BETWEEN THE LINES SERIES

 

FORGIVE ME FOR DOUBTING
TWENTY SECOND IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

 

Catherine rushed through her apartment to pick up the phone.

“Hello!”

“Hey Girlfriend!”

“Edie, I’ve missed your smiling face.”

Edie had left a few weeks ago to move back home to take care of her mother.

“Ha, I bet you haven’t even noticed I’ve been gone.”

Catherine laughed. “Well, my lunch bills have been smaller!”

“Did I catch you at a bad time? You sound out of breath.”

“No, I was just cleaning my bathtub and shower. How are you? How’s California?”

“Crazy! You should see the guys out here, though. They are hot!”

“I thought you were taking care of your mother?”

“Mom likes to get outside once in awhile. I push her in her wheelchair through the park and these guys just eat her up. They love to talk to her.”

“So you just kind of sit back and let your mom enjoy the company, right?”

“Well...I wouldn’t say that. Hey, how’s work?”

Catherine shrugged. “The same. Same crappy cases, same crappy crooks, same crappy...”

“Boss? How’s Joe?”

“Joe’s great. I’ll tell him you said hi.”

“How’s the new girl, Ronni, working out?”

“She’s good. Not as fast as you yet, but she’ll get there.”

Edie smiled. “Soooo, how’s your love life. Find anyone in the last few weeks?”

Catherine groaned. “Nooooo.”

Edie’s voice lowered in deference to the heated question she was going to ask. “I read about you stopping the construction of Burch Tower. Did you have to see Elliot again?”

Catherine knew Edie wasn’t prying; only concerned. Edie had been there for her when Elliot showed his true colors and broke her heart.

“Yes, I did. Well, not actually after we stopped construction but before. He asked me to come to his office so he could show me the plans. Later I found out he tricked our office into believing his equipment was being sabotaged.”

“He ruined his own equipment?”

“Yeah! Then he tried to pin it on an organization that had started a class action lawsuit against him. They were a threat to him, they were opposed to his tower, and their voices were starting to be heard. Elliot needed to stop them before they gained any ground.”

Edie chuckled. “So you nailed him? Again!”

Catherine sighed. “Yes. But at least the construction of the tower was stopped.”

Edie must have covered the phone because Catherine could hear her muffled talking to someone else.

“Cathy, I gotta go Mom needs some help with her medication. It was real nice talking to you.”

“Oh, you too, Edie. You take care okay? Bye Edie.”

“You too. Bye Cath. Hope you find that special someone.”

Catherine hung up and her thoughts turned to Vincent.

 

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

A month ago, to save the world Below, Catherine had told Vincent she was going to marry Elliot. The havoc that those words caused quickly passed when she found another way to shut down the building of Elliot’s tower, thus ending the destruction it was causing to the tunnels.

Catherine still remembered the pain she had put them both through when she tried to sacrifice herself to save Vincent’s family. She also remembered the relief she felt when she asked for his forgiveness and he gave it freely. He had met up with her at the threshold. As she climbed up, he reached for her and took her from the ladder and cradled her to his body. Emotions poured through the bond as their hearts once again connected to each other.

Since then, they tried to spend more time together. She had made a point of leaving Sundays open to be with her family and friends in the world Below.

Catherine and Vincent relished the time together and always tried to escape for a few hours to be alone somewhere. Vincent had gotten creative with hiding spots and they often sat on a blanket in some remote chamber reading or just talking to one another.

Things had been going smoothly ever since then and they were growing closer every day. Catherine loved the fact that Vincent seemed more open to her displays of affection and she had taken the opportunity to cuddle closer each time she was with him.

She often thought how odd it was that she was usually the one to take the first step towards physical displays. She chuckled when she realized that with any other man she would have been fighting him off or they would have been sleeping together for months now.

She was more than willing to take it slow with him. She wondered if he had never been in a physical relationship before. She frowned when she thought about how to broach the subject with him, then decided she would just let nature take its course.  

 

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

 

One week later, Catherine sat alone in a restaurant on her lunch hour. She was eating a salad and enjoying the antics of a child in the adjoining booth. The mother had her hands full feeding her toddler son who was sitting in a high chair next to the booth. The older brother, who she guessed was around six years old, was coloring quietly in his book. Her daughter, who was around three years old, was playing peek-a-boo with Catherine using the back of the booth they sat in.

Catherine chuckled and pretended like she was surprised each time the girl popped her head up. 

The mother finally noticed the young girl playing. “Sweetheart, can you eat two more chicken nuggets for me?”

The girl smiled and nodded and turned around to do as she was asked.

The mother took a second to caress her young daughter’s hair. “That’s mommy’s good little girl.”

Catherine’s mind raced to the past and her stomach fluttered as a memory formed when she recalled her mother saying those exact words to her when she was little.

With a passing thought of the anniversary of her mother’s death coming soon, Catherine paid her bill and headed back to work.

It was a beautiful sunny day and many mothers were out strolling with their young children. Catherine smiled and thought about having her own children one day. She wondered if any of them would look like Vincent, then, with a sigh, she shrugged off the ticking of her biological clock and headed inside her building.

Joe was standing at her desk putting files on it when she walked up. “More stuff for the Scott case.”

“Okay, thanks Joe.” Catherine nodded as she settled down and then started to pour through the files.

She finished the day late as usual and then went home and got ready for a weekend with Vincent.

Saturday, she ran her usual errands, washed clothes, and cleaned her apartment. While she was waiting for the last load of bed linens to wash, she sat and finished up the last few details on some of her more pressing cases for work.

It was a little early, but she decided to take a long bubble bath and relax from her hectic week. 

She sat back in her tub, soaking in the fragrant bath water, then closed her eyes and let the soft classical music soothe her to sleep.

She woke when the water turned cold and then shivered until she got up and took a quick hot shower to warm up.

She put on a warm pair of lined pajamas and looked down at her less than sexy appearance. “I hope tonight of all nights, Vincent doesn’t choose to stop by…” She chuckled as she grabbed a book off her shelf, knowing if he did stop by, she would be excited to see him.

She settled into bed, opened the book, and began to read.

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

Vincent met Catherine Sunday morning, as he had every Sunday morning for the past month.

They enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with the tunnel community and Catherine got to visit with everyone.

This particular morning they were sitting with Kanin and Olivia. Luke sat on Catherine’s lap and busily chewed on his hand.

Vincent and Kanin talked about the work for next week and Olivia and Catherine talked about the latest fabrics that had become available to them.

Catherine described some of the details of the current fashions and Olivia squirreled away some of the ideas so she could present them later in the sewing chamber.

Little Luke started to get fussy and Catherine tried to settle him down. He tossed the toy ball she gave him and he started to squirm.

Finally he reached chubby little arms to Olivia. “Momomomom.”

Olivia took him from Catherine. “He’s probably dirty. I need to go change him.”

Catherine stood as well. “Want help?”

Kanin was surprised by Catherine’s question and laughed. “Have at it, Cath!”

Catherine rolled her eyes and followed Olivia to a bathroom chamber. She watched as Olivia changed Luke.

He kicked his chubby legs happily as she wiped away the offending waste.

Olivia had him changed in no time and then handed him back to Catherine. “He should be better now.”

Olivia was right and Luke happily pulled on Catherine’s hair as she and Olivia walked back to the dining hall.

 

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

Kanin watched Vincent staring at Catherine as she held Luke. He chuckled as he watched Vincent watch Catherine leave the room, desire clearly in his eyes.

“You want this one day don’t you?”

Vincent looked at him in shock, then lowered his head. “No, I…”

Kanin reached over and grabbed Vincent’s forearm. “Hey, it’s just me. You can be honest, you know.”

“It...is something I don’t dare to let myself dream.”

“Why not? Catherine would make a good wife and mother.”

He looked up into his friend’s eyes. “Look at me, Kanin.”

“I am.”

“What do you see?”

“My best friend and a man who’s in love with my wife’s best friend. What do you see?” 

Vincent sighed, then looked back down. “Nothing.”

Kanin shook his head and reached for another cinnamon roll, anxious to return to the normal conversation. “So what do you think about starting on the new chambers tomorrow? That floor should be dried and...”

Vincent looked up in relief. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea...”

Catherine and Olivia came back and Kanin stood up.

“We’ll see you guys later. I promised Olivia we would work on fixing Luke up with a bigger crib.”

