BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES

AIN’T LOVE GRAND
FIFTEENTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

Catherine ran from the shower with a towel wrapped tightly around her, grimacing as she dripped water on the floor as she reached for the telephone receiver.

“Hello.”

“Hey, you!”

Catherine smiled as she turned to sit on the bed. “Hi, Jen!”

“You sound breathless; did I catch you at a bad time?”

“Uh huh, I was just getting out of the shower.”

“I was wondering if you have time to do lunch today...”

Catherine thought for a few minutes. “Well, I have a ton of errands to run but maybe I’ll get everything done... What time are you thinking?”

Jenny giggled. “Late or early, I don’t care which. I have an appointment at 12:30 that should take me about an hour.”

Catherine thought briefly about her schedule. “All right, let’s say 2:00 at Luigi’s?”

“Sounds good. I’ll see you there. Bye.”

“Bye, Jen!”

 

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

 

The one-year anniversary of the day Catherine’s life changed forever was in exactly one week. It would be one full year since Vincent had found her and saved her life. Now, Catherine found herself browsing through endless shops looking for the perfect gift for Vincent.

She absently touched the scar hidden by her ear as she thought back to her appointment earlier that morning. The doctor had wanted to schedule another surgery to remove her final scar. He must’ve thought she was crazy when she declined, telling him she wanted to keep it, that she had gotten used to it. He couldn’t understand why she would want a reminder of that fateful day. He thought she’d want to put the whole incident behind her. She told him that the tragic incident had brought about the most wonderful year of her life.

As she picked up then put back on the shelf yet another trinket, she thought back about everything that had happened the past year and realized she had spoken the truth. The past twelve months had, in fact, been the most wonderful time of her life.

She had made some drastic changes in her life and, although she worked exhausting hours for little to no pay, she loved her work. She missed seeing her father every day but at the DA’s office her work made a difference to so many lives and she was proud of her accomplishments.

Vincent had also quickly become one of the most important people in her life. They had grown so much closer lately. His “family” Below had become her family. And now the time to celebrate that first meeting was quickly drawing near and she was desperate to find something to give to him to commemorate that fateful day.

Despite the hefty price tag reflected in the mirror behind it, Catherine picked up a crystal heart-shaped paperweight and turned it over in her hands, smiling at its significance. She knew she loved Vincent more than life itself and this represented how solid that love was. She knew he loved her as well, of that she had no doubt, but there were times, like when she told him she was going to move to Providence, when he seemed he could easily let her go. She frowned when she wondered if she was reading more into his feelings then was actually there. She thought about how safe she felt in his arms, and she always thought she felt a feeling of contentment when they held each other on the balcony. Maybe those feelings were only hers, and she was imagining that he felt the same way about their time together. With a sigh, she set the paperweight back on the shelf and walked away.

Doubting herself again, she shook her head and went back to pick up the heart. Vincent loved life and relished all that it could give him. Yes, it had thrown him a strange curve: his differences prevented him from living any kind of a “normal” life. Catherine knew she loved him despite those differences, and she felt at times that he drew her in, desperate for her love, even though at other times he seemed to push her away.  Now was the perfect time for her to show him how much he meant to her.

As Catherine ran her fingers over the heart, her thoughts were troubled. “I’m an extremely wealthy woman. I could buy him anything he wants. I could spend thousands of dollars on a gift...” she chuckled to herself, “...and it would mean as much to him as if I brought him a gift from a gumball machine.”

Catherine sighed. She knew that any extravagance would only embarrass him. What could she buy him that was inexpensive but showed him how much she loved him? What could she give to him that he could look upon and know that she was near and thinking about him? She sighed again in frustration and her breath blew her bangs up from her forehead. She placed the heart back on the shelf and turned and walked out of the store.

Frustrated, she glanced at her watch and smiled when she realized it was almost time to meet Jenny. She quickly waived down a taxi and headed to Luigi’s.

Jenny was already seated when Catherine walked into the restaurant.

 

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

 

In the world Below, Vincent sat and faced the same dilemma as Catherine. He had no money and he could think of nothing any of the helpers had that he could trade his time for. He wanted the perfect gift. Catherine had come into his life almost one year ago, and on that day his life truly began. She opened up a world of dreams to him, and a life of possibilities he never thought to have.

He thought of every person Below that he could go to that may be able to help him with his problem. His thoughts finally brought him to Narcissa. “That’s it!” He would go to see her immediately; if anyone knew of something appropriate from his world, it would be Narcissa.

Vincent walked to the area of the tunnels where Narcissa called home. He was nearing her chamber when he heard her call out to him.

“Hello, child, come in...come in.”

Vincent entered her chamber. “Narcissa, are you well?”

She cackled and smiled at him. “I’m an old woman, Vincent. Every day that I breathe is a day that I am well.”

He bowed his head to her. “And every day you are on this earth is a gift to us.”

“You’re a sweet boy, Vincent. Now, what brings you so far from home?”

“I was wondering if I could trouble you for your help.”

Narcissa threw some shells in a bowl then looked up at Vincent. “A gift is what you come in search of, is it not?”

He blinked in surprise. “Yes, it is.”

Narcissa smiled, pleased with herself. “And who is this special gift for?”

“The woman you helped me with before...”

“The one from Above: Catherine?”

“Yes. I wish to give Catherine something from our world to keep with her in the world Above.”

Narcissa nodded knowingly. “There is a beautiful place that shimmers and glows. A Crystal Cavern, far beneath the lowest catacombs. It is there that you will find what you seek.”

Vincent stepped forward anxiously. “Can you tell me how to find this place?”

“It’s at least a day’s journey, Vincent.”

“Then I’ll leave immediately.”

Narcissa pointed at his chest and mysteriously answered, “Follow your heart ,Vincent, it will lead you to where you want to go.”

Vincent frowned at her cryptic message as he walked away.

 

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

 

Vincent knew it was late but he wanted to tell Catherine he would be gone for a few days and went to see her.

Catherine was sitting on her bed poring over information from her latest case when she heard the familiar tapping on her balcony door and smiled as she got up to walk outside.

“Hello, Vincent.”

“Hello, Catherine. I’m sorry, I know it’s late but I needed to see you.”

She smiled ruefully. “It’s not too late. I was actually still working. Is everything all right?”

“Yes. I...need to go away for a few days. I wanted you to know.”

Assuming he needed time alone, she wondered what had happened, but when he said nothing further on the subject, she nodded. “Okay, I understand.”

He took her hand in his. “I wanted to ask you to be extra careful while I’m gone. If anything should happen while I’m away...”

“Vincent, I’ll be fine. The case I’m working on is supposed to go to trial. All of the leg work has been done already. I promise, I’ll be safe.”

He nodded and turned to walk away then turned to look back at her tentatively.

She looked at him quizzically. “What is it, Vincent?”

He looked down shyly. “I’ll miss you...I’ll miss feeling you near.”

She moved forward and hugged him impulsively. “And I’ll miss you. Have a safe journey, Vincent.”

Vincent’s arms came around her, holding her tightly, as he lowered his head to her shoulder. He stood and smelled her unique scent then drew back slowly. “Be safe, Catherine.”

She smiled up at him. “You, too.”

She watched as he scaled the wall and left.

 

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

 

The next morning, Vincent walked into Father’s study. He laid his cloak and an overnight bag down on the table.

Father showed him some plans that Mouse had made then turned and noticed Vincent’s items on the table. “You look as if you’re ready for a journey.”

Vincent nodded. “Narcissa has told me of a wondrous place she calls the Crystal Cavern. I don’t expect to return until tomorrow afternoon.”

Father smiled. “Ah, Narcissa and her wild tales, but why this sudden interest in mythical caverns?”

“Actually, I am in search of a gift.”

Father guessed the answer. “For Catherine?” 

Vincent nodded. “Uh huh. It’s been a year since she first came into my life.”

Father chuckled. “I just shudder to think what the next year might bring. You know I used to rue the day that you two met.”

“I know.”

“I never dreamed I’d one day look at Catherine with a fondness, but I do.”

He looked up at Vincent, wanting him to see how sincere his statement was.

Vincent nodded, acknowledging Father’s statement then reminisced. “It’s been a time, filled with things we’ve never dreamed of. It’s been the most miraculous year of my life.”

Father nodded. “I know. You two share something quite extraordinary, something that touches the best in all of us.”

“To hear those words coming from you, Father, it must!”   

“You mean there’s still hope, even for an old man like me?”

Father watched as Vincent picked up his pack and cloak.

“Always.”

Vincent smiled as he turned to leave.

Father stopped him. “Vincent, you might enjoy this along the way,” he said as he handed him a book.

Vincent turned the book over and read the title. “It’s perfect,” he thought. He bent to kiss his father’s head. “Thank you, Father.”

