afraid to disobey her grandfather, afraid they would hurt Henry if she did leave with him.
She left Henry outside with a promise to get back to him. She needed time to think of a plan.
She walked into her grandfather’s store and her grandfather inquired about her announcement dinner. Lin started arguing with him, desperate to try to sway him to her way of thinking. Dr. Wong pointed out that they had a guest and Lin looked up and saw Vincent.
She looked at him apologetically. “Vincent.”
Vincent felt badly that he had overheard their private conversation but he could see Lin’s distress. “What has made you so unhappy?”
Lin shook her head. “Hasn’t my grandfather told you? I’m to be married.”
Vincent looked at her quizzically. “A wedding...should be a time of joy.”
“Not in Chinatown.” Lin muttered disgustedly as she walked away.
Vincent looked at Dr. Wong in confusion. Dr. Wong explained how he had arranged for Lin to marry Peter Chiang, the grandson of a powerful man.
Vincent shook his head in confusion. “She does not love him.”
Dr. Wong shrugged. “Well perhaps she will learn to love him, it is going to be a good marriage.”
He told Vincent of the debt he felt he owed to Chiang Lo for his help in bringing Lin here from Tai Pei.
“Now she thinks she is in love with another, a poor boy. What can he hope to give her?”
Vincent’s thoughts turned to his relationship with Catherine and he was able to answer honestly. “His heart.”
Dr. Wong looked down. In his heart, he knew Vincent was right. He wished Lin could afford to marry for love but he knew he had little to offer. He thought it would be better to ensure her financial security instead.
Vincent looked up the stairs towards where Lin had gone. “Perhaps I could talk to Lin.”
Dr. Wong nodded his head gratefully. “You’re a good son, Vincent. You know about duty. Perhaps it would help, thank you.”
Vincent placed his packages on a shelf and headed upstairs to the apartment where the Wong’s lived in. He entered and saw Lin in the kitchen making some tea.
She turned and saw Vincent and visibly relaxed. She was not up for another fight with her grandfather.
“Vincent, come in. Would you like some tea?”
He looked intently at her as she sat down. “Lin, can I help with something?”
Lin shook her head. “I don’t think you could help me with matters of the heart…” Vincent looked down with shame. Lin realized he thought she meant because of who...or what he was. She rushed to quickly explain her statement. “What I meant to say, Vincent is that this is not some teenage problem of mine that you can offer me advice for. This is a problem of grave consequence.”
Vincent’s head didn’t move. Lin realized her statement did little more than make it worse. It made it sound like Vincent couldn’t handle anything but trivial problems. Lin shook her head and reached out her hand to him. “Vincent, I’m so upset I am saying this all wrong! Let me start over. You are a man, and as a man you think differently than a woman...”
Vincent looked up, intrigued to see where this was going. “Why do you say that?”
Lin smiled that he forgave her earlier rumblings and continued. “Because when a man thinks about a woman all he sees is someone that must be taken care of, provided for. He feels that financial security is an attribute that will bring a woman happiness.”
Vincent nodded. “It does seem that if a man could provide for his family that the woman would feel more secure about him.”
Lin rolled her eyes. “Men are so stupid! Yes, to some extent a woman thinks about where she’ll live and what she’ll eat. But if a woman truly loves a man she will eat rice for every meal and sleep on a mat on the dirt floor if she can be next to the one she loves.”
Vincent felt a slight pull at his heart. Could this explain why Catherine would sit with him night after night on a hard cement balcony instead of in her comfortable apartment? He looked at Lin quizzically. “What about children? Doesn’t a woman want to know that a man will always have enough to provide for his children?”
“When I think of Henry, I think of how proud I would be to put a son in his arms. I think of how beautiful our baby would be. I am young and strong, I will work side by side with Henry every day to provide for our family. He doesn’t need to do it alone, we will be partners.”
Vincent shook his head. “But Lin, Henry will not be your husband...”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “Vincent, the thought of being married and having children with a man I do not love is one I can’t bear to think about right now. There are times when the image of Peter Chiang’s hands on me is enough to send me to the bathroom to be sick.”
Vincent sighed, Lin was right. There was little advice that he had to offer her. He wished he could find the words that would bring her comfort but he knew anything he said would be inadequate.
“Lin, follow your heart. Perhaps it will lead you to a solution.”
“My heart tells me to go with Henry. But to do so means breaking my grandfather’s heart. Vincent, what should I do?”
Vincent shook his head. “Only you can answer that, Lin.”
Lin shrugged and looked down in confusion. “Vincent, thank you for trying to help...”
Vincent stood then came over and offered Lin a hug.
“Don’t lose hope, Lin.”
“I’ll try. Goodbye, Vincent.”
Vincent left Dr. Wong’s, his heart troubled for Lin’s dilemma.
As he walked, he thought of the first time he had met Lin.
He had been about nineteen years old and had come to pick up an order from Dr. Wong. He walked into the basement as he usually did and on a box sat a young girl about nine years old crying.
Vincent stopped dead in his tracks as she looked up and blinked in surprise but made no other movement.
He nodded and smiled. “Hello, my name is...”
Lin lowered her head. “Vincent.”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“My grandfather told me you would be coming.”
Vincent’s nodded in understanding. “You must be Dr. Wong’s granddaughter, Lin, is it?”
“Lin, why are you crying?”
“My Grandfather won’t allow me to go to a party with my friends from school tonight.”
Lin rolled her eyes. “I have to go to a dinner with him.”
“That doesn’t seem so bad?”
“I hate going to this place, all of the people are old and the only young boy that’s there is mean.”
Vincent smiled. He knew at this age, boys and girls still thought that the other had ‘cooties’. Vincent caught Lin’s eye. “What’s the boy’s name?”
“Perhaps if you are extra nice to Peter he will come around.”
Lin shook her head. “You don’t know Peter. He’s very cruel.”
Vincent thought of Mitch Denton. He knew from his own dealings that every once in awhile there was a child that was just plain mean. He himself had learned to stay clear of those children. “Well, then perhaps you should sit with the older people. You know, Lin. Sometimes when you spend time with them you find that they have wonderful stories from the past.”
Lin looked up and pondered the wisdom of his statement. She smiled when she thought of Peter’s grandmother. She was a very kind woman and Lin liked her. She could see herself listening to this woman’s stories.
“Vincent, that’s a good idea, thank you.”
Vincent cocked his head endearingly. “You’re welcome.”
