BETWEEN THE LINES
SEASON 2

 

I’M HERE ... ALWAYS
ELEVENTH IN THE SERIES BY KATHY DE

 

Vincent stood on the balcony and waited for Catherine to come home. Each night for the past two weeks, he and Catherine had met either on her balcony or Below in his chamber.

Catherine had been working side by side with Kanin’s lawyer to prepare the best defense they could. She also visited Kanin at least every other day and started delivering messages back and forth between he and Olivia. She had given a tape recorder to Kanin so he could record his voice while he read books. They hoped that by playing Luke tapes of Kanin talking and reading to him, he would remember his voice and not be so afraid when he saw him again. Catherine also took a picture of Kanin and had it developed and framed. Olivia promised to show Luke the picture every day and play the tape every night.

Vincent knew it was later than usual for Catherine to come home but he was unwilling to pass up the opportunity to spend even the briefest time with her, so he sat down on the floor of the balcony to patiently wait. He put his head back and stared at the stars twinkling in the sky.

At the sound of the click of the key in the door, he stood immediately to see Catherine come in carrying a heavy tote bag in addition to her regular bag. She dropped it unceremoniously on the chair and headed straight to the balcony.

Flinging open the door, she walked into his arms. “I’m sorry I’m late,” she said as his arms slipped around her. “Traffic was a nightmare!”

“I’ve only just arrived myself, Catherine. I worked a double turn at sentry duty.”

Knowing sentry duty was normally an 8 hour shift, Catherine stepped back and frowned curiously, “Why did you have to work a second shift?”

“With Kanin missing, we’ve had to cover for his loss. I’ve been working extra hours chiseling out some much needed chambers and it was my turn to work sentry duty. Mouse was so tired I volunteered to work his as well.”

“You must be exhausted!”

“I am tired, but I promised Olivia I would see if there was a letter from Kanin.”

Catherine sighed. “I was so busy today I never got to see him. I’m sorry… I promise I’ll go tomorrow and bring anything he may have for her.” Catherine spotted the book in his hand. “You’re so tired, I’m surprised you want to read.”

Vincent cocked his head shyly and smiled as he shrugged. “I want to spend some time with you.”

Catherine grinned and stepped back inside to grab the ever present blankets piled by the door. “Here! Set this up and let me change out of this skirt. I’ll be right out.”

She turned and left while Vincent spread the blanket out on the ground in front of the wall, then settled down on it and leaned back against the wall.

Catherine came out quickly and smiled at him. She had picked up some huge pillows the other day at the department store and stood there holding them in her arms. Vincent raised his eyebrows in surprise, then took them from her and laid them against the wall. Catherine settled down next to him and leaned against a pillow. She grabbed the second blanket, covered their legs, then took the book from his hands. She read the spine and nodded. “Good choice, why don’t you sit back and relax and I’ll read tonight.”

Vincent looked at her gratefully and nodded. He leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes as she began to read.

Catherine glanced up at him and stopped reading. “You look uncomfortable.”

Vincent sighed as he shrugged. “No … I’m … it's fine.”

“Why don’t you scoot down a little and lean your head against my shoulder.” He looked at her uncertainly and she prompted him again. “My shoulder is way more comfortable than that wall! Besides, I’ve used your shoulder plenty of times ... ”

Vincent was so tired he couldn’t even argue. He scooted down and got as comfortable as he could. His legs extended out past the blanket and Catherine made a mental note to look for a longer blanket.

She began to read again and could see Vincent slowly begin to relax. Within five chapters, she looked over and thought he was asleep. She scooted herself lower on the blanket and lay propped up on the pillow, the book settled against her chest. Vincent hadn’t stirred but she kept on reading. Two chapters later, she felt her eyes closing and shook herself awake. A page and a half later, Catherine fell asleep as well.

Sometime during the night, Vincent pulled her closer and held her protectively in his arms as they slept.

Six hours later, dawn was just starting to break.

Catherine woke slowly. She relished the feeling of being in Vincent’s arms and smiled at her wonderful dream. She frowned when she felt drops of water hitting her face and couldn’t figure out why. Her eyes blinked open and she realized it was raining. “It’s only rain,” she thought as her eyes drifted closed again.

A few seconds later her mind registered what was happening. She shot up and rubbed at her face. Realizing that they had both fallen asleep and that it was way past time for Vincent to leave, she turned and shook him frantically.

“Vincent! Wake up!” He didn’t stir and she tried again. “Vincent!” His eyes shot open and he looked at her in confusion. “We fell asleep! You need to go!”

He was instantly awake and trying to get out of the blankets. “Catherine ... I’m ... ”

“Look how light it is! Just go! ”

Vincent frowned and was gone within seconds over the side.

Catherine gathered the blankets and pillows and then walked inside and looked at the clock. “5:15 ... maybe it's still early enough and he won’t be seen.”

She could smell his scent on the pillow as she took a deep breath and sighed. She tossed the pillows on her bed, then worriedly ran to her closet and put on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt and headed Below.

Vincent was in the tunnels when he sensed her presence. He had come in at the entrance not far from the threshold and turned around and headed to meet her there.

Catherine was starting to make the walk towards the home chambers.

”Catherine!”

She turned at his voice and expelled a long breath. “Thank God you’re safe!”

“I wasn’t seen. A half hour later however ... ” His voice trailed off.

Catherine reached out to touch his arm. “I am so sorry! I can’t believe I fell asleep.”

“I fell asleep too ... The fault is mine.”

“I knew you were exhausted. I should have insisted you head Below. If I wasn’t so selfish ... ”

“Catherine! You are the most unselfish person I know.”

She frowned and began to shake her head. “I just wanted to spend some time with you. When you fell asleep, I should have stayed awake and woke you. Instead ... I ... I guess I got so warm and comfortable I fell asleep. If the rain hadn’t come, we’d still be there ... ” Vincent’s silence puzzled her and she looked at him curiously. “What is it?”

“I need to send a message; Father will be getting frantic by now.”

Catherine listened as he tapped out the message then heard a reply.

Vincent looked down sadly. “I should go.”

“Yeah, I need to get ready for work. Maybe I should stay home tonight and let you get some rest?” She saw the look of disappointment flash across his face before he looked down to hide it. “Or … do you think I can I come Below tonight?” she asked timidly.

Vincent chuckled as he reached for her hand. “You should try and make it for dinner.”

Catherine smiled that she had guessed his mood correctly. “William must be sick of feeding me by now!”

“William loves to cook for you. He said he’s never seen anyone enjoy his cooking more than you.”

Catherine stepped forward and Vincent hugged her briefly. She walked to her ladder then turned back.

“Vincent?”

“Hmmm?”

“I loved waking up in your arms this morning. It was a dream come true for me.”Catherine smiled coyly as she felt his shock over the bond. Feeling smug, she turned and headed up the ladder.

“For me too,” Vincent mumbled. Her words playing over and over in his mind, he barely remembered the walk back to his chamber.

 

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

 
Vincent walked into his chamber and lit a candle. It was no sooner than he sat on the edge of his bed that he heard Father entering his chamber.

“Have you been out all night?!”

“It would appear that way, Father.”

“How irresponsible could you be?! For God’s sake it’s almost daylight up there! You could have been caught ... you could have ... ”

“Father!” Vincent blurted out angrily, interrupting his tirade. “I’ve heard this same speech a thousand times since the age of ten years old.”

“Well, then you would think that some twenty odd years later it would have some type of an impact on your decision making process! But did it?! No! You chose to stay out way past the time it was safe for you to return, again!”

Vincent rolled his eyes. “I know, Father! I fell asleep at Catherine’s.”

“What?!” Father exploded. “I didn’t realize your relationship had gone that far! What could you be thinking? Is Catherine unharmed?”

Vincent realized what he thought and nodded his head before he sighed and looked down at the floor. “Yes, she’s fine. And our relationship ... hasn’t gone that far ... ” He sat down heavily on the end of the bed. “We were sitting on her balcony. Catherine was reading from a book and I fell asleep. She doesn’t remember falling asleep but she did. She woke to rain drops falling on her face and then immediately woke me.”

Father frowned and looked away. He noticed how dejected Vincent was and was loathe to bring it up again. “Allowing yourself to get this close to her is like playing with fire, Vincent.”

“I know! Every night I come back from being with her and have to remind myself of what can never be. But, Father, I will continue the struggle for however long Catherine will stay in my life. She is my life ... without her ... ”

His voice trailed off and Father was immediately contrite. “I’m sorry, Vincent. I know how much you love her. I can only imagine how painful this is for you ... ”

“It’s a pain worth enduring.”