Catherine handed Luke to Kanin and then sat down next to Vincent. “They’re so lucky. They have the perfect little family.”

Vincent nodded. “Yes.”

The older kids came over and begged Vincent to continue reading “Hamlet” to them.

Vincent looked at Catherine to see if she would mind and she smiled and took his hand and let him lead her to the library.

She listened for two hours as he read and explained the meanings of the passages to the children.

They were quick studies and Catherine enjoyed watching Vincent in his element. He was a good teacher and the children respected him. No question was ever ignored, no matter how silly it seemed.

Vincent finally stopped. “That’s all, everyone. Catherine and I would like to walk for awhile.”

Michael shook his head. “Just a little more.”

Brooke nodded in agreement. “Yes, the next part is really good.”

Zac stayed quiet but his eyes showed he was eager to continue as well. Amanda and Deb sat quietly, too new to feel they could voice their opinion.

“Perhaps tomorrow.” Vincent declined.

The teens walked dejectedly towards the door but remembered to thank him.

Catherine looked at him expectedly. “Where did you want to walk to?”

“I don’t necessarily. I just wanted to be able to spend some time alone with you.”

Just then, little April came into the library crying and rubbing her eyes.

Vincent sighed and turned to her. He leaned down and reached out with his hand. “What is it, April?”

“I felled and got a boo boo.”

Catherine took her seriously and bent over to see the bruise. “You felled? Where?”

She sniffled and walked over to Catherine. “On my knee.”

Vincent rolled his eyes. “Was it out in the tunnels?”

April shook her head. “No, it was on the rocks by the play room.”

Catherine reached down and picked April up onto her lap. “I bet it hurt, huh?”

“Yes, it hurt very much!”

Vincent pulled a chair over and sat next to them. “Can you show us?”

April looked confused. “Do I have to walk all the way there?”

Catherine hid her grin while Vincent sighed. “April, I meant can you show us your knee?”

April pulled up her pant leg but it stuck to the skin because of the dried blood. She hissed in pain.

Catherine held her tighter and looked at Vincent. “We’ll have to clean it.”

Vincent nodded and left to get some antiseptic and a band aid. He came back and stopped as Catherine rocked April and cooed to her.

April looked up and her bottom lip quivered as she began to whimper. “That’s the stuff that stings!”

Catherine grimaced and looked at April. “That’s because it’s talking to you.”

Intrigued, April looked at her through her tears. “What?”

Vincent bent to clean the wound while Catherine distracted April.

“The stuff is talking to you telling you...” Catherine lowered her voice. “...Hey you bad boo boo, we’re gonna come in there and clean all the bad guys right outta here.”

“Bad guys?”

“Germs…germs are the bad guys. And the antiseptic says no bad guys allowed on our boo boos.”

April giggled. “What else are they saying?”

Catherine thought for a second. “They’re saying....You bad guys better start running right now, cause we’re coming.”

Vincent put the band aid on and gently pulled down April’s pant leg. “All done.”

April looked at him in surprise. “I didn’t feel it!”

She turned to Catherine and smiled. “Thank you, Catherine.” She gave Catherine a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. Then she bounced off her lap and threw her arms around Vincent’s neck. “Thank you, Vincent.”

She ran out of the room and banged into Father, who was walking in.

“April, slow down you’ll fall and hurt yourself.”

April looked at him accusingly. “I already did and you weren’t here to fix it!”

Father sputtered. “I was in the dining chamber. Where did you get hurt?”

April pointed at her knee. “Here! Vincent put the stinging stuff on it but Catherine taught me how to listen to it talking to the bad guys and it didn’t hurt anymore.”

Father shook his head in confusion. “Well, I’m glad it doesn’t hurt anymore. You be careful.”

April skipped away. “Bye, Father.”

Father came in and looked at the two of them who looked away in innocence.

He sighed. “I gather it wasn’t a bad cut?”

Catherine giggled. “Nope, only a small one, just a band aid.”

“You two should head out of here and find a place to hide. I saw the middle school group of children heading this way.”

Vincent shot to his feet and grabbed Catherine’s hand and then headed for the tunnel way.

Catherine laughed as she called out over her shoulder. “Bye, Father.”

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

Vincent led Catherine through a maze of dark tunnels. They came upon a small chamber and sat down at the table. Vincent lit some candles and the room was revealed.

“What is this place?”

“A seldom used guest chamber, it should be quite. I brought a book. Would you like me to read to you for awhile?”

Catherine reached out her hand. “You read all morning, why don’t I read to you?”

Vincent smiled and settled back while Catherine started the book. They lasted a couple of hours before they decided it was late enough to get lunch.

They walked to the dining chamber and once again they were bombarded with people wanting to spend time with Catherine.

Olivia had told the women about the latest fashions and they called Catherine to their table to get some more of her ideas.

Vincent sighed and walked to Father’s table. He ate lunch quickly and walked over to get Catherine.

Catherine looked up at him ruefully. “Hi, Vincent. Guess what? The ladies have asked me to join their sewing circle this afternoon.”

Mary smiled. “It should only take an hour or two at the most.”

Vincent looked at Catherine who shrugged helplessly. “I’ll meet you in my chamber after you’re finished.”

Catherine nodded. “Okay.”

Catherine ended up spending the afternoon with the women. Several children came in and out all day to ask for various things. Catherine enjoyed herself and the time passed quickly. She groaned when she realized she had been there close to three hours.

Olivia walked her back to Vincent’s and headed out to get Luke from his nap.

Catherine walked timidly into Vincent’s chamber. It was dark but she could make out his form lying on the bed. She walked over and saw that he was sleeping. She thought about climbing in next to him but knew he would be shocked when he woke up.

She smiled and lit a candle, then sat in a chair and opened a book. She read quietly for about a half an hour until he stirred.

“Catherine?”

“Hi, sleepyhead.”

“You’re back. I must have fallen asleep. You should’ve woken me up.”

He looked over at the candle. “I’ve been asleep for two hours?!”

Catherine looked confused. “How can you tell?”

Vincent walked over and showed her the candle. “This is a twenty four hour candle. Every section takes four hours to burn. You can usually be pretty accurate about the time.”

“Huh, I’ll have to remember that. Vincent, I was having such a good time things got away from me. I didn’t realize I was there as long as I was. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry the community demands so much of your time.”

“They didn’t demand it; I loved every minute of it! But, now its time for me to go, I have a ton of paperwork to do for work tomorrow.”

“I’ll walk you back,” he said sadly as he grabbed his cloak.

They walked through the tunnels hand in hand and stopped several times to speak to people.

They were no further an hour later when Father walked up. “Catherine you should stay for dinner. William has cooked your favorite stew. In fact, I just sent word to him to send some to the library. Why don’t you and Vincent join me there?”

Catherine thought about the paperwork but glanced at Vincent who shrugged. She knew he would never make demands on her time but would certainly welcome any extra time she was able to give. She looked at Father warmly. “Thank you, Father. I think I will.”

He smiled and led the way as Vincent and Catherine followed. He called back over his shoulder. “So, Catherine, Mary tells me that you spent the day with the ladies in the sewing circle. That was nice of you.”

“I had a good time.”

“Good, good, and Vincent, what did you do?”

Catherine giggled. “He took a long nap.”

Father grimaced at the thought that the two had spent very little time together. He hoped his idea for dinner would be just the ticket.

They walked in and saw a tray filled with bowls and a tureen of stew. A basket full of bread and butter was there as well.

Father looked around distractedly. “Oh, darn...I...forgot something. I’ll be back, why don’t you start without me.”

He blushed and hurried from the room. Catherine’s brow rose at his strange behavior.”

Vincent grinned. “My father has never been a very good liar. He won’t be back.”

Catherine was excited. “You mean he planned this whole thing?”

“I would guess he felt bad that we didn’t see much of one another today.”

Catherine served the stew into the bowls, then buttered bread for each of them.

They had a wonderful time talking about every topic under the sun. After dinner they headed to Catherine’s threshold.

Catherine turned and took his hands. “Another week come and gone.”

Vincent cocked his head. “Yes.”

“Where does the time go?”

“Spent with all the children Below!”

Catherine laughed. “See you soon.”

“Bye, Catherine.”

They briefly hugged goodbye.

