BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES

 

THE SINS OF THE FATHER    
NINTEENTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

 

Eva Ramos sat at her small kitchen table opening her mail. She glanced at the postmark on an envelope and smiled as she realized she had received a letter from her cousin in Chicago. She thought briefly of her son and his family who also lived there. A sadness crossed over her face as she quickly banished them from her mind.

She opened the letter and started to read. Her face crumbled and the letter fell from her hands as deep sobs racked her body.

Her husband, Milo, came into the room and ran to his wife’s side. “Eva, what is it? What’s happened?”

Eva shook her head and pointed at the letter on the floor and then continued to cry.

Milo walked over and picked up the letter. He began to read but soon sat down heavily in the nearest chair. His hand that still held the letter dropped onto the table. His head fell to his chest and tears flowed freely from his eyes. He leaned forward and took his wife’s hand and then led her into their bedroom.

They sat on the bed and held each other as they poured out their grief.

After a few hours, the sun began to set and Milo patted his wife’s shoulder. “Vic will be coming up soon and wanting some dinner,” he said indicating their son who worked in the shop below their home.

Eva nodded and stood and made her way into the kitchen. She glanced at the letter, folded it up, and put it into her apron pocket. She opened the cabinets, grabbed some ingredients, and started cooking dinner.

Vic came in, noticed the somber mood, and glanced occasionally at his parents, wondering what had happened. At the end of the meal, his mother stood at the sink washing the dishes. He noticed his mother’s shoulders shaking and he realized she was crying.

“Ma! What is it?”

Eva shook her head. “Your brother and his wife have been killed in a car accident.”

Vic looked down at the table hiding his mixed feelings. He was sorry that his brother was dead but a part of him was relieved that the future was set in stone. His brother could never come back and now it was guaranteed that he would be King of the  one day.

Vic looked at each of his parents. “I’m sorry.”

He finished his dessert and watched some TV and then took a shower and went to bed.

Later in bed, Eva looked over at Milo. “What about Tony?”

Milo looked at her. “Tony who?”

Eva gasped. “Our grandson! Milo, he’s only a boy. He’s just lost both his parents.”

Milo looked at her sternly. “We have no grandson!”

“Milo!”

“No! We will speak no more of this!”

Milo rolled over so his wife couldn’t see the anguish on his face.

 

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

 

Across several states, Tony Ramos, their young grandson, snuck onto a train and hid until after the ticket taker walked through the car. He scrunched down in a seat and laid his head against the window. Tears fell from his eyes until, exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep.

The next day, he woke up and blinked at the light of day. He was disoriented; this was the third city he’d been in the last three days and he scanned the horizon as he tried to get his bearings. His stomach protested in hunger and he held it until it stopped rumbling. He gasped when he could see the skyline of the big city coming up. He smiled with new found hope and settled back in his seat.

The trains stopped within the next half hour and Tony jumped off. He made his way through the streets. Occasionally, he was able to steal fruit from some of the outside vegetable stands. He skipped with happiness and anticipation, he couldn’t wait to see his grandparents and have a warm home-cooked meal.

With a little help from kind hearted citizens, he was able to find the part of the city where his grandparents lived. After asking one last time for directions, he boldly walked into the auto shop they owned. “Hi!”

A man looked over at him. “What do ya need kid?”

“My grandparents live here, I came to talk to them.”

The man, Vic, looked up angrily at the boy. “You’re crazy, kid! Nobody here has any grandkids.”

Tony had memorized that address and knew it was the correct one. “Do Milo and Eva Ramos live here?”

Vic came over angrily. “Who the hell are you?”

“My name is Tony Ramos, my father was Erik. Milo and Eva are my grandparents.”

“Erik Ramos is marime. If you’re his family then you’re marime too!”

Tony’s eyes narrowed angrily. “You’re my uncle! You’re Vic!”

“Yeah. So?!”

“My father warned me about you!”

“What do you mean, warned you?”

Tony ignored Vic’s question and threw back his shoulders arrogantly. “I want to see him, you can’t stop me! I want to see my grandfather.”

Vic hollered back. “You don’t want nothing and nobody...Nobody wants to see you...including your grandfather! Now you get out!”

Vic pushed him away and Tony struggled. “I gotta tell him what happened.”

Vic grabbed him. “He knows...he knows. It don’t change nothin! You understand? You’re dead...marime...banished, now get out!”

Tony told Vic he would show his grandfather the proof he had that would clear his father’s name. An unconcerned Vic chased him from the yard.

Tony snuck back about a half an hour later. He saw an older woman peering down into the street. It had to be his grandmother she looked like the woman he had remembered from his childhood.

He waved excitedly. “Grandma!”

The woman glanced at him, then with a sigh, turned away.

Tony’s heart fell as he stood and stared in disbelief as the curtains closed on him. Shaking is head; he slowly walked away in shock.

He walked for hours and realized he had to find a way to get some money. He thought about what he could do, then happened upon a bakery. When an elderly gentleman struggled to get through the door, Tony pretended to help him. As he held the door, the man shuffled slowly in. The storekeeper ran over and helped the old man and Tony was able to grab a loaf of bread and a package of cookies.

He walked to the park and drank from one of the water fountains, then sat and happily munched on his stolen dinner as he contemplated his next move. Hiding his tears, he pulled his coat closer to him and lay down on the park bench and fell asleep.

 

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

 

Across the park, Catherine sighed as she slammed her hand down on the annoying alarm clock. For two weeks, she had been going at full speed. They were swamped with cases at work and many nights she brought home files just to keep on top of everything.

Today was no exception; Catherine had a busy morning and raced through her normal morning routine as she tried to get back to the office . She distractedly got into her car, glanced around and started to back up. When she felt something hit her car, she slammed the car to a stop.

She jumped from her seat when she heard someone screaming. She ran to the back of the car and saw a young boy sitting on the ground crying and screaming about an injury to his knee.

He told Catherine his name was Tony Ramos and she asked someone in the crowd to call for an ambulance. Tony refused an ambulance and a trip to the hospital. Assuming he was scared, she offered to call his parents. Tony told her he was an orphan and Catherine decided to help him into her car.

When she turned around, Tony grabbed her wallet and ran. She chased him through the streets but he got away. Frustrated, she made her way to work.

 

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

Arriving late, Catherine stormed into her office. She had to cancel her credit cards and get a new driver’s license.

Joe walked up and watched her tirade. He looked at her closely, concerned that she was all right. “You got mugged?”

“I was conned by a kid no more than eleven years old! He’s lying in a gutter crying, I thought I ran over him. Then as soon as I get up to help him, he grabs my wallet and runs!”

Joe smiled when he realized she was not hurt. “Welcome to New York.”

Catherine dialed the phone to cancel her credit cards and was put on hold. She looked at Joe angrily. “I’m going to find that kid, Joe.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t bet the family jewels on it,” he said as he smiled and walked away.

Catherine spent the morning canceling her credit cards and putting a hold on her bank account.

At 11:00, she headed for Joe’s office. She knocked and opened his door, then stood and waited for him to end his phone call.

He hung up and looked over at her. “What’s up?”

“Keith is working on the Hensen deposition for me. I have to head to the license branch.”

“Sorry, you have fun though...” he chuckled.

Catherine gave him a look that could kill and headed out.

She was standing in line at the license branch when two bums hit on her. She rolled her eyes in disgust when their alcohol breath assaulted her nose. After another twenty minutes, the clerk went to lunch and Catherine had to stand in line another fifteen minutes before the first girl came back from lunch.

