BETWEEN THE LINES
SEASON 2

 

 

I AM HIS FRIEND
TENTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

 

Kanin walked into the library very early on a Sunday morning. Father and Vincent were sitting together eating a light snack of muffins and tea.

Both men turned when Kanin entered the room.

Father smiled. “Kanin, you're up early.”

Kanin sighed. “Luke was teething last night. I'm afraid I never really got to sleep.”

Father frowned. “You or Olivia should have come to me. I have some medicine I can give her to rub on his gums. The relief is only temporary but it usually allows the child to go back to sleep.”

Kanin looked surprised. “Really, I didn't know that! It's his first tooth ... ” He seemed to think for a moment, then he looked up again. “They don't by any chance sell it by the vat do they?”

Vincent smirked and Father chuckled loudly. “Spoken like a parent who's been up all night. No, unfortunately it only comes in a small tube. I'll get it for you after breakfast.”

“Father, would you mind giving it to Olivia? I'll be at work most of the day.”

Noticing for the first time the bag of tools in Kanin's hand, Vincent cocked his head to the side. “Work? Kanin, it's Sunday, there’s no work detail today.”

Kanin looked shyly at the ground. “I was going to work on the chamber for Olivia and Luke. With my regular work detail, nights and weekends seem like the only time I can fit it in.”

Vincent leaned forward in his seat. “Kanin, you know you could ask any one of us to help you. I could come and help chisel the rock for you ... ”

Kanin looked upset. “I couldn't ask you to do that.”

“You're not, I'm offering.”

Kanin smirked again. “Well, I've carved most of it myself already. I have a lot of stone to haul out and I do need to chisel some shelves in the walls.”

Father frowned. “Kanin, you also have a wife that needs you and a son who is growing all too quickly. You need to spend time with them as well. Besides, with all of your regular work, you most certainly are not getting the rest you need. I insist you let the others help.”

Kanin seemed undecided. “I just wanted to be able to tell Olivia I made the whole chamber myself ... just for her ... ”

Vincent grabbed his friend's shoulder and smiled. “Then I won't help chisel. I'll only haul away stone and debris.”

Kanin seemed to ponder the idea. “I had hoped to get it done for our anniversary and that day is coming closer everyday ... ” He made a decision and smiled at Vincent. “If you're offering, I'm accepting ... ”

Vincent smiled. “Right after breakfast.”

Kanin grabbed a muffin. “I'll eat this and go get started.”

Father puffed his chest out indignantly. “You most certainly will not! You will go with us to breakfast and have a decent meal with your family before you go and overdo it at work today!”

Vincent looked at Kanin and shook his head. “Don't argue. Trust me, you won't win.”

“Okay, I'll eat. Olivia is still sleeping and probably will be for a while. Poor Luke finally fell asleep around 6:00 this morning.”

Father put down his muffin and stood. “Well, then perhaps we can ask William to make an exception today and serve us our breakfast early. Then you and Vincent can start work.”

Kanin nodded. “Sounds good to me. Thanks, Father.”

Father shook his head. “It's not just for you. Vincent's stomach in the morning growls louder than he does.”

Vincent's stomach chose that exact minute to prove Father's point. Vincent rolled his eyes while Father laughed aloud. Kanin tried to hold back his laughter but soon enough he joined in with Father and Vincent quickly followed.

The men made their way through the tunnels and into the dining chamber. William was getting the table ready and scowled at the three men.

“I've sent muffins! It's too early! All three of you ... out!” He angrily pointed towards the door.

Vincent stepped forward. “William, we've come on an urgent mission.”

William eyed him warily. “What is it ... ?”

“Oh, for Pete's sake ... ” Father stepped forward. “Kanin needs to work on a secret chamber he's making for Olivia. He and Vincent are working together, and I refuse to allow them to work with only a few muffins to hold them over!”

William wasn't backing down. “What secret chamber?”

Kanin smiled. “I found an area, and with every free moment I've had, I've been chiseling away at a chamber by myself. I wanted it to be a surprise for Olivia, so I haven't told anyone about it. You'll keep it a secret, won't you?”

William seemed undecided until Vincent added. “It's for their wedding anniversary that's coming up soon ... ”

William looked at Kanin curiously. “When?”

“Two weeks.”

“Two weeks!” William walked away muttering to himself. “Absolutely ridiculous ... how can anyone expect to get an entire chamber ready in two weeks! It'll take at least that long to get furniture moved and cleaned and ... ”

The three men could still hear him in the kitchen, but Kanin's face fell. “I never thought about the furniture!” he whispered.

Vincent leaned over. “We'll come up with something. Don't worry.”

William came back from the kitchen with a tray loaded down. “Here, you two eat this and get to work. I'll work on a special lunch for you and send it with Mouse ... I'm assuming he'll know where you'll be ... ”

Father grinned. “If Vincent's involved, I'm sure Mouse will find him.”

Mouse walked in the door. “Already know where ... secret chamber ... easy to find. Came to help!”

Vincent smiled. “We’ll only be hauling rock and stone away.”

Mouse shrugged. “Two work ... quick ... three work ... quicker ... ”

Cullen came through the door as well. “With four working we’ll be done in no time!”

Kanin held up his hands in protest. “I can't ask you guys to give up your day off and bust your butt some more. I can manage, really.”

Mouse turned around. “Still have butt ... can help.”

Vincent chuckled. “It'll give us time to get the furniture in as well.”

Kanin gave up. “I can't argue that point. I owe you guys ... big time.”

Vincent grabbed his shoulder and squeezed it affectionately. “You owe us nothing. You're our friend, we want to help.”

William came out with another tray. “Eat now and get out of here before the rest of the community shows up!”

Cullen grabbed the second tray and all five men sat down. They each ate quickly and in no time were making their way down to the new chamber.

Kanin walked into the room and lit the candles as each man followed behind.

Mouse smiled wondrously. “So big!”

Cullen laughed. “That's 'cause it's still empty.” He turned to Kanin. “You've done a nice job.”

Kanin blushed. “Thanks. Come see the other room.”

Vincent looked up in surprise as he followed through the doorway Kanin had just walked through. “A bedroom?”

Kanin nodded. “Yeah, at least that's what I thought I could make this.”

Cullen slowly turned around. “You could add some shelves up here,” he pointed. “And then put the headboard against this wall, a big bureau over there ... ”

Kanin sighed. “We don't have that much furniture.”

Mouse jumped up. “Found bed last week ... brought Below. Needs fixing ... ” He turned to Cullen. “You fix, maybe?”

Cullen nodded. “Yeah, I'll take a look at it.”

Mouse smiled. “See ... ask Mouse ... fix everything!”

Vincent laughed. “You are definitely a treasured member of our community, Mouse. But right now, we need to start hauling out these bigger rocks.”

Cullen grabbed the wheelbarrow. “Let's load it up. Where are we taking them?”

Mouse thought for a second. “I know place ... not far ... put rocks in there ... use for false walls maybe ... ”

Vincent nodded as he began to load the heavier rocks. “Good idea, Mouse. Better that we reuse these than try to chisel more when we need them in an emergency.”

The three men loaded rocks and hauled them while Kanin finished chiseling the shelves. Everyone worked for several hours with very few breaks. The rooms were soon emptied of all of the larger rocks. The only remaining rock was in small piles of stones.

Zac and Kipper came into the room at either end of a huge picnic basket.

Cullen grinned widely. “Whoo hoo! I'm starving!”

Kanin and Mouse came from the back room while Vincent walked in with the empty wheelbarrow.

Zac looked around. “Cool. Who's chamber?”

Kanin looked around proudly. “Mine.”

Kipper smiled. “It's big. Luke's gonna have fun playing in it ... well, when he starts to walk.”

“ ... Which will be soon enough.” Vincent said as he came and took the basket with one hand and carried it over to a rock shelf. “Thank you Zac, Kipper. Please thank William for us as well.”

Samantha walked in carrying a bucket of water. “You guys walked too fast, I was going to spill water all over the place!”

Kipper and Zach rolled their eyes while Kanin took the bucket from her. “Thanks, Samantha. This is the most important part. We certainly couldn't eat without washing up first.”

Samantha shot the boys an “I told you so” look, then smiled sweetly to Kanin. “You're welcome. William only asked that you make sure the basket makes it back to him.”

Cullen had finished washing already and nodded. “You got it!” he said as he began to take out the lunch items.

The three kids left and the men each cleaned their hands. Kanin found a ledge to sit on, Vincent found a rock to lean against, and Mouse flipped over the two buckets for him and Cullen to sit on.

“Thanks, Mouse.” Cullen smiled as he sat down, a huge piece of fried chicken breast in his hands.

Mouse grabbed a plate full of wings and sat down as well.

Cullen sighed and grinned wickedly as he chewed the juicy white meat. “I've always been a breast man, how about you guys?”

“Like wings.”

Kanin chuckled at Mouse’s innocence and then nodded at Vincent. “I'm partial to thighs myself. What part do you like?”

Vincent had caught on immediately to the double meaning of the conversation and choked, then blushed and looked away. “I ... ”

He fell silent and Kanin laughed aloud. “Like the whole package, right Vin?”

Vincent sighed at the good natured teasing. “Yes.”

Cullen grabbed another piece of chicken. “Yeah, well if I had myself a piece like Catherine, I'd savor the whole thing too.”