 

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

In the wee hours of Monday morning, Catherine stirred, plagued by a dream. She had gone to bed thinking about Olivia and Luke and then dreaming about having a child of her own and ended up dreaming about her own mother as she recalled buried memories.

...Catherine stood between her mother’s legs. She was dressed in a pair of pink pajamas with pictures of bunnies hopping through flowers printed all over them. Her mother was towel drying her hair. She reached up with a comb and started to gently pull it through her daughter’s hair.

Catherine waited for the pain of the comb when it came upon a tangle. Unlike her father, Catherine’s mother was gentle. When she came upon a tangle, she gently worked the comb through, separating the strands individually so Catherine wouldn’t feel the pain. After her hair was dry, her mother would brush it until it shone.

The whole time her mother brushed her hair, she was telling Catherine a story.

“You know sweetheart, when I was a little girl my mommy was always at work. She was too tired to come home and comb my hair so she would cut it very short.”

“Like a boy’s hair, Mommy?”

She smiled. “Yes, but with a little more style than that. I remembered the girls at school would sit and comb each other’s hair and put it into braids. They could never do that with my hair. I remember thinking that when I got big, I would have a little girl and I would keep her hair long and brush it every day and put pretty barrettes into it.”

Catherine smiled. “Is that why my hair is so long?”

“Yes, honey, it is.”

She wrinkled her tiny nose in mock disgust. “Daddy doesn’t like it long.”

“That’s because he doesn’t remember to use conditioner.”

“What’s dishiner?”

“Conditioner is the stuff I put on after the shampoo, it makes your hair soft so I can comb through it easily.”

“Oh.”

Her mother looked at her thoughtfully and with a touch of sadness in her voice continued.. “Sweetheart, I want you to try to remember to tell daddy to put conditioner in your hair every time he gives you a bath.”

“But Daddy only gives me baths once in a while.”

Her mother frowned as she sighed. “Yes, I know, but daddy loves to give you a bath and he told me just today that he misses it and he wants to start giving you a bath more often.”

“I have to take a bath more than once a day?”

She chuckled. “No, but I think Daddy will start giving you your bath at night instead of me.”

“Why Mommy?”

“Well, sometimes it makes mommy’s tummy hurt when I lean over the tub.”

Catherine thought about it for a few seconds, then her face brightened. “Maybe Daddy and I can play with all the toys again!”

Catherine knew her mother hated it when they played with the toys. Last time Charles and she had the bathroom flooded with water and Catherine’s hair was still filled with mud from the pond out back.

Her mother chuckled. “Yes, I suppose Juanita could mop it right after bath time.”

Catherine smiled. “Will you brush my hair more, Mommy?”

Her mother began to brush again and she sang a song. She stopped and turned Catherine around to face her. “One day you’ll be able to brush your own daughter’s hair. I wish I could see you doing it.”

Catherine thought for a second and then her face brightened and she smiled. “I could live here with you and daddy and you could baby sit like Grandmama does. You could watch me then!”

Her mother’s eyes filled with tears and she turned Catherine around and started to brush her hair again but this time she wasn’t singing...

Catherine moaned in her sleep and rolled over. Her mind took her quickly to another dream just four years later.

....Catherine came inside to find her mother sitting in a chair wrapped up in a quilt.

Catherine stomped into the room and glared at her mother.

Her mother looked at her tiredly. “Honey, what is it?”

“That Jimmy Johnson! He said he could climb a tree better than me. I showed him. I climbed  faster and higher than he did.”

“So why are you mad at Jimmy?”

“Because he got scared and started crying and his mother came outside. Jimmy told her that I dared him to try to catch me. He told her that he was trying to help me down and I wouldn’t come. Mrs. Johnson said that I was a very bad girl and that I was to come home and tell you. Mrs. Johnson went inside and Tommy Tucker came over and he and Jimmy laughed when I caught my stupid shirt on the tree branch and it ripped. I hate them.”

“Sweetie, you shouldn’t hate anybody. You might be mad at Jimmy and Tommy but you certainly don’t hate them.”

“I hate boys! They’re mean and they have cooties!”

“I used to think that, then I met your Daddy.”

“That’s different Daddy’s not a boy!”

Her mother chuckled. “Well, he was a boy at one time, he just got big and became a man.”

Catherine thought about that for a moment. “Did he have cooties?”

“I’m sure he did when he was your age, but I think he must’ve lost them.”

“Oh.”

“Honey come here and sit on my lap.” Catherine climbed up and her mother hugged her warmly. “Someday you’ll marry a man and you may have a son. Would you want a girl to go around saying he had cooties?”

Catherine shook her head. “I guess not.”

The doorbell rang and Juanita came into the room. “Miss Catherine has visitors. It’s Jimmy and Tommy. They said to tell you they were sorry and want to know if you’ll come out.”

“Mommy, can I go play?”

“I thought boys had cooties?”

Catherine frowned, thought for a moment, then smiled. “Maybe they lost them by now, like Daddy!”

Catherine skipped from the room. She wondered briefly why her mother said “I hope not.”

She groaned again, and in her dreams her life skipped to brief flashes of her first dance in high school when Juanita fixed her hair, her embarrassing conversation of a woman’s monthly period with her father’s secretary, her senior prom and graduation and all the other times when her mother wasn’t there for her.

The last dream Catherine had was about the last time she remembered her mother being healthy. Her mother had been gone for a long time. Catherine was playing tea party when her mother came into the room. She called out to Catherine who ran excitedly into her arms...

Catherine woke up from her night of dreams and it suddenly hit her how much she had missed out on not having a mother.

She fell back into her pillow crying. Eventually, she sat up and called off of work and then got up to get dressed. 

She picked up the phone and dialed a number, a familiar voice answered on the other end.

“Hello.”

“Daddy?”

“Hi, sweetheart.”

Charles had been anticipating Catherine’s call and weeks ago had cleared his morning schedule. Every morning since her mother had died, she searched him out. With a smile, he recalled how she used to climb into his bed and snuggle up against him. As she got older, she took to coming in with a cup of coffee for him. She seemed content just to be able to talk to him.

“Daddy, can you come over this morning?”

Charles knew by the tone of her voice that something was wrong. “I’ll leave right now, be there in ten minutes.”

“Okay.”

Charles hung up and Catherine started a pot of coffee. Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on her door.

She opened it and fell into his arms crying. Charles held her and led her to the sofa. He knew he would have to let her cry it all out before they could talk about it.

After she settled down, he patted her shoulder in sympathy. Catherine talked about what it meant in her life to grow up without a mother. Her father sat back, thinking sadly about his daughter’s life. She had never really told him how much she missed her mother and he sympathized with her. He told her that her mother hadn’t had a lot of happiness in her childhood and that she wanted a happy life for her.

Charles looked down at her. “Come on, get dressed, I’ll take you to lunch.”

Catherine shook her head. “I promised I’d see Nancy Tucker. She’s in from Westport.”

“Yeah? How’s she doing?”

“I haven’t seen her for awhile. She’s got two kids. I’ll find out if she’s having a happy life.” She smiled and laid her head against his chest. “Thanks for coming.”

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Will you be okay? Can I call Jenny for you?”

“No, I’m better now. Jenny’s out of town until tomorrow anyway.”

Charles stood up. “Well, I should get into the office...you’re sure you’re okay?”

Catherine headed toward the door to let him out. “Yeah, I am.” She kissed his cheek. “Thanks again.”

Charles kissed her forehead. “Take care.”

Charles left and Catherine turned around as she looked at her empty apartment. It was filled with beautiful things but it was lonely. She wanted someone to be here with her. Her thoughts turned to Vincent and with a sigh, she headed to take a shower.

 

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

 

Vincent sat in the dining hall at Father’s table. Cullen, Kanin, Mouse and Matthew were gathered discussing the soundness of a new tunnel way that had been discovered when a wall crumbled down.

Father listened intently and noticed that Vincent stared off into the distance, his thoughts clearly elsewhere.

Mouse addressed the group. “Vincent and me, crawl to top of walls, see if they crumble. You...” He pointed at others. “...hold beams...keep rocks from tumbling.”

Kanin nodded. “You want us to shore up the walls while you two assess the stability.”

Mouse nodded. “Said that.”

Cullen shook his head. “Okay, that could work...that all right with you, Vincent?”

Vincent grunted his answer.

Cullen ignored him and stood up. “Let’s go then.”