Vincent left the room as Father thought about his son’s relationship with a remarkable woman.

 

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

 

Later that day, Mary came into the library. Father was reading plans, and looked up at her then smiled.

“Mary, come in!”

“Good afternoon, Father.”

“I was just having some tea, would you like to join me?”

Mary shook her head. “No, thank you. Actually, I was looking for Vincent.”

“Well, he won’t be back for a few days...”

Mary anxiously sat down in a chair. “Oh, Father! What’s happened? What made him leave this time?”

Father waved his hands dismissively. “No, no…I’m sorry, Mary, I never meant to imply anything is wrong.Vincent has left to go in search of a gift for Catherine.”

Mary beamed in approval. “How wonderful! Is it a special occasion?” Her eyes lit up as she said it. “It is! How could I have forgotten? It’s the one-year anniversary of when they met.”

Father nodded. “Yes, I believe he wanted to find Catherine a keepsake from the world Below.” Father looked away with concern. “He’s following one of Narcissa’s tales; I hope he’s not disappointed.”

“He won’t be! I hope he finds something appropriate. Their love is truly inspiring, isn’t it?”

Father chuckled. “Yes, I told Vincent that same thing just this morning.”

Mary looked surprised. “See, there’s still hope for you!”

This time, Father laughed out loud. “Now you do sound like Vincent. He was so happy this morning when he left...”

Mary reached out and touched his hand. “Vincent’s been happy for the past year. Haven’t you noticed? Ever since Catherine, there’s been a huge change in him. He’s so much more...settled...or ‘content’ might be a better word? I can’t describe it. He’s just...different.”

Father nodded. “Yes, I noticed. Despite the turmoil Catherine has brought to his life, she has also brought about a level of happiness I’ve never seen in him. Not since Devin or Lisa has he been so attached to another person’s feelings.” Father looked down again. “I just hope those feelings don’t destroy him...”

Mary shook her head. “Try not to worry, Father. Vincent had a crush...a case of puppy love for Lisa. He has a man’s feelings for Catherine.”

“Yes, and that’s what worries me!”

“Father, love has a way of finding its own path to its destiny. Their relationship has built itself slowly. It has a strong base; they’ll be fine.”

Father shook his head. “Well, no use thinking about it now. Mary, what did you need Vincent for? Is it something I can help with?”

She shook her head. “No, it’s silly. Little Amy has a loose tooth and she won’t eat because it’s dangling in her mouth. Vincent has always been able to tell his silly story and he gets the tooth out before they even know what’s happened. Amy asked for Vincent and then started to cry when I called him and he didn’t come. I promised her I would search for him.”

Father chuckled. “Bring her to me; I’ll take care of it.”

“You?!”

“Yes, Mary! Who do you think taught Vincent the story?”

Mary nodded then left the room as Mouse was walking in. Father waved him over.

“Yes, Mouse, what is it?”

Mouse came forward. “Read plans?”

Father nodded. “Yes, Mouse, I did.”

Mouse got excited. “Okay, good. We build soon?”

Father grabbed Mouse’s shoulder. “Mouse, they were brilliant plans! It was an excellent idea but we won’t be able to build it.”

Mouse looked confused. “Why?”

“Well, Mouse, it would cost too much money to get the materials we would need...”

Mouse interrupted. “Could get materials, free.”

Father shook his head as he shot Mouse a withering look. “No, Mouse, remember?”

Mouse shyly lowered his head. “Yes, I remember.”

“Good. So, as I said, the cost is too high and we simply do not have the manpower. But Mouse, it really was an excellent idea. You have the makings to be a brilliant engineer.”

“Did Vincent see?”

“Yes, he did, right before he left.  He agreed with me.”

“Left? Where’d he go?”

“He went below the catacombs.”

Mouse looked down dejectedly. “Oh, needs to be alone.”

Father shook his head. “No, he’s okay. He should return tomorrow.”

Mouse sighed. “Okay, can wait.”

Father noticed Mouse was dejected. “What is it, Mouse?”

“Just have a question.”

Father nodded. “Well can you ask me the question?”

Mouse blushed furiously. “No, need Vincent.”

“Okay, I understand. Well, your questions will have to wait a few days.”

Mouse left the room as Father looked down at his plans once again. Fifteen minutes later, Cullen came in.

“Father, sorry to bother you. Do you know where Vincent is?”

Father never looked up from his ledger. “Away for a few days, Cullen.”

“Oh, damn!”

Father looked up in surprise. “What’s so urgent?”

Cullen shook his head. “Kanin and I are almost done with the chamber but we came across a huge beam. We need some help moving it.”

“Oh, you need his strength?”

“Yeah, but it can wait, or maybe I’ll just round up some extra guys. He went away again? Everything okay?”

“Yes, everything’s fine, thank you for asking.”

Cullen left, and five minutes later William came in.

Father looked up. “Hello, William, what can I help you with?”

“Hi, Father. I was actually looking for Vincent...”

Father took off his glasses. “Vincent went away for a few days.”

William looked alarmed. “What happened? Is he okay?”

“Nothing happened, and yes he is just fine. Now, what do you need Vincent for?”

“I was wondering if he would lead a group of the children to pick up a shipment of produce. I suppose I can send someone else.”

Father nodded. “Yes, why don’t you see if Mouse and Jamie and perhaps Michael will accompany the group?”

“Okay, but I’ll have to remind Mouse to be careful.”

William left, and Father got back to recording facts and figures in the ledger. It wasn’t long before Pascal came in.

“Father, I’m looking for Vincent.”

Father looked up angrily from his ledger. “Pascal, please send a message that Vincent will be gone for a few days.”

Pascal blinked, surprised at Father’s anger. “Okay.”

Father sighed. “I’m sorry, Pascal. You’re the fifth person this morning that has come in here looking for him.”

“It’s okay...So, Vincent went away. Is everything okay?”

Father rolled his eyes. “Pascal, could you also tell everyone that Vincent is fine? Now, what is the urgency?”

“Maggie Howard has sent word she needs help with her daughter. She asked specifically for Vincent.”

Father nodded. “Yes, her daughter is autistic and somehow Vincent has always able to help her. Did she say what help she needs with Linda?”

“Something about her being upset with some changes that had to take place in her house; she says Linda is afraid to come out of her room.”

Father nodded. “Brooke and Linda are about the same age. Ask Brooke if she would run over there and see if she can help Linda conquer her fear. If not, maybe Mary could do without Sara for a while and she could try.”

Pascal nodded and left. He went back to his station and sent the word that Vincent was away for a few days but everything was fine. Father peacefully went back to work.

 

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

 

Vincent walked for miles that day, stunned by the beauty of the world Below. He did as Narcissa instructed and followed his heart. Each time he came to a crossway and had to make a decision, he felt a “pull” and he let it guide his way. He walked the entire day and finally settled on a spot and made camp for the night. He started a fire and warmed the meal provided by William. He thought back on the last year of his life. He thought back to the first time he had seen Catherine...

He remembered that fateful day when he saw something being thrown from the side of a van. It rolled through the grass and came to a stop. Vincent heard a moan and realized it was a human being. He crept closer but the person never moved.

He carefully turned the person over and his breath caught in his chest. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was hurt, badly hurt, and there wasn’t enough time to get her to a hospital, so he took her Below. Father helped him take care of her injuries but it was Vincent who nurtured her, comforted her.

Over the next few days, she began to trust him, but the first time she ever saw him she reacted instinctively and threw a cover at his head. The second time she saw him, she was more prepared, and bravely reached up to remove the hood from his head. She looked deeply into his eyes, trusted him, and accepted him for all he was.

Vincent remembered feeling her emotions as she went through myriad changes in her life after she went Above. The fear and the grief, the strength and the determination, the happiness and the sadness, and then he remembered how nervous he felt when he decided to go and see her for the first time in months. He remembered the joy that flowed through him when, after seeing him for the first time, she ran into his arms and hugged him warmly. She welcomed him into her life.

He thought back to the heartbreak he felt when she was dating Elliot, and then again when she was thinking of moving to Providence. He thought of the joy he felt when she came back to him after each of those times. He thought of all the wondrous nights they had spent reading in his chamber or on her balcony, their night spent together on Halloween, the endless times they were there for one another.

Lastly, he thought of the time after she helped rescue Father and him from the terrible cave-in. He remembered when he told her it took great courage to save them.  He recalled the look in her eyes when she looked up and said, “It wasn’t courage, Vincent, it was love.” He remembered feeling like his heart was jumping in his chest.

He wondered again at her ability to love someone like him. He thought of all the changes she had brought to his life. He thought of the dreams he allowed himself to have because of her. He thought of what his future might hold. He fell into a sound sleep thinking of her.