She was finally handed her license and sighed at the picture of herself. “I need a day at the spa,” she thought.

She raced back to work where the rest of the afternoon was spent catching up with her work.

Keith, the young intern, had done a fairly decent job on the deposition but Catherine had to go over it and check for errors and work on some of the wording.

Edie still hadn’t gotten back with the information on two of her other cases and three more were sitting on the edge of her desk, waiting for someone to interview the witnesses.

Exhausted from her long day, she headed home.

 

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

Catherine walked in the door with a huge sigh. “What a day,” she thought.

She sat and rubbed her aching feet, then heard a knock at the door and answered it. It was the young boy, Tony, who had conned her earlier. She stared in shock at him through her chained door.

She quickly opened the door and hid her surprise as he boldly walked in uninvited, admiring her apartment. She demanded her wallet which he promptly returned. She opened it and noticed her cash was missing but nothing else. He sat down on her couch and made himself comfortable.

Catherine hollered at him angrily and Tony said he was sorry. Catherine ordered him to leave her apartment and he began to cry.

He looked at her with real fear in his eyes. “I can’t I don’t have anywhere to go.”

“Oh, don’t try the orphan bit it doesn’t work!”  

“It’s true. My parents were killed in a car accident. I came all the way here from Chicago to find my grandfather but he doesn’t want me, he won’t even see me.”  

She furrowed her brow in confusion. “That doesn’t make any sense. Why won’t he see you...You in some kind of trouble?”  

He shrugged. “I’m dead.”

“Oh, that’s it. Hit the road!” She rolled her eyes in disgust and grabbed him to try to lead him out the door.

“Wait, okay...it wounds weird but I’m a Gypsy, lady, and when the Kris says you’re marime, you’re dead.”

She didn’t believe a word he said. “Gypsy! Is this another con?”

“My grandfather is king of the Gypsies. My father was gonna be the next king but my uncle set him up, framed him at the Kris. Well, that’s a Gypsy trial, they banished us all...my uncle’s gonna pay for what he did. I’ve got proof!”

Catherine’s eyes narrowed. “What proof?”

“Forget about it...Uh, maybe this is all just a con. Look, let me sleep here tonight and then I’m out of your life.”

Catherine could tell he was desperate. She could see it in his eyes. Whatever his story was, she knew he was afraid to be out on the streets tonight.

She looked at him thoughtfully. “You can trust me, you know.”

“I trust no one.” Tears filled his eyes. “I don’t know anyone but you!”

She looked at him and threw her hands up in the air. “My lucky day.”

She told him he could stay but she wanted the whole truth tomorrow morning.

She dragged him to the bathroom and told him he had to take a shower. He fought but finally relented.

Catherine sat on her couch listening to him sing in her shower. It brought a smile to her face to hear him relax and act like a little boy. He seemed so afraid earlier, and truly heartbroken when he was telling his story.

She liked this kid...underneath all his bravado was just a little boy lost in the world and if his story was to be believed…he was alone in the world. She wondered if his parents really were dead or if he was a runaway. She wondered if it was true that his grandfather wouldn’t see him. Did she really believe his tale about being a Gypsy?

Catherine was pulled from her thoughts when she heard the shower being turned off. She waited until she heard the door open and then she got up to inspect his work.

She walked up to him and tried to feel his hair. “Let me see.”

He hit her arm away angrily. “Hey lady, don’t touch me!”

“Let me see!”

This time she ran her fingers through his damp hair. It was wet and felt clean. She grasped his chin and tilted his head back and inspected his neck, then checked behind his ears. She looked at his hands and they were clean also. She was satisfied he did a thorough job.

She smiled at him. “Good job. Thank you!”

Secretly he was feeling better now that he was clean, but he didn’t want her to know. “Yeah, whatever.”

Catherine looked at him, a question in her eyes. “Are you hungry, Tony?”

“You bought me lunch earlier,” he shrugged. When she didn’t smile, he looked down shyly. “Yeah, I’m hungry.”

“Well, it’s late but how about a grilled cheese sandwich?”

 He nodded shyly to her.

“Okay, come on. I’ll make you one.”

She led the way to the kitchen. She got out the butter and cheese and turned the flame on under the skillet.

“Would you like something to drink?”

“Yeah, you got a coke or something?”

She frowned. “I was thinking more along the lines of milk or juice.”

“Milk I guess...you got any chocolate to put in it?”

“I might.”

She sighed as she dug through her cabinets; at least he would be drinking something healthy. She found some chocolate mix and a bag of potato chips that was supposed to have taken to a picnic last week.

She handed him a glass and a spoon, the milk, the chocolate mix and the bag of potato chips. She turned to the counter and made him a grilled cheese.

He was happily munching on some chips when she handed him his sandwich, which he promptly wolfed it down.

She was fascinated that he ate it so quickly. “He must be starving,” she thought.

“Tony, would you like another?”

When he nodded she got up and made him another sandwich. This one he ate slower and she was satisfied he was finally full.

Tony got up and took his plate and glass to the kitchen sink and set it down inside. She smiled at him as she put away the chocolate mix and half full bag of chips. 

“I have a new toothbrush for you to use. Let’s get those teeth cleaned before you go to bed.”

He shook his head. “I don’t need...”

He stopped mid sentence when he saw the look on her face and her finger pointing towards the bathroom.

“Go...now...top drawer of the vanity in the bathroom, towards the back. The toothpaste is in there too. I’ll get you some sheets and a blanket and pillow. Meet me in the living room...brush good.”

He turned, smiling and walked back to the bathroom. “Okay...okay”

Tony brushed his teeth and came back by Catherine in the living room. Catherine had covered her couch in a sheet and left him another sheet and blanket to cover up with.

 He lay down as she covered him up.

She looked at him hopefully. “Tomorrow you’ll tell me the whole story, okay?”

He nodded and then turned over and went to sleep. She cleaned up the kitchen and then the bathroom and changed into pajamas.

She checked to make sure he was still sleeping before she went to bed. She reached over and called Jenny. “Hey, Jen.”

“Hey, Cathy. What’s up?”

“I have to cancel lunch tomorrow.”

“Aww, Cath! Why?”

“I was mugged today by a young boy and had to spend a lot of time canceling credit cards and getting a new license. I need the time to catch up on work. We’ve been swamped.”

Jenny shrugged. “You’re okay?”

Catherine chuckled. “Yeah, I’m fine. He didn’t hurt me. In fact, he just stopped by to return my stuff, well, except for the $17 bucks he borrowed.”

Jenny shook her head. “Did you call the police?”

Catherine blushed and was glad her friend couldn’t see her. “Well...”

“Catherine Chandler! You better not tell me you let the creep get away with it! He’s going to go right back out and do it to someone else, you know!”

“He’s just a kid, Jen! He’s like twelve maybe thirteen…besides, I think life has been pretty tough on him lately. He promised to tell me the whole story in the morning.”

“You told him to come back to your apartment in the morning?”

Silence met Jenny’s question. She grimaced into the phone. “Uh, oh! Cathy what did you do? He’s not sleeping on the floor in your living room is he?”

Catherine immediately protested. “No!”

Jenny rolled her eyes, knowing she had hit the nail on the head and that her best friend was lying. “Cath...”

“Well…he’s not sleeping on the floor. I did tell him he had to shower before I would let him sleep on the couch.”

Jenny sighed. “Leave it to you to turn your apartment into a home for stray kids.”