Kanin laughed as Vincent gasped. Mouse's brow furrowed in confusion. “Don't get it ... some kind of joke?”

Vincent shook his head. “In a way.”

“Not funny!”

Vincent agreed. “No, Mouse it wasn’t.”

Cullen looked at Kanin who shook his head as a warning to change the subject.

Cullen caught on. “Hey, Kanin? There's not very much left to pick up. Vincent can get it by himself and Mouse can show me where this bed is he found. I may need some time to fix it up for you.”

Vincent readily agreed. “There's not much left to do, I can handle it easily.”

Kanin nodded. “Thanks, Cullen. I just hope it's in good enough condition.”

Mouse waved his arms. “Big, clean up good ... you see ... has nice pictures in wood.”

Cullen was curious. “Pictures? You mean carved in the wood?”

Mouse nodded. “Uh, huh.”

Kanin gasped. “Sounds expensive.”

Cullen finished up his food. “Well, he's got me interested. I've got to see it!”

Mouse stood. “Take now ... you see ... ”

Kanin stepped forward and shook each of their hands. “I couldn't have done it without you guys. Thank you, again ... ”

Cullen and Mouse left, and Vincent began to pack up the remains of lunch.

Kanin shrugged. “There's not much left. I can get it if you want.”

Vincent shrugged. “I can work another hour. Catherine's supposed to come Below tonight for dinner. I'll need time to bathe.”

Kanin smiled. “You guys saved me so much time. I should be able to spend some time with Olivia tonight. Keeping this a surprise has sure been hard. She's been really mad at me for being gone so much.”

Vincent nodded knowingly. “She misses you.”

“Yeah, I miss her too. I can't wait for our anniversary.”

Vincent began to clean up the small piles of rock while Kanin looked up at the walls between the two rooms. “Do you think I should put up a curtain or a door?”

Vincent stopped and looked over at him. “A curtain or a door?”

Kanin nodded. “Yeah, you know ... for privacy. Luke will never get a little brother or sister if I don't. What do you use?”

Vincent balked. “I ... don't have either.”

Kanin stopped feeling the crevices in the walls and looked at his friend. “You and Catherine just take the chance someone will walk in?”

Vincent blushed and looked away. “Catherine and I ... um ... don't ... ”

He fell silent and it was Kanin's turn to blush as he groaned aloud. “Oh man, I'm sorry. That was really out of line. I wasn't thinking, I just assumed ... I mean ... anyone can tell that you two are in love, I just thought you two must be ... you know ... damn ... never mind ... I'm not thinking at all.”

Vincent sighed as he tried to comfort his friend. “I imagine that if we were any other couple that might be true, but for us ... ”

Kanin didn’t catch on to Vincent’s somber mood and he pounded on his back as he walked passed him. “With the way that Catherine looks at you, I'm sure you'll need a curtain soon enough.”

The two friends worked in silence for another hour and a half. Vincent finished the last few loads and then leaned against the wall.

“Kanin, I'll take this basket back to William.”

Kanin peeked around the corner. “Thanks ... and thanks for all your help.”

“Perhaps Catherine and I will see you at dinner tonight.”

“You can bet on it!”

“If there’s room at your table, maybe we can join you ... ”

Kanin turned around in surprise. “Are you kidding me?”

Vincent cocked his head curiously as he looked at his friend. “Catherine likes Olivia and they’ve always gotten along quite well ... ”

Kanin laughed. “You do know Luke will be sitting with us?”

Vincent smiled. “I gathered he would be, yes. I don’t see that as a problem. Catherine and I both enjoy spending time with the children.”

Kanin shook his head. “A teething one that’s Luke’s age? You do realize that any food he gets his hands on to tends to become a missile? Olivia’s mad because I taught him to play catch and he hasn’t quite figured out the difference between a ball and a biscuit.”

Vincent chuckled. “I’ll warn Catherine and we’ll both be on the lookout for flying objects.”

Kanin grinned. “Olivia will be so excited to have some adult conversation. Couples with young ones often find themselves alone at meal times.”

Vincent bent over and grinned. “Until tonight then.”

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

Vincent met a surprised Catherine at the threshold.

“Vincent! You didn’t have to come meet me ... ”

“I wanted to see you ... ”

Catherine leaned forward and gave him a hug. “I’ve missed you, too!”

Vincent returned her embrace and then looked at her sheepishly. “I did miss you but that’s not the reason I wanted to walk with you to dinner.”

Catherine raised her eyebrows and chuckled. “I’m losing my charms so quickly.”

Vincent balked. “No! That’s not it at all ... ” He looked at her as she began to laugh and he realized she was only teasing him, so he took her hand and continued. “I asked Kanin if he wouldn’t mind if you and I joined his family for dinner.”

Catherine smiled. “Oh, good. I haven’t been able to visit with Olivia in quite awhile. It’ll give us a chance to catch up.”

Vincent cocked his head and smiled ruefully at her. “Kanin reminded me that Luke will be there as well.”

Catherine looked confused. “I just assumed he would be. He’s such a good baby though ... ”

Vincent grinned. “Until recently ... Kanin has explained to me that Luke is teething ... ”

“Oh, the poor little guy. My friend Nancy told me that it’s quite painful and that her kids always turned into monsters at that time.”

Vincent sighed. “There’s more. I’ve been lead to believe that Luke has mastered playing the game of catch with Kanin. The only problem is ... he sometimes uses bread rolls as a ball.”

Catherine stopped and chuckled aloud. “I guess I should have borrowed my dad’s old catcher’s mitt ... ”

Vincent smiled gratefully at her. He marveled that once again she could be so understanding of any situation she was presented with. “You don’t mind?”

Catherine shook her head. “It sounds quite entertaining,” she said as she slipped her arm around his waist and gave him a gentle squeeze.

Vincent put his arm around her shoulders and they walked the rest of the way in silence.

 

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

Vincent and Catherine walked into the dining chamber and hovered in the doorway.

Catherine spotted Kanin and Olivia first and tugged gently on Vincent’s hand. “Over here.”

They walked up to the table and smiled at the exasperated parents. “Hi Olivia, Hi, Kanin.”

Olivia beamed. “Hi, Catherine!”

Catherine leaned over and offered her a hug, then bent over and kissed Kanin on the cheek. “I’m glad we have this opportunity to have dinner together.”

Vincent smiled as he stood behind her. Catherine looked back, then sat herself in the chair he held out for her. He pushed it in and then sat next to her.

Luke was in a high chair closest to Catherine. He smiled and reached for her and Catherine moved in closer. “Hi Luke!”

Olivia and Kanin both called out. “No!” at the same time Luke placed his hands around her head. His hands were filled with spaghetti sauce and Olivia cringed in horror as Luke, who was frightened by their shouts ran his hands down the front of Catherine.

Thick red streaks were visible on the front of her pure white sweater and Catherine shrugged nonchalantly as Luke, scared by the outburst, puckered his lip and began to cry.

Catherine reached for him and brought him out of his seat to set him on her lap. “Did Mommy and Daddy scare you? Its okay, Luke!” She looked up at Kanin and Olivia. “He’s fine. It’s only a little sauce.”

Luke laid his head against Catherine’s shoulder as he shoved his hand inside of his mouth and chewed on it. Spit mixed with the spaghetti sauce and soon enough, Catherine had even a bigger mess on the front of her sweater.

Olivia shook her head clearly mortified. “He’s ruined that sweater!”

Catherine waved her hand airily. “It’s only a sweater.” She looked at Vincent over the top of Luke’s head. “He seems so comfortable. Would you mind making me a tray for dinner?”

Vincent nodded and smiled at her. “Of course.”

Kanin stood immediately. “I’ll help, Vincent.”

The two men walked and as they made dinner trays Kanin leaned in and whispered.  “She’s a keeper, Vincent.” Vincent looked at him curiously and Kanin nodded towards Catherine. “She kept her cool the whole time with Luke, she didn’t get mad once! She’s pretty even-tempered and that’s an important thing to know about the future mother of your children!”

Vincent dropped the tray in his hand and stared at Kanin.

Kanin didn’t realize what he said and he looked curiously at Vincent. “That tray too heavy for you there, big guy?”

Vincent looked down and was able to rescue the food tray before it slid to the ground. He shifted the plates back on the tray and he and Kanin headed back to their table.

Catherine smiled as they walked up. “Mmmm, smells wonderful.”

Olivia reached for Luke. “Luke’s fallen asleep. Let me take him, Catherine so you can eat.”

“Won’t he wake up?” Catherine wondered.

Kanin frowned. “Probably.”

Catherine shook her head. “Then leave him be. I’ll just eat with one hand.”

Olivia shook her head. “Don’t be silly. You won’t enjoy your meal. I’ll just set him right down in this basket here.”

Olivia had indicated a big basket on the chair next to Kanin. The world Below used these instead of strollers and Luke settled right down when Olivia placed him inside of it.

Vincent took his napkin, dipped it in a bowl of water and grabbed a few strands of Catherine’s hair. “Luke’s managed to get sauce in your hair.”

He gently rubbed her hair between the folds of the napkin, then repeated the process with a few more strands of hair. He looked at her face and saw the desire in her eyes before he dropped the hair he held and backed away.

Olivia, oblivious to what happened, asked. “Did you get it all, Vincent?”

Vincent looked down at the plate in front of him. “Yes ... I think so.”

Catherine cleared her throat. “Thank you.”

