BETWEEN THE LINES
YOU COULD NEVER LOSE ME
Catherine sat at her desk finishing up the final breakdown on the Berge case. She had taken the files home with her every night and worked diligently on it until the wee hours and was able to finish it in record time.
Two weeks ago, she had gone through a deep emotional battle coming to terms with feelings about the death of her mother and the impact that had on her life. Joe graciously let her have some time away from work with no questions asked and she felt guilty about leaving him in a lurch with the O’Mansky case. Now, she was doing everything she could to make it up to him.
Satisfied with her work, she knocked on Joe’s door.
She walked in to see him playing his usual game of darts as she laid the files on his desk.
“Hi. Finished the Berge case.”
“The Berge case? No way!”
She grinned proudly. “Yeah, way.”
“How the hell did you finish that so fast?”
“Some late nights...I owed you one. I needed some time away and you gave it to me. I appreciate it.”
Joe smirked appreciatively at her. “Yeah, well that time away must’ve done you some good. You’ve looked a lot better these past few days.”
“I needed that break.”
“Yeah, you get a chance to go anywhere?”
“Just to my friend Nancy’s house, I played with her kids, visited with some old friends...”
He laughed as he nodded understandingly. “I do the same thing when I need a break. My sisters love it when I come out to visit. Uncle Joe keeps the kids busy and I get the best Italian food in the States!”
Catherine laughed with him. “Well, the Williams case is on hold and Ronni is looking up stuff for the Fredericks case, the witnesses for the Pearson case are on vacation and can’t be reached until next week, and the O’Malley case was just settled out of court for an outrageous amount of money. What else do you have for me?”
“You’re looking for work? You’re kidding me right?”
She shook her head curiously. “No, why?”
“Radcliffe, I know you’re good but you’re not that good. Three of your cases are going to explode on you next week and you’re gonna be in over your head. Why don’t you head home early today because come Tuesday of next week you might not see the inside of your apartment again.”
Catherine took a second to look excitedly at the clock. “Joe, its 11:30.”
Joe shrugged. “So it is. You can’t find anything better to do on a Friday off then stand here and argue with me? Go, get outta here, Radcliffe, before I change my mind!”
Catherine didn’t need to be told twice. She ran to her desk, grabbed her purse and headed home.
Catherine walked into her apartment and excitedly looked around. She wondered if she should tackle the cleaning she needed to do or go do some shopping or...see Vincent. She laughed to herself as she quickly dumped her briefcase then changed her clothes. “Like the other things stood a chance!” She said aloud as she headed to the elevator to go to the world Below.
She decided not to tap out a message announcing her arrival. She had no idea what Vincent’s schedule was and she didn’t want to disturb him. If he was busy, she would just make the rounds and find someone who needed her help or had time to talk. There was always work to do in the nursery or sewing chamber and she knew William would always welcome help with the dishes.
She assumed Vincent wouldn’t be in his chamber so she decided her first stop would be the library.
Father looked up in surprise when she walked in. He smiled warmly then his face quickly fell as he thought about the day and time and was immediately concerned. “What’s happened?”
Catherine shook her head as she took a seat. “Nothing, I had an early day at work and thought I would head down and see if I could be of any help here.”
Father relaxed at her news. “Well, you know you’re always welcome here, my dear.”
Catherine smiled. “Thank you, Father.”
He smiled at her knowingly. “I suppose you want to know where my son is...”
Catherine turned around to see a very wet Vincent standing in front of her. His hair hung down in strings and his entire body was covered from head to toe with mud.
She wrinkled her nose and started to laugh “Hi, Vincent. I’d hug you but...”
He shrugged as he sighed. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
She began to giggle as mud slid from his hair onto his shirt.
Father laughed as well. “Obviously. Do you like her surprise?”
Vincent ignored him as he turned to her. “I like that you’re here. I wish I was a little more presentable.”
Father snickered loudly. “A little?!”
Catherine looked at Father and laughed as well then tried to hide her smile when she turned back to Vincent. “I got off work early. I wanted to come Below to see if I could help anyone.” She looked down the length of his body and grinned wickedly. “Maybe I should head to the laundry room!”
Father hooted as he walked back to his desk. Kanin and Cullen walked into the room. Their faces were grim and they were just as dirty as Vincent. Father’s face changed immediately when he realized something bad must have happened. “Just what happened down there today?”
Vincent shook his head imperceptibly at his two friends warning them to keep quiet. Father caught the look and scowled at him. “Vincent, tell me!”
Vincent sighed. “I was working on a rock shelf that stuck out from under the pipe that was leaking.”
Cullen came forward and clasped Vincent’s shoulder. “It was slippery and filled with mud.”
Vincent shrugged. “I thought I had the new pipe secured but when I released the wrench, the valve blew off again.”
Kanin cleared his throat. “The force of the water knocked him off the shelf and into the mud below.”
Father’s eyes narrowed. “That doesn’t explain why you two...”
Vincent shot them a warning gaze but Father caught him again and leveled Kanin with a stare. “Tell me!”
“He sank in quickly and the mud covered his head. We had to pull him out. Cullen tied a rope around me and I managed to get to him before anything bad happened.”
Catherine gasped and went to Vincent’s side. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. “You could have been killed!”
He looked down and was quick to reassure her. “I had already gotten to my feet when Kanin came to me. Mouse came by and he and Cullen managed to pull us out while we swam, so to speak, back to the side.”
Father scowled. “Luckily!”
Vincent sighed. “Father, I’m fine.” Catherine placed her hand on his arm and he turned and smiled at her. “Really.” He looked back up to Father again. “I was able to fix the valve again, and this time it held.”
Catherine eyed him curiously trying to assess if he was telling the truth. She was finally satisfied that he was being honest and nodded.
Father came forward. “Go get cleaned up...all of you. The rest of the day will be a free day for all of you.”
The three men left and Father turned to Catherine. “Would you like to head to the dining chamber with me? It’s lunchtime and Vincent will be sure to meet us there.”
“I’d like that, Father. Thank you.”
Catherine took his arm and together they walked through the tunnels.
Catherine and Father walked into the dining chamber, made trays and headed towards Father’s usual table. Catherine left a seat next to her open for Vincent. It wasn’t long before Mary came over and sat down as did Pascal.
They talked and visited for almost an hour. Catherine looked at the door frequently and Pascal smiled to her.
“He’ll be here soon.”
Catherine blushed and looked away.
Mary nudged her with her elbow. “There he is now.”
Catherine smiled and watched as Vincent headed to the food table. He grabbed a tray and piled it with food then headed to their table.
He sat down next to her and Catherine gasped at the amount of food on his tray.
Pascal laughed. “Eating lightly today?” He stood up and grabbed Vincent’s shoulder to show he was only teasing him. “Back to the pipes. See you later.”
Vincent smiled to show him there were no hard feelings. “Goodbye, Pascal.”
Mary left as well and Father stood and turned to Vincent. “I’ll cover your afternoon class.”
Vincent nodded. “Thank you, Father.”
He left and Catherine squeezed Vincent’s arm. “I’m sorry about the surprise visit. If you’d like me to go...”
“Why would I wish you to go?”
“I just thought with the accident and all that you might want to rest.”
Vincent leaned closer to her and whispered, conspiratorially. “I could rest sitting by the waterfall reading you a book.”
Catherine smiled but shook her head. “Maybe I could read to you for a while, instead.”
Vincent nodded. “Let me finish my meal and we can go.”
“Vincent…” Catherine looked at his plate ruefully and laughed. “I...um, have to be back to work on Monday.”
Vincent grinned as he began to clean off his plate. “I had sentry duty last night and skipped breakfast to help with the water main break.”
Catherine touched his arm as she teased him. “Eating three meals at one time doesn’t give you the same benefits as eating one meal at time…”
With a small bit of help from Catherine, Vincent was able to clean his plate. Catherine ate all the pieces of vegetables he pushed to the side and then shared half of his pie.
They dumped his dirty dishes in the kitchen and headed to the Chamber of the Falls. Luckily, no one was there and Vincent spread out a blanket. Catherine took the book from his hand and sat back against the rock.
She patted her lap. “Vincent, why don’t you lie down and put your head on my lap?”
Vincent hesitated. He was unsure if he should follow through with such an intimate gesture. He looked at Catherine who stared at him expectantly. He sighed then sat down beside her. He stretched out and put his head on her lap like she suggested and closed his mind to the intimacy of his position.
Catherine began to read as she absently stroked her hands through his hair. Vincent sighed happily. He had never done this before and was quite content to stay this way…forever.
Vincent’s eyes closed as he listened to Catherine’s melodic voice tell the story. After an hour, Catherine legs began to tingle and she became uncomfortable. Vincent sensed the change in her.
He sat up next to her and smiled. “Lean against my shoulder, I’ll read for a while.”
Catherine stood up and stretched out her legs, then settled back down closer to him and leaned against his shoulder.
He picked up the story where she ended it. Catherine stared off and let the picture take shape in her mind as he read the words aloud. She let her memories take her back to the summers she spent at her family’s cabin.
Vincent’s reading stopped abruptly and she looked up at him questioningly.
“It was beautiful. Why did you stop?”
Vincent thought for a moment then sighed. “Sometimes, I see it all so clearly...I used to come here when I was a child...wonder about such places...how it would feel to lie in a meadow under the warm sun or...see the night sky full of stars.”