 

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

 

The next day, in the world Above, Catherine and Joe were waiting for an important case to go before the grand jury. They had gone to see the chief attorney on the case with what they thought was enough evidence on Phillip Taylor.  But Levinson wanted more proof. He told them that Taylor had Evan Brannigan for a lawyer. Catherine and Joe both frowned at the high profile and highly respected legal firm that Taylor had retained. It was going to be a tougher case than they ever imagined. Catherine sighed as she turned to leave Levinson’s office. She had thought they had enough to go to trial and was discouraged at being told to get more evidence.

On their way out the door, Levinson reminded them that Moreno expected them to be at the mayor’s ball tonight. 

Four hours later, Catherine headed towards the door at the same moment Joe was leaving his office.

He smiled. “You’re leaving?”

Catherine answered as they loaded up on the elevator. “Yeah, if I want to make it to that ball on time, I better get out of here. I need some time to get pretty.”

Joe raised his eyebrows and grinned, ready to make a smart remark.

Catherine rolled her eyes, anticipating his next move. She held up her hand to stop his comment. “I know, I know, I should’ve left hours ago, right?”

Joe pretended a feigned innocence. “I would never say something like that! I was actually going to say that you look beautiful every day.”

Catherine snorted with laughter as they exited and made their way through the lobby. “Yeah, I bet.”

They were outside, and Joe motioned for her to take the first cab. She got in with a backward glance. “See you in a little while.”

The cab took off, and Joe sighed as he watched it leave. He grabbed the next cab that came up and headed home.

 

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

Catherine didn’t want to go back out but she knew it was expected of her. She hurried through her shower and styled her hair then put on her make-up and got dressed. She sat at her vanity to put on the finishing touches.

She reached for her jewelry box and stopped herself. Alongside of her jewelry box sat a trinket from her childhood. She picked up a beautiful white crystal rose proudly displayed on the vanity. Gazing at it, she held it in her hands, caressing it lovingly. It meant so much to her. If she told Vincent the story behind it, she knew he of all people would appreciate its value. She thought about it for a while then decided yes, this would be the perfect present for Vincent.

It was not an especially expensive keepsake; its only value lay in its meaning to Catherine. Yet, she knew he would like it because it had belonged to her. She would make a leather pouch for it to fit into and he could wear it around his neck. She smiled and placed it back on the table.

She groaned when she saw the clock; she needed to hurry to the party.

 

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

 

Catherine stood by the refreshment table and grabbed a glass of champagne as a waiter walked past her. Joe walked over to stand by her. He looked at her with a sparkle of mischief in his eyes.

“Your date parking the car, Radcliffe?”

She smiled at his joke. “Yours must be in the powder room?”

He laughed. “Yeah, they don’t know what their missing, huh?”

Catherine let her eyes take in his appearance. “You look great in a tuxedo.”

“I feel like a head waiter. I hate parties like this, everybody dressed up to impress people they don’t know and don’t want to know.” Joe pointed. “There’s Moreno over there. Better pay your respects.”

Catherine moved to walk over to Moreno when Joe called out, stopping her.

“Oh, did I tell you how gorgeous you look?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“Well, consider it done!”

She rolled her eyes and walked over to Moreno.

She visited with him and a few other top officials. This was Catherine’s element. She had spent her entire life in this environment.  She was able to fit right in with the men’s conversation and make each of them feel special.  She was able to give Moreno credit for convictions in many cases, and the men in the group began to look at him with a new respect.

Moreno kept quiet, thanking the day he told Joe to hire Catherine. She was an asset to his office, and just scored some major brownie points for him from some high-ranking people. 

A while later, Catherine sauntered back by Joe. She looked at him innocently. “Did you get something to eat?”

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Yeah, how’d you know?”

She laughed and turned around to the bartender, asked for a club soda then grabbed a napkin. She waved him closer. “Come here.”

He took a step closer and she reached out to his shirt. She wet the napkin and went to work on the sauce he had spilled on his shirt.

He looked down in disgust. “Oh, great, I’m not gonna get back my deposit!”

She shook her head. “Sure you will; look good as new!”

He smiled down at his clean shirt. “Hey, yeah, thanks, Cathy, I owe ya one.”

“Good, can I collect now?”

He looked at her warily. “Uh oh, I’m not gonna like this, am I?”

She nodded towards the dance floor. “Just one dance?”

He grumbled as he turned and led her out onto the dance floor. “Okay, let’s get this over with.”

They danced and talked, and he relaxed enough to move her around the floor. He stepped on her foot but to her credit she only slightly winced and kept moving with him. The dance ended, and they retreated off the floor.

Catherine turned to him. “Joe, I see some friends over there. I’m going to go over and say hello, would you like to come with me?”

He looked at the group she referred to. They were all “stuffy” looking. “No, thanks, I’m good right here. Go ahead.”

Catherine nodded and turned, and left him standing alone by the refreshments table. Joe scanned the room, and then turned and looked at the endless array of food.

He noticed his reflection in a giant bowl, so he bent over and checked his hair and tie. Suddenly another face appeared next to his. He stood up, blushing from embarrassment, and looked into the eyes of a beautiful auburn-haired woman.

She looked surprised, and smiled. “You’re blushing.”

He smiled back. “No kidding!”

She offered him her hand. “I’m Erika Salvin.”  

“Joe Maxwell.”

Joe looked at her from head to toe, surprised a woman of this caliber was talking to him.
“Erika.”

Erika smiled and repeated his gesture, eyeing him up from head to toe. “Joe.”

Joe chuckled but remained silent.

“Well, it’s really nice to meet you, Joe.” She looked over at the dance floor and hinted, “The music’s nice.”

“Yeah...yeah, it is nice, isn’t it?”

She looked at him, determined to try again. “Do you dance, Joe?”

He knew he couldn’t refuse her and smiled. “You’re gambling.” He laughed as he led her to the dance floor.

They went out at the perfect time, as the band was playing back to back slow songs. Erika had seen Joe dancing earlier with Catherine, and wondered if she was his girlfriend. Joe quickly told her Catherine was a work buddy. Erika relaxed upon hearing the news, and enjoyed their dance.

They started out with small talk, and progressed through topic after topic. The floor was crowded and Joe pulled Erika closer. She laid her head on his shoulder. They danced together the rest of the night, oblivious to the crowd around them. Slowly, people left the
Ball, and they were the only ones still dancing. The manager finally had to ask them to leave.

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

 

Joe walked Erika outside and turned to face her. “I should have asked the manager to call us a taxi.”

Erika shrugged. “It’s a lovely evening; I don’t mind walking for a while.”

Joe smiled at her as he offered her his arm.

Erika happily took it as Joe looked at her.

“Which way?”

Erika started to walk, and Joe happily walked next to her.

“So, Joe, tell me about yourself.”

“You want me to start?”

“Sure.”

“Wow, where to begin?”

Erika shrugged. “How about your family? Do you have any kids?”

“Me?! No, I’ve never been married, and the closest I’ve gotten to having kids is seven nieces and two nephews.”

“Seven? Wow, how many brothers and sisters do you have?”

“Four. Unfortunately, none of them were brothers. All sisters…all older.”

Erika smiled. “I know how that feels. I have four sisters as well, but I’m right in the middle of them.”

“I wish I was in the middle. Being the youngest, they always felt I needed to be mothered.”

“They all have the maternal instinct, huh?”

“Pretty much, although I can’t blame Josephine, she’s the oldest; she had to help raise all of us when my mom went back to work.”

“It happens to everyone. Money gets tight with all those kids…”

“No, that wasn’t it…my dad was a police officer, he got killed in the line of duty.”

“I’m sorry,” Erika said honestly.

“Thanks.” Joe patted her hand and smiled then grew melancholy and sighed. “Jeraldine was seventeen and Justina was eighteen, so they were a huge help with the household chores, and Jina was already twenty-one; she was working and taking some college classes. But I was only fourteen, and was a bit of a hellion. Josephine came over every day to sit with me after school and keep me on track. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would have made it through law school.”

“So, they treat you like you’re one of their kids?”

“No, thank God they’ve given that up. Josephine has four kids of her own, and each of the other girls has two kids each. No, these day’s they’ve turned their efforts to finding me a wife!”

“Oh, no!” Erika grimaced in sympathy at his dilemma.

Joe chuckled. “Yep. How about your sisters? How many nieces and nephews do you have?”

Erika sighed. “No time for babies in my family. My oldest sister, Michaeline, is a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins; the next sister, Christine, is a nuclear physicist and works at NASA; my younger sister, Patricia, is a professor at Harvard Law; and the youngest sister, Stephanie, is finishing her internship at the Mayo Clinic.”

Joe looked at her incredulously. “Wow, impressive!”