Catherine sighed. “I just want to help him, Jen. Anyway, that’s why I have to cancel for tomorrow.”

“That’s okay. Remember Mr. Adonis from the Alain Viso’s book signing a couple of weeks ago?

Catherine nodded. “Yeah, I thought you said he was married with three kids.”

“I did, well he lied. He wanted to check me out first. It seems he’s well off and hates it when girls try to go out with him for his money.”

Catherine thought she smelled a rat. “Jen, it sounds like an excuse to cheat on his wife!”

Jenny laughed. “I thought so too, then he took me to his mom’s house and she made me dinner.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No! Anyway he’s coming into the city tomorrow and he wanted to see me so I’m going to call him and arrange something.”

“Well, have fun.”

Jenny smiled. “Oh, I will!”

Catherine hung up the phone, then lay back in bed where she promptly fell asleep.

She was woken up in the early morning from a noise she heard in her room. She saw Tony with his hands in her jewelry box and sat up groggily. “What are you doing?”

Tony grabbed a necklace and ran to the front door, Catherine flew out of the bed caught up with him as he opened the door to escape.

She reached out but only got a hold of his necklace. It broke loose in her hand and Tony ran away. She called after him but he never looked back.

She closed the door in distress. Had she been conned again, or was this boy really in trouble?

She glanced down at the necklace. It looked like a coin, a very old coin. She frowned as she glanced at the clock and decided she may as well get ready for work. She knew she wouldn’t get back to sleep.

 

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

 

She went to work early and was deep in paperwork when a messenger delivered her a note. She smiled and thanked him, then looked down at the envelope addressed to her in Vincent’s familiar scrawl. She excitedly opened the letter.

Catherine,

The children are having a music recital tonight at 8:00pm. They’ll be entertaining us to showcase what they have learned thus far in their music lessons. Your presence has been requested by all of the children so I am extending this invitation to you. I will meet you at 7:30 at the threshold unless I hear from you otherwise.

Until then,

V------

She smiled in surprise. She had officially been invited Below for a special activity and she was definitely going to go. She could use a good night out, and heading Below was something she could look forward to.

She blinked in surprise when she glanced up at the clock. Because she had gotten to work so early today, she should be able to put a sizeable dent in her work load and have plenty of time to leave early to get Below. She was glad to have some time to freshen up before she saw Vincent. She hadn’t seen him in over a week and she wanted to look extra special for him.

She buried herself in her work the rest of the day and was walking to the coffee pot in the late afternoon for yet another refill.  Joe looked up in surprise to see her still there and peeked out his door to call out to her. “Radcliffe, didn’t you say you had something important to do tonight?”

Catherine looked at the clock. “Damn!” She said as she ran to her desk muttering under her breath and shoved papers in files. “I am not going to be late for this recital, I can’t disappoint everyone.”

Joe looked at her. “What? Did you say something?”

“No. Thanks, Joe.”

Catherine blew from the office like a tornado as Joe shook his head with amusement.

 

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

 

Catherine sat in the taxi and sighed. Despite her best intentions, she didn’t get out of work early enough. In fact, she was running late. She flew into her apartment, raced into her bedroom, changed clothes, and then headed to the bathroom. She ran a comb through her hair, did a quick touch up on her make-up, and raced to the threshold. She arrived Below just as Vincent was starting to leave.

She called out breathlessly. “Vincent, wait!”  

He turned around and smiled. “Hello, Catherine.”  

“I’m so sorry, Vincent. I had every intention of getting here on time,” she apologized as she made her way down the ladder.

Vincent cocked his head to the side and looked at her with understanding. “I’m just glad you were able to come. The children will be excited to see you.”

“Will we be late?”

“We should hurry.”

She nodded as he grabbed her hand and they walked quickly through the tunnels.

Catherine looked up at him. “How’ve you been, Vincent?”

“Busy, the lower tunnels flooded and we’ve been trying to pump water out for the past three days. How have you been?”

“Swamped...I’ve missed you.”

He squeezed her hand affectionately. “I’ve missed you as well. Perhaps after the recital, we’ll have some time to...catch up.”

“I’d like that! I’ve been looking forward to this since I got your message. I haven’t seen you or anyone from Below in over a week.”

He nodded in agreement. “I was running the generator today from the lower chambers and had that same thought myself. I need to remember to invite you to more things Below.”

Catherine smiled widely. “Vincent, I’d love to be a part of anything that happens down here.”

He smiled shyly.

Knowing she had embarrassed him, Catherine skipped ahead. “C’mon slow poke!”

Vincent blinked in surprise and quickly increased his pace as they made their way to the home tunnels. 

 

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

 

They rushed into the library just as the recital began and quietly settled down on the steps.

As was usual with most recitals, they started out with the newer students. The youngest children performed their songs. Catherine smiled at Vincent as they heard ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ for the third time.

He looked down and smiled back at her, marveling at her patience. This amazing woman could be at a symphony orchestra right now and here she sat on hard steps in a cold chamber listening to children fumble through nursery songs and she was enjoying it! He wondered how he had the good fortune to have found someone so special.

The next group of kids was considerably better than the first and they entertained the community with old standards like ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’

The next group of musicians to perform was the eldest children. They were the real performers and as the final boy, Jack played his last violin solo, Catherine’s mood changed. She became melancholy as her thoughts turned to Tony. She reached into her pocket and caressed his necklace in her hands.

Vincent noticed the change in her feelings and leaned close to whisper. “What concerns you so?”

She whispered back. “A boy. He claims to be a Gypsy. He’s lied to me, he stole from me, and yet I can’t help caring about him and feeling that somehow he wants my help.”

Vincent, knowing she was upset and wanting to hear more about it, rose and took her hand and quietly led her out the door and towards his chamber. Once they entered the tunnels and knew they wouldn’t disturb the recital, Vincent turned to Catherine.

“Tell me how you met this boy.”    

“He pretended I hit him with my car. When I went to help him, he grabbed my wallet and took off running. Later, he came to my apartment and returned my wallet, empty of any money of course.” She smiled and shook her head, then continued. “He sat on my couch and asked if he could stay with me, he claimed he had no where to go. He told me his parents had recently died. He said his family are  and he claims they held a meeting years ago and disowned his father. Now his grandfather won’t see him.”

“So you let him stay the night with you...”

“How did you know?”

Vincent chuckled knowingly. “I know you. You have a generous heart.”

“Yes, and I guess I was being extra generous, because he took some of my jewelry from me and ran off. I reached out to grab him but only caught his necklace.”

She held it up for him to see.

Vincent took it in his hands, twirling it to see both sides, admiring its craftsmanship. “It’s very old...talks of tradition.”

She looked at him sadly. “It’s all I have to go on. I don’t know how much of his story I believe, but his pain is very real.”

“He’s touched you deeply.”

“I suppose he has. If I could just find him and talk to him...”

Vincent cocked his head in thought. “The world of the Gypsies is a secret one, closed to all gaje, as they call outsiders. We have a Gypsy helper above who may be of help to you...”

Catherine looked at him hopefully. “Do you think she’ll talk to me?”

Vincent nodded. “If you tell her I sent you, I think she’ll help you in any way she can.”

Vincent gave her the address and smiled as she tried to stifle a yawn. “And now I should probably get you home.”

She sighed tiredly. “I wanted to spend some time with you, but I did have a long day.”

As they entered the tunnel way, the voices carried to them from the library. “I guess I should say goodbye to everyone first.”