Kainin had caught the exchange and grinned at his two friends and quickly tried to change the subject.

They all ate their meals and Olivia stood up suddenly. “Excuse me, I need to use the restroom, I’ll be right back.”

Catherine smiled and stood as well. “I could go too, wait up.”

The women walked arm and arm towards the designated chamber that was used as a washroom.

Olivia looked over apologetically as she hurried to the bathroom. “Sorry, I think I just got my period.”

Catherine smiled knowingly. “It does manage to come at the most inopportune times.”

Olivia laughed and nodded. “Actually, I’m glad it will be over this week. My anniversary is next week and I want to be able to ... ” She suddenly got shy. “Well ... you know ... ”

Catherine giggled. “I know.”

“I know some women can but I just can’t bring myself to ... do anything ... when I have it. Do you have that problem with Vincent?” Olivia asked innocently.

Catherine balked at the question then blew out a long breath. “No,” she answered honestly. “It’s never come up.”

Olivia was satisfied with the answer and finished with attending to her problem before she washed her hands. “Your turn.”

Catherine quickly relieved herself and was washing her hands when Mary came into the room. 

“Here you go, dear.” Mary said as he handed Catherine a dress. “I was finished eating when I saw what Luke did. I ran and got you a change of clothes. I’ll have your sweater cleaned in no time.”

Catherine took off her sweater and handed it to her. “I’ll get to it later. Just soak it in cool water for me ... ”

Mary took the sweater from her. “Nonsense, I’ll have it cleaned and dried in less than an hour.”

Mary left the room as Catherine slipped into the dress. It fit perfectly and she ran her hands down the softness of it while she smoothed it over her hips.

Olivia sighed. “You have such a lovely body. I’ll never get back into shape from having Luke.”

Catherine looked at the beautiful woman in front to her. “You’ve just brought life into the world. I wish I had your body and a son like Luke to hold.”

Olivia smiled. “Maybe someday you and Vincent will have children together ... ”

Catherine frowned and turned away. “Maybe ... ”

Olivia misinterpreted her actions and rose to Vincent’s defense. She grabbed Catherine’s arm and stopped her. “You know, Vincent is a wonderful man and he deserves the best life can offer him.”

“I agree, Olivia.” Catherine said with surprise at her friend’s outburst.

Olivia shook her head when she realized she had sounded angry. “I’m sorry; these pregnancy hormones are still raging. I thought that you were implying that you couldn’t commit to a relationship with Vincent. I thought that perhaps you couldn’t envision having Vincent’s baby.”

Catherine looked at the ground and sighed. “I’ve thought about it so many times in the past, especially when I saw him holding Lena’s baby. But you have to do more than wish to conceive a child.”

Olivia sighed and shook her head. “Just give him more time. I know he loves you, Catherine.”

Jamie and Samantha walked into the room and Catherine and Olivia walked back to their table.

Kanin and Vincent smiled when the women walked up. Olivia sighed aloud. “I wish I could invite you back to our place but it’s so small there won’t be any room.”

Catherine looked at Vincent and he knew instantly what she was asking. He shook his head ruefully. “The older children asked to use my chamber tonight to practice their Shakespeare soliloquies.”

“Can we just stay here then?” Olivia asked hopefully.

The four friends visited for another two hours. They talked about all manner of topics and when Luke woke up again, Catherine helped Olivia change his diaper.

They played with Luke as he sat on the table in front of them until he yawned and started to fuss again.

“Uh, oh. I know that look.” Kanin warned.

Olivia stood immediately. “Yes, I better get him home and bathed. He’ll be over tired and never go back to sleep. Catherine, Vincent, we had a wonderful time this evening.”

Catherine grinned. “We did too; we’ll have to do it again, soon.”

Kanin carried Luke while Vincent put his hand on the small of Catherine’s back and guided her through the tunnels.

Kanin came running up to them not far from the threshold. “Hey, you two!”

They turned around and looked at him in surprise.

“Kanin, is everything all right?” Vincent asked.

Out of breath, he nodded. “Yes, I just need to ask a favor of each of you.”

“What is it?” Catherine wondered.

“Vincent, I was wondering, if next Saturday, you could light the candles in the new chamber for me. I want to surprise Olivia.”

Vincent nodded. “Of course, Kanin.”

Kanin turned to Catherine. “And I was wondering if you could pick up some flowers for me and spread them around the room ... maybe place some on the bed.”

Catherine grinned. “Sounds lovely, do you want a special kind? Roses ... ”

“No! Olivia’s favorite flower is lilacs. Maybe get a bunch of them. Here ... ” Kanin handed her a twenty dollar bill. “I did some work for one of the helpers. That’s all I earned, buy what you can with that.”

Catherine didn’t want to, but she took the money from him, knowing how much he wanted to be the one who bought the flowers. She knew that in New York City, twenty dollars wouldn’t go far, but she was determined not to ruin his surprise. “Of course, I’m sure it will buy some nice arrangements,” she lied easily.

Kanin started to back away. “Thanks, I’ve got to go see Mary about babysitting Luke overnight.”

He was gone in a flash and Vincent reached for her hand. “Catherine, around the corner from Stan’s Market is a small floral shop.”

Catherine nodded. “Yes, Peabody’s.”

“Mrs. Peabody has been a helper for many years and I’m certain that Kanin’s money can be put to better use there than a normal floral shop.”

“I’ll make sure I go to see her then. I’ve received flowers from there before, she does nice work.”

She stepped forward to give him a hug. Vincent enclosed her within his embrace and buried his face in her hair.

Catherine backed away curiously when she felt him chuckle. “That’s not exactly the type of response I was going for.”

Vincent chuckled louder. “I’m sorry. I expected your usual fragrance and was assailed by the smell of spaghetti sauce instead.”

Catherine laughed aloud. “I’ll have to take a shower before bed.”

“You forgot your sweater!”

Catherine nodded. “Yes, I just realized it. The dresses the woman wear Below are always so warm and comfortable. I just forgot about it.”

“I’ll bring it to you later.”

Catherine protested immediately. “It’s only a sweater. Could you just keep it in your chamber until I see you again?”

“Of course, goodnight, Catherine.”

“Night, Vincent.”

 

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

The next morning, Catherine stopped at the floral shop.

“Mrs. Peabody?” Catherine called out in the empty looking store.

A sweet older woman came from the back room. “Yes?”

“I’m Catherine, I’m a friend of Vincent’s.”

The woman’s face broke out into a grin. “You’re more than a friend from what I hear!”

Catherine blushed and tried to hide her nervousness behind her smile. “Yes, I guess so ... um ... Kanin asked me to pick up some flowers for his wife, Olivia.”

Mrs. Peabody grinned. “For their anniversary?”

“Yes, how’d you know?”

“Sylvia, Stan’s wife told me. Kanin bought a small box of chocolates for Olivia.”

Catherine smiled. “He gave me twenty dollars to put towards the flowers but if it costs more than that I’ll certainly pay whatever it is.”

Mrs. Peabody frowned. “Twenty dollars won’t buy very many roses.”

“Oh, no. I’m sorry, I forgot to mention that he wants lilacs!”

“Lilacs! At this time of the year?!”

Catherine thought about it and realized lilacs weren’t in season. She became very worried. “Can you get them on such short notice?”

Mrs. Peabody nodded. “Yes, but I’m afraid it’s going to cost ... it’s probably cheaper for long stem roses!”

Catherine reached out and touched her arm. “I don’t care what it costs. Olivia deserves it. Please make me six or seven small bouquets that I can spread through out the room. Then two medium and one large bouquet for the bed.”

“Miss Chandler, that’s quite generous of you.”

“I guess I’m just an old romantic at heart. Will you be able to do this for me by next Saturday?”

Mrs. Peabody nodded. “For love ... I’ll put the whole thing on a rush.”

“Thank you.” Catherine waved as she left and headed to work.

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

As usual, Catherine was swamped at work and the week seemed to fly by. On Wednesday, Vincent came to visit with her. She saw his shadow pass by her curtains and she quickly got up and ran out the door.

“Vincent!”

Vincent gasped when she ran to him and threw herself into his arms. “Good evening, Catherine,” he chuckled.

“Hi! I’ve missed you!”

“And I you.”

Catherine backed up and dragged him over to the wall. “Tell me what’s been going on with everyone ... ”

“Since Sunday?”

Catherine sighed. “Oh, Vincent, my work is so relentless and grueling. I just want to hear some good news for once.”

Vincent smiled and thought about what had been going on Below. “Kanin’s almost done with the chamber.”

“He is?!”

“Yes, Cullen and Mouse moved the bedroom furniture in today. Kanin said it was beautiful and that Olivia would love it. He said he wished he had his mother’s old antique white bedspread to cover it with ... ”

Catherine cocked her head thoughtfully. “What will he use instead?”

Vincent shrugged. “The blankets Below are often sewn together from whatever scraps of material are left over ... ”

“Perhaps I can find him something newer to use ... ” she saw the look on his face and rushed to defend herself. “Nothing expensive ... besides, it will be like a house warming gift ... ”

Vincent smiled. “You’re always so generous ... ”

“Does that mean I can send something Below?”

“Yes.”

Catherine smiled widely. “I’ll send it to you and you can take it to Kanin. He can have the bed all made up before she sees it!”

Vincent looked at her worriedly. “Catherine, their anniversary is Saturday. That only gives you two days.”