The four men stood and Vincent blinked in surprise at the abrupt movement around him.

Knowing he had missed the entire conversation, Father frowned and looked at him. “Give Vincent a minute or two, I need to speak with him.”

The men left and Father turned to Vincent. “Well, what is it?”

Vincent shook his head, trying to clear his mind. “Catherine...a tremendous sadness washed over her a few minutes ago.”

Father’s brow furrowed with concern. “She must have received some bad news.”

“Yes.”

Father sighed. “Well, you can’t go and see her until tonight, so you may as well catch up with the others.”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, she seems better now anyway.”

“Oh, by the way...you volunteered to scale walls to check their soundness.”

Vincent chuckled. “I need to learn to pay more attention to what I am volunteering for.”

Father smiled as he agreed. “That would probably be a good idea.”

Vincent ran to catch up with the work detail.

 

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

 

That night, Catherine sat alone in her apartment. She had lunch with Nancy and felt better for a short while but soon enough, returned to missing her mother.

Vincent had worked all day and made sure he was ready to head to see Catherine as soon as it was dark enough.

He scaled the wall and tapped on her balcony window.

She walked outside and he knew immediately that she had been crying. He opened his arms and she walked into them. He let her cry as he caressed her back, trying to soothe her pain.

She sniffled and he backed away slightly. “Catherine?”

She smiled. “Sorry.”

“I sensed a great sadness in you this morning and most of the day. I came as soon as I could.”

“Thanks.”

Vincent timidly asked. “Something happened?”

Catherine walked over and looked out over the city. “Twenty years ago today, I lost my mother. I’ve been sitting thinking about her most of the day. Trying to remember every detail I could about my life with her.”

Vincent had his own pains from dealing with the lack of a mother.  “It’s nice that you have memories to look back on.

She nodded. “Yes, but there doesn’t seem to be enough.”

“Tell me about the ones you remember.”

Catherine sighed as she shrugged. “Mostly they’re of me playing.... My mom comes in the room and sits down and pours more pretend tea for me and my doll. Or she sits at a table doing crafts with me. We made our own puppets one time. I put on a show for my dad after he got home from work. I remember her brushing my hair and putting it back in barrettes.”

Catherine grew melancholy again. “She would tell me how much I would enjoy brushing my own daughter’s hair one day. She even told me I would enjoy playing trucks in the sand with my son, I cried and told her I didn’t like boys. She laughed and said that one day I would...And of course, there’s the memory of when she gave me the rose that I gave to you.”

Vincent smiled and prompted her to go on. “That’s not all.”

Catherine shook her head. “No, she and my father used to take me to plays and dinners, concerts in the park. We were the perfect little family...then one day the outings seemed to slow down to almost nothing. The only time I went anywhere was when my dad would take me out to give my mom a chance to rest.”

Vincent looked at her, a question in his eyes. She continued as the sadness came back. “I didn’t know that she’d been sick for a long time. I was ten when she died.”

Vincent came over next to her and leaned back against the balcony wall. “The sadness must have been overwhelming.”

“It was, but what I felt this morning...what I feel now...is deeper and more terrifying that anything I felt then.”

“Yes.”

“Loss...a terrible feeling of loss, not just my mother for a part of my life...the safety the simplicity, things that I’ve never been able to know before. I saw an old friend today and I looked at her and knew that she had those things. I was happy for her, but it made me sad.”

Vincent understood exactly what Catherine was feeling, now he had to make her see it as well. “Perhaps these...feelings, these memories are calling out to remind you.” 

Catherine shrugged. “Of what?”

“Something you need...”

“I don’t know anymore...”

Vincent interrupted her. “Of what you long for...”

Catherine sighed. “My life is full of complications and risks. I don’t know how to have a simple life.”

Vincent turned to her. He knew he must make her understand. “Catherine, your mother’s memory reminds you of your aloneness, of the family you lost when she died, of all the friends you left behind when our paths crossed...because that secret that you carry now, our secret, sets you apart from your past, your friends, even from the family you are yet to have, the children waiting to be born. Catherine, the burden you bear with that secret is your aloneness...Know that our bond...our dream exists at the cost of all your other dreams. Know that Catherine!”

Catherine looked at him. “It’s worth it!”

Vincent nodded and leaned back against the wall again. Catherine had listened to his words and rushed to reassure him of her love but within her the battle still raged. Even if she refused to acknowledge it, he still felt her uncertainty.

Vincent looked at the floor of the balcony and spoke quietly. “Catherine, I want you to promise me to take the time...to think more about what I have said. I could never in my wildest dreams have hoped to have what you and I have shared for this past year. Being a part of your life has brought me a joy that’s indescribable. For that, I will be forever grateful to you...but you need to promise me that you will search to find happiness within yourself, that you will make the choice when the time comes, no matter what the consequences.”

Catherine was lost in her thoughts but nodded. “I will, but I already know the answer.”

She yawned and swayed on her feet.  

Vincent stood up. “I should leave you to your thoughts.”

“I am tired. It’s been a long day.”

She moved into his arms. “I love you.” She placed her head against his chest. He lowered his cheek to caress her hair while his arms encircled her.

Vincent pulled away. “Be well, Catherine.”

“Goodnight, Vincent.”

 

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

Catherine woke the next morning to the ringing of her telephone. She reached and answered it groggily.

“Hello.”

“Hi, stranger.”

“Hi, Jenny.”

“I’m back. Can you meet me for lunch?”

Catherine thought of her schedule and grimaced. “I’m not sure. I missed work yesterday and I’m sure I’ll have some catching up to do.”

“Why’d you miss work...?” Jenny stopped and gasped remembering the anniversary date. “Oh, Cathy, I’m so sorry! How could I have forgotten! I should have called.”

“Its okay, Jen.”

“How are you doing? It’s been what...twenty years?”

Catherine nodded. “Yeah!”

“How’s your dad?”

“He’s fine but for some reason it hit me like a ton of bricks, that’s why I took the day off.”

“You were alone all day?”

“No, my dad came by in the morning and I had lunch with Nancy Tucker.”

Jenny smiled. “Good! I spoke to her, I guess its been about two weeks now. Did you give her all the good gossip?” Catherine chuckled but didn’t respond and Jenny continued. “So why was yesterday so bad for you?”

Catherine shrugged. “Who knows, I guess I’ve just been having a lot of life altering questions float through my mind lately.”

“Life altering, huh?”

“Yeah, thoughts about my mom have been making me ask myself some tough questions. I think I need my head examined!”

Jenny laughed. “Then get it examined.”

“What?”

“I said get it examined...you know... go see someone...a psychiatrist or someone.”

“A psychiatrist! Really!”

“Sure, why not. My sister-in-law had a horrible time after the death of her parents. She went and talked to this guy and he really helped her through it.”

Catherine was surprised she was actually going to ask but she did. “Really, who’d she go to?”

“Some guy named James Grafton. He’s supposed to be really good. His office is on Fifth Street.”

“Huh...”

“Give him a call, Cathy. You were just a little kid when your mom died. I’m sure that has had some type of an impact on you.”

“Maybe I will. Thanks, Jen. I tell you what...after I get into the office today I’ll call you by ten o’clock if I can go to lunch with you.”

“Okay, bye.”

 

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

Catherine hung up the phone and surprised herself even further by looking up the phone number and calling James Grafton’s office. She was shocked to discover he had a cancellation and agreed to see her in one hour.

Catherine raced to get ready and get to his office. By the time she had gotten there, she had seen several moms and their children out walking the streets and was once again feeling the impact of the loss of her mother.

Catherine kept her talk with Dr. Grafton to a minimum but he still asked her hard questions. Questions she needed to look inside herself for and find the answers to.

She left after her hour was up and headed in to work.

 

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

 

Catherine sat at her desk staring at the page in front of her. She had felt better for awhile but the turmoil in her body had her mind wandering. She thought about all the things that had come out in her session with Dr. Grafton. She liked the man and was comfortable talking to him. He asked tough questions that she couldn’t find the answers to.

Catherine tried to lose herself in her job but to no avail. The phone interrupted her thoughts.

“Catherine Chandler.”

“Hey, it’s me. Did you forget to call?”

“Oh damn! Yeah, Jen I did. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I’ll forgive you if we can have lunch.”

“Well, you’ll just have to be mad for awhile more. I was late getting in and I’m swamped.”