Dr. Wong had heard them talking and came down to hand Vincent his order. “Ah, I see you two have already met.”
Lin stood and smiled. “Yes, now I must get ready to go to dinner. It was very nice to meet you, Vincent.”
“It was nice to meet you too, Lin. Have fun at dinner.”
Lin nodded happily. “I will, thanks to you.”
Dr. Wong looked surprised. An hour ago, he and Lin argued about her going, now she seemed like she was looking forward to it. He turned to Vincent. “Whatever you said worked. It is important for Lin to go and spend time with this family.”
Vincent shrugged. “I merely pointed out that she should approach the evening from a different angle.”
“She must learn to like these people. For her sake, I hope what you told her works.”
Vincent ignored the puzzling comment. He wanted to get back for a concert that was going on tonight in the park. “Thanks for the herbs, Dr. Wong.”
“Tell your Father he owes me a good chess game.”
Vincent was walking away but he spun around and smiled. “Then perhaps I should play you instead of Father.”
Both chuckled as Vincent turned and left.
Lin and Vincent met many times after that. Lin came to Vincent seeking his opinion and they spent countless nights together in the basement talking. Lin appreciated Vincent’s wisdom, and Vincent appreciated the friendship he had with Lin. Her talks helped pass the endless hours he spent Below, waiting for the sky to darken so he could walk in the park.
His mind wandered back to the present. He wished he could find a solution for Lin that would make everyone happy but he feared that it would be impossible. Lin had an unfortunate choice to make.
He stopped walking, surprised to find himself at Catherine’s threshold. He shook off Lin’s problems for a moment and headed Above.
Catherine hadn’t been home long when she heard a tapping on her balcony door. She smiled and went out to see him.
She hugged him warmly. “Hi, Vincent.”
He returned the hug, surprised at the unusual exuberance in her greeting. “Hello, Catherine.”
Catherine had recently told Vincent she loved him...well, indirectly but she had told him. She wanted him to know she truly meant it.
“How’s Father today? Has he recovered from the accident?”
He knew she was referring to the cave-in he and Father had recently been trapped in. “He is healing quickly, he sends his greetings.”
“I’m glad he’s doing well, tell him I said hello.”
She wondered about his melancholy mood. “And how are you, Vincent? You seem...distracted.”
Vincent shook his head. “I’ve just received some troubling news.”
“Then why don’t you share it with me?”
He stood for a moment gathering his thoughts then sighed as he looked out over the city. “Why does it seem as though the world conspires to keep lovers apart?”
She thought he was talking about them and caught onto his melancholy mood. “Or brings them together when it’s impossible.”
They looked deeply into each other’s eyes, both understanding that they were talking about their life together. Vincent shied away from the intensity of the moment and told her the story of another couple.
“There is a man, Catherine. A good man, who for more years than I can count has helped us selflessly, kept our secrets. I know him, I know how gentle and wise he is and how much he loves his granddaughter. Yet now he is trying to force her to marry a man she does not love.”
Catherine looked confused. “How could he do that? This is the 20th century there are no arranged marriages.”
“Not in your world or in mine, but Chinatown is another world…apart from both of ours.”
“How does the girl feel?”
“She’s angry and afraid. She would like to comply with her grandfather’s wishes but her heart is crying out against it.”
Catherine came closer. “Would you like me to talk to her, Vincent?”
He nodded gratefully. “I think Lin would like that. It’s good of you to try to comfort her, talk to her in this troubling time.”
“I know what it’s like to want to comply with your family’s wishes. I also know how hard it is to venture out against them. If I could offer her any advice I would. I don’t understand though, why does her grandfather want her to marry a man she doesn’t love?”
“Because he is worried about her future, her financial security, the man that she loves is poor. He has nothing to offer her.”
Catherine rolled her eyes and shook her head. “He has his love and that’s worth so much more than all the money in the world.”
Vincent nodded. Those were almost the same words that Lin had just spoken to him. Maybe there was truth to her statement that men and women think differently about love.
Catherine smiled, hoping Vincent would catch on to her double meaning. Vincent caught her eye then lowered his head, unable to accept the truth in Catherine’s words.
Catherine noticed his embarrassment and changed the subject. “Vincent, who is this girl?”
“Her name is Lin Wong.”
“Do you have her address?”
Vincent shrugged. “I always enter through the basement but she lives at Wong’s Herb Company in Chinatown its on Pell Street.”
“I’ll try to see her tomorrow, maybe she’d like to talk to someone that isn’t so close to the family.”
“Thank you, Catherine. I think Lin would love to talk to another woman.” Catherine looked at him quizzically as he rushed to explain. “She’s just explained to me that men and women approach problems of the heart differently. I’m beginning to think there’s some truth to her statement.”
Catherine shrugged her shoulders. “Well, I’ll be there for Lin if she needs me, and you are quite welcome.” She touched his arm and smiled at him. “Do you want to read for awhile? Or we could listen to some music?”
He grimaced and shook his head. “I have to get back. Dr. Wong mixed some herbs that he says will bring Father some relief.”
Catherine was concerned. “I thought you said he was better?”
“He is, he’s still sore from the accident. I’m hoping if he has some of the herbs tonight he can get a peaceful sleep. I hope you understand.”
“Of course I do, Vincent. Tell him I hope he feels better.”
Vincent nodded and Catherine came forward and laid her head on his chest. She whispered. “See you soon.”
Vincent brought his hand up and caressed her back. “Soon.”
Catherine sighed and watched as he left.
The next day, Catherine made good on her promise and went to Chinatown to visit Lin at the store. Luckily, Dr. Wong was out and Catherine would get a chance to talk to Lin alone.
Catherine addressed the pretty young girl behind the register. “Lin Wong?”
Lin nodded, smiling. “Yes?”
Catherine extended her hand. “I’m Catherine Chandler. I’m a friend of Vincent’s.”
Lin took her hand and shook it. “Any friend of Vincent’s is a friend of mine. It’s nice to meet you, Catherine.”
Catherine noticed Lin’s smile wasn’t reflected in her eyes.
“What can I do for you?”
Catherine shook her head. “Well, actually I was hoping I could do something for you.”
Lin blinked in surprise. “For me? What could you possibly do for me?”
“Vincent was upset about your situation last night. He told me about your problem. I offered to see if I could help. Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need someone to talk to, or can I help in any other way?”
“No one can help me, Catherine. Vincent has offered me advice my whole life. Now when I need a solution quickly, he doesn’t know what to say. I don’t think he’s had a lot of experience with problems of the heart.”