Catherine realized he had never done the simplest things and wanted to share a part of her past. “When I was a girl we spent our summers at a lake in Connecticut. I had a secret place, too. A glen. I would hide there in the tall grass and I felt as if I were the only person on Earth...safe.”
“And if I sat very still the deer would walk by and not even see me. I could almost reach out and touch them. It seemed...enchanted.”
Vincent nodded and Catherine continued. “It seemed so far away from the city, like a different world. It’s only two hours away; I wish you could see it!”
Vincent smirked. “So do I.”
“If only we could be there...”
“We are there; you’re taking me with your words, showing me.”
Catherine sat up straighter. “I would love to share it with you. It seems so unfair...you of all people would appreciate how magical this place is...”
Vincent knew she was dreaming of doing things with him…things that could never be. He shook his head and whispered. “Catherine...”
She spoke over him, not letting him hold her back. “If you saw it, you would know in an instant, and then...it would be ours.”
He wanted to let her know it was something he never dreamed of doing, but wanted truly to do. “I could want nothing more.”
“Maybe there’s a way...” Catherine tried to think of a plan.
She ignored him again and thought out loud, “All we really need is a way to get out of the city and up there safely...a van! We could drive up in a van...no one’s even at the lake this time of the year. Maybe we could really do it!”
Vincent stared in the distance, shocked that she had suggested it but grateful for her trying to include him in a dream.
Catherine caught his eye. “Vincent, let me try to arrange it...if I can, will you come with me?”
He looked down at her as he felt her excitement wash over him. “It’s something I never even dared to wish for.”
She looked at him pleadingly. “To go there, to share that with you would mean so much!”
When he saw the look of hope in her eyes he knew he couldn’t deny her. He wouldn’t disappoint her. He knew there wasn’t anything of material value that he could give her but he could give her his time.
“Then we must try.”
Catherine hugged him gratefully. He smiled, happy that he could grant her this small request.
Catherine sat back. “I have to call my father and let him know I’ll be using our cottage. There are a few neighbors that keep an eye on the place but I’ll call them and tell them I’m coming there and that I need to be alone for a while. I’ll call Bud and have him drop off plenty of firewood. Then they won’t bother us the rest of the weekend. I’ll need to rent a van and go to Stan’s before I pick you up. I’ll get us plenty of food... Did I tell you it’s a full kitchen complete with stove, fridge, microwave...” Vincent shook his head and went to answer her, but Catherine never took a breath. “At least we won’t have to cook over an open fire. I know you’re probably good at that but my culinary skills are limited. Is there anything special you’d like to eat or drink?”
Vincent was overwhelmed by the speed of her thoughts. “I...don’t know.”
Catherine took that to mean he didn’t care what he ate. “I’ll have to spend some time putting the bedrooms together so tonight might be a late night. Maybe we should have William pack us something; we can eat while I drive.”
Vincent’s mind went blank after she said bedrooms. He never thought to ask about the sleeping arrangements. He wondered if she was thinking about trying to turn their relationship in a more physical direction then quickly dismissed the notion.
Catherine wondered at his silence, she looked over and saw an inexplicable look on his face. Catherine thought about what she had just said. She knew he wasn’t upset about asking William for food so it had to be about putting sheets on the beds.
She searched for a way to ease his mind. “Oh, by the way, you don’t have to bring a pillow. You can have my parents’ old room; there are at least five pillows on their bed. I’ll sleep in my old room. I guess the only thing you have to bring is a change of clothes and a toothbrush.”
Vincent relaxed, grateful the sleeping arrangements had been settled.
“I should get going, Vincent. I’ve got a lot to do.”
“I’ll walk you home.”
Catherine folded the blanket and Vincent stowed it carefully away then took her hand and walked her home.
The entire time they walked, Catherine kept up a constant stream of conversation telling him about things at the cottage and around the lake. She asked him about supplies and the types of foods he liked.
Finally they reached the threshold.
“Vincent, I’m going to need at least a couple of hours. I’ll meet you by the park exit at say 7:00?”
Vincent nodded and Catherine turned excitedly and headed towards the ladder. As an afterthought, she came back and hugged him.
“I’m so happy!”
Vincent smiled. “Me, too!”
Catherine left as Vincent sighed. He headed back to the home tunnels and to the inevitable fight he knew was coming between him and his father.
Father smiled at Vincent as he came into the library.
“Where’s Catherine? I thought you two would be sitting by the Falls enjoying your afternoon off.”
Vincent sat down and looked up at his father. “We were but Catherine came up with an idea and she left to prepare for it.”
Father looked at him curiously. “I’m guessing by the tone you have in your voice that I’m not going to like her idea, am I?”
Vincent sighed. “Probably not, but it’s Catherine’s wish and I plan on granting it for her.”
Father sat down and prepared himself. “Well, tell me!”
Vincent mulled it over. “We’re going away for a few days together.”
Father looked surprised. “Vincent, do you think that’s wise? I mean, to put yourself in a position alone with Catherine knowing that...well...that you can’t...or rather...you shouldn’t...” He grappled for the right words. “What I mean to say is...”
Vincent interrupted him. “What you mean to say is...Vincent, you should be careful not to put yourself or Catherine into any danger. Rest assured, Father, I won’t be doing anything that would endanger Catherine. ”
Father nodded with relief. “Good, there are, of course, the dangers of Paracelsus and his followers; do you know where you’re heading yet? I can assume you’re going to that river you’re so fond of or perhaps the Crystal Cavern where you found Catherine’s necklace...”
Vincent had let Father ramble on about possible destinations until he looked up for confirmation.
“Vincent? Do you know where you’re heading?”
“Yes, I do.” Vincent looked away. “It’s none of the places that you mentioned.”
Father looked confused. “Then where?”
Vincent frowned as he steeled himself for the inevitable anger. “Catherine has a family cottage by a lake in Connecticut. She’s asked me to go there with her.”
Father chuckled aloud. “I’m sorry, Vincent. For a moment there I thought you said you were going to Connecticut!”
“That’s exactly what I said, Father. Catherine would like to share with me some of the memories from her childhood.”
“And she doesn’t have a photo album available?!” When Vincent shrugged indifferently, Father realized he was actually considering going and stared at him in shock. “You can’t be serious.”
Vincent nodded. “I am completely serious.”
Father exploded in anger. “Have you both gone completely mad?”
“Not at all!”
“I cannot believe you could entertain something so foolhardy and dangerous!”
“You overstate the risks.”
“Any risk is too great, surely that’s apparent! That Catherine could even suggest such a thing...”
“An innocent dream, Father, born of love!”
“An irresponsible dream, born of selfishness.”
“Yes!” Vincent turned his back and Father tried to calm himself. “Yes...I know, because I’ve had the same dream for you myself over and again for so many years. Ever since you were young I’ve wanted nothing more than to be able to show you the sun, the mountains...things which you have only words.”
Vincent’s shoulders sagged in despair. He knew his father spoke the truth. He also knew he was telling this to him out of love that he only wanted to protect him.
He turned back to face Father. “This is not only for myself, Father, but for Catherine, as well. This is a chance for us…no more than a moment, the briefest moment...free from the perils and the urgency of the time we share.”
“Vincent, your love for Catherine, and hers for you, is something that warms us all but you have a responsibility beyond that, a duty to those down here, in this community, who depend on you, who look to you for truth and strength, hope and protection. Without you, their world would be a very dark place.”
Vincent didn’t need Father to point out is responsibilities. “And what about my responsibility to Catherine, who gives so much and asks for so little...how can I deny her, Father?”
“Vincent, if I thought it were in any way possible...”
Vincent roared angrily. “It is possible and there are ways!”
“Nonsense! Supposing something goes wrong? Suppose you were discovered?”
Vincent was desperate to convince him. “Am I unable to fulfill even her slightest wish? Tell me Father, are we forever bound to accept a poem for a sunset?”
Father looked at him with all the authority he could muster. “Vincent, you cannot do this!”
Vincent knew there was no way to reason with him and whirled around and left the room.
Father called after him. “Vincent!”
“Good...nice...be with Catherine,” thought quietly in his hidden space.
Father exploded angrily as he and Vincent fought. He asked Vincent what he would do if he were caught up top.
Mouse gasped in horror at the thought that what happened to him could happen to Vincent. “Not good to be caught up top like Mouse. Put in cage, maybe. Treat Mouse okay...treat Vincent? Not good, I think.”
Mouse heard Father tell Vincent he couldn’t go but he heard Vincent mumble he was going anyway. Vincent stormed angrily past a visibly shaken Mouse.
Mouse thought for only a second then ran to Pascal in the Pipe chamber. “Pascal...come quick.”
Pascal finished his message and came over to Mouse. “Mouse, is it important?”
“Vincent’s leaving with Catherine.”
“Heard Father and Vincent arguing, Vincent’s going away…up top!”
“Mouse, you’re crazy!”
Mouse dragged on Pascal’s arm as a message came over the pipes announcing the same thing. Pascal frowned and called for Zack to come and take over for him.
Mouse looked smug at Pascal. “See, believe Mouse now?”
Pascal frowned and nodded his head. “Yeah, Mouse. I’m sorry I doubted you. Let me go and I’ll try to talk to Vincent, see what’s going on”
Mouse nodded and he and Pascal made their way towards Vincent’s chamber.
Jamie spied them and called out. “Mouse, wait up!”
Mouse and Pascal turned around and Pascal knowingly looked at Mouse. “You tell, Jamie, I’m going to talk to Vincent.”
Mouse stopped to wait for Jamie as Pascal continued on.