He knew everyone would want to talk to her and tilted his head to the side as he looked at her endearingly. “Catherine, if you walk in there now it will be a long time before you’re able to leave again.”

“I suppose you’re right. Still....”

“I’ll make your apologies when I return. Come, let’s get you home.”

He offered her his hand and she took it gratefully as they walked towards her threshold.

Vincent looked over at her curiously. “I hope you enjoyed yourself. I thought the recital was very good, even the young ones did well.”  

Catherine giggled. “They tried so hard. They were so adorable with their little faces scrunched in deep concentration.”  

“Their music teacher is very good. His father was a helper for as far back as I can remember and now he too has been with us for years. They’ve painstakingly taught many generations of children to play.”  

Catherine was struck with a picture of Vincent as a young boy fumbling with an instrument.

She smiled in wonderment. “Did you learn an instrument?”

He nodded shyly and smiled back. “I used to play the piano. I haven’t done so in years.”  

She smiled dreamily. “Oh, maybe one day we’ll have a piano and you can play it for me.”

Vincent chuckled. “I don’t think so...I don’t think you could handle one more rendition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ could you?”

They laughed together as they came upon her threshold.

“Thanks for inviting me, Vincent. Tell the children I said they played wonderfully.”  

“I will Catherine and thank you for coming.”

She smiled and moved closer to him for a hug. “Anytime, all you have to do is ask.” She hugged him and sighed. “This feels so good, Vincent.” She moved away and noticed that he was blushing.

Vincent finally looked at her. “Good luck with Maria tomorrow.”

“Thanks, goodnight.”

She turned and climbed up the ladder.

“Goodnight, Catherine.”  

 

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

 

Vincent walked back into the library as the children were being sent to bed.  He smiled at all of them. “Congratulations on a job well done. Catherine asked me to tell you she thought you played beautifully.”

They basked in the glow of Vincent’s pride and hugged him goodnight. The adults soon filtered out and Father and Vincent were alone.

Father looked at Vincent curiously. “Catherine looked troubled towards the end of the recital; I hope all is well with her.”  

“She’s fine, Father but you’re correct about her being troubled. A young  boy has come into her life. He claims to be a Gypsy, estranged from his family but he won’t trust Catherine to help him. I think she’s frustrated that he won’t reach out to her.”  

Father narrowed his eyes. “Perhaps she should speak with Maria; maybe she could offer Catherine some insight on how to help the boy...”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, I thought so too, I’ve already given her Maria’s address. I believe she plans on speaking with her tomorrow.”  

“Good, you’ll have to let me know what transpires.”  

Vincent smiled gratefully; glad his father could share his concern for a boy they never met. “Of course.”

Father looked at him hopefully. “Well, I’m feeling lucky tonight, how about a game of chess?”

Vincent rolled his eyes. “You’ll need more than luck, but if you wish to start a game, I’ll try to keep up.”

Father started to set up the pieces when he looked at him indignantly, then smiled as he looked away.

 

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

 

Luckily, the next day was Saturday and Catherine would be able to investigate Tony’s claims. She went to the address Vincent provided to her and found a beautiful young woman standing outside the shop.

Catherine walked up to her. “Are you Maria?”  

Maria was unsure what this well-dressed woman wanted with her and looked at her distrustfully. “I don’t know you.”

Catherine smiled warmly. “Vincent said you might be able to help...”  

At the mention of Vincent’s name, Maria noticeably relaxed. She had Catherine follow her to the back of the store.

Maria looked at her quizzically. “Whatever you have to say must be pretty important for Vincent to send you to me.”

“I don’t have anything to tell you, but I do need your help.”

Maria nodded expectantly. “What can I do for you?”

“I met a young boy who pretended I hit him with my car. Then when I stopped to help him, he stole my wallet. Later that night, he came to my apartment and told me a pretty wild story about being a Gypsy. I believed him and he begged me to let him spend the night. He claimed he had no where else to go. The next morning, he stole a necklace from my jewelry box and took off running.”

Maria shrugged indifferently. “Well…you should be more careful who you trust.”

“I thought I could trust him!”

“So you came to me because he said he was a Gypsy and you want to track him down, turn him over to the police…”

“No...I want to help him find his family, but I don’t know how. When I tried to grab him, I got a hold of his necklace and it broke.” Catherine dug into her pocket to bring out the necklace to show to Maria. “Vincent said he thought that the charm was very old, it’s probably pretty valuable.”

Maria’s face paled as she looked at the charm. “Did this boy give you a name?”

Catherine nodded. “He said it was Tony Ramos. He traveled here all the way from Chicago after his parents died...”

Maria interrupted her, looking stricken she grabbed Catherine’s arm. “So it’s true, Erik Ramos is really dead?”

Catherine grimaced. “Yes, I’m sorry. Did you know him?”

“Yeah, he and I grew up together.”

Catherine touched Maria’s hand in sympathy. “I’m sorry.”

Maria shrugged. “Car accident, right?”

“Yes, he and his wife are both gone.  Tony, their son, came here to see his grandfather but he refuses to see Tony.”  

Maria shook her head. “That’s because Tony is already considered marime…” She looked at Catherine and explained further. “…I mean dead, at least in the  Gypsy community’s eyes.”

Catherine looked at her in shock. “I don’t believe this! Tony’s just a boy, he has no one. How could his grandfather just abandon him like that?”  

Maria sighed. “In Milo’s eyes his grandson no longer exists. It was a judgment of the Kris.”  

Catherine wondered aloud. “Well, couldn’t Milo call a new Kris to hear Tony out?”

Maria tried to explain. “You don’t understand our ways. Tony’s father stole from his own family. That can never be forgiven.”

Catherine reeled in anger. “A boy’s entire future is at stake here!”  

“What’s done is done.”  

Catherine’s searched her mind desperately for a plan. “Maybe if I talk to Milo....”  

Mary shook her head. “You’ll never get to see him. Tony’s uncle Vic will make sure of that”  

Catherine looked at her hopefully. “It’s worth a try!”

Maria turned away but thought twice about it as Catherine turned to leave. “I’ll give you the address, okay, just be careful. Vic’s a bad one. If he thinks you’re trying to help Tony...”  

Catherine could tell Maria seemed nervous, so she gave her a business card. “If you hear from Tony will you give me a call?”

Maria reluctantly took it and nodded as Catherine smiled at her. “Thank you.”

As Catherine made her way to the door, Maria made an impulsive decision. “Tony’s grandparents live in an apartment above the garage. Milo’s been sick and Eva takes care of him so they should be there. I don’t think you’ll get past Vic but...good luck!”  

Catherine nodded and smiled back thankfully.

 

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

 

Catherine drove to the address Maria provided her. As she pulled up to the garage a plan formed in her mind. She got out of the car and pretended to be worried. She played the part of the ultimate rich girl and lied about a noise she heard coming from her car.

Vic smiled and said he would look at it. Catherine begged to use his phone to cancel a hair appointment.  While she walked through the garage pretending to look for the phone, she snuck to the apartment upstairs.

She knocked on the door and Tony’s grandmother answered it. She begged her to see Tony. She told her that Tony had said he had proof of his father’s innocence.

Catherine could tell that the woman was visibly upset, but she wouldn’t talk to her or let her see Milo. She shut the door on Catherine, then opened it and begged Catherine to tell Tony she loves him.

Catherine walked back down the steps and ran into Vic. She promptly told him she would take a chance with all the imaginary problems he had discovered.