Lin sat back and told Catherine everything. Catherine saw how distressed she became when she talked of her coming nuptials. And she noticed how her face lit-up when she spoke of Henry Pei.
She offered to help the young lovers. She told Lin she understood about duty to family but she said Lin should have the right to choose her own future.
Lin explained to Catherine how things worked in the Chinese community. How she struggled with going against her grandfather’s wishes.
Catherine told Lin about the changes she made in her own life recently. She told her how hard it was to go against her own father’s wishes.
Catherine smiled. “From Vincent. He taught me to face my fears and go out into the world and do whatever I wanted to do…to find my own happiness.”
Lin shook her head ruefully. “I don’t have that kind of strength.”
Catherine chuckled when she remembered saying similar words to Vincent. “Lin, sometimes I wanted to give up. It was so hard but it was at those times I thought about Vincent and drew strength from the knowledge that there was someone who believed in me, believed in my dreams.”
Lin thought for a moment and gave a wan smile. “Someone like my Henry.”
Catherine nodded. “You have to decide if you love him enough to choose your own path in life.”
“But my grandfather...”
Catherine interrupted her. “Will be upset in the beginning but when he sees your happiness, he will be happy for you!”
Lin shook her head. “You can’t know that.”
“Lin, my father was very upset with me, very concerned for the changes I was suddenly making in my life. But he loves me and he understands about my choices. He may not like them but he knows that I’m happy and that makes him happy.”
“Catherine, thank you, you have given me much to think about. I wish I could talk with Henry but it’s too dangerous right now. I’ll have to make this decision on my own.”
“Dangerous? Why is it dangerous?”
Lin told her Henry was beaten up last night by Peter’s gang members as a warning to stay away from her. Catherine said she could help protect Henry but Lin refused. She didn’t want to get any more people involved in the war the Chiang’s were sure to start. She lied and told Catherine she and Henry would be okay.
Catherine left Lin as distressed as Vincent had been. How could she help these two lovers find their way to being together?
After Catherine left, Lin asked Vincent to give her and Henry permission to come below for sanctuary. She pleaded her case to Vincent, who sympathized with her situation and promised to talk to Father for her.
On her way home, Lin made a quick decision and went to Henry’s restaurant that night. She told Henry that they were leaving together the next night. She told him she was taking him to a forgotten place, a secret place where they could be safe.
Lin walked back home and worried about what she would do if the council refused her wish to come Below. Believing that Vincent would find a way to convince them, she began to prepare to bring Henry Below.
Vincent entered Father’s study. He noticed Father having a lively conversation with Mary and hated to interrupt but it was urgent he speak to him.
“Hello, Mary. Am I interrupting? I need to speak with Father about an urgent matter.”
Father shook his head. “No, Mary was just leaving.”
Vincent apologized. “I’m sorry, Mary, I didn’t mean to intrude.”
Mary patted Vincent on the cheek. “Don’t be silly, Vincent. I was just getting up to go to the nursery.”
She left and Vincent turned to his Father.
Father knew Vincent had something important to talk about. “Well, go on.”
“Lin Wong asked me to speak to you on her behalf.”
Father’s brows rose in surprise. “Yes.”
“She would like to bring a young man, Henry Pei, Below with her to stay for a while.”
Father shrugged. “Who is Henry Pei?”
“He’s the man that she loves.”
Father thought he understood and nodded. “The man that she is pledged to marry?”
“No, Dr. Wong has forbid her to see Henry…she does not love the man she is pledged to.”
Father rubbed his temple in confusion. “Well, then why is she marrying him?”
“Because Dr. Wong has arranged for her to do so.”
Father blew out a long breath. “Well then, Vincent. In respect for Dr. Wong, I must deny her request.”
Vincent couldn’t believe Father’s reasoning. He was ready to go to battle for Lin. “How can we possibly deny them?”
“Well, to begin with, we’ve never met this Henry Pei. How can we know we can trust him?”
“Because Lin trusts him.”
Father ignored Vincent’s answer and continued his speech. “Not to mention the fact that Dr. Wong has expressly forbidden it, now we cannot just dismiss his part in this.”
Vincent was getting angrier. “Lin is a woman, responsible only to herself. She is not Dr. Wong’s possession or any other man’s.”
“But part of that responsibility includes a respect to the man who has done so much, sacrificed so much of himself for her.”
Vincent’s started to raise his voice in anger. “So Lin must sacrifice herself?! Will the satisfaction from this comfort her during the endless nights to come?! Will it keep her warm on cold nights as she lies next to a man she does not love?”
“Dr. Wong knows what is best for Lin,” Father argued.
Vincent blew up angrily. “Only Lin knows what is best for Lin.”
Father looked at Vincent, acknowledged the truth in his statement then looked away.
There it is! Vincent could see in his father’s eyes the change in direction of his thoughts. He had managed to sway his father’s opinion. He backed down, safe in the knowledge they would be together in this.
Father nodded and sighed. “Very well, I’ll present her case to the council.”
“There is no longer time for that.”
Father looked at his son and smiled. “Then…you and I must share the responsibility for our decision.”
Vincent nodded his head gratefully. He was proud that his father trusted him enough to side with him. “Thank you, Father.”
Vincent sent word to Lin that she and Henry would be allowed Below.
That same afternoon, Catherine met with Henry Pei. She offered to help him and he too denied her request. He tried to explain that China Town operated under its own set of laws. She was frustrated with the lovers, but she left Henry her card and told him to call if he needed anything.
That night, Henry met Lin as they planned. When they started to walk to the back of the store, to the tunnel entrance, Peter Chiang walked around the corner. His gang members surrounded the couple.
Henry told Lin to run and she took off for the entrance to the tunnels. Some of the gang members pursued her, but she got away when she entered the hidden door.
Peter Chiang drew a knife out and he and Henry fought. Peter inadvertently stabbed himself with his own knife and died out in the street. Fearing for his life, Henry took off and hid.
Lin ran to the tunnels. She called out for help and one of the sentries heard her. She told him who she was and asked to speak to Vincent. The sentry brought her to Father’s study.
Vincent was surprised as she walked in. “Lin?”
“Vincent, I couldn’t wait to hear your decision, something dreadful has happened.”
Just then Father walked into the study.
Vincent turned to him. “Father, do you remember Lin Wong?”
Father smiled. “Of course, though you were much younger when I saw you last.”