Erika looked down sadly. “Yeah, they were all able to achieve great things.”

Joe looked at her curiously. “They were able to achieve great things? Erika, you’re a lawyer, for Pete’s sake! That’s pretty impressive.”

Erika shrugged. “Not in my family. Mediocrity is not acceptable.”

“Hey.” Joe squeezed her hand. “You work for a pretty prestigious law firm; you should be proud of that.”

“Yeah, well, maybe once I work my way up I’ll have something to be proud of.” She patted his hand. “But thanks, Joe, for trying to be my champion.”

“Anytime, sweetheart.”

Erika smiled warmly. “Let’s talk about something fun. Tell me about your nieces and nephews.”

They spent the next few hours talking about everything under the sun as they walked the streets arm in arm.

 

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

 

The next morning, Joe showed up for work wearing his tuxedo from the night before.

Catherine followed him into his office and caught him shaving with his electric razor, running around the office grabbing papers, trying to make himself presentable for a meeting with Levinson.

Catherine looked at him, noticing he was still in the same clothes from last night. “Levinson’s looking for you.”

Joe rushed around, giving her only a cursory glance. “Tell me about it. I was due in his office a half an hour ago.” He looked over at her. “Do I look okay?”

She smiled and couldn’t help but tease him. “No...but you look like you had fun!”

Joe shook his head. He knew Catherine assumed he spent the night with Erika. “It’s not what you think!”

“No?”

“No. I met the most incredible woman last night. We left the party and walked from the hotel all the way down to Battery Park. Just walked, talked about everything ‘til the sun came up. It was great. She’s terrific.” Joe was grinning from ear to ear.

Catherine knew he had a wonderful time but she felt she needed to bring something up.
She looked at him pointedly. “Erika Salvin?”

Joe nodded and glanced back at her. “You know her?”

Catherine came forward. “I know she’s with Proctor and Brannigan. Do you?”

Joe shrugged. “So.”

“So...they represent Phillip Taylor. Remember him? The guy we’re grooming for the grand jury indictment?”

Joe shrugged. “There are over a hundred attorneys at that firm; she’s probably never heard of Taylor.”

“Don’t you think you better ask, Joe? You may be looking at a conflict of interest.”

“Oh, now you’re telling me the rules. Don’t worry, Radcliffe.”

He smiled and went to his meeting.

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

That night, Joe had dinner with Erika. He asked her if she knew about Phillip Taylor. She said she had heard of him but she was in corporate law, his case had nothing to do with her division. Joe said he hated to ask but he had to.

The bad part now over, they enjoyed a wonderful dinner. It was another late night spent talking about everything.

“We keep closing places,” Erika said as she nodded towards the empty room.

Joe looked over at the waiter cleaning the last table, and the bartender turning over stools.
“Yeah, I guess we do.”

“Maybe it’s because I don’t want my time with you to end…” Erika said as she quickly looked at him then glanced away.

“Um…” Joe’s heart skipped a beat as he wondered if she was asking him to go home with her. “It doesn’t have to…”

Erika looked at him hopefully. “Really?”

Joe grinned shyly. “Whenever you decide you…um…want the night to last longer, you let me know.”

Erika took his hand and caressed it with her thumb. “How about tonight?”

Joe stood up and grabbed her shawl and placed it around her shoulders as she stood as well. She turned, and he leaned in and kissed her passionately. “Tonight works for me…”

Erika smiled as she grabbed his hand, and they walked to catch a taxi.

“It sounds so cliché but your place or mine?”

Joe thought about the pile of clothes he left on his bed and the empty pizza box on the table in the living room, as well as the beer bottles on the floor by his favorite chair. “How about yours?”

Joe and Erika made love several times and, while she slept peacefully in his arms, he stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t believe he had gotten this lucky and found someone like her.

He glanced down at her head on his chest and wondered if he had fallen in love.

 

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

 

Vincent woke early and, after a light breakfast, continued his journey. He knew he was close, and when he walked through the entryway to the Cavern he gasped in disbelief at the beauty that confronted him.

The walls, the ceiling, and even the floor sparkled and glimmered in the lantern light. Vincent found a natural staircase leading down and carefully entered the room. He turned slowly in a circle, enjoying the play of light on the crystals in the room.

He perused the walls and the surfaces for over two hours, and made a mental note where the crystals that stood out were located. Eventually, he sat on a rock and let a feeling of serenity sweep over him.

He slowly got up, went back to those places he had seen earlier, and carefully removed a handful of crystals in different sizes and shapes. He marveled at the different quality each one had.

He found the one he felt would be the most perfect for Catherine’s gift. The others he would give as gifts to different people. He placed all of the crystals in a pouch. With one last glance and a smile on his face, he started to make the long trek home.

He stopped at Narcissa’s on the way back. He was about to call out to her from the entrance to her chamber when he heard her laughter.

“Come in, child.”

“Narcissa.”

“You’ve found your gift.”

“Yes, thank you. That cavern is a wondrous place. I had no idea something so beautiful could exist down here.”

“Don’t look at this world as a prison, Veencent; it is home, and has many undiscovered treasures.”

Vincent cocked his head to the side at her uncanny intuition. He reached into his pocket and brought out several small crystals of various shapes and sizes. “When I was here last, I saw several of these on one of your shelves. I thought perhaps that you may have needed more.”

Narcissa reached out her hand and gleefully accepted his gift. “You have saved me from making a long trip. My supply is running low and I knew it would take me several days to make the journey.”

She held the crystals in her hands and smiled widely as she touched each one. She held each of them up to Vincent and described in perfect detail the colors that glimmered in the light.

Vincent’s brow furrowed with confusion as he wondered how the blind woman could make the distinction. 

Narcissa turned with the crystals and began chanting as Vincent slipped from her chamber. 

He returned late that night and went to the library first. He knew Father would be up, and waiting for him.

He walked in and saw his father reading. “Hello, Father, I wanted to let you know I’ve returned.”

Father looked up with a smile. “Yes, I can see that. How was your journey?”  Father was afraid Vincent had wasted his time, and that Narcissa had sent him on a wild goose chase.

Vincent smiled and shook his head. “Miraculous. The Crystal Cavern is all Narcissa said it would be. I wish the journey wasn’t so long, Father. You would truly appreciate its beauty. It’s almost indescribable...”

“Try to describe it anyway.”

Vincent shook his head, struggling for the words. “Can you imagine a cavern where every surface shimmers and glows? Every nook and cranny has a life of its own, and calls out to be seen; it’s absolutely amazing, beautiful.”

Father smiled at his son’s exuberance. “I’ll bet it was. Did you find the gift you wanted for Catherine?”

“Yes, I did!”

Vincent removed the pouch and emptied the contents into his hand. He held up the one he intended to give to Catherine.

Father gazed at the stone shining in the light. “It’s truly beautiful, Vincent. You have chosen well, son; she’ll love it.”

“Thank you, Father. I need to see Mouse in the morning and ask him to come up with a way to make a necklace for it, but Father, this one is for you.”

Vincent handed Father a crystal. Father held it to the light and it shone with the colors of blue and green. Father twirled the crystal in the light.

“This is truly remarkable; the colors are breathtaking...thank you.”

Vincent kissed his father’s forehead. “It’s late, Father, and I’m tired. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Father smiled, grateful Vincent was home again. “Yes...yes, goodnight.”

 

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

 

Vincent was lying in bed in the early morning hours. He had just woken up and was gathering his thoughts when he was interrupted by little Amy. She came alone into his chamber, crying as she reached her arms out to him. Vincent picked her up and hugged her to his chest. He tried to tuck her hair behind her ear and peek at her face then immediately saw the problem. He got up from the bed and sat in a chair, put her on his lap, and started to tell a story. Amy sat wide-eyed through the tale then looked down in amazement at her tooth and wondered when Vincent had gotten it out of her mouth. She threw her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss. Vincent smiled as he hugged her then nodded to Mary, who had just walked up to his chamber door, and he beckoned her to come in.

“Amy, you shouldn’t have wandered off without anyone to help you!” Mary lightly reprimanded.

“I’m sorry, Mary, but Vincent is back!”

“Yes, I can see that, but you shouldn’t have come to him so early in the morning; he could’ve been sleeping.” Mary looked up. “Hello, dear.”

Vincent chuckled. “Good morning, Mary.” He looked down at Amy. “Amy didn’t interrupt me; she came here on a mission of grave importance.”

Amy smiled then nodded. “Vincent took my tooth out.”

She proudly displayed her tooth to Mary.

Vincent carefully closed her hand around it. “You mustn’t drop it, Amy. You need to put it under your pillow tonight, and the tooth fairy will come and leave you something special.”

Amy nodded. “Just like Amber last week?”