 

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

Catherine went home and discovered Tony in her apartment. He told her he had broken into it. Filled with false bravado, he pinned her with a level gaze. “I came for my medallion.”

“Where’s my jewelry?”  

He shrugged. “I hocked it.”  

Catherine got angry and retaliated. “Oh...I hocked your medallion!”  

Tony looked up worriedly. “I don’t believe you.”

“Would I lie to someone like you?” Catherine said sarcastically.

“You don’t understand...my father gave me that medallion before he died. It’s all I have left of him. If it’s gone, I’ve lost everything!”

Tony looked at her dejectedly with tears in his eyes.

Catherine knew how important family mementoes were when you wanted to remember someone. She went through her purse and returned his medallion to him.

“It was your grandfather’s?”  

He nodded and then reached into his pocket and handed her back her necklace.

He smiled. “Now we’re even lady.”

She thought that by now he should call her something other than, ‘hey lady’.
“The name is Catherine.” She looked at him thoughtfully. “Are you hungry?”

He looked down at the floor in shame. “Yeah, I am.”  

“Me too...would you like me to send out for something or I have some ground beef in the fridge I could make some spaghetti or a hamburger...”  

He couldn’t believe she was letting him stay for dinner again. He looked at her shyly. “Could you make spaghetti?”

“Yep...you go take a shower.”

“I just took one yesterday!”

Catherine frowned and pointed towards her bathroom. “I’ll start dinner. How about some garlic bread too?”  

Tony’s nodded as his eyes lit up and his stomach grumbled loudly.

Catherine giggled, tousling his hair. “Better make it a quick shower!”

They had an enjoyable dinner together. Tony told stories about his parents and they laughed together at the family’s fun memories. Tony finally settled back on the couch. Catherine came in from cleaning up the kitchen and noticed him glancing through a book.

She told him to read a story to her and discovered he was unable to read. Trying not to embarrass him, she read to him instead until he fell asleep.

Vincent had quietly slipped onto the balcony earlier and saw the shadow of another person through the curtains. He almost left but then heard Tony’s voice and instead of leaving, he stood on her balcony and listened to Catherine’s voice as she read to the boy. When she was finished, he tapped lightly on her door.

She ran out to see him smiling as she walked out the door.

He complimented her. “How beautiful you read.”

She smiled up to him. “I remember the first time you read to me, how safe I felt, the comfort I found in your voice. I wanted to share that.”

“Maria helped you find him?”  

She smiled ruefully as she shook her head. “He picked the lock on my door...beneath the bravado is a very frightened little boy. I can’t imagine what his life is like. When I was his age, my big decision was what dresses to wear. Maria helped me find his grandparents...They won’t see him.”  

Vincent shook his head in disbelief. “How can their hearts be so hardened?”

Catherine sighed. “If I could just talk to his grandfather, have him call a new Kris for Tony...If they won’t take him back into the family, I’ll have to turn Tony over to child welfare for foster placement. I’m afraid that would just break his spirit.”  

“Then his grandfather must be convinced.”  

Catherine looked at him curiously. “I wish there was a way...”  

“Maybe there is...I must go, Catherine.”

He suddenly stood up to leave.

She looked at him with surprise. “Is everything okay?’

“I think it will be...I have an idea…”

“What is it?! Tell me!”

“Let’s see if it works first,” he said as he squeezed her arm affectionately, then turned and scaled the wall and was gone within seconds.

Catherine looked curiously at him as he left, then shrugged with surprise and walked back inside.

 

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

 

Vincent left Catherine’s balcony and went to the home of Milo Ramos. He snuck into his room as the old man slept. Milo awoke and saw Vincent in the shadows. Afraid, he called for help but Vincent quieted him immediately.

Milo stared in disbelief. “A ghost?”  

“Do not fear, I mean you no harm.”  

“Then leave me in peace...” Milo worriedly called for help. “Vic....Eva.”  

Vincent begged. “Please listen to me!”

“Who are you?”  

“Someone who cares about your grandson...”  

Milo eyes flickered with pain. “I have no grandson.”

“Yes, but Tony has a grandfather. He is a brave boy. He’s come a long way alone and at great risk.”  Vincent saw the pain in Milo’s eyes and wondered how he was able to discard the boy.  

“It was the judgment of the Kris. He is dead to us...”   

Vincent wondered. “Is he dead in your heart?”

Milo shook his head. “It was the judgment...the law.”  

“Is there no room in your law for compassion? Must the child be condemned for the deeds of the father? Tony wants only to prove that a great wrong has been done. You are the king of the Gypsies call a new trial. Let him speak.”  

Milo was worried. “It is dangerous to change what has been done to the dead.”

“You have a chance to give a boy back his life...”  

“If the outcome is the same I will lose everything...”

“If Tony can change the judgment, you have your grandson back. Can there be a greater treasure?”  

Milo promised. “I will think on it…”

“That’s all I ask.”  

Milo stopped Vincent before he could leave. “Tell Tony, we love him!”

 

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

 

Vincent nodded and headed for home. He had a troubled night’s sleep and the next morning was sitting in a chair in his chamber thinking of Tony and his dilemma.

Father walked into his chamber talking about another problem, but he stopped as he looked at his son. Father already knew the answer but asked anyway. “You look as if you haven’t slept. Did you go above?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, to plead with a man who denies the existence of his own grandson.”  

Father acknowledged the problem with a grim nod of his head. “Ah yes, the  Gypsy boy you spoke of.”

Vincent shook his head incredulously. “He’s only a child and yet they judge him as a man, as if he had committed the crimes his father is accused of. A boy rejected by his own flesh and blood for the sake of a tradition...”

“Law and tradition is the only permanence in a Gypsy’s life. They are a people without a country and they depend on their laws and traditions to maintain their culture.”  

“Yes, but the cost, Father! The old man grieves for his lost grandson yet he feels bound to uphold this heartless law, a law which has already cost him a son. To be abandoned by those you love...that pain would be unbearable.”

Vincent sympathized, knowing how Tony must feel. He knew what it felt like to be abandoned. Even as an adult, he still hadn’t come to terms with the fact that he was abandoned by his mother. He still felt the sting of the loss of Devin and Lisa as well.  

Father nodded hopefully. “Well, I’m glad you made your plea, and perhaps your words will be enough to make him change his mind.”  

 

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

Catherine was relieved the next morning when she woke to find Tony still in her apartment. He had made her breakfast and Catherine sat to eat it with him. She made him promise to stay in the apartment and not get into trouble.

She left for work as Tony sat and watched TV for awhile before he became restless and headed to his grandparent’s house.

 

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

That morning, Eva and Milo sat alone at their kitchen table.

Milo turned to his wife and took her hand. “I have something important to decide and since it effects both of us I won’t do it alone.”

Eva stayed silent but nodded her head for him to continue.

“I am thinking about calling a new Kris for Tony.”

Eva smiled. “A woman came to the door yesterday. She said that Tony has proof of Erik’s innocence.”

Milo looked at her in surprise and then lowered his head. “If I call a new Kris for Tony and the outcome is the same, we will lose our community, our home, we will have nothing...”  

“I have already lost my son, Milo. If you call the Kris and the outcome is the same I will have my Tony but no home. If the outcome is different I will still have my Tony and a much happier home. If you do nothing, I will have a home that I no longer want to live in because my Tony will not be there.”

Milo nodded; Eva’s logic made a lot of sense and he agreed with her.   

Milo smiled joyously. “I will call a new Kris. Tony will have a chance to present his proof.”