Lin smiled demurely. “Yes, sir, and I remember your kindness last time I was here.”
Vincent sensed Lin’s distress. “Father, Lin was about to tell me something of grave importance.”
Father nodded. “I’m sorry Lin, go ahead.”
“Peter Chiang came after Henry and I tonight. Henry told me to run and I barely got away, but I fear for what may have happened to Henry. If anything has happened to him...I was afraid to go home, so I came here, I’m sorry.”
Vincent touched her shoulder. “Lin, I sent word earlier that you and Henry would be welcomed here.”
“I didn’t get it. Grandfather must have kept it from me.”
Father leaned forward and smiled. “It’s all right, Lin you’re still welcome here.”
Vincent looked at her and tried to reassure her. “I’m sure Henry’s all right.”
“Vincent, how can I find him? How can I be sure?”
Father came over. “Perhaps I can let some helpers know and they can keep an eye out for your Henry. Does he know any of them?”
“Father, Henry doesn’t even know about this place. I was going to explain it on our way here.”
Vincent shook his head. “There is one person who can help us, Lin. I’ll go speak to Catherine.”
Lin shook her head. “She was nice to talk to, Vincent. But how could she help?”
Father patted Lin’s hands comfortingly. “Lin, Catherine works for the District Attorney’s Office, and I’m not sure how but she manages to find people when they don’t want to be found.”
Father thought about how in a single evening Catherine had found out about his entire life before he entered the tunnels. He smiled wryly. “If Catherine sets her mind to finding Henry, she’ll find him. Now, Lin, it’s late. Would you like to stay Below with us tonight?”
“Yes, please. After what I did tonight I can never go back to grandfather’s store. Peter will also search for me and I don’t want to be the one his anger is directed at.”
Father called for Mary and asked her to show Lin to a guest chamber. Vincent left to go to Catherine’s.
Catherine was asleep but woke upon hearing Vincent’s tap at her window. She knew immediately that something was wrong. She ran to the balcony and opened the door.
She looked into Vincent’s troubled eyes. “Tell me.”
“Lin and Henry were to come Below tonight. They were on their way when the man Lin was to marry came after them. Henry told Lin to run and Peter’s men chased her. She doesn’t know what happened to Peter or Henry. She can’t go back to look for them and she can’t get a hold of Henry.”
Catherine looked out into the city. “When did all this happen, Vincent?”
He shook his head. “If I had to guess, I would say close to two hours ago.”
Catherine nodded. “Okay, I’ll call around. See what I can find out, I’ll let you know if I get any information.”
“Thank you, Catherine. I’m sorry to disturb you.”
She smiled and touched his arm. “That’s okay. I didn’t get to see you earlier tonight. I missed you.”
Vincent blushed then turned and left.
Catherine went inside and called a few places but no hospitals had record of a Henry Pei or Peter Chiang. She set her alarm for an hour earlier then tried to get some sleep.
The next morning she called the same hospitals and there was still no word on Henry or Peter. She called around to the police stations.
“Officer O’Malley, how can I help you?”
“Keith, it’s Cathy Chandler?”
“Hey Cat, what’s up?”
“Can you do me a favor?”
“You got it sweet thing, watcha need?”
Catherine grinned. “Keith, I’m telling Colleen you called me sweet thing!”
Keith grinned. “My wife knows I’m in love with you!”
Catherine laughed aloud. “You’re in love with the bagels I bring in.”
“Well, those too. So what can I help you with?”
“Can you find out if you have a Peter Chiang or Henry Pei in custody for anything?”
Keith chuckled. “You got radar or something, Cath? Peter Chiang was found dead tonight outside a store in Chinatown. He was stabbed by his own knife, it had his initials engraved on it. Who’s Henry Pei?”
“A friend I’m trying to help. Thanks, Keith.”
“You got it!”
Catherine showered and dressed then headed for the office. She knew Henry would need her at some point. She hoped she would be able to uncover more of the truth to help him when he needed it.
The next afternoon, Henry finally called Catherine for help. He told her Lin said she was going to take him to a secret place. Henry admitted to Catherine that he killed Peter Chiang but he swore it was in self defense. Catherine believed him and asked Henry if he could meet her somewhere, she believed she knew where Lin was.
Catherine wrote a quick note to Vincent telling him that Peter was dead and that Henry finally contacted her. She told him she was meeting Henry and would bring him Below. On her way to meet Henry, she left the message to Vincent with another helper.
Henry wasn’t aware of it but he was followed to the place where he was to meet Catherine. They were walking down the street when he turned around and saw the gang member right behind them. He and Catherine ran and managed to get into a tunnel entrance.
Vincent, brought by Catherine’s fear, met them at the entrance. Henry looked up and slammed to a stop when he saw Vincent. Catherine grabbed him and pushed him through the entrance and Vincent slammed the steel door shut behind them.
Henry stood there with his mouth wide open.
Catherine made the introductions. “Henry, this is Vincent. He’s the secret friend Lin spoke about. Vincent, this is Henry.”
Vincent extended his hand. “Hello, Henry.”
Henry shook it and apologized. “Hello, I’m sorry my manners are usually much better.”
Vincent, used to people’s reactions, shrugged. “That’s understandable considering the unusual circumstances.”
Henry smiled. “Is Lin here?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, and she’s safe, although she’s anxious about your safety.”
The three walked quickly but Henry took in his surroundings. “Vincent, this place is amazing.”
Vincent nodded and Catherine took his hand then turned to Henry. “So are the people who live here.”
Henry grew anxious. “And Lin and I can stay here for a while?”
Vincent turned to him. “You can stay here as long as you like.”
They were soon entering Father’s study. Vincent entered first and nodded at his Father. Lin came from across the room and ran into Henry’s arms. Their love was almost visible in the air.
Catherine turned to Vincent and smiled, she knew just how Lin felt. Vincent looked at Catherine and smiled back shyly.
“I still can’t believe this is real,” Henry said.
Lin nodded. “Believe it.”
“It’s as real as your love,” Vincent stated.
“There is something I have to tell you...” Henry began.
He was interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Wong who angrily stormed into the room.
Father tried to soothe him. “Ah, my dear old friend, please try to understand.”
“Are you aware that Peter Chiang was murdered?” Dr. Wong asked.
“He was trying to kill me!” Henry exclaimed.
Dr. Wong’s eyes flashed angrily. “Doesn’t matter what he was doing. He’s dead and now Chiang Lo Yi won’t rest until he’s tasted revenge. He’ll kill you both!”