Father came over and kissed the top of Vincent’s head. “Rest now. Whatever small amount of sleep you were able to get certainly wasn’t enough. I’ll handle the children’s Math class this morning ... fractions ... isn’t it?” Vincent nodded as Father groaned. “I had to pick today to volunteer ... ”  

Vincent knew he was teasing and chuckled at him gratefully. “Thank you, Father.”

Father walked towards the entrance and stopped when Vincent called out to him. “Father?”

“Hmmm?” he said turning to face Vincent.

Vincent sighed aloud as he looked down at his hands clenched together on his lap. “To wake this morning with Catherine in my arms ... ”

“Yes?”

“The words escape me…”

Father smiled knowingly. “But it was one of the most memorable moments in your life?”

“Yes.”

“I am glad you had the chance to experience that. To have the woman you love safe in your arms all night ... you’re right, Vincent ... it’s indescribable.”

Vincent lay back against his pillows while Father walked from the room.

 

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

Over the next few weeks, Catherine and Vincent tried to keep up the same routine. They never went more than two days without seeing each other even if it was only for a short visit.

Weekends were different, Catherine usually spent the entire day Below. They would visit with tunnel residents and in the afternoons would try to spend time alone at the Chamber of the Falls.

One afternoon, they hadn’t been able to escape and were spending time at a table in the dining chamber. Olivia and Rebecca were there as well as Luke.

Luke struggled in Olivia’s arms and she absently set him down. With a smile, he set off towards Mary’s table.

“Olivia! He’s walking!” Catherine exclaimed.

Olivia smiled proudly but Catherine could see the tears in her eyes. “Yes, about a week now ... I wish Kanin could see it ... ”

Catherine grimaced and looked away. Rebecca patted Olivia’s hand. “Livie ... we’ll think of something ... somehow Kanin will see Luke walk!”

Catherine gasped. “A video camera!”

Olivia looked at her curiously. “A what?”

Catherine realized they had no idea what she was talking about. “It’s a camera that takes movies instead of still pictures ... ” At the look of confusion still evident on their faces, she continued on. “You point and shoot like a camera but it continually records what’s happening. It’s how they make movies and shows for television.”

Vincent cocked his head to the side. “I’ve seen pictures in the paper of those cameras, Catherine. The men sit behind them in chairs and a crane moves them around. They’re huge pieces of equipment that require electricity.”

Catherine frowned as she realized he was talking about the ones for movie making. “The ones for the studios who make motion pictures are, but the ones for the public are small. They sit on your shoulder and have a view finder you look through. I could carry it myself.”

Rebecca smiled but shook her head. “You’re forgetting the electricity ... ”

“They run on battery power. I could charge the battery at home and we would be good to go for a few hours.”

Olivia looked excited. “Do you have one of these video cameras, Catherine?”

“No, but I could run out and get one. Most electronic stores carry them.”

Olivia’s face fell. “I can’t ask you to do that.”

“Don’t be silly. I’m offering to do it. The look on Kanin’s face will be well worth the price!”

Rebecca frowned and pointedly looked at Catherine. “How expensive are they?”

Catherine instantly thought about how even ten dollars seemed like a lot of money to the people Below. She could never tell them it would cost hundreds of dollars. “I’m not sure ... they’re all different prices ... it depends on their features,” she answered evasively.

Vincent knew that she had avoided the question. He guessed correctly that they must be quite expensive or she would have answered it honestly. Under the table, he reached for her hand and squeezed it affectionately.

Olivia wasn’t going to let the matter drop. “I have a little money set aside. I sewed some quilts that sold in Mrs. Jackson’s shop ... perhaps I could make a donation ... ”

Knowing it would only embarrass Catherine further, Vincent interrupted. “Catherine, you say this machine will record Luke walking?” Catherine nodded and he continued. “So, then Olivia could leave a private message as well?”

Rebecca knew instantly what Vincent had done and nodded at him as she helped him out. “Oh, Olivia! We could all record messages to Kanin. It will make him feel like he’s home again!”

As hoped, Olivia was instantly distracted. “He’d like that.”

Catherine felt relief wash over her and she smiled at Vincent. “We’d need a smaller room that we could light up with candles and a way to hide the rock walls from curious eyes.”

Vincent nodded. “Perhaps some blankets hanging from the ceilings.”

Catherine remembered that most of the blankets were quilts and she shook her head. “Old sheets would be fine, besides they may look like walls through the camera lens ... ”

Rebecca gushed. “Good idea!”

Vincent and Catherine left Olivia and Rebecca to iron out the details of the room. They headed towards the library to tell Father what they planned on doing.

Father looked up when he saw them come in. “Catherine! Good to see you as always.”

Catherine was feeling especially happy today and planted a kiss on Father’s cheek as she chuckled. “You’re sweet. A liar ... but sweet.”

Father chucked. “I am not a liar ... you’re always welcome here.”

“I must be putting a strain on your grocery bill.”

Father chuckled aloud. He knew Catherine slipped the helpers extra money to handle some of the costs of food for Below. It was a standing joke between them that she still tried to hide the money even though he knew about it. “With the small amount you eat, I’m sure we can handle it ... ”

Vincent smiled at their playful banter. “Catherine has found a way to pay us back for all the meals she’s eaten here.”

“Really?” Father said looking intrigued.

Catherine frowned knowing another argument may be forthcoming. Vincent leaned forward to explain. “Olivia was telling us how she wished Kanin could see how well Luke is walking.”

Father smiled. “He did take to it more quickly than some children.”

Vincent nodded and continued. “Catherine came up with the idea of using a video camera to take movies of it for Kanin to see.”

“That is a wonderful idea, Catherine! Do you have one of these cameras?”

Catherine blushed and looked at her hands. Vincent looked down as well and lied. “No, but her father does and she offered to borrow his.”

Catherine looked at Vincent with shock, then quickly looked away again.

Father sighed ruefully. “The one thing Devin tried to teach you and you never quite got the hang of it!”

Catherine looked up curiously. “What was that?”

“Lying …Vincent is a horrible liar!” Vincent’s head shot up and both he and Catherine flushed with embarrassment. Father cleared his throat. “So I can only assume that means that Catherine is meaning to purchase one?”

Catherine looked down again and nodded. “Yes.”

“From the prices in the newspaper these devices can be quite expensive.”

Realizing he had seen these devices before, Vincent cocked his head to the side. “You’ve seen them in the ads ... ”

“Yes.”

Catherine sighed. “Father, I wouldn’t have offered to buy it if I couldn’t afford it. Please, let me do this ... ”

Another thought struck Father’s mind. “We can’t have anyone seeing where or how we live. Someone may be able to figure out from the background where we are ... ”

Vincent smiled. “We’ve decided to take a small chamber and put sheets up against the walls. Catherine thinks that through the view finder the sheets may appear as regular walls.”

Mouse entered the room at that moment. “Mouse help!”

Father looked at him. “Mouse, help with what?”

“Rebecca found Mouse ... told problem ... Mouse fix.”

“Mouse, you have an idea?” Vincent asked.

“Sure, make frame ... put up white board ... tape together ... make mud ... have wall. Easy!”

Father frowned. “What kind of white board?”

“Is it called drywall, Mouse?” Catherine asked.

Mouse nodded. “Think so ... watched men put up ... found some extra ... had holes in it ... Mouse cut out.”

“It seems as if we have all the problems solved ... ”  Father nodded. “You may bring the video camera Below, Catherine.”

Catherine beamed happily. “Thank you, Father. I’ll spend this week researching them and buy one on Friday.”

“Catherine, we have a helper who owns an electronic store. He is a relative of Dr. Wong’s. He may be able to help.”

“I’m so excited! I wish it wasn’t Sunday night, I’d go out right now and buy one.”

Vincent took her hand. “I could take you to his store. He may be home and willing to show you what he has.”

The prospect of including Vincent with the decision was too much. She stood up immediately. “Let’s go!” she said excitedly.

“Mouse go too? Has good gadgets!”

“No, Mouse!” Father reprimanded him. “Last time you went you broke something.”

Mouse remembered the incident. He spent several weeks cleaning for free, trying to make up for the item he broke.

Vincent and Catherine left the room and headed to the store. Mr. Xang was more than happy to assist them and after comparing all the functions, Catherine chose a higher end camera. It wasn’t the most expensive but it was still costly. She figured it was worth it for how much she planned on using it while Kanin was in prison. Vincent carried her purchase while they made their way to her threshold.

Catherine turned to him and smiled as she stood in front of her ladder. “I’ll spend some time learning how it works so I’ll know how to use it next weekend.”

“Perhaps you could teach me, seeing as how I can’t be in the picture I could be involved as well ... ” Vincent looked down again at the reminder of not being able to do what everyone else could.