Catherine laughed aloud. “If you only knew who you were talking to, Vincent! I’m embarrassed to admit I used to be the reigning queen of the stores. I can find what I need during my lunch tomorrow and have it delivered to you by dinner.”

Vincent shook his head as he laughed. “I wish I could see that.”

Catherine leaned into him conspiratorially. “It’s not always pretty.” Her phone started ringing and she moaned aloud. “I should have shut it off!”

She let the machine pick it up and she could hear her father’s voice come over the machine. She frowned as she admonished herself. “Damn! I was supposed to call him after lunch. I can’t believe I forgot. I need to call him back.”

Vincent took her hands in his. “I should go anyway. I told Kanin I would help him move the living room furniture we found for him.”

Catherine wrinkled her nose. “I won’t see you until Saturday.”

Vincent squeezed her hands. “Kanin asked if you could come by 5:30. Their date starts at 6:00.”

“Sure, I have to pick up the flowers by 5:00 so I’ll come down then.”

Vincent raised his arm to pull her into an embrace and she snuggled against him. “Goodnight, Vincent.”

“Goodnight, Catherine.”

 

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

On Saturday, Catherine picked up the flowers and then headed Below. She forgot to ask Vincent where the new chamber was located and she had to keep asking directions from the sentrys.

She walked in as Vincent was lighting the candles around the chamber. She admired the beauty of it as she began to place flowers around the chamber.

Vincent motioned with his head. “In there too.”

Catherine walked in the direction he indicated and stopped and looked in awe when she saw the bed in front of her. It was one of the most romantic settings she had ever seen.

The bed was pure white and had beautiful carvings in the headboard. The soft candlelight flickered against the walls and created a warm and romantic atmosphere.  Her heart pounded wildly as she, for a second, let her mind dream of what it would be like if this were her and Vincent’s chamber.

Vincent felt her racing emotions and looked down sadly. He walked over and watched as she decorated the bed with the remaining flowers in her basket. Catherine stood back to admire her work.

“Do you think Olivia will like this room?”

Pulled from her reverie, she turned; her voice was thick with emotion as she walked past him. “I think Olivia will love this room!”

Vincent joined her and they slipped out silently as Kanin walked in with a blindfolded Olivia. Only a few minutes later, he came out holding Luke. Catherine reached to take him and she settled him down on her hip. Kanin thanked her and they left to deliver Luke to Mary’s waiting arms.

 

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

Vincent put his hand on the small of Catherine’s back as she led them through the tunnels. He occasionally would reach in and tease Luke who giggled and waved his arms around happily.

Catherine and Vincent laughed at his antics and Luke, willing to perform, kept it up until they got to Mary’s.

Mary looked overwhelmed when they came into the nursery. Little Catherine was crying and chewing on the side rail of her crib, Tommy was lying on his back and crying loudly, and Amy obviously had a problem because she was pulling at her ears and screaming at the top of her lungs.

Vincent cocked his head. “Mary, is everything all right?”

Mary was flustered but she was managing to keep it all together. “Catherine, Vincent! Oh my, I forgot about Luke coming.”

Catherine’s eyes were round with shock. “You’re here by yourself?”

“Lana isn’t feeling good and Sara is with some of the other children. There are two of the younger kids who aren’t feeling well.”

Catherine looked at Vincent for confirmation, then continued. “What can we do to help?”

Mary looked around the room. “Spread some ointment on Little Cathy’s gums and change Tommy’s diaper.”

Catherine nodded and set Luke down in a playpen area. He crawled over and started playing with toys.

Catherine picked up a diaper and wet wipes from the nearby table as well as the tube of toothache cream. She turned to Vincent with a smile. “Which one do you want?”

Vincent surprised her and took the diaper. She shook her head and smiled. “I’m only teasing. I’ll change to diaper.”

Vincent looked at the floor to hide his shame. “Catherine, I fear that if I try to put ointment on Cathy’s gums that I might ... cut her accidentally. As much as I don’t want to change a diaper, I don’t want to hurt her.”

“Come on,” Catherine said as she turned and headed towards Little Cathy. She quickly applied some ointment and Cathy stopped crying almost immediately. Cathy shoved her teething ring into her mouth and Catherine scooped her up and handed her to Vincent. “Here. Why don’t you see if she and Luke will play together?”

Tommy reached for Catherine as she came over to the crib. He stopped crying as soon as he was picked up and Catherine cradled him, then blew out her breath as she smelled his offensive diaper. She changed it quickly and picked him up and then faced Mary.

Poor Amy was still screaming loudly. Mary looked worried. “I need to take her to see Father. Can you two stay for awhile?”

Catherine nodded. “Of course, Mary.”

“They each have a bottle over there on the table. There are also some grapes and crackers.”

If possible, Amy was screaming even louder. “Mary, go!” Catherine prompted. “We’ve got it covered.”

Mary left and Catherine placed Tommy on the floor with Luke and Cathy. The toddlers crawled around and generally got into each others way.

Catherine looked at Vincent, then shrugged and climbed into the play area and sat down in the middle. Vincent smiled and followed her lead. Soon, the children were crawling and climbing all over them. At one point, Vincent was flat on his back with all three children sitting on different areas of his body. Luke was sprawled across Vincent’s legs and Tommy sat on his stomach while Cathy sat on his chest and pushed grapes into his mouth. 

Things were good for over an hour and then each of the children began to fuss. Catherine got up and brought over the tray of finger foods and their bottles. The children each took a few grapes and crackers but mostly latched onto their bottles. Catherine laid each of them on blankets near her and they settled down and looked around the room.

Vincent whispered to her. “Perhaps if I read they might fall asleep ... ”

Catherine nodded. “It’s certainly worth a try.”

Vincent stood and walked over to a book shelf. He selected one of the classics, came back over, and settled down near the children.

He began to read as he absently rubbed his hand gently up and down little Cathy’s back. When he turned the page, he looked over to see that Catherine was also gently rubbing Luke’s tummy and Tommy’s leg. She smiled and winked at him and his breath caught in his throat.

For the briefest moment, he allowed himself to dream that they were doing this with their own children. He had a look of pure contentment on his face, then suddenly frowned and lowered his head and started to read again.

Catherine had caught the look of joy on his face and then it quickly vanished. She wondered what had brought about the change in him, but shrugged when he continued to read.

The children were lulled to sleep by his comforting voice and it wasn’t long before Mary came into the room carrying Amy, who was sound asleep.

She walked over and settled Amy into her crib, then turned around. “You two are miracle workers!”

Catherine shook her head and whispered. “It was fun. They didn’t eat much but they sure played hard.”

Mary nodded and smiled. “Good, they ate their dinner earlier. This was only a snack.”

“How’s Amy?” Vincent asked.

Mary frowned. “It’s as I expected. The poor little thing has an ear infection. Father’s sending for some antibiotics. She’ll be better in a few days.”

Sara walked in and took a look at the scene if front of her. “Wow, this isn’t what I expected to walk in on!”

Catherine chuckled. “After they scaled Mount Vincent for an hour, his reading put them right to sleep.”

Sara and Mary each came forward. “Vincent, be a dear and hand them to us.”

Vincent gently reached over and picked up a sleeping child. He handed Tommy to Mary and Cathy to Sara. By then, Catherine had stood as well and he handed her Luke. Catherine followed the other two women and laid Luke down in an empty crib.

Vincent stepped up behind her and looked at Mary. “Kanin said he or Olivia would be by first thing in the morning.”

Mary shook her head. “Not too early I hope. They should have a nice anniversary night together in their new home.”

Sara chuckled. “In their new bed!”

Vincent blushed and looked away while Catherine grinned. “Maybe Luke will get a brother or sister sooner than we thought.”

Mary blushed as well and shook her hands at the couple. “Okay, shoo you two. You’ve helped more than enough tonight. Perhaps it’s not too late for William to make you a nice meal.”

Thankful for the change in topic, Vincent turned to Catherine. “Are you hungry?”

She nodded. “I’m starved, how about you?”

He shrugged. “I could certainly go for something; I only had those few grapes.”

Sara laughed aloud as she held up the empty bowl. “Vincent, you had more than a few grapes ... ”

Catherine smiled. “Little Cathy was feeding you a lot ... ”

Mary patted his back and pushed him towards the door. “Well, he’s a growing boy, it won’t hurt him. Go now, before William says no ... ”

Catherine and Vincent left and went to the dining chamber. William fixed them each a plate and they enjoyed their time alone in the empty chamber talking about the different children Below.

Afterwards they went back to Vincent’s chamber and read to each other before Catherine yawned loudly.

Her eyes were watering when she smiled. “Excuse me!”

“Perhaps I should walk you home,” Vincent hinted.

“I am tired and I have to be up early tomorrow. I’m going out with my dad for breakfast.”

Vincent smiled warmly. “I’m glad ... you haven’t spoken much about him lately.”

Catherine sighed. “Since I started work at the DA’s office, I don’t see him as much as I used to. It seems like we keep growing further and further apart.”

“Then you must make every attempt not to let that happen.”

Catherine scooted to the end of the bed and bent to put on her shoes. “I know. That’s why tomorrow is so important to me. I’ll come by tomorrow afternoon if you like ... ”

Vincent lowered his head. “You’re always welcome here, Catherine, you know that, but I want you to take as much time with your father as you can.”