Vincent walked through the tunnels, clearly upset. He hated fighting with this father. He felt that Father couldn’t understand his intense need to do this one thing that Catherine asked of him.
He walked into his chamber and began to pack for the weekend away. He quickly folded up the few changes of clothes he had and put them in a duffel bag.
He scanned through his novels and books looking for ones he thought Catherine would enjoy. He chose a few different types and put those in the duffel bag as well.
He looked up as Pascal walked in and discovered him packing. Pascal realized the rumors were true and he tried to persuade Vincent to change his mind.
Mouse and Jamie entered and Vincent realized that they, too, were here to try to talk him out of it. He quickly rushed to reassure them of his safety.
Pascal told Vincent he was an important part of the community and to come back safely then turned and left. Jamie and Mouse followed behind him.
Vincent sat for a short time then raced from his chamber to catch up with his childhood friend.
Vincent sighed and turned away. “Pascal...how can I...disappoint her?”
Pascal frowned as he came forward and put his hand on Vincent’s shoulder. “Vincent, I realize I don’t know Catherine as well as you, but I think she’d understand if you didn’t go.”
Vincent’s shoulders slumped even further. “Devin went away because I couldn’t go with him...”
Pascal shook his head. “Devin went away because he would never allow grass to grow under his feet. He has a wandering spirit, Vincent. He always did!”
“I know, but Devin was the only one who ever told me he was going to take me with him on those adventures. We would sit for hours and make lists together of the things we would need to survive on our own. Catherine talked today of the supplies she was going to pick up and all of those memories of Devin came flooding back. What if Catherine gets tired of waiting around like Devin did?”
Vincent sighed again and Pascal looked at him worriedly. “You have to stay positive. Devin was a child when he left. Catherine’s a woman...”
“Yes, a woman who can take care of herself and doesn’t need to be tied to a dream. It’s much easier for her to walk away.”
“Yes, and it’s also much easier for her to understand the reasons you can’t go.”
“It would’ve been better for her if she had allowed herself to fall in love with Elliot Burch. She would have a man who could walk beside her in the daylight, love her the way she deserves to be loved, give her the children she dreams of having...”
Pascal sighed. “Vincent, she loves you. I assure you, anything you can possibly give her will be enough.”
Vincent nodded his head. “Then I can’t disappoint her, can I Pascal?”
“Whichever path you decide to choose…I understand. I really do. Take care, Vincent.”
A disappointed Pascal tried to hide his worry as he left. This time Vincent didn’t call him back.
Vincent sat alone in a chair in his chamber. Pascal and he had grown up together. He knew Pascal would never try to stop him from doing what he wanted but he owed it to their friendship to think about the things he had said.
Vincent made a mental list of pros and cons.
The pros were enormous and called out to him with promises of happier days ahead.
A weekend away with Catherine.
He allowed himself for once the luxury of a dream:
The chance to build on their relationship and perhaps...
Most of the list revolved around some type of car trouble including both mechanical and accidental incidents.
Vincent realized that he would be at risk for capture if they had something as minor as a flat tire.
He thought back to how he felt when Professor Hughes kept him in a cage at the university. He remembered feeling like a lab rat. His spirit was crushed and it had almost killed him. He knew that if something happened there was a good chance he would never see his family or friends or even Catherine again.
He sighed, clearly distressed. Reality had set in and he couldn’t take the chance of going. He couldn’t take the chance to lose everything he already had. His life might not be what he would’ve wished for but it was still a life. He did have some measure of happiness and he did have some level of freedom. Life in a cage was no life at all. The risks of going away were too great.
Once his final decision was made, Vincent realized that he’d have to break the news to Catherine. He headed over to the meeting place to wait to tell her his bad news.
Meanwhile, Catherine headed home, picked up the phone and dialed her father’s number.
“Charles Chandler speaking.”
“Hi, Cathy. How are you?”
“I’m great! How are you?”
“Good, good.” His brow furrowed when he realized it was Friday. “Aren’t you working today?”
“I worked this morning; I took the rest of the day off because my boss likes me.”
Charles chuckled. “With the hours you put in, I bet he loves you!”
Catherine giggled. “I’m actually calling because I wondered if I could head up to the cottage for the weekend. A friend of mine has some time off, too, and I thought it would be a good chance to get away.”
“Sounds like fun! Wow, I can’t remember the last time we went there...”
“The last time ‘we’ went there was 10th grade. Didn’t you go with Peter one time after that?”
Charles remembered the hangover from the weekend away fishing. “Yes, I still can’t drink martinis!”
Catherine chuckled then grew melancholy again and sighed. “It’s been a long time for me, too. I think the last time I went up was with Jenny right after college.”
“Well, call Bud and have him check out the place. I’m glad you’re getting a chance to use it.”
“Me, too! Thanks, Dad. I don’t want to cut you short but...”
Charles interrupted. “...But you’ve got a million things to do and you don’t have time to spend chatting with your old man.”
“Dad! I always have time for you, but...”
He interrupted again, with a chuckle. “Bye, honey. Have fun.”
“I will. Love you, Daddy. Bye!”
With a smile, Catherine hung up and headed out her door.
Catherine had a busy day. She had gone to the car rental place and insisted on renting a box van. The guy kept telling her he didn’t have one available but she paid double the cost and he let her take the new one that had just come in the day before.
Catherine hopped in and quickly headed home. She ran into a department store and purchased a ton of blankets and pillows then hauled them down to the van and carefully laid them out for seating for Vincent.
Then she headed to the grocery store. Stan and his wife, Maria, were busy at the moment so Catherine got the basics until one of them was free to help her.
Maria came over as she finished with her last customer.
“Catherine, hello, dear.”
“Hi, Maria. How are you?”
“I’m very well, thank you. But look at you...you’re positively beaming with happiness!”
Catherine laughed aloud. “I’m extremely happy! A wonderful thing is happening this weekend.”
“What, what is it? You must tell me.”
“Maria, Vincent and I are going to my family’s lake house in Connecticut for the weekend.”
Maria clasped her hands together excitedly. “Oh, how wonderful, Vincent has never been anywhere before. He must be very excited...”
“I think he is. Oh, Maria, I can’t wait to walk with him through the woods and lie in the grass while the sun warms his face. We may even be able to go out on the lake in a small boat. Maybe do some fishing...”
Maria nodded eagerly and looked at her knowingly. “And there’s always a fire at night to cuddle up and be romantic...uh...yes?”
Catherine blushed. The thought had crossed her mind but she wouldn’t push Vincent into it. If the time was right she was ready; if not it would happen… someday.
Maria touched Catherine’s hand knowingly. “Maybe not yet, eh? So what brings you into the store? Oh, I know...supplies, right?”
Catherine nodded. “I’d like easy meals to prepare. My culinary skills aren’t exactly world renowned.”
Maria smiled. “Easy. Bacon and eggs, bagels and cream cheese, soups and lunchmeat and how about steaks and maybe some chicken for the next night?”
Catherine agreed. “Sounds easy enough.”
She followed Maria around the store while Maria loaded her cart with all of the items.
Stan came over and looked at Catherine’s cart. “What’s all this? You haven’t bought this much food during the whole year...”
Maria tapped his arm. “Shush! Leave the girl alone. If you must know it’s for a special weekend away with her beau.”
Stan looked down clearly upset. “Oh.”
Catherine looked confused as to why Stan would be upset. She looked to Maria for an explanation and Maria shrugged.
She looked at her husband for a second longer. “What is it, you old fool? Why aren’t you happy for this girl?”
Stan shifted from one foot to the other. “Nothing really, I just thought that Vincent was her beau.”
Catherine shook her head with confusion at him. “He is my...beau.”
It felt funny to be saying such an outdated word and Catherine smiled to herself.
Now Stan looked confused. “But you said you were going away this weekend? How do you expect to carry all of this?”
Maria sighed, clearly exasperated. “In a van she rented...why do you need to know?”
“A van?” Stan was even more confused until he began to get suspicious. “You mean to say that you and Vincent are going to go away somewhere in the world Above?”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, we’re going to my family’s cottage in Connecticut.”
Stan gasped. “Isn’t that dangerous? Suppose Vincent were seen? What then?”
Catherine was almost offended that he thought that she would put Vincent in any kind of danger. She quickly realized he was only concerned for Vincent’s wellbeing and brushed off her anger. She thought briefly about Father and was glad she didn’t have to be involved with telling him. Chicken, she thought to herself.
She looked up at Stan. “There’s no one at the lake this time of the year and we’ll be very careful...”
Maria came forward. “Vincent has never done anything like this before. It’ll be good for him.”
Stan shook his head. “He’s never done this before because it’s too dangerous!”
Maria’s face contorted in disgust. “You sound just like Father....the two of you...just a couple of old coots!”
Stan shrugged and walked away as Maria pulled Catherine’s cart to the front of the store. They totaled the purchases, Stan put it all into boxes, and helped Catherine load it into the van.
He looked at the area she had for Vincent’s seating and nodded in approval. Vincent would not be able to be seen but would still be comfortable.
Maria came out with yet another bag. “A surprise for you and Vincent. You can open it later, in front of the fire, maybe...”
Catherine blushed again and nodded. “Thank you, and thank you for all your help.”
Maria hugged her and Stan looked at her earnestly. “Be careful, okay?”
Catherine hugged him as well. “I will, Stan. I promise.”
Catherine hopped in the van and headed home. After she parked, she glanced at her watch. Two more hours, damn, she thought.