Catherine nodded. “That’s a great idea. I was wondering how tired my arms would get holding that camera all day.”

Vincent smiled at her ability to overlook his differences. Catherine walked into his arms and hugged him, then made to reach for the package.

Vincent shook his head. “It’ll be too hard for you to climb with this. Go up and I’ll hand it to you.”

Catherine did and he followed closely behind her. Once she was settled, she turned around and he easily handed it to her. He stood on the middle rung of the ladder and his head and upper body was exposed. Catherine set it down and reached out with her hand and gently caressed his cheek.

“Goodnight, Vincent.”

Vincent turned his face against her hand and rubbed it lovingly. “Goodnight, Catherine.”

 

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

The next week was a blur of activity. Everyone got involved with ‘building’ a stage for video taping. Father came towards the end of the week and nodded his approval. “It does look like any room Above. You’ve done well everyone.”

It was decided that Olivia and Luke would open and close the session but everyone wanted a chance to tell Kanin how much he was missed. Rebecca kept a sign-up board and then doled out times for each person to show up. Their message would have to be brief but Kanin would know how much he was loved.

Catherine came down early and showed Vincent how to operate the camera. He taped Olivia reading a book to Luke and feeding him a snack.

Catherine slipped off to see Mary, and Vincent wondered briefly what they were whispering about in the far corner.

His attention was drawn back to taping as person after person came forward and sent Kanin their love. Everyone who wanted to be had been recorded and Vincent put the camera on pause.

Catherine came up beside him and touched his arm. “Your turn.”

Vincent looked at her in shock. “Catherine, you know I can’t be seen ... ” He looked up as a group of children filed into the room. They were dressed in all types of costumes and Vincent looked at her quizzically.

“It’s Halloween. You can read the last few pages of this book then leave any message you want for Kanin.”

Vincent marveled at her ingenuity. Father came in and smiled his approval. He could see that with the children in costumes it would appear that Vincent was in make-up as well. The Halloween story Catherine picked out would help to set the scene. The children settled themselves on the floor in front of the chair as Catherine took the camera. Vincent sat down in the middle of them and opened to the last page.

“All set,” she said.

Vincent began to read and the children did an awesome job of pretending they had just heard the entire story. Father grinned proudly at them as they sat quietly.

Vincent looked directly at the camera. “Kanin, you are missed greatly by everyone, especially myself. You have come to be like a brother to me and I miss working by your side. Those hours we spent together and our long talks are memories that I cherish. Take care and know that you are loved.”

Catherine put the camera on pause and handed it to John. She walked forward and hugged Vincent. “I’m so glad you were able to be a part of this.”

He returned her hug. “Thank you for finding a way.”

Father stepped forward and kissed Catherine’s forehead. “You never stop surprising me, my dear.”

Catherine laughed and squeezed his hand. “I hope that’s a good thing!”

They watched as Olivia sat in a chair with Kanin’s picture. Rebecca stood off camera and held Luke. Olivia turned the picture around and called to him.

“Look, Luke. Who is this?”

Luke toddled towards the picture. “Da, da, da, da, da ... ” He repeated as he made his way to Olivia.

John recorded Luke walking towards her. Olivia scooped him up and set him on her lap. Kanin’s frame went in to Luke’s mouth and she smiled at the camera with tears in her eyes. “Surprise! He’s walking really well. And he still remembers his daddy! We miss you and love you.”

Tears fell from Catherine’s eyes and she swiped at them embarrassedly. She glanced around the room and noticed others of the group were equally affected.

“Father, thank you for letting me do this.”

His voice thick with emotion, Father answered. “It was a good thing you did today, Catherine. Many people will be touched by your kindness.”

John walked over with the camera and handed it to Catherine. “I wish we could see how this turned out.”

Catherine looked at Vincent and raised her eyebrows. Vincent knew it was time to reveal their secret. “We can. Catherine has bought a screen that we can show this video on. We were going to make the announcement at dinner in hopes that people would follow and view it then.”

John shook his head. “The warning light came on ... the battery’s low.”

Catherine grinned. “I bought another one. It’s charged and in the bag.”

Father smiled. “Well, then let’s get to the dining chamber and have that meal.”

Dinner was a quick affair as Father insisted they announce before dinner their intentions thus giving people time to prepare and make plans to come to the library.

Vincent and Catherine ate quickly and headed to make the final preparations for the video equipment. Soon after, people started to file into the library. The room was soon filled and Father glanced around proudly as almost everyone Below was in attendance.

“The only ones missing are those on sentry duty,” Mary said.

John stood next to her. “Maybe Catherine could show it once and we can relieve those on sentry duty. She could show it a second time?” he asked hopefully.

Catherine nodded. “Of course, that’s a wonderful idea.”

Vincent started the tape and the room quieted. The group broke out in applause after Vincent’s part and conversations could be heard about how wonderful it was that he had been included. The children were also commended for their performance.

Sniffles could be heard after Olivia and Luke’s final scene but generally everyone was pleased with the result.

Catherine looked around the room. “I don’t want to promise ... I’ll have to try to call in a lot of favors ... but I’m hoping to record Kanin. Maybe next week I’ll have another video to show all of you.”

Olivia started to cry. “Thank you, Catherine!”

Catherine hugged her warmly. “It’s the least I could do.”

The people started to filter out and head to their various chambers.

Catherine turned to Vincent. “I need to get home. I’ll pick up the camera tomorrow.”

Vincent nodded. “I’ll walk you out.”

They were quiet on their way, each lost in their own thoughts, at her threshold they hugged goodbye.

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

Catherine never made it back down the next day. Vincent went to her apartment that night but Catherine was already sound asleep and, knowing how tired she was, he refused to wake her and quietly slipped from the balcony.

The next day he sent the camera by messenger and Catherine opened it and sat back in her chair. “Thanks, Benny. I needed this for this afternoon and I was wondering how I was going to be able to pick it up!”

Benny gave her a thumbs up. “Covered it for you, babe! Have a good one, all right!”

He was off in a flash and Catherine smiled at Vincent’s thoughtfulness. She pushed the camera to the side and finished her work.

That afternoon, she headed to the prison and called in some favors. They allowed her the use of a private room and Catherine showed Kanin the video on a TV the guards thoughtfully provided.

Tears flowed freely from his eyes as friend after friend wished him well. He gasped in surprise when Vincent showed up then he cried freely as he watched Luke toddle across the room.

“I’m missing so much ... ”

Catherine sighed. “I know, but I hoped to capture some of it for you.”

“Catherine, you’ve done so much for me. This almost makes it bearable in here. How did you do all of this? Where was this taken?”

Catherine nodded toward a camera mounted on the ceiling behind her. “Mouse really helped, so you can imagine how this all came about.”

Kanin figured out that Mouse had somehow built walls and then the rest had been staged. “The children look great in their costumes for Halloween!”

Catherine nodded. “I know it’s way too early but they’ve been so involved in making them we just couldn’t bear to tell them no.”

Catherine wanted to change the subject, so she stood and walked to her bag. She grabbed the video camera and held it up for the guards to see. “I’m going to record a message for his son ... he’s only 10 months old and we don’t want him to forget his Dad.”

An intercom could be heard switching on. “Go ahead, Cathy.”

Catherine looked at Kanin. “Now’s your chance. Say what you want to and I’ll show it to everyone later.”

Kanin thought for a moment, then let the words pour from his heart. Catherine had a hard time holding the camera straight and she blinked several times to clear the tears from her eyes.

She finally lowered the camera and the voice on the intercom came back. “Hey, Cat. Wrap it up, will ya? Reynolds is coming down in a few ... ”

Catherine nodded as she rolled her eyes and looked down at Kanin to explain. “The head of prison security chose today to make an assessment of the buildings ... ”

Kanin stood. “You’ve done enough for me, Catherine. I feel silly continually telling you thanks.”

Catherine nodded. “I’ll do everything I can to keep Luke from forgetting you. A child’s bond with their parent is the most important thing they can have in their lives.”

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

Catherine sent the camera Below to Vincent. She knew Olivia would want to see Kanin right away. The rest of the community could wait until the weekend to view his message.

The next morning, two uniformed police officers made their way over to Catherine’s desk. Deeply immersed in an important deposition, she didn’t notice them approach.

“Catherine Chandler?”

Never looking up, she responded to the intrusion. “Yeah ... ”

“Cathy, we need to speak with you.”

Catherine jotted a few more words on her paper then looked up and blinked in surprise. Recognizing one of them immediately, she offered a smile. “Hi, Doug, how’ve you been?”

Doug’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes as he responded. “Good, how about you?”

Catherine chuckled. “I’m actually doing great, although I’m a little swamped right now! What’s up?”