 

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

 

Word spread quickly through the Gypsy community that Milo had called a new Kris. Maria called Catherine and told her the good news. Catherine promised that they would be there. Maria warned her that Vic would be dangerous so she should pay close attention to her surroundings and stay out of his way until the last possible minute.

Catherine raced home to let Tony know of the new Kris. She found her apartment empty. She immediately assumed that Tony had tried to go back to see his Grandfather. She thought of Vic and wondered it Tony was in trouble. On a whim, she decided to look for Tony at Vic’s garage.

She drove to the garage and seeing it closed, hopped the fence and walked through the yard.

Suddenly, she was being chased by two huge Rottweilers. She ran and found an unlocked car a second before the dogs caught up to her. They barked and growled and continued their attack on the car, trying to get to her. One of the dogs broke the glass on the passenger side as he tried to find a way in. Catherine sat inside petrified, wondering if the glass would hold out long enough for the dogs to lose interest and leave.

Vincent, sensing her fear, ran frantically to help her. Coming to the yard, he stood on a rooftop above the yard and roared a warning to the dogs, effectively getting their attention. Dropping to the ground in front of them, he stared them down until they quieted and lay on the ground in front of him

Catherine leapt out of the car and ran into Vincent’s arms. She pulled away and quickly told him she was here looking for Tony.

They ran to the garage, calling Tony’s name loudly. Tony heard them and called to them from a nearby shed, begging for their help.

Vincent crashed through the door and Tony stared at Vincent in shock.

Catherine looked him. “It’s all right Tony; Vincent is a friend of mine!”   

Vincent tried to gain Tony’s trust. “Catherine’s told me much about you.”

Tony gasped. “I’ve never seen anyone like you before...”

Vincent smiled. “There’s never been anyone like me before.”  .

Catherine grabbed Tony’s shirt. “Listen your grandfather’s called a new Kris, but we have to hurry...”  

Vincent quickly got his bearings. “There’s an entry not far from here, we can travel faster below ground.”  

Catherine dragged the still shocked Tony to the entryway. They ran full speed through the tunnels. Tony kept up until he suddenly fell to his knees, exhausted. He couldn’t run anymore.

Vincent picked him up and carried him on his back as they continued to race through the tunnels.

They arrived below the meeting place and Catherine climbed the ladder first while Vincent offered encouragement to Tony.

 

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

 

Catherine and Tony entered the Kris late. The Gypsy community was arguing over whether or not they should wait for Tony when they walked in together. A relieved Milo, seeing Tony asked him to come forward.

Tony stood in front of the community and accused Vic of framing his father because with his father gone Vic would be next in line to be king. Vic laughed it off; he wasn’t worried about the rantings of a punk kid.

Milo asked Tony for the proof that he claimed he had. Tony looked bravely at Catherine and told her it was in her purse, he had put it there so Vic couldn’t get it.

Catherine had no idea he had put it there and searched her purse. She stepped forward and handed Tony the piece of paper she’d found in there.

Tony read the letter aloud while Catherine looked on in shock. She knew Tony couldn’t read and she wondered if he had lied about that as well.

Dear Erik,

I am writing this letter because I am afraid for my life. Me and Vic stole the money from the body shop and we split it up. We put some of the stuff in your house so you’d get blamed. Now I think Vic’s gonna kill me for my share of the loot.....”

Vic turned to his partner Bob. “You fool!”

Bob fought back. “I didn’t write no letter, you said no one could prove anything!”  

The community overheard the exchange and went into an uproar. Vic knew instantly that those words had implicated them and he went after Bob angrily.

The men in the community broke up the fight and Milo showed Vic the letter that had condemned him. It was a blank piece of paper. Tony had made the whole thing up.

The board voted to make Vic marime, and Tony was reunited with his grandparents.

Catherine turned to leave when Tony stopped her.

“Hey lady, I owe ya and a Gypsy never forgets.” He hugged her, then looked up. “Thank Vincent for me, huh?”

She smiled and nodded. “I will, maybe I’ll see you around...”

Tony smiled back. “Count on it!”

Catherine left Tony as he stood in his grandmother’s embrace. She felt a wave of relief when she knew he would be well taken care of.

 

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

 

She climbed the ladder to the world Below and smiled at Vincent through tears.

Vincent had felt her happiness earlier and now was concerned by her sadness. “It went well?”

She nodded. “Tony has a family again.”  

He smiled at her, pleased they had won “Good.”

“I think he stole a piece of my heart.”  

“And you will always keep a part of his. You helped him find his way home again, Catherine. No one could ever give a child a better gift.”  

“It came from both of us.”  

Catherine began to cry and Vincent reached for her and brought her to his chest. He embraced her warmly, rubbing his cheek against her hair. She stayed in his embrace and sniffled against him, grateful they had shared this experience.

She pulled away slowly and he smiled at her, took her hand and walked with her through the tunnels.

Catherine sniffled again as she talked about the meeting. “The Kris voted to ban Vic; at least now the right son has been punished. I wish you could’ve been there, Vincent. Tony’s grandparents were showering him with love. They were so excited to finally see him. Poor Eva had a hard time dealing with the loss of yet another son but she seemed happy to gain a grandson.”

“And how was Tony?”

She smiled. “Excited! He wanted me to thank you.”

“Are you in a hurry to get home?” he asked as Catherine shook her head. “We should tell Father the good news. He was concerned for Tony’s situation as well.”  

Catherine looked surprised. “He doesn’t even know Tony.”

“Any child’s welfare concerns him.”

“It’s nice that he would care for a child who isn’t in his care. He has a good heart.”  

“As do you, Catherine. I’m sure Tony has found a new friend in you.”  

She nodded and smiled “And with you.”

They fell silent as Catherine leaned her head to rest it against Vincent’s shoulder as they walked.

 

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

Knowing Vincent would be embarrassed by her showing such intimacy, she pulled away from him as they entered Father’s study.

Father looked up and smiled. “Ah Catherine, Vincent there you are. The sentries reported seeing the two of you running through the tunnels with a boy. Was it Tony?”  

Vincent nodded proudly. “Yes, Father. Catherine has managed to reunite Tony with his family.”

Catherine indicated Vincent with a nod of her head. “I had help.”

Father turned to Vincent. “So, your talk with the grandfather made a difference?”

Catherine looked at Vincent in awe. “I was wondering why Milo suddenly decided to call a Kris. You talked to him!”  

Vincent nodded shyly. “He thought I was a ghost.”

Father chuckled aloud as he waved his hand dismissively. “Well, either way, Tony must be one happy little boy right now. You two will make wonderful parents some...” He stopped, horrified at what he had just said.

Vincent looked at him in shock. “How could he be so insensitive?” he wondered.

Catherine hid her face as she grinned from ear to ear as the image of Vincent’s baby suddenly popped into her head. “What a lovely sentiment,” she thought.

No one spoke for a long time each lost in their own thoughts. Catherine realized there was an unusual tension. She wondered why no one was happy about the prospect of her and Vincent being parents so she cleared her throat.

“Maybe I should get home, it’s late.” She walked over to Father and kissed him on his cheek. “Thank you, Father.”

She left, leaving him to wonder if she meant for his concern for Tony or for what he thought was his inexcusable comment.

Vincent sighed, unsure about what she was feeling after Father’s comment. “I’ll walk you back.”

Catherine nodded and followed him out the door.

 

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

 
Catherine smiled to herself as she thought about the future for her and Vincent.