Well, it didn’t really matter. It was only starting to get dark. It would be at least another hour before they could leave.
She ran to take a quick shower then threw her packed bag in the van before she headed Below.
Vincent sat on the dirt floor waiting for Catherine. He waited for close to an hour before he felt her walking towards him. He hurriedly stood to greet her as his stomach clenched at the news he would have to deliver.
Catherine came bounding up to him, happy and full of energy. “Vincent, I rented a van. I’ve got everything we’ll need. I’ll come to the Fourteenth Street entrance, that’ll be the safest.”
She looked at him and could see he was clearly distressed. “Vincent, what’s wrong? What is it?”
Vincent took her hands in his knowing there was no gentle way to break the news. “It was a dream, Catherine.”
Catherine stared at him with dawning comprehension and her face fell. “No!”
Vincent grimaced at the sudden pain that flowed through the bond. “A beautiful, impossible dream...one we dare not have!”
She realized he had decided it was too dangerous to go and her eyes filled with tears as the impact of his words hit home. “But for a moment I thought it might be possible.”
“So did I.”
Vincent began to pace as he tried to explain why he changed his mind. “If the slightest thing should go wrong, if anyone were to see us, it would ruin everything we already have.”
Reality crashed down around her and Catherine realized he was right. She couldn’t believe she had been so selfish. “Yes...I’m sorry. I should never have asked.”
Vincent whirled to face her; surprised she was taking the blame on herself. “I’m the one who should apologize. Catherine, you ask for so little and there is so much I wish to give you, and so much I know I can never give you...”
“And so much more you do! You must believe that, Vincent...some people don’t even have dreams.” Catherine refused to let him blame himself. She wouldn’t let him think he was not worthy of her love.
Vincent stared down at her. “One day, we’ll see that lake, Catherine. I promise you!”
She nodded and smiled. “And until then, we will keep on dreaming.”
Hiding her tears he sighed as she started to walk away.
“You’re leaving…” Vincent stated quietly.
Catherine swiped at the loose tears on her face and sniffled before she turned around. “I have the van loaded with three days’ worth of stuff. With all the food and blankets I loaded, it’s going to take a few trips to get it up to my apartment then I need to return the van, maybe they won’t charge me for the extra days.”
Vincent closed his eyes as he realized how much work she had put into trying to make the weekend happen. “I’m…sorry…”
“I know. Me, too.”
She turned and walked away before she broke down completely. She let the tears flow freely as she made her way towards home.
Vincent turned and felt the weight of her disappointment. As he shut the steel door to her world, Pascal came forward.
Vincent looked at him without really seeing him.
Pascal touched his arm. “Are you all right?”
Vincent looked down, surprised to see him. “Did you say something, Pascal?”
“I asked if you were all right.”
Vincent shrugged as he held his arms out to the side. “Yes...I...” He shook his head and walked away.
Pascal caught up to him and grabbed his arm. “For what it’s worth...you did the right thing.”
“Tell that to Catherine.”
“If you want, I’ll talk to her when she comes back...”
Vincent interrupted him as he snarled. “Not when she comes back, Pascal...if…if she ever comes back!”
Pascal started to argue but Vincent held up his hand to stop the words. “Not now.”
Vincent turned to walk back to his chamber.
In the next tunnel, Mouse approached him cautiously. “Still here?”
“Yes, I’m not going.”
“Good...safe here...not safe up top.”
Vincent sighed. “Yes, Mouse, I know that.”
“Catherine sad now but come back soon.”
Vincent shook his head and touched Mouse’s shoulder in a friendly gesture, hoping to take the sting out of his words. “Mouse, please, not now!”
Vincent continued to walk. He was devastated. He knew he had hurt Catherine badly. She would never say anything or complain but he could feel her intense disappointment.
He wasn’t worth all the disappointments she continually suffered because she chose to spend her time with him. He wondered if she would ever come to see him again.
He entered his chamber and lay down on the bed and within seconds was fast asleep.
It was then that his nightmares began:
Catherine had left him standing alone. As he turned and walked through the tunnels, he felt an intense desire to run and be free from all his thoughts.
He started to jog then accelerated to a full-blown run. Clearly distressed, he started banging into walls as he made his way back to his chamber.
He ran inside and leaned against the wall. He tried to catch his breath as he looked at the familiar surroundings. Thoughts flooded through his mind. People’s warnings and Catherine’s words mixed into a jumbled mass of messages he could no longer decipher.
He sat on his bed and held his head in his hands. He heard Father step into his doorway.
“Vincent, I thought you’d left.” Vincent ignored him and Father came forward as he continued. “Vincent...”
“You won, Father! I decided to destroy the dreams of the one woman who has ever loved me enough to dream dreams that included me.”
Father sighed, the pain his son felt knifing him in the heart as well. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I truly wish there could’ve been another way. I’m sure that once Catherine has thought about it she’ll see that it’s for the best...”
“She’ll see that once again, I have been unable to give to her the smallest thing she ever asked for...”
Father sputtered in disbelief, knowing Catherine was beyond that way of thinking. “Vincent, I don’t think that Catherine...”
Vincent interrupted him angrily. “Father, I am sitting here so I clearly didn’t go. Once again, you have managed to have your demands followed!”
Father grew angry that his son was blaming him. “My demands?! Vincent, I only pointed out things that I thought you were forgetting!”
Vincent exploded in rage. “Forget?! Do you think that I can ever forget my appearance?! I live with the differences every day of my life. When Catherine is around, those differences fall to the wayside and I feel like a human!”
Father spewed angrily. “You are human! Don’t ever say otherwise!”
Vincent approached him and pointed at his face. “Does this look like the face of a human?” He held up his hands in front of Father. “Do these look like human hands to you, Father? You are a doctor! You have cared for me my entire life...do I have human blood running through my veins?”
Father lowered his head at the last statement. He knew firsthand about Vincent’s differences.
Vincent saw his argument had the desired effect and he turned his back to the man who raised him. “Please leave me!”
Father nodded, knowing Vincent needed time alone. He reached over and grasped his son’s shoulder. “I love you, Vincent.”
He sighed and left the room. Vincent looked at the door as he left. Then leaned over and lay down on his bed and stared up at the ceiling.
He knew his father loved him. He knew that the words he had spoken earlier in the day were true. Vincent was sure at one time or another, his father had dreamed of taking him to the mountains or to the sea. How hard it must have been to raise a child who constantly wanted new adventures but couldn’t leave the tunnels Below because of concerns for his safety.
Vincent thought back to endless times he had heard that he couldn’t do something. He remembered the pain and anger he felt the first time he had been told no, then he thought of the pain Father must have felt always having to be the one to say no. He thought of how he had just felt telling Catherine no and realized that Father had felt this same pain hundreds of times before.
His thoughts turned to Catherine and how once again she was disappointed by not being able to share something with him. It wasn’t too long ago that she had come running to him, clearly devastated by his inability to share something with her.
She had been to a piano concert and wished for him to be there with her, sharing it with her. She was so upset, it became physically painful for her to listen and she had run from it.
How many more times would it take before she no longer ran to him but away from him? How many more times of disappointment would it take before she stopped trying?
Vincent closed his eyes thinking how much easier it would be for those he loved if he wasn’t around anymore. He fell into a restless sleep.
Vincent tossed and turned in the throes of his nightmare.
He dreamed he had never been born and an angel, in the image of Catherine, took him to visit all of the people whose lives he had touched over his lifetime.
He saw firsthand how different things were in a world that he wasn’t in. Each manifestation that he saw caused him great distress and each image got gradually worse as he saw the people he loved the most, being abused and hurt in ways that he couldn’t imagine.
His whimpers went unheard and his nightmare continued as Father had sent word to the community to leave him alone for a while.
Catherine drove to the front of her building. The doorman got a hand cart and helped her bring all of her groceries and luggage up to her apartment. Sadly, she unpacked all of the food and put everything away.
“I guess I won’t have to shop for a while,” she said to herself.
She picked up the blankets and pillows and put them back on the shelves in the closet.
With a sigh, she reached for the phone and dialed.
“Hey, sweetheart.” Charles checked his watch and frowned. “Shouldn’t you be on the road by now?”
Catherine frowned. “That’s why I called. I’m not going; my...friend had to back out at the last second.”
“Aw, too bad.”
“Yeah, well I just wanted to let you know in case you called up there and I didn’t answer. I didn’t want you to think I was in some ditch on the side of the road. I thought I’d save the National Guard some work.”
Charles chuckled. “You know me too well. I’m sorry your plans have changed. I know how excited you were to be going.”
Catherine shrugged. “Some other time, maybe.”
Charles was glad she had taken it all in stride. He remembered that at one time she would have been throwing a fit. “Well, Kay’s waiting for me. We’re heading to a concert at the museum. Do you want to go?”
“Nope, I’m going to go sit with my friend. I know he’s just as disappointed as I am.”
Catherine grimaced and waited for Charles to catch on to the word ‘he’. Luckily he was distracted and didn’t comment.
“Okay. Have fun. Love you, sweetie.”
“I love you, too, Dad.”
Catherine hung up, grabbed her coat and walked out.
The guy from the van rental place looked surprised when she walked back in.
Catherine handed him the keys. “My plans changed and I can’t use the van. Thanks for all your help.”
They guy saw that she was clearly upset and sympathetically followed her out. He checked the mileage and blinked at her in surprise. “You put eight miles on it?”
Catherine shrugged indifferently. “I guess.”