Doug looked down at the floor, willing himself to come up with the words to tell his friend the bad news.

Noticing the hard time he was having, his rookie partner took over for him. “Miss Chandler, is there someplace we can speak to you privately?”

Catherine frowned with curiosity and assumed it was about one of her cases. She looked at his name tag and extended her hand. “Brad, call me Cathy and yes, why don’t you follow me?”

Catherine led the way towards the break room but Doug, looking for friendly reinforcements, stopped her in front of Joe’s office. “Hey, Cath, let’s talk in here.”

Catherine turned around and again, assuming it was about a case, readily agreed. “Okay, Joe’s going to hear about it anyway.”

She knocked on his door then walked inside. Joe looked up with a smile. “Hey, Radcliffe, what’s ... ?”  His brows rose with surprise when he noticed the two officers walking in with her. “ ... up? Hey, Doug.”

Doug nodded. “Hey, Joe. This is my new partner Brad Collins.”

Joe extended his hand. “Brad.”

Brad shook his hand. “Sir.”

Joe chuckled. “I ain’t that old yet, rookie. Call me Joe. Now what’s going on?”

Doug and Joe had been friends since high school. Doug shot him a look and Joe realized whatever the news was, he wasn’t going to like it. He walked around to the front of his desk and leaned against it, arms folded in front of him. Doug turned and closed the office door then looked over at Catherine.

Catherine felt a wave of uncertainty flash through her as she cleared her throat nervously. “What’s happened?”

Doug blew out the breath he’d been holding. “We got a call this morning from a housekeeper. She found her employer collapsed on the kitchen floor. She called an ambulance and they took him to the hospital. Cathy, I think the man was your father.”

Catherine stood there speechless as her mind raced. She thought about calling his office so she could prove they were mistaken. Joe came forward and took her trembling hands into his. He decided to ask the questions she wasn’t asking. “Why ... I mean ... what happened? Why did they take him to the hospital?”

Brad cleared his throat but Doug shook his head silencing him. He wanted to be the one to explain. “We don’t know much more than that. Around 8:00 this morning, a Mrs. Wilson entered the home. She walked into the kitchen and discovered Mr. Chandler. He was unresponsive to her attempts to wake him so she immediately called for help. Brad took the call and since we were only a few miles away, we headed over to the address. The ambulance was already there working on him. They were just putting him on the gurney to take him to the hospital when we arrived.” He reached out and took Catherine’s hand. “I saw your picture on the wall in the living room. The one above the mantle showing the two of you together and I realized it must be your father.”

Catherine had forced her mind to assume they were mistaken but when Doug spoke about the picture she knew they were right and finally found her voice. “Is he all right?”

“I don’t know, once we left there, we came straight here…” Doug grimaced. “I think you should get over there as soon as possible. Cathy, honestly, from what I could see ... it’s not good. I’m sorry.”

Catherine gasped and started to tremble. Joe looked at the two men. “Thanks, guys, I’ll take it from here.”

Doug nodded and tapped Brad on the shoulder. Unnoticed by Catherine, they slipped out Joe’s door and left.

Catherine looked at Joe with tear filled eyes and started to shake. “I’ve got to go!”

Joe stepped forward and put his arms around her. “Shhh, Cathy, just take two seconds and catch your breath.” Catherine clung to him as he ran his hand lightly up and down her back. “Take one deep breath for me ... ” She did as he instructed. “Good, now one more.”

Catherine took another deep breath and leaned on him for a few more seconds. She sighed and steeled herself to face this tragedy, then backed away from him. “Thanks, Joe. I need to go.”

“You want me to go with you?”

Catherine shook her head. “No.”

“Cath, I don’t mind.”

“I know, its okay, I’ll be fine.”

Joe frowned. “What about if I call Jenny, or is there someone else I can get a hold of for you?”

Catherine thought of Vincent and what Joe’s reaction would be to her telling him to go into the basement and tap a message on the nearest pipe. She half smiled and shook her head. “No, I don’t even know what’s going on yet. I’m probably going to be sitting all day talking with my Dad, waiting for the results of endless tests. I’m sure I’ll be taking him home late this afternoon.”

Joe frowned, Doug had just told her he didn’t think it looked good and he wondered if that hadn’t registered with her or if she was just staying optimistic. “Yeah, probably…”

“Look, I’ve got to get over there.”

“Yeah, you go. Call me if you need anything.”

Catherine nodded and then hurried to the elevator. She caught the nearest taxi and promised a huge tip to the driver if he got her to the hospital in ten minutes.

Joe sat as his desk and impulsively reached for the phone. He made a call to Rita who instantly looked up a number and he placed another call call.

“Good Morning, Jenny Aaronson, can I help you?”

“Miss Aaronson, this is Joe Maxwell, with the District Attorney’s office, I’m Catherine Chandler’s…”

“Grumpy boss?” Jenny laughed into the phone.

“Um…I…wasn’t sure you’d remember.”

“Of course I remember you, and I’m kidding about the grumpy boss part” she teased until it registered to her how unusual this call was and her face fell. “Did something happen to Cathy?”

“No, she’s fine, look; I’m probably overstepping my bounds here. I actually asked Cathy about calling you and she said no …”

Jenny picked up immediately that he was worried. “But you ignored her protests and decided to call anyway which means that you’re worried about her for some reason and you wanted to talk to someone else that knows her.”

“Yeah.”

“Cathy’s always been so private about her life.” Jenny sighed into the phone.  So…tell me what is it that I’m not supposed to know.”

“A friend of ours just stopped by and gave Cathy some bad news about her father.”

“What? Who?” Jenny asked hurriedly as she sat up straighter in her seat.

“He’s a police officer and responded to a call this morning. A housekeeper reported she found her employer collapsed on the floor. When Doug got there he saw a picture of Cathy and this guy hanging on the mantle and realized it must be her father.”

“Is he still alive?”

“Our friend said he thought he was pretty in bad shape. Cathy just left to go there. I offered to go with her but…”

“But…she refused. She said she’d be fine. That’s probably when you told her to call me and she said no.”

“Yep, that’s pretty much how it went.”

“Charles and Cathy have a close personal friend that’s a doctor. I’m going to call him and let him handle it.”

“Thanks, Miss Aaronson.”

“Please, call me Jenny, thanks for letting me know and as soon as I find out anything, I’ll call you.”

“Thanks,” Joe replied as the phone hung up.

 

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

Jenny called Peter’s office immediately but was told he was out of town. After arguing with the receptionist, she finally got to speak to his head nurse.

“Nurse Hamilton, how can I help you.”

“Donna, this is Jenny Aaronson.”

“Yes, Miss Aaronson, what seems to be the problem?”

“I need to get a hold of Peter. Charles Chandler was admitted to the hospital this morning, I heard it was bad.  I don’t have all the specifics but I wanted to let him know immediately.”

Donna looked at the clock on the wall. “He normally calls here by 10:00. I’ll page him and see if he calls me back right away.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Peter called ten minutes later then called the hospital to find out what he could about Charles’ condition. He left his number with the nurse on duty and asked that the doctor keep him informed as the results filtered in.

Peter hung up and knowing that his best friend’s condition sounded bad, he called to get on the next available flight back to New York.

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

Meanwhile, Catherine walked down the long hall of the emergency entrance. The attendant on hand directed her to the ICU. The nurse there informed her that her father had suffered a stroke and then instructed her to wait in the family waiting room.

Catherine sat on the edge of her seat. She observed other families come and go. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, everyone there it seemed was surrounded by family.

She was painfully reminded that her father was the only family she had left. Now, the one person in the whole world who had been a constant part of her life was in a room somewhere, away from her, fighting some unknown battle.

Catherine paced the room and kept a constant eye on the clock as the minutes crept by. She leafed through magazines, shook her head in disgust at the made for ratings talk shows broadcast on the TV and then she mindlessly stared at the floor when the soap operas came on. 

Three hours later, she walked to the nurse’s station. The same nurse came out to see her.

Catherine looked down at her name tag. “Ms. Bremster?”

“Yes, Miss Chandler?”

“I ... I’ve been waiting for awhile and I wondered if you remembered that I was in the waiting room?”

The nurse looked at her sympathetically. “We remembered, Miss Chandler.”

“Oh ... um ... I ... was also wondering when I could see my father.”

“Right now your father is getting some tests done and as soon as the doctor has something conclusive he’ll come to see you. I’ll remind him that you’re in the waiting room.”

Catherine sighed and smiled weakly. “Okay. Sorry to bother you.”

The nurse nodded. “It’s all right. Why don’t you go to the cafeteria and get some lunch? It’ll help pass the time.”

Catherine knew she wouldn’t be able to eat anything but smiled and nodded, then turned and headed back to the waiting room. She sat and thought back to the last time she waited for news about a parent.