Vincent thought Catherine was silent because of Father’s comment. He remembered how quickly she had said she needed to get home. He frowned when he came to the conclusion that she was trying to escape an uncomfortable situation.

They walked in silence and Catherine left Vincent to his own thoughts. She kept waiting for him to take her hand but when he didn’t, she reached over and nestled her hand into his.

He blinked in surprise but didn’t comment. She smiled at him and continued to walk.

Soon they came to her threshold and she turned to him touching his arm, hoping he would realize that everything was okay. She looked at him hopefully. “See you soon?”  

He looked at her shyly and nodded gratefully, glad she wasn’t upset. “Yes.”

Catherine brought her arms around him and pulled him close. She hugged him briefly and then left.

 

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

Vincent watched her leave and then headed for his chamber. His thoughts were jumbled. He knew Father hadn’t meant to say something so insensitive but he had felt Catherine’s emotions leap.

He remembered glancing over to see how she had hid her face. Was she embarrassed or worse yet, disgusted? He tried to sift through the emotions he remembered flooding through the bond but he couldn’t determine his own from hers. With a sigh, he entered his chamber and prepared for bed.

Father came in as he settled himself down onto his pillow.

Vincent looked up and sighed. “What is it, Father?”

Father came forward. “Vincent, I want you to know how sorry I am that I made that particular comment.”

“I know, Father. Don’t trouble yourself about it.”

Father nodded. “Thank you, well...at least Catherine found some amusement in it.”

Vincent’s eyes shot up. “What do you mean?”

Father looked at him in surprise. “Well, she was grinning from ear to ear before she finally lowered her face and tried to get herself under control.”

“Why would she do that?”

Father shrugged. “I think all women do that when they fall in love.” Vincent still looked confused so Father continued. “You know what I mean...they doodle their first name and then add the last name of their current beau. They think of names of their children and...”

Vincent interrupted him angrily. “I don’t have a last name and I could never father a child. Besides, I’m sure you’re mistaken about Catherine’s feelings in this.”

Father frowned at his son as Vincent looked at the floor. He hated to think that Vincent would hope for a life that he could never have. Maybe it would be better for everyone if Vincent just continued to think this way. “Well, perhaps you’re right...anyway, I just came to apologize.”

“Goodnight, Father.”

Father left and Vincent picked up a book and tried to read. He was unable to relax so he got up and sat at his desk to write in his journal.

 

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

Meanwhile, in the world Above, Catherine smiled in her sleep as she dreamt about being pregnant and sitting on Vincent’s bed, his arms wrapped protectively around her and their unborn child.

Catherine was pulled from her dreams by her alarm clock. With a sigh, she reached over and turned it off. She got up, showered and headed for work.

 

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

A few hours later, Catherine sat at her desk with her face buried in another deposition.

A young boy approached her desk. “Hey, lady!”

Catherine smiled and looked up. “Tony!” She came around and gave him a hug and ruffled his hair. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon. Is everything all right?”

He smiled. “Everything is perfect. Grandma and Grandpa have welcomed me into their home. Vic got kicked out and I got his room.”

Catherine nodded as Joe walked up. “Cathy, do you have that...”

Joe stopped and looked at the kid sitting by her desk. He looked at her with a question in his eyes.

“Joe, this is Tony Ramos. Tony this is Joe Maxwell.”

Tony offered his hand. Joe shook it and then turned to Catherine. “I need that deposition.”

“It’s not done yet. Can you give me another half hour?”

Joe nodded and Catherine frowned at Tony. “Give it back, please.”

Tony shrugged and handed Joe his watch.

Joe looked surprised and glanced at his empty wrist. “Hey!”

“Sorry, mister!”

Joe looked at Catherine, who rolled her eyes. “Tony is the boy who mugged me. I helped him get reunited with his grandparents. He is now going to promise me to never ever steal again.”

Catherine stared pointedly at Tony who nodded. “Yeah, okay. I promise.”

Joe walked away indignantly and Tony turned back to her. “Cathy...I like it, sounds better than Catherine. You’re too cool to be a Catherine.”

Catherine chuckled as she shook her head. “Tony, why are you here? Do you need some more help?”

Tony shook his head and reached into his pocket and handed Catherine money. She counted $17 dollars and looked up at him in confusion.

“That’s the money I borrowed.”

“Tony, you don’t have to pay that back.”

“No, I want to. I’m going to pay back...” He looked around to see who was close, then leaned forward. “Vincent, someday I’ll find a way to pay him back too!”

Catherine smiled. “Vincent and I are just happy we were able to help you, Tony. That’s all the reward we want.”

He shrugged. “Somehow, someday, you two are gonna need me and I’m going to be there. Remember what I told you…a Gypsy never forgets.”

Catherine smiled at him as he walked away. She turned to her file and then instead grabbed for a sheet of paper to write a note.

 

Dear Vincent,

I had a surprise visitor today. Tony came to see me at work. He said life with his grandparents is wonderful. He even paid me back the money he took...all $17 dollars!

He seemed really happy. He wanted to pay us back for helping him. I explained to him that we were happy to do it but he has promised that one day we will need him and he will be there to help us.

Oh, he met Joe and stole his watch. I made him return it and promise to never do it again. Do you think he’ll keep his promise to me?

Just wanted to tell you the story had a happy ending. Miss you!

With All My Love,

Catherine  
(XOXOXO)

Catherine sealed the note into an envelope and wrote ‘Vincent’ on the front of it. She then put that envelope into a larger one and wrote ‘Lou” on it. She would send it by messenger to Lou at the barbershop. She knew he would see that it got sent Below to Vincent.

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

A few hours later, Vincent received a call over the pipes. He went to the sentry station that sent him the message.

Jamie stood at her post with a letter in her hands. As Vincent came up, she handed it to him. “It was sent by Lou. He said it came from Catherine. I thought you might want it right away.”

“Thank you, Jamie.”

He leaned against the wall and tore open the envelope. He read the first part of the letter and smiled.

Jamie looked at him. “Good news?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, the boy we helped reunite with his grandparents visited Catherine today and told her that all is going well with him.”

Jamie smiled. “That is good news! It’s tough to be a kid on those streets!”

Vincent read the rest of his letter and his brow furrowed in confusion.

Jamie had still been watching him and looked up. “What’s wrong?”

“I...” He looked at the letter again. “Catherine has scratched some letters after her name and I either can’t see them correctly in this light or...”

Jamie came forward with her lantern. “Can I see?”

Vincent shrugged and together they read the X’s and O’s after Catherine’s name.

Vincent shook his head. “It looks like it says XOXOXO.”

Jamie started to giggle. “Yep it sure does!”

“Do you know what it means, Jamie?”

Jamie’s eyes grew round. “You don’t know what it means?”

“Should I?”

Jamie rolled her eyes. “How did you ever make it past 7th grade? XOXOXO means hugs and kisses!”

Vincent blushed and folded the letter and started to walk away.

Jamie continued to laugh. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I didn’t mean to laugh. Catherine’s sending you hugs and kisses. ”

Vincent nodded and left. Jamie smiled at the love that was evident between her favorite couple.

Vincent, lost in his thoughts, walked to the library.

 

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

 

He entered the room and several of the older kids were sitting there, supposedly reading their poetry.

Vincent marveled at the flirting that was going on between several of the boys and girls. He glanced down at the desk and saw the front covers of several of their notebooks.

He read the names of Michael and Brooke as they were intertwined on the cover and smiled at the X’s and O’s as well as hearts and stars surrounding them. He noticed Elizabeth had written Massey after her name which was actually the last name of Ben.