He motioned for her to come back inside. He ripped up the charge receipt and handed it to her. “I’m not going to charge you. You only had the van like two hours and you drove it for eight miles!”
Surprised by the kind gesture, Catherine smiled warmly at him. “Thank you.”
He smiled and nodded. “Don’t mention it. I could tell you were desperate when you offered to pay double the price. It must have been an awesome trip you had planned.”
Catherine shrugged nonchalantly. “It was.”
“Whoever backed out on you is an idiot. Now, if you had asked someone like me...well, let’s just say I would never disappoint a pretty lady.”
Catherine laughed, flattered by his compliment but needing to let him down gently. “Sometimes things happen that are just out of our control. I don’t hold a grudge. Have a good day!”
“You, too, lady. Come back if those plans ever work out.”
Catherine smiled over her shoulder. “I will. Thanks!”
It had taken almost two hours before Catherine found herself walking back through the tunnels. She was discouraged that they couldn’t go to the cottage but she had thought a lot about it and knew that Vincent was right. They couldn’t take a chance on losing everything just for a weekend of fun.
As she walked, she wondered why Vincent hadn’t come and met her. She briefly thought about him being upset with her but quickly dismissed it. She knew he was more upset by his inability to go then with her bringing up the impossible dream.
They had let their imaginations run wild and when reality came crashing down around them their dream was pushed to the back burner for the time being.
Catherine headed towards Vincent’s chamber thinking she would check there first.
She overheard the sentry’s announce her arrival and was surprised to see Pascal coming towards her.
It was so odd for him to be greeting her, she immediately grew concerned. “Pascal, is everything all right?”
He nodded as he walked up to her.
She was worried about the expression on his face. “Where’s Vincent? Has something happened to him?”
“Vincent’s fine; I think he’s sleeping in his chamber.”
Catherine looked relieved. “Good...for a second...”
Pascal interrupted her. “I’m glad I have a chance to talk to you...”
Catherine looked at him curiously. “Can I do something for you, Pascal?”
He shook his head and smiled. “I know it’s none of my business but I was hoping to be able to tell you that...well...that Vincent was worried you would no longer come Below.”
Catherine looked confused. “Why wouldn’t I come Below anymore?”
Pascal shrugged. “He thinks he’s disappointed you so badly that you won’t forgive him.”
Catherine knew there was some truth to his words and she sighed aloud. “That’s crazy, there’s nothing to forgive.”
Pascal smiled. “That’s what I told him! I’m glad you’re here to prove it’s true.”
Pascal walked away and Catherine shook her head thinking about their odd conversation.
She walked into Vincent’s chamber and saw he was asleep in his bed. She was surprised as the room was so well lit. With a smile, she quietly made her way to his table. She thought she would read quietly until he woke up.
He whimpered in his sleep and Catherine cast a glance over at him. She looked back down at her book until he whimpered again. With a frown, she came over and sat next to him on the bed. She reached out her hand and smoothed his brow but he still seemed to be dreaming. She debated briefly with herself then leaned forward and kissed his lips. She slowly sat back seeing if that would cause him to wake up. It did and she smiled as he looked at her with dawning recognition.
“Catherine?” He was still confused and looked around the room trying to confirm what he suspected. He grasped her hand warmly. “It was a dream...a terrible dream. Everything was changed. I couldn’t wake up.”
Catherine could see he was still visibly upset. “Well, it’s over now. I’m here.”
“Yes.” He brought her hand to his face and caressed it with his cheek. “I thought I’d lost you!”
Upset that she was the cause of his nightmare, Catherine scooted closer. She wanted to reassure him of her love. “Oh, Vincent...don’t you know? You could never lose me...we could never lose each other, as long as we remember.”
Catherine laid her head back down on his chest. Under the palm of her hand, she could feel his heart still beating quickly.
Vincent caressed her back while she sat there quietly. She finally felt his heartbeat return to normal. She sat up and smiled at him. “That must have been some nightmare.”
“It was. I couldn’t wake myself from it.”
She cocked her head wondering what he dreamt about that was so horrible. “Can you remember what it was about?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, vividly. It’s burned in my mind’s eye.”
“Tell me...it might help to make it seem...less real.”
Vincent sat up and Catherine helped stack pillows behind him. He leaned back and looked at her with such intensity that Catherine became distressed.
“Was it that bad?”
Vincent nodded and looked down at his hands. “I remember thinking that there would be less pain for the ones I loved if I’d never been born.”
Catherine groaned, clearly upset, but Vincent continued. “In my dreams, I got my wish.”
“What do you mean?”
“There was an angel, in your image, that came to me. She woke me and I found myself in my chamber but it was stripped of all its belongings. She led me through the same tunnels I’ve walked through thousands of times but they were different, unfamiliar...ominous.” He sighed and let out a breath. “Pascal was there or I should say the image of Pascal. He beat me with sticks and then ran from me. Then Jamie came as well. I chased them and they led me to Father’s library, except, it too was stripped of all its familiarity. It was a lab now and belonged to Paracelsus.”
Catherine shook her head in disbelief. “Paracelsus in Father’s library? I can’t believe that would ever happen.”
Vincent shrugged. “It did. The people, my family, were all there but changed. They were mean and cruel. They had weapons and attacked me. They held me while Paracelsus came up and cut me with his knife. I woke up then, back in my empty chamber.”
Catherine grimaced. “That’s a pretty horrible dream. You know firsthand what it’s like to be hurt by Paracelsus; it must’ve seemed so real.”
Vincent shook his head. “There’s more.”
Catherine nodded for him to continue.
“You...the angel took me to see Mary. She was in the nursery surrounded by babies. They were screaming in pain and hunger and she ignored them. She continued to drink her liquor from a bottle. One of the toddlers crawled out of their crib and Mary kicked him across the room. He landed against a wall and lay in a crumpled heap on the floor. He never got up again.”
He shook his head and continued. “It was the same for Winslow. He was alive but he was mean. Anyone who got in his way was flung into walls. He did all of Paracelsus’s grunt work, much like Erlick but with horrible consequences. William took to poisoning people to cut down on the population. There were people dying in their chambers, calling out for help but no one came.”
Catherine gasped at the imagery. “Vincent, my God!”
“Yes,” He was still distressed when he continued. “Next the angel took me Above and showed me Mouse’s life. I chased him and caught up with him. I held him and tried to comfort him but he couldn’t understand me. He had no words to be able to communicate with anyone. He shoved his wrist in my face then ran. His hand had been severed by Paracelsus because he’d had been caught stealing.”
Catherine winced. “I can see why you were whimpering in your sleep.”
“It wouldn’t stop; the images kept coming! There was a homeless person out on the street. Some men came and chased all of the people away from their area. The man was too weak to stand, so one of the men hit him across the head with a bat. When his face turned towards me, I could see that it was Father. Father was living out on the streets. He was a broken drunken man! He could barely see. I asked him what happened to the baby he found outside of St. Vincent’s hospital and he told me the child had died. I covered him with my cloak and sat with him to keep him warm. I closed my eyes for the briefest of moments and woke on...” Vincent stopped and looked at her uncertainly.
Catherine tried to guess at what he could not say but she couldn’t. “You woke where, Vincent? In your dream, where did you wake up?”
“On your balcony.”
Catherine scooted forward intrigued about how Vincent saw her. “Well, now I’m curious... you’ve got to tell me. What was my life like without you?”
Vincent shook his head and tried to dispel the image. “I...Catherine, forget it.”
“No. You just don’t want to tell me but, Vincent, you know you can tell me anything.”
He sighed. “I saw you in your bedroom. You were standing in front of your closet. You were looking so forlorn and lost. It broke my heart.”
Catherine nodded. “Without you I probably would be lost.”
Vincent scowled angrily. “That would never have happened!”
Catherine blinked in surprise at his outburst. “Vincent, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I...don’t know why I said that.”
“Why don’t you just tell me the rest?”
“Tom came in and talked to you, or rather talked down to you. He walked out and you came to stand outside on the balcony. I didn’t have time to leave so I hid in the shadows. You realized I was there and I told you to look away while I left.”
Catherine chuckled as she tried to lighten the mood. “Let me guess. I looked anyway.”
Vincent smiled at her attempt then looked down and played with the fringe on a pillow. “You saw me and screamed. You backed away in horror, much like the first time you saw me. I apologized and you continued to back away until you fell to the floor. You reached into a nearby drawer and pulled a gun out and shot at me. Then...I woke up and you were here.”
Catherine watched as he looked shamefully down. She grappled for the words to help him though this. “Vincent, I think that your dreams are a reflection of how you think others see you.”
He shook his head ready to contradict her. Catherine held up her hand and placed it on his chest. “No, wait! Let me finish. I think that you dreamed the first part of the dream because you think that you are entirely responsible for the way the world Below is. Now, I’ll agree that you came to this world when it was still young. But I think instead of you being an icon for the way the world was run, you are more of a symbol to everyone here of what perseverance means. As a young baby you fought the most important battle of your life and won. You are a symbol of what hard work and determination can bring but Vincent, Father’s dream would have survived without you. He would’ve still been strong enough to build this world. Father has an unbelievable inner strength and the people Below are good, honest, hardworking people. They would’ve never let Paracelsus create an evil world down here.”
Vincent thought for a moment and looked up at her. “You’re probably right. For my entire life, I’ve heard how I unite the community. I guess in my dream I took that to a higher level.”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, and the same thing applies to Mouse. Mouse would have recognized the goodness in the people here. I think eventually he would have allowed himself to be caught. Mouse loves to be needed.”