She was only ten years old and had sat on a big sofa with her favorite stuffed lion. Her father was next to her with his arm around her shoulders. She was trying to read but people kept coming in and offering their support, offering to take her somewhere.

Catherine remembered begging her dad to let her stay with him. She didn’t know why it was so important; she just knew she wanted to be as close to him as possible. “Because, daddys always make everything all better,” she remembered telling him.

Tears came to her eyes and she blinked them away and then sank back against the chair and stared at the floor as she lost herself again in the memories.

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

Vincent worked in the lower tunnels that day, chiseling stone most of the morning. After hitting his hand for the third time, Mouse finally took the hammer away.

“Vincent, go ... No good here. Keep hurting hand. Come back another time.”

Vincent sighed as he shook his injured hand. “Perhaps I should go, Mouse. I feel like something is horribly wrong and I need to send a message to Catherine.”

Mouse grinned knowingly. “Knew it ... Always thinking of Catherine.”

“Yes ... I’ll return this afternoon.”

Mouse had started to chisel. “Okay, good.”

“Thank you, Mouse.”

Vincent clapped Mouse’s back in a friendly gesture and then headed to his chamber. He sat at his desk and started writing a note to Catherine, stopping only when Father came in.

“Vincent, Mary said she saw you headed this way, why aren’t you working on the lower chamber?”

Vincent showed him his bruised hand. “I was too distracted. Mouse finally made me leave before I could do any more damage to myself.”

Father sighed at the bruises on his son’s hands. “Do I even need to ask what’s distracting you so?”

Vincent blushed as he admitted what the problem was. “It’s Catherine. I think something’s wrong.”

Father rolled his eyes. “Up there, something is always wrong!”

Vincent shook his head vehemently. “No, Father! It’s not the usual feelings… this time ... I don’t know…it’s just different ... ”

Father narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “What kind of feelings?”

Vincent shook his head and then rose quickly and started to pace the room. “I don’t know if I can pin point any one feeling.”

Wanting to help, Father leaned forward. “Try, Vincent.”

“Her emotions are racing ... despair, anger, worry, resolve, melancholy ... ”

“That is unusual ... ” Father nodded in agreement. “Well ... you can’t go to see her now so you may as well finish your letter. Let me know what you discover.”

Vincent sighed and sat back down to finish his note. Father left and Vincent was not far behind him. He raced to a helper’s store and waited patiently in the back storage room for Benny to come.

Benny rode up on his bike and walked in to the store. “Hey, Mick. What’s up?”

Mick motioned with his head to the storage room. Benny knew it was for the world Below. He walked in and smiled at Vincent.

“Hey, Vin. Got something for the pretty lady?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, Benny. I also need to ask a favor ... Could you possibly wait for an answer and bring it back to me?”

Benny nodded at the unusual request. “Sure thing. I’ll head over there now and come right back. Everything, okay?”

Vincent sighed and shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

“I’ll be back within the hour.”

Benny took off. Vincent seemed so worried about Catherine, he became concerned as well. He made it in record time to her office. He stood at her desk and looked around the room. It seemed like she was here. There were files opened up and a cup of coffee sitting there. He stood out of the way waiting for her to come back.

Joe came out of his office for a fresh cup of coffee and noticed Benny standing there. “Can I help you with something?”

Benny shook his head. “No, I have a message for a Miss Catherine Chandler. I was told this was her desk.”

“It is. She’s not here right now.”

Benny looked over at him curiously. “Oh, I hadn’t realized. I saw the open files, I assumed ... ”

Joe shook his head in understanding. He walked around Catherine’s desk and started closing files. “Well, you assumed wrong. If you want I’ll sign for the message and see that she gets it.”

“Oh ... no! I’m supposed to wait for an answer.”

Joe had picked up the deposition she was working on and started reviewing her work. He answered distractedly. “Well, you gotta long wait, she could be at the hospital all day ... you know how they are ... they put you through a battery of tests then ... ”

Joe looked up and saw Benny leaving in a hurry. “Huh,” he shook his head and walked as he read the deposition.

Benny stopped at a corner phone booth and called over to the hospital to the direct line of a helper in the admissions office.

“Francis speaking, may I help you?”

“Francis, hey it’s Benny. Can you look up a name for Vincent?”

“Of course, who’s?”

“Catherine Chandler.”

“Oh no, what happened?” Francis groaned as her hands flew over the keyboard. “Here it is. Chandler, C ... .no wait! The C is for Charles not Catherine. Let me see ... .he’s in ICU, but that’s all I got.”

“Hey, babe, you did great, thanks.” Benny hung up and road to the store. He walked directly to the back room. Vincent was pacing and stopped the second he saw Benny.

Benny shrugged. “She wasn’t at the office. Her boss said she was at the hospital. I checked with Francis. A Charles Chandler is admitted there, he’s in ICU.”

Vincent shook his head in confusion. “Intensive Care?”

“Yeah, it must be bad.”    

“Thank you, Benny.”

Vincent turned away as Benny nodded, then walked quickly through the tunnels to Father’s library.

Father looked up from his papers as Vincent walked in. “Well, did you find out the reason for her turbulent feelings?”

Vincent nodded. “Yes, her father was admitted to the hospital. He’s in ICU.”

“Hmmm….intensive care doesn’t necessarily mean life or death situation; it could just mean he needs constant monitoring. How’s Catherine?”

Vincent threw his hands out to his sides in defeat. “I don’t know. Benny didn’t see her. He found out through Francis that Catherine’s father was admitted.” Vincent thought for a second. “Perhaps Peter could be of some assistance.”

Father shook his head. “No, you’ve forgotten, he’s at that medical conference in Chicago ... ”

Vincent paced. “I had forgotten. That means she’s there ... alone.”

Father frowned. “Perhaps not, I’m sure she’s surrounded by other family members. Perhaps an Aunt or cousin.”

Vincent shook his head. “The only family she has is her father.”

“Well ... friends then.”

Vincent shrugged. “Perhaps ... I know she’s grown distant from so many of them ... her friends are all Below now.”

Father stood and walked over to him, grabbing his shoulders. “Well, then we will be there for her when she needs us. Go to her tonight. I’ll find someone to cover your turn at sentry duty.”

“Thank you, Father.”

 

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

Hours passed and Catherine shifted her position in the chair numerous times. Finally, she lay down and used her coat as a blanket.

Nurse Bremster was leaving for the night and noticed Catherine alone in the waiting room. She sighed and walked in.

“Miss Chandler?”

Catherine shot up in her seat. “Is there news?”

“I’m sorry, the doctor is waiting for the results of all the tests to come back to him. I’m leaving for the night, my shift is over. I wanted to let you knew that Nurse Williams is on duty.”

Catherine lowered her head. “Thank you.”

Catherine never felt so alone before. The room that had been so crowded earlier was now empty. She had been sitting for hours waiting for news.

Eventually, the doctor came and told her that her father had suffered a massive stroke. He was blind and in a coma ... he mentioned to Catherine that she should prepare herself for the worse.

Catherine was allowed to see Charles and she steeled herself as she walked into his room. Nothing could have prepared her for the sight that greeted her as she walked around the semi-closed curtain. Her father lay in bed hooked up to all kinds of machines that were either lighting up or humming.

She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and walked bravely to his side.

“Daddy?!” she called. “Daddy, it’s me.”

Catherine sat in a chair and held his hand and watched as the machines did their work to keep him alive. Every time a tear threatened to spill from her eyes, she swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “Later,” she said to herself, knowing she would go home and have a good cry.

Her body was slowly starting to slip into shock. The man that she once believed was invincible lay in front of her fighting for his life. She never really took the time to look at him to see that he had gotten older. In her mind’s eye, she still saw a sandy blond haired man who, although racked with grief when he lost his wife at such an early age, managed to be an outstanding father to his little girl. Absent a lot during the work week, he made up for it on weekends, spending every waking minute with her. He took her to every museum and every park they could go to and later when she was older he took her on exotic vacations to broaden her mind even further.

Now, as she looked at him, she realized those days were over. He would need her to switch places with him and become his caregiver. Catherine was already planning on giving her two weeks notice at work. She knew when he came home he would need extensive care and she was not going to leave it up to a nurse to do it, she was planning on doing whatever she could to get him back on his feet again.

An hour later, the floor nurse came in and insisted she go home to get some rest. She promised to call if there was any change in her father’s condition.

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

Catherine could feel her control starting to slip as the cab pulled up in front of her apartment building and she handed the driver her fare. She smiled weakly at the doorman then headed towards the elevator. Once through her apartment door, she headed straight to the balcony and opened the doors. She was disappointed not to find Vincent there but she left the door open and ran to quickly change clothes. As she walked out of the bathroom, she stopped when the phone began to ring.