Vincent nodded and touched her nose. “Yes, just like Amber last week.”

Amy looked down at her hand. “The tooth fairy must be busy every night...”

Mary came forward. “Yes, she is. Now come along, Amy, we need to get you out of your pajamas and into something warmer.”

Amy reached around and gave Vincent another hug. “Thank you, Vincent. I love you.”

“You’re welcome, Amy, and I love you, too.”

Mary touched Vincent’s cheek in a loving gesture. “You spoil them.”

Vincent shrugged as Mary reached for Amy’s hand and led her from the room.

Vincent quickly dressed then went to see Mouse.

Mouse turned at Vincent’s touch. “Vincent! Where’ve you been? Gone yesterday, gone the day before!”

“I’ve been to a magical place, Mouse. A Crystal Cavern.”

Mouse nodded enthusiastically. “Was it neat?”

Vincent laughed with his friend. “It was neat.”

Vincent opened the pouch and showed Mouse the crystals. He took one out of his hand and held it out to Mouse. “For you.”

Mouse looked at it with wonder. He worshiped Vincent, and to have Vincent bring him a gift made him feel very special. When held to the light, his, like Father’s, held the colors of blue and green.

Vincent held up another one. “This one is for Catherine, to be worn around her neck.”

“Sparks of fire inside. Beautiful!”

Mouse smiled at Vincent, who nodded; he, too, thought the red color that shone in the crystal was beautiful.

Vincent looked at Mouse with a question in his eyes. “Perhaps you can help?”

“Me?” Mouse asked incredulously then he immediately caught on. “Help make...okay good, okay fine.”

He jumped up and looked around his room. “Gold wire...make a thingy, put a chain through, polish it up, no problem. For Catherine.”

Vincent smiled; he knew Mouse liked Catherine and would do a good job. “For Catherine.”

Mouse looked up at him curiously. “What’s it like, Vincent, to have a love?”

Vincent looked at him incredulously. He couldn’t believe that someone would ask him that question. He reflected on how far he had come in his life in just this past year. He couldn’t believe that he was in love, and he couldn’t believe that someone loved him back.

He shrugged. “People have been searching for the words for centuries. I think for each person it must be something very different. For me, it was the beginning of a new life, and the end of my aloneness.”

“Not alone, have Mouse, Father, Mary, everyone...”

Vincent smiled. “Yes, that’s true, Mouse.  My family and my friends mean the world to me, but Catherine...Catherine was the first person who didn’t know me as a child or meet me through the tunnel community. She was the first person who was ever my friend first before she became everyone else’s. She was the first person who welcomed me, loved me. She is my life, Mouse. I can’t live without her. And to me, that’s what it’s like to have a love.”

“Hope I find love one day, too.”

Vincent grabbed his friend’s shoulder. “I hope so, too, Mouse.”

Mouse’s stomach rumbled loudly. “Eat first then make chain?”

Vincent laughed. “Of course, Mouse. I’ll eat with you, if I may?”

Mouse and Vincent headed to the dining chamber. They quickly made up a tray of food and sat with some of the others still lingering over breakfast.

Cullen looked over at them as they sat. “Hey, Mouse, are we working on the new system today?”

Feeling invincible since Vincent entrusted him with such an important task, Mouse loudly announced Vincent’s news. “No, too busy, big project! Must finish for Vincent.”

Winslow looked suspicious. “What big project?”

Vincent sighed, knowing he would not be able to hide the news any longer. “I have a gift for Catherine, and Mouse is helping me make it into something special.”

Jamie smiled. “Cool, what’d you get her?”

Mouse dropped his spoon. “Fire specks inside a crystal...beautiful. Brought present for Mouse too!”

Mary looked over at them. “A crystal, did you say?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, Mary. Narcissa told me of a special cavern filled with sparkling walls. It was there that I found Catherine’s gift.”

Mary clasped her hands together. “Oh, how wonderful!”

Pascal leaned over to face Vincent. “Is it a special occasion, Vincent?”

“Yes, on the 12th it will be a year ago that Catherine came into my life...”

Rebecca gushed. “Oh, how romantic! You must bring Catherine Below! Maybe we could celebrate with a cake...or...”

Vincent was blushing and Cullen started to laugh as he elbowed Vincent in the side. “Maybe Don Juan over here would rather be alone with his little lady, huh? Huh?”
He slapped Vincent on the back and Vincent blushed even more.

Mouse looked confused. “Don who?”

Jamie rolled her eyes. “Don Juan.” Seeing that Mouse was still confused, she shrugged her shoulders. “Forget it. I’ll explain it later. Vincent, do you think we could go to that cavern again someday?”

Vincent curiously looked over at her. “It’s a day’s journey away. Is there someone special you need a gift for?”

Jamie shook her head. “No…well…I was thinking how nice it would be to give something to Mrs. Blake. She’s always so nice when I take the younger kids into her store. I was hoping to give her something special sometime.”

Mary smiled approvingly. “What a generous thought. Maybe someday Vincent will show you how to get there...”

Vincent smiled. “Yes, Jamie. One day soon I’d be happy to show you.”

Mouse piped in. “Mouse, too!”

Vincent grabbed his shoulder. “Mouse, too.”

Everyone visited for a while longer then slowly filtered off to go to their duties.

 

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

 

Meanwhile, Evan Brannigan came into Erika’s office. He asked Erika questions about Joe, and she answered them as honestly as she could. He told her she should hint to Joe that the firm may be looking to hire him. He was hoping the conflict of interest would slow Joe down, or take him off the case completely. He warned Erika that she needed to have it happen quickly.

Brannigan left her office, and Erika sat back as she thought about her options. She liked Joe, a lot. She started to believe that she was falling in love with him. She thought about a future with him, and what it would be like to have little red-haired kids with dark brown eyes. She scoffed as her thoughts drifted towards her sisters and all that they had accomplished in their careers. She was tired of being the “unsuccessful” one, tired of not being recognized for her achievements.

With a sigh, she reached for the phone and called Joe. She asked him to pick her up at her office for a lunch date. They ended up skipping lunch and going to Erika’s apartment, where they made love again. Afterwards, lying in his arms, Erika dangled the proverbial carrot in front of Joe when she told him his career had caught the eye of the recruiters in the firm, and that she had heard he might be offered a position with them very soon.

Joe was excited about the prospect of finally getting out the DA’s office, and went back to the office deep in thought.

 

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

 

Catherine came into Joe’s office and shut the door behind her. “Hey, where’ve you been?”

 He shrugged. “I was at lunch with Erika.”

Catherine chuckled. “Lunch, huh? So why are you eating a club sandwich and greasy chips at your desk?”

Joe had the grace to blush and smiled at her guiltily. “Other than to give me a hard time, what did you come in here for?”

“I was wondering if you read the deposition on the Taylor case?”

“I was just getting to it; give me an hour or so and I’ll let you know.”

“Okay, sounds good.”

Catherine’s brow furrowed, wondering what had gotten into him. She went back to her desk, and tried to immerse herself in paperwork. She gave up when she couldn’t concentrate on the papers because she kept wondering what Joe was thinking as he read the deposition. Unable to stand the suspense any longer, she walked into Joe’s office. He was pacing the floor, clearly thinking about something. Assuming he had been reading the deposition all this time, she excitedly jumped right in.

“That deposition puts Taylor in a box and slams the lid. I think we got him!”

Joe shrugged. “I haven’t gotten to it yet.”

She looked at him incredulously. “You haven’t?”

“I’m sorry, Cathy, I got a lot on my mind.”

She was stunned. “This has been top priority for months. What else is going on?”

“I’ll read the deposition tonight.”

She looked at him angrily. “Read it now!”

He walked around the side of his desk. “All right, fine, I’ll read it now. It’s just…I got a lot going on, personal stuff.”

He sat down in his chair and she came closer. “I’m happy that you’re happy. It’s great to be in love...”

He shook his head. “It’s not that simple.”

“Well, it never is, but you can’t just drop everything else!”

He looked at her suspiciously. “What are you trying to say?”  

“I’m...I’m trying to say that ever since you’ve gotten involved with Erika, something’s happened to you…something’s happened to your edge.”

Joe angrily got to his feet. “Are you accusing me of backing off the Taylor case?”

Catherine couldn’t believe he just asked her that. She was hurt but lashed out at him. “I’m accusing you of acting like a love-sick teenager who won’t do his homework! Now you let me know when you come back to earth; we have work to do.”

She angrily stormed out of his office.

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

Catherine grabbed her purse and headed for the door. She was so mad she decided to go for a walk. She pounded through the streets for four blocks before her temper began to settle. About a half a block away from her, she saw a familiar face headed her way.

Jenny waved furiously. “Hey, stranger!”