“Grandfather, I’m sorry,” Lin said.
“You don’t know what you’ve done child. By coming down here you’ve endangered these people,” Dr. Wong admonished.
Father shook his head. “The responsibility lies with all of us. Henry and Lin will be safe here.”
“No one is safe! It’s you who don’t understand. They know about these tunnels, they’ve been using them for over a century. He’ll send down a whole army,” Dr. Wong declared.
The seriousness of the dilemma hit them hard.
“Oh God,” Father said sitting in his chair.
Vincent felt the impact of his decision. He had talked Father into allowing this to happen. In his desire to help Lin and Henry, who reminded him so much of Catherine and himself, he had failed to look at all the facts. It didn’t matter that the whole thing was a misunderstanding; Vincent alone would shoulder the burden.
It wasn’t long before Father and Vincent had the tunnel community organized and ready for the intrusion. All of the safety measures had been put into place. The children were safe and there were extra sentries posted everywhere.
Henry wanted to surrender himself and Lin begged him to stay with her.
Henry said that he had to do something. “This is my fight.”
Vincent quietly addressed the room. “There will be no fight if we can help it. We will do everything in our power to avoid bloodshed.”
“And what if you can’t?” Henry asked.
Vincent let everyone know his intentions. “This is our home they threaten. We will do what we must.”
“You don’t know them,” Henry warned.
Vincent countered. “Chiang does not know us.”
Chiang Lo Yi’s men reported that they followed Henry and a woman into the tunnels. Chiang Lo did just as Dr. Wong predicted. He organized an army of heavily armed men and entered the tunnels. They split off into two groups and started to make their way though the tunnels.
The sentries started reporting their progress. Mouse turned off the lights but the men had flashlights and continued rapidly forward.
These men were warriors, they were not afraid of anything. They found the false walls that barricaded the tunnels and quickly knocked them down as they continued coming closer to the central tunnels.
As they made steady progress and penetrated further, reports flooded into Father as he sat in the library.
Father worriedly addressed the group. “They’ve found our hidden doors and secret passageways. Both groups have penetrated into the lower levels.”
Catherine was shocked. “Are you sure?”
Father nodded. “Jamie saw them pass. We’ve been safe for so long and now they bring their violence and their hatred to our very home.”
Vincent approached his Father and laid a hand on his shoulder. “They’ve given us no choice.”
Catherine shivered at the feeling that came through the bond. She knew that Vincent was preparing to go to war to protect his home.
Father turned from him and shook his head. “None.”
Vincent threw his cloak on as he started to leave. “If I’m not back within the hour you must flee.”
Father couldn’t meet Vincent’s eyes. He was distraught at having to send his son out to take care of the problem. He wished there was another way but he knew that Vincent was their only hope.
Catherine had stood up as Vincent put on his cloak. Fear flooded into her heart, she knew instantly what he was planning to do. She looked at Father willing him to come up with another way. She saw the resignation in his face.
As Vincent moved to walk past her, Catherine put her hand on this chest. He turned back and looked at her.
She was already seeing the change in him and even though he stopped when she asked, his eyes held no emotion. “Come back to me, Vincent.”
She begged him to come back but he couldn’t respond. He wouldn’t make promises he couldn’t keep.
Without a word, he turned and walked away. He needed to be able to clear his mind from all distractions. He began to shut off all of his feelings and rely on his instincts.
Catherine sat down heavily in a chair. She was looking down as the tears flowed from her eyes. Father noticed her tears, came over and sat down next to her. He put his arm around her and pulled her close. She buried her face in his shirt and cried harder. When all her tears were spent, she pulled away sniffling. He offered her a handkerchief and she smiled up at him weakly.
“I’m so sorry Father, I can’t believe I just broke down like that.”
His voice was thick with emotion when he answered her. “No need to apologize, Catherine. I’m just as worried as you are.”
“I wish there could’ve been another solution.”
“Me too, it’s so hard when he’s called upon to do what must be done.”
She looked up incredulously. “He’s done this before?”
Father grimaced. “A few times, we have been lucky and usually our defenses work but, as is the case now, sometimes harsher measurements are required.”
Catherine tried not to be angry but couldn’t help herself. She stood and began to pace. “Is Vincent the only one required to defend this place?! Is he the only one that will step forward?”
Father knew Catherine didn’t mean to be harsh. She was worried and her anger was seemingly justified.
“It happened so many years ago, Vincent was barely out of his teens...” Father began to share the story of how Vincent came to be the protector to the tunnels. He needed to share it with her so she would understand.
He waited while Catherine looked over at him then came to stand in front of him anxious to hear the rest.
“Vincent was on sentry duty with one of our older men. Norman was in his late seventies. He was in excellent physical and mental shape. He insisted to be allowed to continue sentry duties, so we often teamed up a younger person with him to help him run messages and whatever else he needed.”
Intrigued, Catherine sat down. She was worried about the direction this story was heading and chewed her lip as Father grimaced and nodded indicating that her taking a seat was probably a good idea.
“Vincent loved Norman. They were the best of friends. Norman had fascinating stories and Vincent would sit for hours and listen to him tell them. One day, some men came into the tunnels. Somehow they made it through several of our checkpoints. Vincent heard them, but Norman refused to let him go out to look for them. He went instead and left Vincent behind. Norman never heard the men come up behind him. He screamed but they beat him to the ground. Vincent ran out after he heard Norman’s first cry, but he was too late, the men had already killed Norman. Winslow came on the scene and said it took Vincent less than two minutes to...well...stop the other three men. Vincent was crushed that Norman had been killed protecting him and since then he has taken over the handling of intruders. He refuses to let anyone he cares about be involved. We’ve had endless arguments over this but it’s always the same result.”
Catherine looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “How many times has he had to do this?”
Father came over and looked down at her. “Twice, this will be the third time.”
Catherine shook her head. “I still don’t understand why he won’t accept help, have someone with him to watch his back in the fight.”
Father sighed. He hated to tell her this but he could feel her resentment towards the others that no one was helping Vincent. ‘Catherine, Vincent told me about the three men that tried to kill you. He said that you witnessed him kill those men.”
Catherine nodded and put her head down to hide her shame. “Yes.”
“When...” Father cleared his throat. “When...he’s sent to or called upon to do these things he allows another side of himself to come forward. It sort of takes over the Vincent we know so he can do whatever must be done.” Catherine looked up curiously at his words. “He loses himself in his rage and the one time he allowed someone from here to help him in a fight that man was inadvertently wounded as well.”