“Hello?!” she answered anxiously.

“Cathy, its Peter!”

“Peter!”

“I’m at the hospital. I came to see your dad, then I called the emergency room doctor ... ”

“And ... ”

“I wish I had better news. He’s in what they call a pseudo-coma; part of his mind has shut down from the lack of oxygen caused by the stroke.”

Catherine nodded but stopped when she realized he couldn’t see her. “Yeah, the doctor told me that dad lost all of his motor function and some sensory function. He says he’s optimistic for a partial recovery.”

Peter sighed aloud. “Honey, I’m not sure how to tell you but we all say that. Partial recovery means that we’re looking for any response at all from him. When you were here did he blink or acknowledge you in any way?”

“No ... ”

Catherine could hear him blow out a long breath before he hesitantly proceeded. “Cathy, that’s really not good.”

“Maybe he’ll be better tomorrow.”

Peter rubbed his hand across his face realizing that she was just not facing the reality of the situation. He hesitated but tried again. “Did the doctor mention the results of the MRI?”

“I don’t think so…I don’t think they’d come back yet by the time he left, I’m sure he’ll tell me about it in the morning.”

“They came back in about an hour ago.”

“And.?”

“Um… it shows that there is little to no activity.”

“What do you mean?”

“Clinically speaking…” Peter clamped down and sighed into the phone. “Cathy, honey, he’s already gone.”

“No!”

Peter plodded on. “As the only living relative you may have to make the decision to ... ”

“No, Peter! Don’t say it!”

“Cathy…”

“He’s still breathing! His brain is keeping him alive!”

“No, honey, the machine is breathing for him. The machine is keeping him alive.”

Catherine heard a noise on the balcony and realized that Vincent was here and she closed her eyes with relief.

“Sweetie, you shouldn’t be alone right now, I’m on my way over and we can talk about this.”

“No, Vincent just showed up.”

“Um…” Peter debated with himself about what he should do.

Catherine smiled weakly into the phone. “I’m not alone, Peter, go home and get some rest, we’ll go over all of this in the morning.”

“Okay.”

“Thanks, Peter.”

She hung up the phone and turned and ran into Vincent’s arms. She collapsed against him and cried into his shirt. He held her as tightly as he dared as he waited patiently for her to tell him.

After a few minutes, she sniffled loudly and took a deep breath and he turned his head in to whisper into her ear. “Can you tell me?”

“It’s my father ... ” she gasped out as she nodded.

“I know ... I felt your turmoil earlier ... Benny went to work to deliver a message and they told him where you were. He called a helper that works in the hospital.”

“He’s not going to make it ... ”

Vincent knew she meant her father and squeezed her arms lightly. “Have faith, Catherine. He’s a strong man ... ”

She caught her sob. “He didn’t look very strong! He looked so vulnerable lying there ... They said he had a stroke ... Peter just called and gave me the results of the MRI.”

“Yes?”

“It shows little to no brain activity.”

Vincent held her again while she cried. Finally the tears started to dissipate and she sniffled. “I’ve never felt so alone…”

“You’re not alone, Catherine.” Vincent held her tighter as she buried her face against his chest.  “I’m here…always.”

Catherine pulled herself together and leaned back with a slight smile. “Always, such a father’s word ... always.”

Vincent looked at her curiously. “What is it? What are you thinking?”

Catherine told Vincent how her father, wearing a clown’s nose, would often come into her room. He would use a funny voice to try to get her to laugh. He always tried to cheer her up.

Vincent smiled at her. “That’s a wonderful memory to have.”

Catherine looked distressed. “I wished we stayed that close.”

“You told me before of the growing distance between you.”

“We got in a ... habit. There were things I didn’t want to tell him.”

“And there were things you couldn’t tell him. Catherine, there’s still time.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s not gone yet. Go to him. Tell him what you want him to know.”

She smiled weakly. “I want him to know about you! About how happy you make me!”

Vincent nodded shyly. “Then tell him. Tell him about us.”

She looked at him with new hope. “I’ve read that people in a coma can still hear what their loved ones have said. Will you come with me? If I can find a way ... ”

“Catherine, I know of a way.”

“So you’ll come?”

Vincent didn’t have the heart to tell her no. “Of course, Catherine. I’ll come with you.”

Catherine wiped the tears from her face. “I’ll change and meet you there. He’s in a private room ... room 301.”

“I’ll see you there.”

Vincent took off and headed towards the hospital via the tunnels. Catherine threw on jeans and a sweater and got there just before he did. In the meantime, some helpers within the hospital were making sure that they could be the ones responsible for the care of her father.

When Vincent showed up, they found a way to sneak him into the room with Catherine.

Vincent stood back in the shadows while Catherine sat down and told her dad all about her life for the past two years. Vincent came forward and revealed himself and promised to watch over Catherine for the rest of his life.

An hour later, as they were getting ready to leave, Catherine watched as her father blinked his eyes one last time, then passed away. The duty nurse, Sheila, who was also a helper, turned off the machines as Catherine cried by her father’s bedside. Sheila went into the hallway to wait for the doctor on duty.

Vincent held Catherine tightly while she cried. Sheila came in again and tapped him on his shoulder. “Vincent…”

He knew she was warning him and he squeezed Catherine gently. “Will you be all right?”

Catherine caught her breath and nodded. “Go!”

Vincent left through the window minutes before the doctor came in and pronounced Charles’ death.

Sheila walked Catherine out of the building and watched as she got into a taxi.

Catherine went home and fell, fully clothed, onto her bed and cried herself to sleep.

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

The next day was a blur of activity for Catherine. Of course, Charles would be laid to rest next to his wife, but Catherine still had to plan the funeral and wake.

She went through the motions of planning everything and although she was constantly surrounded by friends she never felt so alone before. Through the entire funeral she ached for Vincent’s support but knew it wouldn’t be able to come.

The day after the funeral, she had to head to her father’s law firm. His partner went over the contents of the trust and he tried to offer Catherine a lump sum to buy out her father’s portion of the firm. Catherine found out later from her father’s long-ime secretary that her dad have been distancing himself from the business more and more everyday.

Inside, Catherine’s heart ached with the knowledge that he had wanted to leave his part of the law firm to her. She felt like she had greatly disappointed him.

She headed home and sat down on the sofa in her living room. Impulsively, she grabbed the phone and called work.

“DA’s office!”

“Rita? It’s Cathy.”

“Hi, Cath! How are you?” Rita asked sympathetically.

Catherine shrugged. “Okay, I guess. I’m going to be coming back tomorrow. Can you let Joe know?”

Rita fumbled for words. “Oh ... okay ... I will.”

“Thanks, Rita. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Rita hung up the phone and walked straight to Joe’s office.

“Joe?”

“Yeah, Escobar ... come on in?” Joe said as he read over a brief.

“Joe, Cathy just called and asked me to tell you she’d be in tomorrow.”

Joe looked up in shock. “The hell she will! It’s too soon. What’s it been, like three days?”

Rita shrugged. “I’m just repeating the message. Do you think you could talk her out of it?”

Joe frowned. “I’m gonna go see her at lunch.” He thought for a second then stood and grabbed his coat. “On second thought, I’m gonna go see her now! I’ll be back!”

Joe left and headed to Catherine’s. She let him inside and although she looked all right, Joe told her he knew what it was like losing a parent and how the grief runs much deeper and that he understood if she needed more time off.

He left and Catherine thought about it for a long time. She had a cup of tea and got a call from Mrs. Wilson, her father’s housekeeper. She promised to stop by in the morning to check on some mail that had come in.

That night, Vincent came to her balcony but he stopped short when he realized Catherine had a visitor.

He peered through the curtains and could see a dark-haired attractive woman talking to her.

He heard Catherine call her Jenny and knew that it must be her best friend, Jenny Aaronson. He slipped away silently before Catherine could realize he was there.

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

Catherine woke early and headed to her father’s home. She let herself in and grabbed the stack of mail sitting on the buffet table neat the front door. She sorted through it and although she threw away a ton of junk mail there was still a substantial amount of mail. She piled the bills on one side and the correspondence on the other. A third pile consisted of information about his numerous investments. Catherine realized it would take her hours to go through it all. She wondered if she should call the accountant and let him deal with all of it.

She got up and checked on the safe hidden behind the picture of her mother.

She opened the safe and found her name on an envelope. Curious, she opened it and read the letter. It was addressed almost two years ago and she realized he had meant to give it to her then.

Dearest Catherine,

I have never been as proud of you as I was today when you bravely faced what those men did to you on the night of your attack. Although we will probably never know what really happened to you at that time, maybe it’s best that you seem to have forgotten it.