“Ha! You can’t blame me! I called you early.”

Catherine smiled. “Yeah, I know. I called Dr. Grafton and he got me in this morning.”

“You did?! Great! So what’d you talk about?”

“Jen!” Catherine warned.

“Just asking!”

Catherine sighed. “My mom mostly...I liked him though...he helped. I may try to see him again.”

“Good. Hey Cath, you know you can always talk to me for free...”

“I know, Jen and I appreciate that, really.”

“Uh oh, my delivery man just walked in, don’t work too hard!”

“You either, bye Jen.”

“Bye.”

Catherine hung up the phone and stared at it for a long time, her mind clearly elsewhere.

Joe looked over and smiled. “Radcliffe, you know the old saying a watched phone never rings.”

Catherine rolled her eyes and looked back down at her paperwork.

 

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

 

Below, Vincent sat quietly in his chamber. Father came in to talk to him. 

“Good morning, Vincent.”

“Morning, Father. Mouse said you wanted to see me,” Vincent said as he took a seat at the table.

“I was wondering about the structure of the walls in the new tunnel way that was discovered. Mouse, of course, tells me it’s safe, but he was covered with mud, so I was leery about believing him.”

Vincent smiled as he nodded. “Mouse is correct. The structure seems to be sound. We’re going to try some more tests today. We’re hoping it stands up to the challenge. Kanin thinks that several chambers could be made just down the one side. He hasn’t even begun to explore the other side yet.”

“Good.” Father looked at him uncertainly as he continued. “You went Above last night. How’s Catherine?”

Vincent shrugged. “I’m not sure. She had a hard day yesterday; it was the anniversary of her mother’s death.”

Father nodded. “That would explain her sadness.” He had been setting up the pieces of the chess set. He hoped the distraction would help Vincent. “Would you like to start a game?”

Vincent smiled and then nodded and moved his first piece. Father and he each took another few turns but Father could tell Vincent was once again feeling Catherine’s emotions.

“Vincent...” When Vincent turned his attention back, Father smiled. “It’s your move.”

Vincent sighed; he knew he would not be able to keep his mind on the game. “Perhaps we should continue the game on another day.”

“Well...with all due respect, Vincent, perhaps we should.” Father grimaced at his son’s emotional state. “What is it? What’s distracting you so?” Vincent looked at him warily and Father continued. “As if I had to ask.”

“She’s in great emotional turmoil.” Vincent looked up, reached forward and patted his father’s hand. “Don’t worry yourself about me, Father.”

“I sometimes feel like I’m standing on the bank of a raging river watching you try to swim across. How can I not worry? I’d be a fool to try, Vincent. At the same time I marvel at your courage.”

Vincent looked over at him. “Catherine swims across that river as well, she faces the same danger, shows the same courage and in many ways the toll on her is even greater.”

Father looked at him in disbelief. “You really think that’s so?”

“On her side of the river there is no one standing at the bank watching, on her side of the river there is no one praying for a safe passage, on her side of the river Father, there is no one but, Catherine.”

Father took Vincent’s hand in his. “Then I shall stand watch and pray for the both of you.”

“Thank you, Father.”

Father looked at him timidly, hating to bring everything up but knowing Vincent needed to talk. “Vincent, you said it was the twentieth anniversary of her mother’s death?”

“Yes.”

“Catherine must have been quite young...”

“She was ten.”

“Was her mother’s death sudden?”

Vincent shook his head. “Catherine said that she didn’t know her mother had been sick for a long time. Her mother must have been able to hide everything from her.”

Father smiled. “Catherine’s strength must come from her...”

Vincent nodded with a smile that quickly faded. “She was remembering all the things she could about her mother. It’s not much, but she at least has some fond memories.”

“Did she share them with you?”

“Yes, most of them are quite heart warming. Her mother loved her very much. The ones that stick out the most for me are the ones where she made comments about things that Catherine would do with her own children one day.”

Father groaned and he swiped his hand across his face before looking pointedly at Vincent.

Vincent sighed as he held up his hand to stop Father from speaking. “I know, Father. Please don’t tell me again.”

“What did you say to her?”

“I told her that she should know that our dream exists at the cost of all her other dreams.”

“What did she say?”

He shrugged. “She said it was worth it.”

Father nodded. He knew Catherine loved Vincent. He also knew that their relationship could never progress further than it already had. He knew Catherine didn’t understand everything that she would have to sacrifice to stay with Vincent. He also knew by her comments that she wouldn’t give up on Vincent. She wouldn’t walk away and try to start over with someone else.

“Vincent, can I give you a word of advice?”

Vincent looked at him and sighed. “Do I have a choice?”

“When the time comes, Vincent, you may have to be the one who takes the initiative.”

“What do you mean?”

“Catherine may not have the strength within her to end your relationship. If you want what is best for Catherine’s happiness, you may have to be the one who sees that it happens. You may have to be the one to walk away so that Catherine is freed to pursue another relationship with someone else.”

Vincent’s eyes filled with tears as he looked down.

Father grimaced and leaned forward. “Sometimes we have to hurt the ones we love if it means that in the long run they will be better off. Sometimes we have to make the ultimate sacrifice no matter how much pain it causes us at first.”

Vincent nodded. A part of him knew that his father’s words were correct, no matter how hard they were to hear. He felt like he was standing on the edge of a cliff and the ground was beginning to shake.

 

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

 

Catherine struggled with her depression all week. It was affecting her work and she finally told Joe she needed time off.

Joe offered his support and told her he was there for her if she needed anything.

Catherine stopped by Dr. Grafton’s office and spoke with him again. She disclosed more information about Vincent but still couldn’t come up with any solid answers as to how to find the happiness she wanted. She couldn’t find a way to mesh her two lives together. She felt like she was being torn apart.

That night, Catherine met her father and his companion, Kay, at piano recital benefiting one of the local charities.

Catherine listened as the pianist began his piece. Her heart soared to hear the beginnings of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. The pianist played wonderfully and Catherine’s mind wandered to Vincent.

She sat in her seat remembering Halloween and their carriage ride in the park. She remembered how happy he was and how well he liked stopping at the concert and the joy he got hearing the orchestra play this same piece.

Her heart ached that he couldn’t be here next to her, listening to this piece. She began to cry as the music changed.

Her father looked over at her with concern.

She smiled at him. “I’ve forgotten how sad this is.”

She soon began to cry harder and stood up telling her dad she was going for a tissue.

She walked into the hallway, glanced down to where the bathrooms were, then walked right out the front door. She looked up and realized the park was only a few blocks away. Oblivious to her high heels, she ran through the streets and into the park towards the tunnel entrance.

Vincent, drawn by the turmoil raging through her, stood at the entrance waiting for her.

She made it inside and searched for a rock to tap a message when she felt Vincent’s hand on her shoulder.

“I’m here...”

Catherine collapsed into his chest, sobbing. 

Vincent held her lovingly. “Catherine...Tell me.”

“Tonight, I went to a piano recital. I was actually feeling okay and then I sat down and he started to play the Grieg’s Piano Concerto...the one that we heard in the park that night.”

She looked into his eyes and he ached for the pain he could see in them.

He wished he could have been there with her. She was disappointed once again by his limited roll in her life. “Was it beautiful?”

She nodded. “Yes, it was beautiful and I kept remembering how much you loved it and I wanted you there with me so badly it became unbearable to me, almost physically painful. I just had to run...I actually ran from it...Vincent, what are we going to do? We have to do something before there’s nothing left for either one of us.”

Vincent walked away from her to lean against the wall. “This was the risk we faced...”

“And now, what?”

“Now...perhaps we awaken from our dream, return to our lives.”

Catherine came to his side. “No! Let me come Below, let me live in your world, let me try.”

Vincent shook his head. “Catherine, you have a life Above. To leave that now would be to turn your back on who you are to become...that you must never do.”

“Then what am I to do?”

He sighed in frustration. “You’re in such pain, I know.”

“Vincent, I don’t think I have the strength to continue.”

“Then you mustn’t continue.”

She grasped for straws. “Maybe, if I just went away for a while...”

It killed him inside that he had to be the one to say it, but Father was right. He would have to stay strong for Catherine. “Catherine, it must end!”

“No...”

“It must!”

She was confused. “I don’t want that, how can you say that?”