Catherine groaned. “He must have felt horrible!”
Father nodded his head. “Thomas lived. He needed seventy two stitches to fix the damage. He told Vincent it was not his fault that it was just an accident but Vincent never forgave himself. To this day, he still fights alone.”
She looked up at him, her eyes wet with unshed tears. “Will he be okay?”
My God, she looks just like a little girl! No wonder Vincent feels so protective over her, Father thought as he gently patted her shoulder. “I don’t know Catherine, we can only hope and pray.” He smiled. “But Vincent has the home field advantage, that’ll help with the outcome.”
She smiled at his attempt to lighten the mood. She continued to hold Father’s hand, as it seemed to help them both draw strength from one another.
Catherine looked around and noticed that she and Father were alone. “Where’d everyone go?”
“Dr. Wong went home to see if he could find out anything. Lin and Henry went with Mary.”
Catherine nodded and began to pace. For some reason, she felt restless and caged. Emotions were flooding through her that she was hard pressed to name. She knew they came from the bond, is this what Vincent was feeling? She turned to face Father. “What can I do when he comes back?”
Father shrugged. “I don’t really know. Just be there for him...that should be enough.”
Catherine nodded and began to pace again as he settled back in his chair to wait.
Vincent mentally prepared himself to do battle. He allowed the beast in him to emerge as he hunted the intruders. The men had foolishly separated into two groups. Their forces were now divided and it would make the job easier for him. He would have the advantage as this was his home; he knew these tunnels better than anybody.
He quickly found the first group of men. He knew their strength was in numbers so he planned to lessen their groups one man at a time. Hiding above on a rock ledge, Vincent grabbed the last man in the group as he passed. He lifted him up and snapped his neck dropping him to the floor in front of his friend. As that man turned back around, Vincent dropped down in front of him and leapt back as the man swung out with his sword. He quickly disposed of him and fled again only to rise up out of the fog to dispose of the last man. This group taken care of, he moved onto the next.
This new group had come into an open area. The sounds echoed through the room. Vincent followed them there and using the echoes, he growled out warnings. Vincent had scared them and the men became reckless.
Vincent knocked the first of the men to the ground. The man was dying slowly as he crawled along the ground. Vincent knew he would die so he left him to get to the others. Next, he frightened the man, who against Chiang’s orders had brought a gun Below and in his fear he recklessly shot out, killing one of his own men. The shock of his actions left him vulnerable and Vincent pounced and brought him swiftly to the ground.
Chiang had seen flashes of Vincent. Now, Vincent approached Chiang and asked him what he would do if he let him go. Chiang warned that he would come back again and again.
Instincts allowed Vincent to feel someone coming up behind him. The man he had knocked down earlier had crawled out into the open area. He struggled to get to his feet. For his last act alive, he flung a throwing star at Vincent. Vincent ducked and it hit Chiang in the heart killing him instantly. The other man fell to the floor dead as well.
Vincent stood and brought the beast under control and then hung his head in shame. He had killed five men and prompted the death of two more. The guilt of his actions weighed heavily on him.
Catherine had eventually sat in a chair and gazed into the flame of a candle. Father observed her and wondered where her mind had taken her.
Suddenly she looked over at him. “It’s done.”
Father blinked. “Hmm?”
Catherine cleared her throat but her voice was still low and husky with emotion. “It’s done, he’s coming back.”
Soon enough, the sentries reported that Vincent was coming back. Father sent a crew to “clean up” the mess he was sure existed.
He knew Vincent would not be in a good frame of mind. He turned to Catherine who sat quietly waiting for his return.
“He will not be himself when he returns.”
She nodded at him in understanding. “I know.”
“I’ll check out his medical condition...afterwards...” Father sighed and shrugged. He never knew what to do when this happened. “I don’t know...if you could just sit with him?”
She shook her head and smiled her voice back to normal. “Father, I’ll stay as long as he needs me.”
He smiled and patted her cheek, thankful once again for this woman in his son’s life.
“Catherine, Vincent may go away for a few days after this. I wanted you to know so that you don’t worry.”
“I know, thank you, Father.”
Vincent walked in the door of the library and looked at his Father. “It’s over, I’m...fine.”
He glanced at Catherine, then shamefully turned and walked to his chamber.
Catherine looked at Father with a question in her eyes. He nodded at her. “Go on…”
She quickly followed Vincent to his chamber.
He was sitting on the edge of his bed staring at nothing when she came to the doorway. He looked up at her as she walked in then looked down at the floor again. She came over to the edge of the bed.
“Don’t!” He warned in his gravely voice.
Ignoring his protests, she sat down next to him on the bed. He flinched as if she’d struck him but she slowly put her hand on his back and tried to draw him close.
He cringed at her touch as she whispered in his ear, “I’m here…”
It took several moments then with a sigh; he turned and put his head to her shoulder. He reached and clung to her with his arms. She put her arms around his neck and caressed his back and mumbled soothing words, letting him come to terms with all that had happened.
They sat that way for a long while before Vincent finally pulled away. “I should...walk you home.”
She shook her head in protest. “Vincent, one of the children can walk me home. You should try to rest.”
“Later, I’ll rest later.”
“Vincent, would you like me to leave now?” Vincent looked at her with such desperation in his eyes she rushed to reassure him. “...Because, I could stay longer if you like.”
His head was lowered but she thought she detected him nod. She scooted close and pulled his head to her shoulder again. She was lightly running her hands through his hair when Father came in.
Father looked upon the scene and in his mind thanked Catherine for her tenderness. He cleared his throat as he blushed and looked at his feet.
Vincent sat up and looked at him wearily. “What is it, Father?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you...I just wanted to see that you were all right.”
He held up his medical bag for proof. Vincent nodded and Father walked in. Catherine scooted over but Vincent reached for her hand.
She held his hand and squeezed it gently, whispering to him. “I won’t go.”
Father sat in a chair across from the bed. He leaned over and peered at his son. He grimaced as he saw the pain his son was trying to hide from him. He sat back in his chair as Vincent blushed and looked down. Father knew he was acknowledging that he was hurt.
Father rolled his eyes. “Where?”
“A weapon, one that wraps a chain around your limb. He pulled, I pulled harder.”
“Can I see?”
Vincent didn’t move and Catherine knew that he was embarrassed by her presence.