I hope we can put this behind us and I look forward to the future with you. Jay is so proud that Mark is in the business now and I am equally proud that you chose to join us. I hope one day to leave my whole practice to you with the knowledge that you will be able to be just as successful if not more so than I have ever been.

Your mother would have been proud of the woman you’ve become. I am reminded daily about how much you’ve accomplished and I want to tell you that I couldn’t be prouder.

I’m looking forward to working with over the next few years and I hope we can build Chandler and Chandler into a successful thriving business.

Love,

Dad

Catherine felt the full impact of how much he wanted her to be a part of his business. She knew she had disappointed him when she left but she never realized he meant to create his own law firm with just the two of them. With a sigh, she put the letter into her purse and headed out the door. She glanced at the picture of father and daughter above the mantle and felt again a crushing blow to her heart.

She took a taxi to work and when she opened the door and observed all of the people bustling around hard at work, she knew she wasn’t ready to come back yet. She turned around and headed out of the building. Her thoughts were so turbulent she decided to walk and take some time to think.

She walked for what seemed like hours but she couldn’t escape the feeling of being alone. She felt restless and lost but she just kept on walking. Later that night, she walked through the park but she couldn’t find peace anywhere.

Vincent, drawn by her turmoil, waited on her balcony but finally gave up and went Below. Not ten minutes later, Catherine came home and once again, in exhaustion, passed out on the bed.

The next morning, she showered and got ready but the same thoughts overwhelmed her. She wondered why Vincent hadn’t come to her last night as she headed out the door of her building. Desperate to see him, she walked towards the park and then directly to the culvert entrance. 

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

Vincent had been pacing, trying to come to terms with Catherine’s racing feelings. Finally, he got the sense that she was coming to him. He started towards her threshold then stopped and cocked his head thoughtfully. He immediately turned and headed to the park.

He watched as she came through the entrance and straight into his arms. He hugged her but she pulled away and looked around frantically.

“I had no where to go!”

He looked at her quizzically, wondering at her racing feelings. “You’re here now.”

“I’ve been walking everywhere, like I’m looking for something but I don’t know ... ”

“Catherine, what you’re looking for is inside you.”

Catherine tried to get him to understand. “I’m losing myself, I can’t go back there.”

He worried about the frame of mind she was in. He could feel her exhaustion and knew she just needed to rest. “Catherine ... ”

“There’s nothing for me there. I tried that life isn’t mine anymore!”

“Give yourself time to mourn.”

“Vincent! I need to be with you! I need you!” He shook his head to gently deny her request when she grabbed the front of his shirt. “I need you!” she said desperately.

Caving in to her request, he pulled her to his chest and held her close. Knowing the danger of being out in the open during the morning hours, he led her towards the entrance. “Come.”

Vincent put his arm around her and led her to his chamber. He sat her on the bed and when he went to move she clung to his arm.

“Stay by me, please!”

“I won’t leave.” Vincent shrugged out of his cloak and helped Catherine take off her coat as well.

Father came in at that exact second. “Catherine?”

“Hi Father.”

He frowned when he saw the level of her exhaustion and came over and hugged her warmly. “I am so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“I realize there are no words that will offer any true comfort…”

“No.”

“How are you doing otherwise?” he said as he reached for her chin and looked into her eyes.

“I’m okay.”

They both knew that wasn’t true and he caressed her cheek lovingly. “I believe you’re exhausted.”

“Catherine has asked if she could come Below for awhile…”

“Yes, of course.” Father looked at Vincent worriedly. “If either of you need anything you know where to find me.”

Catherine couldn’t remember how many times her father had said those same words to her and she was flooded with memories of him as she frowned and looked away.

Father left and Vincent sat in the chair he had pulled closer to the bed. “Catherine?”

Catherine stood and turned to sit on his lap. She sighed and snuggled back against him. “I just need you close!”

Vincent shifted her closer to him and held her tightly in his arms. He felt her relax as he let his hand softly run up and down her back. He wondered how long it would be before she fell asleep, and not ten minutes later he felt her slip into a deep sleep.

Vincent slid a hand under Catherine’s legs and easily cradled her against his chest as he stood up from the chair. He set her down on the bed and reached for his cloak to cover her.

Catherine sighed and snuggled down inside the cloak, his hand unconsciously moving the fabric just underneath her nose where she could breathe in his scent while Vincent left to go see Father.

“Is she all right, Vincent?”

“I think she’s just exhausted, Father. The loss of her father and the stress of the funeral and all of the arrangements ... ”

Father frowned. “Vincent, it could be much more than that. When you lose a parent ... you feel ... abandoned in a way. The one constant that has always been in your life is taken away, that’s a lot for anyone to contend with.”

“Yes and Catherine has taken that journey alone.”

“So many of us have…” Father smiled weakly. “I promise you the tears will stop soon enough and she’ll begin to heal.”

“That’s just it, Father. I don’t think Catherine has taken the time to sit and cry ... to just let herself go and feel the pain. She gets close, I think, then clamps down on her emotions and moves stoically ahead.”

Father shook his head and grimaced. “That’s not good, Vincent. When it finally hits her, she’ll need someone by her side.”

“I think that’s why she came Below. She asked me if she could stay here.”

Father gasped. “I don’t know if that’s wise, Vincent ... ”

Vincent interrupted. “I won’t send her away in her grief!”

Father nodded. “I’ll have Jamie ready the guest quarters closest to the library.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“Peter will be down later tonight for dinner, perhaps he’ll be able to shed some light on Catherine’s behavior.” Father cocked his head knowingly. “In the mean time, perhaps we will have some time to finish our chess game?”

Vincent chuckled. “I’m sure I can defeat you by the time Catherine wakes.”

 

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

About two hours later, Father lay his king down in defeat at the same time Vincent’s head cocked to the side and he stared at an unknown spot on the wall.

“Catherine’s awake?” Father asked.

“Yes,” Vincent said as he stood to leave. “I guess I timed that perfectly.”

Father grumbled as Vincent left the room.

Catherine had awoken slowly and realized immediately where she was. She felt safe and warm. She was secure in the knowledge that she was loved and she basked in that feeling.

Vincent appeared in the doorway. “How are you feeling?”

Catherine sat up and stretched her arms wide. “Much better ... I slept wonderfully.”

“I thought you’d you sleep a while longer.”

Catherine smiled. “With you near, how could I waste such precious time? Could we walk for a while? Maybe sit in the Chamber of the Falls?”

“It’s almost dinner time, Catherine. Would you like to eat first?”

Knowing all the members Below would want to speak to her, Catherine looked at him hopefully. “Would William mind making us a picnic basket?”

Vincent frowned. “Father said that Peter was joining us tonight. I thought perhaps we should join him.”

Catherine nodded and smiled but then looked down at the floor. Vincent felt the struggle within her to push her emotions to the back burner.

Peter came down a half hour later and he and Father followed Catherine and Vincent to the dining chamber. They made trays and sat down together to eat. Mary joined them as Peter entertained everyone with tales of Catherine’s father.

He told of the many things the two young couples used to do together and he talked of weekends away camping at the cabin when Catherine and Peter’s daughter, Susan, were toddlers.

Catherine smiled at the fond memories they recalled. Peter was an amazing storyteller and his sense of humor had them all laughing. A few times, the memories became too strong and Catherine could feel herself clamping down on her emotions.

When this happened, Vincent would look at Father then at Peter. Peter had been warned about Catherine’s unusual behavior and was on the look out for it. He frowned when he actually saw Catherine close her eyes against the emotions and shake her head as if to chase them away.

For the next few hours, Peter told tales about Charles and himself. Some of the stories Catherine had heard before and some of them she hadn’t but all of them revolved around the two men having fun with their young families.

Catherine was the only one to realize the stories stopped at the age of ten. That was the year her mother died and she and her father were consumed with grief.

Catherine stifled a yawn but Mary caught it. “Jamie has prepared the guest chamber closest to the library. If you’re tired ... ”

Catherine nodded as she stood. “Thank you, Mary.”

Vincent stood as well. “I’ll see she gets settled.”

Vincent showed Catherine the way to the chamber. She sat on the edge of the bed with a sigh.

“I feel like I haven’t had a moment to just sit in days.”

“You’ve been busy with the all of the arrangements.”

“I can’t believe how much has happened in just four days. I feel like I’ve been through a war ... ”

“It was so sudden the loss, you had no time to prepare.”

“The pain goes through me and subsides.”

“I can feel it in you.”

“I know you can.”

“It’s late, you should sleep.”

“I am tired.”

Vincent looked at her thoughtfully. “You sure you’ll be all right?”

“I’m sure.”