Catherine paused and let her words sink in. She moved closer to Vincent on his bed. She leaned against the pillow and lifted his arm to drape around her shoulder.
She placed her head against his shoulder and took his hand in both of hers and started to absently caress it.
She smiled up at him. “Now for the part about me...I have already apologized for my actions the first time I saw you, so I refuse to do so again. And I don’t think it would be fair to hold me accountable for how I act in your dreams, but I want you to know something, Vincent.” She backed up a little and looked into his eyes. “I love you and I think you’re one of the most beautiful people I know.”
Vincent closed his eyes in disbelief and looked down at his lap.
Catherine sighed and gently lifted his face so that she could see his eyes. “You can believe it or not, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I’m not now, nor was I ever, afraid of you. I will never back away from you again. I will never be so mad at you that I walk away and never come back. In fact, you’re going to have a pretty hard time getting rid of me.”
Vincent smiled and Catherine fell against his chest. She hugged him and he finally enclosed his arms around her and held her tightly.
Vincent whispered in her ear. “I am...really sorry I had to disappoint you, Catherine. If there were any way to make it up to you...”
Catherine leaned back and looked up at him. “There is something you could do for me...”
He looked at her eagerly. “What? What can I do for you?”
Catherine smiled shyly. “Could you take me to dinner? Vincent, I’m starving!”
Vincent chuckled and hugged her once again. “William may have some food left that we can get into.”
Catherine shot to her feet and Vincent took her hand and led her towards the kitchen.
Knowing how upset Vincent was for having to disappoint Catherine, Father had come to check on him. He heard voices coming from the chamber and realized Catherine had come Below again.
He smiled inwardly, happy that Catherine came back knowing that Vincent would be upset.
He hadn’t meant to eavesdrop but when Vincent started telling of his dream he gasped in horror at the images that had bombarded his son. He listened to Catherine’s explanation and marveled at her ability to single-handedly calm Vincent’s fears. He smiled at her homage to him and silently thanked her for her faith in him.
He chuckled when she asked Vincent for some food and then hurried away so he wouldn’t be seen.
He walked quickly to his library and sat to read a book. He could relax now that Catherine was here to ease Vincent’s mind and get him to eat something.
He looked up in surprise as Vincent and Catherine entered his library.
“Catherine, how good to see you. What are you two up to?”
Vincent gave his father a look that told him he knew their conversation had been overheard. Father blushed and Vincent only nodded letting him know that it was okay.
Father smiled and Vincent looked at Catherine.
Catherine looked at Father. “I had to twist Vincent’s arm but I finally managed to convince him...We’re going to raid the kitchen to see if William has left anything around that we can grab.”
Vincent lowered his face shyly. “Catherine saw your light on and thought that perhaps you might like to go with us.”
Father nodded knowingly. “So as to deter any wrath from William if you are discovered?”
Vincent blushed but Catherine looked up innocently. “No, we thought you would want to spend some time with us...I bet there’s a big slice of apple pie down there leftover from dinner.”
Father patted his stomach. “Well, I did eat a lot for dinner and I actually ended up skipping dessert...”
Catherine held her hand out to him. “So the leftover piece is probably yours anyway!”
Father stood up. “I imagine you’re right! Besides it was blueberry, which is one of my favorites.”
He took Catherine’s hand and walked with her. While, Vincent patted his shoulder then let them walk past him. He followed and smiled to himself to see the two most important people in his life getting along.
The three silently made their way through the tunnels. The encountered no one and easily slipped into the dining chamber on their way to the kitchen.
All three blinked in surprise at the sight that met them. Mary, Pascal, Jamie, Mouse and William were all gathered around one of the tables. Mary and Jamie were eating slices of pie and Mouse, Pascal and William were making their way through thick beef sandwiches.
Mouse looked up guiltily. “Uh oh, caught!”
Father pretended an anger he didn’t feel. “Caught indeed!” The others blushed and looked down as Father winked at Catherine. “This indiscretion may be overlooked if...well, if...there is another slice of that blueberry pie.”
Jamie hopped up and brought a plate and fork over then added a thick wedge of pie to it. “Here you go, Father.”
Father harrumphed. “I think Vincent and Catherine will require something more substantial. Perhaps one of those beef sandwiches...”
He looked over at the two of them who nodded in unison.
William hopped up. “Give me two minutes...I have the beef warming on the stove.”
Mouse and Jamie scooted over as Vincent brought chairs over for himself and Catherine.
They sat and Catherine smiled at the friendly faces. “I can’t believe everyone was hungry at the same time.”
Mouse talked around the beef sandwich crammed in his mouth. “Vincent leaving, had everyone upset...no one ate.”
Jamie jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. “Mary and I had skipped dessert; we were coming here after bathing the kids and getting them into their beds. Pascal and Mouse saw us walking and came for a sandwich. William was working on bread for tomorrow and joined us.”
Catherine ignored Mouse’s comment but inside she was saddened that she had caused this much distress. Vincent leaned his leg against hers. She turned to face him in time to see him shake his head slightly. She knew he had meant to comfort her and she smiled as she leaned her leg against his. Vincent turned to look back at his friends. “All of you helped me realize that it may be too dangerous for me to make the trip to Connecticut. We postponed it for a while.”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, I guess I got too carried away trying to make it happen. I’m sorry that I caused anyone any undue worry. Thankfully, Vincent has such good family and friends around to keep us grounded.”
Mouse looked confused. “Catherine’s friends too!”
Catherine smiled. “Thank you, Mouse and yes, you’re my friends too.”
William came out and put two plates in front of Catherine and Vincent.
Catherine’s eyes grew round. “William, I can’t eat all of that!”
“Ha, I’m sure Vincent there will help you finish off what you can’t eat.”
Vincent blushed and looked down as Catherine smiled.
Pascal swiped a potato chip from Vincent’s plate. “Mouse and I didn’t get chips with our sandwich.”
Mouse looked up. “Hey, yeah!”
William rolled his eyes as he realized he had forgotten and shared a rare treat with his favorite couple. “There’s a new bag on the counter, Mouse. You can go get it.”
Mouse shot up and ran to the kitchen and quickly bought it back. He opened it and soon everyone’s hands were digging in to share as they passed the time.
Mary was the first to get up. “This has been fun but I need to go check on the babies. Little Amy has a fever and the poor dear has been restless.”
Catherine wanted Vincent to see that Mary could never be like the Mary from his dreams. She loved the kids too much to ever let them suffer unduly. She let her leg touch against his as she nodded towards Mary. “What would the children do without you?”
Father shook his head. “I can’t imagine. Thankfully she’s here for them.
Vincent nodded knowingly. “It does seem that you’ve become the mother to all the children Below.”
Jamie laughed aloud. “Are you kidding me? You have the patience of a saint!”
Pascal stood as well. “I need to get back to my pipes.”
Father’s brow furrowed. “Pascal, it’s quite late. Who would be sending messages at this time of the night?”
Catherine turned and smiled knowingly at Vincent who lowered his head in defeat. Once again, his family had proven his dreams were unfounded.
Mouse had been chattering away to Jamie almost this whole time and Jamie finally turned to Mouse. “Mouse, you’re making my head want to explode! Eat your sandwich and be quiet for at least two minutes!”
Catherine chuckled but didn’t look at Vincent again. Mouse looked at both of them quite intrigued. “Vincent, you and Catherine talk without talking...like magic. How?”
Vincent blushed at having been observed. Catherine leaned forward and tried to explain. “Mouse, it’s not magical. Vincent and I just had a conversation and some of the things I said to him have just been proven.”
Mouse shrugged, still confused. “Oh.”
Jamie smiled as she tapped Mouse in the arm. “Plus they have that bond thing.”
She and Mouse stood and cleaned up their plates. They followed William, who had gone to finish making the bread, back into the kitchen and cleaned up their dishes then headed out to their own chambers.
Father had finished his pie and smiled warmly at them. “Thank you for inviting me. That pie hit the spot.”
Catherine, who had done a fairly decent job on her sandwich before she handed her leftovers to Vincent, shook her head in agreement. “I agree. I was too busy earlier and forgot to eat.”
Vincent looked up. “I’d love to walk you home.”
Catherine and Vincent stood. Vincent took their plates to the kitchen and Catherine followed behind him.
She took the plates from Vincent’s hands and cleaned them in the sink, then put them next to the other dishes to dry.
She turned as she dried her hands on a nearby towel. “William, thank you for the sandwich. The meat was very good.”
William chuckled. “Yes, we’ve been getting a lot of meat and vegetables and fruit lately. Everyone has been giving me compliments.”
Catherine smiled shyly, unwilling to take credit for the extra things being sent Below. “Well, you deserve the compliments; you work too hard.”
Father walked in with his plate and Catherine held out her hand. “Father, let me wash that for you.”
She cleaned the plate and fork and once again dried her hands. “I’m leaving now. Good night William. Good night, Father.”
Vincent looked up at Father. “I’ll be back shortly.”
Vincent took Catherine’s hand and led her towards her threshold. Catherine slowed her pace, unwilling to leave his side so quickly.
They talked about all kinds of things but strayed away from the subject of their ruined weekend.
They finally came to the threshold and Vincent leaned back against the wall of the tunnel. He looked at Catherine then looked down again sadly.
Catherine came forward and took his hands in hers. “I had a good time tonight. It was fun visiting with everyone.”