She looked at Father then back at Vincent who was still looking down. “Father, as long as you’re here I think I’ll go use the facilities. Is that okay?”
Father winked and smiled at her gratefully. “Of course, Catherine, do you remember the way?”
She smiled in understanding. “Yes, I do. I may be gone a while, girl stuff.”
Father looked down knowing she was coming up with an excuse to be gone for awhile. Vincent blushed but never looked up.
Catherine left and Father turned back to Vincent. “Well, it seems we ran into a bit of luck. Let me see that arm.”
Vincent knew Catherine made up an excuse. “It was not luck,” he replied angrily. He knew Catherine had guessed that he was embarrassed by his differences. She was making her usual concessions. He sighed and pulled his sleeve up past his elbow.
Father gasped when he saw the nasty bruise on Vincent’s arm. It still held the indentations from the links of the chain, almost like it was branded into his arm.
“That can’t feel good, Vincent.”
Vincent didn’t answer, so Father dug through his bag. He brought out antiseptic and cleansed the area then bandaged it as best he could. “I really can’t do anything for it, Vincent, the skin isn’t broken, neither is the bone.” He shrugged. “Time will heal it…is there anywhere else?”
Mouse came running into Vincent’s room. “Cleaned up mess.”
Father whirled on him and gruffly replied. “Not now, Mouse!”
Mouse blushed when he realized what he’d done. “Sorry.”
He turned and left the room. Vincent looked at Father. “So, the men have removed the bodies?”
“Yes,” Father grimaced. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I am so sorry. Mouse should’ve never made that announcement in front of you.”
“I do realize that when I pass that way again and there are no bodies lying there that someone must have taken care of them.”
“I guess...I...never mind.”
“Where...to the Abyss?”
Father knew that Vincent was asking where the men had taken the bodies. “No, I didn’t want anyone else asking about what happened to the Chiangs. The men took them to a dockside warehouse. They were told to phone in a tip.”
Vincent made no comment, so Father continued. “I suppose you’ll be going away again for a while?”
Catherine walked in and heard Father’s question. Vincent looked up at her then back at Father. “I...don’t think so.”
Father was relieved that Vincent seemed to be able to draw strength from Catherine’s presence. He stood, smiled, and kissed Vincent’s head. “Take care of that arm.”
Father touched Catherine’s cheek on the way out and smiled at her. “Goodnight, Catherine. I hope to see you soon.”
“Goodnight, Father. Thank you for earlier.”
If Vincent wondered what Catherine meant by her comment, he didn’t ask. Instead, he sat in much the same place as he had when she left. Catherine noticed the bandage on his arm. “Does it hurt?”
Catherine came forward. She gently picked up his arm and leaned over and kissed the bandage. She looked into his eyes as she put her fingers up inside the band of his shirt sleeve, stretched it and gently pulled it over the bandage.
She took his hand and caressed the back of it. “There, is that better?” He nodded shyly, shocked that she was indifferent to his differences, but he didn’t answer her.
Catherine sighed. “You should rest, Vincent. I’ll see if one of the children will take me home.”
“I’ll see you home.”
“Vincent, I don’t mind, really. One of the...”
“Catherine, please, I...” Vincent stopped and looked at her. He had been about to say he needed to spend more time with her but he stopped himself. He was disgusted with what he had done tonight. He was amazed she could sit with him so calmly after he just killed five men. He wanted to send her away but he needed her close. He needed her love to help heal his heart. “I...want to see you home.”
Catherine looked at him and tried to assess his demeanor, but he seemed closed off from her. “If you’re sure.”
He nodded and rose, reaching out and grabbing his cloak. Catherine reached out and took his hand as she led him through the tunnels.
He remained silent the entire journey. She felt like she was pulling him along behind her. Several times, he just stopped and looked around like he was trying to see where he was.
She led him until they stopped at her threshold. She turned to him and he looked at her in surprise.
“I don’t remember our walk here.”
Catherine, misunderstanding, shook her head and came close. “That’s okay Vincent, I don’t expect...”
“No, no you don’t understand...I did not lead us here.” She looked at him with a question in her eyes so he continued. “Catherine, you found your own way.”
She looked at him incredulously. “I did?”
He nodded and smiled at her. “I cannot recall one part of this walk, Catherine. But I know you led the way.”
She smiled back, proud of herself but happier that he was starting to feel better. “I did, didn’t I? Now if I can only find my way to you.”
He chuckled “Perhaps another time.” He looked at her and grew serious. “Thank you, Catherine.”
She nodded at him in understanding. “You’re welcome. I’ll see you soon?”
He smiled shyly at her. She stepped forward and hugged him warmly. She tried to send wave after wave of her love through the bond. He gently tightened his arms around her.
Catherine thought she could probably stay that way forever but she felt Vincent starting to tire. “Vincent, you have a long walk home.”
He nodded. “Goodnight, Catherine.”
She reached up and caressed his cheek. “Goodnight, Vincent.”
Two days later, late in the afternoon, Lin came to see Catherine at work.
Catherine looked up in surprise. “Hi Lin, please sit down.”
“Hello, Catherine. I came to ask you for another favor?”
“What is it?”
“Henry and I are leaving for awhile. We are going to stay with some of his family in San Francisco. Because of the announcement of my engagement to Peter Chiang, Henry and I cannot be married here. We are to be married Below, tomorrow night.”
“Oh Lin, that’s wonderful.” Catherine came around and hugged her in congratulations. “But what can I do for you?”
Lin shyly looked at her. “Will you stand next to me as my maid of honor?”
Catherine nodded. “Oh Lin, I’d be honored, of course.”
Lin beamed then lowered her voice. “It will mean so much to me. If it wasn’t for you and Vincent, Henry and I wouldn’t be together.”
Catherine shook her head. “True love always finds a way to unite two hearts, even if the road is an impossible one.”
Joe walked up and grinned. “That’s beautiful, Radcliffe. You read that inside a card?”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “Joe, this is my friend Lin Wong. Lin, my boss, Joe Maxwell.”
“The Howard case?”
Catherine handed him the file. “Just finished.” She looked over at Lin then back at Joe. “Hey, Joe. I’m going to leave. Lin and I have a special occasion I need to get a dress for.”
Joe was walking away and reading the file. “Yeah, whatever...Oh, Lin it was nice meeting you.”
Lin nodded. “Nice meeting you, too.”
“Is he mad because you’re leaving early?”