Catherine looked at him and dreamed he would take her in his arms. If ever there was a night she needed him to make love to her to prove she was alive and loved, it was tonight.

He turned to leave and she called out. “Vincent?!”

He turned back and looked at her innocently. Catherine wondered why he didn’t stay but knew he would shut down if she pushed him. She pushed her need away and smiled at him. “Goodnight,” she said simply.

“Goodnight,” he said as he left the room.

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

Catherine fell asleep while Vincent went to his chamber and wrote in his journal.

Father came and joined him and expressed his concerns about the future between Vincent and Catherine.  He worried about how the close proximity of the chambers would lead to something that shouldn’t happen and he wondered how Vincent would be able to handle having her being this close to him at all times. Father told him he was worried about both of them before Vincent assured him Catherine was only here to assuage her grief.

 

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

The next morning, Catherine woke to find Jeffery waiting on her outside the door. He poured her water for her tea and offered to get Vincent but she declined.

She spent the morning alone in the chamber. Listening to the messages on the pipes, she surprised herself when she managed to decipher quite a few of them. She counted about twenty different people the messages had been directed to. She then let herself wonder how Father managed to handle the volume of messages he received. Catherine thought about getting up and seeing who was available to visit with her. Then smiled to herself, safe in the knowledge that no matter where she ended up she would be welcomed. She felt like she belonged here.

After lunch, she and Vincent headed to the Chamber of the Falls. She told him she wanted to live with him in his world and he admitted he wanted her to as well.

They spent the day together and had dinner with everyone else in the dining chamber. Catherine got up to get desserts for the table and stopped to visit along the way. Father wondered at Catherine’s jovial mood and he frowned and leaned over to whisper to Vincent.

“She can’t keep on like this ... ”

Vincent looked across the tables at a smiling Catherine on the other side of the room. “I know. She’s fighting it harder and harder each day but the grief is always just below the surface.”

Catherine made her way back to their table. “Could I talk either one of you gentleman into playing cards?”

Father raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Perhaps some rummy?”

They quickly ate their pie and then headed to the library. For two hours, the three of them played rummy. In the end, Father won and Catherine groaned as she stood.

“Next time I’ll be ready,” she challenged.

“Anytime, dear Catherine,” Father said. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Father.” Catherine said as she kissed his cheek.

Vincent walked her to the door of her chamber.

Catherine changed into her sleeping gown and climbed up onto the bed. She was asleep within minutes and an hour later she dreamt her father was here to tuck her in and kiss her forehead like he used to when she was a little girl.

Catherine sat up from her dream and it seemed as if the flood gates had opened. Her body was wracked with sobs as she clung to her stomach. No matter how hard she tried she could not get the feelings back under control.

Vincent raced to her chamber door and looked at her with relief that she was finally grieving. He sat down beside her on the bed and cradled in his arms. Catherine cried harder when she felt his comforting embrace.

It seemed like it took forever for her tears to be spent. Catherine snuggled against him and told him stories about her childhood. Vincent cradled her to his side before her body switched positions and she stretched out on the bed next to him. Vincent slid himself up onto the bed the rest of the way and stretched his legs out as well. Catherine eventually fell asleep and rolled closer to him. Vincent steeled his nerves when she brought her leg up and slid her knee over his thigh.                              

He stared straight ahead, trying to keep his mind clear of any sexual thoughts. He tried not to think about her leg across his and he dreamed about what it would be like to be between her legs and… he quickly shook his head to remove those thoughts.

Two hours later, Catherine shifted in her sleep and turned away from him onto her side. He looked at her lovingly and thought briefly about curling up behind her and falling asleep. Instead, he moved her hair out of her face to make sure she was still asleep, then got up and left the room.

 

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

Hours later, in the middle of the night, Catherine dreamed again. This time, she was woken and sat up in the bed. She stared in disbelief at her father sitting in a chair across the room wearing the clown’s nose she remembered from her childhood.

He told her he understood all about her secret relationship with Vincent and he told her he approved of it. Catherine cried when he left once again but then, with a sense of relief in her heart that he understood her life, she rolled over and went back to sleep.

In the morning, she felt better and walked outside to look at the world Above. She smiled when she saw the beauty of the clouds in the skies and the trees blowing in the breeze.  

With a sigh, she frowned and headed back to find Vincent.

He was standing in the doorway of her chamber when she approached him.

“I ... um…went Above.”

“I know.”

“I guess I needed to see it again.”

“Yes…” Vincent asked patiently.

Catherine looked down worriedly. “Vincent, could we go by the falls? I’d like to speak to you?”

He nodded. “Of course, would you like a muffin to take along with you? Perhaps a cup of coffee ... ”

Catherine nodded. “Both sound good.”

They stopped in the dining chamber, grabbed their drinks and a muffin and headed to the falls.

They ate in relative silence and Catherine could barely taste her muffin. She was so worried about talking to Vincent; her nerves were getting the better of her.

“Tell me,” Vincent finally sighed.

Catherine explained all about the visit from her father. Vincent nodded and knew that her mind had finally come to terms with the fact that deep down inside, she realized her father would have approved of their relationship; he would have understood it and accepted it.

He smiled at the new found peace that was within her. She apologized for disappointing him and he knew immediately that she was not planning on staying Below.

Part of him was relieved that he wouldn’t have to tell her it was for the best. He didn’t relish the thought of someday explaining to her that they could never physically be together. Instead, he told her he understood that she belonged to both worlds. Catherine asked if they would ever truly be together and Vincent answered her as honestly as he could. He told her when they were finally ready to face all the challenges that lay ahead. 

Catherine looked him in the eye and told him she wasn’t afraid. Vincent stood and reached for her hand and helped her to her feet.

“It’s time for you to go back.”

Catherine remembered the other time he had said those same words to her. This time she was safe in the knowledge that she could return.

They walked hand and hand through the tunnels. Catherine stopped in the library on their way past the guest chamber.

“Father?”

“Yes, Catherine,” he said as he turned from the shelves of books he was organizing.

She came over and threw her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest. Father’s hands automatically went around her waist and squeezed lightly.  

“Thank you for letting me stay here these past few days ... ”

He cocked his head quizzically. “You’re leaving?” Catherine nodded and he gasped. “Are you sure, Catherine? You don’t need some more time?”

Vincent stood in shock. This was in direct contrast to what Father had said to him two nights ago. Vincent realized that for the first time, Father struggled with his growing love for the person Catherine was and for the woman he feared would hurt his son.

Catherine smiled and nodded. “I think I’m ready to face it all again.”

Father looked at Vincent then back to her, then leaned in to kiss her forehead. “If not, you’re always welcome to come back down again.”

“I know! That’s the great thing about all of this.”

Impulsively she hugged him again then turned to leave the room.

“Father, I’ll be walking her home.”

They walked through the tunnels and Vincent noticed that the closer they got to the threshold the slower Catherine walked.

“Catherine?” he questioned.

She shrugged her shoulders and walked normally.

At the entrance to the ladder, she turned to him. “I’m a little afraid.”

“I know.”

“Isn’t that strange?”

“No.”

Catherine nodded then lifted her arms up and gave him a brief hug. She turned and walked away and then suddenly stopped. Vincent looked at her as she made her way back to him.

In one swift movement, she stood in front of him, went up on her tippy toes and gave him a kiss. She backed away and looked directly into his eyes. “Thank you, Vincent.”

With a coy smile, she turned and walked away. She chuckled when she felt the shock register in his body and flow over the bond.

Vincent never saw her climb up the ladder. He stood in the tunnel way and marveled that he could still feel the light pressure of her lips on his. Ten minutes later, he turned and made his way back to the home tunnels.

He walked into the library and sat down with at thud.

Father came around the corner and looked at him in concern. “Vincent, what is it? What’s happened to Catherine?” Vincent sat there in shock and Father came up and shook his arm. “Vincent! Answer me!”

Vincent looked up and blinked at him. “She kissed me.”

It came out as a whisper and Father leaned forward. “I’m sorry, what?”

“She kissed me, Father.”

Father was so relieved he couldn’t be mad at the situation. In fact, he found great humor in it. “Was it wonderful, son?”

“I ... um ... yes,” Vincent whispered.

Father came over and hugged his son’s head to his chest. “I’m glad for you, Vincent. I truly am. Just remember to take things slowly ... ”

Vincent left the room and headed for his chamber. That night the incident replayed itself over and over in his mind. He felt his body respond and he groaned as he rolled over in bed. Twenty minutes later, he ran for the coldest body of water they had Below and dove in head first. His body registered the shock of the temperature of the water and he quickly shrank back to his normal self.

On the way back to his chamber, he wondered if this was going to be a nightly occurrence.

 

The End