Catherine smiled ruefully. “Sometimes he’s as busy as I am. He has a concert to attend with his friend, Kay. It’s at 4:00 and he’ll need to get ready so I’ll leave by 1:00.”

“Then I’ll be here waiting for you. Perhaps we can have a picnic by the falls.”

“I’d like that.”

She reached for his hand and they turned and walked towards her threshold.

The next day, Catherine had a wonderful morning with her father and they promised to get together soon. She left and headed Below, and she and Vincent spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon reading by the falls.

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

Monday morning, Catherine was at work and frantically trying to build a case against a man accused of killing his wife. She was on the phone searching for verdicts in other cases when Joe unceremoniously dumped more files on her desk. She moaned in disbelief at Joe, as Josie in records continued to talk to her about past precedences regarding her current case.

Catherine continued to listen intently to Josie as she quickly glanced through the new files on her desk. As she opened each one, she looked briefly at the mug shot and then glanced at the name and crime they were accused of before she tossed it to the side. As she opened the last file, her heart skipped a beat when she came across a picture of Kanin. In disbelief, she quickly read that his real name was Kanin Evans and that he was arrested on DWI and manslaughter charges. There was a warrant out for his arrest. He had jumped bail sixteen years ago and was never seen again.

Catherine was pulled from her thoughts by Josie. “Cath, you still there?”

“Yeah, Josie, sorry. I heard all of that but I’m not sure it will help. Thanks though.”

Catherine set the receiver down and read through the rest of Kanin’s file. The case was being brought up again because the victim’s mother reported seeing Kanin in a hardware store. Catherine knew the address that was given. One of the helpers was the owner of the store and the men from Below often shopped there.

She sighed and sat back and stared at the picture of a much younger Kanin.  For over an hour, she debated about what to do. No closer to an answer, she decided to go talk to Kanin.

She grabbed her purse and headed out. “Joe, I’m checking on a lead. I’ll be back later.”

Joe was on the phone and waved his hand airily as he nodded.

 

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

Catherine went to the nearest entrance to the tunnels and headed Below.  As she walked through tunnels, she wondered if Vincent would come and find her and was almost relieved when he didn’t make an appearance. She walked into the library and Father looked up in surprise.

“Catherine?”

“Hi, Father.”

His face showed his confusion. “Vincent isn’t here right now. Was he supposed to meet you? It’s not like him to forget ... ”

Catherine interrupted. “No, Father, actually I need to see Kanin.”

Father stopped for a minute to think of where Kanin would be. “He’s on work detail in a new chamber.”

“Can you tell me where?”

“Well … just past the door leading to the Great Hall is a tunnel that curves to the left. Go down that tunnel about 200 yards and the chamber is on the right.”

Catherine nodded and smiled weakly. “Thanks, I’ll go try to catch up with him there.”

“Um ... Catherine? Is there something wrong?”

Catherine shook her head as she tried to hide her worry. “Not yet.”

Father watched her leave and wondered what on earth was bothering her. He shrugged and looked back down at the accounting ledger in front of him.

Catherine met up with the work crew on the Windy Staircase outside the Great Hall. She asked Kanin if she could speak to him and he led her into the Great Hall. She confronted him with the case file that had been dropped on her desk. Kanin told her how sorry he was that it had happened and how he had changed his life. He wondered what Catherine was going to do next and she told him it was all up to him to decide.

Vincent had sensed Catherine was Below and came to find her. He knocked on the doors of the Great Hall and they reluctantly let him in.

Sensing a great tension between the two friends, he eyed them curiously while Catherine stared at Kanin, then finally sighed. “I mean it, Kanin. It’s all up to you.”

Kanin grew nervous and started to pace. Finally, he threw up his arms in defeat. “I’ve got to get out of here.”

He flung open the door and ran from the room. Catherine thought about going after him but decided he should be alone and do some thinking on his own.

Vincent had closed the doors of the hall and walked up behind her. “Catherine?”

She looked up at him with such turmoil in her face he knew something was very wrong. He reached for her hand. “Come.” He led her to his chamber and put a lantern out in the tunnelway to indicate he was to be left alone. He turned to her and cocked his head. “Tell me.”

Catherine started to talk, stopped herself, shook her head and then tried once again with the same results.

Vincent walked over and stood in front of her. He reached for her hand and then led her over to the table. He motioned to the chairs beside the table. After they sat, he caressed his thumb over her hand. “It must be a difficult thing to say, I can feel your struggle.”

Catherine sighed and looked up at him. “I’m not sure if I have a right to tell you. It’s a personal matter regarding some information I found out about Kanin.”

Vincent frowned at her dilemma but was grateful she respected the rules that they governed themselves by. “Each of us Below is entitled to our privacy. As long as the information you’ve received cannot in any way be considered harmful to our society ... ”

She interrupted him. “That’s just it ... In a way, it could prove harmful. Kanin living here could be putting the community at risk.”

Vincent nodded, then cocked his head to the side. “Catherine, perhaps you should tell me. As a member of the council, I’ll decide what to do with the information. If it’s not our concern, I promise you it will go no further than this room.”

Catherine still looked undecided. “And if the news is harmful?”

“Then ... I’ll have no choice but to present the problem to Father, who will have to bring it up at a council meeting.”

Catherine nodded and looked down at her hands as she spoke. “I was given a file on an old case today. The mother of a victim thought she saw her son’s killer in a store. She called the police, they reopened the case, and it landed on my desk this morning.” Catherine stood up began to pace and laughed bitterly. “I was on the phone talking to a woman about another case and glancing through a stack of files Joe dumped on my desk. It was in the ast file I opened. I almost dropped the receiver when I realized the picture I was looking at was Kanin.”

Vincent’s head bowed as he let her words sink in. “What crime did he commit?”

“DWI Manslaughter ... sixteen years ago ... a woman and her child on their way home from the grocery store when they were in a head on collision. The little boy was killed. They driver of the other vehicle was Kanin Evans.”

Vincent knew Catherine would never have brought this to his attention if she wasn’t absolutely sure so he didn’t even bother to ask her if she was certain. “So you came Below to confront Kanin with the information?”

“Yes.”

“What did he say?”

She threw her arms up in exasperation. “What could he say? He’s lived with this his entire life. I know he’s sorry it happened but it still happened! When I was talking to him, I kept seeing the look in his eyes. He wouldn’t ask but he was begging me…can I just let this go?”

Vincent shook his head at the dilemma the two friends faced. “How much trouble is he in?”

“He killed someone! He jumped bail ... he hid out for sixteen years ... he was spotted and he ran again! If there’s a mistake he hasn’t made I don’t know what that is!”

Vincent sighed at the trouble his best friend found himself in. “Now he has a wife and a son, he’s begun a new life ... ”

Catherine was disgusted by the whole situation and ranted her anger. “Ten other desks in that office ... why did this have to land on mine?!”

Vincent looked at her pointedly. “So you can help him.”

Catherine shrugged dejectedly. “How ... how can reliving this help him?”

“By giving him a chance to go back and do things the right way.”

“Vincent, I don’t know if I have the right to ask him to do that.”

Vincent nodded knowingly. “Perhaps it is the job of the council to do that.”

“What do you mean?”

Vincent sighed and turned to face her. “Catherine, if what you are telling me is true, Kanin is a criminal. It goes against the rules that govern us to harbor a known fugitive. His very presence here affects the security we have within our community.”

“So you’re going to bring this to the council?”

“I have no choice.”

Catherine looked down with tear filled eyes. “Then maybe I was wrong in telling you. Maybe I should have kept the information to myself until Kanin has decided what he’s going to do.”

Vincent leaned over and once again took her hands in his. “Kanin knows the rules that we have established here. He should have come forward sooner.”

Catherine nodded and sniffled as she stood. “I have to get back to work.”

Vincent stood as well. “Catherine ... I need to speak to Father.”

“I can find my own way out.” She looked at him hesitantly. “Will I see you again?”

Vincent felt her uncertainty and pulled her into his arms. He held her close while she snuggled against him. When he went to pull away, she clung to him tighter and he wondered at her feelings of insecurity. He tightened his embrace and lowered his head to the side of hers.

“Catherine?” he asked worriedly.

After a few moments, Catherine took a deep breath. She stepped back and smiled weakly. “I’m okay,” she said then turned and left to go back Above.

Vincent frowned and made his way to the library.

 

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

Scanning the library, Vincent couldn’t see anyone. “Father?” he called out.

Father came from around a corner. “Vincent! Catherine was here earlier, I sent her down ... ”

Vincent interrupted. “I’ve seen Catherine.”

“Good.” Father walked over to his table and sat. Vincent sat down and lowered his head. Father noticed his son’s dejected demeanor and sighed. “I’m afraid to ask ... Tell me ... what news have you discovered about Kanin?”

Vincent’s head shot up. “How did you know?”

Father waved his hand airily and interrupted him. “Catherine came down and asked where Kanin was. I am smart enough to know that her visiting in the middle of a work day is not the norm and her asking to see a member of the community instead of you is even more curious. Now stop stalling and tell me ... ”

“Today, Catherine received a file on a case in which a young boy had been killed. It has remained unsolved for sixteen years. It was reopened recently because the victim’s mother spotted her son’s killer in a hardware store.”

Father frowned worriedly. “What does this have to do with Kanin?”

“Kanin is wanted for that crime. There’s a warrant out for his arrest.”