“To see you in such pain because you dare to love, knowing that I am the cause of the pain is more than I can bear to live with, it mocks our dream, so it must end! Catherine, you have a life waiting to be lived. Let the memory of what we are, what we share, remind you that love in its deepest and purest form exists. Use that memory to give you the courage to love someone else.”

She stared at him and, unwilling to lose him, slowly shook her head. “I can’t!”

“You must!”

He walked away and closed the sliding tunnel door as she begged him to stop.

“No...Wait....wait!”

Her last words rang out as the steel door shut between them.

Catherine gasped at his dismissive gesture and turned to head for home.

 

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

 

Catherine walked into her apartment and saw her father and Kay sitting on the sofa.

Her father stood and came over to her. “Sweetheart, are you okay?”

Pain raged through Catherine. She came to realize that Vincent had just walked away from her. He told her to find someone else to love. She sighed and looked at her father and decided to stay strong for him.

“I’m okay, thanks.”

Kay smiled and came over. “You had us worried. When you didn’t come back...”

Catherine held her hands. “I’m sorry, Kay. Thanks for worrying. My dad probably mentioned that I’ve been missing my mom a lot lately.”

Kay nodded understandingly. “Yes he did. My parents have been gone close to thirty years and I still miss them horribly.”

Charles squeezed Catherine’s hand. “I’m glad you’re okay. We stopped by to bring you your purse.”

Kay rolled her eyes. “We stopped by because your father was worried sick. He must have been terrible when you were a teenager.”

Catherine giggled. “As long as I didn’t go outside he was fine. Once, I actually walked all the way to the mailbox without an escort!”

Kay giggled along with her and Charles pretended to be insulted. “I was never that bad!”

“Yes you were.” Catherine looked over at Kay and winked. “I finally got away from the supreme ruler in college. I even dyed my hair jet black once.”

Kay laughed and Charles groaned. “You looked like a hoodlum.”

Kay smiled. “Oh, I bet she looked cute. With those green eyes you were probably very striking.”

“She was always beautiful.” He turned to Catherine and smiled. “It’s late. If you’re okay...”

Catherine patted his arm. “I’m fine, Daddy. Get Kay home. I’m sorry if I ruined your evening.”

Charles and Kay both shook their heads.

Kay came and kissed her cheek. “Don’t be silly, dear.”

Charles kissed her cheek as well. “Goodnight, dear.”

Catherine closed the door after them and walked to her bedroom. She broke down again when she realized that Vincent had just pushed her away. That he had broken off whatever it was that was between them.

She sat on the edge of the bed and cried. An hour later, her tears finally spent, she got up and splashed cool water in her face. She looked at herself in the mirror and decided to get away for a while. She called her friend Nancy and asked if she could come up a few days early for the party.

Nancy readily agreed and Catherine quickly packed and headed out the door to get a taxi. She headed to the train station and hopped on the next train.

 

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

Vincent’s heartache ran deep after he sent Catherine away. He walked through the tunnels in a daze, not quite knowing where he was headed.

He entered his chamber and decided impulsively to go away for a few days. He was packing a bag when Father walked in.

“Vincent, a water main has broken and some of the lower tunnels have flooded. We need everyone who is able to work to try to get it fixed before the city comes down here and investigates.”

Vincent’s shoulders slumped. He had hoped to get away and try to come to terms with the end of his relationship.

Father stepped up to him. “Did you hear...” He stopped when he noticed the packed bag sitting on the table, then looked at his son with alarm. “Vincent, you’re needed right now...”

Vincent wearily interrupted him. “I gathered that from your wonderful news.”

The sarcasm wasn’t lost on Father. He blew out his breath and sat on the bed. “It’s Catherine again? What’s happened now?”

“I...told her that our dream had to end. That the turmoil a relationship with me was causing her was more than I could bear to live with.”

Father looked at him with a question in his eyes. “Is it?”

Vincent shook his head. “No, I would do anything...bear any type of burden for Catherine.” He turned to face his father. “I told her to use the memory of our love to go out and find a man that she could fall in love with, have a happy life with...”

Father grimaced. “How did she take it?”

Vincent sat in a nearby chair. “It was as you expected. Catherine clung to our dream. I had to be the one to walk away.”

Father came over and sat in a chair next to his son. “That was a noble thing you did, Vincent. To walk away from the one you love so that they may benefit from your sacrifice....”

Vincent shook his head wryly. “...is exactly what I begged Catherine not to the day she told me she was marrying Elliot to stop the destruction of our world. Now I’m a hypocrite.”

“No, you’re just a man in love.”

Vincent growled as he shot to his feet. “If I were a man, we wouldn’t be having this conversation! I would be with Catherine right now...in her world!”

Vincent stormed angrily from the room. Father sighed. He knew his son was hurting and would walk off his frustrations. He also knew Vincent would help with the flooded tunnels. He would send a message to Kanin to keep an eye on him while they worked. Any distraction could prove to be quite dangerous, and he knew, despite the fact that Vincent would pull his own weight with the work, his mind would not be on what he was doing.

 

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

Catherine got to Nancy’s late that night. Nancy met her at the door and her smiled soon vanished when she saw the look of anguish on her friend’s face.

“You look like hell, Cath.”

Catherine chuckled. “Just the look I was hoping to achieve.”

Nancy hugged her quickly. “Well, come on in...Paul and the kids are asleep you can tell me all about it.”

Catherine shook her head. “It’s late, Nance and I’ve kept you awake long enough. I’m so tired. Can we talk about it tomorrow?”

“Sure.”

Nancy took Catherine up to her guest room and made sure she was settled in before she went to bed.

 

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

Catherine slept in the next morning and came down to see Paul already outside doing yard work and Nancy at the kitchen table feeding the kids.

Her daughter sat with dried jelly on her cheek and her son had a huge milk mustache. Catherine laughed when she saw that he had a wet Cheerio stuck in his hair.

Nancy groaned as she reached over and pulled it out. “I quit asking years ago, now I just brush their hair after breakfast. Paul escapes on the days we have pancakes...the syrup...well, let’s just say it’s not a pretty sight.”

Catherine smiled at the domestic scene in front of her but inside her stomach rolled. She ached with desire to have what Nancy had. She wanted a husband outside cutting grass and two kids inside making a mess.

Nancy’s daughter knocked over her juice glass and Catherine sprang into action. She grabbed some paper towels nearby and mopped up the spill, then wiped off the puddle forming on the floor.

“Wow! You’re fast, Cath, you’d make an excellent mother.”

Catherine smiled, but when she turned to throw away the dirty towels her smile vanished. Nancy furrowed her brow, wondering what was bothering her friend.

When Catherine turned around the smile was back on her face. She came over and sat down at the table and the little girl reached out her hand and touched her face.

“Pretty.”

Catherine touched the end of the girl’s nose. “You’re pretty too. I bet I can guess your name...is it Cinderella?”

The girl’s eyes grew wide and she shook her head. Catherine pretended to think. “Is it...Tinkerbell?”

The girl laughed and squealed with delight.

Her brother jumped in his seat excitedly. “Her name’s Wendy and I’m Peter Pan.”

Catherine gasped. “You’re not going to believe this, but my name is Captain Hook.”

Nancy stood up as she giggled. “This is Kelly and this is Eddie. Kids, this is my friend from college, Aunt Cathy. Now, I need to take a shower. Can you kids be good until I come back downstairs?”

A chorus of “yes” rang out.

Nancy eyed them seriously. “If you need anything, call Daddy. Got it?”

They both nodded.

Catherine shrugged her shoulders. “I’ll help out, Nance.”

Nancy chuckled. “You’ll regret it, but thanks! Coffee’s made and there’s some yogurt and fruit in the fridge as well as bagels and cream cheese. Make yourself at home.”

Eddie interrupted. “Can we go outside, Mommy?”

Nancy shook her head. “Not while Daddy’s cutting the lawn.”

“Can we go up front?”

“Not unless someone could watch you and Daddy and I are both busy right now.”

Catherine stood up eagerly. “I’ll take them out front.”

Eddie jumped. “Yeah for Aunt Cathy!”

Kelly squealed. “Yeah, Aunt Caffy!”

“Okay, but you have to listen to her!”

Nancy left and Catherine poured herself a cup of coffee while the kids slipped into their shoes and coats. Kelly handed her shoes to Catherine who gladly put them on her feet.