Catherine glanced around at the empty office before she looked at her watch. “I’ve already worked an hour and a half over. Let’s go!”
“Lin, I need something special to wear. What do Chinese bridesmaids wear?”
Lin laughed and guided Catherine to a store that specialized in traditional attire. Catherine surprised Lin when she fell in love with an outfit and bought it immediately.
“Lin, what are you wearing?”
“I don’t know, Catherine. It’s all happened so suddenly.”
Catherine looked over at the saleslady and pointed at Lin and gestured that she was to be the bride. The saleslady found the perfect dress and Catherine paid for it as well.
“Catherine, I can’t let you do this, it is too expensive.”
Catherine shook her head. “But Lin, since you’re traveling, I can’t buy you anything for a gift. Let this be from Vincent and I.”
Lin laughed and gratefully accepted it.
The next night, Catherine went Below as planned and stood as Lin’s witness. Father stood as Henry’s. The priest’s words floated through the air over the tunnel inhabitants.
Catherine turned, searched, and found Vincent in the crowd. They only had eyes for each other as the ceremony continued on. The words could have been written for them.
The tunnel family had a special dinner in the dining hall for the newlyweds. Catherine had provided some extra provisions so William could make this a special night. She hoped he would keep it a secret.
Vincent and Catherine sat with Father and Mary, Henry and Lin and Dr. Wong at a table near the front of the room.
“Thank you for the wonderful meal. It was unexpected,” Lin gushed happily.
“This meal is too much, Father. I hope you have not ruined your budget providing this for Lin and Henry,” Dr. Wong said.
Father looked surprised. “I’m not sure I know what you mean? I assumed these extras were from you.”
Dr. Wong shook his head. “No, unfortunately I could never afford fine food for this many people.”
“Well then I wonder who...” Father stopped as he caught a glance exchanged between Catherine and Mary.
Father looked at Catherine who blushed profusely and looked down at her plate pretending a fascination with her broccoli casserole.
Vincent came to Catherine’s rescue and changed the subject. “It was a beautiful ceremony.”
Father frowned but recognized what Vincent did and went along. “It was indeed a nice ceremony.”
“The words touched me deeply,” Catherine said.
“They touched all of us,” Mary added.
Vincent looked at Catherine. “Yes.”
The community celebrated Lin and Henry’s marriage. It was late notice so there were no musicians but Catherine had brought down a radio with a package of batteries and appropriate music. The teenagers kept the music going and a good time was had by everyone in the community.
Lin and Henry walked up to Catherine towards the end of the night. Most of the gifts they received tonight were simple and could be easily packed. But they had opened one card that brought tears to both their eyes.
Henry held out his hand and took Catherine’s. “Catherine, I can’t thank you and Vincent enough for the wedding present.”
Vincent smiled. “Yes, Lin told me how Catherine purchased her dress. It’s quite lovely. Lin made a beautiful bride.”
Lin blushed as Henry smiled. “Lin is beautiful but I was talking about the gift you gave in the card. It was too much!”
Now Catherine blushed and looked away. “Its okay, Henry.”
Lin looked up. “No, Catherine, it was most generous of you and Vincent. Henry and I were going to take the bus but with the airline tickets you gave us we can begin our new lives tomorrow.”
A surprised Vincent looked at Catherine who shrugged. He turned back to the newlyweds. “We both hope your new life will bring you much happiness.”
Other well wishers came up and Catherine and Vincent slipped away.
Later, Vincent walked Catherine home. Catherine as always, reached for his hand.
Vincent silently took it. “Your generosity is amazing, Catherine.” She looked puzzled so he explained. “The tickets for Lin and Henry...”
She carelessly shrugged it off. “Oh, that, I knew it would be nicer for them to start out fresh not bedraggled from a long journey. They’ve been through so much. Besides, no one should have to spend five days on a bus for their honeymoon.”
Vincent smiled and walked in silence. “I was surprised that you included my name on your gift.”
“It was our gift, Vincent.”
He shook his head. “I contributed nothing to it, Catherine.”
Catherine laughed. “Vincent, I don’t know of a man alive who has ever been involved with buying a wedding gift. Every couple I know does the same thing. The woman just signs the man’s name on the card and he gets to share in the credit.”
Vincent stood in awe. She was treating them like any other average couple. He felt a wave of emotions at the thought of belonging to Catherine and at the prospect of people believing that they were one.
Catherine was troubled by his silence. She had only just recently met everyone Below. Maybe, Vincent was uncomfortable with her assuming that they were together and announcing it to his family and friends.
Catherine rushed to apologize. “Vincent, if I overstepped my bounds, I’m really sorry. I just acted like every other couple I know.”
“Is that what you think we are, Catherine? A couple?”
Catherine looked embarrassed. She had interpreted his question the wrong way. “I...guess...I mean, yes, I thought we were. I thought it would be okay to include your name with mine...I...”
Vincent interrupted her. “Catherine, I love that you thought to include my name. I’m honored that you want to...be a couple”
She looked up at him curiously. “Do you, Vincent? Want to be a couple?”
He looked down shyly. “I’ve never been the other half of a couple. I don’t know how?”
They had come up to her threshold. Catherine felt relief that he wasn’t upset that she hadn’t asked him first before she included his name on the card.
She turned and grabbed his arms and put them around her waist. She put her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest. “The only requirement to being a couple with me is to hold me like this whenever you get a chance.”
She pulled closer as his arms held her tighter.
He whispered into her hair. “Catherine, I like being a couple with you.”
She smiled into his chest. “Me, too.”
The next night, Vincent came to Catherine’s balcony.
“Lin has sent word to Dr. Wong she and Henry are settled safely in San Francisco.”
Catherine nodded and smiled. “Good. They deserve it. Their love was truly inspiring. They’ll have a wonderful life.”
“Yes, it was a rough start but their love will see them through.”
She smiled and looked out into the city. “The ceremony was beautiful, the priest’s words were perfect…”
“You looked...so beautiful. For a moment...I allowed myself to dream.”
Catherine nodded, she too had dreamed about it being her and Vincent standing there. “So did I.”
“They have a lifetime together. Our time together is always measured in minutes, seconds.”
She came closer. “Then we must learn to measure our lifetime in another way.”
He sighed. “Yes.”
They looked into each other’s eyes. Once again, Catherine stepped forward and moved into his arms. She laid her head on his chest as he tightened his arms around her and lowered his head to rest on hers. They hoped this moment would last forever.