“That’s preposterous! Kanin would never kill a child!”

“The Kanin you knew wouldn’t. But the Kanin that was arrested back then was charged with a DWI and manslaughter.”

“Driving while intoxicated?! That’s ridiculous, Kanin doesn’t drink!” Father reminded Vincent.

“Not any more, but perhaps he did at one time.”

Father was unwilling to believe it. “Vincent, is Catherine sure?” Vincent looked up at him pointedly and Father answered his own question. “What am I saying, of course she’s sure or she wouldn’t have come down here ... ”

Vincent nodded his head. “What path do we take now?”

“Because it’s Kanin ... I’m willing to give him some time to come forward. He’ll know that Catherine will have told you. Let’s give him some time to come to terms with everything.”

“Knowing what the rules of our world govern you to do, I want to say that it’s generous of you to take into account everyone’s feelings, Father.”

“Yes, well ... I can only hope it doesn’t come back to haunt me.”

 

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

The next day, Catherine pushed aside several phone messages from Mrs. Davis. She felt guilty that her loyalties were with Kanin and she couldn’t bring herself to talk to the victim’s mother just yet.

Finally, in the afternoon, the woman came to see her. Catherine argued that she had just gotten the case and she hadn’t had time to do anything with it. Joe told Catherine to talk to the mother for a minute and that he would come in and rescue her.

Catherine hadn’t prepared herself to feel such sympathy for the Mrs. Davis’ plight. She could see the woman was still upset and she sat with her for a long while. Finally, she had calmed her down and sent her on her way.

The situation replayed itself in her mind the entire day and Catherine felt in a constant state of turmoil.

Vincent was drawn to the balcony and he sat patiently while he listened to Catherine’s turbulent thoughts. She ranted that she had no idea how she was supposed to act in regards to the case. He finally told her that perhaps it was her job to make it possible for these two people to finally be released from their burden. He promised her that Father and he would talk to Kanin about turning himself in to the authorities.

 

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

Vincent headed back Below and sighed when he heard a message come over the pipes. He changed direction and headed to the library.

“What’s the meaning of this, Father?” William demanded.

Mary frowned. “William, if you are just patient I am sure Father will be forthcoming with his information.

Vincent overheard their exchange as he walked into the room. Mary and William were sitting at a table with Father. He turned when he realized Mouse and John were waiting behind him to enter. The three walked in and took seats at the table as well.

Everyone looked at one another nervously. Father didn’t call council meetings unless something important came up.

Finally, Father cleared his throat and began. “It’s late and I won’t beat around the bush. It’s been brought to my attention that one of the members of our community has a warrant out for his arrest. His crime was committed years ago, but this person was recently spotted when he was Above a few days ago. His case has been reopened and the authorities are currently looking for him.”

Mary gasped. “So if this person is being watched Above, he could inadvertently lead the authorities Below?”

Father grimaced. “Hence the reason I feel I need to remind you of the rules that govern us.”

John leaned forward curiously. “Who is it, Father?”

Father glanced at Vincent, who shook his head and then looked at the group. “If it’s possible, Father and I would like a chance to talk to this person before we disclose the identity.”

Mouse rolled his eyes. “Long talk if Father goes.” He looked up worriedly as he realized he had said his comment aloud.

Father smiled weakly. “Yes, Mouse, I know I can be a bit long winded sometimes. I will try to keep it short.”

William scowled. “If this person has committed a crime, perhaps we should just send him or her back Above and not take the chance they’ll be caught. It’s the same scenario we had with Paracelsus ... we never stopped twice to think about making him stop his activities. This criminal should turn themselves in!”

Vincent sighed. “It’s not that simple, William. Can you give Father and I until the morning?”

Mary touched his arm. “Of course, dear. We all trust that you and Father have the community’s best interest at heart.”

Father looked at each member who nodded their agreement. “Thank you, all of you. If a solution is not found soon, the council will have to meet again to decide what actions to take.”

The other members left and Vincent cocked his head and looked thoughtfully at Father. “I’m surprised you told them.”

“I had to, Vincent. There voice is as important as mine. I have no right to keep this information to myself. They’ve given me their trust and I won’t let them down.”

Vincent nodded and then stood. “I suppose we should see Kanin now.”

“It can wait until morning. Let everyone get a good night’s sleep.”

Vincent nodded.  “Goodnight, Father.”

“Goodnight, Vincent.”

Vincent turned and headed to his chamber.

 

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

The next morning, Father and Vincent walked into Kanin’s new chamber. Olivia was there and rocking in a chair with Luke. She smiled up at the two men. “Father, Vincent ... ”

Father smiled. “We didn’t mean to disturb you but we needed to speak to Kanin.”

“He’s in the bathing chamber. He should be back soon.”

Just as Olivia spoke, Kanin walked in with a wet towel in his hands, His hair slicked back and damp. “I’m back now.” He looked at Father then at Vincent. Vincent turned his head and looked away and Kanin knew exactly what it was the two men wanted.

Unknown to him, Mouse was silently observing the men walking through the tunnels and followed them. He waited until they passed and then silently crept behind them. He hovered outside of Kanin’s chamber door and eavesdropped.

Kanin expelled a long breath. “Let’s get to the point ... ”

Father nodded. “All right, in light of the recent news that has surfaced about your past, we felt the need to speak with you.”

“I had hoped otherwise.”

Vincent leaned forward. “You didn’t think Catherine would keep such important information from me?”

Kanin shook his head somberly. “No. I knew she would tell you. Olivia would have told me. I guess I just would’ve kept it to myself for awhile longer,” he accused.

Father’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “You’re not blaming Catherine and Vincent for this?!”

“No, not Catherine.”

Stunned, Vincent sat back in his chair and looked down at his hands. He wrestled with his feelings of loyalty to the community and loyalty to Kanin. He wondered if he did the right thing by telling Father. Kanin was now blaming him for bringing the information out in the open.

Father looked at Kanin angrily. “It is the job of any council member to bring information that they feel could prove detrimental to the community. Your past is unfortunately a circumstance that cannot be overlooked!”

“Why?”

“Because your visits Above put this community in danger!”

“I won’t go Above anymore. We’ll send someone else when we need tools.”

Father shook his head. “That is not the point! I’m sorry, Kanin. You know what the rules are as well as any one else.”

Vincent looked up at his friend. “No one but Father and I know about what’s happened.”

Mouse frowned as he slipped unnoticed from the room and headed to John’s. He never heard Kanin explode in anger about the fact that he could not expect to get a fair trial if he went back Above because he couldn’t explain where he’d been for the past sixteen years.

Father and Vincent listened patiently, then left Kanin and Olivia alone to make their decision.

Olivia insisted on staying together and they began to pack their personal belongings to leave the tunnels.

 

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

John had worked sentry duty all night and was just waking up when Mouse came bounding into the room. He shot up in bed and scowled at Mouse.

“Damn it, Mouse! You scared the crap out of me!”

“Sorry! Had to ... heard stuff!”

John swiped at his eyes trying to wake up fully. “What stuff?”

“Father and Vincent talking ... ”

John interrupted angrily. “Mouse! You know you’re not supposed to eavesdrop!” He looked up at the extremely agitated Mouse and sighed. “All right, what did you hear?”

“Told Kanin he had to leave ... ”

Confused, John shook his head. “What?” Instantly, it dawned on him what this whole thing was about. “It’s Kanin. The person Father spoke of earlier ... it’s Kanin, he’s the person who committed the crime.”

Mouse shook his head. “Can’t be.”

“Mouse, all of us have something in our past we keep hidden.”

“Not Mouse! Can’t make Kanin leave!”

John nodded as he got up and quickly changed clothes. “I think we should tell Mary and William.”

Mouse cringed. “William loud ... you go. I tell Mary.”

“Okay, you tell Mary and have her come to the kitchen. We’ll talk to both of them together.”

Mouse took off and ran to Mary’s.

Mary was rocking in a chair while she was crocheting. Learning from his mistake with John, he walked in slowly.

“Mary?”

Mary looked up and smiled, then looked at him curiously as she realized Mouse never came to visit with her. “Mouse! What a surprise! Is something wrong dear?”

Mouse nodded. “You come ... we talk ... in kitchen.”

Mary knew Mouse’s vocabulary was limited and that there must be some type of important meeting in the kitchen. “Certainly, Mouse,” she said as she stood up to follow him.

Mouse took off and Mary followed as quickly as she could. Mouse got ahead of her and she walked in to find William and John in the room as well.

“Oh, dear, I’m guessing this isn’t good,” she said.

John frowned. “No, Mary it’s not.”

William grumbled. “Well, we’re all here now, spill it.”

John sat down. “Mouse was eavesdropping and overheard Vincent and Father telling Kanin he needed to make a decision by morning. I think Kanin is the person Father spoke of earlier.”

Mary was about to reprimand Mouse but fell instantly silent.

“That’s insane! Kanin is not a criminal!” William blurted out.

John cocked his head to the side. “We don’t know that ... but I don’t think I even care. Whoever Kanin was before, he’s not that person now.”

William folded his arms over his immense stomach. “I agree! I say we go right now and tell Father and Vincent we think Kanin should be allowed to stay.”