Catherine turned to Eddie. “Aye, matey! Captain Hook is coming to get you.”

Eddie laughed and ran for the front door. Catherine picked a squealing Kelly up and carried her outside.

Eddie ran around the front lawn while Kelly squirmed to be set down so she too could run.

The kids ran and Eddie taunted Captain Hook who finally ran after him and swooped him up into the air.

Catherine chuckled when he told her she was old. This was the happiest she had been all week.

Paul came around front with the lawnmower and waved to Catherine. She set Eddie down and waved back.

Paul turned off the mower and walked towards them. “Hey, Cathy. I’m glad you came up early.”

“Hi, Paul. Thanks.”

The two hugged warmly.

Paul pointed at the kids. “You’re not bothering your Aunt Cathy already are you?”

Eddie shook his head. “She’s not Aunt Cathy, she’s Captain Hook and she’s trying to capture me and Tinkerbell over there.”

Kelly was toddling over to them. Eddie laughed and pointed at his dad. “Watch out for the crocodile, Kelly!”

Paul made a motion with his two arms and quickly squeezed Eddie. Eddie squirmed away but Kelly ran right at Paul.

“Cocdile...you cocdile...tick tock!!”

Paul lifted Kelly high into the air and nibbled on her tummy. “Me crocodile and I’m eating you all up...tick tock”

Kelly squealed again and threw her arms around Paul’s neck. “No eat my tummy, Daddy!”

Paul put her down and Kelly ran by Eddie.

Catherine laughed heartily. “They’re great kids!”

Paul laughed with her. “Give ‘em an hour!”

Nancy opened her front door. “Hey Cathy, come on in. I made us bagels.”

Catherine made her way back inside. She and Nancy visited, and Catherine helped her with last minute details for the party.

Paul’s mom came and picked up the kids and within an hour guests were starting to arrive.

Jenny wasn’t able to make it, but Catherine enjoyed catching up with all of her old friends. Each of them talked about their boyfriends or their husbands and Catherine ached to tell them about Vincent.

She started to clean up the dishes in the kitchen and one of the guys she knew from high school, Buddy, asked her out on a date. She gently put him off until the next day.

 

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

 

That night while she slept, Catherine dreamed about a life with Vincent.

They were walking in the sunlight in the park enjoying themselves. Catherine said it was possible because it was what she had wished for. They sat and ate a picnic and Catherine leaned into kiss Vincent for the first time.

Unknown to her, across town at this exact moment, Vincent was standing on her balcony. He had come to check on her, only to find her gone.

In his mind, he said his final goodbye to her. He wasn’t aware of it, but it was the finality of it that carried to her through their bond.

Catherine felt his heart leaving her and somehow it came through in her dream. She leaned back from the kiss and it wasn’t Vincent there, it was Buddy . Vincent was in the background walking away from her.

She screamed his name hoping to stop him from leaving. Her scream woke her up from her sleep. In her unfamiliar surroundings, she reached for the lamp and knocked it to the floor.

Nancy heard the commotion and rushed to her side.

“Cathy, are you alright?”

“No.” Catherine scooted on the bed towards her friend. “No!”

She broke down and cried on Nancy’s shoulders. Nancy was concerned. Paul walked in and Nancy motioned for him to leave. He nodded, then left and she let Catherine cry out her anguish.

When the tears finally stopped, Nancy leaned back. “Want to tell me about him?”

Catherine looked confused. “Him?”

“The guy you’re crying about. You told me it was complicated, and now is as good as a time as any to tell me about him.”

Catherine sat back and looked at her friend. Dr. Grafton had asked her why she didn’t tell somebody about her relationship. She looked at Nancy and knew that besides Jenny, Nancy was the one other person she could trust.

With a sigh she began. “It is about a guy I’m kind of involved with. I...dreamed he was leaving me.”

Catherine stopped abruptly so Nancy tried to help her along. “Does he have a name?”

“Yes, it’s Vincent.”

“Okay, how long have you been seeing Vincent?”

Catherine smiled. “A little over a year.”

“Wow! That’s a long time. I’m surprised Jenny’s never mentioned him.”

Catherine shrugged. “Jenny doesn’t know. I’ve never been able to tell anyone about him...”

Nancy frowned. “Why not? You said the other day at lunch he wasn’t married or gay or unemployed or...”

“Nance, Vincent isn’t able to be a part of my life...Well, not in a social sense.”

“He...doesn’t get out much?”

“Something like that.”

 “Well…that’s okay, isn’t it?”

“It always has been, but this past week it’s bothered me...like it’s never bothered me before.”

“Did you get in an argument? When Paul and I fight, I stare at this little curl he gets in his eyebrow. It drives me crazy...when we’re getting along...I love it.”

“We didn’t fight. In fact, it’s just the opposite with us. He treats me so well it’s scary. He anticipates my needs and most times gives me it before I even know I want it.”

Nancy cocked her head curiously to the side. “Those aren’t bad traits to have. So what’s the problem?”

Catherine sighed as she took a deep breath to continue. “He has to live apart from me, but I love him so much. I want a life with him...I want to share my life with him...part of me wants to give up everything and everybody and live with him, and the other part of me wants to have kids and go to their school functions, play Captain Hook and Peter Pan...all the normal stuff.”

“So why can’t you? Why can’t you live with him, have kids with him and raise your kids where he lives? They must have school functions there...if you’re dying to volunteer to help twenty-five six year olds make pumpkin faces for Halloween, make it happen.”

Catherine cocked her head thoughtfully at the easy answer. “Maybe I could?”

“Does Vincent like kids? Does he want some of his own?”

“He’s great with kids, but I don’t know if he wants his own. I don’t know if...” Catherine stopped herself from saying ...if he is able.

“You two haven’t talked about it?”

“No. I don’t think Vincent is convinced yet I would be happy with him. He doesn’t want me to have to give up anything from my life to be with him. All he wants is my happiness.”

“Sounds like a dream guy.”

Catherine smirked. “He is. He knew how badly I was feeling this week. He knew I was struggling and unsure of where my life was heading.”

Nancy nodded. “Wow! Did he tell you to come here for awhile? Is that why you came early?”

Catherine shook her head as tears came to her eyes. “He told me to go and find someone who wouldn’t require me to make any sacrifices. He told me to go and find someone to love who could bring me the happiness I deserve.”

Nancy frowned. “Doesn’t he realize that all relationships require both sides to make sacrifices?”

Catherine chuckled. “I guess...I never thought to ask him.” She looked away thoughtfully. “Sometimes, I think he doesn’t believe he’s good enough for me.”

Nancy caught her eye. “Is he? Good enough for you?”

“Oh yes, he’s too good. He is the best part of me.”

“Huh! So it sounds like his insecurities have made him push you away so that you can go out and find the person he thinks you need.”

“You think he did it for me?”

“Sounds like it. I think he loves you so much he’s willing to lose you to someone else so that you’re always happy.”

“So there still may be hope?”

“I’m sure if you went home he’d welcome you back. You’ll still have the same problems but at least you could face them together.”

“It just tears me apart that we can never have a life together.”

“You’re sure there’s nothing you can do?”

“I’m sure.”

“Maybe it’s enough?”

“I want a home like this and children and a family...it’s sad knowing that that might never be.”

“We all make our tough choices. Don’t you think there are days and nights when I regret not having gone to Paris to study...not ever doing anything with my photography? I was good!”

“You were better than good.”

“I’ll never know where I could have taken that, Cath. I love my life, I love being a mother, but it’s not the only path. It was a hard adjustment to make...Paul and I have been through some sticky times. Don’t think I haven’t had my doubts.”

“I guess the anniversary of my mom’s death reminded me of all those choices, forced me to take a look at myself and wonder what she would think of me. Would she be proud? Would my life honor her memory? All those things...I don’t know.”

“I know...I know what she’d think, because I know what I think. Cathy, of all of us you’re the one who’s come the greatest distance and gone the farthest. I mean, in law school we used to joke about you majoring in fashion law. You’ve overcome a terrible accident, you’ve changed your life now, you’re giving to others and you have this extraordinary relationship...you should be so proud of yourself. We’re all so proud. And to hell with what anybody else thinks about what you should and shouldn’t do. I mean when all is said and done, you’ve got to follow you’re heart...it’s the only thing you can ever really count on.”