“Maybe, Father is right,” thought Vincent.

Father chased the kids from the room and turned to Vincent. “Was it an urgent message? Is everything all right?”

Vincent shook his head. “No, Catherine was just telling me that Tony stopped by to tell her he was happy with his grandparents and that all is well.”

Father smiled. “I’m glad. He would have always been welcomed here, but I don’t think he would have found happiness here with our educational regiment.”

Vincent shrugged. “Perhaps.”

Father narrowed his eyes at his son’s demeanor. “Was there something else in the letter that troubled you?”

Vincent shook his head. “Catherine signed her name followed by X’s and O’s.”

Father chuckled. “She must be feeling whimsical today.”

Vincent smiled. “I’ve never gotten a letter signed that way before.”

Father hadn’t really thought about it before and chuckled. “It makes you feel good inside, doesn’t it?”

Vincent shrugged incredulously. “I can’t describe how it makes me feel!”

Father smiled knowingly as he turned and left. “Well, I know it makes you feel special...”

Vincent sat and reread the letter several times and then closed it up and put it in the special box where he had all of Catherine’s other letters.

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

Later that night, Catherine was leaving work and ended up near the park and the tunnel entrance. With a careful glance around, she walked into the culvert and headed inside. She let herself into the tunnels and closed the sliding door behind her. She found a nearby pipe and tapped out the message summoning Vincent.

Ten minutes later, he was walking towards her.

“Catherine.”

She heard the concern in his voice and quickly reassured him. “Everything is fine, Vincent. I was just nearby and wanted to stop in and see you. Were you busy?”

He shook his head. “No, I was at my desk grading the children’s papers for school.”

Catherine’s stomach grumbled loudly and she put her hand to it and blushed as she looked at him. “I forgot about lunch today.”

He stepped forward. “I was just about to send for a tray of food to be brought to my chamber. Would you like to eat dinner with me?”

Catherine blinked in surprise. “You’re eating in your chamber?”

Vincent sighed. “I’ve been busy with the lower chambers and have neglected getting papers graded. I have a lot to do and I hoped to catch up tonight. Can I order you a tray as well?”

She smiled and nodded. “I am hungry.”

Vincent reached for her hand. They walked a few blocks and he tapped out a message to the kitchen. “Two trays should be delivered by the time we get there.”

Catherine giggled. “I can’t wait. William’s cooking is way better than anything I was going to make.”

Vincent chuckled as they made their way to his chamber.

Vincent was just able to push the piles of papers to the side when Kipper and Samantha brought in trays.

“Hi, Catherine!”

“Hi, Catherine.”   

“Hi, Samantha, Hi Kipper. Thanks for bringing us trays.”

Samantha smiled. “You and Vincent are eating dinner together...how romantic!”

Kipper made a face and rolled his eyes. “Uck!”

Samantha punched him hard in the arm. “Boys are dumb!”

Vincent was blushing, while Catherine tried to hide her amusement. “Samantha, I’ll let you in on a secret, they’re usually not so bad once they grow up!”

Samantha pointed her finger at Kipper. “The ones down here have cooties!”

Kipper stuck out his tongue and left the room. Samantha skipped out after him, then hit him in the head as she ran past him.

Vincent shook his head with amusement. “Shall we sit?”

He held out Catherine’s chair as she sat down. Catherine opened the lids from the trays and together they dug into their dinners.

Catherine watched with amusement as Vincent pushed his cauliflower away from his broccoli. She noticed he never took any of it and finally had to ask.

“Vincent, don’t you like cauliflower?”

Vincent shook his head. “I never have. I only eat it if William is around because I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”

Catherine held up her plate. “Well, here. Give it to me and you can have my broccoli.”

Vincent exchanged the items from plate to plate, then looked oddly at Catherine as she carefully examined the cauliflower. “What is it?”

Catherine looked at him mischievously. “I should have thought about this coming from your plate!”

Vincent assumed she rethought her original idea and was embarrassed that she was now stuck with his food. He looked down. “I’m sorry!”

Catherine looked carefully and pointed at the piece on her fork. “Ha! I knew it!”

He looked at it carefully, searching for what she was talking about. “What...I don’t see...”

Catherine interrupted. “Of course you don’t see it! It’s boy’s cooties!”

She laughed as she popped the piece in her mouth. Vincent smirked and looked away, relieved that she had only been teasing.

They finished dinner and Vincent eyed the school papers. “I should get to work.”

Catherine looked over at her briefcase. I have work to do as well, do you mind if I do it here?”

Vincent cleared a bigger space and Catherine brought out some of her files. She grabbed a legal pad and then leaned back in her chair and started reading.

Vincent turned his attention to his papers and the room was silent as they worked next to one another.

Catherine glanced over and watched as Vincent made corrections on a few of the papers. He seemed engrossed in essays when Catherine nonchalantly reached over and took the pen from his hand, then began to furiously write notes on a piece of paper. He smiled when she placed it back in his hand and never even looked up.

An hour later, she sat back when she finished the last of the depositions.

Vincent smiled at her. “You’re lucky. I still have fifteen essays to read through.”

“Essays on what?”

“Any topic they’re passionate about.”

Catherine leaned forward. “Can I help?”

Vincent shrugged. “I act as the editor. Spelling is important but they don’t get marks off for it. Grammar and sentence structure are the most important.”

“Okay.”

Catherine took the first paper offered by him. She leaned back and made herself comfortable in the chair. She kicked off her shoes and was so engrossed in the story she didn’t realize she had put her feet up on the side of Vincent’s chair.

He looked down with amusement and stared at her painted pink toe nails, chuckled, then turned back to the essay.

They each had read through four essays when Catherine’s feet grew cold and Vincent absently reached up for them and drew them into his lap. He was so engrossed in the story he didn’t realize that was caressing them to keep them warm.

Father walked in and found the two sitting like this. Vincent was massaging Catherine’s feet and they both had their faces buried in the papers they were reading. “Oh, excuse me!”

Catherine and Vincent looked up and both frowned at Father’s expression. They followed his gaze and Vincent gasped and dropped her feet from his lap. Catherine was just as surprised but found the incident amusing.

“Father...we...um...I...”

Catherine chuckled. “We were grading essays and my feet got cold.”

Father shook his head. “Yes, well I just wanted to see if either of you wanted any dessert?”

Catherine shook her head. “No, thank you.”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, Father.”

Father dropped off the chocolate cake and then left the room. Vincent took a forkful and sighed.

Catherine smiled at him. “It’s that good?”

“Hmmm.”

He took another three forkfuls when the smell finally got to Catherine. She looked at him hopefully. “Can I taste?”

He looked at the plate and frowned. “There’s only one fork.”

She smiled. “I’ll take a chance with the cooties.”

Vincent put a bite on the fork and Catherine leaned over so he could feed her. Vincent watched her lips close over the fork and he felt his desire flare. He quickly put down the fork and looked away.

“Mmmm, you’re right that was wonderful.”

Vincent sighed. “I should probably walk you home.”

Catherine shook her head. “You have papers left to grade; I can find my own way out.” She put on her shoes and then stood up.

He had grabbed his cloak and took her hand. “I enjoy walking you home. Besides I need a break.”

They talked about the essays on the walk and soon reached the threshold.

“Bye, Vincent.”

“Goodnight, Catherine.”

Catherine gave him a quick hug. “Thanks for dinner. See you soon.”

He nodded and she climbed the ladder.

 

 

THE END