Mary held up her hand in a gesture reminiscent of Father. “Let’s settle down for a minute. We’re forgetting the fact that Father chose to keep the person’s identity from us to give that person time to make his own decision. Now, we’ve gotten this information through less than honest means,” she said as she frowned at Mouse. “If it proves to be true we can all go to Father together and plead Kanin’s case but until we know for sure ... ”

John calmed down in the face of Mary’s reasoning. “All right, I agree with you.”

Mouse looked at William, who grumbled, “I guess a few more hours won’t make a difference.”

Mouse shrugged. “Okay ... good. Okay ... fine.”

John tapped Mouse on the chest. “Mouse and I will go talk to Kanin and see what he’s thinking. I want to let him know that we will be defending him at the council hearing.”

Mouse and John walked through the tunnels and walked in on Olivia and Kanin packing up their few belongings.

Kanin whirled around to look at them. “You guys need something?”

“No,” John said. “We thought we’d stop in and see if you needed anything.”

Kanin’s face fell. “You know ... ”

John shook his head. “We found out accidentally. We wanted to offer our support.”

Olivia, still reeling from their talk with Father, looked at them angrily. “No, we’re leaving here!”

Kanin was surprised at her vehemence. “Livie!”

“I’m sorry, Kanin. We’re not staying where we’re not wanted.”

Mouse kicked dust at his feet. “Not right ... too many rules anyway!”

Kanin started packing again. “We’re kind of in a hurry.”

John tapped on Mouse’s shoulder. “We’re leaving. You take care now ... ”

Once in the tunnels, John turned to Mouse. “Run and get Mary, I’ll get William. We’re going to talk to Father right now.”

 

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

Father and Vincent were meeting in the library, discussing the gravity of the situation, when John, William, Mouse, and Mary came into the room.

Vincent was overheard saying, “We can’t ask Catherine to lie.”

William interrupted angrily. “Why not?”

Mary looked to Vincent. “We may have to, Vincent.”

John added. “Or maybe we can just feed Kanin to the wolves.”

Father got angry. “No one is going to feed Kanin to the wolves!”

“Not being friend!” Mouse said.

Father shook his head. “But our rules state quite clearly ... ”

John angrily interrupted. “Our rules don’t apply here, Father!”

William agreed. “Or we have to change them ... ”

 “Or make an exception,” Mary added.

“We can’t do that. This particular rule is a fundamental principal to our world. It speaks to the trust we are able to have in each other, our very security.

Vincent piped in. “We should wait for Kanin’s decision.”

Catherine walked up in time to overhear William spout angrily. “A decision’s been made!”  

Mary saw the look of surprise on Father’s face and quickly enlightened him. “They’re going.”

“Kanin’s leaving. He and Olivia are packing!” John said.

“They’re not serious!” Father exclaimed, clearly distraught over Kanin’s decision.

John looked at him angrily. “Are you forgetting what Kanin’s meant to us?!”

“No, I am not forgetting! Unfortunately, what Kanin has done for us is not the point!” Father argued.

“What the hell is?!” John exploded.

“Father, Kanin is no more a criminal that you or I!” Mary reminded him.

“It’s not going to help anybody for Kanin to turn himself in ... ” William pointed out.

Catherine had been hovering in the tunnel way, not only debating whether she should intrude but lamenting having caused this turmoil. At William’s comment, her anger boiled and she walked into the room. “It’ll help the mother ... A woman up there is being destroyed by all of this!”

John scowled. “By her own vengeance!”

“That’s not true!” Catherine argued.

William turned from her. “People! We’re talking about Kanin here! We don’t even know this ... mother!” he spat disgustedly.

Vincent responded. “Does justice belong only to the people we know?”

“No, we’re saying the mother has friends top side and Kanin doesn’t!” William blasted as he looked at Catherine accusingly.

“I am his friend!” Catherine declared.

“Then let him go ... ” Mouse said simply and looked up at her hopefully.

Catherine could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on her. She looked at each of them and saw hope that she would drop the case. Only in Father’s eyes did she find a level of acceptance. She looked finally to Vincent and saw that he was in just as much turmoil as everyone else, but she knew that no matter what happened, he would support her either way. Tears filled her eyes as the frustration with the situation overwhelmed her once again.

Father knew what it was like to make an unpopular decision and he knew exactly how alone Catherine was feeling right now. He instantly came to her defense. “You’re all being extremely unfair to Catherine!” he exploded angrily. “You all know that whether Catherine lets him go or not is not the issue here. Kanin still has to abide by the rules established by the founding members of this community!”

Vincent walked to Catherine’s side and took her hand as he helped her down the steps. He squeezed it lightly before he released it. 

Mary stepped forward in front of Catherine. “Dear Catherine, please don’t take it personally. It’s times like this when no one wants to serve on the council. I’m sorry we put you in an awkward position.”

Catherine smiled weakly and looked down. “Thank you, Mary.”

“Mouse too!”

Catherine looked up at Mouse, then at William, and finally John. Everyone’s face seemed to show remorse and Catherine nodded and accepted their apologies.

Vincent sighed. “I’ll go speak to Kanin again.”

He left the room and the others filtered out after him and went back to their various duties.

Father came up beside Catherine and put his arm around her. “Come, Catherine. Have some tea while we wait.”

Catherine followed him and sat down. Father poured them both tea and Catherine sipped at hers slowly.

Father cocked his head knowingly as he looked at her. “I know too well how unpopular some decisions can be. It’s often hardest on the person who has to stand by those tough decisions.”

Catherine smiled gratefully. “Thank you for understanding. I’m not sure everyone else did.”

Father chuckled. “It seems like that now, when tempers are flaring, but they’ll come around. They’ll see that you had only the best interests of everyone involved.”

Catherine thought of the turmoil she clearly saw in Vincent’s eyes. She knew that he considered Kanin one of his best friends. She wondered if he was struggling to stand by her decision and with a sigh spoke honestly. “I’m only worried about the opinion of one.”

Father stated knowingly. “My dear, Vincent always tried to remain neutral during our council sessions. He knows that your solution is the best for everyone but he also knows how painful it will be for Kanin and Olivia and even little Luke. In the end, you’ll see, Vincent will have persuaded Kanin to turn himself in and leave Olivia and Luke here and safe with the only family she has ever known.”

“It’s not going to be easy.”

“Vincent is up to the challenge. Olivia and he grew up together. He’ll be able to help her make the transition.”

Father asked pointed questions about what Catherine thought would happen to Kanin, while Vincent convinced Kanin to turn himself in.

Kanin fought against it but in the end, it was Luke who decided. He woke up from his nap crying and pulling at his ears. He had a high fever and Olivia was beside herself with worry.

She was bundling him up in a blanket when she said distractedly over her shoulder. “Thank goodness Father is always so close. How many people do you know have a doctor down the hallway? I’d be lost without him and Mary!”

She ran from the room with Luke in her arms while Kanin sat down heavily in a chair. “I can’t take them with me. Olivia and Luke ... it’s no life for them on the run.”

“Not for you either,” Vincent pointed out.

Kanin sighed and threw his head back and looked at the ceiling. Over a half an hour passed while he made the decision. Finally, he looked over at Vincent. “All right, I’ll do it. I don’t know how I’ll find the strength, but I’ll do it.”

Vincent came over and put his hand on Kanin’s shoulder. “Catherine will help you Kanin. You must believe that. Remember this, while she stands beside you, it’ll be like I’m there with you.”

Kanin expelled a long breath and then looked up at Vincent and smiled weakly. “I’ll remember.”

Olivia came into the room with a sleeping Luke and laid him in his crib. She turned around and looked at Kanin. “He has an ear infection. Father gave me some medicine for him.” She looked at Vincent angrily. “Catherine said she would wait for you in your chamber.”

Vincent sighed in frustration at her anger. He looked to Kanin, who imperceptibly shook his head. Vincent took the hint to leave it alone for now. “I’ll leave you two alone.”

He left the room and Kanin told Olivia of his decision to turn himself in to the authorities. She fought against it but in the end realized Kanin was right. Alone, they would never be able to care for Luke in a world she never even lived in.

Mary stood tentatively in their doorway. “I’ve brought Luke’s medicine.”

Kanin smiled and took it from her. “Thank you, Mary. Would it be possible for you to sit with Luke while Olivia and I go speak to Catherine? I’m turning myself in ... I can’t put the people I love in jeopardy.”

Mary nodded. “Of course, I’ll be here for Luke and Olivia whenever they need me.”

Kanin nodded and hugged Mary goodbye, then he and Olivia made their way to Vincent’s chamber.

Catherine was sitting on the bed looking down at the floor. Vincent was on the bed next to her with his arm around her, trying to offer comfort.

Kanin walked in and cleared his throat. Vincent and Catherine both looked up. Catherine’s eyes were filled with tears. Olivia saw how distraught she was and some of her anger faded.

Vincent stood and motioned to the chairs at his table. “Kanin, Olivia, please sit.”

Olivia waited to seat herself beside Kanin. Vincent sat as well and looked curiously over at Catherine. She continued to sit on the bed, feeling very much like an outsider.

Kanin held his hands tightly closed in front of him and cleared his throat. “Catherine? How do I turn myself in?”

Catherine swiped at the tears on her face as she stood and walked over to the table. She sat down as well and quickly slipped into lawyer mode. “I’ll help you with that,” she said, her voice filled with emotion. “We can go together to the police station. You’ll be arrested and processed into the system.”