Catherine smiled. “That’s what Vincent always says!”

“Will we ever meet him?”

“I’m beginning to think that anything is possible.”

Catherine hugged her dear friend and decided impulsively that she needed to see Vincent. She needed to convince him to give her another chance.

She shot up from the bed. “I think I’m heading back.”

“What now?! It’s four am.”

“I need to get back!”

Catherine borrowed Nancy’s car and headed back to the city. She felt alive again! She was happy with her decision to stay with Vincent. She needed him more than anybody in the entire world. He was her life and she would sacrifice anything she had to be able to stay with him.

She hoped she could convince him.

 

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

 

Vincent had worked hard all day in the lower tunnels and, for the most part, had been able to will himself to block the feelings coming over the bond.

He sat on the edge of the cliff in the Chamber of the Falls. He was trying to settle his mind around the fact that he was the cause of the turmoil in Catherine’s life. He held her rose in his hands caressing it lightly. He prayed that she would find the peace within herself that she so desperately sought.

He cocked his head thoughtfully as he was suddenly slammed with the feeling of hope. He was trying to determine the rest of the feelings that were coming through the bond. Suddenly, he sat up straighter and knew she was coming back to him. Excitedly, he shot to his feet to run to the world Above.

While he sailed through the tunnels at a high rate of speed, his thoughts were on her. He had felt her fear in the middle of the night but knew it was from some type of nightmare. He felt the sadness that had overwhelmed her and then he felt twinges of hope and happiness. Lastly, he felt in her a feeling of resolve and then urgency. “I know she’s coming back but what will she say?”

He tried to prepare himself for more disappointment, but he knew he would never deny himself the chance to see her.

He finally made it near the park entrance and could feel her near as well. He ran through the opening and from across the park he could see her running full speed towards him.

Catherine knew he was waiting there for her. She was smiling as she quickly covered the ground between them. Finally she saw him and with a last burst of speed ran into his arms.

Vincent grunted from the impact, but he held her tightly. Catherine flung her arms around his neck and hugged him desperately.

“Forgive me...forgive me for doubting.”  Catherine gasped as she looked at him to see the confirmation in his eyes that he had forgiven her. With delight she buried her face in his neck. “What we have is worth everything!”

Vincent pulled away to look into her eyes and make sure she realized what she was saying. “Everything?”

Catherine nodded and looked into his eyes. “Kiss me, Vincent,” she thought.

If she had realized how naive and inexperienced he was when it came to intimacy, she may have taken the initiative. As it was, she leaned her head forward and touched her forehead to his. Vincent gasped and turned his head slightly at the last second.

Catherine took the rejection lightly. She was so excited that he had forgiven her, she tightened her grip around his neck and buried her face once again into his chest.

His neck was exposed and she lightly reached in and kissed him in the vulnerable part. She felt a flare of desire course through her body. She assumed it was her own but she should’ve recognized Vincent’s part in the feelings.

Vincent backed away gasping as he heard a noise in the distance.

“Catherine, could you come Below for awhile?”

She nodded and he led her inside the safety of the tunnels. Once the steel door, closed they embraced once again.

Catherine backed away at the immediate flair of her desire, then quickly composed herself. “Vincent, I want you to know that I never meant to doubt our love.”

Vincent hung his head shyly. “I know that, Catherine.”

“I meant what I said, too. Our love is worth everything.”

“I can’t believe...” Vincent shook his head. “Catherine, are you sure? You can have so much in the world Above, a husband, a family, someone to share every aspect of your life with you.”

Catherine stepped forward. “I have that with someone already. I have that with you! I love you, Vincent.”

Tears came to her eyes and she fell into his embrace again. He caressed her back and held her tightly.

Mouse came around the corner. He blushed when Vincent backed away from his interruption. “Sorry...didn’t know it was you.”

Vincent looked at him. “Mouse, if you didn’t know it was us you shouldn’t have walked out and revealed yourself until you knew who we were. You could’ve been hurt.”

“Didn’t think of that...lucky was you...okay now....Hi, Catherine.”

“Hi, Mouse.”

“Good you’re down here...Vincent not himself for two days...you talk, maybe?”

Catherine squeezed Vincent’s hand. “Yes, I’m going to have a long talk with Vincent.”

“Okay good! Okay fine. Leave now...you talk!”

Mouse scurried away leaving Catherine to gap at the speed in which he left.

Vincent turned and shrugged. “He always seems to be in a hurry, doesn’t he?”

Catherine laughed and held onto his arm. “Vincent, is there somewhere we could go to be alone...to talk?”

Vincent nodded his head and led Catherine through a series of twists and turns.

 

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

 

Catherine gasped in delight when they turned and came around the last corner and before her was a wondrous waterfall.

The beauty of it took her breath away and she stood there speechless. She finally regained her thoughts.

“Vincent, it’s beautiful!”

“Yes.”

“What is this place?”

“We call it Chamber of the Falls. Much of the drinking water Below is supplied through here.”

Catherine turned slowly around and took in all the beauty. She turned one last time and Vincent stood before her. She flushed guiltily remembering why she was here.

Vincent hung his head. “You wanted to speak to me alone?”

Catherine nodded. “Could we sit?”

She looked around at the sandy ground and Vincent walked over to a chest. Inside was a stack of blankets and he took one out and carefully laid it on the ground.

Catherine knelt on it while Vincent paced the floor.

She reached out her hand to him and looked at him nervously. “Vincent, will you join me?”

Vincent nodded and sat beside her on the blanket. Catherine turned to face him. She took his hands in hers.

Vincent’s stomach clenched in anticipation, he was sure he was not going to like what she had to say.

She smiled at him shyly. “I want to explain my actions this past week.”

“Catherine, you don’t have to explain...”

Catherine reached up and placed her finger over his lips. “Please Vincent, let me get this said...”

Vincent gasped at the touch of her finger against his mouth. His eyes were wide when he nodded to her.

“Lately I’ve been flooded with memories of my mother. The anniversary of her death brought them on quite strongly. There were so many good times...the simplicity of our little family was something I dreamed to have. Then when she died it brought about intense turmoil. I guess I just wanted the good times back.”

Vincent stayed quiet, he stared unseeingly at the waterfall, waiting for her to finish.

“I had forgotten that, after all that turmoil, my dad built a wonderful life for just he and I. We did everything we used to do...it was just two now instead of three. I forgot that a person can be happy anywhere as long as there’s someone who loves them.”

Vincent shook his head. “Catherine...”

“Not yet...I won’t lie to you, I want a husband and a family one day but if that doesn’t happen that’s okay too. I had a dream about you last night. We kissed and when I backed away it wasn’t you, it was someone else I was kissing. You were walking away from me. In that instant, I knew that no matter what my life brought, it was you I wanted to be with. You I wanted by my side. I love you, Vincent. With everything I am, I love you, and if you can forgive me for doubting, I promise I will do everything I can to prove it to you.”

Catherine’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at him desperately. “Please don’t leave me...”

Vincent’s heart melted. He put his arms around Catherine and pulled her close. Catherine lifted herself up onto his lap much like a child would do and snuggled up against him.

He held her tightly as he whispered. “Catherine...I...”

Vincent wanted to tell her he didn’t think they could have a physical relationship. He wanted to tell her he didn’t think they could ever have kids.

Catherine looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. “Vincent, whatever we have, whatever we do, will be enough. I promise! I just need you!”

Vincent gasped in wonder. He gently enclosed her in his arms. Catherine once again snuggled up to his chest. She caressed his hair and moved her hand under it to touch the back of his neck.

Vincent sighed at her touched and caressed her hair with his cheek.

Finally, Catherine spoke into his neck. “Vincent, are we okay?”

He chuckled. “We’re okay.”

Catherine leaned forward and placed her lips against his neck. She kissed him and tasted his salty skin. With a smile, she relaxed back into his arms.

Vincent tried to settle his pounding heart. He was sure she could feel it against her hand. But if she did, she made no mention of it.

He put his head back and closed his eyes.  Her emotions were no longer raging through her. She seemed content and happy. He was grateful that she was here and astounded that she loved him. She had just kissed him! Well, on the neck but it had been a kiss!

Catherine stayed on his lap. She could feel his heartbeat under her hand. She felt it speed up when she kissed his neck. “Okay, he likes that,” she thought.

She smiled happily.

 

The End