She came and hugged Catherine. Catherine returned the hug then backed up. “Hi, Jen!”

“Uh oh, what’s wrong? And don’t tell me nothing, I can tell you’re upset.”

Catherine giggled. “It’s my stupid boss!”

Jenny looked confused. “I thought you liked your boss?”

“Yeah, I do, just not when he’s in love!”

Jenny’s eyes opened in surprise, and she smiled as she wagged her eyebrows. “Are you jealous?”

Catherine blinked in surprise. “God, no! Is that what I sound like?”

Jenny shrugged, and Catherine rolled her eyes. “Great!”

Jenny grabbed her arm. “Let’s go talk. We’ll get a big frozen strawberry something-or-other with whipped cream on it, or maybe peach, with...”

Catherine laughed as she let Jenny drag her to a nearby bar. They ordered huge frozen drinks and giggled at the cute waiter.

Jenny took a sip then looked at Catherine. “So, tell me why you don’t like it when...Joe?” Jenny asked. Catherine nodded, so Jenny continued, “…when Joe’s in love?”

“I didn’t mean it like that. I’m happy Joe found someone he can love, but why does it have to be this woman, right now?”

Jenny shrugged her shoulders in confusion. “What difference does it make?”

“Joe’s new girlfriend works for the company who’s been hired to protect the guy we’re trying to prosecute.”

Jenny nodded. “Well. I’m not an attorney, but even I know that can’t be good.”

Catherine smiled. “No, it’s not good. That and the fact that, of course, Joe is in love and can’t concentrate on anything because the sun is shining and the birds are singing and flowers are blooming in the park!”

Jenny laughed aloud. “Nobody falls in love like that anymore.”

“Joe did!”

“You guys are friends, right? Why don’t you just go talk to him?”

Catherine sighed as she twirled her straw. “Yeah, we are. I argued with him today; I probably owe him an apology.”

“Well, it couldn’t hurt.”

Sipping more of her drink, Jenny looked tentatively at Catherine. “It’s been almost a year, huh?”

Catherine looked at her friend, surprised she remembered, and touched that she cared enough. “Yeah, on the 12th.”

“You want some company that night? I have a date but I can certainly cancel…”

Catherine was horrified at the thought of trying to get rid of Jenny that night. She hadn’t made plans with Vincent but she thought he might come to see her. Wouldn’t he?

“No, Jen, I think I’m staying home that night. You know, just unwinding.”

“You want to be alone?”

Catherine smiled and let her thoughts stray; she wanted to tell Jenny the truth and say, “No, I want to be wrapped up in the arms of Vincent all night long...” Instead, she looked at her friend. “Yeah, I think I just want to spend time alone in my room. Maybe read a book, or watch a movie.”

“Okay, well, if you change your mind, let me know. I’m kind of relieved. I’ve got a really hot date that night, and I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t need me! But Cath, I swear, if you need anything, I’ll cancel the date in the blink of an eye.”

Catherine laughed. “Thanks, Jen. I promise, I won’t need you. But I want to hear all about that guy the next morning, deal?”

“Deal! So tell me...is it hard for you to deal with?” Seeing Catherine’s confusion, Jenny continued, “You know, the anniversary of that horrible time?”

“Not really.”

Jenny leaned forward and touched her friend’s hand. “Cath, this is me you’re talking to. You went through a horrific experience. It’s okay if the anniversary of that time is hard to deal with.”

Catherine shook her head. “No, Jen. I’m doing fine, really! Yes, it was a horrible experience, but I also wouldn’t change a second of that time. Going through that has helped me to become a better person. It helped me to grow.”

Jenny smiled. “You have changed. I mean, look at you! You left your dad’s firm and struck out on your own. In the world of crime, you’re a force to be reckoned with. The only thing you don’t have in your life is a great guy!”

Catherine blushed and looked down.

Jenny narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Have you been holding out on me?”

Catherine looked at her friend, wishing that she could tell her she met the most wonderful man in the world, and in the past year he had become the most important person in her life. She wanted to tell her she had fallen deeply in love with him. She wanted to tell her that he treated her like a princess, like the sun rose and set because of her. Instead, she looked down at her hands and fiddled with her fingernails.

Jenny took a sip of her drink. “It’s that complicated, huh? Why do you always fall for the guys who are so complex?”

Catherine giggled. “It is complicated and...Jen, I’m really, really sorry but I’m just not ready to talk about it.”

Jenny smiled. “It’s okay. You’ll tell me when you’re ready. Hey, did I tell you about my last date with Craig?”

Catherine smiled at Jenny, grateful her friend was so understanding. “Craig? The body builder, Craig?”

Jenny laughed. “That’s the one. He took me to work out at the gym with him. The guy can do aerobics better than most of the women! I felt like a fool; I lost my rhythm and stepped on his foot. He moves his foot and I fall and twist the same ankle I just hurt a few months ago. The only thing good about it is he was able to pick me up and carry me to the trainer. The girl wrapped my ankle and I was able to get home. I had to baby it for the past two weeks! I’m not cut out for this workout stuff, so I broke up with him.” She sighed. “He was so strong, it was sure nice to be carried around in his arms.”

Catherine thought of Vincent and knew exactly what Jenny was talking about. She nodded. “You’ll find someone, Jen, someone who’ll be your Prince Charming.”

We’ll find someone.”

Catherine shrugged and sipped at her drink, not willing to tell Jenny she was done searching, she had found her prince.

The two friends finished their drinks. They walked outside, and Jenny flagged a taxi. “Are you heading home, Cathy?”

Catherine nodded her head. “Yeah, I’m going to go change clothes then go back and talk to Joe.”

“Good luck; call me.”

“Bye, Jen.”

Catherine got her own taxi and headed home.

 

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

 

She changed quickly then headed back to work to apologize to Joe. She walked into the office and interrupted a basketball game between Joe and the janitor.

Catherine apologized but Joe told her she was right, he was going to remove himself from the Taylor case. She was upset. She told him he had sold himself out to Brannigan, so Brannigan essentially won: he’d get his delay, and would have more time to come up with a defense. She told him he was worth more than what Brannigan could offer him.

Joe sat on his couch that night and thought a lot about what Catherine had to say. He had always thought of his job at the DA’S office as a stepping stone to a bigger career, but when Catherine started to work there, she slowly began to change his mind. He realized how important their work was to the community, and he was proud of the convictions they had gotten. He had made a name for himself because of some high-profile cases, and he believed Erika when she said that he had other options he could pursue.

He thought back to the last few months. He and Catherine and everyone at the office had busted their butts trying to get enough evidence to convict Phillip Taylor. He hated to think about disappointing all of his colleagues on the off chance that he may receive a job offer. But mostly, he hated to think about Taylor getting away with anything. 

The next night at dinner, Joe told Erika he wouldn’t see her until after the Taylor case went to court. Erika got angry at Joe. She reminded him she had nothing to do with the Taylor case. She accused him of using it as an excuse not to have a relationship with her.

She stormed out of the restaurant, and Joe quickly followed after her and took her home. The car was strangely silent until he pulled up in front of her apartment.

“I guess this is it…” Erika said quietly.

“Erika, I don’t want it to be.”

“Then don’t do this to us…we’ve just found each other.”

Joe sighed as he reached for her hand. “I can’t compromise all my principles.”

Erika frowned as she climbed out of the car. “Well, then…goodbye, Joe.”

After he dropped her off, Joe headed home. On his way, he was pulled over by a police cruiser. The officers conducted a search and found illegal drugs in his car. Joe was arrested immediately. As he sat in the back of the cruiser, he shook his head with disgust about how easily he had been played.

He couldn’t believe Erika essentially sold him out, used him, then cast him aside like yesterday’s trash. How could he have misread her feelings the way he did? How could she have made love to him with such intensity when it meant absolutely nothing to her?  

Because of his position in the DA’s office, Joe was put in a holding area. He sat down on the bench and stared at nothing. His mind and heart shut down from heartache.

“Hey, Joe.”

“Keith,” Joe said to the detective working on the case.

He and Keith had been friends since high school. They got together with a group of friends at least once a month for flag football or pickup games of basketball.

“Want to tell me what happened?” Keith asked quietly.

“I got played by a chick. I thought we had something going on…you know…but she used me to get me to back off a case that’s ready to go to trial. I told her I couldn’t see her until after the case was done. I took her home tonight; she must’ve planted the drugs in my car.”

“That makes more sense than the rest of it.” Keith nodded. “Look, because of your position, Farrell got the judge to waive the usual bond fee. Give me a half an hour to get this paperwork done, and then you’ll be free to go.”

“Thanks, Keith. Tell Farrell I owe him one.”

Keith tapped Joe’s shoulder affectionately as he stood to walk out of the room. “I’ll be back in a few.”