Kanin expelled a long breath. “And then given a court appointed lawyer ... ”

“No!” Catherine interrupted. “I can’t represent you myself because it would be a conflict of interest but more importantly…”

“It would draw unnecessary attention to us.” Kanin interrupted.

Catherine smiled weakly, grateful he understood. “I have, however, retained a lawyer for you. He’s a friend of mine and I briefed him a couple days ago. I’ll make sure he meets with you tomorrow.”

Olivia looked confused. “What exactly does retained a lawyer mean?”

Kanin smiled at her innocence. “It means that Catherine has paid for a lawyer to represent me. I’ll have someone that actually works for me instead of someone hired by the state who doesn’t care whether I sit in jail or not.”

Olivia let the news sink in then asked another question. “How will we pay her back, Kanin?”

“You won’t! I never asked to be reimbursed.” Catherine stated flatly.

Kanin shook his head as he struggled with accepting her gift. “I don’t know how to thank you!”

Catherine sighed. “Be a model prisoner and you’ll get out sooner.”

Kanin’s face fell. “How long do you think ... ”

Catherine shook her head as she shrugged. “I wish I could say ... there are so many factors. I do know that your lawyer, my friend Paul, is one of the best in the state. He’ll do everything he can to get a reduced sentence.”

“Will I ever get to see him?” Olivia asked with tears in her eyes.

Catherine reached over and took her hand. “Not here but if you’ll let me take you, we could visit him as often as you like. We could even bring Luke with us!”

Kanin shook his head. “I don’t want my son to see me in a cage.”

Catherine nodded. “I know. In the beginning, it will be harder but once you prove yourself to the prison, I can probably get certain privileges awarded. I’ll do my best to see you get a regular room to visit in.”

Kanin and Olivia looked at one another. They seemed to reach the same understanding.

Kanin stood up. “Let’s go then. The sooner I leave the sooner I get back.”

Olivia stood and flew into his arms. Kanin hugged her fiercely as she cried. He looked at Vincent for help, then gently pushed Olivia into Vincent’s waiting arms.

Olivia sobbed harder and Catherine took Kanin’s hand and led him from the room.

 

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

That afternoon, Kanin was processed into the system. Mrs. Davis came and met him face to face for the first time. They talked briefly and as she left she reached her hand out to Kanin in a gesture of forgiveness but stopped herself just short of actually making it.

Once she left, Kanin collapsed into a chair and ran his hands through his hair. “That was ... ”

“Easier than you thought?” Catherine supplied.

Kanin nodded. “I thought for a second that she was going to forgive me.”

“I agree. That’s a good start.”

A knock sounded on the door and both of them turned to see a man enter the room.

“Hi, Paul!” Catherine smiled.

He set his briefcase down on the desk and took out a legal pad to take notes on. “Hey, Cath, good to see you again. How’s your dad doing?”

“Good! It’s kind of ironic; we were just talking about you and your mom the other day.”

Paul laughed. “And a few days later you were calling me up, is that karma or what?”

Catherine sighed. “Unfortunately.”

Paul nodded with understanding at Catherine and then turned to Kanin. “Mr. Evans, I’m Paul Ludwig. Miss Chandler has retained me to represent you.”

The two men shook hands as Kanin nodded. “Catherine told me she hired you.”

“And per her request, that’s the last time we will speak of it.” Paul clicked his pen and grabbed his paper. “Okay, I’m not one to beat around the bush so lay it on the line ... what the hell happened to you?”

Kanin shook his head as he shrugged. “I was young ... I got scared. The attorney they appointed to me painted a picture of doom and gloom. He wouldn’t listen to a thing I said. Finally, I was so overwhelmed, I ran.”

“So it was your attorney’s fault?” Paul asked.

Kanin frowned. “No, that’s not what I meant at all. I ran because I was scared. I couldn’t face those parents in a court room and tell them I killed their son.”

Paul seemed pleased with his answer. “Good! How many beers did you have that night?”

Kanin sighed. “Four maybe five ... ”

Paul glanced at the old toxicology report and was glad to see that Kanin’s memory was not distorted. The medical reports all backed up what Kanin said.

“Okay, where have you been for the last sixteen years?”

Kanin looked worriedly at Catherine but didn’t answer.

Paul’s eyebrows rose in surprise as he looked pointedly at Catherine. “Cath, what’s going on?”

Catherine took a deep breath. “Paul, Kanin’s kept a very low profile lifestyle. He worked odd jobs over the years, mostly for room and board.”

Paul frowned and wrote some notes. “Any family or friends that will be a character witness for you? Tell the judge or jury what an outstanding citizen you are?”

Catherine nodded. “I’ll vouch for him!”

Paul frowned. “Not a good idea with the position you held in this case. It’ll still be seen as a conflict of interest.”

“I have a wife and a 10 month old son ... ”

“Well, the 10 month old won’t be much help. How long have you been married?”

Kanin cringed and Catherine leaned forward. “Kanin is not legally married.”

Paul sighed. “Okay ... well ... give me some time. Bond probably won’t be set because you fled last time ... you’re a risk.”

“I understand.”

Paul stood and looked pointedly down one last time at Kanin. “How bad do you want me to get you out of this?”

Kanin looked at him then looked down at his hands. It took a moment before he answered. Paul could hear his voice thick with emotion. “You can’t get me out of this. Every day of my life, I live with the knowledge that I killed a young boy. No matter how much time I serve behind bars, that fact will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Paul smiled at Catherine, then leaned over and extended his hand. “You repeat that statement on the witness stand and we’ve got our defense.”

Kanin looked up in surprise. He shook hands with Paul, who promised to keep in touch with him and Catherine before he left the room.

Kanin sighed and leaned back in his chair. “What now?”

Catherine frowned. “You’ll go to the tombs ... ” At the look of confusion on his face she clarified. “Sorry ... I mean prison. It won’t be your permanent one yet, that won’t get assigned until after the hearing. Paul’s right, bond probably won’t get set but if it does, it will be an astronomical amount.”

“So, I’ll be sitting for a few months in this cell ... ”

Catherine narrowed her eyes thoughtfully and stared at him. “No, I’ll post it.”

Kanin’s jaw dropped in shock. “Aren’t you worried I’ll skip?”

“No. You’d never leave Olivia and Luke behind, besides that I trust you. You’re doing the right thing.”

An officer knocked and came into the room. “Hey, Cathy.”

Catherine smiled. “Hi, Bart.” She nodded to Kanin. “Do me a favor? This one’s a friend of mine ... can you put him in a special cell?”

Bart nodded. “You got it! I’ll have Steve give him the one nearest the desk.” He looked at Kanin. “Let’s go.”

Kanin stood and Catherine came over and offered him a hug. “If you need anything, tell the officer on duty. He’ll get a hold of me.”

“Catherine ... thank you.”

“Take care, Kanin.”

 

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

That night, Catherine sat alone in her apartment. She knew Vincent would come to her and she patiently waited for it to get dark enough. She smiled when she heard the light footfall on her balcony through the open doors.

She smiled at him as he stood in her doorway. She walked over and went straight into his arms and they instantly closed around her as he offered his comfort.

Vincent could feel her exhaustion mixed with relief. After a few moments, his curiosity got the better of him. “Did it go well?” he whispered in her ear.

“I think so ... the attorney met with him. Paul’s an old friend of the family. He’ll work harder than most to get Kanin a reduced sentence.”

“Father said jail is a hard place to be.”

“I have friends on the prison staff. They promised to take care of him for me. He’ll be all right.”

Vincent showed her the book they’d been reading. “Can you sit for a while?”

“I would love to sit for a while!”

They settled down on the floor and leaned back against the wall of the balcony. Vincent opened the book and began to read. Catherine slowly melted against him and closed her eyes. She let his words flow through and soon enough she was totally relaxed.

Vincent smiled inwardly, grateful that she seemed at peace again. It had been a rough few days and the turmoil Catherine had been in had played itself out through the bond.

After he told her how she had enabled the burden to be lifted off of everyone, he continued to read. Several chapters later, he felt Catherine fall into a deep sleep.

He allowed himself to nuzzle her hair with his nose, breathing in her scent; he lifted his face and gently kissed the top of her head. Stunned at his boldness, he sat motionless, afraid that she would awaken and move away.

Quite the opposite happened, in her sleep, Catherine snuggled closer to him and he gently lifted his arm and let her settle against his chest. His arm slipped around her and he held her close as he pulled the blanket up to her chin.

An hour passed and he became aware of the chill in the air. He knew the dampness would not be good for either of them.

“Catherine,” he whispered. She made no move so he leaned in and touched his nose to her cheek. “Catherine?”

“Hmmmmm ... ”

“It’s cold ... you should be inside ... ”

Catherine moaned and turned her head into his chest. “I wish ... ”

She stopped and Vincent cocked his head. “What, Catherine? What do you wish?”

Catherine woke up further and blinked her eyes. She wanted to tell him she wished he would come inside and lay with her but she knew she didn’t dare. She smiled as she shook her head. “I wish I knew how this was going to turn out with Kanin ... ”

Vincent wondered if that was truly what she was going to say but instead her turned and helped her to her feet. “We’ll know soon enough.”

Catherine stretched and Vincent looked away as her nightgown tightened across her chest. “I should go.”

Catherine walked into his arms. “I’ll see you soon?”

Vincent nodded shyly. “Yes.”

Catherine watched as he slipped over the ledge, then turned into her apartment.

 

The End