Vincent shook his head. “Not quite the night you had planned, was it?”
Catherine shrugged. “I think it was supposed to rain, so I don’t know if we could have had a campfire outside anyway.”
Vincent smiled at her attempt to smooth her disappointment.
Catherine eyes grew round again and Vincent’s eyebrows rode in wonder, afraid to ask what had gotten her excited.
“Vincent! We could have a cook-out tomorrow night. We could have hot dogs and hamburgers, corn on the cob...Is there someplace that we could have a big fire?”
Vincent shook his head. “Catherine, a fire would surely bring police over to investigate...”
Catherine looked confused. “Not Above, Vincent...Below. We could include everyone! I could bring stuff for s’mores and William would certainly help out with things, wouldn’t he? We could have an outdoor picnic for everyone! We could set it up near the Falls, unless of course there is a better place...I would pay for everything, so it wouldn’t cost the community any more than...”
Catherine stopped and stared at Vincent who was looking at her, thoroughly amused. She blushed. “I’m doing it again, aren’t I?”
Vincent nodded and she fell against his chest as he leaned on the wall. “I’m sorry. I just have so much I want to share with you...”
He brought his arms around her and held her close. “I love that you are always trying to come up with new things. I’ll speak to Father in the morning. Don’t forget it’s always dark Below so perhaps we could have your picnic on Sunday. That will give us more time to plan it?”
Catherine nodded and hugged him. “Thank you! You’re probably right. I’m sure William already has tomorrow’s meals planned and I don’t want to make him think he has to change them. Vincent, will you ever get used to me being so impulsive?”
“Catherine, I think I can get used to anything you do.”
She smiled and leaned into his chest and kissed him there. She looked back up expectantly then sighed when he didn’t kiss her as she hoped.
She sighed and pulled away. “See you Sunday?”
Vincent nodded shyly. “Yes.”
“Let me know what William and Father say.”
“I will...goodnight, Catherine.”
Catherine climbed up the ladder.
Early the next morning, Vincent woke up and headed to the library to see Father.
Father looked up at Vincent and poured another cup of tea for him. He handed it to him and looked knowingly in his eyes. “I’m almost afraid to ask, but...”
Vincent shook his head to dispel his worries. “This request is easily filled. Catherine would like to know if she could have a picnic Below. She wants to invite the whole community. She offered to provide hamburgers and hot dogs and something called s’mores and a big bonfire.”
Father nodded and began to smile. “It’s been so long since we’ve done anything this frivolous but Vincent, this is one request I won’t disappoint Catherine with. Yes, speak to William so we can make the arrangements, now we should pick a date...”
Vincent interrupted him. “Father, the date has already been picked. It’s tomorrow.”
Father pretended to explode but hid his mischievous smile. “Have you both gone completely mad?”
Vincent joined in. “Not at all.”
Father smiled when Vincent leaned over and placed his hand on his arm. “Thank you, Father.”
“Vincent, it is the very least I could do, and I am sorry about your ruined weekend. But enough said. Let’s get the committee together, spread the news, and make this a festive day.”
Mary and Sarah walked in wanting to talk to Father. Mary overheard and smiled. “Is there a holiday I’ve forgotten about? What day will we be making so festive?”
Vincent smiled excitedly. “Tomorrow, we’re having a huge picnic!”
Sarah gasped. “Tomorrow! We must start planning immediately!”
She grabbed Mary’s wrist and the two women started out the door talking about the arrangements.
Father cleared his throat to get their attention. “Ladies, was there something you came in here to talk to me about?”
Mary waved her hand dismissively and kept up a steady banter with Sarah.
Vincent’s eyes open wide with surprise as he looked at Father. “Should I follow them?”
Father chuckled. “If you want to have any input you’d better.”
Vincent shot to his feet and followed the ladies to the kitchen.
Mary and Sarah made the arrangements with William as Vincent stood silently by so the two women could organize everything.
Rebecca and Jamie were walking down the hall and Mary and Sarah filled them in and soon the four women were walking together and talking about ideas. Olivia came out with Luke and overheard them then walked alongside as well.
Finally Mary turned around to face him. “Vincent, did you need something?”
He looked stunned. “Well, um...I...”
Mary sighed with exasperation at his lack of response. “Vincent, we have a picnic to plan, what is it you need to say?”
“I know that, Mary. Catherine was the one who asked me to request of Father that we be allowed to have a picnic. I guess I was wondering, do you need help planning it?”
Rebecca looked at him curiously. “From Catherine? We would love to have Catherine’s help.”
Jamie smiled as she shook her head. “No! Let’s not tell her, let’s surprise her. She was so disappointed; maybe this will make it up to her...”
Mary nodded. “Good idea, Jamie.”
Sarah nodded as well. “Better not tell Mouse.”
Jamie shook her head. “I won’t.”
Vincent stood there as they debated. “Catherine has offered to pay for all of the meat and she was bringing something called s’mores for everyone and...”
Rebecca interrupted him. “Mmmm s’mores! We should make sure we have enough...”
The women were off and talking again as Vincent gave up and headed back, unnoticed, to the library.
Vincent shrugged. “The women seemed to have taken it over. I guess my input isn’t needed.”
Father thinks the idea of a picnic is wonderful and has approved. Your presence is requested Below tomorrow. I’ll be waiting at the threshold at approximately 10:30.”
Ellie ran Above to Catherine’s apartment. She knocked and Catherine, who had been cleaning, answered immediately.
“Hi, Ellie! Is this from Vincent?”
Ellie nodded. “Yes, I’m supposed to see if you have an answer.”
Catherine motioned for her to come inside. She led her into the kitchen and brought out the cookie jar and a glass then brought out the milk. “Do you want some chocolate mix for that, Ellie?”
Ellie smiled and nodded excitedly. “Yes, please!”
Catherine got her the mix and a spoon then opened Vincent’s letter. “Woohoo!”
Ellie happily looked up. “Good news?”
“Father has agreed to let us have a picnic Below!”
Ellie smiled. “Cool! I wonder if we can fly kites anywhere?”
Catherine chuckled. “Ask Vincent or Mouse....Oh, Ellie, this is wonderful. Everyone is going to have such a good time!”
Ellie finished her cookies and looked at Catherine expectantly. “Do you have an answer?”
Ellie looked down shyly. Catherine handed her four and walked her to the front door. “Thanks, Ellie!”
Catherine was almost finished with her cleaning. She finished up the last bit took a shower and out.
Catherine headed to Stan’s Market.
Stan looked up as the bell tingled over the door. “Catherine, you’re supposed to be gone!”
Catherine smiled. “Change of plans. I think we’re having a picnic Below instead.”
“Uh, huh. I need enough hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken, corn on the cob, salads and desserts for everyone!”
“Catherine, I’m afraid it’ll be quite expensive…”
“Money well spent! Can you get me all of it on such short notice?”
“I’ll move heaven and earth to make it happen!” Stan shook his head in disbelief as he started a long list. “The things you accomplish Below are amazing!”
A thought popped into Catherine’s head. “Stan, I almost forgot. I need all of the fixings for s’mores too!”
Stan chuckled as Maria walked in. “Maria! The latest news! They’re having a picnic Below!”
Stan and Maria started to get the things together. Stan frowned when he heard the bell from Below ringing in the back store room.
He walked over to see Zack standing there with a long list in his hand.
Stan took it and started to laugh. “I already have it half-filled. Catherine is here with a similar list.”
“Hi, Catherine. William sent me with a list of stuff and Stan says you have the same list.”
Catherine took the list from Stan. “How did William know to get this stuff?”
Zack shrugged. “I don’t know but Kipper, Ellie, Eric, Amanda, and Deb are all waiting Below. We’re supposed to carry it to William.”
Catherine shrugged and helped Stan get the rest of the order. She paid him then followed Zack down by the others.
They all walked together and carried the numerous boxes for the picnic.
The group entered the dining chamber on the way to the kitchen. It was Saturday night so dinner was earlier than usual and they had to wind their way between chairs.
Mary and Sarah saw Catherine bringing up the rear with a box of stuff and Mary gently elbowed Vincent.
Vincent followed Mary’s gaze and looked up in surprise at Catherine. He immediately got to his feet and came over to take the box from her. “Catherine, I didn’t expect you.”
Kipper came up and took the box from Vincent and walked it to the kitchen.
Catherine ruffled his hair as he passed her then turned back to Vincent. “I hadn’t expected to be here.”
Vincent motioned for her to join him at his table. He pushed his plate with an untouched muffin and fruit in front of her. “You forgot to eat again!”
Catherine blushed at his knowing look then shook her head. “I don’t want to take your dinner, Vincent.”
Now Vincent blushed and Catherine patted his shoulder and tried to cover for him. “I’m sure he took the plate because he knew I was Below and could tell I was hungry.”
Pascal laughed. “Good try but he had no idea you were Below.”
Mary and Sarah waited until after Catherine ate her food. Mary touched her shoulder. “Catherine, are you busy right now? We tried to keep it a surprise but Sarah and I would love to talk to you about what ideas you had for tomorrow.”
Catherine smiled and nodded and Sarah helped her to her feet and led her out the door as she and Mary kept up a steady banter of talk.
She turned back and looked at Vincent helplessly and smiled and waved goodbye to him.
Father laughed and motioned for Vincent. “Come, I set up the chess board in the library.”
Catherine listened as the women outlined their plan. At the mention of the s’mores, Catherine shot to her feet. “Oh, no! I promised Vincent I would have them.”