“I’ll be here.” Joe smiled sarcastically.

Forty minutes later, Joe was handed the keys to his car and he headed home.

 

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

 

The next morning, Catherine was reading the newspaper and was shocked to see the arrest article on Joe. She called the prison and found out that Joe had already been released. She ran to work and asked Levinson for help; he said he was following procedure, and that he would just have to wait and see how things played out. Catherine made a few quick phone calls then headed to Joe’s apartment.

He opened the door when she called out to him. “Well, this is a real red-letter day; finally got my picture in the paper.”

Catherine walked past him and sat down on his couch. He plopped down across from her, looking dejected. Catherine told him she could easily get the charges dropped because the whole thing had been a set-up. He said it didn’t matter, people would remember what was in the headlines.

Joe stormed around the room. “Damn her!”

Catherine knew he meant Erika, and how she had a part in ruining his reputation. She tried to comfort him. “You’re gonna come through this Joe. Moreno will never abandon you. You’re too valuable!”

“Yeah, but I’ll be shuffling papers, not trying cases. Lawyers in mud-splattered suits don’t fair too well with juries, Cathy.”

She looked at him angrily. “Stop it! You’re jumping to conclusions. We’re gonna fight this thing!”

He shouted at her, “Hey, will you save the pep talk? I’m out to sea in a cardboard boat and we both know it.” He stopped and looked at her apologetically then sighed as he touched her hand. “She played me like a bass fiddle.” He shook his head in disbelief. He was deeply hurt; he thought she had loved him.

Catherine tried to look at all of the angles. “Are you sure it was Erika? Maybe Brannigan paid someone else...”

Joe interrupted. “No, it was Erika.”

Catherine though for a moment then stood up. “Okay, well, I think I should pay her a little visit. You deserve some answers, and she better have some good ones ready for me when I show up.”

Joe watched as she walked to the door. “Cathy, thanks, but forget about it; you’ll never be able to prove anything.”

“Trust me on this one, Joe.”

Joe called out to stop her. “Cathy...” She stepped back inside, and he shook his head. “I don’t want to know what she says. I don’t want to hear her excuses or her lies. You were right; I should have listened to you.”

Catherine grimaced. She knew Joe was in pain. “I didn’t want to be right. Hopefully, I’m wrong, and Erika is clean. Let me take the chance, okay?”

Joe shrugged, and Catherine came over and put her arms around him, trying to offer her comfort. Joe was clearly upset but trying to stay strong; he wouldn’t break down in front of her. Catherine patted his arm then headed out the door.

 

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

 

She left Joe’s and went straight to Erika’s office.

Erika made a show of concern for Joe, saying she didn’t believe the charges against him.

Catherine looked at her in disgust. “Let’s not waste each other’s time. You had one purpose for getting involved with Joe, and that was to kill the Taylor investigation. You seduced him, you bribed him with the offer of a job here, and when that failed, you set him up for a drug bust to discredit him.”

Erika blushed as she denied the charges. “That’s outrageous.”

“You will never get out of this intact, Erika; you’re the one loose end in this, and Phillip Taylor and his people hate loose ends!”

Knowing Catherine was right, Erika’s stomach rolled in protest but her outward demeanor never changed, and she appeared indignant. “I won’t stand here and listen to this.”

Catherine leaned forward and appealed to her. “There must have been some decency in you or Joe could never have fallen in love with you. Is it that easy to just throw him away?”

Erika looked at her. “I’d like you to leave now.”

Catherine handed her a business card and told her to call her if she had a change of heart.

 

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

 

With a sigh, Catherine went home and sat to sew the scrap of leather she had bought into a pouch for the rose she was giving to Vincent.

With a smile, she finished, and then picked up the phone and dialed Joe’s number.

Joe answered angrily, “What?”

“Hi, Joe, how’s it going?”

“Wonderful.”

“I went to see Erika.”

Joe chuckled. “Yeah, how’d that go?”

“We’ll see. I at least gave her something to think about...”

Joe didn’t have much hope. “Right...listen...thanks for trying, Radcliffe.”

“Joe, don’t give up yet, okay?”

“Yeah. Take it easy.”

“You, too. See you tomorrow?”

“Maybe.”

“Joe!”

He sighed. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”

Catherine hung up then sighed. “Poor Joe,” she thought. She hated that he had gotten hurt like this. “Erika had better come through for him.”  

Catherine turned and walked to the bathroom to take a shower. She was just finishing up when the phone rang. She wrapped herself quickly in a towel and ran to pick up the phone.

It was Erika asking for help. Evan Brannigan had threatened her earlier, and she thought someone was waiting for her outside her office. Catherine told her to stay there and hurriedly got dressed, towel-dried her hair, and left to meet Erika.

 

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

 

Catherine walked into Erika’s office and Erika admitted to everything but planting the drugs. Catherine said they should get out of Brannigan’s offices as soon as they could.

When they went to leave, Catherine noticed a shadow on the wall in the hallway. “We’re being followed,” she thought.

They boarded the elevator then got off at a different floor and headed for the stairs. They flew down the flights of steps but Catherine could hear someone from above them coming down the stairs after them.

Erika fell on a step and twisted her ankle. Catherine went back to her, helped her up, and together they continued to make their way down. The security guard met them on his way up, and they thought they were safe - until he pulled his gun.

Catherine knocked him down the steps. She and Erika were going to flee again when the man chasing them from above stepped out. He advanced on them with his gun drawn. Just then Catherine heard a roar and covered Erika’s face. “Thank God, Vincent’s back,” she thought.

Vincent quickly disposed of the man with the gun. He looked back at Catherine and saw that she was all right. Catherine’s eyes met his. The bond was flooded with relief and gratitude. Vincent turned and left them alone.

Erika gasped for breath. “What happened? What was that noise?”

Catherine shook her head and lied. “I don’t know, I had my eyes closed. Did you see something?”

“No. I thought I heard a dog…”

Catherine shrugged. “My heart was pounding so hard, all I could hear was the roar of my heartbeat.”

They hopped on the elevator and went back to Erika’s office. They locked themselves in then called the police. Within minutes, the police were pounding on the door. Catherine opened it to see Greg Hughes standing there with two other officers.

“Greg?”

Hughes looked at her. “Chandler, right? Um...Catherine...no, Cathy.”

Catherine smiled. “Yes. I’m glad you guys are here. There’s a security guard on the stairwell. He knew who I worked for; I showed him my ID earlier. He pulled a gun on us.”

Greg pointed officers in the direction of the stairs then turned back to the women. “Why would a security guard pull a gun on you?”

Erika stepped up. “I think he wanted to hurt me. My name is Erika Salvin. I’m an attorney here.”

Greg wrote her name in his book before he looked at her. “And...”

“And I was threatened earlier in the day, so I believe this was the result of the threat.”

Greg sighed. “Can we sit down? You may as well start at the top.”

Greg and Erika sat, and Catherine left them alone. She walked out to find that Vincent hadn’t killed the second man, only knocked him out and wounded him superficially. 

Officer Harrington came towards Catherine. “This clown says some guy jumped him. Did you see another guy with him?”

Catherine looked at him. “I never saw anything. Once he aimed his gun at us, I shut my eyes. I had them closed the whole time.”

“Did the other lady see anything?”

Catherine shrugged. “I don’t think so; she asked me what happened, so I don’t think her eyes were open either.”

The officer left, and Catherine wandered back to Erika’s office. Greg was finished and nodded to her as he left.  

Erika came forward. “Catherine, I don’t know how to thank you for your help tonight.”

“Yes, you do: testify to what you know so Joe’s name can be cleared.”

Erika sighed. “I owe him that much.”

Catherine nodded. “Yes, you do.”

“Catherine, I want you to know, I really did care for Joe. I didn’t want to but I couldn’t help myself.”

“Don’t tell me Erika, tell Joe.”

“I don’t think he’d want to hear it.”

Catherine shrugged. “Try him.”

Catherine turned and waited for Erika, and they walked down together. At ground level they said their goodbyes, and Catherine headed home.

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

Catherine entered her apartment and walked straight out to the balcony; she knew Vincent would be there. She smiled up at him.

He reached for her hand. “You’re safe?”

She nodded and continued smiling. “You’re back?”

He nodded then looked at her accusingly. “Just in time, too.”

She shook her head. “I know. I’m sorry, it wasn’t supposed to happen. Thank you again.”

He nodded but said no more.

Catherine took his hand. “I missed you. How was your trip?”

He smiled. “Wondrous.”

“Are you tired? When did you get back?”

“I’m not tired, and I got back late last night.”

She wondered if he remembered the significance of tomorrow’s date. She walked over to the wall and stared out at the city as Vincent followed her and wondered at her mood.  