Sarah patted her arm. “Sweetheart, it’s okay, we’ll have something else.”
Catherine shook her head adamantly. “I’ll be back within the hour.”
Mary reached for her hand. “Let’s send a message to Stan and he’ll make sure he gets everything together. You can pick it up tomorrow or have him send it Below.”
Catherine relaxed as she nodded with relief. “Okay.”
They talked for a while longer about the plans then Catherine made her way to the library. Vincent had just declared “checkmate” when she walked in.
She grinned as she looked at Father. “Vincent won? You must be really excited about the picnic tomorrow.”
Father chuckled at the easy excuse she provided. “Yes, I could hardly concentrate.”
“I can’t believe Vincent took advantage of you in your distracted state,” she smiled as she sat on the arm of Vincent’s chair.
“Maybe you can teach me to play.”
Father blinked in surprise as he nodded. “I would love the opportunity to do so.”
“Soon then, now if you gentlemen will excuse me I need to go Above, I have some last minute things I need to take care of.” She grinned as she stood and kissed Father’s cheek
Vincent stood as well. “I’ll walk you out.”
“See you tomorrow, dear Catherine.”
“Good night, Father.”
Vincent and Catherine walked slowly towards the threshold and talked about the plans for the picnic the next day.
“I’ll meet you here at 10:00 tomorrow.” Vincent offered.
Catherine shook her head. “I have to go to Stan’s to pick up some last minute things.”
She stepped forward and grinned mischievously. “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
He opened his arms and they hugged briefly before she turned to go Above.
The next day, Catherine woke up late and raced around her apartment before heading out.
He frowned as he looked down the tunnel way. “Where’s your helper?”
Catherine eyed the box warily. “I came here in such a rush; I didn’t think to ask anyone. That’s okay, I’ll carry it.”
“I can manage. Thanks, Stan, we’ll settle up tomorrow, okay?”
Stan frowned as she began to walk away. He could tell that in a few blocks the box was going to be too much for her to manage and he quickly tapped out a message to get her some help.
Vincent and Father stopped playing chess to listen to the message. Father rolled his eyes and nodded. “Go help!”
Vincent raced through the tunnels and looked at Catherine in surprise as he rushed to take the box from her.
Catherine looked at him with relief. “Hi, thanks for taking that.”
“It’s quite heavy,” he hinted as he eyed the contents.
She chuckled at his curiosity. “Yes, it is!”
He hid his disappointment at not being told what was in it. “We should go.”
He turned and she put her arm around his waist as he carried the box. As they walked, she talked about all the things they could do at the picnic and Vincent’s frustration grew.
He finally turned to her. “Catherine, what’s in the box?”
She smiled sweetly. “Dessert.”
Mary and Jamie walked up from around the corner.
Jamie took the box from Vincent and looked at Catherine. “Oh, good. We were wondering if you would be able to pull it off.”
Mary hugged her. “It’s as good as done! You two run ahead. The others are already waiting.”
Vincent led Catherine to the picnic area. Catherine gasped at its beauty. It was a huge area that was surprising flat. There was a small pool off to the left, where children were already swimming. Several adults sat on the back wall and watched over them. Off to the left was an area with a table laden with all kinds of food. William and the kitchen crew were busy making burgers and hot dogs. People were already sitting on blankets eating and visiting.
The couple made up plates of food and headed to sit on a blanket by Mary and Father.
Father waved his arm indicating the room. “Ah, Catherine. Look at what you’ve created here.”
She shook her head as she chuckled. “I just had the idea. The magic lies with the people here. How did you all accomplish so much in such a short amount of time?!”
Mary chuckled. “Everyone was so excited. We had more than enough help.”
They ate a leisurely lunch and Kanin called over to Vincent.
“Vin, come play.”
He held up a football and Vincent looked at it eagerly. He looked over at Catherine who smiled indulgently. “Go, I’ll just sit here for a while and visit.”
Olivia walked up and overheard their exchange. “Hi, everyone. Vincent, you should go, I was just about to ask Catherine to tell me about the latest fashions in Hollywood...”
Vincent glanced at Rebecca who was also making her way over to sit with the girls. He shot to his feet. “Um...Kanin needs someone to be on his team...I don’t want to leave him shorthanded.”
With a quick glance at a giggling Catherine, he headed to join the other men.
Catherine took Luke who was squirming in his mother’s arms. She laid him down on the blanket in front of her while Olivia sat down. Luke immediately flipped over and was up on his hands and knees. He rocked back and forth steadily eyeing Olivia.
Mary chuckled. “He’ll be crawling in no time....I’d say within the next week.”
Olivia smiled. “Do you really think so? I’ll need to have Kanin look in to the storage chamber for some type of a rug.”
Luke grew tired and sat up and looked around the blanket. Olivia threw a stuffed toy his way and Catherine picked it up and handed it to him. He put it in his mouth while he drooled all over it.
Father struggled to his feet. “Ladies, I’ve sat long enough. I think I’ll go talk to William and Old Sam over there. You have a nice visit.”
The women visited and Catherine kept sneaking looks at Vincent. She had never seen him this relaxed.
He and Kanin had tossed the football back and forth and were soon joined by four other men. They quickly split up and formed two teams and were enjoying a friendly game of touch football.
Mary caught Catherine looking over at him. “He seems so happy, doesn’t he?”
Knowing she was caught, Catherine blushed. “Yes, he does.”
Olivia smiled knowingly. “They all do. We needed this day. I’m glad you suggested it, Catherine.”
Catherine sighed. “Well, after my other ‘not so good’ idea, I thought this may be a way to make it up to Vincent.”
Mary patted her hand. “Let’s not worry about it, dear. Everything is back to normal.”
One of the children fell and Mary stood and rushed over to her. Luke was getting bored with being stuck on the blanket and Olivia had him standing on his feet. He tired of this and she looked at Catherine and Rebecca.
“I’m going to walk with him.”
Catherine brightened. “Want some company?”
The three women walked side by side towards the pool area.
Kanin stopped to watch Olivia for a second and was “touched” by the opposing team. In the huddle, the men ribbed him.
“Hey, look I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure Olivia didn’t need me.”
Matthew laughed at him. “You were checking her out, admit it. Mark my words, Vincent...Luke’s going to have a brother or sister by the end of the year.”
Vincent hid his smile while Kanin blushed.
Matthew looked at the two of them. “All right, this is the last play of the game but we can win this! Vincent, you go long. I’m gonna fake a pass to Kanin and send it sailing to you.”
Both men nodded and the play began. Vincent easily out distanced his opponent and was wide open. Matthew threw the ball and at that same moment Catherine was splashed with water and squealed in delight.
Vincent turned to find Catherine in the crowded room. She caught his eye and giggled as she watched as the football hit him squarely in the chest and bounce off. The other team jumped about wildly celebrating their win. He put a hand to the spot on his chest and began to rub it as Matthew ran across the field screaming at him.
“For Pete’s sake all you had to do is lift your arms! I give up between you two love struck fools I never stood a chance at victory. I hate women they are such a distrac...”
Rebecca walked by and smiled as Matthew stopped mid-tirade. Kanin came over and threw his arms around his buddy in a head lock.
“Can’t finish that, huh, buddy? What were you going to say? Women are a distraction?”
Matthew groaned as Kanin rubbed his knuckles against his head furiously. He fought back and got out of Kanin’s grip and picked up the ball from the ground.
He teased Vincent. “Want to try that again big guy?”
Vincent started to walk and Matthew threw the football which sailed over Vincent’s head.
Kanin laughed. “Nice throw!”
They watched as the ball started to come down. All of them realized at the same time that it was on a path to hitting Luke, who was crawling on a blanket.
Vincent saw Catherine nearby. “Catherine!”
She whirled around, instantly saw what was happening and jumped over Luke and caught the ball while Vincent and Kanin ran up.
Catherine looked at him mischievously and threw a perfect pass over to Matthew. “I believe this is yours.”
Vincent’s jaw dropped open with surprise as Kanin grinned. “You’re good!”
“You’re lucky I’m fast.”
Matthew ran up and grinned as he slapped Vincent in the stomach. “She’s fast, hey, big guy?!”
He took off as Catherine and Vincent both blushed and looked away. Kanin walked over to Olivia who was coming back after getting a change of clothes for Luke.
Kanin’s eyes flashed a warning at Catherine and Vincent. “Nothing, Honey. I was just getting him ready for you.”
The couple left and Catherine turned towards Vincent. “You looked like you were having a good time.”
He smiled. “It’s been a perfect day. Thank you.”
They started to walk towards a blanket when a commotion had them turning around. William was bringing in trays of goodies stacked with the fixings for s’mores.
His voice carried throughout the room. “It’s s’mores time!”
Vincent sighed. “I still don’t know what a...s’more is?”
Catherine looked at him to see if he was joking. Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “You’re kidding?!”
He shook his head as she grabbed his hand. “Come on. I’m going to show you.”
Ten minutes later, Vincent was moaning in ecstasy as he tasted his first one. Catherine fixed him two more until he finally refused.
“No more. Thank you!”
She smiled and they walked to a blanket in the far corner and sat back against the rock. “Vincent, this has been the best day I’ve had in a really long time.”
He looked at her sadly then lowered his head. “You’re not disappointed?”
She shook her head as she reached out to touch his arm. “I just want to spend time with you. I don’t really care where it is.”
They sat back and held hands as they enjoyed the rest of the day.