“Vincent, are you busy tomorrow night?”

He shook his head. “No.”

She looked at him timidly. “Would you like to come here for a while?”

He looked at her shyly and caressed her hand with his thumb. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

Catherine smiled; she knew then that he had remembered their anniversary. “Well, then, it’s a date.”

Vincent nodded. “See you soon.”

She opened her arms and walked straight into his arms. She snuggled down into his gentle embrace.

He gently caressed her back then pulled away. With a small backward glance, he left.

 

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

 

The next day, Mouse came to Vincent’s chamber. He proudly walked in. “All finished, Vincent.”

Vincent smiled. “Thank you, Mouse. How did it turn out?”

Mouse pulled the necklace from his front pocket. “You ask, I do, just like you said.”

“Mouse, this is wonderful. Just what I expected. I can’t thank you enough.”

Mouse shrugged. “For Catherine, make her smile.”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, Mouse, it will make her smile.”

“Does necklace means she belongs to you? Are you a couple?”

Vincent blushed and looked down. “I...I don’t know how to answer that, Mouse. Catherine is not bound to me because I give her a piece of jewelry.”

“So it’s not like ring?”

“No, it’s not like a ring. My necklace is going to show Catherine that I think about her. And anytime she wants to feel like she is Below, she can hold the necklace and be closer to our world.”

Mouse smiled. “That’s nice. But Vincent, what should you do if the girl you like already belongs to the world Below?”

Vincent chuckled at the thought that he was giving relationship advice. “Mouse, you have to find something that will show her how much you care and will be a nice reminder of you when she sees it or uses it or...”

Mouse interrupted. “I get it, like a new arrow for her bow.”

Vincent nodded seriously. “Okay, if you think she will think that is special then that is what you should give.”

Mouse’s eyes lit up as he ran from the room.

 

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

 

Catherine celebrated with Joe at the office. Erika testified about Evan Brannigan and his threats to her. Once she stepped forward, other attorneys came forward as well. Joe’s name was effectively cleared, and Moreno told him he could lead the trial against Phillip Taylor. Joe had just come out from seeing Erika. Catherine knew he had been hurt badly by Erika’s betrayal.  

“How you doing, Joe? Really?”

He shrugged. “Better. Erika apologized. I guess I should be grateful she at least turned witness.”

“She did the right thing. Did she say anything else?”

“She said something about when this is all over...”

Catherine nodded. “It’s a lot to forgive, but if she’s worth it...”

Joe shrugged. “Yeah, she was...is...I don’t know.”

“Give it time, it’s all still too new.”

“Yeah. Thanks again for sticking with it. If it wasn’t for you, I don’t know if Erika would have come forward.”

“She had to come forward. Phillip Taylor would never have allowed such an incriminating loose end.”

“Yeah, speaking of which, what the hell happened in that stairwell?”

Catherine shrugged innocently. “I don’t know. One minute we were looking at the barrel of a gun, the next minute Erika was shaking me. I had closed my eyes and buried my face in her shoulder. Not too brave, huh?”

Joe shook his head. “Erika said the same thing in her statement. I’m just happy neither of you got hurt...”

“That’s a step towards forgiveness.”

“Yeah, maybe. Why don’t you head home early tonight, Radcliffe? You earned it!”

Joe didn’t understand the significance of the day but Catherine jumped at the chance. “You don’t need to tell me twice. Thanks.”

Catherine ran from the office before he could change his mind.

 

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

 

Catherine hurried home and took a leisurely shower. She pampered herself preparing for this special night. Briefly, she wondered if they would go further with their relationship but quickly dismissed the thought. “He hasn’t even kissed you yet!” She smiled and went outside to light candles.

It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm April night.  Catherine smiled as she was lighting the dozens of candles she had gotten for this night. She turned at the sound of Vincent’s arrival.

Staring at him, she thought how handsome he looked in a dress shirt that had ruffles down the front. She realized he also had taken care to look extra nice tonight. “It was a year ago tonight.”

“How remarkable you are, remembering such a dark moment with dancing light.”

She walked up to him. “It’s a time for celebration. I found hope again that night. I found you.”

Vincent looked down shyly. “I have something for you. I wanted to give you something from my world, something for you to carry with you: a keepsake.”

He held up the gold chain with the crystal dangling on the end, sparkling in the candlelight.

Catherine was in awe as she saw the red flames play inside the crystal, dancing in the light.
“Vincent, it’s beautiful.”

“It comes from our deepest chamber. It reminds me of a piece of eternity.”

He gently slipped the necklace over her head and laid it to rest on her neck, the crystal hanging in the cleavage of her breasts.

“I’ll cherish it.”

She reached for her gift to him. “I wanted you to have a part of me to hold close. When I was little, I was terrified of the dark, and I used to have an awful time falling asleep. My mother gave me this rose, and she told me that whenever I got frightened, to hold the rose and to think of her, and to know that, wherever she was, she was thinking of me. It helped me to go to sleep.”

She held the rose out and Vincent cupped his hands around hers, accepting her gift.

“Until you came into my life, Vincent, I’d forgotten how it felt to know that there is someone thinking of me, someone who knows who I am, someone that I’m connected to.”

She took the rose out of its pouch and hung it around his neck.

Vincent was shocked that she would offer him such a treasured item from her past. He was deeply moved as he looked at her. “Every moment since that night, I’m reminded of what a gift life is.”

She moved into his arms and they held each other close. Catherine’s heart overflowed with the love she felt for him. Vincent’s heart beat rapidly as she snuggled closer into his embrace.

Time passed slowly, and Catherine pulled back and looked at Vincent. Her gaze traveled downward and she stared at his lips. She unconsciously licked her own but Vincent never came closer. He, in fact, pulled away slightly.

“Catherine, William has baked us a small cake to celebrate the anniversary.”

Catherine was disappointed he hadn’t kissed her but she smiled warmly. “The people Below remembered?”

Vincent nodded. “Of course they do. You are an important person in my life, Catherine.”

“You are the most important person in my life, Vincent. I was truly blessed the day you found me.”

“Catherine, it is I who has been blessed. Your friendship has brought about great changes in my life, as well as in the lives of the people Below.”

Catherine looked confused. “Vincent, I barely know the people Below. I couldn’t possibly have changed anyone’s life there.”

“That’s not true. You have softened Father with your kindness, and brought joy to the children with your generosity. You’ve even brought children Below to flourish in our world.”

Catherine blushed and opened up the package that he had brought. Inside was a beautifully decorated cake with the initials V and C intertwined. Vincent hadn’t seen the cake yet, and gasped at the forwardness that William had taken upon himself when decorating.

“Catherine, I’m sor...”

“Oh, Vincent, it’s beautiful. Look how William intertwined our first initials! Isn’t it lovely?”

Vincent had been apologizing when Catherine interrupted him, saying how much she loved it. He sighed with relief that she was not angry.

“Let me go get a knife and a fork. I’ll be right back.”

Catherine ran inside and grabbed the utensils and two big glasses of milk. She came outside and Vincent chuckled at her choice of beverage.

“Milk, Catherine? Most women would celebrate with wine, wouldn’t they?”

Catherine chuckled. “Most women aren’t lucky enough to have William bake one of his famous cakes for them. I can’t wait to have a piece!”

Vincent took the knife from her and cut the cake into pieces. Catherine held the plates as he laid pieces on each of them. She and Vincent each took a slice then sat down. After a few bites, they both reached for their glasses at the same time.

Catherine laughed. “See, I told you, milk goes the best with cake.”

“I have to admit, you’re right.”

“Mmmm, this cake is wonderful. Please tell William thank you.”

“I will, William doesn’t get enough compliments.”

Catherine left half of her cake uneaten then turned and looked at Vincent. “Would you like to finish this?”

Before he could answer she had a piece up by his mouth. He slowly came forward and took it as she fed him the last bites of her cake.

Catherine grabbed Vincent’s hand then led him to a small corner of the balcony. In the corner she had a huge candle that shed a lot of light. She had also piled high some blankets in anticipation of him coming. They settled down next to one another, and Catherine quickly snuggled against him. She handed him a book.

“This was going to be part of your present but I wanted you to have something more special.”

Vincent looked down at the first edition of an early classic. “It’s beautiful, Catherine.”

“Can we share it tonight?”

Vincent nodded and began to read. After he and Catherine had each taken turns reading, Vincent closed the book.

Catherine snuggled against him. They had just spent a wonderful few hours together, and Catherine was hoping he would’ve taken some type of a step to move their relationship forward. She was dreaming that he would lean over and kiss her. When he didn’t, Catherine resigned herself to being content in his arms.

They stayed together most of the night. Vincent held her and kept her warm as they talked quietly about everything that had happened to them in the past year.

 

THE END